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How a Church Leader’s Daughter Accepts Islam
Maryam was born in a Christian home in the Philippines. Her father was a Preacher of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Head of this church is called a Preacher/Church Leader or a Pastor, but not a Priest. In other sects of Christianity, a Christian can confess his/her sins before a Priest and the Priest can forgive those sins. In the Seventh-day Adventist church, a Preacher cannot forgive sins; rather, only God can accept the repentance of the sinner. Maryam described her life to me as follows:
MY RELIGIOUS UPBRINGING:
I completed my Elementary and High School education in my hometown and proceeded to take up a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Medical Technology. Since my father was a Preacher, my mother, myself and my three sisters took an active part in church activities. For example, I used to sing religious songs with my sisters accompanied by a piano or join a church choir. My father was very talented. He used to write religious poems and often invited me to recite these poems to the church audience. Hence, I enjoyed a very respected and graceful position in my community. We were very proud of the teachings of my church, which were very different from some other Christian churches.
TEACHINGS OF THE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH:
1. Smoking and drinking liquor are prohibited.
2. Eating pork and certain other animals is prohibited.
3. Making pictures or some form of images of Jesus is not allowed.
4. Fresh vegetables should be preferred for home cooking.
5. Eating fish only with scales is allowed.
6. Wearing gold and artificial ornaments is not allowed so that God’s wonderful creation is not changed.
7. Bad habits like using bad language, malicious talk and cursing are not allowed.
8. If a church member commits a mistake, the church leader tries to reform him/her on a one- to-one basis.
9. If someone displays bad habits consistently, his/her name is removed from the church register but can reform and rejoin afterwards.
10. We are not allowed to work on Saturdays; rather, we should attend church services and devote our time only to religious matters.
Maryam says that she followed these teachings wholeheartedly and led a very religious life.
EMPLOYMENT IN IRAN:
In 1975, I accepted a job in an Iranian Hospital as a Medical Technologist. The Head of the my Department was a Pathologist, also from the Philippines. She suddenly resigned from her job and I was appointed as in-charge of the Laboratory. Meanwhile, our hospital hired Dr. Minhaj, an Indian Doctor, and hence, I handed over the responsibility to him. Dr. Minhaj tried to introduce Islamic teachings to me from time to time and invited me to embrace Islam. I told him firmly and somewhat rudely, “I shall never accept Islam since Muslims in our Country are considered low, disgraceful, trouble-makers and sometimes killers.
Like many other people, I was also dreaming to work in America. I applied for a job in a few American Hospitals. I received a job offer in a Hospital near Los Angeles. I took two- months leave from my job in Iran and went to America. I stayed there with friends from my country. While I was considering to join this new job, I somehow did not like the American lifestyle and hence, I hurriedly headed back to Iran and resumed my job there. The Administrator of the American Hospital was surprised and said, “People are craving for such jobs and you are turning this down”. Perhaps God Almighty had something else in store for me.
SOME GLIMPSES OF ISLAMIC ACTIVITIES:
I used to hear the recitation of the Quran on Iranian T.V. I thought these were Iranian songs. I also used to hear Allah-o-Akbar again again in the call for prayer. I thought Muslims worshipped Allah and also Akbar, i.e., two gods. In the meantime, Dr. Minhaj introduced me to the daughter of his Muslim friend. I liked her nature and therefore, I used to spend most of my spare time at her house. If I asked her a question about Islam, she answered me briefly and never imposed Islam on me.
THE SOFTENING OF MY HEART:
Whenever I saw my friend offering Salat, she did it very humbly, sincerely and with utmost concentration. I was moved by her method of offering Salat. I honestly felt that it was a better way to worship God than that followed by my church, even though we use the piano to enhence our religious feelings. My heart softened for Islam. This was the first time I felt that Islam may be a better religion than Christianity.
In fact, Allah has taught the Muslims a very unique method to offer Salat. Any unprejudiced person will be moved to see the sincerity and humbleness displayed during the Salat.
It would be interesting to mention here a side story in this regard. Bob Crain was the religious advisor of President Nixon of America. He described his story to us in his address in Los Angeles as follows: President Nixon sent me to meet with American Muslim Leaders to learn about their viewpoints and concerns. I had a long meeting with them from morning till noon. They told me that they would like to offer Salat before lunch. I thought that since I had been with them all day, it does not look nice to walk away from them during their Salat. Thus, I sat down close by there, watching them offer their Salat. They were highly-educated and talented persons. I was amazed to see their concentration and humbleness during the Salat, so much so that they even touched their foreheads to the ground to show their extreme submission and humbleness. I was truly moved by their method of worship and felt that Islam is a better religion than Christianity. Hence, after their Salat, I embraced Islam and was their brother in Islam.
