My journey to Islam is, it safe to say, not the usual one. Most white converts I have met came from a liberal and very open background. My upbringing was far from this. Both of my parents were in the US military and my upbringing was very strict. My father was very racist, and because of this, I was very racist myself until about the age of 24. I can remember as a child listening to my father lambast and attack Arabs and Muslims and bash the religion, their way of life, and their race. As this was the way I was raised this is the position I took as well.
I had a very troubled childhood, as the above can only begin to describe. My father was an alcoholic and a very physically abusive man. I grew up with the constant fear of violence against myself, my mother, and my brother and sister. Coming from such a background it only seemed natural that I seek a group of people to replace the family life that I did not get at home. The problem is, with the way I was raised, the people I sought this companionship from were the worst of the worst.
For several years I was heavily involved in the racist skinhead movement. As with anything else in my life, I was not content to be a follower, but always enjoyed taking the lead, and my involvement in the neo-nazi skinhead movement was the same. I was well known and feared in the scene in the town where I grew up. My longing for family and friends, however, never killed the seed in my heart that what I was doing was wrong, that it was unjust. I remember a Mexican schoolmate of mine asking me when I was 16 “why do you hang out with those loosers, you are better than that.” He was right, but I guess there was a part of me that, even though I hated my father for what he was doing to the family, that I wanted to be just like him. That is where my racism and hatred came from.
The situation at home became worse for me so I was forced to move out on my own. I think from this moment this is what sealed my future as a Muslim – getting away from my father, the hatred that he felt, and experiencing the world and people on my own. The next few years were pretty rough on me and I continued for many years on the path that I had started on. I was drinking, I was doing drugs and I was getting into very serious trouble with the law. All the while, all of the people I had sought to take the place of my family turned out to be the worst sort of people, violent, dishonest and untrustworthy.
I left the state I grew up in when I was 23 and for the first time in my life was able to experience life without the overwhelming figure of my father hanging over me and the malign influence of my friends. I started to see all of the carefully crafted lies my life was based on crumble around me. I slowly saw all of the truths that my life was based on unravel. It is at this point that I started to question everything in my life, including my religious beliefs. I took the stance that everything in my life was suspect and had to be reevaluated.
“This passion of mine – reading – has lead me to collect a small library of books that now consists of over a thousand volumes, everything from Kant, Descarte to Ramadan and Edward Said.”
I had a girlfriend at the time whom I later married. She had also been active in the racist skinhead scene that I was involved with and there was always this worry that I offend her with my new ideas and thinking. I had always been an avid reader, and I took the next couple of years to read everything I could get my hands onto. This passion of mine – reading – has lead me to collect a small library of books that now consists of over a thousand volumes, everything from Kant, Descarte to Ramadan and Edward Said.
During this time the Intifada was raging in Palestine. My father, racist and anti-Semite though he was, had always supported the Jewish state. I now think that he hated Jews, as well as any one else who wasn’t white, but he hated the Arabs more than he hated the Jews, so that is why he supported Israel. As I was rethinking everything I was taught when I was younger I decided to take a closer look at this struggle in the Middle East.
I started reading general books on Middle Eastern history and the national politics of the area. Again and again I found that I was having trouble understanding both the history and politics of the area because I didn’t have any sort of understanding about Islam. As a child I had attended church from time to time, but didn’t have a firm grounding in any religion. My father had a hatred of Islam, so as a teen I had shared this hatred without having a clue as to what Islam was about or what Muslims believed. It goes without saying that I had never met a Muslim in my life.
So I started to look into Islam, its history and beliefs. This was when the internet was gaining in popularity so I used both paper texts and sources from the internet to help me gain an understanding on the basics of Islam and its history. At this time I was living in Washington state and was not aware of a Muslim community there, so there was really no one I knew with whom I could talk to. Shortly after this my wife’s job transferred her to England so this was all about to change.
When I got to England my interests strayed for awhile. I was in a new country with a long and rich history, so I spent a few years exploring this history and traveling all over Europe. But from time to time events would draw my attention back to the Middle East and the politics there. I was now in a country with a long standing and well established Muslim community, although the town I lived in didn’t have any such community. I began now to read in earnest about Islamic beliefs, ideology, and history. I also started reading The Qur’an.
From the very beginning some things struck a chord with me and answered doubts I had always had concering the religion I was raised in. I had always taken issue with the idea that God would ever have offspring. From my reading I recognized this belief as one pulled from pagan sources. Zeus, Odin, and numerous other pagan gods all had children. In the case of Odin, his followers even believed he hung on a tree, much like Christians believe that Jesus (PBUH) hung on a cross. Odinists, the name given to the followers of this ancient Northern European religion, also believed in a trinity of sorts formed by Odin, his son Thor, and his consort Freja. It was clear this innovation of the Christians did not have its basis in God, but in previous pagan beliefs.
“The idea that God could be so unjust as to hold myself and everyone else responsible for the sins of others who died thousands of years before me just seemed so unjust. I had a basic concept of God, and the idea He could be so unjust to do such a thing just did not sit well with me.”
The other issue that I had always struggle with was the concept of original sin. The idea that God could be so unjust as to hold myself and everyone else responsible for the sins of others who died thousands of years before me just seemed so unjust. I had a basic concept of God, and the idea He could be so unjust to do such a thing just did not sit well with me. It always seemed to me that Christians just didn’t have the answer to these questions, and if they did, their answers just reinforced these unjust positions. I looked to Judaism, but that religion offered more questions than answers as well. Their attitude towards the prophets, peace be upon them all, was disgraceful. Their religious texts accused these greatest of men of the most terrible crimes and I refused to believe God would pick such men to lead his people on earth. If Judaism held such beliefs how could I look to them for guidance?
