The Quran’s Power to ConvinceApril 18th, 2009 | Category: Journey to Islam
As a young girl born in the Northwest of the USA, my dream was to become a nun. Growing up Roman Catholic, I saw the nuns have a spirtual presence that attracted me until I reached the age of 14. It was then I started having misgivings about Catholic doctrine, so I gravitated towards the Protestant faiths. The trinity was a lingering concern for me. I often just tried “to have faith” but my own logic overruled this, so many considered me “not serious enough to be spiritual”. At the age of 20 I began talking religion to a cab driver, and heard the term Islam for the first time from a real person. The nightly news talked about Islam and the Muslims – sure, they were called terrorists. I presented this to my driver, who Alhamdulillah laughed softly and suggested I read Al-Quran. Actually, I read a few books on Islam first, then the Quran. This is when I knew I could have both my faith and logic, and Alhamdulillah I found I wasn’t crazy after all. It took another two years before I took Shahada, and another two before hijab.
Alhamdullah now at 29, I have my faith, health, oh, and a terrific husband as well (this is one of my first prayers or duas answered!). My story is not unusual, quite boring if you are not me I suppose, yet I never tire of telling others my story. I could tell of my family, that would be unusual. They have never been happier with me, although my sister still does not like my hijab, all members are in agreement, I am happier, more centered, and above all I have peace where before was chaos and confusion. It didn’t happen over night, I have worked and am still working at this, you don’t “convert” and that is it, everyday comes the struggle to learn, only now I welcome struggle. Inshallah, God Willing, my story has inspired someone, at any rate thank you for reading my story. May Allah Guide those who Search.
Growing up in a supposedly Christian, but in fact non-religious family, I never heard the name of God being uttered, I never saw anyone pray and I learned early on that the only reason for doing things was to benefit yourself. We celebrated Christmas, Easter, Mid-summer and All Saints Day and even though I never knew why, I never questioned it. It was part of being Swedish. As a Christian (protestant) you can go through something called confirmation when you are about 15 years of age. This is meant to be a class to take to learn about your religion and then confirm your belief. I wanted to do this to learn about Christianity so I was signed up for this 3-week camp which was a combined golf-and confirmation camp. In the mornings we had classes with a senile priest and our thoughts wandered off to the upcoming game of golf. I didn’t learn anything.
I went through high-school with a breeze. I felt that nothing could harm me. My grades were the best possible and my self confidence was at the top. Religion never came to my mind. I was doing just fine. Everyone I knew that was “religious” had found “the light” after being either depressed or very sick and they said that they needed Jesus in their life to be able to live on. I felt that I could do anything that I put my mind to and that religion only was an excuse to hide from reality.
In college, I started thinking about the meaning of life. I had a hard time accepting any religion because of all the wars and problems relating to them. I made up my own philosophy. I was convinced that some form of power created everything but I couldn’t say that it was God. God for me was the Christian image of an old man with a long white beard and I knew that an old man could not have created the universe! I believed in a life after death because I just couldn’t believe that justice wouldn’t be served. I also believed that everything happens for a reason. Due to my background and schooling I was fooled to believe in Darwin’s theory, since it is taught as a fact. The more I thought about the meaning of life, the more depressed I became, and I felt that this life is like a prison. I lost most of my appetite for life.
I knew a lot about Buddhism and Hinduism since I was interested in these things in school. We learned in detail about their way of thinking and worship. I didn’t know anything about Islam. I remember my high-school text book in Religion showing how Muslims pray. It was like a cartoon strip to show the movements but I didn’t learn about the belief. I was fed all the propaganda through mass media and I was convinced that all Muslim men oppressed their wives and hit their children. They were all violent and didn’t hesitate to kill.
In my last year of college I had a big passion for science and I was ready to hit the working scene. An international career or at least some international experience was needed to improve my English and get an advantage over fellow job hunters. I ended up in Boston and was faced with four Muslims. At that point I didn’t know who Muhammad was and I didn’t know that Allah was the same god as “God”. I started asking questions and reading books, but most importantly, I started socializing with Muslims. I never had any friends from another country before (let alone another religion). All the people that I knew were Swedish. The Muslims that I met were wonderful people. They accepted me right away and they never forced anything on me. They were more generous to me than my own family. Islam seemed to be a good system of life and I acknowledged the structure and stability it provided but I was not convinced it was for me.
One of my problems was that science contradicted religion (at least from what I knew about Christianity). I read the book “The Bible, The Quran and Science” by Maurice Bucaille and all of my scientific questions were answered! Here was a religion that was in line with modern science. I felt excited but it was still not in my heart.
I had a period of brain storming when I was thinking over all the new things I learnt. I felt my heart softening and I tried to imagine a life as a Muslim. I saw a humble life full of honesty, generosity, stability, peace, respect and kindness. Most of all I saw a life with a MEANING. I knew I had to let go of my ego and humble myself before something much more powerful than myself.
Twice, I was asked the question “What is stopping you from becoming Muslim?”. The first time I panicked and my brain was blocked. The second time I thought for awhile to come up with any excuse. There was none so I said the shahada, Al-Hamdulillah.
I grew up in the United States, Philadelphia Pa. I was raised as a Christian in the Baptist Church. My mother made me go to church every Sunday and on that day the only music that was allowed to be played was Gospel. I never liked church very much, it always seemed to me, to be a place for a fashion show. You had to wear you very best outfit and sit and check out everybody elses as they came through the door. I would see people nudging each other as they seen the people come through the door and gossiping about them or looking at them with their noses in the air. I noticed some were very uncomfortable about what they had on,because they knew they would be discussed after the service. I never liked that atmosphere.
Then it came time for the service, now was the preacher’s time to show out. He would start slow and easy with the preaching and it would build up as he went along. Soon he would grab the Bible and start preaching and jumping up and down, sweat running everywhere. The people would get happy with him and start shouting and carrying on. And it never failed, when the people became excited like that, that they would pass around the money container,and out of being so fired up they would give all they had without even thinking about it. I never could understand why, when the preacher got excited, so did they. It never hit me like that, and I use to wonder why.
So I use to go home and start reading the Bible. I was sure I would find my answer in there as to why I wasn’t like the rest of the Holy people. I really thought I wasn’t doing something right. But as read the Bible, I never noticed any of their people in there ever jumping up and down and getting happy. I remember reading when Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples named Judas and he(Jesus)went behind a mountain to pray. I can remember thinking, who is God (ASTAGHFIRULLAH) praying to? I knew something was wrong then. So I asked about this to my mother and grandmother and they would tell me he is praying to the Father. Well that threw me into total confusion and I went on that way until I was a teenager and concluded that church just wasn’t for me. So I never was a religious person.
I use to notice the Muslim sisters walking along or on the bus, they stood out to me, I wanted to know what they were all about, but I didn’t know how to approach them. I had a friend and she told me to greet them with assalaamu alaikum. So I said the next time I see a Muslim sister I would say that. She told me the Muslims have a book called the Holy Quran and that they don’t eat pork. Neither one of us understood why they covered like that, but thought it was kind of neat. It made them stand out, and they always carried themselves so well.
One day I was on the bus going downtown and a Muslim sister got on the bus, and I greeted her with assalaamualaikum and she greeted me back,so I asked her where could I get a copy of the Holy Quran and she told me. The very next day I went and got one. When I started to read this book, it gave me a good feeling, I could understand it and I couldn’t put it down.
I decided to go into the military and I took the Quran with me and continued to read it and told my army buddies about what it said. This continued for three years and I re-enlisted for two more years and went to Texas. My roomate was a Buddhist and I use to see her do her thing at a little box and she would chant and ring bells in front of candles. I told her I was interested in Islam and about what I was reading. One day she went out and when she came back she handed me a sheet of paper and said: Maybe you would be interested in this. It was about Islam and where they met at on Fridays. I took it and threw it in my locker.
About a day or two later I decided to go to this place and see what Islam was all about. I went and listened to the khutbah and liked very much what I was hearing. He was talking about the people and their behavior,and how the women dressed, and sex before marriage. It left a good impression on me and the sisters were so nice to me. They didn’t try to convert me, but they invited me back. So that next friday I went back again and again I love the khutbah, what he was saying was a reality, it was true. The sisters told me they would be having a picnic at the park that next week and would like for me to join them and I accepted the invitation.
The next week arrived and off to the park we went. We arrived in the afternoon and I watched while the brothers covered the ground with white sheets. I thought to myself, this is where we will sit and eat. While the sisters and I were sitting on a bench a brother got up took off his shoes and stood in the middle of the sheets, put his hands up to his ears and started singing (at lest that’s what i thought) and I said to myself: What on earth is he doing? I asked the sister close to me what was he doing and she said this is a call to prayer. Then I watched them as they made the Sunnah prayer. While one was standing up another was bending over and yet another had his face to the ground. I sat and observed. When they all had finished another brother came and called again to prayer, but this time everybody got up and made lines like we did in the army. One man was in front, while all other made were behind him in rows, just like we did in formation. The women were in the back farther away. And they started to pray. I had never seen anything so amazing in my whole entire life, I was so overwhelmed when I saw that.
I knew right then and there I wanted to be a Muslim. When the day was over I told them I would come back the next week and I did, but this time I told the sister I wanted to be a Muslim and they told their Imam and I took the shahadah. That was the happiest day of my life. All the sisters hugged me and congradulated me, I felt like I had been lifted into a new world and I never felt any difference until this very day. Al-hamdu lillahi rabbil ‘alamin.
May Allah (SWT) guide us all to accept His decree. May Allah (SWT) make us all strong in following, practicing and accepting this great deen in its entirety, and may Allah (SWT) give us the strength, faith and support to fight our desires. Ameen!!!
My first realization about the Christian idea of salvation came after I was baptized into a Southern Baptist church at a young age. I was taught in Sunday School that “if you aren’t baptized, then you are going to hell”.
My own baptism had taken place because I wanted to please people. My mom had come into my room one evening and I asked her about baptism. She encouraged me to do it. So, the next Sunday, I decided to go to the front of the church. During a hymn at the end of the sermon, I walked forward to meet with the youth minister. He had a smile on his face, greeted me, then sat beside me on a pew. He asked a question, “Why do you want to do this?”… I paused, then said, “because I love Jesus and I know that he loves me”. After making the statement, the members of the church came up and hugged me… anticipating the ceremonial immersion in water just a few weeks later.
During my early years at church, even in the kindergarten class, I remember being a vocal participant in the Sunday School lessons. Later, in my early adolescent years I was a member of the young girls’ group that gathered at the church for weekly activities and went on annual retreats to a camp. During my youth, I attended a camp with older members of the youth group. Though I hadn’t spent much time with them before, they recognized me as “the daughter of a youth coordinator” or “the girl who plays piano at special occations at church”. One evening at this camp a man was speaking about his marriage. He told the story about meeting his wife. He had grown up in the US where dating was normal, but in the girl’s culture, he could only be with her if they had a guardian with them. Since he liked her, he decided to continue seeing her. Another stipulation is that they could not touch each other until she had been given a promise ring. Once he proposed to her, they were allowed to hold hands. -This baffled me, yet held me in awe. It was beautiful to think that such discovery of another person could be saved until a commitment was made. Though I enjoyed the story, I never thought that the same incident could occur again.
