I am a private person, but people incessantly ask me about my name and my journey to Islam. So I thought I would share some of it here. There have been previous discussions which took place over 13 years ago when I just a teenager and they in no way fully reflect the person I am today.
Word of caution and disclaimer: I truly believe that the exoticism and obsessive fascination of “born Muslims” with “converts, “reverts” etc. can be very unsettling at times. We should remember, that reverts/converts or whatever we may call them, have much more to offer the world aside from being a person who made a chose to venture from faith to another. We must avoid pigeon holing and limiting their identity to just that.
***I do not tacitly or otherwise sponsor, support any websites or dialogues purporting to represent my ideas, thoughts, beliefs or words. If people wish to know who I am, then they may refer to my own website.
Often a time’s sincere folk in various Islamic centres and elsewhere approach me and ask me my name. I tell them it is Vinay. They take a second look at me (in traditional clerical attire), they then proceed to blink and whilst remaining perplexed. The reason being is that Vinay is in-fact a traditional Hindu-Indian name. It was my name from birth prior to embracing Islam in 2002. Sometimes they even venture to ask me, “why have you not changed your name?” I have chosen to keep that name because it is a good name and the criteria for naming children is that the name should represent something praiseworthy, in my case my name translates as: polite or virtuous. Furthermore, it is the name my parents gave me and I honour that bestowal.
My journey to Islam began in 2001 with a trip to Dubai in which I was first exposed to “Islamic culture”. Upon hindsight, I am not sure if such a thing really exists or can be labeled as “Islamic” as the late Dr. Shahab Ahmed has so eloquently demonstrated in his 2015 work entitled, “What is Islam”. My journey to Islam nevertheless began as a typical tourist amazed at the sight of Muslim women draped in black cloth, walking outdoors in mid-day summer heart. These sorts of images sparked my curiosity in addition to hearing the heart rendering recitation of the Qur’an on the both the radio and plane.
Shortly, thereafter, upon my return to Canada, the tragic events of 9/11 occurred and while being completely appalled and disturbed I began to ask my Muslim friends: what sort of religion would support such violence? It was a simplistic and naïve question, but, a sincere one. As a devout Hindu (which again is a concept left wide open to defining) I began studying Islam as well as other religions. Along the way I discovered that I no longer was convinced that idol worship was something I could continue doing. This was a personal determination based on my early understanding of the Baghvad Gita and other sources. I was in search of the one central reality, or if you may call it, the “one God” however parochial that may seem.
I embraced Islam in the winter of 2002, and had a good support system of friends whom at that time were also my classmates during our final year of high school. From those days onwards I was immersed and pre occupied with the study of Islam and religion in general.
As a Shia Muslim and my views with regards to difference
After studying traditions and the history of succession to the Prophet and Islamic theology with various scholars I chose become a Shia Muslim. Despite this choice as an academic and aspiring scholar of Islamic intellectual history, I have certainly matured as a graduate student and seminarian over the past 13 years and I recognize that the tradition of Islam and religion in general is so vast that the historical reality is that there have come and gone many brilliant individuals who have produced incredible literary works of intellectual genius. It would be a tragedy to say that there is no truth to be found in any of it except “my own authorized books/sources.” The human soul, mind and all that drives it is much too complex and subtle for us on our own accord as fallible human beings to draw the proverbial red lines of exclusion. There is a reason why, God is exclusively and absolutely all-knowing ( bi-kulli shayin ‘alim). While I am convinced that a particular path contains truth and certainty, and I do not subscribe the relativity of truth and certainty. With that being said, I am of the view that no absolute truth (al-haqq)- aside God himself, and whatever He has revealed or inspired in his Prophets and proofs ( hujaj).
Further to that point, as fallible beings, only the ignorant and “holier than thou” can condemn an entire people to eternal perdition, since every action is determined by underlying intentions- innama al-‘amal bil-niyyat (hadith of the Prophet). God, is the judge ( hakim) and judgment is always fair and equitable. And the only insight into this mystery, is revelation, lives of the Prophets and the infallible Imams ( masu’min) who have been given extraordinary knowledge by God. But we as fallible humans should not and cannot endeavor to usurp that exclusive authority nor become the ultimate judges of others. That being said, I am in no way advocating a doctrine stereological pluralism nor ethical relativism nor do I subsribe to those philosophical positions.
The road to acquiring certainty in ones beliefs and conviction is certainly praiseworthy but should never be accompanied by religious chauvinism, bigotry, and least of all, violence. We can hold our own religious beliefs, convictions, and philosophies without engaging in the dangerous practice of exclusion, oppression, and humiliation of those who may not share the same religious, political, or philosophical doctrines. This is person that I aspire to be and pray to God that someday perhaps at my death, I may become. We are all in search of certainty (yaqin) and we hope to God that he blesses us to find it.
My family relationships
People, sometimes do not realize the personal nature of their questions, but despite that, I am often (sometimes incessantly) asked about my non-Muslim parents and extended family. With regards to that, all I can say is that I have never at any point harboured any ill will towards them and in-fact we have had an even stronger and more loving relationship after my embracing Islam. I am not and have never been a person who outcasts or attempts to “other” those who look different or believe in something different despite the fact that I may disagree with their beliefs. My parents have supporting me and continue to do so despite the fact that I have chosen a path different from their own, and I will always recognize that and be forever appreciative of that. I think this is primarily due to my upbringing as a Canadian in a city as religiously pluralistic and multi cultural city like Toronto. I admire diversity and I have always loved to learn. As the Prophet Muhammad (S) has said: “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”