“And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am very near; I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.” – Quran 2:186
By Muhammad Islam
For The Guardian, as told to Shaista Gohir, September 2005
I hated all foreigners but feared Muslims the most. I grew up in the 1960s in Gateshead, in a predominantly white area; I can’t remember seeing an Asian face there. As a family we were not religious. We only went to weddings, funerals and christenings. I was not interested in school, either. You didn’t need to stay on because you were more or less guaranteed a job in the mines, steelworks or shipyards.
When I was 16, all my friends were British National Party activists. It was a cool thing to do, and I joined in, too. I wanted to shock, to rebel. We would get together, drink, listen to music, chase girls and go out Paki-bashing. That wasn’t a phrase we considered bad or wrong.
I remember my first time; it was a Saturday night and we had been drinking. We went into an Asian area and came across a lad of about 17. We started chanting – the usual thing, “Go back to your own country” – and then went after him. There were about 10 of us, and we kicked and punched him. When we ran away, I remember, we were laughing. I don’t know what happened to him, and at the time I wouldn’t have cared: I was in a group and we had camaraderie.
By the time I was 19 I was growing out of the BNP. I moved to London for work and stopped going to meetings. But I still hated all foreigners, especially Muslims. Over the next few years I became involved with people who went to Muslim meetings in Hyde Park, mainly to cause trouble.
Then, one day in 1989, I was walking past a secondhand book stall by the Royal Festival Hall when a cover caught my eye: it was the most beautiful picture, in the most gorgeous colours, of a building. I didn’t know what the book was, but it was only 20p so I bought it. I thought I’d buy a cheap frame and have a nice picture for my wall. I had no idea until I got home that I had bought the Qur’an.
I was horrified when I found out. My initial reaction was to throw it away. But then I got curious. I started reading it, thinking I would find things to use against Muslims; I thought it would be filled with contradictions. When I was young, my mum always made her views known and from her I acquired a love of debating. Now, I would regularly go and debate with Muslims at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. As I did so, I started to get a very different picture of Islam. Seeing people pray in unison was such a powerful image.
A few years later, I returned to the north-east – I’d got a job as a chef. When I saw a group of Muslims at an Islamic book stall in Newcastle, I thought, “Here’s another group I can wind up; I probably know more about Islam than they do.” But I was shocked when I approached them; they were very knowledgeable. I kept going back because I enjoyed debating with them, and after four weeks they challenged me.
They wanted me to try to disprove the Qur’an and convince them my way of life was better. They said if I succeeded they would become Christians, but if I failed I should become a Muslim. I accepted the challenge. But after months of returning to the stall and debating, I realised I was losing and panicked. I stopped going to the stall.
Three years had passed when I bumped into one of the guys from the stall. As I thought about what I wanted to do, I felt as if a big rock were crushing me, but when I told him I wanted to convert, I had a total sense of peace. I made my final decision on Wednesday November 17 1996 and converted the following day. I have been close to the Hizb ut-Tahrir group ever since: I became a Muslim because of them; they were the guys at the stall.
When I told my family, my sister stopped talking to me. My father was horrified but didn’t want to discuss it. My mother thought it was a phase I was going through and was more worried about what the neighbours would think. She now lets me pray in the house, but refuses to call me Muhammad (I was born John Ord).
I met my wife, who is Pakistani, after converting. We live in Birmingham, where she works as a primary school teacher. I have just started a degree in social work. When I look back, I can’t believe the things I did; it feels like a different person and a different life. Ironically, because of the backlash from the London bombings, I now fear attack, and have started going out in my English clothes. In them I look like a bearded, middle-aged white guy.
By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
“What am I going to do? Why is my life so messed up? Why can’t I find happiness? Why am I alone? Why do I feel stuck? Why do I have these problems?’…
These questions only have meaning if we direct them to Allah. No one else can answer them. Consider the words of the Prophet Ya’qub (alayhis-salam, peace be upon him) when his son Yusuf (as) was secretly thrown into a well by his brothers. They then reported to their father that Yusuf had been killed by a wolf.
