Dr. Jerald F. Dirks

Posted: November 20, 2011 in Converts to Islam
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“By virtue of my seminary training and education, I knew how badly the Bible had been corrupted (and often knew exactly when, where, and why), I had no belief in any triune godhead, and I had no belief in anything more than a metaphorical “sonship” of Jesus, peace be upon him. In short, while I certainly believed in God, I was as strict a monotheist as my Muslim friends.”                                                                                                                                                ~ Dr. Jerald F. Dirks

Jerald F. Dirks was born into a Christian family, had a Christian upbringing, had attended church and Sunday school every Sunday as a child, had graduated from a prestigious seminary and was an ordained minister in a large Protestant denomination. Upon graduating from Harvard College in 1971, Dr. Jerald F. Dirks enrolled at the Harvard Divinity School, and obtained from there his Master of Divinity degree in 1974, having been previously ordained into the Deaconate of the United Methodist Church in 1972. He also holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of Denver (USA).

He has published over sixty articles in the field of clinical psychology and over one hundred and fifty articles on Arabian horses. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and interacted widely with the Muslim communities in the United States.

Thanks to his stock of knowledge about Christianity and his experience in the Christian world which made him make such an eye-opening statement:

There is some irony in the fact that the supposedly best, brightest, and most idealistic of ministers-to-be are selected for the very best of seminary education, e.g. that offered at that time at the Harvard Divinity School. The irony is that, given such an education, the seminarian is exposed to as much of the actual historical truth as is known about: 1) the formation of the early, “mainstream” church, and how it was shaped by geopolitical considerations; 2) the “original” reading of various Biblical texts, many of which are in sharp contrast to what most Christians read when they pick up their Bible, although gradually some of this information is being incorporated into newer and better translations; 3) the evolution of such concepts as a triune godhead and the “sonship” of Jesus, peace be upon him; 4) the non-religious considerations that underlie many Christian creeds and doctrines; 5) the existence of those early churches and Christian movements which never accepted the concept of a triune godhead, and which never accepted the concept of the divinity of Jesus, peace be upon him; and 6) etc. (Some of these fruits of my seminary education are recounted in more detail in my recent book, The Cross and the Crescent: An Interfaith Dialogue between Christianity and Islam, Amana Publications, 2001.) As such, it is no real wonder that almost a majority of such seminary graduates leave seminary, not to “fill pulpits”, where they would be asked to preach that which they know is not true, but to enter the various counseling professions. Such was also the case for me, as I went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology. I continued to call myself a Christian, because that was a needed bit of self-identity, and because I was, after all, an ordained minister, even though my full time job was as a mental health professional. However, my seminary education had taken care of any belief I might have had regarding a triune godhead or the divinity of Jesus, peace be upon him. (Polls regularly reveal that ministers are less likely to believe these and other dogmas of the church than are the laity they serve, with ministers more likely to understand such terms as “son of God” metaphorically, while their parishioners understand it literally.) I thus became a “Christmas and Easter Christian”, attending church very sporadically, and then gritting my teeth and biting my tongue as I listened to sermons espousing that which I knew was not the case.

Despite all, Dr. Jerald remained religious or spiritually oriented while identifying himself as a Christian. He writes:

I simply knew better than to buy into the man-made dogmas and articles of faith of the organized church, which were so heavily laden with the pagan influences, polytheistic notions, and geo-political considerations of a bygone era.

Dr. Jerald F. Dirks and his wife had been actively involved in doing research on the history of the Arabian horse. In order to secure translations of various Arabic documents, their research brought them into contact with Arab Americans who happened to be Muslims. Dr. Jerald learnt a lot from the constant behavioral example of such practicing Muslims. Furthermore, Jerald was highly impressed by Muslim community compared to his American society which was ‘morally bankrupt’. He found that in the Muslim community, marriages were stable, spouses were committed to each other, and honesty, integrity, self-responsibility, and family values were emphasized. He saw that Muslims espouse moral and ethical manner, both in their business world and in their social world.

Another aspect that contributed to the conversion of Dr. Jerald was his personal quest of self-discovery through reading books on Islam. For instance within a month, he had read half a dozen or so books on Islam, including one biography of the Prophet Muhammad. He also read three different English translations of the meaning of the Qur’an. Jerald was struck by a hesitation to adopt Islam albeit his consciousness siding with Islam. In his own words, we could better understand what he went through:

One’s sense of identity, of who one is, is a powerful affirmation of one’s own position in the cosmos. In my professional practice, I had occasionally been called upon to treat certain addictive disorders, ranging from smoking, to alcoholism, to drug abuse. As a clinician, I knew that the basic physical addiction had to be overcome to create the initial abstinence. That was the easy part of treatment. As Mark Twain once said: “Quitting smoking is easy; I’ve done it hundreds of times”. However, I also knew that the key to maintaining that abstinence over an extended time period was overcoming the client’s psychological addiction, which was heavily grounded in the client’s basic sense of identity, i.e. the client identified to himself that he was “a smoker”, or that he was “a drinker”, etc. The addictive behavior had become part and parcel of the client’s basic sense of identity, of the client’s basic sense of self. Changing this sense of identity was crucial to the maintenance of the psychotherapeutic “cure”. This was the difficult part of treatment. Changing one’s basic sense of identity is the most difficult task. One’s psyche tends to cling to the old and familiar, which seem more psychologically comfortable and secure than the new and unfamiliar.

On a professional basis, I had the above knowledge, and used it on a daily basis. However, ironically enough, I was not yet ready to apply it to myself, and to the issue of my own hesitation surrounding my religious identity. For 43 years, my religious identity had been neatly labeled as “Christian”, however many qualifications I might have added to that term over the years. Giving up that label of personal identity was no easy task. It was part and parcel of how I defined my very being. Given the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that my hesitation served the purpose of insuring that I could keep my familiar religious identity of being a Christian, although a Christian who believed like a Muslim believed.

