Well in a nutshell. I come of a mixed European background. We have catholics, orthodox christian and a few atheist minded folks in the family. I was in part raised with a socialist mind set, somewhat more geared towards philosophical thought and introspection rather than religion, however my mother was the one that did take me to church, but even as a child I used to question things and think. My mother tried several times to get me baptised, as the family being mixed and with mixed beliefs I did not get baptised. I eventually did but that's for later.
Still without any pressure from anyone I believed in God on my own. I was encouraged to think about everything and encouraged to be introspective about everything that's around us.
I also developed a passion to read from a very young age. If anything I was obsessed with ancient civilizations, used to read a lot about egyptology, as a kid it was my dream to be an Egyptologist lol (silly kid). I also from a young age got fascinated by science, would read alot on astronomy, got early into math, physics and bio books... although I found biology as a topic literally yucky, but theoretically fascinated me.
I eventually had a choice between public school and catholic school. I chose catholic school on my own inclination and premise that it would be less corrupted. From a young age I also wanted to stay away from corruption, ironically though I have found out that in catholic school the drug abuse, alcohol, promiscious sex are quite wide spread. In grade 6 people were indeed screwing around, drugged up, etc...
In primary school I studied the old testament alongside the school and on my own. So it gave me an insight into the bible.
As high school came the tone of teaching drastically changed, it became a forget about the OT and learn the NT but in the way the church says so.
I became even more of an avid reader, and I started reading about all different ancient cultures, more into science. It actually increased my faith in God not the other way around. I found for the first time atheists around me and did not agree with their beliefs. I mean in the family I had atheists but they were careless, while these atheists were more extreme in their views, as if they have to shuv down your throat atheism. To me learning more of science increased my faith not the other way around. I just could not accept darwinism, it was not science to me at all. I've had books on darwinism, evolution, etc... that I would read but i just didn't buy into it... From 8 years old I already knew what lucy was and all that other jazz... so it wasn't something new to me. By seven I already knew three languages. So as you can see I loved learning, reading, etc...
With a shift in HS teaching on catholicism to trinitarinism, I saw a distinct change in doctrine. Out of no where everything was about worshipping Jesus and they even made us watch a movie in gr9 of 'god' coming in human form to 'save' an atheist. It was blasphemy to me, everyone was disturbed by it... but somewhere like "WOOOW" all emotional (to me that was really brain dead...) and of course this is where a few atheists (yes in catholic school) spoke against it. I felt offended even being shown something like this.. knowing what the OT says. So it was pretty much brainwashing. They selectively thought us new testament passages and cathecisms.
I didn't buy into this. I read the bible for myself cover to cover and study it. To my shock and surprise discovered many things they don't want us to know.
I studied the history of christianity, the church, I could not mend with the man made things that contradict themselves but believed in God still, definetely not in the trinity. I understand everything being preached but it was non-sense. So contrary to what you think I do know what from a chrsitian perspective the 'holy spirit is' and dwelling in you and so forth, but this was so far off from prophetic teachings and foreign to the chain of teachings of all past prophets and messengers.
I so happen to also read about world religions and it so happened we had world religion classes, I took it upon myself to give extra readings besides school. This helped me learn more.
We also had a philosophy class I took and I studied greek philosophy, contemporary philosophy, etc... again took it upon myself to read more on my own. Where the teacher skipped chapters, I kept reading, it was actually a college level philosophy book but in HS go figure. In college itself I also had world religion classes and philosophy classes and that helped me learn more.
My younger uncle was the first to become Muslim and he tried to tell us about islam at one point or another but we did not become Muslim. My parents and I also lived amongst Arabs. My older uncle lived amongst arabs for 30 years. But none of us became Muslim.
If anything our experiences were contrary to what we were conditioned to believe. I grew up with the typical racist popeye and warner cartoons which showcase arabs as wild, thieving, crooked, violent, whatever magic carpet, magic lamp, sword wielding weirdos.
The reality is... we found out that they were in fact quite friendly, hospitable, excellent people. We've had a few negative encounters without a doubt, but then what can one expect.
