A Christian Minister's Conversion to Islam
Childhood and Education
"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 ... much ... historical truth. .. 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
Dr. Dirks is a former
minister (deacon) of the United Methodist Church.
He holds a Master's degree in Divinity from Harvard University and a Doctorate in
Psychology from the University of Denver. Author of "The Cross and the Crescent: An
Interfaith Dialogue between Christianity and Islam" (2001), and "Abraham: The Friend
of God" (2002). He has published over 60 articles in the field of clinical
psychology, and over 150 articles on Arabian horses.
town, which was only slightly larger than the town in which I lived. There, my thoughts first began to focus
on the ministry as a personal calling. I became active in the Methodist Youth
Fellowship, and eventually served as both a district and a conference officer. I
also became the regular “preacher” during the annual Youth Sunday service.
My preaching began to draw community-wide attention, and before long I was occasionally
filling pulpits at other churches, at a nursing home, and at various
church-affiliated youth and ladies groups, where I typically set attendance
By age 17, when I began my freshman year at Harvard College, my decision to enter
the ministry had solidified. During my freshman year, I enrolled in a two-semester
course in comparative religion, which was taught by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, whose
specific area of expertise was Islam. During that course, I gave far less attention
to Islam, than I did to other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, as the
latter two seemed so much more esoteric and strange to me. In contrast, Islam
appeared to be somewhat similar to my own Christianity. As such, I didn’t
concentrate on it as much as I probably should have, although I can remember writing
a term paper for the course on the concept of revelation in the Qur’an.
Nonetheless, as the course was one of rigorous academic standards and demands, I did
acquire a small library of about a half dozen books on Islam, all of which were
written by non-Muslims, and all of which were to serve me in good stead 25 years
later. I also acquired two different English translations of the meaning of the
Qur’an, which I read at the time.
That spring, Harvard named me a Hollis Scholar, signifying that I was one of the top
pre-theology students in the college. The summer between my freshman and sophomore
years at Harvard, I worked as a youth minister at a fairly large United Methodist
Church. The following summer, I obtained my License to Preach from the United
Methodist Church. Upon graduating from Harvard College in 1971, I enrolled at the
Harvard Divinity School, and there obtained my Master of Divinity degree in 1974,
having been previously ordained into the Deaconate of the United Methodist Church
in 1972, and having previously received a Stewart Scholarship from the United
Methodist Church as a supplement to my Harvard Divinity School scholarships. During
my seminary education, I also completed a two-year externship program as a hospital
chaplain at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. Following graduation from
Harvard Divinity School, I spent the summer as the minister of two United Methodist
churches in rural Kansas, where attendance soared to heights not seen in those
churches for several years.
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