And he turned away from them and said, “Oh, my sorrow over Yusuf,” and his eyes became white from grief, and he fell into silent melancholy.
They said, “By Allah , you will not cease remembering Yusuf until you become fatally ill or become of those who perish.”
He said, “I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allah , and I know from Allah that which you do not know.
– Quran, Surat Yusuf, 12:84-86
“I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allah…”
When you feel stuck, when you feel that no one understands your situation, when you’re in pain and you can’t even imagine a solution, only Allah has the answers. You can’t see a way forward, but He can. You don’t see your own worth, but He does. You can’t figure out the road to happiness, but He can show you.
I remember a night in Arizona when I was twenty six years old. I lay on a cot in a small, frigid cell. There was snow outside and I had only a thin blanket. As I often did, I put on all my clothing in layers – three pants, three shirts, an army jacket and a pair of boots – and still I kept waking up shivering and shaking. Yet, even more than the physical discomfort, my spirit was tired. I had made mistakes in my youth and had been locked up for almost five years. I had become hard mentally and physically, but my heart was full of sorrow. I lay there that night and I thought, “I have nothing in life. I have accomplished nothing. I have no university degree, no wife, no children, and not even my freedom.”
That was a bad time. But I had my faith, and I used to weep to Allah, asking Him to have mercy on me. I think I gave up on myself for a while, but I never gave up on Allah. It would not even have occurred to me to do so. I did cry to Him sometimes saying, “Why, Allah? Why? Why am I here, suffering like this?” But it wasn’t despair, only confusion. In my heart I knew that He heard me and that an answer would come.
Shortly after that I received a letter from the parole board granting me early release. I had previously been told very clearly that I was not eligible. It was entirely unexpected, and if you are familiar with the American penal system, miraculous. But for Allah, nothing is impossible or even difficult.
Within a few months I was free. I found a job a week after my release, and I excelled. I began writing, sitting at my desk every night after work and disciplining myself to work on poetry, stories and articles. Eventually I went back to school and began a new career, got married, bought a beautiful house, and one day had a child…
What can I say except Alhamdulillah! SubhanAllah! What can I do except weep in gratitude for these blessings that I did nothing to earn, but were given to me by my Lord who loves me and cares about me, and wants good for me. I am so deeply touched and moved by the way Allah has answered my prayers from the depths of darkness. If I did anything to merit His blessings, perhaps it was only that I directed my pleas to Him. I knew that no one else could help me.
This is a very emotional post for me to write. I want every Muslim to have this sense of Allah as their friend, as someone who cares for them deeply. I want to put that awareness into your heart like a gift.
When I was in that cell I used to pray the same dua’ over and over, begging Allah repeatedly. If I had made such pleas to a human being they would have stopped hearing me long ago. When we’re needy with people it pushes them away, but when we’re needy with Allah He comes closer to us! He never tires of answering our need and forgiving us.
I know of many similar stories of people who have hit rock bottom and have called upon Allah – or , not even knowing “Allah” by that name, have called to the Supreme Being, saying, “I know you hear me, tell me what I need to do, show me the way!” – and then, like a circle of sunlight piercing a cloud, something or someone comes into their lives to show them the way forward.
When we’re out of ideas, surrounded by problems, and feeling totally alone… we’re not alone. Allah is with us. If we pray sincerely and strive, He will put light in our hearts and help us from directions we did not expect.
Ask Allah sincerely, open yourself to Him, and accept what He gives you even when it goes against your own desires. The answers to your questions are there, with Allah, I promise you. All those terrible questions that you ask yourself in the silence of your mind, the answers are with Allah.
By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
Sometimes we have a problem with a Muslim or Muslims, and we get frustrated and we think, “I don’t want to be around those people anymore.” Or something happens at the Masjid (the mosque) that we don’t like, maybe the Imam says something we don’t agree with, or we don’t like the Masjid policies, and we feel offended and we stop going. Maybe we pray at home, and stop associating with Muslims, then maybe over time we become slack in our prayers, but we tell ourselves it’s okay because we’re still Muslim “in our hearts”.
That’s one kind of trap.
