January 5, 2008

From Atheism To Islam

Qur'an Wins Heart of US Professor Dr. Jeffrey Lang :
From Atheism To Islam
for everyone
By Ammar Bakkar, Arab News
Dr. Jeffrey Lang is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the
University of Kansas, one of the biggest universities in the United
States. He started his religious journey on Jan 30, 1954, when he
was born in a Roman Catholic family in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The
first 18 years of his life were spent in Catholic schools, which
left him with many unanswered questions about God and the Christian
religion, Lang said, as he narrated his story of Islam. “Like most
kids back in the late 60s and early 70s, I started questioning all
the values that we had at those times, political, social and
religious,” Lang said. “I rebelled against all the institutions that
society held sacred including the Catholic Church,” he said.
By the time he reached the age of 18, Lang had become a full-fledged
atheist. “If there is a God, and he is all merciful and all loving,
then why is there suffering on this earth? :video
Why does not He just take us to heaven? Why create all these people
to suffer?" Such were the questions that came up in his mind in
those days.
As a young lecturer in mathematics at San Francisco University, Lang
found his religion where God is finally a reality. That was shown to
him by a few of the Muslim friends he had met at the university. “We
talked about religion. I asked them my questions, and I was really
surprised by how carefully they had thought out their answers,” Lang
Dr. Lang met Mahmoud Qandeel, a regal looking Saudi student who
attracted the attention of the entire class the moment he walked in.
When Lang asked a question about medical research, Qandeel answered
the question in perfect English and with great self assurance.
Everyone knew Qandeel-the mayor, the police chief and the common
people. Together the professor and the student went to all the
glittering places where “there was no joy or happiness, only
laughter.” Yet at the end Qandeel surprisingly gave him a copy of
the Qur’an and some books on Islam. Lang read the Qur’an on his own,
found his way to the student-run prayer hall at the university, and
basically surrendered without much struggle. He was conquered by the
Qur’an. The first two chapters are an account of that encounter and
it is a fascinating one.
“Painters can make the eyes of a portrait appear to be following you
from one place to another, but which author can write a scripture
that anticipates your daily vicissitudes?... Each night I would
formulate questions and objections and somehow discover the answer
the next day. It seemed that the author was reading my ideas and
writing in the appropriate lines in time for my next reading. I have
met myself in its pages...”
Lang performs the daily five-time prayers regularly and finds much
spiritual satisfaction. He finds the Fajr (pre-dawn) prayer as one
of the most beautiful and moving rituals in Islam. “It is as if you
temporarily leave this world and communicate with the angels in
singing God’s praises before dawn.”
To the question how he finds it so captivating when the recitation
of the Qur’an is in Arabic, which is totally foreign to him, he
responds; “Why is a baby comforted by his mother’s voice?” He said
reading the Qur’an gave him a great deal of comfort and strength in
difficult times. From there on, faith was a matter of practice for
Lang’s spiritual growth.
On the other hand, Lang pursued a career in mathematics. He received
his master’s and doctoral degrees from Purdue University. Lang said
that he had always been fascinated by mathematics. “Maths is
logical. It consists of using facts and figures to find concrete
answers,” Lang said. “That is the way my mind works, and it is
frustrating when I deal with things that do not have concrete
answerers.” Having a mind that accepts ideas on their factual merit
makes believing in a religion difficult because most religions
require acceptance by faith, he said. The Muslim religion appeals to
man’s reasoning, he said.
As faculty advisor for the Muslim Student Association, Lang said he
viewed himself as the liaison between the student and their
universities. He gets approval from university authorities to hold
Islamic lectures. “The object of being their faculty advisor is to
help them get their needs met as far as adjusting to the American
culture and to procedures of the university. They appreciate the
opportunity to have misconceptions corrected,” he said.
Lang married a Saudi Muslim woman, Raika, 12 years ago. Lang has
written several Islamic books which are best sellers among the
Muslim community in the US. One of his important books is “Even
Angels ask; A journey to Islam in America”. In this book, Dr. Lang
shares with his readers the many insights that have unfolded for him
through his self discovery and progress within the religion of
Dr. Jeffrey Lang (b. 1954)
"For those whom Islam has embraced, the greatest witness to God’s
unremitting, pursuing, sustaining, and guiding love is the Qur’an.
