I was born in a family of immigrants and grew up in New York City. My family left their home country in South Asia and we only returned for short holiday visits.
As it was, my family did not take with them the religion of their forefathers, Islam. My father is an atheist and my mother an agnostic.
However, I was given a Muslim name because my parents followed their South Asian tradition. I grew up in this materialistic world of New York City, went to school and then to college. It was only in college that I came in contact with other Muslims and Islam.
My Muslim Name
I remember the first day in college. I was walking through the hallways and representatives of many different student associations tried to recruit members from the newly arrived freshmen.
All of a sudden, I heard somebody calling out my name. I looked and went closer to the one calling.
This guy asked me whether I would like to become a member of the Muslim student association. I laughed at him and said that I was not Muslim. He seemed confused:
“But you have a Muslim name”.
I answered him that this was about the only thing Muslim on me. I left him standing there and continued my walk. Little did I know that this guy would later become my best friend and first teacher.
First Encounter with Quran
However, his invitation to join the Muslim student association had a lasting impact on me. I looked in my father’s huge library for books about Islam.
I found a translation of the Quran and opened it randomly. But I did not understand a word of what was written there although it was in English. That is why I put it back on the shelf and concluded that Islam was not for me. But thoughts about Islam continued to occupy my mind.
My First Prayer
It was not easy to make friends in college and one day I met this guy again from the Muslim student association. He recognized me right away and even called me by my name. That surprised me. We had a chat and he seemed ok. That is why I accepted his invitation to join him for an informal gathering with the other members of the association.
They were all nice and many of them were from South Asian background as well. We discussed philosophy and politics (my favorites at that time).
The only thing that was a bit odd was that all of a sudden they got up and said they were going to pray. They invited me to join them. They assumed I was Muslim because of my Muslim name. Little did they know that I did not know anything about Islam, least how to pray.
It took me all my courage to whisper to my new friend, Hassan, that I did not know how to pray. Instead of being shocked, he was very understanding. He whispered back that I should not worry, we will stand in the back where I can just imitate the movements. That is what I did. My first prayer as a non-Muslim with a Muslim name.
No Judgment, Just Acceptance
It was Hassan’s beautiful way of just accepting me the way I was that actually attracted me to Islam further. He never judged me. And he just patiently guided me and tried to answer my many questions.
He taught me how to pray and how to read Quran and he introduced me to Imam Al-Ghazali. I could not get enough from reading Imam Al-Ghazali’s translated works. I was amazed by the things he said. And from the depths of my heart I prayed to Allah to show me the person that is the Al-Ghazali of my time.
My First Spiritual Guide
In my final year of college, I met my first spiritual guide and mentor. From him I learned that there were ways to always remember Allah. I learned to draw closer to our most merciful Creator. And I learned how to become more pleasing to Him. I learned how to abstain from the things He dislikes.
A process that is ongoing and never stops. I moved to South Asia to study the knowledge of Islam from genuine Muslim scholars.
My parents were surprised when they came to know that I had accepted Islam in my life. I was now a Muslim with a Muslim name. I had many discussions with my father, quiet talks with my mother.
After many years I stopped to try to convince them to also accept Islam in their lives. Today I only make du’a for them. It is the most effective way.
I just ask Allah to open their hearts and change their hearts. And I try to show the best of behavior to them and respect and honor them in the most beautiful ways.
The author told the story of Ahmad who accepted Islam in his life many years ago.