A few years later, my parents divorced and the role of religion changed in my life. I had always seen my family through the eyes of a child – they were perfect. My dad was a deacon in the church, well respected, and known by all. My mom was active with youth groups. When my mom left, I took the role of caretaker of my father and two brothers. We continued to go to church, but when visiting my mom on weekends, the visits to churches became more infrequent. When at my dad’s home we would gather at night every night to read Corinthians 1:13 (which talks about love/charity). My brothers, father, and I repeated this so often that I memorized it. It was a source of support for my dad, though I could not understand why.
In a period of three consecutive years, my older brother, younger brother, and I moved to my mom’s house. At that point my mom no longer went to church, so my brothers found church attendance less important. Having moved to my mother’s house during my junior year of high school, I was to discover new friends and a different way of life. The first day of school I met a girl who was very friendly. The second day of school, she invited me to her house for the weekend – to meet her family and visit her church. I was automatically “adopted” into her family as a “good kid” and “good influence” for her. Also, I was surprisingly shocked at the congregation that attended her church. Though I was a stranger, all of the women and men greeted me with hugs and kisses and made me feel welcome.
After continually spending time with the family and attending church on the weekends, they started talking to me about particular beliefs in their Church of Christ. This group went by the New Testament (literal interpretation of Paul’s writings). They had no musical instruments in church services – only vocal singing; there were no hired preachers, but elders who would bring sermons each Sunday. Women were not allowed to speak in church. Christmas, Easter, and other holidays were not celebrated, wine and unleavened bread were taken as communion every Sunday, and baptism was seen as immediately necessary at the moment that the sinner decided to become a believer. Though I was already considered a Christian, members of this congregation believed that I was going to hell if I didn’t get baptized again – in their church, their way. This was the first major blow to my belief system. Had I grown up in a church where everything had been done wrong? Did I really have to be baptized again?
At one point I had a discussion about faith with my mom. I told her about my confusion and just wanted somebody to clear things up for me. I became critical of sermons at all churches because the preachers would just tell stories and not focus on the Bible. I couldn’t understand: if the Bible was so important, why was it not read (solely) in the church service?
Though I thought about baptism every Sunday for almost two years, I could not walk forward to be baptized. I would pray to God to push me forward if it were the right thing to do – but it never happened.
The next year I went to college and became detached from all churches as a freshman. Some Sundays I would visit churches with friends – only to feel critical of the sermons. I tried to join the baptist student association, but felt that things were wrong there, too. I had come to college thinking that I would find something like the church of christ but it was not to be found. When I would return home to my mom’s house on occassional weekends, I would visit the church to gain the immediate sense of community and welcoming.
In my Sophomore year, I spent Sundays singing at the Wake Forest church in the choir because I earned good money. Though I didn’t support the church beliefs, I endured the sermons to make money. In October of my sophomore year I met a Muslim who lived in my dorm. He was a friendly guy who always seemed to be pondering questions or carrying a deep thought. One evening I spent the entire evening asking him philosophical questions about beliefs and religion. He talked about his beliefs as a Shia’ Ismaili Imami Muslim. Though his thoughts did not fully represent this sect of Islam (since he was also confused and searching for answers), his initial statements made me question my own beliefs: are we born into a religion, therefore making it the right one? Day after day I would meet with him and ask questions – wanting to get on the same level of communication that we had reached at our initial meeting – but he would not longer answer the questions or meet the spiritual needs that I had.
The following summer I worked at a bookstore and grabbed any books that I could find about Islam. I introduced myself to another Muslim on campus and started asking him questions about Islam. Instead of looking to him for answers, I was directed to the Quran. Any time I would have general questions about Islam, he would answer them. I went to the local mosque twice during that year and was happy to feel a sense of community again.
After reading about Islam over the summer, I became more sensitive to statements made about Muslims. While taking an introductory half-semester couse on Islam, I would feel frustrated when the professor would make a comment the was incorrect, but I didn’t know how to correct him. Outside of my personal studies and university class, I became an active worker and supporter of our newly rising campus Islam Awareness Organization. As the only female member, I would be identified to others as “the christian in the group”. every time a Muslim would say that, I would look at him with puzzlement – because I thought that I was doing all that they had been doing – and that I was a Muslim, too.
I had stopped eating pork and became vegetarian, had never liked alcohol, and had begun fasting for the month of Ramadhan. But, there still was a difference…
At the end of that year (junior year) other changes were made. I decided to start wearing my hair up – concealed from people. Once again, I thought of this as something beautiful and had an idea that only my husband should be able to see my hair. I hadn’t even been told about hijab… since many of the sisters at the mosque did not wear it.
That summer I was sitting at school browsing the internet and looking for sites about Islam. I wanted to find e-mail addresses for Muslims, but couldn’t find a way. I eventually ventured onto a homepage that was a matrimonial link. I read over some advertisements and tried to find some people within my age range to write to about Islam. I prefaced my initial letters with “I am not seeking marriage – I just want to learn about Islam”. Within a few days I had received replies from three Muslims- one from Pakistan/India who was studying in the US, one from India but studying in the UK, and one living in the UAE. Each brother was helpful in unique ways – but I started corresponding with the one from the US the most because we were in the same time zone. I would send questions to him and he would reply with thorough, logical answers. By this point I knew that Islam was right – all people were equal regardless of color, age, sex, race, etc; I had received answers to troublesome questions by going to the Qur’an, I could feel a sense of community with Muslims, and I had a strong, overwhelming need to declare the shahada at a mosque. No longer did I have the “christian fear” of denouncing the claim of Jesus as God – I believed that there was only one God and there should be no associations with God. One Thursday night in July 1997 I talked with the brother over the phone. I asked more questions and received many more pertinent, logical answers. I decided that the next day I would go to the mosque.
I went to the mosque with the Muslim brother from Wake Forest and his non-Muslim sister, but did not tell him my intentions. I mentioned that I wanted to speak with the imam after the khutbah [religious directed talk]. The imam delivered the khutbah, the Muslims prayed [which includes praising Allah, recitation of the Quran, and a series of movements which includes bowing to Allah] then he came over to talk with me. I asked him what was necessary to become Muslim. He replied that there are basics to understand about Islam, plus the shahada [there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah]. I told him that I had learned about Islam for more than a year and was ready to become Muslim. I recited the kalimah… and became Muslim on July 12, 1996, alhumdulillah [all praise due to Allah].
That was the first big step. Many doors opened after that – and have continued to open by the grace of Allah. I first began to learn prayer, then visited another masjid in Winston-Salem, and began wearing hijab two weeks later.
At my summer job, I had problems with wearing hijab. The bosses didn’t like it and “let me go” early for the summer. They didn’t think that I could “perform” my job of selling bookbags because the clothing would limit me. But, I found the hijab very liberating. I met Muslims as they would walk around the mall… everyday I met someone new, alhumdulillah.
As my senior year of college progressed, I took the lead of the Muslim organization on campus because I found that the brothers were not very active. Since I pushed the brothers to do things and constantly reminded them of events, I received the name “mother Kaci”.
During the last half of my Senior year, I took elective courses: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Each course was good because I was a minority representative in each. Mashallah, it was nice to represent Islam and to tell people the truth about Muslims and Allah.
Karima Slack Razi
I took the Shahadah on September 20, 1991. If you had told me 5 years prior that I would embrace Islam, I never would have believed you. In retrospect, Allah’s guidance was so subtle yet consistent, that now I see my whole life as leading up to that moment. It is difficult to encapsulate the exact factors that brought me to Islam because it was a journey, a process, that lasted three years. Those three years were both exhilarating and exhausting. My perceptions of myself and the world changed dramatically. Some beliefs were validated; others, shattered. At times I feared I would lose myself; at other times I knew that this path was my destiny and embraced it. Throughout those years, a series of aspects of Islam intrigued me. Slowly and gradually, my studies led me towards the day when I took the declaration of faith, the shahadah.
Prior to my introduction to Islam, I knew that I yearned for more spiritual fulfillment in my life. But, as yet, nothing had seemed acceptable or accessible to me. I had been brought up essentially a secular humanist. Morals were emphasized, but never attributed to any spiritual or divine being. The predominant religion of our country, Christianity, seemed to burden a person with too much guilt. I was not really familiar with any other religions. I wish I could say that, sensing my spiritual void, I embarked on a spiritual quest and studied various religions in depth. However, I was too comfortable with my life for that. I come from a loving and supportive family. I had many interesting and supportive friends. I thoroughly enjoyed my university studies and I was successful at the university. Instead, it was the “chance” meeting of various Muslims that instigated my study of Islam.
Sharif was one of the first Muslims who intrigued me. He was an elderly man who worked in a tutorial program for affirmative action that I had just entered. He explained that while his job brought little monetary reward, the pleasure he gained from teaching students brought him all the reward he needed. He spoke softly and genuinely. His demeanor more than his words caught me, and I thought, “I hope I have his peace of spirit when I reach his age.” That was in 1987.
As I met more Muslims, I was struck not only by their inner peace, but by the strength of their faith. These gentle souls contrasted with the violent, sexist image I had of Islam. Then I met Imran, a Muslim friend of my brother’s who I soon realized was the type of man I would like to marry. He was intelligent, sincere, independent, and at peace with himself. When we both agreed that there was potential for marriage, I began my serious studies of Islam. Initially, I had no intention of becoming Muslim; I only desired to understand his religion because he had made it clear that he would want to raise his children as Muslims. My response was: “If they will turn out as sincere, peaceful and kind as he is, then I have no problem with it. But I do feel obligated to understand Islam better first.”
In retrospect, I realize that I was attracted to these peaceful souls because I sensed my own lack of inner peace and conviction. There was an inner void that was not completely satisfied with academic success or human relationships. However, at that point I would never have stated that I was attracted to Islam for myself. Rather, I viewed it as an intellectual pursuit. This perception was compatible with my controlled, academic lifestyle.
Since I called myself a feminist, my early reading centered around women in Islam. I thought Islam oppressed women. In my Womens Studies courses I had read about Muslim women who were not allowed to leave their homes and were forced to cover their heads. Of course I saw hijab as an oppressive tool imposed by men rather than as an expression of self-respect and dignity. What I discovered in my readings surprised me. Islam not only does not oppress women, but actually liberates them, having given them rights in the 6th century that we have only gained in this century in this country: the right to own property and wealth and to maintain that in her name after marriage; the right to vote; and the right to divorce.
This realization was not easy in coming….I resisted it every step of the way. But there were always answers to my questions. Why is there polygamy? It is only allowed if the man can treat all four equally and even then it is discouraged. However, it does allow for those times in history when there are more women than men, especially in times of war, so that some women are not deprived of having a relationship and children. Furthermore, it is far superior to the mistress relationship so prevalent here since the woman has a legal right to support should she have a child. This was only one of many questions, the answers to which eventually proved to me that women in Islam are given full rights as individuals in society.
