The earliest memory I have of Islam is from the ninth grade. I remember watching CNN in passing. The channel was showing women covered in black, holding machine guns and marching down the street. The host mentioned something about Islam. This image stuck in my head, and I remember thinking “that is one crazy religion.”
I was born to a mother who was originally Jewish and then became a born-again Christian. My father was a Montaukett Native American. When I was 10 years old, I would visit different churches, interested more in the stained-glass windows and the smell of myrrh rather than the message. I do not remember my father practicing any religion, so I took it upon myself to learn about my Native American beliefs. I knew the Montauketts believed there was One Creator of everything in the World, and that Man has to have a balance with nature in order to survive. I was always taught and believed that life is a precious gift. We share this earth with everything else that God has created. Yet, I still asked myself, how this life was created, where did it begin, who was the artist behind this beautiful masterpiece?
A few years before 9/11, I started reading the Qur’an and the Bible, comparing the messages each book relayed. I was one of those people who doubted God’s existence on the outside, but secretly prayed on the inside. I knew deep in my heart that God was real. I just didn’t think it was “cool” to show it. For me, I just couldn’t piece together the concept of the trinity in the Bible; God, the son, the spirit–it was too confusing a concept to grasp as a reality. This confusion actually helped me see how Islam made more sense, and eventually, the only sense.
Then, the day came when two planes flew into a building and the world stood still. Newspapers were filled with headlines and articles calling Islam the ‘evil Muslim religion.’ I remember reading and thinking, I hope people are not taking this seriously! Unfortunately, some were taking it seriously as I heard people saying we should bomb Muslims! I told myself I had to find out the truth. I continued reading more about Islam, even re-reading parts of the Qur’an. What a difference it makes when you start searching for the truth and using your own mind. At that point, I wasn’t following a religion, or looking for membership. It was around this time that I met my future-wife at a local bookstore that I frequented. There was a light about her, something that just captured my attention. Immediately, my conversations changed from talking about celebrities to discussing the importance of God in one’s life and how Islam can fulfill this need.
In 2005, my life took a dramatic turn. My parents were returning from visiting the doctor to check on my dad’s cancer. He passed out while driving, and they crashed into a parked car. At the hospital, the doctor told my mom she needed triple-bypass surgery. After the operation, she was having difficulty recovering. The doctors had to keep her sedated. Fourteen days later, we were told one of her legs needed to be amputated. The surgery did not go well. My family was told we had a few minutes to say goodbye to her. Standing in that room, seeing my mom hooked up to tubes, I kept thinking of our mortality. My dad was one the battling cancer, but my mom was the one who would die first. After my Mom passed away, my dad’s cancer worsened. I believe that he did not want to fight anymore without my mom by his side. My father passed away later that same year.
I struggled with my understanding, but I also started to see the wisdom of God in everything that happened. Every second of our lives is willed by The Creator. Learning about Islam in books and through the teachings of scholars, the knowledge started to take root. I visited a few mosques and I remember being very nervous. However, those feelings would be alleviated by everyone’s welcoming and inviting nature. Still, the prayers seemed “foreign” to me. Later on that year, I went to the Muslim Day Parade in Manhattan where proud American Muslims marched along with many booths were set up for spectators. And there it was — the bright yellow booth with the words M.E.C.C.A. (Muslim Education and Converts Center of America) inscribed across the canvas. I found out that the organization’s aim was to help new Muslims, born Muslims and those who are just curious about the faith. I remember thinking, finally, a place that can show me step by step how and why to pray and help me understand this religion!
I signed up for the center’s New Muslim Program. Nervous the first day, I was surprised to see young brothers and sisters teaching the class, and students of all different backgrounds. I entered not knowing that I would become a “roadside conversion” story. I asked the teacher, “What does one have to do to become a Muslim?” He asked that we talk about it after class. Driving back to Long Island, I realized I had forgotten to follow up with my teacher. As I was driving, my teacher called. He apologized and explained the first step a person has to take to become a Muslim. For some reason, I was ready at that moment. I took my testimony of faith over the phone.
Looking back, I realize that God was showing me this new chapter in my life because I pulled the car over and said, “Ok, I am ready!” These words brought wonderful changes in my life.
That was five years ago. Time is indeed fleeting. I stand today with a wonderful wife, a precious two-year-old daughter, all praise be to God. I still get up every day and struggle with life. I am far from perfect. Sometimes I get lost in the constant roller coaster that comes from being a convert and an American. For one, I can never discuss foreign policy without Islam coming up in conversation. There are times when frankly, I don’t want to know about who is killing who, I just want to know about our Lord. I have learned that my actions is what will show others just how wonderful this religion is, and to not get sucked into racial and cultural stereotyping. Nations and cultures were not created to separate us, but to bring us all together. It says in the Qur’an that “God made us into nations so that we may get to know each other”–not hate each other. We will only find the Love of God by loving what He loves.