JEDDAH, 29 December 2007 — Many new Muslims came to perform Haj this year to strengthen their faith by undertaking the spiritual journey. Some came as guests of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, some with the financial support of philanthropists and charitable organizations and others on their own.
Ali Guatemala, a former priest, came to perform Haj along with 17,000 other US Muslims.
According to a report in Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Severedoo Royes (Guatemala’s Christian name) was attracted to Islam after he read the opening verse in the chapter Al-Baqara (The Cow) of the Holy Qur’an.
He said conversion to Islam had changed his whole life. “After graduating from the seminary, I worked as a priest in Queen City, southern United States, and I used to engage in missionary work inside prisons,” said Guatemala.
In order to improve his missionary skills, Royes started reading books on other religions, including the Holy Qur’an. “It was a turning point in my life,” he said.
“When I read the first verse of Chapter Al-Baqara: ‘This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guidance to the pious,’ it struck my mind. I pondered about this verse, which
gave me the impression that the author was speaking clearly and definitely without having any doubt.”
Guatemala said he had found a lot of contradictions in Christianity while studying at the seminary, adding that senior priests were unable to provide satisfactory answers to his questions.
“They advised me not to read the Qur’an, branding it Satan’s work. This increased my interest in the Qur’an and I found that it was not the work of a human being,” he said.
Guatemala prayed to God to show
him the right path. “One day, when I left home I found a man in thobe going to the mosque for prayer. His name was Salim Baaqeel. I went with him to the mosque and noticed that there are no ceremonial rituals in Muslim prayers as in Christianity... After that I visited the mosque daily for a week,” he explained.
“While I was sitting in the mosque, a person came to me and offered to teach me how to do ‘wudu’ (ablution). I thought that it was a kind of black magic but he explained to me that it was for purification before prayer. On that day I declared my decision to embrace Islam at the mosque,” he added.
Ever since he became a Muslim, Guatemala has been facing a lot of pressure from his family, including his sister, who is Jewish. “She used to frighten me by saying that Muslims would kill me... Her attitude changed after she observed positive changes in my life. When I informed her about my plan to perform Haj, she asked me to bring a souvenir from Makkah for her,” he said.
Haj was a wonderful experience for Guatemala. “I consider this spiritual journey as the best days in my life. It gave me great pleasure when I learned that the places where I spent during Haj had the footprints of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I cannot explain my strong feelings when I saw the Holy Kaaba for the first time with my naked eyes.”
Abdul Qader, Abdul Rahman and Abdul Raheem — three former African priests — also performed Haj this year. They converted to Islam after they understood the truthfulness of the religion during a debate with a preacher called Qamar Hussein.
The debate, attended by 5,000 people, led to 147 people embracing Islam, according to Al-Jazriah Arabic
The former priests said they were enthralled seeing the amazing scenes of unity and equality among Muslims during the Haj. They came to perform Haj with the support of the Riyadh-based International Authority for Introducing Islam.
“It’s good news that these three priests came to the fold of Islam as a result of the efforts of one of our preachers,” said Saleh Abdul Wahid, the authority’s executive director.