However, these discoveries did not allay all my fears. The following year was one of intense emotional turmoil. Having finished up my courses for my masters in Latin American Studies in the spring of 1989, I decided to take a year to substitute teach. This enabled me to spend a lot of time studying Islam. Many things I was reading about Islam made sense. However, they didn’t fit into my perception of the world. I had always perceived of religion as a crutch. But could it be that it was the truth? Didn’t religions cause much of the oppression and wars in the world? How then could I be considering marrying a man who followed one of the world’s major religions? Every week I was hit with a fresh story on the news, the radio or the newspaper about the oppression of Muslim women. Could I, a feminist, really be considering marrying into that society? Eyebrows were raised. People talked about me in worried tones behind my back. In a matter of months, my secure world of 24 years was turned upside down. I no longer felt that I knew what was right or wrong. What was black and white, was now all gray.
But something kept me going. And it was more than my desire to marry Imran. At any moment I could have walked away from my studies of Islam and been accepted back into a circle of feminist, socialist friends and into the loving arms of my family. While these people never deserted me, they haunted me with their influence. I worried about what they would say or think, particularly since I had always judged myself through the eyes of others. So I secluded myself. I talked only with my family and friends that I knew wouldn’t judge me. And I read.
It was no longer an interested, disinterested study of Islam. It was a struggle for my own identity. Up to that time I had produced many successful term papers. I knew how to research and to support a thesis. But my character had never been at stake. For the first time, I realized that I had always written to please others. Now, I was studying for my own spirit. It was scary. Although I knew my friends and family loved me, they couldn’t give me the answers. I no longer wanted to lean on their support. Imran was always there to answer my questions. While I admired his patience and his faith that all would turn out for the best, I didn’t want to lean too heavily on him out of my own fear that I might just be doing this for a man and not for myself. I felt I had nothing and no one to lean on. Alone, frightened and filled with self-doubt, I continued to read.
After I had satisfied my curiosity about women in Islam and been surprised by the results, I began to read about the life of the Prophet Muhammad and to read the Qu’ran itself. As I read about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), I began to question my initial belief that he was merely an exceptional leader. His honesty prior to any revelations, his kindness, his sagacity, his insights into his present as well as the future–all made me question my initial premise. His persistence in adversity and, later, his humility in the face of astounding success seemed to belie human nature. Even at the height of his success when he could have enjoyed tremendous wealth, he refused to have more than his poorest companions in Islam.
Slowly I was getting deeper and deeper into the Qu’ran. I asked, “Could a human being be capable of such a subtle, far-reaching book?” Furthermore, there are parts that are meant to guide the Prophet himself, as well as reprimand him. I wondered if the Prophet would have reprimanded himself.
As I slowly made my way through the Qu’ran, it became less and less an intellectual activity, and more and more a personal struggle. There were days when I would reject every word–find a way to condemn it, not allow it to be true. But then I would suddenly happen upon a phrase that spoke directly to me. This first happened when I was beginning to experience a lot of inner turmoil and doubt and I read some verses towards the end of the second chapter: “Allah does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear” (2:286). Although I would not have stated that I believed in Allah at that time, when I read these words it was as if a burden was lifted from my heart.
I continued to have many fears as I studied Islam. Would I still be close to my family if I became a Muslim? Would I end up in an oppressive marriage? Would I still be “open-minded?” I believed secular humanism to be the most open-minded approach to life. Slowly I began to realize that secular humanism is as much an ideology, a dogma, as Islam. I realized that everyone had their ideology and I must consciously choose mine. I realized that I had to have trust in my own intellect and make my own decisions–that I should not be swayed by the negative reactions of my “open-minded,” “progressive” friends. During this time, as I started keeping more to myself, I was becoming intellectually freer than any time in my life.
Two and a half years later, I had finished the Qu’ran, been delighted by its descriptions of nature and often reassured by its wisdom. I had learned about the extraordinary life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); I had been satisfied by the realization that Islam understands that men and women are different but equal; and I discovered that Islam gave true equality not only to men and women, but to all races and social classes, judging only by one’s level of piety. And I had gained confidence in myself and my own decisions. It was then that I came to the final, critical question: Do I believe in one God? This is the basis of being a Muslim. Having satisfied my curiosity about the rules and historical emergence of Islam, I finally came to this critical question, the essence of being Muslim. It was as if I had gone backwards: starting with the details before I finally reached the spiritual question. I had to wade through the technicalities and satisfy my academic side before I could finally address the spiritual question. Did I…. Could I place my trust in a greater being? Could I relinquish my secular humanist approach to life?
Twice I decided to take the shahadah and then changed my mind the next day. One afternoon, I even knelt down and touched my forehead to the floor, as I had often seen Muslims do, and asked for guidance. I felt such peace in that position. Perhaps in that moment I was a Muslim a heart, but when I stood up, my mind was not ready to officially take the shahadah.
After that moment a few more weeks passed. I began my new job: teaching high school. The days began to pass very quickly, a flurry of teaching, discipline and papers to correct. As my days began to pass so fast, it struck me that I did not want to pass from this world without having declared my faith in Allah. Intellectually, I understood that the evidence present in the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) life and in the Qu’ran was too compelling to deny. And, at that moment, I was also ready in my heart for Islam. I had spent my life longing for a truth in which heart would be compatible with mind, action with thought, intellect with emotion. I found that reality in Islam. With that reality came true self-confidence and intellectual freedom. A few days after I took the shahadah , I wrote in my journal that finally I have found in Islam the validation of my inner thoughts and intuition. By acknowledging and accepting Allah, I have found the door to spiritual and intellectual freedom.
Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem
DISCOVERING ISLAM: A CANADIAN MUSLIMA’S STORY
April 25, 1996
As-Salamu Alaikum wa Rahmahtullahi wa Barakatu (May the peace, the mercy, and the blessings of Allah be upon you).
I am Canadian-born of Scandinavian and other ancestry, and I was raised in Canada. I have been a Muslima since February 1993 when I was 23. While growing up, I was never affiliated with any religion nor was I an atheist. When I was in my mid-teens I started to think somewhat about religion and at that time I did believe in the Oneness of God (Tawheed). Christianity never interested me.
My first contact with Muslims occurred when I was introduced to some Muslim international students in 1988. Through them I learned a bit about Islam, such as Ramadan fasting. But it was really not until 1992 that I became interested in Islam. In the summer of that year a Canadian newspaper published a series of articles attacking Islam by using examples of anti-Islamic behaviour of some Muslims in an attempt to vilify Islam itself. Non-Muslims tend to judge Islam on the basis of the behaviour (which is not necessarily Islamic) of Muslims. I was not yet a Muslima but the articles were so outrageous that I sent a letter to the editor in defence of Islam. Now I was curious about Islam. I re-read some articles I had picked up several months earlier from the MSA Islam Awareness Week display at my university. One was about ‘Isa (Alaihe Salam) [Jesus] as a Prophet of Islam. Also, I asked a Muslim to get me some books about Islam; they were about the overall ideology of Islam and were written by two famous Muslim authors. Impressed, I thought, “This is Islam? It seems so right.” Over the next few months in my free time while attending university I continued to learn about Islam from authentic Islamic books, for example The Life of Muhammad (Salallahu Alaihe wa Salam) by Dr. Muhammad Haykal. One certainly does not learn the truth about Islam from the mass media! Also, newcomers to Islam especially must be careful to avoid the writings of deviant groups which claim ties to Islam so as not to be misled. And just because the author has an Arabic name does not necessarily mean that he or she is a knowledgeable Muslim or even Muslim at all. Also, I learned about Islam from some kind, knowledgeable Muslims and Muslimas who did not pressure me. Meanwhile, I had begun to Islamize my behaviour which did not require huge change. I already avoided consuming alcohol and pig meat. Also, I always preferred to dress conservatively/modestly and not wear makeup, perfume, or jewellery outside my home. I started to eat only Islamically slaughtered meat. Also during this time I visited a masjid (mosque) in my city for the first time.
Until I discovered Islam, I knew almost nothing about it. I say discovered because the “Islam” that I had always heard about through the mass media is not true Islam. I had always assumed that Islam is just another man-made religion, not knowing that it is the Truth. I had also assumed that a person had to be raised as a Muslim to be one. I was not aware of the fact that all humans are born Muslim (in a state of Islam – submitted to the Creator). Like many “Westerners” I associated Islam with the “East” and did not know that Islam is universal in both time and place. However, I never had negative feelings about Islam, al-Hamdulillah. The more knowledge that I acquired about Islam, the more I felt that I too can actually be Muslim as I found that many of the beliefs that I already had were actually Islamic not merely “common sense.”
So after familiarizing myself with what Islam is basically about and what are the duties and proper conduct of a Muslim person, as well as thinking and reflecting, I felt ready to accept Islam and live as a Muslima. One day while at home I said the Shahada (declaration of faith) and began to perform the five daily salawat (prayers), al-Hamdulillah. That was in February 1993, several days before the fasting month of Ramadan began. I did not want to miss the fasting this time! I found the fasting to be much easier than I had anticipated; before I fasted I had worried that I might faint. At first there was a bit of an adjustment period getting used to the new routine of performing salah and fasting, and I made some mistakes, but it was exciting and not difficult. I started to read the Qur’an (Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation) when I was given one soon after accepting Islam. Before that I had read only excerpts of it in other books. Also in the beginning, I found The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi to be a useful guide.
In January 1996 (during Ramadan) I started to wear the Islamic headscarf (hijab). I realized that I could not fully submit to Allah (SWT), which is what being Muslim is about, without wearing it. Islam must be accepted and practised in its entirety; it is not an “alter-to-suit-yourself” religion. Since becoming a Muslima I was aware that the headscarf is required of Muslim women and I had intended to wear it eventually. I should have worn it immediately upon accepting Islam but for many Muslimas (even some from Muslim families) it is not easy to take that step and put it on in a non-Muslim society. It is silly how so many persons get upset over a piece of fabric! Also, it is interesting to note that Christian nuns are never criticized for covering their heads. Never in my life did I have negative feelings toward muhajjabas (women who wear hijab) when I saw them. What made me hesitate to put it on was fearing receiving bad treatment from others, especially family. But we must fear Allah (SWT) only, not others. In the few months before I permanently put on hijab I started “practising” wearing it. I wore it when I travelled between my home and the local masjid on Fridays when I started attending the jum’a salah (Friday congregational prayer). (Of course, since becoming Muslim I always wore it during every salah). A couple of weeks prior, in du’a I began asking Allah (SWT) to make it easy for me to wear it.
The day I finally put it on permanently I had reached the point where I felt that I could no longer go out with a bare head, and I thought “tough bananas” if others do not like me wearing it since I alone am accountable for my actions and am required to perform my Islamic duties, and I could never please everyone anyway. Sometimes opposition to hijab is a control issue: some persons just plainly do not like those who are determined and independent especially if it is their child.
Upon wearing it I immediately felt protected and was finally able to go out and not be the target of stares/leers from men. At first I felt a bit self-conscious but after several weeks I felt completely used to wearing hijab. Sometimes other persons look puzzled/confused, I think because they are not used to seeing pale-faced, blue-eyed Muslimas! By the way, wearing hijab is da’wah in a way as it draws attention to Islam.
Since accepting Islam I continue to seek knowledge about the Deen (religion) which is a lifelong duty for all Muslims–male and female. Currently, I am learning Arabic and hope to be able to read the Qur’an in Arabic soon, insha’Allah. Reading, discussing Islam with other Muslims, and the Friday jum’a khutba are all educational. Striving to be as pious as one can be and fighting against one’s own evil traits (jihad al-nafs) takes effort and is continuous and never ending for Muslims.
