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My Journey to Islam: Part II

This document must be published in two parts because of its length. I have created the following links within this document so that you can jump to areas that interest you. However, it is recommended that you read the whole thing from beginning to end.

Part I:

  • Mom & the early years
  • The early college experience
  • My major in Africana Studies
  • One night at a frat party
  • The chapel
  • Rediscovering Catholicism
  • Endless nights in the library
  • The trolley in Philadelphia
  • The Cornell Campus Store

    Part II:

  • The Qur’an
  • Individuals at Cornell
  • The family visits
  • The phone call
  • Women get less inheritance
  • A bus in Philadelphia
  • A request for forgiveness

    X. The Qur'an

    After having purchased the Qur’an, I walked to my apartment with my nose in the book, rarely looking up. Having little to no knowledge about the book I was about to read, quite naturally I started with the introduction. The more I read, the more it intrigued me. Even the principle that reading the English translation was not considered reading the Qur’an spoke to me. One thing after another brought me closer and closer to becoming Muslim. Linguistics, the status of other peoples, the links with Judaism & Christianity, Jesus, science, and the status of women. It was all there.

    There was nothing left to do, but to say it.....to say my shahada, or testimony of faith. I flipped back to the introduction and looked for information on saying the shahada. And it was there, the Arabic, the translation, and the transliteration. I read the English to myself and I read the transliteration. I performed the ghusl or ceremonial washing, and then sought out my roommate, Rodrigo. Though he had no clue what I was doing, I announced to him the shahada in English, explaining that I had become Muslim....

    Still though, I had no intimate contact with any Muslims. I believed, but I did not know where to go from there. Friday prayers? Did they even have them on campus? Five daily prayers? How do I do them? I decided to go find some Muslims.

    XI. Individuals at Cornell

    I headed for Annabel Taylor Hall, the building on the Cornell campus that housed all of the religious groups as well as the church I had previously attended. I approached the secretary and asked her if there were Muslims around. She said, "Oh yeah! They’re here all of the time. They’re here more than me and I work here. Upstairs in room 218." I offered my thanks and went upstairs.

    Upon arriving on the second floor, I peeked around the corner as if I shouldn’t be there. Just then the priest passed me, "Hello son." "Hello father," I returned. "Do you happen to know where 218 is?" His one eyebrow raised and then he told me. "I...I’m looking for someone," I said.

    As I got closer to the room I noticed all of the shoes sitting outside of it. Quickly, I thought, "Are my socks clean? Oh no, maybe I should go home and change them first." Knowing where the thoughts were coming from, I decided to ignore them. The hardest part of this whole journey up to this point was simply knocking on that door. (Of course, the journey would become much more difficult, but up to that point, I wasn’t sure if I could do it).

    Well, I did. I knocked on the door. As I peered in through the open door I saw a group of young men all about my age, seated in a circle. Immediately I was struck by the variety in skin colors, the beards, and the plain, baggy clothes. Quite naturally, I became well aware of what I was wearing....the flashy patterned silk shirt, the jeans shorts and the two gold earrings in my left ear (and of course, still wondering about my socks).

    They all leaned when I knocked, to see who was knocking. When they saw me, they all smiled from ear to ear, and the leader of the group invited me in. He was sitting with his legs folded with a book in his lap, a white cap on, and a long white robe. He patted his hand on the carpet, gesturing for me to have a seat. Stating their names, each member of the group shook my hand in the warmest of manners, all the while looking into my eyes with wonderful smiles. I could even see a light around their faces.....a light that I cannot explain. I see it everyday now at different mosques, but I still can’t explain it. You just have to see it for yourself.

    The man with the book who had previously introduced himself as AbdelKader began by offering drinks and fruit. I declined the offer and said, "I just want to know about Islam." He smiled, placed the book at his side, and proceeded to explain Islam in the most eloquent of fashions. He began by stating that Islam was not a new religion or way of life....that it was the way of life of all of the prophets. Putting most of the emphasis on the uncompromising belief in One God, AbdelKader (may Allah reward him) also mentioned the belief in God’s books, God’s angels, God’s prophets, the Day of Judgement, Heaven and Hell, and al-Qadr (predestiny). He described these things in the most beautiful of ways, such that I could not help but notice the universality of the message.

    After about twenty-five minutes, I said that I had to go. AbdelKader handed me four pamphlets and a book. I read the pamphlets before I even left the building. They only confirmed my decision to be a Muslim, as did my meeting with AbdelKader.

