Islam – the name alone brings tears to my eyes, for just as certain as the heavens above us and the earth below us, Islam is the truth from Allah to all humankind.
I was born on an island in the Caribbean named Barbados.
As a child I heard the adhan (Muslim call to prayer) every morning and evening, yet the word of Allah was never shared with us as a people.
Islam was observed by the Asians of the island, and for reasons known only to themselves, we were never invited to the mosque or taught anything about Islam. So, on hearing the adhan, we as youths would laugh, thinking that this was something exclusive to the Asians alone, and thus the words were not only different, but completely incomprehensible.
Some years later, I joined my mother in the UK. This time, those funny words were to give me an experience of living that I had never known. Although I was raised in a Christian environment, religion was never forced upon us. We would attend the Sunday morning service weekly, which never rested well with me even as early as seven years old. I found it difficult to understand the difference in the teaching.
What is called the Bible today and what the preacher spoke about never met as equals. The Bible told me:
“Thou should have no other God but me,”
And yet the preacher insisted on a three-in-one God. For the life of me, I could not comprehend the Almighty making a contradiction. I was still unhappy.
The beginning of my change came in the late 70s and early 80s when I came into contact with the many Arabs that were tasting London for what seemed like the first time. As I met these people, the conversation always seemed to return to the Prophet Muhammad’s being the last Prophet of Allah.
I was told so much about the Prophet – it was as if I knew him personally. These people truly loved him. I must relate this experience in truth and say that I was initially not that excited because I wanted to find God and not a man. I was, however, impressed with the life of the Prophet.
Additionally, my own people were opposed to Islam. The official word was that we cannot trust the Arabs (i.e. Muslims) because they historically enslaved black people. Islam was seen as an Arab religion and not for us. It is so easy to laugh now as I reflect, but in the early days it was no laughing matter.
I was spiritually lost and searching for direction. I was also somewhat dishonest. During one of my many brushes with the law, I was locked up. I told the officers that I was a Muslim, and so I was allowed to visit the mosque. I told the Imam that I wanted to be a Muslim, and he spoke some words that I failed to comprehend or remember.
As I had to attend court, I asked the Imam to give me a prayer to protect me from the earthly judge – I was guilty but I did not want to return to jail. He wrote in Arabic a excerpt from the Quranic chapter “Yunus,” a sentence that protected the Prophet Jonah from the three levels of darkness with the Mercy of Allah, as he lay in the whale’s belly.
I washed myself, as the Imam told me to do, and I placed the copy of the verse in my right-hand coat pocket with the word bismillah (in the name of Allah) on my lips. I entered the court with again with bismillah while shaking with fear. The rest is history; I walked free that day.
I headed directly to the central mosque and Islamic cultural centre in London. I was greatly affected by what took place. At the mosque I asked for work of any kind. I was told that no work was available, given a copy of Quran and Imam Nawawi’s Forty Traditions, and offered food.
This hurt my pride and I refused the food though I was hungry having come directly from court. I left shouting something like, “You never really love us do you!” I must have appeared crazy, but I was still bitter from my time as a child in the Caribbean when the Muslims did not share Islam with us.
Nevertheless, I kept going to the mosque. The Imam and I became close friends and so my knowledge of Islam increased quickly. I would feast on Islamic knowledge for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I began to believe that I would be an Imam someday and bring this Truth back to my people.
To learn Arabic was all that I needed, for I understood and spoke English well, thus I could understand the language of the Quran and explain it to them in English. Unfortunately, the Imam left the mosque, and I began visiting a different mosque where I felt that Islam was being practiced in reality.
I found myself one day driving through a place in the west of London, I noticed a building bearing the name “the Islamic College.” I raced inside, and to my surprise, the Imam from the central mosque in London was in charge of the college and also a professor.
We hugged and talked, and I told him that I wanted to be like him by working to save my people by telling them the Truth and letting Allah work on their hearts. An appointment was made for me to revisit him, and I returned to find a letter written for me in Arabic that I could not read. I was told how to fulfill my dreams.
In Muslim Countries
Two weeks later, I was onboard an aircraft bound for the Arab Republic of Egypt. I arrived at Cairo international airport and went through customs relatively easily but became stuck when I was asked where I wanted to go. I could not reply as I did not speak Arabic.
I gave the letter that I carried to one man who took me to a taxi, he told me in English not to pay more than ten pounds when I arrive at my destination. The taxi pulled up next to a very large building which had many young men outside buying food and talking.
All of the brothers came to me with big smiles on their faces and wanting to help me with my bags. I could only reply, “as-salaam aleikum” (peace be upon you). None of the men could speak English.
Soon a brother came to ask if I was alright. I gave him the letter and the head of security arrived. There was a small problem – I was at the gates of the dormitories for the students of al-Azhar university. It was explained to me that no one stayed in the dorms without a scholarship.
In the end Allah helped me, for the security officer asked the brother if he would take care of me until I met the head tomorrow. The brother said he would, and I became the first foreign Muslim to be given shelter at the dormitory without a scholarship. I was offered all the help I needed after some three months.
I took my official shahadah (public declaration of Islam) in the office of the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the late Gad al-Haq. I agreed that I would stay without a scholarship or food, and in return I was allowed to stay in the dorms and attend a beginners program to learn the basics of Arabic.
I would later travel to Kuwait, but when that didn’t work out, I returned to Cairo. I began to teach English in order to survive. Ultimately, I met a most beautiful Muslim brother who offered me a job in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. May Allah reward this brother generously for his helping a Muslim in need.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah. He has sent us the Glorious Quran and our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him). May Allah bless his family, his Companions, and all those who struggle in their daily lives to follow His Sunnah.
Many will visit this world and pass away, but until the Last Day, Islam will be here for those who truly desire a better quality of life for themselves and those they love. The Prophet, his Companions, and the early generations gave their entire lives so that Islam may reach the masses.
Today, all we need to do is live as true Muslims so that the masses will see the beauty and Truth that is Islam.
May each and every one of us receive the Rahmah (mercy) of Allah during these trying days. Amin!
Allah is the Greatest!