I find Islam ever-more fascinating, and I enjoy living as a Muslima.
I come from a Jewish family in New York. My mother was from S. A. but also Jewish. She never was comfortable with anyone knowing that. When my father died, she remarried a Catholic and became one herself. And that is how she brought us up. From the age of 5 I was told that Jesus was also God…? I never felt comfortable with it.
We moved to the Philippines – that is where my stepfather was from. And life there was unbearable. My stepfather, to put it mildly, was abusive to me and my 2 brothers. The effect of that hard life: my spelling is poor, one of my brothers is now a drinker, and the other has a low selfworth.
When I grew up and we returned to the USA, I left home. I took care of myself by working hard. I never had time for God, whoever He was. I did not feel that God helped me in any way, so why bother? I did try to get back to my roots but Judaism made no sense, so I let that go. I did come across Muslims from time to time but the effect was, how do they dress that way, and why do they seem different? Over time, the idea of Islam kept coming back to me, so I tried to find out more. I read the history and life of Mohammed (saas). That is what got to me: such kindness and sabr (patience) in the face of hardships.
It seemed to me that my life had no direction, so I went to learn more. After reading surah Al-Fatihah, I knew I had come home – this is where I wanted to be! I became a Muslim and have never regretted it. I always knew there was only ONE God – ALLAH – and things have not been always easy for me. My mother died of cancer soon after I became a Muslim. But the faith I have helped me make it. Just being able to go to ALLAH with all my pain was such a relief. It is the only true lifestyle known to man, and it is the truth and the last chance for us. I wish all mankind could come to know the truth (haqq) of Islam, and its peace and beauty!
April 12, 1998.
Bismillah Arahman Araheem
My intention in writing my story is that for Allah’s sake, I may help someone who is searching for the Truth, to realize that they have found it in Al Islam. I began writing this on Easter Sunday, kind of appropriate, I think. I have been Muslim now for seven years, Alhamdu Lillah (all praise is for Allah, [God]). I first learned of Islam while attending University, from a Muslim friend of mine. I had managed to get out of a very good, college-prep high school believing that the Qur’an was a Jewish book, and that Muslims were idol worshipping pagans. I was not interested in learning about a new religion. I held the ethnocentric view that if since the US was “#1”, we must have the best of everything, including religion. I knew that Christianity wasn’t perfect, but believed that it was the best that there was. I had long held the opinion that although the Bible contained the word of God, it also contained the word of the common man, who wrote it down. As Allah would have it, every time I had picked up the Bible in my life, I had come across some really strange and actually dirty passages. I could not understand why the Prophets of God would do such abominable things when there are plenty of average people who live their whole lives without thinking of doing such disgusting and immoral things, such as those attributed to Prophets David, Solomon, and Lot, (peace be upon them all) just to name a few. I remember hearing in Church that since these Prophets commit such sins, how could the common people be any better than them? And so, it was said, Jesus had to be sacrificed for our sins, because we just couldn’t help ourselves, as the “flesh is weak”.
So, I wrestled with the notion of the trinity, trying to understand how my God was not one, but three. One who created the earth, one whose blood was spilled for our sins, and then there was the question of the Holy Ghost, yet all one and the same!? When I would pray to God, I had a certain image in my mind of a wise old man in flowing robe, up in the clouds. When I would pray to Jesus, I pictured a young white man with long golden hair, beard and blue eyes. As for the Holy Spirit, well, I could only conjure up a misty creature whose purpose I wasn’t sure of. It really didn’t feel as though I was praying to one God. I found though that when I was really in a tight spot, I would automatically call directly on God. I knew inherently, that going straight to God, was the best bet.
When I began to research and study Islam, I didn’t have a problem with praying to God directly, it seemed the natural thing to do. However, I feared forsaking Jesus, and spent a lot of time contemplating the subject. I began to study the Christian history, searching for the truth. The more I looked into it, the more I saw the parallel between the deification and sacrifice of Jesus, and the stories of Greek mythology that I had learned in junior high, where a god and a human woman would produce a child which would be a demigod, possessing some attributes of a god. I learned of how important it had been to “St. Paul”, to have this religion accepted by the Greeks to whom he preached, and how some of the disciples had disagreed with his methods. It seemed very probable that this could have been a more appealing form of worship to the Greeks than the strict monotheism of the Old Testament. And only Allah knows.
I began to have certain difficulties with Christian thought while still in high school. Two things bothered me very much. The first was the direct contradiction between material in the Old and New Testaments. I had always thought of the Ten Commandments as very straight forward, simple rules that God obviously wanted us to follow. Yet, worshipping Christ, was breaking the first commandment completely and totally, by associating a partner with God. I could not understand why an omniscient God would change His mind, so to speak. Then there is the question of repentance. In the Old Testament, people are told to repent for their sins; but in the New Testament, it is no longer necessary, as Christ was sacrificed for the sins of the people. “Paul did not call upon his hearers to repent of particular sins, but rather announced God’s victory over all sin in the cross of Christ. The radical nature of God’s power is affirmed in Paul’s insistence that in the death of Christ God has rectified the ungodly (see Romans 4:5). Human beings are not called upon to do good works in order that God may rectify them.” So what incentive did we even have to be good, when being bad could be a lot of fun? Society has answered by redefining good and bad. Any childcare expert will tell you that children must learn that their actions have consequences, and they encourage parents to allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Yet in Christianity, there are no consequences, so people have begun to act like spoiled children. Demanding the right to do as they please, demanding God’s and peoples’ unconditional love and acceptance of even vile behavior. It is no wonder that our prisons are over-flowing, and that parents are at a loss to control their children. That is not to say that in Islam we believe that we get to heaven based on our deeds, on the contrary, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told us that we will only enter paradise through God’s Mercy, as evidenced in the following hadith.
The Prophet said, “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and receive good news because one’s good deeds will not make him enter Paradise.” They asked, “Even you, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “Even I, unless and until Allah bestows His pardon and Mercy on me.”
So in actuality, I did not even know who God was. If Jesus was not a separate god, but really part of God, then who was he sacrificed to? And who was he praying to in the Garden of Gethsemane? If he was separate in nature from God, then you have left the realm of monotheism, which is also in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Old Testament. It was so confusing, that I preferred not to think of it, and had begun to thoroughly resent the fact that I could not understand my own religion. That point was brought home when I began to discuss religion with my future husband at college. He asked me to explain the Trinity to him. After several failed attempts at getting him to understand it, I threw my hands up in frustration, and claimed that I couldn’t explain it well because, “I am not a scholar!” To which he calmly replied, “Do you have to be a scholar to understand the basis of your religion?” Ouch!, that really hurt; but the truth hurts sometimes. By that point, I had tired of the mental acrobatics required to contemplate who I was actually worshipping. I grudgingly listened while he told me of the Oneness of God, and that He had not changed his mind, but completed his message to mankind through the Prophet Muhammad, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. I had to admit, it made sense. God had sent prophets in succession to mankind for centuries, because they obviously kept going astray, and needed guidance. Even at that point, I told him that he could tell me about his religion, just for my general information. “But don’t try to convert me”, I told him, “because you’ll never do it!” “No”, he said, “I just want you to understand where I’m coming from and it is my duty as a Muslim to tell you.” And of course, he didn’t convert me; but rather, Allah guided me to His Truth. Alhamdu Lillah.
At about the same time, a friend of mine gave me a “translation” of the Qur’an in English that she found at a book store. She had no way of knowing that this book was actually written by an Iraqi Jew for the purpose of driving people away from Islam, not for helping them to understand it. It was very confusing. I circled and marked all the passages that I wanted to ask my Muslim friend about and when he returned from his trip abroad, I accosted him with my questions, book in hand. He could not tell from the translation that it was supposed to be the Qur’an, and patiently informed me of the true meaning of the verses and the conditions under which they were revealed. He found a good translation of the meaning of the Qur’an for me to read, which I did. I still remember sitting alone, reading it, looking for errors, and questioning. The more I read, the more I became convinced that this book could only have one source, God. I was reading about God’s mercy and His willingness to forgive any sin, except the sin of associating partners with Him; and I began to weep. I cried from the depth of my soul. I cried for my past ignorance and in joy of finally finding the truth. I knew that I was forever changed. I was amazed at the scientific knowledge in the Qur’an, which is not taken from the Bible as some would have you believe. I was getting my degree in microbiology at that time, and was particularly impressed with the description of the embryological process, and so much more. Once I was sure that this book was truly from God, I decided that I had to accept Islam as my religion. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
I learned that the first and most important step of becoming Muslim is to believe in “La illaha il Allah, wa Muhammad arasool Allah”, meaning that there is no god worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. After I understood that Jesus was sent as a prophet, to show the Jews that they were going astray, and bring them back to the path of God, I had no trouble with the concept of worshipping God alone. But I did not know who Muhammad was, and didn’t understand what it really meant to follow him. May Allah bless all those people who have helped me to understand and appreciate the life of the Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him), throughout these last seven years. I learned that Allah sent him as an example to mankind. An example to be followed and imitated by all of us in our daily lives. He was in his behaviors, the Qur’an exemplified. May Allah guide us all to live as he taught us.
If anyone were to ask me when I became Muslim, I guess the only feasible answer would be that I was born Muslim, but just wasn’t aware of it. We are all born into a state of Islam, but what is unfortunate is that many people never recognize this fact, and live lost in other circles of religion and lifestyles. I was horribly lost, and I suppose this was a good thing, because Allah felt my suffering and reached out to me. (al humd dulilah)
My first introduction to Islam was through a course at the University where during Ramadan we were invited to Juma prayer. It was here where I met a wonderful Muslim sister who invited me to her home for study and food. I declined at the time because it seemed too foreign to me. I had built up so many stereotypes that I was not willing to open my mind to anything surrounding Islam, even an invitation to knowledge. The next message Allah sent me came by my friendship with several Arab Muslims at one of the Technical Colleges near my home. This is where I was exposed to the Islamic lifestyle. I was amazed at the fact that they refused invitations to wild parties and drinking alcohol. How could they sit and pray so many times a day. And fasting for a whole month, what had gotten into these people? From that point forward, I thought I was the American authority on Islam. But in actuality I knew nothing. The height of my confusion hit at this point. I was an observer, but never had any understanding of what it all meant.
So, when I became a Muslim it was like Allah found me and gave me the answers to all the confusion that ran around in my head. It is so mind boggling to me that I was oblivious to the fact that I was so miserable. I was successful in the material aspects of life, but my mind and heart were uneasy. I was so weak in spirit that I tricked myself in believing that the material things that laid at my feet, were enough to cushion any hurtful blow that life dealt me. I was wrong. My mother died when I was 23, and all the money, my home, my education, the cars, jewelry, they all meant nothing. I tried to go on with life as though her death was just another event. But it was at this point that I could no longer ignore Allah. If I went on in my current state of mind, then my mother’s life had been in vain. What purpose did she serve here on this earth? To what greater significance did her life have in this world? I could not believe that she meant so little. It was at this point that I began to hunger for this knowledge, and I opened all of myself to Allah.
