My journey to Islam was not the usual one.
Most white converts I have met usually come from a liberal and very open-minded background.
My upbringing was far from this.
Both of my parents were in the US military and my upbringing was very strict.
My father was very racist, and because of this, I also was very racist myself until about the age of 24.
I can remember as a child listening to my father lambaste and attack Arabs and Muslims and bash their religion, their way of life, and their race. As this was the way I was raised, this is the position I took as well.
I had a very troubled childhood, as the above can only begin to describe. My father was an alcoholic and very physically abusive. I grew up with the constant fear of violence against myself, my mother, my brother and my sister. Coming from such a background, it only seemed natural that I would seek a group of people to replace the family life that I did not have at home. The problem is, with the way I was raised, the people I sought this companionship from were the worst of the worst.
For several years, I was heavily involved in the racist skinhead movement. As with anything else in my life, I was not content to be a follower, but always enjoyed taking the lead. My involvement in the neo-Nazi skinhead movement was the same. I was well known and feared in the town where I grew up.
My longing for family and friends, however, never killed the seed in my heart that told me what I was doing was wrong and unjust. I remember a Mexican schoolmate of mine asking me, when I was 16:
“Why do you hang out with those losers, you are better than that.”
He was right, but I guess there was a part of me that, even though I hated my father for what he was doing to the family, wanted to be just like him. That is where my racism and hatred came from.
The situation at home became worse for me, so I was forced to move out on my own. I think from this moment this is what sealed my future as a Muslim — getting away from my father and the hatred that he felt, and experiencing the world and people on my own. The next few years were pretty rough on me and I continued for many years on the path that I had started on. I was drinking, doing drugs, and getting into very serious trouble with the law. All the while, all of the people I had sought to take the place of my family turned out to be the worst sort of people: violent, dishonest, and untrustworthy.
I left my home state when I was 23, and, for the first time in my life, I was able to experience life without the overwhelming figure of my father hanging over me and the malign influence of my friends. I started to see all of the carefully crafted lies that my life was based on crumble around me. I slowly saw all of the truths that my life was based on unravel. So I started to question everything in my life, including my religious beliefs. I took the stance that everything in my life was suspect and had to be reevaluated.
I had a girlfriend at the time whom I later married. She had also been active in the racist skinhead scene that I was involved with and I was always worried that I might offend her with my new ideas and way of thinking. I had always been an avid reader, and I took the next couple of years to read everything I could get my hands onto. This passion of mine led me to collect a small library of books that now consists of over a thousand volumes, everything from Kant and Descartes to Tariq Ramadan and Edward Said.
During this time, the Intifada was raging in Palestine. My father, racist and anti-Semite though he was, had always supported the Jewish state. I now think that he hated Jews, as well as anyone else who wasn’t white, but he hated the Arabs more than he hated the Jews, so that is why he supported Israel. As I was rethinking everything I had been taught when I was younger, I decided to take a closer look at this struggle in the Middle East.
Starting to Look into Islam
I started reading general books on Middle Eastern history and the national politics of the area. Again and again I found that I was having trouble understanding both the history and politics of the area because I didn’t have any sort of understanding about Islam.
As a child, I had attended church from time to time, but didn’t have a firm grounding in any religion. My father had a hatred of Islam, so as a teen I had shared this hatred without having a clue as to what Islam was about or what Muslims believed. It goes without saying that I had never met a Muslim in my life.
So I started to look into Islam, its history and its beliefs. At this time, the Internet was gaining in popularity so I used both print and Internet sources to help me gain an understanding on the basics of Islam and its history. I was living in Washington State and was not aware of a Muslim community there, so there was really no one with whom I could talk. Shortly after this, my wife’s job transferred her to England, so that was all about to change.
When I got to England, my interests strayed for a while. I was in a new country with a long and rich history, so I spent a few years exploring this history and traveling all over Europe. But from time to time, events would draw my attention back to the Middle East and the politics there. I was now in a country with a long-standing and well-established Muslim community, although the town I lived in didn’t have any such community. I began now to read in earnest about Islamic beliefs, ideology, and history. I also started reading the Quran.
My Doubts Answered
From the very beginning, certain things struck a chord with me and answered doubts I had always had concerning the religion I was raised in. I had always taken issue with the idea that God could have offspring. From my readings, I recognized this belief as being derived from pagan sources. Zeus, Odin, and numerous other pagan gods all had children.
In the case of Odin, his followers even believed that he had been hung on a tree, much like Christians believe that Jesus was hung on a cross. Odinists, the name given to the followers of this ancient northern European religion, also believed in a trinity of sorts formed by Odin, his son Thor, and his consort Freja. It was clear this innovation of the Christians did not have its basis in God, but in previous pagan beliefs.
The other issue that I had always struggled with was the concept of original sin. The idea that God could be so unjust as to hold myself and everyone else responsible for the sins of others who had died thousands of years before me just seemed so unjust. I had a basic concept of God, and the idea He could be so unjust to do such a thing just did not sit well with me.
It always seemed to me that Christians just didn’t have the answer to these questions, and if they did, their answers just reinforced these unjust positions.
I looked to Judaism, but that religion offered more questions than answers as well. Their attitude towards the prophets (peace be upon them all) was disgraceful. Their religious texts accused these greatest of men of the most terrible crimes and I refused to believe God would pick such men to lead His people on earth. If Judaism held such beliefs, how could I look to them for guidance?
Read Part 2.