Why I became Muslim
Allah prescribes Islam
By Daniel Ellermeier
Bismilliah (In Allah's name). My reasons for writing these articles are three fold. First, I have learned so much so rapidly that it is important to me to process this transformation, or more accurately metamorphosis, in writing. Second, as a way to explain to my friends and family what is happening with me. And lastly, as a possible means to help others who may be struggling with some of the same issues that I was. I pray that Allah will find this humble paper worthy of those intentions.
I was raised to enjoy a strong love as well as fear of Almighty God. My parents and about half of my ten siblings remain Mormon. At my home there was a great deal of both love and support, but what was lacking was discipline. As a result I was mostly free to do as I wished. I was raised in the Mormon church and have a great understanding of their culture and beliefs. When I became a teenager I found myself becoming very curious of the ways and experiences of what Mormons call "worldly things". This basically amounted to me drinking and partying by the early age of fourteen. As a result I stopped going to church in fear of hypocrisy before God. I understood that it was better for me to leave the church and then later repent and rejoin, then to stay and practice the "priesthood" in a lie. So I left the church with the full intention of coming back later.
To say the least I experienced some very wild teenage years. All my friends were partiers and we were living under the young American creed, "If it feels good, do it". As my father would frequently tell me, I was sacrificing long term joy at the price of short term happiness. I was living in such a way that only the most devastating of consequences would make me think twice about my actions, and I always had to learn lessons the hard way. Only the birth of my son would be enough to help me slow down.
He was born to my old high school sweetheart. At one point she was changing her life plans to be with me. But I, fearing abandoning my lifestyle for real commitment, had already sabotaged our relationship. Now that she was pregnant with my child I was ready to do whatever it took to make things work. But it was a day late and a dollar short. She had left me for a nice and stable guy. It was at this point in my life I had to sit back and take inventory on what my life had become. My eyes began opening up to the fact that I was on the fast track to becoming a looser.
This point marked a big shift in the motivation for my partying, it wasn't just for fun anymore. I was now finding it useful to help me forget about my problems. What’s wrong with this behavior is that not only do your problems not get solved, but you are more likely to create new ones when drunk. However, I was slowing down and getting my bad habits somewhat under control. Less then a year after my first big blessing from Almighty God, which is the birth of my son, I received what I consider to be my second. I got a job as a counselor to children and teens at a youth psychiatric hospital.
As stated, I come from a huge family and am an uncle a couple dozen times over, so working with kids came naturally. I have taken this opportunity of working with doctors and mental health professionals to get a ton of free education on psychology. Since it is my job (which I have had for over 5 years now) to teach these children and adolescents about how to help themselves, I understand the principals well. When I first got my job I was really hurting inside. The tools and techniques I learned have helped me reach solid ground. Once there I did not want to stop growing and improving. I eventually came to the realization that this can only be done with the help of Almighty God.
I had already become disenchanted with Mormonism after spending time learning and thinking about the dangers of a belief that "As man is God once was, and as God is man may become." At this time I also gained a deep respect for the science of history which is practiced by carefully researching authentic sources. Now that I that I had freed my soul from this belief, I went through a time of great searching. Since it was my Christian friends and family who had helped me gain understanding of the problems of polytheism in Mormonism, it was their religion I embraced next. I found issue with the fact that Christianity has no logical explanation for the holy trinity, where God is one and also three at the same time. Also most people that consider themselves “Christians” are not very God fearing people at all. Then I realized that authentic history paints Jesus (peace be upon him) as a man in a very logical and understandable way (Muslims do believe that Jesus [pbuh] is a very special Prophet and that Allah is not done with him yet). Again I was lost.
I began thinking very openly about Almighty God. I began to study different religions and cultures around the world. As I did I noticed that almost all spiritual people have some sort of belief in one great power or God that is above and beyond who created everything. I also began taking notice of the fact that it is natural human nature to do good and search out a higher power. This I started explaining as a "moral compass" that guides us by making us feel good when we do and think good things. At this time I felt closer to Almighty God in nature then any church, and so I found myself worshiping and praying in my own way.
It was at this point in my life that a Muslim co-worker of mine loaned me a book called "The Idiot's Guide to Islam" by Yahia Emerick (I know, I dislike the book's title as well). This book gives a very simplified explanation of the beauty of Islam and so changed my life forever. I read more books about Islam and then about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and everything I read I agreed with and understood, so I developed a great thirst for the knowledge and wisdom found in Islam. At this point I knew that Almighty God or Allah is found in this religion. As I continued learning and researching I kept encountering two things. The absolute truth in the religion of Islam and great misunderstanding of Islam in America. Most of the things pinned by the West as Islamic are either cultural or political in root, and not really found anywhere in Islam itself. If you only learn one thing from this paper please remember this - Just because a “Muslim” does something it does not make that act or belief a part of Islam, even if that person claims it to be as such. Muslims have flaws, Islam does not.
As this pattern of learning and dispelling myth continued to play itself out, it became really only a matter of time that I took my Shahada. Which is declaring a testimony of the truth in Islam before Muslim witnesses to become a Muslim, which I did on August 28, 2007. I am here to tell you now that I have never been happier.