On top of that it’s hard to represent this deen among non-Muslims. It’s hard to carry yourself as a Muslim at work when you’re the only one there and you’re aware that some of your co-workers are bigots or are operating on negative stereotypes. It’s hard to wear the hijab when some people look at you as if you’re a terrorist.
So maybe we give up the outer trappings of Islam, telling ourselves that we have to survive in this society.
That’s another trap.
And if you’re a convert and your family is opposed to your conversion to Islam, that’s another weight to carry. If they are openly hostile, and if you still live with them as they mock your deen (maybe in front of your children) and try to undercut your childrens’ practice of Islam by feeding them pork or letting them have “a little taste” of wine… or something comes on the news about a conflict in the Muslim world and your family says, “Look, those Muslims are at it again…” And you don’t know how to respond, or you don’t want to start another fight so you keep your mouth shut, but inside you feel humiliated and confused…
And if you are isolated from the Muslim community for racial reasons (this is not supposed to happen but it does) or for simple cultural reasons, because you can’t speak Arabic or Urdu and you don’t fit in, and you haven’t been able to make any Muslim friends, or you feel that the Masjid crowd don’t regard you in the same way as so-called “born Muslims”… instead they look at you as an oddity, or a child, or a trophy of some kind, as if your conversion somehow validates their faith…
Well, then, you might start to say to yourself, “What’s the point? Is it really worth it? Is it even really true?”
That’s obviously a huge, deadly trap.
Okay, if you’re a “born Muslim” you might not reach the point of that last statement (“Is it even true?”) because for most of us who were raised Muslim, Islam is bred into us from childhood, and it’s a part of us even when we don’t understand it or appreciate it. But you still might feel that identifying as a Muslim is too much trouble… it’s easier to associate with non-Muslims, abandon your prayers, drink wine at the company dinner, have relationships with non-Muslims, and not have to battle against society every day, not to mention battling against your own nafs (desires). This is an easy trap to fall into if you are a professional living alone.
We fall into these traps because we forget what this deen is. Shaytan (Satan) isolates us just as a wolf isolates a sheep, driving it away from the herd; then he plays games with our minds so that we become reactive, responding emotionally to circumstances in our environments. (“That Muslim cheated me, so I don’t trust Muslims anymore.”) Shaytan gives us pathetic rationalizations that we latch onto as if they really mean something. (“I’m a single Muslim alone in a non-Muslim environment. It’s not practical for me to live an Islamic lifestyle right now.”)
We fall into these spiritual traps because we forget what Islam is all about. We forget the heart of the matter, the core, the fulcrum upon which the universe turns, the foundation of reality itself:
Laa ilaha il-Allah.
There is no God but Allah.
Laa ilaha il-Allah
Frankly, if you became Muslim for any reason other than this, then you never understood Islam to begin with. And if you were raised Muslim but were not taught the infinite importance of this single sentence, then you were not really raised as Muslim. You were only taught cultural practices.
This is Islam. This is what all reality is based on. This is what religion has been since the beginning of time. This is what all the Prophets brought (may Allah bless them all). Every element of creation acknowledges this truth except us; every child is born on this truth (which is why we are all “born Muslim”): This truth that we were created by a single, indivisible God; that our Creator is Loving, Merciful and Compassionate; that everything we are and everything we own comes from Him; that we began with Him as a breath, and we return to Him as dust; that He witnesses everything we do; that He rewards the good and punishes evil; that He loves us and wants good for us in this life and the next; that He answers when we call and guides us when we ask; that we owe gratitude to Him for every heartbeat, every lung full of air, every bite of food, and every glimpse of truth.
No one deserves our love and obedience before Allah. Our first loyalty is to Him.
No one can help us but Allah; and no one can harm us but Him. When we’re struggling and we cry out to ourselves, “What am I going to do? Who will help me? What is the way forward for me?”, we need to address those cries to Allah! The answers will not come from our own thoughts or tears; the answers won’t come from banging our fists or pulling our hair. The answers will come from Allah.
Forget for a moment about all those other factors that you are reacting to: how so-and-so treated you, how your family treats you, what the non-Muslims say, what the policies are at the Masjid, how some Muslims gossip or discriminate, blah, blah, blah, these things are distractions and traps.
