I am an American journalist and author. In 1997, at the age of 49, after more than 30 years of research and life experience, I came to Islam. This decision reflects many things in my life.
I grew up in an environment that is unusual for most Americans. My father was Jewish; my mother was the daughter of a famous fundamental Protestant pastor. My father was a student of religion or Yeshiva-bocher as a teenager. My mother grew up in an atmosphere of intense Bible reading, and she knew the Old and New Testaments very well.
I didn’t feel like a tourist in Sarajevo. I have had direct encounters with Muslim believers and scholars.
My parents were both tested by the events of the 1930s. My mother gave up Christianity in protest against the Nazis‘ attacks on the Jews, whom she regarded as “the original people of God” because of her upbringing. She later converted to Judaism.
My two parents spent a long time under the influence of the Communist Party, even as they continued to live according to the Jewish faith. This was the tragic paradox in their lives; disappointed with the mistakes of the religions in which they were born. Even though they wavered between liberal radicalism and God, they were never extreme with Zionism.
In fact, I have always felt pain in the conflict in the Middle East and have always longed for justice and friendship between Israelis and Arabs.
I was very left-wing radical as a teenager. But I wrote poems and although I was discouraged by my parents‘ confusion and bitterness when it came to religion, I believed in God. I tried to answer these questions.
I think the most important contributions Islam can make in America include racial justice and public morality.
My first search for the truth led me to the Catholic Church. Even though I have not converted, I was very impressed with the Catholic mystical literature.
I soon learned that behind the glorious works of Spanish Catholic mysticism was the history of Islam in Spain, and that the beautiful Islamic inspiration had survived the tradition. Finally, I traveled to Spain repeatedly in search of traces of the long Islamic presence on the Iberian Peninsula. As a writer, I have studied this phenomenon for many years. I studied the Troubadour poets who showed a strong Islamic influence.
From 1979 I studied Kabbalah, the tradition of Jewish mysticism. There too I found an immense Islamic reflection that was filtered through Judaism.
The crucial event in my search for Islam took place in 1990 when I was traveling to the Balkans as a journalist. I visited Sarajevo and reported on the Bosnian war.
I discovered some amazing things in Sarajevo. I found an outpost of Islam in Europe in an environment where I did not feel like a tourist, where I could have simple and direct encounters with Muslim believers and scholars. I found beautiful poetry and music that expressed the values of Islamic grace and love.
I discovered “the garden of the old Imam” to quote a line from a famous Bosnian song – a holdover from the great period of Ottoman rule over the Balkans and its huge influence on Islamic civilization.
I read passages from the Quran and visited Islamic monuments on my travels through the Balkans. I kept coming back to the garden and eventually I entered it.
Since I accepted Islam, I have started to inform my friends, neighbors, co-workers and others. I don’t want to provoke conflict or controversy, and I don’t want to have the experience of being considered superficial or fashionable. It is not for me, it is for Allah. I want to continue in a way that is most useful to the Ummah and for better relationships between all believers in laa ilaaha illAllah.
So far I have no problems apart from occasional rude comments. If anything, people in my newsroom seem happy to have someone who can report on topics with greater accuracy. Others are amazed but respectful; they seem to understand that it is not about politics or publicity, but reflects a long personal search.
I also think, to be absolutely honest, that non-Muslims see me as someone influenced by their experiences in the Balkans, so this choice makes some sense in this context.
But I quickly make it clear that I did not become a Muslim for political or humanitarian reasons, but because the message of Prophet Muhammad (sas) is the clearest proof of Allah’s wishes.
As I said at the beginning, I see in many of what is positive about Judaism and Christianity today a total reflection of Islamic influence.
I mentioned Spanish Catholicism. There is a reason that Spanish Catholics feel their faith more intensely than other Catholics, and it is because of the Islamic heritage in their culture. The Crusades and the Inquisition did not extinguish this light, although they seem to have dampened it a little.
I really believe that without the tolerance of the Arab rulers in Spain and especially without the generous protection from the Ottoman Khalifs, Judaism would have disappeared from the world. Jewish historians of religion now admit that without the positive impact of living in a Muslim environment, Judaism would look significantly different. The aspect of Islam that has impressed me the most is the emphasis on the inner peace that is achieved through submission to the will of Allah. I recognized this in the courtesy, courtesy, simplicity and sincerity (ikhlas) of the Bosnian Muslims, who went through the worst tortures but never lost their basic serenity.
That serenity made my life easier. Whenever I feel troubled and tested in my daily life, or fear and worry about the future, or frustrated in my literary ambitions, my thoughts now, automatically, go to the rest of the Muslims I know in Bosnia and the unity of community prayers and above all to the pure and soothing words of the Quran.
My only problem with overcoming my fears was the conflict between Jews and Christians. I am looking for mediation, no concessions to secularism.
I believe that the most important contribution Islam will make in America includes racial justice and public morality. We all recognize the truth in Brother Malcolm X’s declaration that Islam is the solution to America’s racial problem. I think Islam also provides the solution to America’s moral problem.
Before I became a Muslim, I was impressed by the values of Muslims in America and the moral strength of Muslims in the Balkans in the face of their torture. Today I am, I have to say, somehow sad to see the Ummah so deeply divided and to see the Muslims quarreling with each other. I am also concerned about the failure of Muslims to do more for the victims of imperialism through Orthodox Christians in the Balkans. Islam has brought great peace and beauty to my life. As I have told others, I will spend my remaining years devoted to worshiping Allah. I personally vowed to do everything I can to help rebuild the mosques of Bosnia and Kosovo.
Source: https://www.islamland.com/deu/articles/stephen-schwartz-journalist-usa ..