I would now like to back up and explain some things that I learned from psychology and relate them to Islam. The first thing to understand when helping others is that since everyone is so different there is very little that could help anyone and everyone. My favorite concepts have always been those few that can and these are what I base my teaching style on at work. I will explain what those ideas are and then expand on them using the teachings of Allah through his prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This is to show how Islam actually goes hand in hand with mental health. It is also important to point out that the issues I discuss are only a small fraction of the ways that practicing Islam will enhance one’s life. Islam is really more a verb then a noun because it is a way of life. And I am here to testify that every true Islamic principle I have encountered includes reasons and a means to help one become a well rounded healthy and joyful person.
The first thing that someone needs to understand when they have a problem, is simply what the problem is and how are they adding to it. An example is someone who is overweight may be overeating. When this gets a little complicated is when emotions are involved such as anger, stress, or sadness. This is when the second part of the equation becomes more important, which is are they adding to the negative emotion in some way? I teach that as long as someone is making a heartfelt effort to improve their life they will tend to feel better. Now it does makes one feel better to even try, but if they keep at it they can eventually overcome the issue. When people take the other approach and move through life just doing whatever comes naturally they become victims of their own emotions. This can develop into a tendency to blame life or other people for their problems.
Where Islam has something to say on this is that it teaches every action a Muslim performs should start with declaring intention (to yourself). The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, "Every person will be judged according to his intentions." When one’s intentions are good they will be blessed with good deeds. When negative, the opposite. When people take responsibility for their actions they gain understanding of how they can effect the outcome.
To delve further into human psychology one will understand that there are some events that we do not have any control over. When such events occur that are extremely negative; such as death of a loved one, being victim of crime, or serious injury, it can be life shattering to some individuals. In the mental health field we teach such survivors that is not actually the event that is causing those negative feelings, but it is actually their thinking about the event that continues to effects them. A classic example is when two people were hypothetically struck by lightning and one feels terrible because they are hurting and the other feels great to be alive. The only difference between these two people is their thinking about what happened.
The belief that guides Muslims though such tough times is the belief in Qadar, or Divine Preordainment. This is the understanding that all though we are free to choose as we will, only Allah has full understanding of all things; past, present, and future. Muhammad (pbuh) said, "The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah then the weak believer, though both are good; work hard for that which is beneficial for you and seek Allah's help, and do not give up. If you are stricken by misfortune do not say, "If only I had done differently..." rather say "That is what Allah decreed, He does as he wills." "If only" opens the door to Satan's work."
There was a time in my life when I was stuck dwelling on how I could have lived my childhood years differently and how my life would have been better if I had. This caused me much pain and anguish that could have easily been avoided by understanding that everything happens as Allah wills. Now that I work with troubled teenagers I realize that I would not be as effective as a counselor had I not gone through what I did. As Allah himself stated in the Quran V2:216,"...and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows what you do not know." It is important to understand that we can't even dream to comprehend the great wealth of knowledge that Almighty Allah enjoys, so it is best to be happy and thankful for the wonderful things he has given us.
The last universal skill that can be taught to anyone as an effective coping strategy is in my opinion the most effective one. This is the simple act of calming ones mind of the constant chatter that fills it and, to use a well defined term, meditate. If I were allowed to talk about God and religion at work I would use the word "pray". But meditation is as close as we can get, using pure psychology, to achieving the same purpose. If done correctly it slows one down enough so they can refocus on what is important for them in their life right then. It also has many positive physiological effects for the body as well; it slows ones breathing and heart-rate conserving resources in your body, it naturally and calmly dispels anxious energy or stress, and most importantly clears the mind of negative thoughts. To me, the act of meditation done correctly is nothing short of a tiny glimpse of Allah's graces. It is the act of briefly forsaking all the temptations and impulses that constantly nag at us to feel our natural true self. As Allah created us.
As a Muslim, I understand that we were created for the sole purpose of worshiping Almighty Allah with every thought, word, and action. This rationally makes a great deal of sense because the act of worship brings one a great inner peace that is satisfying to our very souls. This is why five daily prayers are prescribed only second to testimony of the truth. These mandatory prayers allow faithful Muslims to enjoy a strong connection with our creator that I never could have fathomed without Islam. When I first read about this responsibility I thought it would be a chore, but in practice it feels more like a gift.
Because the only way to find true inner peace is through serving the divine will of Almighty God or Allah, I believe we were all born for this purpose. This should be important to us because our inner self or conscience will not find rest until we surrender to Allah's will as best as we humanly can. No other religion so completely understands what humans need to maintain a happy and healthy life. Islam is a way of life that originated (was delivered to us) from one man around 1400 years ago. Psychology’s counterpart ideas are only now being developed to help people in the present day (And these ideas were created by thousands of great minds working together exchanging ideas and theories over the centuries). Muhammad (pbuh) could not have figured out this all encompassing way of life by himself so long ago. To me this alone is enough to prove that there is no other viable alternative then that he is a genuine Prophet and Messenger of Almighty Allah. Not even one word has been changed in the Quran (there are two original Qurans left to prove this fact) in all this time. This, to me, is undisputable evidence that his mission was a complete success in sharing Allah's message with the world. The truth is there for anyone to see, you just have to take the time out yourself to look with an open mind and heart. Alhamdullilah (Praise Allah).