Tommy: I learned about Islam through Internet

Tommy: I learned about Islam through Internet
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In the Name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

Islam is truly a beautiful and noble religion. Despite all of the bad press given to Islam and to Muslims in general, it has managed to flourish and gain followers for almost 15 centuries. Islam is, in a few short words, my life. Allah is the driving force in my life. Without Allah, I am nothing. Without Allah, I am of less significance than a single atom. 
When I sat down to write this introduction, I did not intend to tell the whole story of my reversion to Islam. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is the perfect place for my story...
I was born into a fairly religious Polish, Roman-Catholic family. I was baptized at birth, and I attended a religious pre-school in Detroit, Michigan. Church was always a part of my early childhood in Detroit, although my family did not go every week. It was not until after we moved to North Carolina that my parents started going to church more often.
I had always gone to Catholic School, so from the first grade I had been schooled in the life of Jesus (peace be upon him/PBUH), his mother, Mary, the Apostles, the Bible, and the Sacraments. I made my "First Holy Communion" at the age of 7, and I had no problem believing that the little wafer of unleavened bread was truly the "Body of Christ".
My faith in Catholic Christianity remained strong throughout most of my grade school years. I seemed to be developing into a conservative, "Old School Catholic". I respected Judaism, looked down on Protestantism and Orthodoxy, and saw religions like Islam and Hinduism as strange faiths for foreign people. However, the church that we attended didn't seem to "fill me up" spiritually.
In September of 1995, a local Melkite Byzantine Catholic (a group of Orthodox Catholics from Lebanon) parish held a liturgy at our church. I went with my mother, and I fell in love. It was simply the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, heard, and smelled. A traditional liturgy, chanted in English, Arabic, and Greek, with candles, icons, and lots of incense. I started attending Divine Liturgy at the Melkite church regularly. 
When my friends learned about my new church, they didn't exactly criticize me, but they did not understand why I liked the Melkite Catholic liturgy better than the Roman Catholic liturgy. Some people claimed that I was doing it for attention. I always thought that if I had wanted to draw attention to myself, I would have done something a little more outrageous!
I continued to go to the Melkite church weekly, until mid-March of 1996. It was during the Church's season of Lent, which is 40 days before Easter, that I had my first serious falling-out with Christianity. I am not exactly sure what prompted it, but all of a sudden, I stopped believing in the Christian religion. For some reason, I felt drawn towards Judaism, the only other "good" monotheistic religion that I knew of. I went to a Sabbath service at a local synagogue with a Jewish friend of my parents. I had always been interested in Jewish culture, but I didn't know much about the Jewish religion.
I began to attend Sabbath services on Sunday mornings. Although I was fairly well accepted by the Jews in town, I drew a lot of criticism from my friends. Again, I was accused of trying to get attention, of trying to be different. Despite what people said, I slowly began to adopt Judaism and follow Jewish cultural and religious practices. I learned to read Hebrew and memorized a great deal of the Saturday Sabbath service.
By the time I started high school in 1996, people called me "The kid who thinks he's Jewish". I planned on eventually converting to Judaism and perhaps even moving to Israel. Little did I know, my flirtation with Jewish life would end soon.
Sometime after Thanksgiving, I was sitting at home on the Internet, looking for an interesting site or two. I was looking through an Internet magazine, and a site review caught my eye. The site was Ibrahim Shafi's Islam Page. From this page, I was confronted with Islam. 
What was my previous knowledge of Islam? Not much. I had a friend in school who was a Muslim, and my mother worked with a Muslim man. However, my knowledge of Islam was extremely limited. Most of what I knew came from the "Princess" books, which made me frown at Islam's treatment of women. Plus, my exposure to Judaism had given me a slight anti-Arab/Muslim bias. 
Nevertheless, I began to read up on Islam through the web. I soon began to hang out on an Islamic website on the Internet Relay Chat (IRC), making lots of Muslim friends. Soon, I started declaring the Shahada to myself every day. My life began to take on structure, but I still did not feel that I was part of the Ummah (Muslim Community), as I had not declared the ‘Shahada’ (Declaration of Islamic Faith) in front of a witness. 
My opportunity to become a Muslim in front of other Muslims came during a trip to Chicago. My sister was going to the University of Chicago, and I realized that there was an active MSA (Muslim Student Association) there. I formally declared my belief in Allah and the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him/PBUH) before an MSA-run organization. My life came together. 
I have since adopted the name Tariq Ali, online at least, but in the regular world, I remain Tommy.
People seem to think I change my religion often. I still get comments like, "What religion are you this week, Tommy?" Usually, I just tell them I am a Muslim, and if they are interested, I tell them about our wonderful religion.

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