Canadian Science student Convert finds Peace and Logic in Islam

A Fredericton university student says he turned to Islam after feeling let down by his Christian upbringing.
Fourth-year science student Steven Byers has recently joined the Muslim faith, one of the latest converts to one of the fastest growing religions in North America.

Byers says he didn't have a specific belief system five years ago when he became burdened by a series of unfortunate events beyond his control. He was raised Christian, but says the Bible couldn't help him cope."I would question, why would God do that to me, to my family, to my friends? It just didn't make sense to me. And then I got really angry, it was the only time I got angry about a lot of stuff."

Last spring, Byers' friends encouraged him to learn more about Islam. He says he found a belief system that perfectly matched his logical mind.
Then last summer, Byers spoke the Shahada -- the testimony of faith, saying Allah is the only God, and Mohammed is the last Prophet of Islam.

"Once you say that line and you mean it in your heart and you're honest with yourself, you are a Muslim," said Byers.

The New Brunswick Muslim Association believes there are approximately 500 Muslims in each of the three major New Brunswick cities and others scattered throughout smaller communities.

But the number of people choosing the Islamic faith is growing through out the world. In New Brunswick's 2001 census, numbers show that the number of Muslims increased five times in a 10-year span.

University of New Brunswick science professor Abdulhaq Hamza says people gravitate to Islam is because they're looking for something to fill what's missing in their lives.

Hamza is also president of the Fredericton Islamic Association and says Islam reminds people that they need to step away from the material world to find peace from within.

"Islam tells you, you have to pray five times a day, so you have to disconnect yourself from that growing and fast-pacing life."

The idea of peace is integral to Islam's message. Its message is two-fold; first, a Muslim is called to submit to God and through this submission comes peace.

Hamza says the only way to achieve peace outside, is to achieve peace inside through the will of God.

"It's like a glowing peace of coal. If you look at it when it's not lit, then it's just dark. And by radiating, it can light other places."

The other major duties required in Islam strengthen a Muslim's commitment to God and to peace.

The responsibilities include, giving to charity, praying five times a day and reading Allah's book of Revelations -- the Koran. They also include fasting in daylight hours during the lunar month of Ramadan, and, when financially possible, taking a pilgrimage to the holy city Mecca at least once in your life.

Byers hasn't been to Mecca yet, but he did take part in the Fast of Ramadan for the first time. "Not eating that period of the day teaches you discipline, and I just I guess knocks you down a step. Makes you realize what it is like for those people that can't eat."

Ramadan was just one of many firsts for Byers.

He says despite the difficulty of fasting, he is adjusting easily to this faith. That's because he feels the fundamental values of peace, charity and good will were already part of his character.

"So just coming into it, I guess would be just changing from the way I was, to knowing that's how I was. Maybe it was more of a way of understanding the way I am."

Byers says it's important for people to learn about Islam. He says if people incorporate the goals and aims of Islam into their lives, like him, they might find some peace they didn't even know they were searching for.