Living in an Islamic country, you’d think citizens like myself would be used to Islam and its teachings. But I’m not.
Growing up, I must admit I was raised in a family that was pretty racist. My parents were very wary of me mixing with the Malay kids in general to the point that they have sent me to a private school where I would have fewer interactions with them.
Funnily enough, I became very close to a small group of Malay girls and I was the only Chinese among them. We did everything together – from studying, to having lunch together. I saw no issues with it. Until one of them hosted a slumber party.
I begged my mom to let me join the party so much as I really wanted to go. But she refused and was very firm about it, saying that she was afraid that the girls may try and convert me by getting me to read the Quran and would, therefore, become a Muslim because of the witnesses.
It was a horrible and misleading view about Muslims, but I didn’t know it then. And because I was a child, I believed my mom and I stopped hanging out with the girls after that. I didn’t want to be converted into a Muslim and stop eating pork and had to cover up. I was genuinely afraid that would actually happen to me.
Why I Used To Be Afraid of Muslims
[The #notinmyname Muslim march against terrorism in Italy, 2015. Photo credit to The Daily Beast]
Negative portrayals of Islam from the western media had led me to believe that Islam was a violent and oppressive religion which had caused thousands to suffer.
On top of that, TV shows have shown plenty of terrorists who are Muslims, further fueling the stereotypes I have perceived over the years. Soon enough, I became Islamophobic.
In my ingrained mind, I believed that Muslims were the cause of war and the terrorists that happened across the world.
I did not question the biases of the media, nor did I ever try to see that it is the Muslims themselves who are mostly victims. It was an unfair opinion, I know, but that was how I felt at that time.
How I Came to Read the Quran
Back in uni, I met a wonderful guy who asked me out one day. We had fun and we really connected well. Nothing about him indicated that he was a Muslim; his name didn’t sound Muslim, he drinks alcohol, he’s totally open about any topic to talk about and he even joined me for Dim Sum brunch.
But the moment he told me he was Muslim, I was thinking, “Oh no, this is not gonna work, I cannot be with a Muslim.”
The next time we met up, I explained that we couldn’t be together because of his religion. When he asked why, I told him it’s because I didn’t want to convert and I was afraid I would be forced to conform to the rules such as not eating pork, or covering up, and more.
He didn’t get offended, and said: “You should read the Quran if you have so much fear about the religion.”
“No one would convert you if you read the book in your own time,” he assured me.
It took me a bit of courage, but one day I finally opened the translated Quran and read the book. And it wasn’t as bad as I thought. In fact, I found it an interesting read.
What I Liked About the Quran
First off, it had a lot of similarities with the Bible which I grew up with. We share the same stories of Moses, of Abraham, of David and more.
They had a more extensive narrative of Jesus as a prophet — even talking about parts of his childhood which was never mentioned in the Bible. Mary, the mother of Jesus was highly revered in the Quran, with a whole chapter dedicated to her. She is the only woman that was named in the entire book.
Reading the Quran cleared some of the negative perspectives I once had about Islam. The teachings, which I found logical and even kind in its own way, helped me understand the religion better.
For example, I used to believe that violence is encouraged in the Quran because of the common term ‘Jihad’ being thrown about by the media and the terrorists. The term ‘jihad’ literally means ‘struggle’.
But Muslims believe that there are two kinds of jihad. The other ‘jihad’ is the inner struggle of the soul which everyone wages against egoistic desires for the sake of attaining inner peace.
In no way did the Quran support violence especially against the innocent.
“Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors.” (Quran 2:190) “If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God for He is the One that heareth and knoweth all things.” (Quran 8:61)
Another thing I used to believe was that men are allowed to have 4 wives for their own pleasure. As a feminist, I thought it was very insulting to women, that men may have their own harem of women in their home.
However, as I came to know more about it, I realize that a man is only allowed at most four wives only if he can fulfil the stringent conditions of treating each fairly and providing each with separate housing.
This law was put in place mainly for the benefit of widows and their children — a man who wishes to take care of her may do so legitimately, on the conditions that he can take care of his first wife and children just as equally, and that she has given her consent.
What I Hope to Understand Better About the Quran
While there are plenty of aspects which I now agree and admire from the Quran, there are also certain aspects to which I do not fully agree with.
Now, this is the bit where I welcome any input from our Muslim readers and I’d love to hear about your understanding and experience about this.
Of course, while the Quran and the Bible have their similarities, they also have some significant differences. For example, we Christians believe that Jesus had been crucified, died and was resurrected on the 3rd day to take his place as the Son of God and our redeemer.
The Quran had an alternative ending. In this version, the Quran maintains that Jesus was not actually crucified and did not die on the cross, and someone else had been crucified instead. Until today, Jesus has yet to return.
[The crown of thorns, housed in Notre Dame since the French Revolution. Image by Reuters]
There are artifacts that supported the crucifixion as a real event that happened, such as the shroud of Turin and the Crown of Thorns in the Notre Dame Cathedral. Is this solid proof for most people? At the end of the day, I have faith and believe that it happened.
Now there were also certain quotes which I may have interpreted incorrectly.
Here’s one of them:
“33:36. It is not for any believer, man or woman, when God and His Messenger have decided a matter, to have liberty of choice in their decision. Whoever disobeys God and His Messenger has gone far astray.”
My interpretation: It’s like being told that you have no choice and cannot go against your parents’ wishes, or else you are far away from them. For me, I love my parents, but I do believe in following my personal choices as long as it’s not harmful towards myself and other people.
“33:57. Those who insult God and His Messenger, God has cursed them in this life and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them a demeaning punishment.”
My interpretation: If you insult God or his messenger, Muhammad, you going on a highway to hell bruh.
To me, it seemed harsh. It’s not because I disagree on insulting the Almighty, but more of the threat of force implied if you disagree otherwise. To me, God is loving and all-forgiving, no matter what your sins are. He is our Father who welcomes all who come to him.
Now, I’m not saying that the Bible is perfect either. In fact, it’s full of stories involving sex, incest, alcohol and more, but it also has a lot of good teachings and holy practices as well. The same goes for the Quran – there will always be an upside and downside.
If there’s anything I said here that Muslims would like to enlighten me about, I welcome it.
What I Realised After I Read The Quran
Overall, after reading just a fraction of the Quran, I realize that Islam is a peaceful religion, and in fact, it has a very rich history which has shaped the world of today. The teachings of the Quran are very logical and fair and it shares a lot of similarities with the Bible.
I believe that the reason why there is so much fear against Islam is mostly because of ignorance and the twisted ways people use this religion for their own sake of political gains for power anywhere in the world.
But sadly, the reality is that most people in power tend to use religion to control the people. Because of that, I’ve made up my mind that one day, I would move abroad to be in a place where all religions and cultures are embraced and respected.
For more stories like this, read: I Converted To Islam To Marry The Love Of My Life and I’m Dating A Syrian Refugee. Here’s What I Wish People Would Stop Saying.