Like a vast magnificent ocean, it lures you deeper and deeper into
its dazzling waves until you are swept into it. But instead of
drowning in a sea of darkness, as described above, you find yourself
immersed in an ocean of divine light and mercy. … as I read the
Qur’an and prayed the Islamic prayers, a door to my heart was
unsealed and I was immersed in an overwhelming tenderness. Love
became more permanent and real than the earth beneath my feet; its
power restored me and made it so that even I could feel love … I was
happy enough to have found faith in a sensible religion. But I never
expected to be touched by such intoxicating mercy."
“Dad, do you believe in heaven?”
When young Jeffery asked his father about the existence of heaven as
they walked their dog along the beach, it was apparent that this
child possessed a highly inquisitive mind. There perhaps was also a
sign that he would subject things to a logical scrutiny and validate
them from a rational perspective. Little surprise was it, then, that
one day he would end up being a professor of mathematics, a matter
where there is no place for anything but logic.
During his senior years at the Notre Dam Boys High, a Catholic
school, he formed certain rational objections against belief in the
existence of a Supreme Being. Discussions with the school Priest,
his parents, and classmates could not convince him of the existence
of God, and to the dismay of the Priest and his parents, he turned
into an atheist at the age of eighteen. He was to remain so for the
next ten years throughout his undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral
studies. It was a little before or after his becoming an atheist
that he first saw the following dream:
It was a tiny room with no furniture, and there was nothing on its
grayish-white walls. Its only adornment was the predominantly
red-and-white patterned carpet that covered the floor. There was a
small window, like a basement window, above and facing us, filling
the room with bril­liant light. We were in rows; I was in the third.
There were only men, no women, and all of us were sitting on our
heels and facing the direction of the window.
It felt foreign. I recognized no one. Perhaps I was in another
country. We bowed down uniformly, our faces to the floor. It was
serene and quiet, as if all sound had been turned off. All at once,
we sat back on our heels. As I looked ahead, I realized that we were
being led by someone in front who was off to my left, in the middle,
below the window. He stood alone. I only had the briefest glance at
his back. He was wearing a long white gown, and on his head was a
white scarf with a red design. And that is when I would awaken.
During the next ten years of his atheist life, he was to see the
same dream several times. He would not be disturbed by the dream,
however, for he would feel strangely comfortable when he awoke. But
not knowing what it was, he could not make any sense out of it and
thus gave no importance to it despite its repetitions.
Ten years later in his first lecture at the University of San
Francisco, he met a Muslim student who attended his mathematics
class. He was soon to develop a friendship with him and his family.
Religion, however, was not the topic of discussion during the time
he shared with that Muslim family, and it was much later that one of
the family members handed to him a copy of the Qur’an.
He was not looking for a religion. Nevertheless, he started reading
the Qur’an, but with a strong prejudice. “You cannot simply read the
Qur’an, not if you take it seriously. You either have surrendered to
it already or you fight it. It attacks tenaciously, directly,
personally; it debates, criticizes, shames, and challenges. From the
outset it draws the line of battle, and I was on the other side.”
Thus he found himself in an interesting battle. “I was at a severe
disadvantage, for it became clear that the Author knew me better
than I knew myself.” It was as if the Author was reading his mind.
Every night he would make up certain questions and objections, but
would find the answer in his next readings as he continued his
readings in the accepted order. “The Qur’an was always way ahead of
my thinking; it was erasing barriers I had built years ago and was
addressing my queries.” He fought vigorously with objections and
questions, but it was apparent that he was loosing the battle. “I
was being led, working my way into a corner that contained only one
It was early 80’s and there were not many Muslims at the University
of San Francisco campus. He discovered a small place at the basement
of a church where a few Muslim students made their daily prayers.
After much struggle in his mind, he came up with enough courage to
go and visit that place. When he came out of that place a few hours
later, he had already declared the shahada, the proclamation of a
new life – “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear
witness that Muhammad is His messenger.”
After he made his proclamation, it was the time for the afternoon
prayer and he was invited to participate. He stood up in rows with
other students behind a prayer leader named Ghassan, and started
following them in prayer -
We bowed down in prostration with our faces on the red-and-white
carpet. It was serene and quiet, as if the sound had been turned
off. And then we sat back on our heels again.
As I looked ahead, I could see Ghassan, off to my left, in the
middle, below the window that was flooding the room with light. He
was alone, without a row. He was wearing a long white gown and on
his head was a white scarf with a red design.