    A few days passed and I was invited to attend a lecture about Islam. The strange part was that the lecture was on a Friday night. "Friday night?! Is anyone going to show up?" I thought to myself. However, I decided to go.

    It was quite clear from the very beginning that this meeting was for Muslims. It was packed and there was not one non-Muslim there. Though I felt welcome, it wasn’t until a particular African American brother showed up, that I felt like I belonged. His name was Jamal. I saw him enter at the far end of the One World Room and our eyes caught each other. He bidded his greetings to everyone as he passed, making his way through the crowd over to me. We introduced ourselves and proceeded with the normal college conversation when you first meet someone. "Where are you from? What’s your major?" You know, the typical questions.

    Well, it turns out that we hit it off. I was majoring in Africana Studies and he was applying for his masters in Africana. We talked about all of the friends we had in common, the common interests, and finally Islam. We could have talked for hours, had it not been time for the lecture to start.

    The lecture began and I, again, became conscious of what I was wearing....two gold hoop earrings, a flattop, and a shiny silk shirt. I was the only one in shorts. The lecturer seemed quite emotional, from anger to saddness with a few words. The topic seemed quite anti-non-Muslim at the time, with the lecturer commanding the audience to avoid imitating the non-believers. With that, I hunched in my chair, popped out my earrings, and prepared myself to leave. At that very moment, Jamal leaned over to me, handed me a slip of paper with his ohone number on it, and said, "We’re going to be friends for a long time." Immediately, I was at ease.

    The lecture was then interrupted by the adhaan or call to prayer. Everyone lined up and Jamal pulled me close to his side. We all stood there shoulder to shoulder and foot-to-foot in tight rows. The lecturer stood at the front of us and recited a soothing piece of the Qur’an in Arabic. We all then followed his movements....bowing, kneeling, prostrating, and standing. Chills went down my spine when I realized that we were all moving as one body.

    Over the next couple of weeks I began to lead two lives. One with my non-Muslim friends and one with my Muslim friends. It was quite a difficult thing to do. I would leave the Friday prayer only to go home and prepare for a night at a frat party or a bar. The contradictions were eating me alive.

    Jamal and I talked every night. And it’s a good thing, because one night he said to me, "I know you go to the bars and the parties on the weekends. I know. But I can’t let you go in there without knowledge of where you’re going." He continued. "I want you to continue to go to these places for the next two weeks. Continue to hang around your non-Muslim friends for these next two weeks and don’t submerge yourself in Islamic meetings and discussions for a while." He then said, "All the while I want you to turn up the volume. Pay attention to what people are saying. And know this.....They are going to talk about three things.....And when they talk about these three things, know that they are taking you away from the path to Allah. These three things are alcohol, sex and each other."

    You know, I did just that. I virtually disappeared from the Muslim scene for two weeks. And I listened. I listened, I listened, I listened. And that’s all I heard. Alcohol, sex, and each other. And worse yet, I found myself chiming in, sometimes leading the discussions. I came to no other conclusion except that these environments were off limits to me. No longer would I subject myself to that, and no longer would I risk falling. My mother’s phrase rang in my head, "When you hang around monkeys, you’re going to start to eat bananas."

    At this time one of my jobs was working in a computer lab. For four hours I would sit there with only my books and the computers. One day a Muslim brother came in who had noticed me at the Friday prayers. Murat, what a wonderful person....another person who exudes that light I mentioned earlier. We started talking, and before I knew it, I should have closed the lab three hours prior. Every day he returned. We would talk about a lot of the aspects of Islam I had not learned up to that point. We talked about how to dress, how to eat, what to eat, what not to eat, how to greet people, etc. Murat (may Allah reward him) even taught me about cleanliness and how to appropriately clean yourself in the bathroom.

    In short, Murat and Jamal helped me with each life I was living. Jamal helped me to see what this world truly has to offer, while Murat showed how to strive for the next world.

    XII. My family visits

    Up to this point in my journey, the only family member I had told was my best friend, my mother. And even then, I didn’t tell her everything. Not knowing much about Islam myself, I told my mom in pieces, as I had learned it or experienced it.

    Well, it came time for some of my family members to visit. They will remain nameless as I do not want to show them any disrespect. I love them dearly. A husband and a wife, they came to visit for a weekend at Cornell, and I loved having them. We had a wonderful weekend. However, on Saturday night I walked into my room only to find them sifting through my books. These books included The Gospel of Barnabas, the Qur’an, Islam in Focus, and many others. The looks on their faces was one of grave disappointment. Before they left the next day, they told me about how they prayed for me all night in bed. They left and the butterflies in my belly became more like butter-wasps. I never quite realized that my decision would impact those I loved.......So much for personal choices.

