People take different paths to Islam, but the conversion story one often hears or reads about is the story of sudden inspiration or of insight.
But in the case of Joram van Klaveren, we see a methodical, systematic inquiry into monotheism and the veracity of the mission of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. And it is not less extraordinary for it.
Brought up as a Christian in Amsterdam and later specialising in religion at university, the author Joram van Klaveren has been a theist all his life so the concept of the (necessary) existence of God was not in serious question. Though he does address secularism and the various classical proofs for the existence of God (cosmological, teleological, and moral), his main inquiry was whether the God of Christianity and the God of Islam is in fact, one.
His other sphere of exploration is that of the truthfulness of the mission of the Prophet, and by extension the truthfulness of the Quran and Islam itself. This he prosecuted by examining aspects of the Prophet's life, by studying the Quran, and by interrogating the perceived problematic facets of the religion: the treatment of women, the ideological legitimisation of terror, anti-Semitism, etc. This is the section of the book that one finds most pertinent to present-day Muslims. Many Muslims living in predominantly post-Modern cultures grapple with these same 'problems' with Islam that they may not necessarily vocalise; yet they are teetering on the edge of unbelief.
Van Klaveren articulates these doubts, and through his research and consultation with ulema, delineates how one might resolve these misgivings about Islam.
That a new convert to Islam could reinvigorate the conviction of long-standing Muslims is not a new phenomenon. There is a passage in Muhammad Asad's The Road to Mecca – another, albeit very different, tale of conversion – in which the author is speaking with a long-standing Muslim about some aspect of the religion. The old Muslim turns to him and says to the effect: "I wish I had your Islam."
Van Klaveren's writing and method is academic as well as personal. Between analyses of texts both ancient and modern, he intersperses correspondence with contemporary ulema such as Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. For the reader, these provide an intriguing peek at the work of scholars operating on a person to person level, providing guidance, insight, and above all, connection.
Van Klaveren had been an ardent anti-Muslim activist. He was passionately against the Qur'an and the Prophet. When he started his research, he fully intended to marshal arguments to prove this conviction. But "this did not exactly go as planned" and he began to see for himself that Islam is a religion of "love, rationality, and unity".
Reflecting on his gradual, rational acceptance of Islam, he suspects that his heart knew the truth all along; but the mind was slow to catch up.
And God finds you wherever you are.
Joram van Klaveren
Header image courtesy of Joram van Klaveren's Facebook