I’m not saying that these things should not affect us. We’re human beings and we can’t help being affected by how other human beings treat us. Our relationships with family and society are real and they matter. But these factors should never cut us away from Laa ilaha-il-Allah. If they do, then the wolf has isolated us, cut us away from the truth and begun to devour our souls.
Truth. If you are in Islam for any other reason, then indeed, what is the point?
This is a characteristic of a believing Muslim, that he or she is committed to truth like a plant to the sun. We must have a passion for the truth, we must be willing to die for the truth.
Sumayyah bint Khayyat
When I speak of dying for the truth, I think of Sumayyah and I find my eyes becoming wet.
Sumayyah bint Khayyat was a slave of Abu Hudhayfa ibn al-Mughira. She was married to Yaasir, an immigrant to Makkah. Because he was an immigrant and not a member of any local tribes, Yaasir had no influence or support. He went to Abu Hudhayfa seeking sponsorship and Abu Hudhayfa gave him his female servant, Sumayyah, in marriage. Sumayyah soon gave birth to ‘Ammaar and Ubaidallah.
When Sumayyah’s son ‘Ammaar became a man in his thirties he came to know about the faith of Islam which was being preached by the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him). This took place in 615 C.E., five years after Muhammad’s (sws) declaration of Prophethood. ‘Ammaar embraced Islam after deep thought and consideration. He then expressed what he heard from the Prophet (sws) to his parents. At once, Yaasir and Sumayyah embraced Islam as well (may Allah be pleased with them all, and reward them with the highest station in Paradise).
When Banu Makhzum (the tribe of Makhzum) learned that Yaasir, Sumayyah and ‘Ammaar had accepted Islam, they arrested them and burned their home. Abu Jahl and others chained the family in the burning desert. They whipped them, burned them with torches, and put heavy rocks on their chests. The Prophet (sws) went to the place where they were tortured. He lacked the political power or social influence to stop what was happening to them – in fact he was being regularly abused himself in those days – but he wept and told them, “Patience, family of Yaasir. Verily, your meeting place will be in Paradise.”
Upon hearing the Prophet’s words, Sumayyah proudly recited, “I testify that you are the Messenger of Allah and that your promise is true.” Allah had put courage in her heart and the sweetness of imaan in her soul, so that it overrode all her fear of death. Finally, Abu Jahl stabbed her in the privates with his spear and killed her. I am sorry to share such graphic details, but if Sumayyah could bear for it be to done in the name of truth, then I can bear to tell it. Sumayyah became the first martyr in Islam. Abu Jahl then kicked Yaasir until he died. ‘Ammaar survived the torture and went on to live and fight beside the Prophet (sws) for many years more.
I have no words to express my awe at Sumayyah and Yaasir’s strength and sacrifice. I will only point out that the Arabic word for martyr is shaheed, which means witness.
Witness to what?
Consider this: our testimony of faith in Islam, the statement that one must declare to become Muslim, is, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” This is called the shahadah, the witnessing. Shaheed and shahadah come from the same root, sha-ha-da, he witnessed.
Why? Because someone who says, “Laa ilaha-il-Allah” is witnessing the truth, and must be ready to die for that truth. This the heart of the matter, the beginning and the end.
The Heart of the Matter
Life can get you down. Human relationships can be hard. When you’re alone, Islam can start to feel like a burden. You get confused, and you forget the heart of the matter.
Remember the heart of the matter. Contemplate Laa ilaha-il-Allah. Say it out loud or silently a hundred times every day, two hundred, more. Think about its implications and how everything in Islam proceeds from it. Think about how it should affect every aspect of your life. The Messenger of Allah (sws) said that if the earth and everything in it were placed on one side of a balance, and Laa ilaha-il-Allah were placed on the other, Laa ilaha-il-Allah would outweigh it.
