بسمالله الرحمان الرحيم
In the name of Almighty God, the most gracious the most merciful. All praise is due to He that created the heavens and earth and spread life amongst them. All praise be to he that guides us down the straight path of righteousness. May the peace and blessings of God be upon all the prophets and messengers of God from Adam to Muhammad.
Over the years that I have been Muslim, people, Muslims and non-Muslims, always ask me about how I actually became Muslim. Usually it's far too difficult and time consuming to give an entire explanation in a passing conversation. So, I decided that I would actually publish my story in this blog so that anyone who might be interested will be able to read the detailed version of the journey I took which led me to Islam.
In all reality I was born Muslim, as we ALL are. We are all born in a state of "submission to Almighty God", which is the meaning of the word "Muslim"; one who submits him/herself to God. However we are not all "raised" as Muslims. God blessed me with wonderful parents. They are loving, compassionate, sincere, and surprisingly tolerant people. I was raised in what I would call a suto-Christian environment. I was raised believing in God, in the sonship of Jesus Christ, and in all other basic Christian beliefs and celebrated the "normal" Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter. However, my family was not a "church going" family. My mother had once told me that they "just couldn't find a church that they felt comfortable in". So, while I was most certainly raised to be a God fearing person, I was not raised in and around churches. When I was about thirteen years old, a good friend of mine invited me to a Christian rock concert that was being held at the local high school. The band was pretty good and I enjoyed the show. During an intermission, a famous Christian Evangelist spoke about the blood of Christ, the love of God, and of the importance of accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. In retrospect it is really from here that I mark the beginning of my spiritual journey to Islam. I was moved by what this preacher was saying that night. It struck me like a ton of bricks. As in most events like this, there are usually what they call "alter calls". The preacher asked if anyone wanted to be saved that night, and accept Jesus Christ as their savior. I accepted the invite. I was sent out to the hall where an older youth helped me to be "saved". After that I felt wonderful. I felt as though a huge debt had been lifted and I knew that I wanted to keep God at center of my focus.
I began attending church at Park Street Brethren Church. It was and is still a very nice church, situated in the heart of Ashland, Ohio. The pastor of the church was a very gentle soul, who seemed to just have a way of making you feel good about being alive. Now anyone who knows me knows that music is a HUGE part of my life, and when I saw the worship teams in the church performing music for God, I definitely wanted to do that. Eventually I worked my way into the "worship team click", and was fairly happy with that. It was during my time their that Park Street Church started their "Crossing" worship service, designed to help youth stay more interested in church. It really was a great idea and I was very happy to be a part of it. However while I was having a great time "performing", their were some aspects of the situation that was gradually eating away at me. Some of them simply had to do with the degree of "favoritism" and "clickism" that existed in the church, but these things were not directly related to being Christian. However there were some fundamental principals of Christianity that bothered me. Once in a Sunday school class some folks were talking about people who are saved and then later on commit horrible acts such as rape and murder. The question in the class was will they still attain heaven? The answer the pastor gave was yes, because they were saved. It seemed to me that that just didn't make any real sense. How could someone who is fundamentally wicked still enter heaven just because they were "saved"? What happens to people who never hear about Christ? And, why did things change from the ways of the Old Testament after Christ? Once I heard a pastor say that all people are born sinners, and the only way to erase that sin is to accept the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for your sins. That made me wonder, " So even a tiny baby is a sinner?". These things slowly but surely worked on my mind and heart.
Eventually it came to the point that I was just performing with the worship team, and then hanging outside during the sermons. I simply wasn't sure about all this. I was sure about God, and I was sure about Jesus, but I wasn't sure about "this". Well eventually my non-participation in other church functions led to me leaving the worship team and the church, and I never really returned.
After this, I more or less became a "spiritual person", not a "religious person". I knew that I had my beliefs about God and Jesus, and even that I considered myself a Christian, but I didn't go to church because I had fundamental differences with that which was preaching in convention Christian doctrine. I continued in this state for most of the rest of my high school career.
In college I became more and more exposed to different views of the world. I became much more liberal than I had previously been. I had started smoking later on in my high school career, and had also had my share of "big kid pop" as we called it, even though I was underage. I also had several relationships with girls that were not exactly what would be acceptable in most religious traditions. Most of all, by this point I really didn't consider myself a Christian anymore, just a "spiritual person". I had come to believe that "organized religion" was just something that didn't interest me. I viewed it as something that was divisive and ultimately was just another reason for people to kill each other. However, I still maintained my belief in God, and in his lordship, and even prayed on occasion when I felt I was in need of it.
One day while climbing the stairs of AU's Arts and Humanities building to go to my next class, I saw a flier advertising a new class that was being offered; "Understanding Islam in the Modern World". I found this interesting, and I was somehow inexplicably drawn to it. Over the next few days I pondered taking the class. It was something that definitely interested me because since 9/11 Islam was always in the news. I wanted to learn why these "people" hated us so much, and what was it about these "people" that was causing so much of the conflict in the world.
Thankfully, I got in the class. From the very beginning I felt drawn to this subject. While I unfortunately cared little for my other classes, I never missed this one. We started to learn about the basic beliefs and practices of Muslims, the five daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, Zakat or alms giving, and the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. At first all this seemed complicated and really I wondered why it was necessary to do all that. Islam seemed like a very "hard" religion to practice. I thought "maybe that's why they are always so angry". We then started to learn about the pillars of faith, or in others words the six things that ALL Muslims must believe in order to be considered a Muslim. They are to believe in God, to believe in the prophets, belief in the books, belief in the angels, belief in the jinn, and belief in pre-ordained destiny. The first, to believe in God and that there is nothing else worthy of worship other than God, this I had no problem with and found it a pleasant surprise. The second to believe in the prophets of God. I was absolutely shocked to find that Muslims believed in many of the same prophets as Christians did such as Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Solomon, and EVEN Jesus!! Of course we spent a lot of time talking about Jesus Christ. I was amazed that Muslims believed in the virgin birth, and in all the other miracles that he performed. However when they said that Jesus is not the son of God, this I had to think about. But, when I really thought about it, Adam had no father or mother, but Christians didn't call him son of God. So that made sense.