For example I wore USA flag shorts lol I got some stones thrown at me once. Quite frankly now though I totally understand. I was as hard as it is to believe, fairly pro American. Hollywood does stupid things to people. It is only when I started studying the recent history of conflicts that things came to light.
Other than a few incidents like that, the overall experience was a very good living amongst Arabs. It's hard to translate to people who only understand Arabs and Muslims (not all Arabs are Muslim) through TV, vs our experiences. The rest of the world is NOT a shithole like the west makes it out to be or seem. Our infrastructure is totally shit and crumbling but people are oblivious to these realities.
No one ever tried to teach us Islam which was sad, but their kindness, hospitality and manners were definetely remembered. Quite frankly people in North america have a bad attitutde, even in Europe people are far more friendly.
Back on subject.. my uncle passed away in 1999, may 2001 my grandparents came and visited us, and we asked them to bring his quran to us. We wanted to find out what the qur'an says. So we started reading it. Alongside that time I was studying world religions and fighting with the idea of the trinity.
The more I learned about other religions the more I saw certain similarities, however all of them had this tampered man made venture to them.. and I could not accept any of that. The qur'an on the other hand started answering the many questions I had. The more I learned about Islam the more I actually felt as a Muslim. Even though I had no muslims around me. Mostly Italian, Polish, and white Canadian folks. Some Arabs but they were all Christians. In fact one of my HS girlfriends was an iraqi christian.
Then 911 happened and without a bias, I didn't buy the whole story. From the get go there was so many lies. For instance Palestinians being blamed and fake videos of 'celebrating' being shown. It's funny until this day some people believe this was true, but it was fraudulent fox news report. It wasn't true.
It yet again encouraged me to learn about Islam more. As far as Christianity went, I kept reading the bible, but when it came to the trinity (which was no where in the bible well unless you wana include Paul's rants), I did not accept it. How could I? How could one accept something that was forged after Jesus? The history showcases it... so the priests, pastors, teachers all had lame explanations and it pretty much crumbled upon "you will find faith in it eventually". I never accepted blind faith.
Which brings me to the next thing, unlike the bible, the qur'an actually encourages thought and critical thinking. It went well with my introspective nature. So when it came to prayers even in school, when we would be doing the whole in the name of the father, and the son and the holy spirit, crossing north, south, whatever i forget now lol.. and doing hail mary, etc... I stopped. I refused to recite anything to do with the trinity. The many verses of the OT kept resonating in my head, as did what Jesus said about God... so..
Alongside experiences of watching other people around me, I saw them drinking, getting hammered, girls being used, lots of bad in the immediate society. I never partook into it. I did drink alcohol with family wine, champagne, never took a liking to beer, but not like other people around me.
College was even worse. It's pretty much where everyone lets lose, I was the opposite. I kept myself disciplined, I played sports, did martial arts. Avoided partying, avoided drinking.
So the more I kept reading the qur'an the more I realized... this is what I believe. THe more I kept reading about Islam again I kept telling myself this is what I believe.
Throughout this time the only muslim friends I had was some pakistani brothers who I worked on game projects with (yes I was making video games briefly and I studied media and computer animation in college). I would discuss with them political issues, religion, etc... so it gave me an alternative circle of friends to speak with. The other friends of mine were too busy getting hammered, hunting girls, etc... Ironically when I saw some of their facebook pages recently, they haven't moved away much from these lifestyles... may God guide them..
However when I came to college, it was a rainbow of cultures, people, religions, etc... I got to know more Muslims.
I also kept reading the biography of Muhammad (pbuh), his companions, there are volumes on the subject and its truly fascinating. Unlike say Jesus who we only know about craddle, then brief temple experience then when he's 30, we know everything about Muhammad (pbuh) and not only that, all of his many companions, intimiate details, so its really fascinating to almost live and breath it all.
I decided with my family to give our shahada, declaration of faith. My parents were studying on their own, I was studying on my own, however we would share and discuss what we learned. So in december 2003, the night sadam was declared 'captured' (another lie he was captured before but they made him appear like he was hiding with money lol), we became Muslim
I got involved in college with the muslim student association, organized various conventions, inviting christians, muslims, people of different faiths, we had various speakers, inter religious dialogue, etc... Likewise helped organize for muslims to have place to pray, etc... I went two colleges two programs, btw so it gave me time to explore Islam longer too
As mentioned earlier... we had world religion courses, social courses, political courses, philosophy courses, I made sure to take all the extra credits. Social sciences and people fascinate me. It also helped me contribute to learn more.