It seemed clear that Islam had all of the answers. It cleared up the confusion of the lie of the trinity, and asserted Jesus’ (pbuh) true role as a prophet, and not the son of God. Islam revered all of the prophets, peace and blessings of God be upon them, and recognized them for the great people they were. In Islam, and the values it promotes, I saw the answer to my problems and questions, and the future of mankind. The issue was to now try to implement Islam in my life.
I have said before, I had married a woman who came from the same background as I did. She didn’t have an easy time dealing with my interest in this subject, whether it be Islam or Middle Eastern politics. I knew the way I needed to change my life to start living in a proper manner was going to cause us serious issues. It eventually came to the point where I would be unable to practice my new found religion and stay married to this lady, so we split up. Before I left England I went with a young Lebanese man I had met to London where I said my Shahada in a mosque there.
When I left my ex wife I was forced to leave England. I would have loved to have stayed there because the opportunity to learn about my new found religion there would have been great, but Alhamdulillah, I was to learn later why God chose this turn of events for me. I quickly got a job working for the US government in Alaska. Of course there is not much in the way of a Muslim community in Alaska, and what there is is centered in Anchorage and Fairbanks. I was working hundreds of miles from either of these cities, so I took the opportunity to continue reading and searching out information concerning Islam the best I could, from the internet and other sources.
I traveled from time to time to the Washington DC area for business. I made friends here within the Muslim community. At this point I had been thinking about getting married. I had been divorced for several years and I knew that one of the main ways to fulfill your deen is marriage. I was a bit worried about this, being a convert. I know that many Muslims come from ethnic backgrounds that would not be too welcoming of a white American convert for their daughter. This was compounded further because I had tattoos that I had gotten as a teenager, and I was very uncertain that I would find a Muslim woman and her family that would accept me.
A new friend of mine said that he knew of a sister that was looking to get married as well, so he asked her if it was okay to give me her number. I tried to call her when I first got home, but she wasn’t there so I left message. So the next day I called her back and we talked for hours. We exchanged e-mail addresses and for the next three days we talked for dozens of hours. We hardly slept those first three days. I got so little sleep I found myself falling asleep at work. We talked about all of the important things that we would need to know to make a successful marriage work.
It was clear from the beginning that we had a lot in common, and that it all centered around our devotion to our faith and to God. I had this feeling that she was meant for me. She was such a good God fearing Muslim woman and she had so much she could teach me about the religion. Not only could she teach me religion, but she could help me with Arabic, as she is a native speaker. We talked on the phone and via e-mail for several months.
Talking and e-mails were wonderful, but we both knew that we had to meet each other face to face to see if the connection we had would transfer face to face. Always keeping God and our religion in mind we wanted to make sure we did everything Halal and in the proper manner. We decided, with the permission of her family, that I would visit during Ramadan of that year to join the family for dinner and the breaking of the fast. I was very nervous, and I think I had a right to be. There is one bit of information I have left out here and after I say this you will understand my nerves, my wife and her family are from Saudi Arabia, both parents were born in Makkah. My earlier fear of the cultural issues that any prospective wife and her family might have with me were compounded about 100% by this fact.
Trusting in God, and having a lump in my throat, I set off to meet this wonderful woman and what I supposed to be her intimidating family. I arrived in DC right before sundown and collected my bags and waited for a taxi. When it was my turn for a taxi I jumped in. The taxi driver was wearing a red and white checkered gutra, or Arabic headress. When I got into the taxi I greeted him with “Asalaamu Alaykum” and he returned the greeting. The sun had gone down and he was just breaking his fast with a date, he asked if I was fasting, and when I replied in the positive, he offered me one of his own dates to break my fast. It turned out this nice older gentleman was originally from Afghanistan. I saw this is a very positive sign.
After dropping off my luggage at my hotel I proceeded to the family’s house with a traditional gift of dates and incense in hand. As I got out of the taxi and started walking up to the door I just said “Bismillah” to myself and knew God would choose the best for me. All sorts of scenarios played through my mind. She would like me, but the family would hate me. The family wouldn’t mind, but she would be indifferent. What if they liked me and I didn’t like them? The 20 feet from the curb to the door seemed to be miles. Finally I got to the door and rang the bell.
What seemed to be a dozen people answered the door, family elders, people my age, sisters, sons, daughters, and family friends. I was warmly welcomed and asked to come into the house. After I entered I was asked to take off my shoes and join the family in the meal they had made for me. It turned out, Alhamdulillah, that I need not have been worried. The family and I took to each other instantly. In talking during the dinner and after it was clear that the nice young lady and I had a connection that transcended the miles and the phone line.
I came back to the DC area that January where we were married in front of friends and family. We took a nice honeymoon, and then I had to return to my work in Alaska which was not to finish until the end of April. When it finished I moved to the DC area where I took up a job with a division of my company here. I have been here almost two years now.
It is amazing, Subhan’Allah, how God led me from disbelief in a home filled with hate, and guided me to Him. At first glance it might seem that in my childhood house I couldn’t have been farther from Allah, but I would argue that wasn’t the case. Allah was always there looking out for me, He directed me through some dangerous and bad times to become the man and the Muslim that I am today.
People say that miracles do not happen today, but I would contend that my story proves them wrong.