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Noah H. Keller
Noah H. Keller was born in the United States in 1954, to a devout Catholic family. Nonetheless, despite his religious upbringing, his childhood has seen three frustrations that have cast massive doubt in his heart about Christianity. He has been shocked by the ritual amendments adopted by the second Synod (1962-1965). New worship formulas have been added as well as allowing the use of various musical instruments in prayers. All of this has been done under the pretext of convenience.
The Church saw that modern and technological development must be integrated into worship. However, to Noah and others, these amendments show the instability of the Church. Religion, it seems could be altered to accommodate people’s conditions and their environments. Isn’t worship supposed to satisfy the spiritual needs of man? They are after all fixed, unchanged and unaltered needs. Time and places have no bearing on these principles.
The second issue that has shaken his belief in Christianity and has sent it into a void has been the doctrine of trinity. Noah hasn’t met or heard about any person who can elucidate it or make it easier to understand. The church says (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost) are three dissimilar figures in names, attributes, characteristics and in deeds, yet despite all this, they are one single God. How could that be?!
Noah has tried repeatedly to get along positively with this doctrine. He used to worship each one of what he has termed “the divine committee members” (Trinity). He would cement his relationship with one of the trios, giving him full attention. And he used to request the current one to mediate with the other two for his lack of interest in them. He has kept on the move between three different deities, worshiping one for a period of time, then going to the next. He was fed up worshiping three gods, and finally decided to worship one single and unique God. He has no partner, and nothing equals him in anything. He has stopped worshiping Christ, believed in him as a human and got rid of the chaos engulfing his mind. He has grown tired of pleasing the trio that the church commands their veneration. Its claim is that they are three in one and one in three.
Noah’s frustration is matched in numbers by the trinity in Christianity. The latest of which was his rejection of the sale of Indulgences. For centuries past, the Catholic Church made the remission of temporal punishment a practice. Hence, in exchange for a fee, a believer is absolved of his sins. The priest provides the sinner with a signed certificate to start afresh. It’s the same way a doctor issues a health statement to his patient. This has been the “last nail” to Noah’s Christian faith.
Keller wanted to save his faith and restore it anew through a thorough reading of the Bible. However, this exercise proved to be futile. Reading the Holy Scriptures has driven Noah further away from religion. Illogical stories and digressions made it a discarded book even with believers. Various churches have turned away from most of the Bible’s content, replacing it instead with some liturgical texts during mass. Noah has realized that the Book is unable to establish a reassuring life of faith.
In 1972, Noah’s problems with the Bible deepened when he started studying philosophy at the Gonzaga Catholic University. He studied the book of the German Lutheran theologian Joachim Jeremias “The Problem of the Historical Jesus." This great critic has concluded that gospels have failed to provide a clear-cut biography of the Messiah. He further stated, “It’s safe to say that the dream to write a biography of Jesus has forever ended.” Here, Noah wondered what would be the outcome reached by another researcher who doesn’t believe in Joachim’s assertion, who with difficulty, has ascertained the existence of Jesus and minute fragments of his biography.
Studying Philosophy has taught Noah two logical questions: What does this truth really mean? And how did I reach it? He asked himself these two questions about his Christian belief. The question came: “I realized that Christianity has lost its luster for me. Henceforth, I have decided to embark on a research for a meaning in life in a meaningless world. It’s safe to say that many western youths have undertaken the search, one way or another”
In the midst of this experience, Noah became an atheist. He transferred from his Catholic university to the University of Chicago, where he wanted to study ethical epistemology of atheist philosophers and thinkers of the West in the 19th and 20th centuries. Philosophers such as Nietzsche, Freud, Durkheim, Arthur Schopenhauer and others are unanimous that human values are not divine laws. They are rather man-made. Furthermore, they state that they are not fixed rules, and they change with time, situations and space. Hence, what would be considered a virtue in one society, might be seen as vice in another community or another time?
This is a satanic philosophy that ignores religion. However, it became clear to Noah that this ideology hasn’t been able to fine-tune the lives of people in the past. It hasn’t satiated their hunger for piety either. It has left them like prowling wolves in a jungle of selfish and opportunist individuals.”We have inundated our culture and our past with everything that is material; we have stripped ourselves of our humanity in its broad sense. We have also divested ourselves from the pure instinct and the relation with a lofty truth.”
During summer breaks, Noah used to work on a fishing trawler to earn his university tuition fees. The ocean is another book that Noah has opened to take respite from philosophy books. It’s a book as large as the sea unfurling in front of him. In every tempest that almost swallows his boat in its violent waves; the sea has made him feel how minute and weak man is. Death besieged him on many occasions; it has snapped few around him. It has even convinced him to abandon the idea of atheism. The sea has also inspired him to seek reconciliation innately and to find a truth that would give meaning to life.