    XIII. The phone call

    Less than one week after they left, they called me. Throughout the conversation all I heard was, "Have Jesus in your heart.....Jesus loves you....have Jesus in your heart..." Finally I said, "I do have Jesus, peace be upon him, in my heart. I love him." The response on the other end of the line was, "Oh Good! Then you’re not following that guy Muhammad anymore." (peace be upon him) I said, "Actually, I love Jesus, because I follow Muhammad (peace be upon both of them)." (For a look at what Islam says about Jesus, peace be upon him, Check out Jesus in Islam.

    Just then, I heard the phone drop. For a few moments, no one else was on the line. I paced my bedroom with the phone and only my thoughts to keep me company. The worst of thoughts began to creep into my mind....my family will hate me, they’ll want nothing to do with me...etc, etc. Finally her husband picked up the line and said, "Eddie!!! Do you have a Bible there?!" I replied in the affirmative and he yelled for me to turn to John 3:16 and shouted, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son...!" My response was of equal volume, "Do you have a Bible there?! Turn to Matthew 26:39!!....And going a little farther (Jesus) fell on his face and prayed!!"

    The throwing of verses to and fro went on for about 35 to 40 minutes. To see some of the verses I threw go to Islam in the Bible. The next 20-30 minutes consisted of a loud rehash of what it means to be a Christian. My worst fears began to seem close to reality...Would my family truly disown me? I know now that those thoughts were simply ridiculous and unfounded. My family has been more supportive than most when someone converts to Islam. However, at that particular point in the conversation, I thought that my family would be reduced to my mother and me.

    To bring an end to this horrifying exchange, I posed the question, "Do you wait for Judgement Day?" The response was, "Of course!" Tearfully, I said, "Well, let’s wait. Our differences will be settled on that Day. Until then, we are family and I love you." With that I heard the phone hang up.

    With my eyes began welling up and overflowing with tears, I called my mom....no answer. I called my dad. Thank God he was home. He calmed me down and assured me that my fears were unfounded. And in fact they were.

    XIV. Women get less inheritance

    Some time went by and I kept up with my studies for school while at the same time studying my new found faith in Islam. Much of my studies regarding Islam first revolved around Islam’s intersection and relationship with Christianity. I would read the many references to Mary in the Qur’an and then search for the references in the Bible....looking for similarities and key differences. I did the same for Jesus, Noah, Joseph, Abraham, David, Solomon, and many others (may peace and blessings be upon all of them). I knew that once the rest of my family found out I would be flooded with questions.

    In preparing to answer these questions I also decided to read the entire translation of the Qur’an again from front to back with closer scrutiny. I started reading it while at Cornell, but summer vacation soon rolled around. Once again I was volunteering at Pennsylvania Hospital. With the long trolley and subway rides I had plenty of time to read.

    Upon reaching the fourth chapter of the Qur’an, Surah An-Nisa’a (The chapter entitled "Women"), I came across a verse that made me reevaluate my commitment to Islam. In fact it shook my faith in God altogether. Up to this point in my life I had come across nothing as perfect as Islam and up to this point there was no doubt in my mind that this was the true religion of God.

    I came across the verses regarding inheritance. At first I was quite amazed at the completeness of the Qur’an, that it spoke to every realm of life. It only made sense to me that religion should comment on all facets of life, that religion is not something we merely go to on Sundays...that it’s not separate from work or play or family life. So when I read the verses concerning who gets how much inheritance, I only saw it as yet another aspect of life which God, in all of His Mercy, had sent down guidance for us. No fighting over mom and dad’s estate, heirlooms, or savings. It was all laid out, who gets how much.

    This is where my faith was shaken, for in these verses it was explained that daughters received less inheritance than sons. My heart sunk. My soul felt empty. "Something that seemed so perfect, now had a glaring flaw...unequal treatment of the sexes," I thought. Was a woman to be punished by God’s Laws for the very characteristics that God had bestowed upon her? My soul felt empty because I knew that I could not accept part of the Book and reject another part. The Qur’an was either the unadulterated, untampered word of God, or it was not. No in between.

    So I put my bookmark in its place and I placed the Qur’an in my closet on the shelf, thinking it would now rest there as a wall ornament in the midst of all of my other religious texts.