It was now the very end of December, and my wife and I were filling out our application forms for U.S. passports, so that a proposed Middle Eastern journey could become a reality. One of the questions had to do with religious affiliation. I didn’t even think about it, and automatically fell back on the old and familiar, as I penned in “Christian”. It was easy, it was familiar, and it was comfortable.

However, that comfort was momentarily disrupted when my wife asked me how I had answered the question on religious identity on the application form. I immediately replied, “Christian”, and chuckled audibly. Now, one of Freud’s contributions to the understanding of the human psyche was his realization that laughter is often a release of psychological tension. However wrong Freud may have been in many aspects of his theory of psychosexual development, his insights into laughter were quite on target. I had laughed! What was this psychological tension that I had need to release through the medium of laughter?

I then hurriedly went on to offer my wife a brief affirmation that I was a Christian, not a Muslim. In response to which, she politely informed me that she was merely asking whether I had written “Christian”, or “Protestant”, or “Methodist”. On a professional basis, I knew that a person does not defend himself against an accusation that hasn’t been made. (If, in the course of a session of psychotherapy, my client blurted out, “I’m not angry about that”, and I hadn’t even broached the topic of anger, it was clear that my client was feeling the need to defend himself against a charge that his own unconscious was making. In short, he really was angry, but he wasn’t ready to admit it or to deal with it.) If my wife hadn’t made the accusation, i.e. “you are a Muslim”, then the accusation had to have come from my own unconscious, as I was the only other person present. I was aware of this, but still I hesitated. The religious label that had been stuck to my sense of identity for 43 years was not going to come off easily.

However, in March of 1993, he became a Muslim. His wife of 33 years also became a Muslim about that same time. Some of Dr. Jerald’s reasons for conversion may be summarized as:

►His seminary education enabled him see the falsehood of a triune godhead (i.e. he couldn’t stomach the polytheism)

►The existence of early churches and Christian movements which never accepted the concept of a triune godhead, and which never accepted the concept of the divinity of Jesus.

►He knew quite well how the Bible had been corrupted.

►The “original” reading of various Biblical texts, many of which are in sharp contrast to what most Christians read when they pick up their Bible.

►The non-religious considerations that underlie many Christian creeds and doctrines

►Some seminary graduates who fill pulpits preach that which they know is not true.

►He was deeply impressed by the behavioral examples he had witnessed in the Muslim community.

►He took an initiative to learn Islam from translations of Holy Qur’an and other books on Islam.

Dr. Jerald F. dirks (now Abu Yahya) knows quite clearly that there is a price to pay for any decision people make. He faced the harsh trials for making a journey from the cross to the crescent. He gives the following advice to the converts-to-be:

There are sacrifices to be made in being a Muslim in America. For that matter, there are sacrifices to be made in being a Muslim anywhere. However, those sacrifices may be more acutely felt in America, especially among American converts. Some of those sacrifices are very predictable, and include altered dress and abstinence from alcohol, pork, and the taking of interest on one’s money. Some of those sacrifices are less predictable. For example, one Christian family, with whom we were close friends, informed us that they could no longer associate with us, as they could not associate with anyone “who does not take Jesus Christ as his personal savior”. In addition, quite a few of my professional colleagues altered their manner of relating to me. Whether it was coincidence or not, my professional referral base dwindled, and there was almost a 30% drop in income as a result. Some of these less predictable sacrifices were hard to accept, although the sacrifices were a small price to pay for what was received in return.

For those contemplating the acceptance of Islam and the surrendering of oneself to Allah—glorified and exalted is He, there may well be sacrifices along the way. Many of these sacrifices are easily predicted, while others may be rather surprising and unexpected. There is no denying the existence of these sacrifices, and I don’t intend to sugar coat that pill for you. Nonetheless, don’t be overly troubled by these sacrifices. In the final analysis, these sacrifices are less important than you presently think. Allah willing, you will find these sacrifices a very cheap coin to pay for the “goods” you are purchasing.

 

He has written a book titled The Cross & The Crescent. Amana Publications, 2001. [Paperback: 272] in which he envisioned:

In writing this book, I would like to touch the lives of those Christians who have not been given the knowledge that I have gained both about Islam, from my direct contact with Muslims, and about Christianity from my seminary education. I want to share with those Christians, who are willing to listen, what is so often known by their clergy and church leaders, but seldom finds its way into their knowledge of their own religion. Likewise, I would like to reach out to the Muslims, in order to help them understand the religious commonality that they share with Christians.

 

Other books by Jerald F. Dirks include Abraham: the Friend of God. Amana Publications, 2002. [Paperback: 340]; The Abrahamic Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, And Islam Similarities & Contrasts. Amana Publications, 2004, [Paperback: 284]; Muslims in an American History: A Forgotten Legacy. Amana Publications 2006.  [Paperback: 400]; Understanding Islam: A Guide for the Judaeo-Christian Reader. Amana Publications, 2006. [Paperback: 394]; Letters to My Elders in Islam. Amana Publications, 2008. [Paperback: 420].



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[References: Dirks, Jerald F.  The Cross & The Crescent. Amana Publications, 2001. [Paperback: 272]; “Jerald F. Dirks, Minister of United Methodist Church, USA” Islamreligion.com. 20 Feb 2006 < http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/102/viewall/>%5D

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Comments
  1. munzer ABSI says:

    Dr Dirks is one of the most learned and knowlegiable people about the Arabian horse I have ever met. Also, he is one of the smartest persons I came to know.
    Dr Munzer Absi

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