Noah’s various readings and his sea reflections have led him to a very essential truth: the existence of God. This God has set rules governing proper behavior for which we will be justly accounted for. However, this truth involves three religions; (Christianity that he has just left, its predecessor Judaism, and also Islam). Where does this truth lie?
He started looking into Islam for answers. He began reading a translation made by the prejudiced Orientalist George Seal of the meanings of the Qur’an. Noah concluded that “even if this book is distorted, there is no better expression that deals with the core of religion than this book.”
Noah is not yet convinced of what he has read. He read again a translation by Arberry, to this he says: “No matter how accurate the translation is; it cannot convey the true essence of the Qur’an in Arabic. However, the superiority of the Quran in this translation has manifested itself- in every single line- over the Bible in its old and New Testament; namely, the Torah and Gospel. I felt as if I am seeing the true divine revelation with my own eyes. I saw in this book high style, strength and flawless authenticity. I was astounded how amazing the Qur’an is in answering the arguments of the atheist heart preemptively. The questions find answers before being tabled. I saw in all this a clear indication of God as Deity, and a man as a human. So the revelation about the oneness of God that raises fear and reverence is the same revelation that came down with social and economic justice among men.”
The broken language used by George Seal, and the usual Orientalist prejudice encouraged Noah to learn Arabic. He wanted to learn the language away from Seal’s outrageous interpretation. So, in 1976, he has packed his bags and headed to Egypt. He arrived there and has lived among them. He has been astonished about the extreme kindness of this population. He says:” Once in Egypt I have found why people are attracted to Islam. What I mean by that, the impact of pure monotheism on its followers… I have moved throughout Cairo and other regions, and I have observed people and looked at their habits and ways of life. I have met many decent and not so good Muslims. All of them have been influenced by the teachings of their book more than I have seen in any other place.”
Many of these nice people have left an unforgettable impression in Noah’s heart. He hasn’t forgotten the Egyptian young man who has stopped in the street to perform his religious obligation devoutly towards his Lord. And he would never forget the high-school student who spoke to him with passion about Islam and his ardent prayers of guidance before taking leave. Once he was shaken to the core because his friend has dropped the Qur’an on the floor. Distressed, he swiftly retrieved it with reverence and respect to the words contained within the fold of its pages. “During the few months I have in Egypt, many ideas have swirled in my mind. I have found myself thinking how necessary for a man to have a religion. You see, among the Muslims I have met in Egypt the nobility of purposes, magnanimity in spirit (acquired) through the impact of Islam on their lives. This influence has surpassed any other religion I have known… I was greatly impressed by that...thus I found myself longing more and more for Islam. It’s rich in noble meanings and affluent in expressing these beauties.”
However, the most unusual situation that Noah encountered happened when he met an Egyptian woman clad in her Islamic garment. She saw him dressed in modest clothes and thought he was poor. The difference in race and religion didn't stop her from putting her alms in his hand. Dazed, he accepted her gift: “this event made me think seriously about Islam. Her faith was the only motive that prompted the woman’s action.”
One day in the hotel lobby, came the straw that broke, or rather saved the camel’s back. An old lady felt sorry for this young man full of vitality adhering to a religion of confusion and delusion. It happens so often than ordinary people wonder why educated individuals endowed with wisdom follow a religion other than Islam. They shouldn’t be blamed. Hence despite their lack of education, these people have seen the beauty and the splendor of Islam. This religion has amazed the far and near. How could then their eyes fail to see its lights?!
The elderly woman asked him: why you aren’t a Muslim? He said: “at that moment in time I asked myself that same question.” I suddenly felt that Allah has created in my heart a resolve to belong to this religion. I felt the extent of its power on the hearts of its ordinary or brightest followers alike. My mere desire or mental persuasion wasn’t the reason behind my reversion to Islam. Ney, it is Allah’s mercy and guidance that have saved me from the abyss of darkness to light and from doubt to certainty. Allah indeed grants his mercy to whomever he wills.”
In 1977 Noah uttered the declaration of faith in Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt. From there, he moved to Jordan where he is teaching religious science. He has become an erudite teaching Muslim their religion. He still lives in Jordan where he keeps busy writing, translating and teaching.
We supplicate Allah to grant us and him guidance and keep us on the straight path.
Dr. Munqith Bin Mahmoud Al-Sakkar
Researcher at Muslim World League
Translated by Sadok Salehi
Translator at Muslim World League