Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why I converted

Zakaryia Ezzat

I was born here in America to an Egyptian Sunni-Muslim father and a Scottish-American protestant mother. Just before I was born something important happened that would determine my circumstances. My mother was forced by the Islamic Mosque in Lansing, Michigan to sign a contract ensuring that I and my sister twin sister Sarah would be raised not as Christians but as Muslims. Upon my birth into this world my father whispered something that would again seal my fate and that was “la elaha ilallah wa Mohamed rasul lellah” which means there is “no God but Allah and Mohamed

is his messenger.” From that point on I was obligated both from my name and my circumstances to live a Muslim life.When I was two years of age my family moved to Cairo, Egypt. We lived in a famous area of Cairo known as Seyata Zeynab. During my time in Egypt I was further ingrained with Islam as my religion. Although my mother was Christian and a strong Christian, she was not allowed to relay her beliefs on to her children. As my sister and I became more ingrained with the culture and the religion my mother knew that if we stayed in Egypt we would not only become Muslim but I would not experience religious freedom. Religious freedom may be something that people down play and take for granted in the Western world but it is not something my mother wanted me to live without, as my mother recognized there was no religious tolerance in Egypt unless you are Sunni Muslim. To make another point even if I was too become a Christian in Egypt I would have been either killed or put in prison. This is because in Egypt you can’t change your religious origins, if your father is Muslim you are Muslim are and there is no questioning that.
This is the only way Islam can function in society because if there is freedom many people will leave Islam and it will cease as the dominant religion.

In order to learn Arabic my dad put me with an Islamic tutor by the name of Ahmed Al-Jamal at the Islamic Center of Mt. Pleasant in Michigan. One day we were going over vocabulary. One of the words in the vocabulary list was “Israel” Ahmed yelled at the book and looked at me, and taught me one of my first Arabic sentences, which was “Ana bakrah Yisrael” which means “I hate Israel.”
My mom managed to leave Egypt when I was 4 years old. My dad was not able to follow us immediately because the Egyptian government would not let him out of the country. Eventually my dad got a job in the United States as a professor and reunited with me, my mother, and my sister. From that point on my dad consistently took me and my sister to the mosque every Friday. It was not in Egypt but in America where I learned most of what I know about Islam. Every Friday I went to the mosque and learned the fundamental teachings of Islam. I noticed in this time that these mosques fostered an incredible hatred and resentment towards Jews and America. Jews were seen as the worst most evil human being that could not under any circumstances be trusted. When I heard the incredible hate speech I either would down play it in my head or dismiss it altogether. I remembered one sermon during my freshman year of college given by a Palestinian man by the name of Tariq at the mosque in Mt. Pleasant, MI. His focus was on the horrible acts of the Jews and there oppression of the Arabic people. He concluded his sermon with saying that if he was in Palestine right now he would blow himself up. Tariq was not some uneducated peasant he is a brilliant physics professor in Central Michigan University. This well educated man just admitted to everyone in the mosque that he would commit a terrorist act. Terrorism in the Middle East is a result of the fundamental teachings of the Quran. This is a conclusion that I came to not by doing an internship with Al-Qaeda but by spending time in the American Mosques and as my time as a Muslim I would have attended over twenty mosques in various parts of the USA. In addition after Tariq’s sermon nobody challenged him or refuted what he said. To put this in perspective this man admitted that he would commit a terrorist act and nobody challenged him, in fact it would be most if not all would agree with him.

In the first semester of my second year of college I lived in the dorms. During this time I befriended a Yemenite kid by the name of Khalid. Khalid and I were the only Arabs and the only Muslims in the dorms so naturally we became quick friends. One day we were eating at the cafeteria with some of the other kids. We all started to talk about Arabs, Jews, and the state of Israel. Khalid proceeded to talk about how he does not hate Jews and that Jews have a high status in the Quran because they are people of the book. After all the other kids left the table Khalid leaned over to me and said “Zakaryia one day we will fight and kill the Jews and we will win.” I found it interesting how Khalid’s tone changed when all the “non-Muslims” left the table.
In the second semester of my sophomore year I traveled to Egypt for an intensive Arabic program at Alexandria University. When I got to Egypt I visited with my family in Cairo. I was talking to my cousin Khalid. Khalid talked a lot about Islam and religion. At some point in the conservation I said to Khalid “God loves everybody right?” Khalid then said to me “No God doesn’t love everyone he loves everyone to be good but he doesn’t love everyone. That’s a very Christian thing to say.”

