My dad’s name is Sead because his family is Muslim. My mom’s name is
Marta because her family is Christian. My family lived in the Socialist
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which meant we were all supposed to be
“dialectical materialists.” And we were all three—Muslim, Christian and
materialists—but we didn’t believe any of it. We just lived.
Actually, we did more than just live. We loved life. We had a
spitfire-roasted lamb party at the end of the month of Ramadan—without
fasting for a single day. We had a Christmas tree and a roasted pig on
Easter—without going to church. We made elaborate homemade European
pastries on our country’s holiday weekend—without ever visiting the
Socialist Revolution Museum. “If only we could find a Jewish family,”
we mused. “It would add even more zing to our celebration of life.” In
many ways life couldn’t have been better.
Until I became a
After years of atheism, I embraced the teachings of Jesus Christ, and
the sky fell on our unsuspecting family. What the heavens meant to be a
supreme blessing, we experienced as the greatest curse.
A lot was
at stake. My father reasoned that if my faith had any basis, then his
worldview was an illusion, and, by extension, his life was an illusion.
He couldn’t accept that. Nobody can. On the other hand, if his
worldview was sound, their beloved son was living an illusion,
dedicating his life to a personality as real as Bugs Bunny. Either way,
once a son or daughter becomes a believer, someone gets hurt.
My devastated parents recruited one of Europe’s best psychiatrists, 50
relatives and my ex-girlfriends to take their best shot at helping me
get over this infatuation with God. My mom was on stress medication,
and after a couple of months her face was scarred by an unending stream
of tears. For the first time in my life, I saw my father cry.
two months of agony, I was tired. My body was giving in, my faith
seemed more and more selfish, my God seemed distant. My parents fared
even worse, so they resorted to desperate measures and asked a religious
person for help. They invited Imam Muhammad, a Muslim wise man and a
leader in our community, to try to throw my Christian belief system
into disarray and hopefully stir me toward Islam.
When Muhammad walked into our home, somehow I felt safe in his
presence. After being introduced, Muhammad kindly asked my parents to
leave the room so that he and I could be alone. Time passed in silence.
When I was ready, I raised my eyes and looked at him, dreading the
inevitable argument. He stood up quietly, walked over to me, placed his
hand on mine, sat down and said, “I am glad you became a believer.” And
that was it! There was unmistakable gladness in his voice. We just sat
in peace for a while. Soon after he left, my parents nicknamed him
Would I be a Christian and a pastor today without Muhammad’s blessing?
I don’t know. But I do know Muhammad loved me. I felt he even loved the
God who made me a believer.
For years I’ve been talking about three monotheistic religions to
non-believers. These non-believers say that at best Jews, Christians
and Muslims look like three religious stooges slapping each other, and
that at worst they look like three brothers whose hands are soaked with
blood. Believers of all three faiths have littered history with much
stupidity, injustice and suffering. The world has simply had it with
Jesus showed interest, listened, forgave and blessed others. I’m
convinced that what Jesus did actually works. Love works! I believe
with all my heart that if we show interest, if we listen with respect,
if we forgive, if we bless Jews and Muslims around us, the
non-believers would certainly want the faith we have. Take out your
dancing shoes and go to a synagogue.