Becoming a Roman Catholic deacon led me into Islam—not by embracing Islam itself, but by embracing it as a sign of the Other whom the deacon has come to serve. The path has been so full of surprises that I can truly say, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
Yet it’s not only as a deacon that I speak of Islam. I also speak of it as an ordinary American who one day realized that he knew nothing about this “foreign” religion: nothing of its holy book, the Quran, nothing of its teachings, the people who embraced it, their languages and cultures or even the countries where Muslims live. For example, I couldn’t at that time have found Iraq on the map.
The change began in February 1991. I had been watching with horror televised reports of our first Iraq war, “Desert Storm.” As a recently baptized (1983) Catholic Christian, I had absorbed Thomas Merton’s writings on nonviolence; I had been inspired by the U.S. bishops’ 1983 pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace. I also felt deeply that Desert Storm was portrayed unjustly: as a triumphant exercise of American goodness over the darkest evil and a war that had been cleansed of its violence through “surgical strikes” and “smart bombs.”