Our correspondent goes undercover.
Maybe you've seen one of these Broward County buses around town that are wrapped with advertisements that describe Islam as being the religion of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed. "Got Questions? Get Answers!," the ads promise.
Considering that the threat of radical Islam has been described as, you know, the defining issue of our time, I did have some questions, actually -- and 20 minutes to kill on my drive home. I'm also working on a story about a woman from Iran, and it would be helpful to better understand her religion.
So I called. And I was converted. I think.
As kind of a side note, an aunt had been urging me to pray lately, and in fact that very morning, I had been thinking that I should get right with God. I figured I would work on that after next week. Make it a New Year's resolution.
I should note that I was raised Catholic (made Communion but was never confirmed); have a Jewish stepdad; and that the last church service I enjoyed was a Unitarian Universalist service two years ago. I always had trouble swallowing the idea of God being scary and vengeful, and certain Bible passages never really resonated with me or outright turned me off. Plus, this lady once came up to me and started speaking in tongues and asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus as my personal savior. Her approach scared the bejeezus out of me.
Yet, I feel there are definitely miracles in the world. How else can a sperm and egg make a baby? How else could something as fascinating as a seahorse come to exist? Coconuts? Afternoon sunshine? Best I could figure out is that nature is always right; I try to always trust nature. So I had been moving through a pretty agnostic existence, not sure what to believe except that there's something grand and spiritual out there. If I do my best to be good, hopefully he/she/it will forgive me for being a bumbling, questioning, thinking human being.
So I dialed the number from the bus advertisement: 1-888-ISLAM-55. It connected me to a recording that said I could receive a free copy of the Qur'an. I was transferred to a young man who sounded like he was home cooking dinner. His name, it turned out, was Chandrajeet, and he was a 28-year-old computer programmer from Chicago who had volunteered to talk to callers. He took my name and address. He offered to answer any questions I had.
Are women considered equal under Islam? Yes.
What about that whole "kill the infidels" thing? Who is to decide who's the infidel? If you kill someone, it's like you killed the whole world; if you help someone, it's like you helped the whole world. God alone will judge in the end.
Is there a heaven and hell? Yes, but not like a golden meadow or a flaming BBQ pit; both are way, way beyond what any human can comprehend.
At one point, he asked if I believed there was only one God, and I said I thought so, yes. It was a enlightening, reassuring, and very pleasant conversation that ended up lasting about 45 minutes.
As we were wrapping it up, Chandrajeet asked again if I believed in one God. I said that I already told him that I did. He asked if I would like him to be a witness of that. Not sure where this was leading and yet not wanting to offend him, I answered again, "Well, I already told you I think there's only one God."
"OK...," he said, hesitating for a second and then eagerly launching into what I think was an Arabic prayer. Then, he congratulated me.
"Wait -- am I a Muslim now?" I asked.
"Yes!!" I'm sure he was beaming on the other end of the line.
"Um... shouldn't I read the Qur'an first?"
"I'll send that out to you! And you know what?"
"I am going to look for a headscarf to send you as well."
"Aw, that's really sweet of you!"
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I thanked him for his time. He truly was adorable. Not long afterward, I opened an email he had sent out to several people, saying he had welcomed a "sister who is the newest in faith and as if a new born baby." His wife had also emailed me saying, "A biggggggggggg hug n sweet kisses from my side to you sister!" I felt touched by their genuineness and warmth.
However, I'm not sure where this leaves me. I'm not sure if I have inadvertently accepted some things I didn't mean to. I also don't want to disrespect anyone's religion. I'm not sure if I am now in for some wrath from my Christian side. Am I going to be aggravating any bigwig in the sky if I attend Midnight Mass?
Anyway, my Qur'an is on its way.
-- Deirdra Funcheon