Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The book that changed it all

"God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left you."
For some, this might sound like a quote from the Torah, the Bible, the Qu'ran or another scripture. However, that quote is from Paolo Coehlo's The Alchemist. In his book, Coehlo speaks of a goal, a personal treasure, which each of us possess. God sets this goal for us but also puts obstacles to test our faith and our desire to achieve our goal. On the way to this goal, we are told it might be tempting to give up, and it is often unclear which path we are meant to follow, but that we are to obey the signs, the omens, that God puts along the way, in order to reach our goal. It is Coehlo's novel that guided me to Islam. Ironically, I was given The Alchemist as a parting gift from an ex-boyfriend. Part of the lesson he wanted me to take from the book is the story of Fatima, a woman of the desert with whom the main character falls in love and for whom he considers abandoning his journey. She tells him that he has a path to follow and that abandoning it for him would be foolishness, leading to resentment and misery for the both of them. Unfortunately for my ex, I highly doubt that my journey will lead back to him eventually, but I guess I should be grateful for the enlightenment provided through it.

I was first introduced to Islam in a university course called "ARTS 1000: The Development of Western Thought". Islam was discussed as an opposing force in the crusades and later in the post 9/11 western world. I took an interest in Islam then but only slightly, only through my study material.

I was then given The Alchemist, which speaks of following signs and omens. While the main character is Christian, many of the book speaks of Islam, and of the Islamic culture of Egypt and the northern regions of Africa. I loved the book and used it as a driving force towards finishing my university degree.

In the last few years of my degree, I started seeing a Muslim man. He did not quite know what he wanted in his life, even though he was well into pre-med, it was a choice he had made mainly to please his parents. So I lent him The Alchemist, so that he would look at his options in a new light. He never read the book, and we broke up before he could return the book. After the breakup, it became extremely important to me to get the book back. It was an insult to me that he had never read it and I wanted this important memory of my ex and this inspiring story to remain mine. After a few months, he returned the book, and we got back together.

The story of my Muslim ex is unimportant from this point forward, so I will skip it and continue to the good parts. When the book was finally returned, I decided to re-read the novel. It seemed like everything pertaining to Islam was jumping back at me: my first university class, the details in the book, everything I'd learned while dating my ex. Everything seemed to want me to learn about Islam. I would never say it the signs wanted me to be Muslim, but clearly, there was a path defined for me and learning about Islam would be part of that path for me.

Fast-forward two years, I am still learning about Islam. I have not converted nor do I plan on doing so for at least another little while, but if nothing else, it has given a greater understanding of this often misunderstood faith. In a post 9/11 world, in a self-declared civilized country, education should be something each and all of us should strive for. So follow the signs, educate yourself, and learn. Never stop learning! You never know where life will lead. Salaam.

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