It is almost too difficult to describe what it is like for someone who begins to feel Allah in their heart. Islam means so much more than rituals, language, culture or country. Islam is a glorious state of being, and it is a fundamentally different experience than what I had previously been learning. My husband taught me much of what I know about Islam today. While observing, listening and opening my heart, I slowly began to understand. Allah presents himself to people in different ways, and Allah impacts everyone’s life differently. I had to come to an understanding of what Allah meant to me, and why it was necessary that I follow this path of life. I began to learn the meaning and significance behind the rituals I had only before observed at a primitive level. I began to read Koran for hours at a time. Allah began to reach out to me and fill the vast hole that was in my heart. For when an individual does not follow the path of Allah, they are in a constant search for that missing element. And once I stopped refusing the knowledge of Islam and opened my heart to my fellow Muslims and the teachings of the Koran, the transition was as easy as eating a piece of pecan pie.
Since then I have had contact with the original Muslim sister who I met in my university class. Many of the Muslim sisters get together once a month for study, prayer and informational sessions. I also visit the Masghed during Juma prayers and any other time that my schedule permits. Of course my husband and myself study Koran and Hadith, and are on a constant quest for knowledge. When you become a Muslim it is the beginning of a new path, a new way of life. Everyday Allah reveals himself to me in some way. Sometimes it is with a new piece of knowledge, or maybe he grants me patience or understanding, and some days it is perseverance or a peaceful state of mind. No matter what the case I am always aware of the blessings that Allah presents to me, and I continuously work to live the way he has intended all of us as human beings to live, in submission to his will.
I have also struggled throughout this search. My family is not accepting of my new way of life, nor are they accepting of my husband. I had a co-worker ask me one time, “How can you abandon Jesus, I love Jesus?” My response confused her I am sure. I simply explained that in Islam we abandon nobody. And in fact it is only now that I can read and understand the true significance of Jesus. Islam allows the follower to study the messages that Allah has sent throughout the ages, through the teachings of Jesus, Abraham and Mohammed. (Peace and Blessings be upon them) Because of this fact, as Muslims, knowledge is never hidden from us, and we are free in our search for truth and closeness to Allah.
My struggle is far from over. Western culture is not accepting or understanding of Islam, and it is mostly out of ignorance that this is so. They think that we are fundamentalists or terrorists, or some other form of monster here to wreak havoc in a peaceful Christian world. The way in which I combat the unkind comments and glares is through kindness and understanding. I remember a point when my understanding was so low that I closed my mind and heart to anything that the Muslim community had to say. And to think that if they had turned me away because of my ignorance, I would not be where I am today. So it is up to all Muslims to have patience and compassion for those who do not understand our way of life. Eventually Allah reveals himself to those who seek true knowledge and understanding.
February 27, 1997
Assalam-aleikum wa rahmatullah!
I came to Islam pretty much on my own. I was born and raised Roman Catholic, but I always had a deep fascination with the spiritualities of other cultures. My Journey started when I desired to have a relationship with my creator. I wanted to find my spirituality, and not the one I was born with. I spent some time in the Catholic religious order known as the Franciscans. I had many friends and I enjoyed prayer times, but it just seemed to relaxed in its faith, and there was, in my opinion, too much arrogance and hypocrisy. When I had returned back from the order into secular living again, I once again was searching for my way to reach God (Allah). One night I was watching the news on television, and of course they were continuing their one-sided half-truth reports on Muslims (always in a negative light instead of balancing it by showing the positive side as well) with images of violence and terrorism. I decided long ago that the news media has no morals whatsoever and will trash anyone for that “juicy story”, and I pretty much refused to believe anything they said. I decided to research Islam for myself and draw my own conclusions.
What I found paled all the negative images that the satanic media spewed forth. I found a religion deep in love and spiritual truth, and constant God-mindfullness. What may be fanatacism to one person may be devotion to another. I picked up a small paperback Qur’an and began devouring everything I could. It opened my eyes to the wonder and mercy of ALLAH, and I found the fascination growing every day…it was all I could think about. No other religion including Catholicism impacted me in such a powerful way…I actually found myself in God-awareness 24 hours a day 7 days a week…each time I went to my five daily prayers, I went with anticipation…finally! What I have been searching for all of my life.
I finally got enough courage to go to a mosque and profess the Shahadah before my Muslm brothers and sisters. I now am a practicing Muslim and I thank ALLAH for leading me to this place: Ashhahdu anna la ilaha ilallah wa Muhammadur rasul ALLAH! This means: “I believe in the oneness and totalness of ALLAH and that Muhammad(peace and blessings be upon him)is the chosen prophet of ALLAH.” I now also accept Jesus as no longer equal with ALLAH, but sent as Muhammad was sent …to bring all of mankind to submission to the will of ALLAH! May all of mankind find the light and truth of ALLAH.
February 25, 1997
I was born in an ordinary , non-religious Swedish home, but with a very loving relationship to each other. I had lived my life 25 years without really thinking about the existence of God or anything spiritual what-so-ever; I was the role model of the materialistic man.
Or was I? I recall a short story I wrote in 7th grade, something about my future life, where I portray myself as a successful games programmer (I hadn’t yet even touched a computer) and living with a Muslim wife!! OK, at that time Muslim to me meant dressing in long clothes and wearing a scarf, but I have no idea where those thoughts came from. Later, in high school, I remember spending much time in the school-library (being a bookworm) and at one time I picked up a translated Qur’an and read some passages from it. I don’t remember exactly what I read, but I do remember finding that what it said made sense and was logical to me.
Still, I was not at all religious, I couldn’t fit God in my universe, and I had no need of any god. I mean, we have Newton to explain how the universe works, right?
Time passed, I graduated and started working. Earned some money and moved to my own apartment, and found a wonderful tool in the PC. I became a passionate amateur photographer, and enrolled in activities around that. At one time I was documenting a marketplace, taking snapshots from a distance with my telelens when an angry looking immigrant came over and explained that he would make sure I wasn’t going to take any more pictures of his mum and sisters. Strange people those Muslims…
More things related to Islam happened that I can’t explain why I did what I did. I can’t recall the reason I called the “Islamic information organisation” in Sweden, ordering a subscription to their newsletter, buying Yosuf Ali’s Qur’an and a very good book on Islam called Islam – our faith. I just did!
I read almost all of the Qur’an, and found it to be both beautiful and logical, but still, God had no place in my heart. One year later, whilst out on a patch of land called “pretty island” (it really is) taking autumn-color pictures, I was overwhelmed by a fantastic feeling. I felt as if I were a tiny piece of something greater, a tooth on a gear in God’s great gearbox called the universe. It was wonderful! I had never ever felt like this before, totally relaxed, yet bursting with energy, and above all, total awareness of god wherever I turned my eyes.
I don’t know how long I stayed in this ecstatic state, but eventually it ended and I drove home, seemingly unaffected, but what I had experienced left uneraseable marks in my mind. At this time Microsoft brought Windows-95 to the market with the biggest marketing blitz known to the computer industry. Part of the package was the on-line service The Microsoft Network. And keen to know what is was I got myself an account on the MSN. I soon found that the Islam BBS were the most interesting part of the MSN, and that’s where I found Shahida.
Shahida is a American woman, who like me has converted to Islam. Our chemistry worked right away, and she became the best pen-friend I have ever had. Our e-mail correspondence will go down in history: the fact that my mailbox grew to something like 3 megabytes over the first 6 months tells its own tale. She and I discussed a lot about Islam and faith in god in general, and what she wrote made sense to me. Shahida had an angels patience with my slow thinking and my silly questions, but she never gave up the hope in me. Just listen to your heart and you’ll find the truth she said.
And I found the truth in myself sooner than I’d expected. On the way home from work, in the bus with most of the people around me asleep, and myself adoring the sunset, painting the beautifully dispersed clouds with pink and orange colours, all the parts came together, how God can rule our life, yet we’re not robots. How I could depend on physics and chemistry and still believe and see Gods work. It was wonderful, a few minutes of total understanding and peace. I so long for a moment like this to happen again!
And it did, one morning I woke up, clear as a bell, and the first thought that ran through my brain was how grateful to God I were that he made me wake up to another day full of opportunities. It was so natural, like I had been doing every day of my life!
After these experiences I couldn’t no longer deny God’s existence. But after 25 years of denying God it was no easy task to admit his existence and accept faith. But good things kept happening to me, I spent some time in the US, and at this time I started praying, testing and feeling, learning to focus on God and to listen to what my heart said. It all ended in a nice weekend in New York, of which I had worried a lot, but it turned out to be a success, most of all, I finally got to meet Shahida!
At this point there was no return, I just didn’t know it yet. But God kept leading me, I read some more, and finally got the courage to call the nearest Mosque and ask for a meeting with some Muslims. With trembling legs I drove to the mosque, which I had passed many times before, but never dared to stop and visit. I met the nicest people there, and I was given some more reading material, and made plans to come and visit the brothers in their home. What they said, and the answers they gave all made sense. Islam became a major part of my life, I started praying regularly, and I went to my first Jumma prayer. It was wonderful, I sneaked in, and sat in the back, not understanding a word the imam was saying, but still enjoying the service. After the khutba we all came together forming lines, and made the two ‘rakaas’. It was yet one of the wonderful experiences I have had on my journey to Islam. The sincerity of 200 men fully devoted to just one thing, to praise God, felt great!
Slowly my mind started to agree with my heart, I started to picture myself as a Muslim, but could I really convert to Islam? I had left the Swedish state-church earlier, just in case, but to pray 5 times a day? to stop eating pork? Could I really do that? And what about my family and friends? I recalled what Br. Omar told me, how his family tried to get him admitted to an asylum when he converted. Could I really do this?
By this time the Internet wave had swept my country, and I too had hooked up with the infobahn. And “out there” were tons of information about Islam. I think I collected just about every web page with the word Islam anywhere in the text, and learned a lot. But what really made a change was a text I found in Great Britain, a story of a newly converted woman with feelings exactly like mine. 12 hours is the name of the text. When I had read that story, and wept the tears out of my eyes I realized that there were no turning back anymore, I couldn’t resist Islam any longer.
Summer vacation started, and I had made my mind up. I had to become a Muslim! But after all, the start of the summer had been very cold, and if my first week without work was different, I wouldn’t lose a day of sunshine by not being on the beach. On the TV the weatherman painted a big sun right on top of my part of the country. OK then, some other day… The next morning; a steel grey sky, with ice-cold gusts of wind outside my bedroom window. It was like God had decided my time was up, I could wait no longer. I had the required bath, and dressed in clean clothes, jumped in my car and drove the 1 hour drive to the mosque.
In the Mosque I approached the brothers with my wish, and after dhuhr prayer the Imam and some brothers witnessed me say the Shahada. Alhamdulillah! And to my great relief all my family and friends have taken my conversion very well, they have all accepted it, I won’t say they were thrilled, but absolutely no hard feelings. They can’t understand all the things I do. Like praying 5 times a day on specific times, or not eating pork meat. They think this is strange foreign customs that will die out with time, but I’ll prove them wrong. InshaAllah!
June 23, 1996 I was introduced to Islam in 1995 by an Egyptian classmate who arrived in New Zealand the previous year, and who was placed into my Chemistry class. I had no religion before this, though I guess I was a non practicing Christian, since I attended Sunday school when I was young, (but mainly to learn Chinese, my native tongue, rather than religion). In fact I was uninterested in much that was taught to me, however I never at any stage discounted the notion of a higher being (ie. Allah, or God).