Laa ilaha-il-Allah is charged with power. It pours out truth like the sun pours light. When we say it, and read about it, and think about it, we find that we want to order our lives according to its truth. When that happens, Islam becomes easy. All those external problems and pressures don’t magically disappear, but we begin to see the way through them to the other side, because we are connected to Allah, and He is guiding us, showing us a light, filling us with light. I repeat, we are connected to Allah. That is the heart of the matter.
Mustafa and Khadim
This beautiful story is reprinted from brother Mustafa Davis‘ Facebook page, with his permission. Mustafa is a photographer and filmmaker who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Along with Usama Canon, he is one of the co-founders of the Ta’leef Collective.
Becoming Muslim in America
by Mustafa Davis
Today, while out with my family at the Ashby Flea Market in Berkeley California, I ran into a man who changed the entire course of my life fifteen years ago. And he did it with a smile and one simple question. I have no doubt in my mind that had I not met this man on that cold day in February, that I would either be dead or in prison.
Fifteen years ago while on my way to a college class, I ran into a familiar looking guy who pointed at my shirt and said “good looking out” and stood up and shook my hand. I was sporting dread locks, wearing a Haile Selassie shirt, baggy jeans, suede Pumas, sunglasses and a Sessions snowboarder jacket. I was the quintessential hard to label California Bay Area pseudo hip hop hippie skater. Happy because of my rasta shirt he guy said to me “Hey I think I know you dude, we met at such and such a place. My name is Whitney Canon (who we now know as USAMA CANON).” I answered in the affirmative and we struck up a conversation and realized we had several mutual friends. This “chance” meeting would prove to be “one of two” of the most important random occurrences in my life.
Strangely it ended up that we had the same Spanish class together and ended up sitting next to one another. Over the course of a few days we learned that we were both musicians / artists. Usama had the code to the piano room in the music hall so we’d sneak into the room and sit and play music for hours and talk about spirituality. We did this just about every day for an entire semester.
One day while eating sushi at a popular Japanese restaurant near campus I confided in Usama and told him I was burnt out and tired of my life and that I had decided to get things back on track. I was living by myself in downtown San Jose, working nights waiting tables and going to school during the day. There were many things about my lifestyle (that I won’t go into detail about here) that were preventing me from success. I also had the burden of past demons that would sneak up to torment me from time to time. So, the only real solution I knew of to deal with problems of this magnitude was to get religious and go back to church.
I told Usama that I was considering going back to the Catholicism to get my life in order. He asked me if I’d ever thought about Islam. I told him that I hadn’t thought of it for myself because I felt it was either an Arab religion or a separatist black movement (which I couldn’t join because my mother is white) and that I felt the only Muslims I had ever met were hypocrites and that I’d never seen a good practicing Muslim.
He told me about his older brother (ANAS CANON) converting to orthodox Islam after a short time in the Nation Of Islam and that it wasn’t just for Arabs but that from what he knew it was a pretty universal religion. (NOTE: Usama wasn’t Muslim yet when he was telling me this). He asked me if I knew about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) and I told him that I just knew of Elijah Muhammad but that even Malcolm X said he wasn’t a real prophet. He then explained to me that there was a different man named Muhammad that was a real Prophet from Arabia and that I should look into him. At this point I started to get turned off as I usually did whenever anybody spoke to me overtly about religion. Plus once he said “Arab Prophet” I knew that Islam wasn’t for me. We ended the conversation and I headed to work. This was a Wednesday.
That night after work I went to the bookstore to buy a Bible and I walked past the “Eastern Philosophy” section and looked up and saw a green book that had the name ‘MUHAMMAD’ written down the entire spine in gold letters. I stopped and thought for a moment and then reached up and grabbed the book. The cover said ‘MUHAMMAD – His Life Based On The Earliest Sources” by Martin Lings. This phrase “earliest sources” intrigued me because although I was there to purchase a bible, I was aware of the theological debate about the number of mistakes found in the bible and it was something that troubled me greatly. So, I opened up the book and tried to read it but the Arabic names were really difficult for me to pronounce and so I was struggling to get through even a couple sentences. The four or five sentences I did read mentioned the “QUR’AN” several times. The Arabic names solidified the reality that this was an Arab religion and not something I would want to be a part of so I put the book back up on the shelf.
