Seven Years of Islam, Part I

The man spoke with a calm authority he’d gained through a life of repetition. “Hold your hands like this” – the aged Palestinian looked at my hands until they mirrored his. Pictures hung from the stone walls of his hostel. Faded photographs of men and women holding Korans, Kalashnikovs, and stoic expressions gazed upon us. “And then we say Allahu Akbar three times.”

Beneath a setting sun, Mohammad led me through Magrib Salat. Golden rays, so perfect for a tiny sliver of time each evening, beamed across the Old City of Jerusalem. Beads of sweat rolled down my face as I recited the Q’uran.

Photographs of martyrs, many dozens of them, even hundreds of them watched me through the tiny shops I wandered through. While drinking Nescafé and when conversing with the Arabs, I saw them at every turn.

My voyage through years of Christendom, a journey as complex as the denominations of Protestantism, paved the path of my curiosity. I wanted to know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I wanted to feel the conviction lived by Noah, Sampson, Job, David and Solomon, who penned Ecclesiastes, my favorite book of the Old Testament. But Mohammed was foreign to me.

At once forbidden and intriguing, my exploration of the book, and my disgust with the modern world, had led me the meet the militant wing of Abraham’s tribe and to try to understand the oldest sibling rivalry in history. I’d spent years reading the holy books, countless hours in prayer and penance, and was convicted with a restless ambition to wander the planet, in search of Truth. “What is truth?” Pilate said to the Christ. To that, I am still not sure.

In moments, with body and will in submission to prayer, humbled before the God of Abraham, I began walking the Islamic path. I could never be Jewish: that is a birthright. Christians in the West had surrendered to materialism. I wanted challenge, discipline, strength, metaphysical purpose, and brotherhood. With a Q’uran in my hand and scribbled instructions on a sheet of paper, I began praying. Five times a day my forehead began touching the floor, in submission to Abraham’s God.

I woke at two in the morning, at the base of Mt. Sinai in Egypt, along with many other visitors. It was dark, and a frosty wind cut between the jagged hills. We followed an old dirt road, hard packed and scattered with loose gravel up a steep elevation. The trail led to an increasing climb, which I could see by the headlamps of the better prepared. Worn stone steps ascended by the hundreds. It would’ve been a quick hike if I were alone. But pilgrimages shouldn’t be quick. They should be reflective, meditative, and open. And with each step I reflected on what I knew of Moses: Orphan, Slave, Councilman, General, Prophet.

William Winters III