“At a time when religion has been distorted to create mayhem in many parts of the world, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community provides a true picture of what Islam is supposed to be.” ————–Prof Atif Mian conversion to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at….. a faith inspiring story : in his own words. ————-.
“The greatest gift of Ahmadiyya teachings is that they introduce you to the true concept and reality of God.” (Prof Atif Mian, Chicago, Illinois USA)
I was born in Nigeria in 1974 but grew up mostly in Pakistan. Looking back at my life, I have to admit that I have been extremely fortunate in many ways. I had the most loving and caring parents who sacrificed a lot for the education and proper upbringing of their children. I was the youngest in my family, with three older sisters. So you can say I was spoiled once by my mother and three times by my sisters. I would describe our household as moderately religious. My mother constantly taught me the value of good morals.
I remember having a sense from a fairly young age that I was expected to do the “right thing,” i.e. tell the truth, respect elders, not be extravagant, and so on.
My parents paid great attention towards their children’s education. They commuted long distances for six years just so we could go to school in Lahore where education standards were higher. When I was finishing my high school, my father encouraged me to apply to the U.S. for college. Luckily I got admitted to MIT and joined there in the fall of 1993 as a freshman. Life at MIT was quite difficult in the beginning. Classes were tough, language was a bit foreign, and culture was very different. There were adjustments to be made at many levels.
It was perhaps the result of exposure to alternative ways of life, or perhaps the natural consequence of a maturing mind that I began to ponder seriously about the pre-suppositions of life that a child grows up with. I had been raised as a Muslim with a strong emphasis on the belief in God. I had never questioned what I had been taught thus far, but this now turned out to be an uneasy compromise. Should I believe in Islam simply because fate had me born into a Muslim family? Why should one take religion seriously when its primary determinant seems to be the flip of a coin that decides which family one is born into? Why should one put so many constraints on life because of a God that may or may not exist?
The questions were many, but I struggled with finding acceptable answers. At the same time the conventional understanding of Islam seemed more and more intolerant and irrational to me. Muslims who advocated on behalf of Islam enthusiastically split hairs when it came to religious dogma, and yet seemed oblivious to the basic tenets of justice, tolerance and human civility. For example, otherwise sane looking people would actively support the idea that anyone who chooses to leave Islam should be condemned to death.
I was beginning to be put off by religion. It was around these early years in college when I found out that an old friend of mine from high school, Hamid Sheikh, was an Ahmadi Muslim. I had known him for over eight years but never knew that he was an Ahmadi Muslim. My impression of Ahmadi Muslims at that time was quite negative, formed largely by the general social attitude towards Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. In my mind Ahmadiyya Community was some weird cult devoid of common sense. Therefore, when I found out that a good friend of mine was an Ahmadi Muslim, I was quite surprised. At this point, however, I was less interested in the finer details of differences between Ahmadiyya Islam and Sunni Islam teachings. I had enough trouble trying to understand religion at a basic level and did not care much about complicated sectarian discussions. So I badgered Hamid with some general questions about God, religion and the purpose of man’s creation.
We had some discussions, and Hamid gave me two books to read: Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues by the Fourth Khalifa, and his biography, A Man of God. I had been searching for a logical and humane approach towards religion but was disappointed with what I had found thus far. However, reading Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues was a totally refreshing experience.
I was not yet ready to say that I believed in a particular religion, but I remember saying to myself after reading the book that if there ever were a religion worthy of following, it must look like the one described in that book. I loved the way the Fourth Khalifa approached religion. He spoke with the precision of a scientist. He always began with “first principles” and then gradually built his case through the rules of logic.
There was also a deep senseof love, compassion and humanity in whatever he wrote or said. It is hard to express it in words, but I fell totally in love with his personality. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community began to provide me with the answers that I had been searching for. But conviction of the heart and mind are two separate issues. There were always more questions that I could have asked.
