Islam reaches the hearts of people even if they live in a desolate cave in the wilderness, or in the polar ice caps, or the middle of the densest jungles. Everywhere there is Allah’s majesty.
When I was a youth raised in San Antonio, Texas, I could not imagine a person like me embracing a foreign religion, even if it be the absolute Truth that all our philosophers and ascetics spend their lives in search of. My parents taught me nothing of religion. My mother felt that her religious upbringing brought her nothing but harm.
I was a child who did not like sports or most of the other games that kids generally like. I would ponder a lot of things in life, like why I am here on earth, what will happen when I die, etc. These things were terrifying for a child as young as 7 or 8. I remember kids picking on me, saying that I was going to burn in hell for certain little mistakes and I would cry to my mother, “I don’t want to burn in hell mommy!”
Yet still I knew nothing of religion or God. I knew almost instinctually that there was one God, but I felt that He never helped me in anything rather He kept me humbled by causing me to fail at everything I attempted. Sometimes, I would rely on pieces of material to bring me luck – I would do some self-invented rituals with good-luck charms in order to control future events. But of course my future would turn out both good and bad irregularly, so I quickly realized that this was of no use.
When I was in middle school, the scientific atheist tendencies of the school curriculum combined with a brand of heavy music that I was into, made me think I was an atheist. At the same time, however, I believed in spirits and demons which would allow me to reach God the worse I behaved.
The Search for God
When I reached high school, I met a nice girl who convinced me to consider Christianity. I did not take the advice that I found in the introduction to my Bible that suggested reading both the New and Old Testament together. Instead, I started reading the Old Testament first and tried to follow all the laws in it. I read about things that I knew could never happen, like the world being so young and that the entire earth flooded. Nevertheless, I always held to a blind faith of believing that all of the Bible was true no matter how unrealistic it was. Soon this became frustrating.
My parents would discourage me from going to church, so I never had any outside sources of Christianity except a few books of fiction. I was thus practicing a strange version of Christianity with Old Testament beliefs, while still believing Jesus to be God’s son. I became very frustrated in three years, though I always wished and prayed for God to show me His Truth, because I knew what I was studying was from God somehow yet some of it was clearly fake.
I became very depressed and hated myself, thinking that this was the way to get rid of arrogance. Then one day, after coming back from San Francisco, I picked up some books that my grandfather had given me. One was a history book called Early Islam. I started to read it, though I immediately hated it because I thought the Muslims hated Jews and Christians. I thought it was the Devil’s religion.
I continued reading, however, and I learned that Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) received a vision from the angel Gabriel, just like the prophets of the Old Testament. I learned this at the same time that I was almost finished reading the Old Testament, when I was about 16 years old.
The way in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) received the revelation while his reaction seemed so sincere, realistic, and modest at the same time opened my heart a little. I then read a biased version of his life story, but it still showed the great accomplishment he did and key things that made me realize that this man, after receiving a revelation from Gabriel and spreading the message of One God while still confirming the message of the prophets of old, seemed to have accomplished more than both Jesus and King David (upon them both be peace) together.
Hooked on Islam
I was hooked. I tried to find any books on Islam from every source available to me. I started reading a book on the history of Saudi Arabia. Eventually I started to use the Internet that led me to a gateway of information. I would spend hours everyday researching Islam. I found a very important thing on the Internet: the Quran is compatible with science and modern knowledge. After this, I knew I had to become Muslim.
I started to pray while calling God, Allah. At this time in my life was revolutionary. I had never met a Muslim, though I had been conditioned by my society and the television to hate Muslims… to believe that Muslims are evil. I soon realized that society had deceived me.
I tried to fast Ramadan that year and learn how to pray through Internet programs and by reading booklets about Islam. I was even trying to convince some of my friends to embrace Islam, though I wasn’t even fully Muslim and I had yet to meet one. Then one day the following year, I met a nice woman by searching for Muslim organizations in San Antonio. When my parents left for the weekend, she drove from the other side of town to take me to the mosque. I took my shahada (declaration of faith) that day.
When I was in college, I met several other Muslims, but I never really made any close friends. Soon I met some Turkish friends who I became close with, and they taught me a lot about Islam. During this time, I decided to join the Army so I could be more independent and learn to live on my own.
Before I left college, I met a really good brother who had also accepted Islam. He was a great influence on me. He taught me the traditional Islamic sciences and I studied Hanafi jurisprudence with him.
The Army was really rough. It was a new and frightening experience especially after the attacks of September 11th, which occurred while I was still serving. A small group of thugs around me gave me a radical choice: “Either you’re with us or against us.” I was then in basic training stationed in Georgia. I believe those guys have since been disciplined by the Army for their bigotry. Eventually, I went to Kuwait and then to Iraq. During this time, I saw things and learned things that will change my life forever.
I met Muslims from many different backgrounds and countries who all testify to Islam as the Truth. I lived in hostile environments, surrounded by religious bigotry where no one understood me. Then I went into a city of anarchy, death, and chaos. The echoes of its destruction I believe were a harbinger of the downfall of our civilization. But also the song of love amongst the believers is a new song of hope and revival. This love and sincerity I did not find in the richest and most powerful empire in the world.
I had people telling me as-Salaam `alaykum because of the love between us as brothers in Islam, even though we were from the opposite sides of a political and cultural chess game. While the people around us rallied around flags and ethnic similarities, the brotherhood of Islam drew us together in spite of them. It didn’t matter what I was wearing or what bad situation we were in, it was the fact that I was a brother under the same God.
This is something outstanding, and truly from Allah, Exalted is He.