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From Holy Rollers to Holy Quran

My name is Dellie Spencer Jr.; my Islamic name is Abdul Wadoud.

I have been a Muslim for nine years. I am soft spoken and try my best to be kind to all those I come in contact with.

When people discover that I am Muslim, especially after September 11th, they invariably ask, “Why are you a Moose-lum you seem like a rational person?” My reply is always, “I am a rational person, and that is why.”

Islam is not the dreaded religion of the sword “forced” upon the masses. Contrary to current belief among the majority of Muslims, the Shari`a (Sacred Law) is not something used to scare or force people into proper conduct. Islam is a religion for people who think – who contemplate nature and the world around them and know that there is no chance or coincidence in a world ruled by law and an obvious divine order. This, then, is story of how and why a “rational person” would become a Muslim.

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and brought up in the church. I along with my two sisters attended East Mt. Zion Church Sunday school every Sunday, and at least twice per month we were told to stay for the church service. I think this was to give my parents some time to be alone together, although I could never prove it. I was active in the church. I was in the annual Easter and Christmas pageants each year, and folks that I didn’t know would call me by name.

Most of the time we would put the quarter my mom gave us into the collection plate, but just as often, we would keep the money and go to the movies or give fifteen cents and keep a dime and then walk to my grandfather’s house, pick up some loose change, and eat pie and listen to records while he ran his business in the back. There was always excitement at Isaac Morgan’s house – sometimes the police would raid the place and we would have to wait there until he got bailed out. Other times one of the gamblers would complain of bad cards and bad luck…  but that’s a tale for another time.

I continued to attend church until one fateful Sunday when the preacher stood up in the pulpit and said, “You know, the largest gathering of Baptist ministers will be held next week in Houston, Texas, so I want all of you to give like never before. Want you to reach way down and give from the heart, this is not the week to be stingy.

My wife and I are going to be among some of the most important people in the Church and you don’t want us to look like orphans. So give so we can go looking and smelling good, give so we can make a lasting impression on those folks and show them that East Mt. Zion loves its church heads.”

People were clapping and saying amen all around me, and I wondered if I was the only one that actually heard what he said. This had nothing to do with salvation, this was a hustle. That was the last time I went to East Mt. Zion. It was not, however, the last time I would witness someone trying to sell God. I told my mother that I was old enough not to be forced to go to church if I didn’t want to go, especially since neither she nor my dad went. Strangely enough, she didn’t object.

For the next few years, I never thought about religion. I still considered myself to be a Christian, although I saw no need to attend church. I read the Bible and liked a lot of what I read, but I saw no need for group practice of religion.

During my last years of high school and my four years of college, spirituality became of more interest to me. I read books by people like Carlos Castaneda and others, took various mind-altering drugs, and began to look at nature and the world around me differently. I could see the unity behind all things and how it all tied together. Everything you did affects something else like throwing a rock into a still pond.

Searching and Researching

I began to see and understand myself and my place in nature. I understood why Native Americans see life and nature as a big circle, such that each sphere of nature performs a job within this circle. I saw that when left to its own devices, nature was always in balance. Only when man tried to interfere or control nature contrary to its natural course, did things go wrong.

This was also a time of heightened racial awareness and understanding of the different ways in which the races looked at nature. People of color typically saw nature as something to live with, while those without color saw nature as something to be conquered.

It was during this period that I began to consider myself as something other than a Christian. For a while I was an atheist, then I was a Buddhist. I read about the Tao. I attended some services in a Catholic church and got involved with the Holy Rollers.

Eventually, I just decided that I believed in God but not in any of His religions. Something was missing in all of them, and if God were to be thought of as perfect, then His religion should be perfect, i.e. without change or the need to change. But at the same time, there was a need to belong, and since I was then in the company of a lot of people that were into the church, I found myself slowly drifting back into Christianity.

However, this time it was different. This time, I not only read the Bible, I studied it. I studied how it came into being, how it was formulated, and by whom. I read the works of religious scholars who tried to explain the Trinity, and other questions such as why we followed the Ten Commandments but not the rest of the law. The more I read, the more inconsistencies I saw in the book and in the teachings.

I came to see that Christians as a complete group only held one common belief – that God exists. Some believed Christ to be the son of God, others held that he was God Himself or part of the Trinity of personages, each with his own area of providence. Some believe this same Christ was crucified on Friday and rose again on Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Although he was proclaimed to be divine with no father, two of the gospels give a lineage for him and they differ in their accounts. I found that the Catholic Bible is larger by a few books than the non-Catholic Bible. There was nothing to unify the faith except a basic belief in God. This is the same thing I believed as an agnostic. I was still unsatisfied.

From two extremely different directions, a light began to shine on me. I was preparing to take my black belt test in New Orleans. My instructor, while not a member of the Nation of Islam, was a believer in its concepts and precepts. After the exam, he mentioned something about Jesus. I asked him why he said that, and he replied that Muslims believed in Jesus too. Up until then, I had not heard anything of any logic from this group, but I liked my instructor’s comment.