Because of my background in religion, I did not know much about religions other than Christianity and Buddhism. My parents are Buddhists, but my knowledge of it was so weak that I did not even know the proper name for their religion until a few years ago. So I was naive when I met my classmate, Muhammed.
During the first few weeks, another classmate of mine kept teasing Muhammed about his religion, asking leading questions and the like. I thus became interested in some of the things that this other classmate, James, was suggesting. So I got talking with Muhammed about this religion called Islam, and we became acquainted quickly.
I requested to see a Quran but did not find the time to read it, during a busy school year. So when the workload became a bit lighter, I went to see my friend’s father, who is our local imam. He spoke to me at length about Islam, and planted a seed which in a few months time, with the blessing of Allah, blossomed into strong muslim, alhumdulillah. I took shahada in November 1995.
I am often asked why I came to Islam. The question seems logical, and simple, but in fact, I still find it the most difficult question to answer, even though I have been asked it so many times. You see, I saw many things in Islam that I liked. Included in this were the strong brotherhood and sisterhood in Islam, the way fellow muslims looked after each other, and the logic in Islam. The logic in women wearing hijab to deter from that which is haram, the logic in the forbidding of alcohol, which harms more than it ever will heal, and the logic in many other areas of our lives. I have been told that many people who revert to Islam find they fit right in with the religion. Indeed this was the case with me. Coming from a kafir country such as New Zealand (I have lived here most of my life), it is rare for a person to be good religiously like myself, alhumdulillah, masha Allah. You see, alhumdulillah, I made intentions in my heart never to drink in my life, and never have; I made intentions not to fornicate, even though everyone around me in school was either fornicating or planning to. So you see, alhumdulillah, Allah blessed me from the beginning, and I felt Islam was the next obvious step for me to take in my life.
I decided in November of 1995, with the encouragement with some brothers and sisters on the Internet, to take shahada as a first step in Islam, and then take further steps to learn more about Islam, after all we are all in a constant state of learning about Islam. Alhumdulillah since then I have progressed slowly but surely, learning some surats from Quran during a very busy school year. Allah blessed me with some amazing results last year, alhumdulillah, and now I want to thank my Allah by increasing the time I spend learning Quran and about Islam this year, insha Allah, while I pursue entry into a Medical degree. May Allah give me the strength insha Allah to enter Medical school next year. May Allah help us all to learn more about Islam, and let us all undertake to live our lives in the correct way, and follow the one true and surely straight path, that of Islam. Ameen.
[In the following article, “NOI” refers to the Nation of Islam, which in spite of its name, is a group far removed from Islam. -Ed.]
I grew up Baptist, in a family of ministers, in rural Mississippi. I went to college at Morehouse College in Atlanta, so I was exposed to the NOI, but I had the good fortune to become friends with an orthodox Muslim who explained to me the difference between NOI and Islam, and the lack of knowledge most NOI have of true Islam. Later, after I left school and began working, I got an internet account, and started to study some of the religions of the world. I had never really been a particularly religious person, due to my somewhat scientific nature. I always insist on proof. I started to delve deeper into Christianity, and studied it intently on the Web. I was somewhat disdained however by some inconsistencies in the Bible. I principally was troubled by the Trinity, though. I just did not see it. The one passage I saw as being most supportive (1 John 5:7) was partially forged. When I read Mathew 19:16-17, and Jesus (pbuh) says “Why callest thou me good?, it was clear to me that he was saying that he was not good, and only God was. But most of the Christians seemed to think Jesus was being tongue-in-cheek at this point. I found that I would have to be dishonest to accept this.
Then fortune? smiled upon me. I hit a deer in my car. It was out of service for almost a month. During that time, I was unemployed, but had saved money, so I could live (I also have two roommates). I still had my internet account, and I decided to study more. After I had studied the Biblical contradictions, in addition to the inherent idolatry and unscriptural nature of the Trinity, along with other things, I rejected Christianity as a religion. Even Jesus did not seem to teach it, he taught belief in God. I went a time without any religion, thinking maybe it was all a sham. I have a friend who is in the 5% NOI, and I saw how much he hated religion, and I decided that I did not want to be like that. I believe that God kept my mind open and my heart from hardening against Him, and I studied Islam. Everything just seemed to fit: a reasoned faith which was very prayerful to keep us on the straight path, yet did not disdain acquisition of knowledge (the preachers back home loved to rail against education, as if ignorance is preferred by God). Islam seemed to be made for me. A good Muslim was the exact sort of person I aspired to be. After another month of study and prayer, I decided that if Muhammad (pbuh) was not a prophet, then there had never been prophets in the first place. The moment of decision came one night when I was reading the Qur’an and I read 21:30, and I read of God expanding his creation. Now, I almost became an astronomer at one point, and I still am interested, and these verses hit me like a sledgehammer. I became fearful of God, and wanted to worship him better.
My conversion to Islam has been intellectual and emotional. My parents have both been educated at the university-level. My mother is a Christian convert (she was atheist), and my father has personal beliefs. My family is rather rich.
Ever since I was very young, I’ve been interested by political questions. I enjoyed reading history books, although I was confused a little bit between military history and politics. I called myself a communist, but today I wouldn’t say I knew what it means. Over time, I learned real politics and sociology, but when the communist bloc fell, I admitted my error and was no longer a fan of the communist states. I became agnostic, and thought that all human beings are condemned to egotism and to ignorance of some questions, like the existence of God. I learned philosophy. I wanted to avoid doing the same mistakes as in the past, and so I refused all dogmas. At this time occured the separation of my parents, and also other personal problems. To forget all this, I spent a lot of time in laughing with (fake) friends, drinking, and then smoking cigarettes, then hash. I sometimes took hard drugs (heroin, LSD, and some other poisons). Despite this, I passed my baccalaureat (this is an exam that ends four years of college and gives the right to continue graduate level study at the university). By chance, I had to go at the army (we do not have the choice in the country I live in). The strict rules I could not avoid there were a very good thing for me; also, I was tired enough to enjoy simple things as eating and sleeping. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), my mentality changed.
Back in civil society, I spent one more dark year: I always had the temptation of my bad habits, and I felt that life was very superficial after the big efforts and the friendship of the army. I began feeling the necessity of something else in my life. Then one of my sisters, back from a journey to Syria, gave me a book. This book, written in my language, is a gift she received there. Its author, who had titled it “The Bible, Quran and Science”, wanted to show that there are in the Quran some things that were simply impossible for a human being to know at the time the Quran was revealed. Conclusion: the authenticity of the Quran is proved, scientifically proved. The first thing I thought after having read the book was: “Oh! It would be super!” — I was ready for a change in my way of life.
I bought a translation of the Quran to compare. Before having entirely read it, I had become a Muslim, alhamdulillah. As you can see, a psychologist wouldn’t have any problem to explain what he would call my choice. For me, all things come from God and He had written this for me, He had chosen these means to make me accept Islam. Alhamdulillah! What no psychologist can see is what happens in my heart when I read the Quran: faith has little to do with what one feels in front of a scientific demonstration!
Yahiye Adam Gadahn
My first seventeen years have been a bit different than the youth experienced by most Americans. I grew up on an extremely rural goat ranch in Western Riverside County, California, where my family raises on average 150 to 200 animals for milk, cheese, and meat. My father is a halal butcher [a butcher who slaughters in an Islamic manner -ed.] and supplies to an Islamic Food Mart a few blocks from the Islamic Center in downtown Los Angeles.
My father was raised agnostic or atheist, but he became a believer in One God when he picked up a Bible left on the beach. He once had a number of Muslim friends, but they’ve all moved out of California now. My mother was raised Catholic, so she leans towards Christianity (although she, like my father, disregards the Trinity). I and my siblings were/are home-schooled, and as you may know, most home-school families are Christian. In the last 8 or so years, we have been involved with some home-schooling support groups, thus acquainting me with fundamentalist Christianity. It was an eye-opening experience. Setting aside the blind dogmatism and charismatic wackiness, it was quite a shock to me when I realized that these people, in their prayers, were actually praying TO JESUS. You see, I had always believed that Jesus (pbuh) was, at the very most, the Son of God (since that is what the Bible mistranslates “Servant of God” as). As I learned that belief in the Trinity, something I find absolutely ridiculous, is considered by most Christians to be a prerequisite for salvation, I gradually realized I could not be a Christian.
In the meantime, I had become obsessed with demonic Heavy Metal music, something the rest of my family (as I now realize, rightfully so) was not happy with. My entire life was focused on expanding my music collection. I eschewed personal cleanliness and let my room reach an unbelievable state of disarray. My relationship with my parents became strained, although only intermittently so. I am sorry even as I write this.
Earlier this year, I began to listen to the apocalyptic ramblings of Christian radio’s “prophecy experts.” Their paranoid espousal of various conspiracy theories, rabid support of Israel and religious Zionism, and fiery preaching about the “Islamic Threat” held for me a strange fascination. Why? Well, I suppose it was simply the need I was feeling to fill that void I had created for myself. In any case, I soon found that the beliefs these evangelists held, such as Original Sin and the Infallibility of “God’s Word”, were not in agreement with my theological ideas (not to mention the Bible) and I began to look for something else to hold onto.
The turning point, perhaps, was when I moved in with my grandparents here in Santa Ana, the county seat of Orange, California. My grandmother, a computer whiz, is hooked up to America Online and I have been scooting the information superhighway since January. But when I moved in, with the intent of finding a job (easier said than done), I begin to visit the religion folders on AOL and the Usenet newsgroups, where I found discussions on Islam to be the most intriguing. You see, I discovered that the beliefs and practices of this religion fit my personal theology and intellect as well as basic human logic. Islam presents God not as an anthropomorphic being but as an entity beyond human comprehension, transcendent of man, independant and undivided. Islam has a holy book that is comprehensible to a layman, and there is no papacy or priesthood that is considered infallible in matters of interpretation: all Muslims are free to reflect and interpret the book given a sufficient education. Islam does not believe that all men are doomed to Hell unless they simply accept that God (apparently unable to forgive otherwise) magnanimously allowed Himself to be tortured on a cross to enable Him to forgive all human beings who just believe that He allowed Himself to be tortured on a cross… Islam does not believe in a Chosen Race. And on and on…
As I began reading English translations of the Qur’an, I became more and more convinced of the truth and authenticity of Allah’s teachings contained in those 114 chapters. Having been around Muslims in my formative years, I knew well that they were not the bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorists that the news media and the televangelists paint them to be. Perhaps this knowledge led me to continue my personal research further than another person would have. I can’t say when I actually decided that Islam was for me. It was really a natural progression. In any case, last week [November 1995 -ed.]I went to the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove and told the brother in charge of the library I wanted to be a Muslim. He gave me some excellent reading material, and last Friday I took Shahada [accepted the creed of Islam -ed.]in front of a packed masjid. I have spent this week learning to perform Salat and reflecting on the greatness of Allah. It feels great to be a Muslim! Subhaana rabbiyal ‘azeem!