At what point do I draw the line between skepticism and belief? I did not know the answer to this question. I was also perturbed by the idea of praying for myself. How could I do that if I were not willing to call myself a believer? Wouldn’t that be hypocritical? Even selfish perhaps? And then there was the chicken and the egg problem. If one needs to have faith to pray sincerely, and must pray sincerely to have faith, where should I begin? My solution to these conundrums was that I could only pray to a possible God.
I would pray that if You are truly there then guide me to what is right and what is true. In my heart I already had the suspicion that the truth might be Ahmadiyya. Therefore, afraid that I might stay away from it because of the social sanctions against it, I would add that I was willing to pay whatever price it took to find and accept the truth. Over the next few years, I continued to read whatever I could on Islam Ahmadiyya.
I did not discuss this much with others. I preferred to study on my own instead. The web was a great tool for me. Alislam.org, the Community’s website, was just beginning to develop and I must have been one of its most voracious consumers at the time. My greatest attractions were the “Q&A” sessions conducted by the Fourth Khalifa, as well as his sermons. I could spend hours listening to him. While I found the message of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community very attractive, I was extremely repulsed by the attitude of orthodox clerics towards the Community. How could they lose all sense of humanity and prevent Ahmadi Muslims from practicing their faith in Pakistan? How could man become arrogant enough to decide who is a Muslim and who is not, as a matter of law? It was because of such attitudes of orthodox clerics that I never took them seriously in their allegations against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
After finishing my undergraduate education at MIT, I decided to pursue a doctorate in Economics, also at MIT. I finished my PhD in 2001 and moved to Chicago to start my first job as an Assistant Professor at University of Chicago. While I was in Boston, I had stopped going to the local mosque for a long time because I could not pray behind an Imam who condoned an intolerant interpretation of Islam.
There was an Ahmadiyya mosque near Boston but it was far and I did not have a car. So now that I had a car in Chicago, I thought I should look for an Ahmadiyya Muslim mosque. Once I found the local Ahmadiyya Muslim mosque in Chicago, I began going for Friday prayers. I might have done so for the rest of my life without becoming an Ahmadi Muslim. I had already acknowledged that the Ahmadiyya interpretation of Islam was the only one that made sense. Why then go through the hassle of conversion and all the social conflicts that come along with it? After all, what is the line beyond which one says, “I believe”?
The human mind is a specialist when it comes to making excuses. However something changed in March of 2002. I cannot say how and why. The Holy Prophet Muhammad said that the key to a person’s heart is in Allah’s hands. So one day Allah changed my heart. There is no other explanation for it. I felt a strong desire that I must sign the initiation form. I had to do it. There was no other option for me anymore. Like a kid in the candy store, I had to have it. My parents were quite unhappy at my decision to become an Ahmadi Muslim.
This trial has been the most difficult for me since the last thing I ever wanted to do was to upset my parents in their old age. It is all the more difficult given how much they have done for me. But life ultimately owes its existence to God, and I pray that we may all find peace in Him. While there are sacrifices in the path of a convert, these are overshadowed by the fact that man at his core is a moral being. T
here is nothing more rewarding than being truthful to one’s conscience. The greatest gift of Ahmadiyya teachings is that they introduce you to the true concept and reality of God. Everything that is pure and good is to be found in God. Therefore one can never be truly spiritual unless one tries to get closer to God by developing attributes that are in His likeness: developing compassion for humanity, being sincere, treating everyone with absolute justice, and saying the truth even when it may have negative immediate consequences. When one struggles to become better only to attain closeness to God, God never leaves such a person alone.
This is the ultimate lesson of Islam Ahmadiyya and the ultimate gift for a convert. I have been fortunate to serve the Community in various capacities. One of my greatest joys has been the many friendships that I have formed through MKA. I have had the privilege of meeting many remarkable individuals whose sincerity, desire to serve humanity, and selfless dedication to work tirelessly for the good of others, leaves me awestruck. At a time when religion has been distorted to create mayhem in many parts of the world, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community provides a true picture of what Islam is supposed to be. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atif_Mian