In 1986 I heard about a 13th century Persian Sufi poet by the name of Rumi, and being a lover of poetry, set out to find anything of his that had been translated from the original Persian to English. I found an old copy of The Mathnawi of Jalàlu’ddin Rúmi by Reynold Nicholson and fell in love with his writings. For instance, Rumi once penned: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Over the years I accumulated quite a bit of his work and in the process learned a great deal about Rumi and Sufism. Sufism is considered to be the mystical branch of Islam, intent on the annihilation of self and complete union with God. I had always been fascinated with mystical paths, and Sufism seemed the most profound and enlightening. In the ‘90s I joined one local Sufi group after another, trying to find a fellowship of true spiritual friends. Unfortunately, all of these groups were nothing more than mere shadows of Sufism, combining Native American and Eastern religious practices to form a buffet-style of pseudo-mysticism. I continued to study the work of Rumi by reading such books as The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks and The Sufi Path of Love by William Chittick. It seemed the more I read Rumi’s poetry and teaching, the more intrigued and attached I became.
In 2000 I read a book called Rumi: Past and Present, East and West by Franklin Lewis and came to a realization that although Rumi was completely devoted to the Sufi path, he was first and foremost a Muslim. I thought to myself, ‘If someone as enlightened as Rumi follows Islam, there must be something profound in that religion.’ I went to a local mosque and began learning about Islam from the Imam, who also gave me my own copy of the Qur’an and told me where to read. When I mentioned Sufism, the Imam frowned and said “That is not true Islam. They believe they can become equal to God, and that is bad. Be Muslim, then Sunni or Shiite. Not Sufi. They have saints, and there are no saints in Islam.” This discouraged me, but I continued to study Sufism privately even as I learned about Islam. Rumi wrote: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
I was told by the Imam and others who I met at the mosque that Islam is a peaceful religion and largely misunderstood by the rest of the world. I have to confess that my knowledge of Islam was scant at best, so I eagerly took in all that I was told. I wanted to experience the ecstatic state Rumi wrote about, and sought it through the religious path he followed.
Much of what I learned about Islam was how to conduct my life, the things I could and could not do to gain the favor of Allah. Frankly, I found the rituals somewhat comforting, knowing that millions of others around the world were doing the same thing. I especially loved to pray in the mosque, with others or alone. I found that when I made my supplications while prostate on the floor, I would often enter into a profound state of humbleness, awe and love. I rarely prayed without tears flowing down my face in gratitude and devotion. In February of 2001 I recited the following and became a Muslim: “La ilah illa Allah, Muhammad rasoolu Allah.” which means “I testify that there is no true god (deity) but God (Allah), and that Muhammad is a Messenger (Prophet) of God.” I had finally found my path to God.
I went to the mosque almost daily, praying and studying. Rumi wrote: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” I believed that I could have a greater understanding of the mystical union Rumi wrote about by immersing myself in Islam. I felt especially close to my Muslim brothers and sisters after 9-11 because I felt the anti-Muslim backlash was wrong. But over the next few years, the more I read the Quran the more uncomfortable I became. It seemed everywhere I turned there were threats of damnation if the teachings weren’t kept, absolute hatred toward the “Children of the Book” (Jews), and countless urgings to use violence against unbelievers. I read Surah 5:33 that said, “Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.” and Surah 5:51 that says “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them.” Then, when I read Surah 22:19-20 I finally realized the true nature of Islam. “But those who disbelieved will have cut out for them garments of fire. Poured upon their heads will be scalding water by which is melted that within their bellies and [their] skins.” Even more disturbing was finding out about the prophet Muhammad, how it seemed he was possessed more likely by a demon than an angel when he supposedly dictated the Quran, how he urged his followers to commit acts of terror, and how he married the little girl Aisha when she was six and had sex with her when she turned nine. I became disenchanted with Islam and felt as if I had been hoodwinked into believing one thing when it was the exact opposite. It occurred to me that the reason mainstream Muslims didn’t want to recognize Rumi was because he taught non-violence and compassion toward others, and sought to find the divine in all. This was anathema to modern Islam. Rumi once said, “Ignore those that make you fearful and sad, that degrade you back towards disease and death.” I broke ties with the religion in 2004 and turned my back on it.
One year later while singing in my little sister’s Baptist choir I became consumed by the fiery conviction of the Holy Spirit and found myself prostrate again, this time at the foot of the cross, where I gave my life to Jesus Christ and became born again. Here is where I found the heart of Rumi, in God’s divine Grace and Mercy. Rumi wrote once: “Not only the thirsty seek the water, the water as well seeks the thirsty.” The words of Christ heal me on a daily basis, and His presence humbles and guides me to righteousness. The message of Jesus was that of love, pure and simple. In John 13:34 he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” In the eight years since my conversion to Christianity I have grown even closer in understanding and spiritual maturity. To be sure, there is a long, long way to go; the journey of growing closer to and becoming more like Christ requires a lifetime of dedication, prayer, study of the scriptures and fellowship.
There is absolutely no comparison between Islam and Christianity. I am grateful to have experienced firsthand the reality of Islam, and instead of condemning it, want to reach out to Muslims and help them realize the truth about their religion, that it is filled with hatred toward all who do not believe, and is dedicated in committing jihad through violence and terrorism and chaos until all non-Muslims are dead or converted. I want Muslims to know that true salvation is found through the Lord Jesus Christ, who willingly gave His life for the sins of the world so that if we but believe in him we will have everlasting life. I want my Muslim friends to study the Quran carefully; I want them to learn all they can about the life and teachings of Muhammad. I want them to understand the true agenda of Islam, to really let the murderous intent and countless threats sink into them. Then I want them to study the Holy Bible carefully. I want them to learn all they can about the life and teachings of Jesus. I want them to understand the true agenda of Christianity, to really let the message of God’s incredible love for us all wash through them.
Rumi’s words still inspire me, and my love for Christ makes his poetry even more special. He wrote, “Stop the words now. Open the window in the center of your chest, and let the Spirit fly in.” I hope the eyes and hearts of Muslims are someday opened so that the Holy Spirit can lead them from fear to blessed salvation.