During my time in Egypt I would frequently visit with my friend Ibrahim at the local dry cleaners. Everyone there were under the impression that I was Muslim so the way they would talk to me would be different than if they talked to a Westerner. One day a wealthy engineer came into the drycleaners he looked at me and asked me my name. I told him, he then paused and asked me if I was Muslim, I nodded yes. He then sat down with me and began preaching Islam to me. He mainly talked about “the day of judgment” in Islamic text. He began to tell of how the “day of judgment” will not come until there is a big war between the Muslims and the Jews (and the Christians who did not convert to Islam). He then quoted The Hadith Sahih Al-Bukari Book 52 number 176-177 which states “Allah’s Apostle said, “You (i.e. Muslims) will fight with the Jews till some of them will hide behind stones. The stones will (betray them) saying, ‘O ‘Abdullah (i.e. slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him.’ “Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say.”O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.” Basically he explained to me that in the Day of Judgment we Muslims will get to slaughter all the Jews in the world.

He then proceeded by telling me that peace will come to the Earth only when Islam is “the” religion not a religion and everyone who is not Muslim has either been killed or submitted to the Islamic state. This man was not some crazy radical he was a well educated wealthy engineer. In addition he did not speak without references everything he said was backed up by the Quran or the Hadith.Going into my sophomore year of college I was well entrenched as a Muslim but something happened that opened my eyes to everything, I went to Egypt. I was in Egypt for an intensive Arabic program. As I started to read Quran in Arabic I began to have a better understanding of the teachings of the Quran and Islam in general. The turning point came when I was reading chapter 9 verse 5 of the Quran which states “When the forbidden months have past then fight and slay the pagans where you find them and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them In every stratagem of war….” I was in the room I was sharing with a friend and I saw his bible beside his bed, I asked him if I could read it. I picked up the bible and just began reading it. I saw the love and tolerance of the bible and was very much inspired by it. Even though I had Christian influences from my mother it really wasn’t until this point that I really made a conscious decision to let Jesus Christ into my life. My mother was very happy to know that I had embraced Christianity because at the time she believed me to be Muslim. However, I was very fearful to come out as a Christian because of my heavy Muslim background and the consequences of embracing a different faith.
When I came back to America I did not come out as a Christian right away. I continued to go to the mosque every Friday. One day I was in the Mosque and noticed some white guy with a big camera. I went up to my friend Sharif and asked him who that man was. Sharif told me he was some reporter from the Reno Gazette Journal and he was doing a story on Islam. He then leaned over to me and said “I had to warn the Imam to be different.” If Islam is a religion of peace why does the Imam need to be different every time a non-Muslim comes into the equation?

Everything changed when I invited Walid Shoebat and Kamal Saleem to talk on my campus. These two men are big enemies in the eyes of the Muslim community because of the fact that there were Muslims and converted to Christianity. Inviting them to speak on campus really raised questions about whether I was Muslim or Christian. It was not long until everyone in the Muslim community knew that I was a Christian. As result I have experienced a lot of negativity toward me. I have been called ironically ignorant of Islam, racist, and islamaphobic. The most important thing I must do in the mists of all this is to have love for the ones that hate me because I cannot counter hate with more hate. As a Christian I love everyone and that includes the Jews and Israel and the Muslims and the Arab world. To counter the hate we must expose it first and by doing so many Muslims who currently go with the status quo will stand with the West because they see the firmness of our resolve. What they see now is Western weakness and no chance of being protected if they stand with us in the West.

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