As I began to walk away the gold letters “MUHAMMAD” caught my eye again and looked back up at the book. This time, I noticed another book titled “THE QU’RAN.” I was going to keep walking but I remembered that I saw that word a few times in the Martin Lings book so I reached up and pulled it off the shelf. I opened it to a random page which just happened to be the very first page of Chapter Maryam. I read it from beginning to end and remember getting chills in my body as it explained in great detail the miraculous birth of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon Him). I had no idea that Muslims also believed in the miraculous birth of Jesus nor that they did not believe He was God’s son. As a Christian it never made sense to me that God would have a son.
Without understanding why, I found myself weeping in the bookstore holding onto a copy of a translation of the Qu’ran. I decided to buy it so I could read more about what Muslims believed. In my emotional state I completely forgot to buy a bible and left the bookstore.
Khadim (striped cap) & Usama (on the right): the two people who put Islam in my heart. May Allah bless and protect them both.
The next morning (Thursday) I went to school and on my way to class I passed by a stall where a Senegalese man was selling some crafts, wallets, and african dolls. He was busy with a customer when I walked up so I just picked up a wallet and was looking at it. The customer left and the man turned to me and smiled. His smile was something I had never experienced before. The only way I describe it is that it was filled with light and love. I remember exactly the words he spoke to me. I remember them because these words would change my life. He said. “Hello brother, how are you?” I said, “I’m fine thanks.” Then he looked at me very closely while smiling at me and asked. “Brother, are you a Muslim? … you look like a Muslim.” I was shocked at his question and assumption because nobody had every made that assumption before ever and I had just bought a Qu’ran and read some it the previous night. Before that I didn’t know anything about orthodox Islam at all. I told him I wasn’t a Muslim but that I bought a Qu’ran last night and read some of it. Then, the man smiled very big, came from around his stall and gave me a hug and kept saying over and over “Oh my brother, this is so beautiful. This is so great brother. I’m so happy for you my brother. This is a good sign from Allah brother. You have made me very happy brother.” I had never met anybody so genuine and was so shocked that he was calling me brother, smiling at me, hugging me and saying he was so happy for me. His name was Khadim.
Khadim walked back around his stall and then asked me if I could do him a big favor. I told him I could. He told me that as a Muslim he has to pray five times a day at specific times and that one of the times had come and so he needed to go wash for prayer. He asked me if I could stay with his stall and watch his things as he went to pray. I told him I would and he showed me the cash box and asked if I could sell the items while he was away so he wouldn’t miss a sale. He gave me the prices and walked off.
I sat there for 30 minutes waiting for this man. You cannot imagine the thoughts that ran through my mind. I was thinking “who is this guy?” He left me with this cash. I could just take it and leave and he’d never catch me. Then I started thinking about why he wasn’t worried about his money. What is it that was so important that he left his money to a stranger? I thought about the prayer he mentioned and how important it must be if he left his worldly possessions behind. I remember thinking at that moment that I wanted something that was that important to me that it would make me forget my problems.
He came back 30 minutes later and his face was full of light. He hugged me again and kept saying “thank you brother, thank you so much.” I was blown away. I missed two classes just so I could stay with this man. I was afraid if I left him, that I would never find the peace and happiness that he carried with him.
A Pakistani student walked up and greeted him with Salams and then turned to me and asked “are you a Muslim?” I said, “No, I’m not, you are the second person to ask me that today. What made you ask me that?” He said, “I don’t know, you look like a Muslim.” I was blown away again. I told him I was reading a Quran and he was also very happy and asked me if I had ever been to a mosque before. I told him that I hadn’t and he asked me if I would like to go see one tomorrow. I told him yes (as I was now far too curious to let this go) and we exchanged numbers.
The next afternoon (Friday) he came and picked me up and we went to his house. His mother had prepared lunch for us and we sat on the floor and ate. I had never sat on the floor to eat in a house before but it didn’t feel strange to me at all. After the meal we drove to the mosque (Muslim Community Association -MCA) in Santa Clara, California.
