Books recommended and reviewed by Fr. Bellusci
for Christian growth and awareness.
for Christian growth and awareness.
Sohrab Ahmari beautifully narrates his journey from Islam to Roman Catholicism in his autobiography, From Fire by Water. Ahmari’s conversion story begins in the the Islamic Republic of Iran following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and the experiences of an Islamic theocracy, “where God appears in the form of floggings and judicial amputations, scowling ayatollahs and secret police” (p. 62). Ahmari believes that his distancing himself from God also had to do with “the Islam of Khomeini and his followers…a religion that only imposes -- and that by the sword or the suicide bomber” (p. 63).
Arriving in Utah with his mother, Ahmari immerses himself in “goth subculture,” identifying himself as an atheist and a nihilist, drawn to Friedrich Nietzsche, existentialists as in Jean-Paul Sartre, and eventually gravitates towards left-wing thinkers under the influence of Marxism, “Yet Marxism’s greatest attraction was its religious spirit” (p. 103). Remaining steadfast in leftist ideologies Ahmari discovers the postmodernism of Jean-François Lyotard and Michel Foucault.
The chapter, “Three Feasts” vividly describes Ahmari’s state of moral degradation. Ahmari has reached rock bottom. After his third “feast” asking himself the question, “When are you going to change,” Ahmari finds himself walking past a Capuchin monastery and walks in; his first exposure to a Roman Catholic Mass. The religious experience makes a significant impact on Ahmari, “After these encounters with the Mass, I could no longer truthfully describe myself as an atheist” (p. 148). And yet, Ahmari admits, “At no point did I consider taking up the religion that the accident of my birth assigned me. The Islamic Republic had ruined Islam for me, and the argument that radical Islamism was a gross distortion of an otherwise peaceful rand reasonable faith never persuaded me…I knew the Arabs had converted the Persian Empire at the edge of the sword, not through interfaith dialogue” (p. 148).
Reading Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (1953), Ahmari acknowledges the “critique of modern relativism” (p. 153) which he extends to divinity: either the divinity of religions are all false, or one is true and the others false “(or half-true)” (p. 155). The Five Books of Moses have a profound spiritual impact on Ahmari, followed by Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth. Ahmari now understands, after the Fall, God brought reconciliation to man through His Son.
Although Ahmari first considers joining an evangelical Anglican community, Ahmari asserts, “I couldn’t help but detect the problem of authority in the Protestant orbit, which, I came to suspect, lay behind Protestantism’s theological shortcomings” (p. 193). One Sunday Ahmari walks into the Brompton Oratory where he stays for Mass; he conveys his experience of the Mass with deep emotions and spiritual thirst, and affirms: “I had found God in his Church” (p. 198). Receiving instructions on becoming a Roman Catholic by an Oratorian priest, Ahmari is instructed in Monseigneur A. N. Gilbey’s, We Believe, treating topics as, “authority of the Catholic Church,” “development of doctrine,” “centrality of the Blessed Virgin.” Regarding the Virgin Mary, Ahmari states, “On this point, and on love of Mary more generally, I required very little persuasion” (p. 202). Ahmari’s expresses a powerful testimony and ultimate reason for becoming a Roman Catholic, “In the end, then, I became Catholic because I concluded that Catholicism was Christianity in full, while other forms of Christianity were digressions from this fullness.
This book is highly recommended: to acknowledge the challenges confronting Muslims converting to Christianity; and to have a deeper appreciation of Roman Catholicism as a response to relativism.
Sohrab Ahmari, From Fire by Water, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019.
Fr. David Bellusci, O.P.
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