How I came to Islam
III&E Brochure Series; No. 17
(published by The Institute of Islamic Information and Education (III&E))
All I have to say is all what you know already, to confirm what you already know, the message of the Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) as given by God – the Religion of Truth. As human beings we are given a consciousness and a duty that has placed us at the top of creation. Man is created to be God’s deputy on earth, and it is important to realize the obligation to rid ourselves of all illusions and to make our lives a preparation for the next life. Anybody who misses this chance is not likely to be given another, to be brought back again and again, because it says in Qur’an Majeed that when man is brought to account, he will say, “O Lord, send us back and give us another chance.” The Lord will say, “If I send you back you will do the same.”
MY EARLY RELIGIOUS UPBRINGING
I was brought up in the modern world of all the luxury and the high life of show business. I was born in a Christian home, but we know that every child is born in his original nature – it is only his parents that turn him to this or that religion. I was given this religion (Christianity) and thought this way. I was taught that God exists, but there was no direct contact with God, so we had to make contact with Him through Jesus – he was in fact the door to God. This was more or less accepted by me, but I did not swallow it all.
I looked at some of the statues of Jesus; they were just stones with no life. And when they said that God is three, I was puzzled even more but could not argue. I more or less believed it, because I had to have respect for the faith of my parents.
Gradually I became alienated from this religious upbringing. I started making music. I wanted to be a big star. All those things I saw in the films and on the media took hold of me, and perhaps I thought this was my God, the goal of making money. I had an uncle who had a beautiful car. “Well,” I said, “he has it made. He has a lot of money.” The people around me influenced me to think that this was it; this world was their God.
I decided then that this was the life for me; to make a lot of money, have a ‘great life.’ Now my examples were the pop stars. I started making songs, but deep down I had a feeling for humanity, a feeling that if I became rich I would help the needy. (It says in the Qur’an, we make a promise, but when we make something, we want to hold onto it and become greedy.)
So what happened was that I became very famous. I was still a teenager, my name and photo were splashed in all the media. They made me larger than life, so I wanted to live larger than life and the only way to do that was to be intoxicated (with liquor and drugs).
After a year of financial success and ‘high’ living, I became very ill, contracted TB and had to be hospitalized. It was then that I started to think: What was to happen to me? Was I just a body, and my goal in life was merely to satisfy this body? I realized now that this calamity was a blessing given to me by Allah, a chance to open my eyes – “Why am I here? Why am I in bed?” – and I started looking for some of the answers. At that time there was great interest in the Eastern mysticism. I began reading, and the first thing I began to become aware of was death, and that the soul moves on; it does not stop. I felt I was taking the road to bliss and high accomplishment. I started meditating and even became a vegetarian. I now believed in ‘peace and flower power,’ and this was the general trend. But what I did believe in particular was that I was not just a body. This awareness came to me at the hospital.
One day when I was walking and I was caught in the rain, I began running to the shelter and then I realized, ‘Wait a minute, my body is getting wet, my body is telling me I am getting wet.’ This made me think of a saying that the body is like a donkey, and it has to be trained where it has to go. Otherwise, the donkey will lead you where it wants to go.
Then I realized I had a will, a God-given gift: follow the will of God. I was fascinated by the new terminology I was learning in the Eastern religion. By now I was fed up with Christianity. I started making music again and this time I started reflecting my own thoughts. I remember the lyric of one of my songs. It goes like this: “I wish I knew, I wish I knew what makes the Heaven, what makes the Hell. Do I get to know You in my bed or some dusty cell while others reach the big hotel?” and I knew I was on the Path.
I also wrote another song, “The Way to Find God Out.” I became even more famous in the world of music. I really had a difficult time because I was getting rich and famous, and at the same time, I was sincerely searching for the Truth. Then I came to a stage where I decided that Buddhism is all right and noble, but I was not ready to leave the world. I was too attached to the world and was not prepared to become a monk and to isolate myself from society.
I tried Zen and Ching, numerology, tarot cards and astrology. I tried to look back into the Bible and could not find anything. At this time I did not know anything about Islam, and then, what I regarded as a miracle occurred. My brother had visited the mosque in Jerusalem and was greatly impressed that while on the one hand it throbbed with life (unlike the churches and synagogues which were empty), on the other hand, an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity prevailed.
When he came to London he brought back a translation of the Qur’an, which he gave to me. He did not become a Muslim, but he felt something in this religion, and thought I might find something in it also.
And when I received the book, a guidance that would explain everything to me – who I was; what was the purpose of life; what was the reality and what would be the reality; and where I came from – I realized that this was the true religion; religion not in the sense the West understands it, not the type for only your old age. In the West, whoever wishes to embrace a religion and make it his only way of life is deemed a fanatic. I was not a fanatic, I was at first confused between the body and the soul. Then I realized that the body and soul are not apart and you don’t have to go to the mountain to be religious. We must follow the will of God. Then we can rise higher than the angels. The first thing I wanted to do now was to be a Muslim.
I realized that everything belongs to God, that slumber does not overtake Him. He created everything. At this point I began to lose the pride in me, because hereto I had thought the reason I was here was because of my own greatness. But I realized that I did not create myself, and the whole purpose of my being here was to submit to the teaching that has been perfected by the religion we know as Al-Islam. At this point I started discovering my faith. I felt I was a Muslim. On reading the Qur’an, I now realized that all the Prophets sent by God brought the same message. Why then were the Jews and Christians different? I know now how the Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah and that they had changed His Word. Even the Christians misunderstand God’s Word and called Jesus the son of God. Everything made so much sense. This is the beauty of the Qur’an; it asks you to reflect and reason, and not to worship the sun or moon but the One Who has created everything. The Qur’an asks man to reflect upon the sun and moon and God’s creation in general. Do you realize how different the sun is from the moon? They are at varying distances from the earth, yet appear the same size to us; at times one seems to overlap the other.
Even when many of the astronauts go to space, they see the insignificant size of the earth and vastness of space. They become very religious, because they have seen the Signs of Allah.
When I read the Qur’an further, it talked about prayer, kindness and charity. I was not a Muslim yet, but I felt that the only answer for me was the Qur’an, and God had sent it to me, and I kept it a secret. But the Qur’an also speaks on different levels. I began to understand it on another level, where the Qur’an says,
“Those who believe do not take disbelievers for friends and the believers are brothers.”
Thus at this point I wished to meet my Muslim brothers.
Then I decided to journey to Jerusalem (as my brother had done). At Jerusalem, I went to the mosque and sat down. A man asked me what I wanted. I told him I was a Muslim. He asked what was my name. I told him, “Stevens.” He was confused. I then joined the prayer, though not so successfully. Back in London, I met a sister called Nafisa. I told her I wanted to embrace Islam and she directed me to the New Regent Mosque. This was in 1977, about one and a half years after I received the Qur’an. Now I realized that I must get rid of my pride, get rid of Iblis, and face one direction. So on a Friday, after Jumma’ I went to the Imam and declared my faith (the Kalima) at this hands. You have before you someone who had achieved fame and fortune. But guidance was something that eluded me, no matter how hard I tried, until I was shown the Qur’an. Now I realize I can get in direct contact with God, unlike Christianity or any other religion. As one Hindu lady told me, “You don’t understand the Hindus. We believe in one God; we use these objects (idols) to merely concentrate.” What she was saying was that in order to reach God, one has to create associates, that are idols for the purpose. But Islam removes all these barriers. The only thing that moves the believers from the disbelievers is the salat. This is the process of purification.
Finally I wish to say that everything I do is for the pleasure of Allah and pray that you gain some inspirations from my experiences. Furthermore, I would like to stress that I did not come into contact with any Muslim before I embraced Islam. I read the Qur’an first and realized that no person is perfect. Islam is perfect, and if we imitate the conduct of the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) we will be successful. May Allah give us guidance to follow the path of the ummah of Muhammad (Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam). Ameen!
Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens)
Yusuf Muhammad Ansari
Assalaamu’alaikum! I am posting this story on behalf of a brother who is now serving his term in a prison in Scotland and hence has no access to the internet. He is a brother who takes his belief very seriously and looks forward to correspond with other brothers and sisters for discussions, exchange opinions and ideas. I hope this story would attract attention of visitors of your web site to befriend this sincere brother.
– Jamaludin Yaakob
MY JOURNEY TO ISLAM
In September 4 1993 I began a journey that was a childhood dream. I left my home city of Aberdeen, Scotland at 4.10 p.m. with the intention of driving my camper van all the way to Goa, India, and back. Before I undertook this journey I spent a lot of time reading on the countries, customs, peoples and religions which at the very least could give me a basic understanding of the how I should re-act when arriving upon each place.
Although the diversity of the peoples was a task to take on board, it was the diversity of religions that stuck most in my mind. There seemed to be for me an excitement about Islamic countries, which kept coming to my thought.
The journey went well with the exception of a few mechanical problems throughout Eastern Europe. The first Islamic country I was to reach was Turkey. Although I had been there before, I had never been to Istanbul.
I was tired and needed rest. As one would do, I left my camper in a campsite and spent the next three weeks ad-hoc travelling through the centre of the city to see the sites. On what was to be my last day in Istanbul I visited the Blue Mosque and the Pink Mosque [probably the Aya Sofia -MSA-USC.]. This, my brothers and sisters, was to be my introduction to the one and true religion of Al-Islam. It was a Friday, and as I recall during ‘Asr prayer no one (from the tourists) was allowed in the Pink Mosque. Due to my inquisitiveness I got firstly lost inside the mosque and secondly found myself locked in standing at the back watching the wonderful event of ‘Asr prayer unfolding before my eyes. I feel I can never quite express clearly what happened next except to say that I felt drawn, numb and very hot all at the same time. Unwittingly I remembered thinking that this was really for me without questioning why or what this religion was all about. I knew the basic belief was that there was only one God. I believed that all my life anyway. The prayer had finished and all were on their way out. A brother approached me. I felt embarrassed as I apologised for being there when I should not. He smiled and assured me that it was all right.
After leaving the mosque, I went on a walk about heading towards the harbour area. I was standing looking in a window when I felt a presence behind me. I turned around to see the same man I met in the mosque; again he smiled. He told me to wait a moment as he went downstairs in the shop. When he appeared again a few moments later, he handed me a plastic bag and said “Is this what you have been looking for brother?” As I looked in the bag there was a translation of the Holy Qur’an in English. This was when an amazing thing happened. I looked up to thank him but he was gone. The strange thing was that there was no side road, alley or lane for him to simply disappear. Until this day I have never figured out where he had gone.
The journey re-commenced the next day, heading towards Eastern Turkey. I began to read the Qur’an in the evening and felt drawn to visit mosques route. Every time I met Muslim people they were forever inviting me to their homes for meals, etc. Their politeness and good character was what I have encountered before. My head was full of emptiness waiting to be filled with knowledge and I constantly asked questions about Islam. I somehow felt that I had found something that was always there but did not know how to find it and what it was.
Iran was to be the same. The more I travelled the more I felt drawn to the mosques and the company of the people. There was something distinctive about how the people were. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it. I came from the West where I had been nurtured into a set of beliefs, values and attitude. The attitude seemed hard to shake off. The attitude that I matter, I am indispensable, I will stand on who I need to, so I may get to the top. Who is God? Does it matter? Money and prestige is more important, is it not? I felt a constant battle as I came from there, but I somehow felt I belonged here.