When we walked into the mosque there were about 40 men standing in a row waiting to greet me… all of them smiling at me and shaking my hand I walked down the line. They motioned for me to sit and they gathered around me kept asking me how I was doing. One man asked me if I knew anything about Islam so I proceeded to tell him how I bought the Quran and had read some of it, etc. Then he asked me if I believed in the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) and without hesitation I said YES. He asked if I believed that Jesus was God or son of God and I told him NO, that I believed he was a prophet. He then explained to me about angels, the different scriptures, sent down, the day of judgment, the divine decree, etc. After he explained all this to me he asked if I believed in all that he said and I told him YES. He said, “this is what a Muslim believes so you believe the same thing. Would you then like to become a Muslim?” I remember that I answered YES without hesitation. He helped me struggle through pronouncing the Shahada and I became a Muslim on that 17th day (Battle of Badr) of Ramadan in 1416 H / 1996.
The smile that changed my life.
I first heard about orthodox Islam on a wednesday afternoon, bought a Quran wednesday night, met Khadim (the Senegalese man) on Thursday who “showed me the true essence of Islam” by his actions and character, went to the mosque on Friday and became a Muslim.
Six months after I converted Usama Canon called me and asked me to tell him about Islam. We went to dinner and talked about the religion. The next day I took him to the mosque and he took his Shahada and officially became a Muslim. He was the person who first told me about Islam and then I had the honor of bringing him to the mosque so that he could become Muslim.
It was not theology or religious debate that brought me to Islam. It was music, culture, a friend I trusted, and a stranger who smiled at me. Ironically, it was Arab culture that first prevented me from seeking to know about Islam. Then, after I converted I spent a decade trying to leave behind my own culture (the very culture that led me to Islam) and attempted to adopt Arab culture as my own. It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to return to my roots as an American and reconcile that with being Muslim… in a way that is a natural reflection of my own culture and symbiotic with my faith as a Muslim.
I wrote this story today because I ran into KHADIM (the Senegalese man who smiled at me) while Usama Canon and I were out with our families. It was a chance meeting today. just like my two chance meetings with Usama and Khadim fifteen years ago. I took a picture with him today, the first picture I’ve ever taken with him because I wanted to show people the face of a man who won my heart over with nothing more than a genuine smile and good character.
“All praise be to God for the blessing of Islam… and it is enough of a blessing.”
– Mustafa Davis
Added note by Mustafa:
My wife has heard me tell this story hundreds of times and yesterday was the first time she ever met Khadim. We were out with Usama Canon and his family and the whole morning we were talking about Khadim and the impact he had on both of our lives. We were disappointed when we got to the flea market and he wasn’t there.
Just as we were about to leave Usama pointed in the distance and said “look who just showed up.” Sure enough, it was Khadim coming to drop a few items off to be sold. When we saw each other we embraced for a long time and then he looked at me and gave me that same smile that literally penetrated my heart with light 15 years ago. I turned to my wife and said “that is the smile I’ve always told you about.” She didn’t respond… her tears were confirmation that she understood exactly what I was referring to.
(Someone commented that because Allah brought Mustafa to Islam so quickly, it should inspire him to be a living example of Islam. Mustafa replied:)
Allah is generous. I’m inspired to be a good human being, regardless of the countless times I fall short of it. Being a living example of Islam is a task greater than the intellect can fathom. Too often I think we place a burden on Muslims greater than they can bear. And I have witnessed the confusion and depression that occurs when one cannot live up to the high standards set for them by the religious community. So, if by saying “living examples of Islam” we mean simply doing your best and striving to be a better human being, then I agree. If we mean (and we often do) that it means being a Muslim that doesn’t make mistakes and it without flaw, then I don’t think this is a realistic goal.
My goal, is to simply be the best ME that I can. If that represents Islam then I’m grateful to my Lord. If it falls short then I blame only myself.
Although my story (and thousands of stories like it) may be inspiring to others… for the one whose biography it represents, we still have our demons, flaws, and burdens. Guidance often enters the heart instantly but the habits and character traits take a lifetime to change. Conversion is a process, not an event. We seek Allah’s aid in all the we do.