Crazy About Conversion

Graham's got the wrong idea about how to spread God's word. I know firsthand.

When I first read of the plans of Franklin Graham, son of esteemed Reverend Billy Graham, to enter Iraq and assist the humanitarian effort, I became upset. Not because a Christian was helping Muslims, but because of his plan to capitalize on opportunities to tell others (i.e., Muslims) "about His Son." First, Mr. Graham repeatedly attacks and lambastes the faith I hold so dear, and then he seemingly wants to go to Iraq to try to convert Muslims. It reminds me of the European colonizers of old who, after the smoke from the cannons cleared, paved the way for missionaries to convert the conquered masses.

But it also reminds me of how I used to be. I used to be "crazy about conversion." Once, someone told me that if I had brought someone to the religion of Islam, it would be "better than the world and all it has." Thus, I made it one of my life goals to try to convert someone to Islam. I voraciously read books that chronicled Christian-Muslim debates. I watched videotaped debates between various Muslim and Christian religious leaders time and again, and I attended them in person whenever I could. I studied numerous Biblical passages for hours on end. I argued with quite a few of my Christian friends about such things as the Bible, Christ, the Trinity, and other aspects of Christian theology. At Marquette University (a Jesuit institution), where I attended college, I even offered to debate one of my dorm-mates in front of the rest of the dorm, but it never materialized.

And then I grew up. As I left college for medical school and passed through the various stages of my medical training, my zeal for conversion abated dramatically: I had since gotten married and between my studies and my family, I had no time to debate. More importantly, however, I came to the realization that this passion for conversion was misguided. True, Islam does encourage its adherents to "invite to the path of their Lord." Indeed, Islam does advocate sharing the faith with others. I took that encouragement, however, to the extreme. And frankly, it did little good; it made the people I was arguing with defensive, and the result was not a mutual sharing of faith experiences, but an argument over whose faith was "better" than the other. In addition, it eroded my respect for the other's faith. That was wrong, and I deeply regret my past behavior.I now believe that, although sharing my faith is important, it is more important not to shove religion down anyone's throat. Those who interact with me on a daily basis will inevitably learn about Islam, for Islam permeates my very being. They will learn about the five daily prayers, because I will break to pray multiple times during the day. They will learn about Ramadan, because when asked if I want a cup of coffee, I will refuse citing my fasting. If there is pizza lying around in the hospital, I will tell them to pass down the vegetarian pizza, for I don't eat pork on religious grounds. No preaching, no quoting from the Bible or Qur'an, no proselytizing. And that is exactly how I like it. I have come to reject the claim of some that Muslims should participate in such activities as providing relief work in America, or joining the Army, or engaging in political activism "in order to make da'wah (inviting to Islam)." No. Muslims should do those things because that is what good citizens do, and Islam commands Muslims to be good citizens. Few things are more Islamic than helping one's neighbor, be they next door or in the next state, in their time of need. I cannot fathom Islam objecting to getting involved politically to help make America a more just, humble, and equitable society. If I were to ever join the Army to defend my homeland--which is America and will always be America--it will instantly become my Islamic duty.

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