"Allahu Akbar. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah. I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."
These are the first words of the Muslim call to prayer. They were also the first words ever spoken to me. Moments after I was born, I have been told, my father softly recited them in my ear, as his father had done for him, and as all my forefathers had done for their sons since the time of Muhammad.
We are Qureshis, descendants of the Quresh tribe—Muhammad's tribe. Our family stood sentinel over Islamic tradition.
The words my ancestors passed down to me were more than ritual: they came to define my life as a Muslim in the West. Every day I sat next to my mother as she taught me to recite the Qur'an in Arabic. Five times a day, I stood behind my father as he led our family in congregational prayer.
By age 5, I had recited the entire Qur'an in Arabic and memorized the last seven chapters. By age 15, I had committed the last 15 chapters of the Qur'an to memory in both English and Arabic. Every day I recited countless prayers in Arabic, thanking Allah for another day upon waking, invoking his name before falling asleep.
But it is one thing to be steeped in remembrance, and it is quite another to bear witness. My grandfather and great-grandfather were Muslim missionaries, spending their lives preaching Islam to unbelievers in Indonesia and Uganda. My genes carried their zeal. By middle school, I had learned how to challenge Christians, whose theology I could break down just by asking questions. Focusing on the identity of Jesus, I would ask, "Jesus worshiped God, so why do you worship Jesus?" or, "Jesus said, 'the Father is greater than I.' ...