My journey to God alone is a long one, and this also doubles as an introduction of sorts.
I was raised in a devout Christian home and attended private religious schools until I was 8 or 9. I was always interested in spiritual things, and felt like I was "called" for spiritual leadership. But by high school, I was more interested in athletics. I played soccer, wrestled, and ran distance events in track. By college, I discovered "wine, women, and song" and had no interest in spiritual things. Two things happened that changed that. First, I couldn't pass Chem II, a weed out course for chem E majors (I was pre-med). Second, I watched a movie with my parents on spring break that involved a violent crime and the perpetrator getting off on a technicality. I lost sleep about that movie. I switched my major to criminal justice and psychology, so my coursework switched me to thinking about matters of justice and ethics. Second, the partying was taking its toll. It brought out the worst in me. I have a black belt, and I increasingly acted like a complete ass and bully to my friends and housemates. I cheated on my girlfriend. I made passes at other guys' girls. It got to the point that even I didn't like to be around me.
I had a philosophy of religion class that semester, and I had brought my bible from home instead of having to buy it from the campus bookstore. I began to read it. I began to fast. I began to pray. I returned to church.
After graduating two years later, I worked for several months in social work before leaving and enrolling in seminary full time. I took a part-time job at a church. I was idealistic and completely unprepared for the dual demands of working for a church and the academic rigors of seminary. After a few years, I walked. The good thing is that during this time I met the woman who is now my wife. We married after several months of dating, and I returned to social work. We bounced around to several churches, never quite fitting in. I read anything I could get my hands on, eventually rejecting "core" Christian teachings about the trinity, salvation by faith, original sin, and I began questioning the literal resurrection of Jesus. I read Jewish thinkers like Abraham Heschel, Geza Vermes, and Hyam Maccoby. I began to see Jesus as a Jewish prophet and Messiah, and not the Godman of Christianity. I followed the early Christian document called the Didache as my rule of life, and called myself a Unitarian Christian.
Around this time I picked up the Quran, mainly to expose it as a fraudulent mixture of Judaism and Christianity. This was maybe 2006, and I spent some time online debating traditional Muslims. I found them to be complete asses who justified spouse beatings and acts of violence against non-combatants and they completely ignored any evidence that showed them to be incorrect, so I felt justified in my hatred of them. I continued reading the Quran off-again-on-again, sometimes enjoying it, sometimes finding it appalling. But I did notice that there are several places where the Quran either quotes or alludes to many passages in the Torah and the New Testament. This was also around the time I found the Free Minds website and forum. Every time I had to face the question of whether or not Mohammed was a prophet (and thanks to adjwi who would politely force me to ask myself that question via a few pm's), I would put the Quran down for a while to avoid making a decision. Instead, I began reading philosophy. I read Plato, Spinoza, Paschal, and eventually moved on to Nietzsche, Camus, and other existentialist writers. Here was where my faith in God cracked. The questions of existentialism and modern skepticism were too big for my conception of God, and so in the vacuum of existential angst and agnosticism, I dabbled in paganism. I can tell you that the "gods" of paganism are real, but they are deceptive spirits. The Quran speaks rightly of them.
My personal relationships also began a downward spiral, mainly because of my own selfishness. After all, if there is no judgment day, no God, and all you have is this life, why live it for helping others? Atheists argue that it is possible to be ethical and moral and not believe in God, but if all that is verifiable is the self and nothing beyond it, there are limits of how far that morality can go. It will always be limited to pragmatism and never venture into the kind of radical goodness that God calls us to.
While I have not worked out all of the answers to the problems posed by existentialist thinkers, I have worked out some of them (also thanks to Edip Yuksel for helping with this). While there is no empirical proof for God, we can intuit that proper devotion to God brings out the best in humanity. Being rightly guided makes people live good lives. Why? Because we are designed for connection with God. It is that connection that completes the human condition and saves us from the condition of having just enough knowledge of the world to be dangerous to ourselves and others. This is the realization I recently made, despite the internal protests of all of the "rational" arguments I've memorized over the past year or so. This realization caused me to recognize my need for being rightly guided by God. It caused me to kneel and pray, for the first time in a long time, "In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful..."
I've read the complaints of "traditional" muslims against those who believe in God alone and Quran alone. "They have nothing that prevents them from mixing genders at prayer, praying naked, and drinking alcohol!!!" Well, last I checked, no one here is having naked, booze-soaked prayer orgies.
They assume there must be some need for an intermediary authority to answer all of the details for us about how to live, pray, etc. But the truth is that the simplicity of establishing connection with the true God and being guided by the principles of Monotheism (submission) is enough. There is no need for a man-made hedge around the commands of God.
And this is where I think my background gives me a unique perspective on the message of the Quran. My Greek professor in seminary once told me that I knew the New Testament well enough to cheat my way through the translation exercises. Once I had parsed a few verbs, I could simply write out the verses from memory without having to translate the rest. Because I have a better knowledge of the literary themes of the Old and New Testament, I can see how the themes of these writings fit with the message of the Quran. Yes, I've read all about the corruptions of the texts. But to assert that the texts that Jews and Christians had at the time of the prophet no longer exist is ridiculous.
My point is this: the message of God alone is not simply a reform movement within Islam. It is God's message for Jews, Christians, and Muslims (and all humanity) to leave the man-made constraints of their religious practices and return to the simplicity of submission to the one true God. This is the straight path, the path of submission, the path I am striving for - though I have a long way to go.