I pray that Allah may enable us to offer our Salat with the same sincerity, so that it becomes a source of guidance and light for others. Let us now return to our original story.
MY JOURNEY TO ISLAM:
Now I became more curious about Islam and started asking more and more questions to my friend. For example, I asked about the veil used by the Muslim women. She said, “It is to ensure modesty and not arrogance. It is also to protect women’s honor and not to display cheapness.” I liked her explanation. I said, “I hear Allah-o-Akbar again and again. What does it mean? She said it means Allah is the Greatest in all respects.” I said to myself that it is also the very First Commandment of the Old Testament. So, it is fully acceptable to me. I am rather pleased that the Muslims are reminded about it daily in their call for prayers. (Note that Christians believe not only in the New Testament but also in the Old Testament. Furthermore, according to Abdullah bin Abbas (RA), these ten commandments are given in the Quran in Surah Bani-Israel in verses Nos. 22-38. Hence, there is One and only One God and He sent guidance through His Messengers). Now I wished to learn more and more about Islam. Since I knew the Old Testament as well as the New Testament thoroughly, only a knowledgeable Muslim person could answer my questions. There was a Bengali Imam in the nearby Masjid who knew English well. I started exchanging ideas with him from time to time. He was very patient with me and answered my questions very logically. I was impressed by Islamic teachings and expressed my desire to embrace Islam. I recited with the Imam, “There is only one God, Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” Thank God for guiding me to Islam!
At this point, Dr. Minhaj advised me to marry a Muslim to facilitate Islamic education and training. I had known him for a long time at my job. I was very impressed by his character and personality and above all, by his religiousness. I decided to marry him. When he came to know about my decision, he asked me again and again, “Are you embracing Islam to marry me?” I told him, “Not at all! I am fully satisfied with the teachings of Islam. It is the call of my heart to accept Islam.”
I sent a telegram to my father stating that I have embraced Islam and intended to marry a Muslim physician from India. “Please inform me if you have any objection.” My father is a very broadminded and understanding person. He wrote to me, “You are a mature and sensible young lady. If you are satisfied with Islamic teachings and consequently accept Islam, we have no objection at all. However, make sure that you do not accept Islam simply to marry a person.”
These were the same remarks as given by Dr. Minhaj. Every honest and sincere person would say so. Consequently, I married Dr. Minhaj cheerfully.
ISLAMIC EDUCATIONAL TRAINING:
My husband is, by the Grace of God Almighty, a very sincere, knowledgeable and practicing Muslim. His character made it very easy for me to understand, appreciate and practice the Islamic teachings. I had no idea of the Arabic alphabet. He taught me Arabic and how to read the Quran.
Every morning, we used to spend about half an hour reading the Quran. With the help of Allah (SWA), I finished reading the Quran in one year. I used to read the meanings of the Quran in English on my own. I saw a video of Sheikh Ahmad Deedat which was a comparative study of Islam and Christianity. It dispelled all my doubts. Later, I saw some T.V programs by Dr Jamal Badawi. They made my Islamic faith more firm and sweet. I highly recommend all Muslims and non-Muslims to view Dr. Jamal Badawi’s videos for enlightenment and for the discovery of the truth.
IMMIGRATION TO SAUDI ARABIA:
During the last part of 1980, a war broke out between Iran and Iraq. We had difficulty staying in Iran but were able to survive the difficulty till we were forced to migrate to Saudi Arabia in 1983. By then, we had two little children (a daughter and a son). My husband found a job in a Saudi Govt. Hospital. Later on, it was time for the children to attend school, so we enrolled them in Saudi schools. After some time we were blessed with another daughter, our youngest. Saudi schools offer very good Islamic education. I used to help my children with their homework and dictation and in this way, I also learnt elementary Arabic from them. We also taught them English subjects at home. I am proud to share with you that my eldest daughter, Fatima, was the top student out of 108 classmates in the sixth grade. Our younger daughter, Javeria, not only topped her class, but also, as a representative of her school, won second position in a Hadith competition in Madinah. At present, Fatima is working as a Dentist, Javeria is a Medical (MBBS) Intern, and my son has started his own business firm after finishing an MBA. I am also pleased that we have been in this sacred city of Madinah for the last twenty four years. During vacation, we visit India or the Philippines.