All the way through Iran I never felt intimidated, in fact, quite the opposite. If I had taken all the many offers of meals, accommodation, etc., I fear that I would still be there, and I would have gotten into trouble with the authorities. My visa was for one week only.
The next country was Pakistan. Here was where things got even better. The people were quite at ease and seemed happy to answer my non-stop questions on Islam. I visited more mosques. I was in more houses in Pakistan than I had probably ever been at home.
Another thing that I have always believed in before embracing Islam was pre-destination. Others may call it fate. This had led me to the next encounter of life with the Muslim people. My windscreen had broken and I ended up searching Quetta for a new one. I was directed to Tradesmen Street. There was where I met Muhammad, a motor body repairer. He kindly let me stay in his lock-up yard for five days until he could locate a windscreen. Everyday without fail he I ate at his house or he brought me food. He took me to meet the headmasters of both a public and a private school. He refused point blank that I should put my hand in my pocket to buy anything. He told me stories of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) and other Islamic issues. At times I found it difficult to contain my emotions. I could not believe the hospitality I was receiving.
One occasion sticks in my mind which left me in tears and astounded. I was in Muhammad’s house for lunch. There was his family there including around thirteen children. While I taught them a Scottish nursery rhyme Muhammad videotaped us together. Within minute the children who spoke no English, mastered it. When I was entering my van I heard some commotion at the end of the street. There, there were around one hundred children running towards me singing the Scottish nursery rhyme. I was surrounded as the tears ran from my cheeks with joy. It was so beautiful. Here was a stranger in a strange land and they wanted nothing from me except just to stay a little bit longer. I had to go. The following day I visited the local mosque and said my good bye with regret.
On the road to the Pakistani/Indian border I continued to read the Qur’an and still question why these people were being so nice to me but wanted nothing in return. Strange indeed.
As I said before, I was coming from the West where, in the material sense, they have everything. There was me travelling through a land with a house on wheels while around me so many people were living in squalor. If you have never had nothing you do not know what it’s like, or, from my point of view, I had never experienced nothing.
My next encounter showed me the simplicity of man in relation to our Creator, Allah (s.w.t.). As I drove the Sind region in the desert I began to become anxious to find a place off the road to park for the evening. Suddenly I came upon a simple house of clay in the middle of nowhere. I approached the house and knocked on the door. An old man answered. I said “Assalaam Alaikom”, he replied in kind. I asked if it was ok to park for the night? He spoke no English but acknowledged what I meant.
He invited me for tea. Immediately I became consciously aware of the simplicity of his dwelling. There was nothing which did not have a use, and everything was to a bare minimum. As I recalled the items, there was a staff carpet, a copy of al-Qur’an, a pot and a water skin. We sat on the carpet and drank tea. As he moved to the window, he left without warning with the water skin and a mat in hand. After a good five minutes had passed, I went outside. What I saw next I could only describe as ‘the day the world stopped.’ As the sun dropped out of the sky below the horizon, there was complete silence. The man in front of me dropped to his knees in total obedient worship to our Creator, a memory that lasts with me until this day.
I made it to India, visited more mosques and made it all the way back unscathed. I thought the people back home had changed, they had not, but I had.
It is so easy to allow yourself to be consumed by the method rather than being the method. Please allow me to elaborate. While in the East, I had accommodation, money and for once in my life, simplicity, empathy and understanding. It is not that I don’t have them now. It’s simply a different game with different rules and players. I tend to call it the reverse process. In simple terms, to the wonderful creations in the East, God is the important factor. It was to be my downfall back here in the West, trading god for money, or you may call it materialism. It seems easy to say now but for me anything with the word ‘ISM’ attached should be avoided at all costs.
No! I still had not embraced Islam. Although conscious of what I had learned, I put it on the back burner. The quest for me, which seemed more important, was accommodation, job, flat, and car. All of these don’t grow on trees and, really how money becomes available never really mattered. I couldn’t find a proper job. My wife who had been my constant travelling partner became just as disillusioned as I did. We had only been married a short time and even getting married to each other was ever shorter on three and a half-month. We couldn’t get work; we were tired of travel and extremely tired of each other.
As things got progressively worse as we could not find work or accommodation, things were getting desperate. My wife found an advertisement in the local paper asking for a sauna receptionist. In our naivete we both believed that a Sauna was in fact a Sauna. At the same time she got the job, I got offered some work dealing and running drugs. The sauna turned out to be a front for prostitution and it was not long before my wife decided to swap answering the telephone for the red light. We both loved the money, we both became drugs users and all seemed fantastic.
This was to be short lived. It tore us apart. We were in a web where there seemed no way out. On the one hand we needed the money to feed our cocaine habit. On the other hand, I got sick of drugs, money, prostitution, in fact, everything. We kept the company of like-minded characters that helped feed the desire for self-gratification. I tried so hard to get off the drugs. In the mean time I tried to get my wife off the prostitution. She seemed by now to love the money more than me. I would sit for many hours staring at this accumulating amount of money before my eyes with total disdain. Little did I realise that all was about to change – first for the worst.
Two weeks before 15 April 1996 two things happened simultaneously. The first thing happened after an encounter to the library. I took a book out on loan called “The Basics of Islam”. Inside I found what one says when taking the Shahadah. I was lonely, desperate and searching for the right way. I had no one in this strange city to witness me taking the Shahadah. I therefore had no choice. I took my Shahadah bearing witness to Allah (s.w.t.) four times. I took the piles of money and put it in a jack in a cupboard. I flushed the remaining drugs in the toilet. I felt alive for the first time in a long time, although short lived.
My wife who had become a stranger to me arrived back that evening. I told her of the day’s events. This was to be the final acclaim. We spoke little over the next two weeks. I had my plan set that I was going back east. In all this confusion we both plotted a terrible crime and the end result would be we would go together east. Everybody says I am innocent. I was set up, etc. etc. I am not going to say this at all: I am guilty of committing a horrible crime and the consequence of my action has led me serving a life sentence. My wife? She got off and now we are divorced, thank God!
I have now served three years of my sentence and expect to serve a further seven or eight years. You may well remember earlier that I said everything is pre-ordained. I have questioned on many occasions as to how did I end up here. The story says it all. Nevertheless, brothers and sisters, everything has a reason. One might ask what have you done with your time in prison? What is the future of your life? What are your hopes, dreams and aspirations?
Well, I think it goes like this. No man can run riot through the land without taking responsibility for his actions and I feel it is better to be punished in this life than in the hereafter.
When I first came to prison I was in Soughton Jail, Edinburgh. After being processed where all details were asked for, one of the questions was what religion are you? I replied Islam. I was immediately given a Muslim diet and allowed to go to the Muslim meetings where brothers from outside came to the prison fortnightly. I recalled the first meeting as I walked into the room I held my head in shame. I couldn’t stop saying why did I do that. I wept as the brothers gave me support. I by my actions created not just one victim but so many. My victim’s family, friends, work associates, etc. have all been affected by my thoughtless actions. I have seen my father turned grey, my mother on anti-depression tablets and my brother too.
I will probably never ever know the real impact of my crime upon my victim, nor do I ever expect forgiveness. I am deeply sorry and ashamed of my actions.
One of the brothers in Edinburgh said to me ‘you can’t change the past, you can only hope to attain to be a better person in the future.’ I took my Shahadah again that evening this time in front of witnesses, back in 1996.
The easy part, which may seem the hardest part, is getting accustomed to nothingness and solitude. That is one thing prison does for a man. It gives you time, plenty of it, to think. My first reaction was to think of what I had lost; not only family, friends, my respect and all of that “ISM’ materialism.
Soon I lost the need for materialism. As I sit here now in the concrete tomb, I exchange my coat of materialism for spiritualism. I have embraced Islam fully, slowly, but surely. I am building up a new set of moral and ethical values. I pray five times daily as prescribed in Islam and beg Allah (s.w.t.) for forgiveness.
What have I done with my time you may ask? I have undertaken a home study course in Islamic Studies which consists of twenty booklets on various Islamic subjects, which on completion leads to five O’ grades or GCSES. I have undertaken the first year of a degree course in Arabic and Islamic Studies. I read the Qur’an and the Ahadeeth of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) daily. I get immeasurable support from regular visits from the brothers from the Aberdeen Mosque. Why all these you may ask? Well, I believe in Allah (s.w.t.), I believe that good can overrule bad and only through the straight path of Islam can this be achieved.
I want to be an asset to society when I eventually leave the prison, inshaallah. I hope that I may have obtained my degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies by then so as I may undertake da’awah work and hopefully get a job teaching Islamic subjects.
My short-term objective is that I may be able to obtain some correspondence with Muslims world wide in the hope that I may be able to give support and hopefully receive some too. My final hope is that I may be able to get another chance of marriage. So, if any of you out there would be interested in correspondence and/or marriage, you can contact me at the following address.
Yusuf Muhammad Ansari
Reg. No 26202
Peterhead AB42 6YY
Ali Selman Benoist (France)
Doctor of Medicine
As a Doctor of Medicine, and a descendant of a French Catholic family, the very choice of my profession has given me a solid scientific culture which had prepared me very little for a mystic life. Not that I did not believe in God, but that the dogmas and rites of Christianity in general and of Catholicism in particular never permitted me to feel His presence. Thus my unitary sentiment for God forbade my accepting the dogma of the Trinity, and consequently of the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
Without yet knowing Islam, I was already believing in the first part of the Kalima, La ilah illa ‘Allah (There is no deity but Allah), and in these verses of the Qur’an:
“Say: He, the God, is One; God is an absolute unity;
He never begot, nor was He begotten; and there is
none equal to Him.” (Al-Qur’an 112:1-4)
So, it was first of all for metaphysical reasons that I adhered to Islam. Other reasons, too, prompted me to do that. For instance, my refusal to accept Catholic priests, who, more or less, claim to possess on behalf of God the power of forgiving the sins of men. Further, I could never admit the Catholic rite of Communion, by means of the host (or holy bread), representing the body of Jesus Christ, a rite which seems to me to belong to totemistic practices of primitive peoples, where the body of the ancestral totem, the taboo of the living ones, had to be consumed after his death, in order better to assimilate his personality. Another point which moved me away from Christianity was the absolute silence which it maintains regarding bodily cleanliness, particularly before prayers, which has always seemed to me to be an outrage against God. For if He has given us a soul, He has also given us a body, which we have no right to neglect. The same silence could be observed, and this time mixed with hostility with regard to the physiological life of the human being, whereas on this point Islam seemed to me to be the only religion in accord with human nature.
The essential and definite element of my conversion to Islam was the Qur’an. I began to study it, before my conversion, with the critical spirit of a Western intellectual, and I owe much to the magnificent work of Mr. Malek Bennabi, entitled Le Phenomene Coranique, which convinced me of its being divinely revealed. There are certain verses of this book, the Qur’an, revealed more than thirteen centuries ago, which teach exactly the same notions as the most modern scientific researchers do. This definitely convinced me, and converted me to the second part of the Kalima, ‘Muhammad Rasul ‘Allah‘ (Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah).
This was my reason for presenting myself on 20th February 1953 at the mosque in Paris, where I declared my faith in Islam and was registered there as a Muslim by the Mufti of the Paris Mosque, and was given the Islamic name of ‘Ali Selman’.
I am very happy in my new faith, and proclaim once again:
“I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s servant and Messenger.”