Ultimately after having learned about Islam in regards to many subjects such as women's rights, war and combat, justice and equality under the law, the lack of priesthood, and most of all that Islam gave people the right to believe what they want to believe. The Qur'an says,
"لا اكراه في الدين " or "let there be NO compulsion in religion". This to me seemed fundamentally opposed to ALL conventional organized religion. What religion gives permission to believe what you want?? The whole of that particular verse is, "Let there be no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from the wrong way; therefore, whoever disbelieves the Shaitan and believes Allah, he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is all Hearing and all Knowing. (surat al Baqarah, verse 256). This verse really floored me because it didn't make sense that any religion give this kind of permission. In my mind, religions were supposed to "compete" in the "market" of believers. But here was a holy book that basically tells it's reader that they don't have to believe in it! Also when we learned about the biography of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that also shocked me. Here was a man who really could have had all the riches and women in Arabia, yet he didn't. He could have killed anyone who opposed or mocked him, but he didn't. He could have demanded that people worship him, but he didn't. This man could have had it all, but he didn't. So what did he stand to gain by preaching this message? What did he stand to gain by telling the Arabs that there is nothing worthy of worship other than God Almighty! The fact that this man spent his life preaching a message that ultimately united the whole of Arabia, and within 80 years of his death had spread from India to to northern Africa, and all the while, during his life he was never rich, most of his wives were older widows, and that this message had cost him his status, and caused those who he once called neighbors to exile him and even try to kill him.... this utterly amazed me.
I became completely consumed by this subject. I researched various topics on my own time, learning more and more about the stance of Islam in various world issues. My other school work suffered a great deal, my girlfriend at the time thought I was nuts. Pretty soon I started to wonder myself if I was going crazy. So, I tried to look into other religions and study and learn about all these issues as they relate to them. I studied Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, New Age religions, everything I could find information about, but nothing made as much sense as Islam. In fact I found good things in almost every religion, but Islam was the only one where I found ALL of those good things.
At the end of the class, we had a choice for a final assignment; either writing a paper, or visiting a mosque. I decided I wanted to visit the mosque. I traveled one Friday to the Islamic Center of Akron/Kent. I was very nervous but at the same time very excited. I had done some research into the proper way of behaving and so fourth. I went in, put my shoes on the rack, and sat down on the floor. While I was waiting for the sermon to start a man walked in a began praying beside me. I watched him bowing and prostrating and found it to be incredibly peaceful. The sermon began and the first half was in Arabic, so I couldn't understand, but the second half was English. To be honest I don't really remember what he was talking about, but when they started the congregational prayer it was amazing. As I listened to the Qur'an being recited, I remember thinking that as a musician, out of all the beautiful pieces of music that I had heard in my life, this sound, one mans voice, was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I remember getting chills, and my eyes welling up with tears, as I made my own prayer to God, to guide me and to show me what to do. Later that night, while alone in my parents dining room, I got down on my knees and put my face to the floor, facing east and said, " Oh God, I testify to you that there is nothing worthy of worship other than you oh lord, and I testify that Muhammad ibn Abdullah, was your messenger".
One thing that I had been worried about was my parents reaction. So, one day I got up enough courage to ask my mother, who knew I had been studying Islam, " What would you think if I converted to Islam?". She replied, " As long as you believe in God, how you worship him is up to you". My father gave a similar reaction. After that I knew what I had to do. I had to make this official by doing it in front of witnesses. I contacted the head of the Islamic Society of Mansfield and asked if he would help me. He invited me to his home wear we had dinner, and after he had me repeat those wonderful, life changing words infront of him and his whole family.
اشهد ان لا اله الا لله
"Ashadu an La ilaha il Allah"
I bear witness there is no god but God
و اشهد ان محمد رسولالله
"wa ashadu ana Muhammadun Rasoolullah"
and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah
Also that next Sunday I travelled to the main mosque in Cleveland and pronounced my shahadah (this statement) in front the entire mosque.
That marked the turning point of my life. From that moment I began to learn to pray the five daily prayers and to recite them in the original Arabic of our beloved prophet. To dress Islamically, to speak Islamically, and absolutely most importantly to treat others especially my parents, Islamically.
Now, I don't want you to think that overnight I became this incredible perfect Muslim guy. I struggled for while with giving up drinking, I struggled making the prayers, and most of all I struggled with women. No doubt that was one of my biggest weaknesses and it pains me to admit that, but it is important to illustrate that becoming Muslim does not happen overnight. There comes a point when you make a conscience decision to really "be" a Muslim, whether you are a convert or were raised as a Muslim. Eventually Allah guided me away from that which was harmful to me, and replaced it with things that were far better. Allah gave me a beautiful, and wonderful wife, something that previously I never thought I could have. We are expecting our first child soon. Allah gave me the opportunity to use my musical talents for great Muslim artists such as Native Deen, and 786, and have had the blessed opportunity to travel the world and experience Muslims from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. It truly makes me tear up and cry when I think about ALL the blessing Almighty Allah has given me in my life, despite how much I feel sometimes I don't deserve it.
I pray that this, my story, may inspire other brothers and sisters in Islam to appreciate their own journey in this dunya, and I pray that my non-Muslim friends may find it an inspiring story of one small town American boys journey to a faith that is unfortunately rarely associated with being American. May Allah guide us all on the straight path, and give us peace in this life.