I decided to learn more about the Nation of Islam and the Muslims. I bought some books by Elijah Muhammad and was very disappointed. The one good thing, however, was his repeated reference to “The Glorious Quran.” I had heard of this book and in fact had picked it up to read on more than one occasion, but initially it had made no sense to me. At the same time I was living with a lady who tried to fast a few days during Ramadan, and who had in her possession a book that taught the Muslim prayer. At the time, I had met someone of almost every belief, but I had never to my knowledge met a Muslim. This would later prove to be a very good thing.

This time when I read the book, it spoke to me. I told a friend this and he bought a copy but stopped reading it because it frightened him. It scared me too, but it also gave me comfort. It was as if Allah was talking directly to me like a gentle and caring parent who loved me but would, if I needed it, punish me.

There was nothing in it that didn’t make sense, rather it brought certain things that were long out of focus into crystal clarity. Here was a unified religion worshiping one God and only one God – no mention of partners or sons. Everything in existence owes its existence to Allah. Here was real unity of faith: the five pillars of Islam assure that regardless of how many sects Muslims may foolishly divide themselves into, the pillars will always unite them and define the faith.

I was still wary. I had heard nice words before but where were the people to back them up? Nevertheless, I began to teach myself to pray and began to make my prayers on a regular basis. I bought more and more books on Islam and began to study in earnest. I bought the books of Hadith (prophetic Traditions) of Bukhari and Muslim and read the works of the great scholars of Islam. I wrote a letter to the local mosque requesting information. I took Shahada (declaration of faith) in my home, took the ritual shower, and began to live at least my private life as a Muslim.

During this time, I was a radio director and announcer. I wanted everyone to know that there was a difference between what the Nation of Islam believed and taught and what Muslims believed. I began to read Sufi tales on the radio, and during Ramadan, I explained the significance of the month and counted the days on the air.

At the same time, I wanted to be more open with my faith and wanted to attend the mosque. I was afraid to go, however, because I had experienced racism throughout my life, even in religious organizations, and while Islam preached true equality, this was still America. How would I feel if I went to the mosque and someone refused to offer his hand or stand next to me in the prayer row? What would this do to my faith in this beautiful religion? So, I waited and would drive by the mosque almost daily, too afraid to go in. But this would all change through a chance encounter.

One day, I was driving down the alley behind the mosque when I passed an old man wearing a long Islamic shirt, a waistcloth, and a kufi (skullcap). I too was wearing a kufi and when I passed, he looked up and gave me a smile that I felt in my toes and said “As-Salaam `aleikum!” (peace be on you). I didn’t stop but made up my mind to go in the next time.

As fate would have it, the next time I passed the mosque and finally went in, the only person there was the same old man. His name was Abdul Hameed. He recognized me from the alley and listened intently to my story of coming to Islam. When I had finished he said, “Welcome to the Truth.” He told me that he would always be pleased to stand next to me during the prayer. He was the first Muslim I ever met, and to this date, he is one of the few I can say who practices Islam to the best of his ability every day. He is not perfect – far from it, but he makes effort each day to be better than the day before. He is not harsh, and he does not judge or condemn. He leaves that to the One who will judge us all.

He told me two things that he said I must always remember: the first is that Islam’s biggest threat comes not from the non-believers but from the Muslims themselves. He said that I would see and hear of Muslims doing and saying things that had nothing to do with Islam. Thus, it is my duty to learn as much of the religion as I could. Second, I must try, to the best of my abilities, to be the best Muslim possible each and every day. Some days would be better than others, but I must always try to be the best possible everyday that I wake up.

He told me a story of a pious man who was addressing an audience in England. He spoke of the truth of Islam, and what it stood for. He talked of the equality preached by the faith, and how Islam gave rights to women over a thousand years before those same rights would be given to women by other faiths. He spoke of the charity and compassion felt for other believers. He spoke of the character of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions and of their behavior.

Traditionally, when a single Muslim woman had her rights violated, the ruler would organize an army to go and protect her. After the talk, a man approached the speaker and said that if he could tell him of one place where the people practiced the religion in the way that he described, he would become a Muslim that same day. The speaker began to weep and said, “I cannot. All I can do is be the best Muslim I can be and present a good example.”

I would be lying if I didn’t say that I have found few Muslims who truly practice Islam. Most simply go through the motions. I have even encountered some racist attitudes that rival those of the deep south in 1960’s America. I realized that while the faith is perfect, the faithful are not. There have been times when I was very discouraged by the actions of some of the Muslims, but in the end, I always remember the words of Abdul Hameed.

There is another factor that keeps me centered. That is the Hajj I made in 1994 and the experience of being a part of something bigger than anything in the world. To see millions of Muslims sharing food and sleeping quarters, together with the sacrifices that are a part of this experience, changes a person internally forever. It is the experience of seeing the religion practiced as it is supposed to be that lets you know it can be done if we want to do it. One comes back different than when he left and he’ll always desire to return.

These are the reasons on the rational plane for why I choose Islam. But as a wise man once told me, no one chooses Islam – Allah chooses whoever He wants for His Way.