From then on I engaged in debating Christians and kept learning more about Islam. I indeed did cut off from some friends as their way of life just did not fit mine... I had no interest of drinking or clubbing or partying. So my friends indeed changed to more Muslims.
I started praying 2004 and believe it or not it was very difficult for me to accept to bow my head down on the floor. Not to mention I had a hard time accepting that we are 'slaves'/servants of God. I could understand the term servant, but slave? However if one were to discuss this term, one would realize quickly none of us are free. We are all slaves to something. And indeed we are slaves to God. Took me some time to really accept this but the first time I bowed my head down and prayed I cried in happiness. I felt this relief. It was me and God communicating. No intermediaries. It's not surprising all the prophets in bible bowed their foreheads down... it is the deepest humbleness and sincereity before God.
Since then I also had quite the adventure dealing with muslims, as my idea of muslims was indeed that of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions. I soon found out not all muslims are practicing or even knowledgable of the religion. The worst were cultural muslims (who all think are very special because of the individual background). In reality the attitude of these cultural muslims are same across all spectrums, only difference is clothing, food, language, otherwise same mannerisms and ignorance of religion... pride, etc...
I got involved in writing articles on the topic of racism, discrimination, nationalism, prejudice, culturalism (not the material but the way of life in conrast to islam as islam IS the way of life for muslims), tribalism, etc... as such. Something that Islam staunchly opposes, as we are suppose to be united under God regardless of where we come from. I came to the attention of other muslims who were fighting this (some born muslims and some converts).
I also dealt with the many sects of which some of the more prominent ones are shias, sufis, ahmedis, etc... Ahmedis are not even muslims. Nation of islam are not muslims. But alot of non muslims will get confused about these groups.
It's rather simple... The messenger of God left us the qur'an and his sunnah. If there is disagrement people can refer to these sources, not later innovations. However the human heart and desire have a hard time controlling themselves and so people think they know better and lead away from the religion and then try to codify what they make up as part of religion. The same problem that other religions, christianity in particular has. The difference is with Islam, we have the complete way of life and religion preserved. So if anyone goes astray it's on their accord not the fault of the religion
Islam is perfection, a complete way of life encompassing everything for the betterment of individuals, society and mankind at large. It is a message for all mankind beginning with the primary teaching that there is only one God the creator of all creation and of mankind.
We can chose to do what we want as we will, but we are warned of the consequences. God is the absolute most merciful His mercy is incomparable to any human's mercy, but God's punishment is also severe. Everyone will be given their time on this earth and everyone will be judged justly according to their condition, knowledge and actions. God does not have injustice and wants justice for all.
For everything in islam that is presecribed or forbidden there is a reason, yet primarly yes I want to obey God not mankind. As in the qur'an it says if you were to obey mankind they would all lead you astray and indeed we can see how mankind leads each other astray. Right and wrong is decided by mob rule and can change over night. The overall fabric of society is quite shattered and there is unjustice, lack of peace, immoral and suffering for all.
There is a reason God has prescribed things for us. God refers to the Jews as those that have earned God's anger in the opening surah. Why? Because they have been given understanding, given knowledge, guidance, but they chose not to follow it and are arrogant. The christians are called those that have been led astray. And rightly so... every christian will give you a different explanation of what religion is, of who God is, of whats right and wrong, etc... even this forum is proof enough of that... Doing away with God's law? And replace it with what? Mankind's law? Surely.. Jesus would have never intended that nor did he, but what is the result? Many man made laws made into religion.
Islam is the only absolute monotheist religion that has been preserved. If people stray away from it, we can always go back to the preserved sources which verily we cannot say exist for other religions.
Indeed... it is amazing how much information we have in Islam... refering to the life of Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions... you can practically live and breath it and feel it as if you were in that time. The same cannot be said about Jesus or other prophets (peace be upon them all). And indeed Muhammad is the final and last messenger for mankind.
People can hate all they want but it only amplifies their ignorance of Islam