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Starting with the easy part:

<Right now I am intersted in discovering the similarities between Islam and Judaism.>

My dearest friend is a Jewish man, and he tells me that Jews are supposed to recite daily ( uh, I think that's what he said) some statement similar to the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith, which when recited sincerely is taken as acceptance of the Islamic faith:

It's roughly translated ( in short form) as:

In the name of Allah the beneficent and most merciful:

I declare that there is no God but God and that Muhammad is his messenger.

As to my spiritual history:

I was born in 1949 to a Christian family but from my earliest years had several reservations about Christian doctrine, particularly with the cornerstone concept of the Trinity. I never bought that there is one God, of whom there are three, and that he is his own father. Ministers and Priests dismissed this set of contradictions as a "holy mystery", but a contradiction is not a mystery (mysteries are potentially solvable), it is a logically false statement. I stumbled along, toying with agnosticism, but never could loose the intrinsic sense that there is a Supreme force and Creator in the Universe.

I live in Manhattan and on September 11 and for three subsequent days volunteer search and rescue people were accepted (until the feds could get organized) if they had CPR certs or military background. I had both and spent 14 hours there crawling through rubble and body parts on Sept 12/13; I actually went there with a group of Muslim volunteers whom, strangely enough (a long pointless story) I helped organize. I left with a firmly negative notion of Islam, about which I knew little. Curious as to how a religion could possibly be associated with such a horror, and thinking it appropriate to know my enemy, I proceeded to research the faith. The first thing I discovered is that there is an astounding array of often contradictory claims written about the faith. I noticed that the most negative descriptions of Islamic theology came from two sources that were in nearly complete agreement as to the faith's teachings: terrorists and obvious bigots. More moderate folks, both Muslim and non-Muslim, described a more moderate theology. Whom to believe?

Perhaps reflecting my academic background, I sought out academic sources that seemed neutral and found the work of (among others) the respected scholar of comparative religion Karen Armstrong. A former Catholic nun who teaches at a reform Jewish Yeshiva in London, I expected that she'd not be unreasonably prejudiced on behalf of Islam, and her scholarly credentials implied that she knew what she was talking about.

She well addressed the commonly quoted "aggressive" content of the Qur'an. Armstrong noted that the more aggressive passages in Al Qur'an are (1) generally in reference to the specific context of a specific war (with Mecca) in which the alternative to complete victory was complete extermination, and (2) are usually followed immediately by verses calling for restraint when and if the enemy abandons its hostile intent. An earlier post by a basher illustrates well how bigots work around this reality. Rather than reply to that post, I'll refer you to a reply I posted on another board to similar deception. This post describes the way that terrorists and bigots alike misrepresent the content of the Holy Qur'an. Understanding that these people were misrepresenting Islam was obviously a critical first step. Please do read the link as its content was a critical part of my evolution toward declaring my belief in Islam.

http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=20808374

Being forearmed by Armstrong's warnings as to how the scriptures can be misrepresented o misinterpreted, I began to read the Holy Qur'an myself after establishing that the translation I read was among the better ones (some are badly translated, especially if translated from Urdu instead of directly from Arabic, or if they are (mis)translations by radicals- the Wahabi sect comes to mind- or by fundamentalist Christians or others with axes to grind).

To be as succinct as possible let me just cut to the chase and say that I found Al Qur'an very different than the Al Qaeda animals and anti-Islamic bigots misrepresent it; I also found that it solved my problem with the Trinity. Its content is actually astoundingly similar to that of the other Holy books (and the Qur'an says that both the Torah and some Christian scriptures were given to man by God), and it is much less nasty than portrayed by terrorists and bigots. I decided that like Exwa I'd always been a Muslim, and that terrorists never would be. I discovered that the people who murdered my friends in the WTC claimed to belong to a religion in which two of the four greatest sins are killing an innocent and suicide, and somehow they thought that by committing these sins they'd get to paradise. It was easy to see that they weren't encumbered in their "interpretations" by logic.

Before September 11 I had made plans for an extended trip to Indonesia, originally planning to spend some time in the jungle (without an M-16 it's a beautiful place) and then go to Bali. I arrived in early November and (for reasons some of you know) never got to the jungle, but spent time in Jakarta, Bali, and a Sumatran city. In Sumatra I spent a lot of time talking to a very good and moderate Muslim man about the Faith. Eventually I asked him to introduce me to a couple of Muslim scholars, one of whom heads a huge Muslim organization, and the other (his uncle, since deceased) having spent 40 years in Mecca. I spent most of the day with these two and became convinced that the actual theology of Islam, very unlike the trash some teach, was indeed a holy spiritual doctrine, and moreover, THAT IT ACCEPTS AND SUBSUMES OTHER MONOTHEISTIC FAITHS WHOSE PROPHETS WERE SENT BY ALLAH JUST AS WAS MUHAMMAD. Indeed, Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Moussa), and Jesus (Isa) among others are Islamic prophets.

I said the Shahda with those good men that day.

A year and a half later I married the sister of the man who introduced me to the scholars. (I'd met her on that first trip; long amazing story).

On or about the 1st of January I will Insya Allah ( if God wills it), in keeping with Muslim tradition, whisper the Muslim call to prayer into the ear of a newborn baby boy.

Shalom/Salaam

Bill
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