The dream! I screamed inwardly. The dream exactly! I had forgotten
it completely, and now I was stunned and frightened. Am I dreaming?
I wondered. Will I awaken? I tried to focus on what was happening to
determine whether I was asleep. A rush of cold flowed through my
body, making me shudder. My God, this is real! Then the coldness
subsided, succeeded by gentle warmth radiating from within. Tears
welled up in my eyes.
Everyone’s journey to Islam is unique, varying from one another in
many different ways, but Dr. Lang’s is an interesting one. From one
who challenged the existence of God, he became a firm believer in
God. From a warrior who fought a fierce battler against the Qur’an,
he became one who surrendered to it. From one who never knew love
and who only wanted to live a comfortable materialistic life until
he died and became “long-forgotten soil underneath an unmarked
grave”, he turned into one whose life became full of love, mercy,
and spiritualism. “God will bring you to your knees, Jeffery!”, said
his father when he denied the existence of God at the age of
eighteen. Ten years later, that became a reality. He was now on his
knees, and his forehead on the ground. The highest part of his body
that contained all of his knowledge and intellect was now on the
lowest ground in complete submission before the Majesty of God.
Like all Muslim reverts, Dr. Lang felt that he was favored by God’s
mercy and that it was God Himself who directed him to Islam. “I
perceived that God was always near, directing my life, creating the
circumstances and opportunities to choose, yet always leaving the
crucial choices to me. I was awestruck by the realization of the
intimacy and love that reveals, not because we deserve it, but
because it is always there and all we have to do is turn to Him to
receive it. I cannot say with certainty what the meaning of that
vision was, but I could not help seeing in it a sign, a favor, and a
new chance.”
Dr. Lang is author of two books – both make interesting readings and
are useful for both Muslim converts and born Muslims to read. He is
married with three daughters. It is no surprising that his children
shared some of his inquisitive mind. The boy who threw questions at
his father, was now a father himself who was to face questions from
his children. One day he was confronted by his eight-year-old
daughter Jameelah after he finished the noon prayer with her -
“Daddy, why do we pray?”
Her question caught me off guard. I didn’t expect it from an eight
year old. I knew of course the most obvious answer—that as Muslims
we are obligated to—but I did not want to waste the opportunity to
share with her the experience and benefits of salah. Nevertheless,
as I tried to put together a reply in my mind, I bought a little
time by beginning with, ‘We pray because God wants us to!’
‘But why, daddy, what does praying do?’ she asked.
‘It is hard to explain to a young person, honey. Someday, if you do
the five prayers every day, I’m sure you’ll understand, but I’ll do
my best to answer your question.’
‘You see, sweetheart. God is the source of all the love, mercy,
kindness, and wisdom—of all the beauty—that we experience and feel.
Like the sun is the source of the light we see in the daytime, God
is the source of all of these and much more. Thus, the love I feel
for you, your sisters, and mommy is given to me by God. We know that
God is kind and merciful by all the things He has given us in this
life. But when we pray, we can feel God’s love, kindness, and mercy
in a very special way, in the most powerful way.
For example, you know that mommy and I love you by the way we take
care of you. But when we hug you and kiss you, you can really feel
how much we love you. In a similar way, we know that God loves and
is kind to us by the way He takes care of us. But when we pray, we
can feel His love in a very real and special way.’
‘Does praying make you a better daddy?’ She asked me.
‘I hope so and I would like to think so, because once you are
touched by God’s love and kindness in the prayer, it is so beautiful
and powerful, that you need to share it with those around you,
especially your family. Sometimes, after a hard day at work, I feel
so exhausted that I just want to be alone. But if I feel God’s
kindness and mercy in the prayer, I look at my family and remember
what a great gift you are to me, and all the love and happiness I
get from being your daddy and mommy’s husband. I’m not say­ing that
I am the perfect father, but I believe I would not be as good a
father without the prayers. Am I making any sense at all?’
‘I kind of understand what you mean,’ Jameelah answered.
Then she hugged me and said, ‘And I love you, Daddy!’
‘I love you too, sweetie pie. I love you too.’
Dr. Jeffrey Lang, “Struggling to Surrender”, Beltsville, 1994
Dr. Jeffrey Lang, “Even Angels Ask”, Beltsville, 1997

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