INTERACTION WITH INDIAN RELATIVES:
My mother-in-law did not know English. I learnt some reading and writing of simple words and speaking in Urdu during my stay in Iran, so much so that I used to write very brief letters to my mother-in-law in Urdu. For example, How are you? accept salaam from both of us, etc. Her eyes were sore. She sent me replies through her daughter. All my Indian relatives respected me a lot as I do respect them. I asked Maryam, “Did you find it difficult to develop a close understanding with your Indian relatives due to cultural and language differences? She said, “Not at all. Where there is a will, there is a way. In fact, Islamic values strengthen the ties very fast. This hue and cry about mother-in-law and daughter-in-law fights are phony. These differences are due to dishonesty and ignorance. One time, the sisters of Dr. Minhaj came to Madinah and they visited my family. I asked them about Maryam. One of them related the following incident: One time, I saw her with a torch light sitting inside the mosquito net in the middle of the night. I got worried. Maybe she is ill. I reached her and asked gently “Are you OK?” She said, “I am fine. My children keep me very busy throughout the day. I do not find time to read Quran. Hence, I am reading it now.” I wish that we, the traditional Muslims, also read Quran regularly like her.
VISITS TO THE PHILIPPINES:
I visited the Philippines three times with my husband and children. My parents, brothers and sisters accepted us wholeheartedly and tried to please us as much as they could. They were very impressed by the gentle manners and attractive personality of my husband. We explained to them that we are not permitted to eat such and such food. They therefore brought live chickens and my husband slaughtered them by the Islamic method. We valued their hospitality and broadmindedness.
I also visited the Philippines twice with the children alone. My father told me, “I shall slaughter the chicken like your husband did.” I told him that we have to recite a supplication during slaughtering. He said, “You recite whatever is required while I am slaughtering the chicken.” My brother observed some hesitation on my part. My brother said, for my further satisfaction, “We will throw the chicken away after cutting its half neck as your husband did to facilitate the flow of blood from its body by its movements. Anyhow, they were very kind to me and respected my religious views and practices.
I however ate canned fish and vegetables during my stay there. My father was highly educated, broadminded and head of his church. One time he personally told me that he too is confused about our thinking and beliefs about Jesus. I did not have any more chances to discuss this topic with him since he died soon after that.
LOVE FOR BENEFICIAL KNOWLEDGE:
Maryam loves to read religious books. Last year she came across an English translation of the Quran where each word’s meaning is given followed by a translation of each verse. The whole Quran is in three volumes. She liked it since she wished to know the meaning of each word of the Quran. Her husband said, “I shall buy it for you.” Maryam said “I would like to borrow this set of Quranic books and write the meanings of each word of Quran with my own hand.” She started this project a year ago even at this age.
I pray that Allah (SWT) make it easy for her and enable her to finish this noble task soon. Let us compare it with the thinking and practice of a traditional Muslim who is proud to finish the recitation of the Quran twice or thrice during the month of Ramadhan without reading the meaning of any part of it. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran, “Why don’t they ponder over the Quran? Are there locks put on their hearts? Hence, we must read Quran with its meaning like Maryam, otherwise we are not obeying the command of Allah (SWT).
The purpose of this story and this booklet is to guide and inspire our traditional Muslims so that they quit their rigid and narrow thinking and make it their habit to read Quran while trying to understand its meanings. It will, Inshallah, please Allah (SWT) so He may shower more and more of His Mercy on you.
MY ESTEEMED NEIGHBORS:
I am proud to say that I am a close neighbor of Dr. Minhaj in this Holy city of Madinah Munawarrah. We are lucky to meet each other daily at least during Salat-ul-Fajr in the Prophet’s Mosque. My wife, Dr. Sophia, is also very pleased to meet Maryam on a daily basis in this mosque.
Dr. Minhaj and Maryam pray in Masjid Quba once a week like Prophet Muhammad used to do and they perform Salat-ul-Fajr daily in the Prophet’s Mosque. They return home after praying Salat-ul-Dhuha shortly after the time of Ishraaq. I pray that Allah (SWT) makes my family and the families of the readers of this story like Maryam and Dr. Minhaj.