    XV. The bus in Philadelphia

    Outwardly not much changed. I still volunteered at the hospital everyday and worked at Chick-fil-A at night. I still tried to emulate the good qualities that my studying of and acceptance of Islam had taught me. Although, I no longer announced that I was Muslim.

    I put my earrings back in my left ear and I began wearing the silk and rayon clothes I had worn prior to accepting Islam. I started listening more heavily to my walkman. It was in this state that I was riding a bus in Philadelphia on my way from Pennsylvania Hospital out to Chick-fil-A in the suburbs.

    I’ll never forget this day.....I was sitting toward the back of the bus in a seat that faced toward the middle of the aisle. My sunglasses were on and my walkman was blaring Public Enemy. Wearing rayon shorts, a silk shirt, and two gold earrings, I rested my head on the bus window and soaked up the bass and the lyrics.

    The bus came to a stop and I opened my eyes to check for my bag (most thefts on a bus occur when the doors are open). And there was a medium height African American man in dirty, torn clothes standing right in front of me. He tapped my knee and signalled for me to remove the headphones. Thinking he was going to ask for money or try to sell me something, I turned down the volume and removed my sunglasses.

    To my amazement he said, "Asalaamu Alaikum." Rather than respond with "Wa Alaikum as-salaam," I simply said, "Are you Muslim?"

    He replied, "I’m just here to tell you to stick with it."

    "Wait, wait, wait! You’re here to tell me to stick with it??!! What’s that supposed to mean?!"

    As he made his way toward the backdoor of the bus all he said was, "Stick with it brother." I watched his every step as he walked off of the bus and as the bus pulled away. I guess I expected him to disappear or something.

    As we drove off and I began to sit down again, I noticed everyone staring at me, but it didn’t matter. I could think of nothing but getting home to run this by my mother. I worked until about 10:30 that night and my mom came to pick me up. On the way home I explained what had happened and her reply was this, "Well...there’s nothing left to do but one thing. It’s clear you have to open your Qur’an again."

    SubhannAllah! I did just that. Upon opening up the Qur’an, my bookmark fell to the floor. I picked it up only to realize that it was the same piece of paper that Jamal had handed to me that Friday night in the lecture at Cornell. The next morning I called him.

    "Jamal, why do daughters receive less inheritance than sons?"

    He responded quite beautifully, explaining first the differences between men and women physically, such as pregnancy, breast feeding, hormones, physical strength, etc. He then explained that Islam accounts for those differences in numerous ways, one of which being economic responsibility. In Islam the man is 100% financially responsible for the woman’s needs, be she his wife, his daughter, etc. The woman is permitted to work, to own a business, to own property, etc and the money received from these things is her own. Her husband has no right to it. His money, however, is required for housing, food, clothing, and other expenses. Naturally then, Jamal explained, the son receives more inheritance, as he has more financial obligations with it.

    Not only did Jamal’s answer satisfy my concerns, it actually developed within me a contempt for the way in which women have been treated in this society. It also taught me a fundamental principle in Islam...when you don’t know, ask someone who does.

    XVI. A request for forgiveness

    Though the above story relates how I came to accept Islam, it does not relate my struggles to implement the teachings of Islam in my everyday life. Such an account would take 5 or 6 times the amount of space, as what I have learned as a Muslim far surpasses what I learned prior to accepting it.

    Naturally, with time I have implemented more and more, as I learned more and more. For this reason, I feel it necessary to request forgiveness from those of you who knew me during the transition phase from non-Muslim to Muslim. Some of you knew me well, and knew that I was a Muslim, but still you know nothing of Islam. For that, I ask your forgiveness. Part of my responsibility was not only to live the message, but to convey it. I truly fear the Day of Judgement when some of you will stand before our Lord and say, "He knew about You and Your Commands and he never told me."

    There are some of you with whom I had inappropriate relationships, conversations, and experiences. For those times I ask that you forgive me. And, most importantly, I ask that you do not judge Islam by my actions. For I fear that on the Last Day it will be said of me, "He knew it was wrong and he never stopped us. He never told us. In fact, he encouraged us to do those things, as he himself did them."

    To those of you whom I have wronged, directly or indirectly, I ask you to forgive me. It is for you and myself that I have relayed my story of becoming a Muslim. In so doing, I hope that I have demonstrated to both of us, that being a Muslim is a process and not a destination.

  • The first part of My Journey to Islam is continued in Part I
  • Islam’s Impact on Daily Living: a little bit about my journey as a Muslim.

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