I was born in an era where tensions between white and black Americans were great. These racial tensions affected people of both races greatly.
Added to these social and racial tensions was the involvement of America in the Vietnam war. There was a law in place at this time which was a mandatory draft law, meaning any male 18 years or older could be sent to the war without his approval. My father was one of these men sent in the prime of their lives never to be the same again. Lives changed forever.
Most African American men detested going to the war. They considered themselves fighting for a country that oppressed them and their ancestors; and was using them to conquer and oppress yet another group of people of color.
Some resisted the draft and accepted prison sentences. But many fearing the ‘powers that be’ went and fought even though they hated it in their hearts. I do not think any of the soldiers or the American government was prepared for what they encountered in Vietnam. They experienced atrocities unimaginable. Many of the soldiers developed a hatred for the government that exposed them to this grand catastrophe.
To add fuel to the fires; when the soldiers returned home there was very little support for them. No one understood what they had gone through. In order to sequester the rage within many turned to non-traditional methods to ease their pain. Many turned to drugs and sex; leaving an even more devastating effect. Others turned to religion; turning from their traditional Christian faith and accept religions such as Buddhism and Islam.
My father was from the latter group.
He decided that Islam was the correct religion. However, at this time in America, there were many black nationalistic groups professing Islam but was mixed with many beliefs that are against Islam; further misguiding people from the true path.
Although I never saw my father pray, he agreed with all things he considered to be a part of Islam and he had an English translation of the Quran. He never tried to make me be Muslim. He never said to me that the religion of my mother was incorrect. But, Allah used him to plant a seed in my heart. He and my mother divorced when I was very young. So, my primary residence was with my mother. I would visit my father and his family on some weekends. When I was thirteen years old, he gave me his Quran, told me not to tell my mother and if I got a chance, to read it from time-to-time.
I remember putting the Quran in the top of my closet and covering it from my mom’s view. My mother and her family were very strong and traditional Christians. I went to church a few times a week. I eventually began practicing a far stricter version of Christianity than the rest of my family. I began wearing only ankle length dresses and covering my hair. In search of a deeper relationship with God, I became a part of the ministry; a da’ia (caller to Christianity) so to speak.
I began teaching in many States in America but still had this shred of doubt in my heart that what I was doing might not be the right thing. To be honest, I was terrified to reject either religion and used to pray in the name of Jesus but facing Makkah. Many times I would pray that I would be shown which religion was the truth.
Continuing on my quest for the truth, I moved from my native home and relocated to Anchorage, Alaska. There I began working with a Christian organization that fed homeless people and provided them with clothes. Across from my home was a supermarket where many homeless people sat around waiting for a store worker to throw some food into the trash so that they could quickly retrieve it and get a day’s meal. From time-to-time I would give out meals and donations.
On one occasion; one of the homeless men made a comment that I was such a nice lady but it was a shame that I was going to hell. I was enraged and full of self-righteousness. I threatened him with not feeding him ever again. It seemed my threat did not bother him. He stood firm that although I did good deeds, my deeds alone were not enough to save me from hell.
To make a long story short; there were many days of going back and forth over religious matters. I continued to spread the teachings of Christianity and offering it as a solution for the problems of the people. But many thoughts about my father came into my mind in those days. A new fear of rejecting Islam resurged.
Around the same time, I was given two pamphlets; one called, “Who is Muhammad?” and the other “What Does the Quran say about Jesus?”
I was shocked! “Who is this Muhammad? Could he really be a Prophet with a revelation after Jesus?”
With great fear and anxiety coupled with a hunger for the truth, I went to the library and checked out many books on Islam, including two English translations of the Quran by different translators. One of the copies being exactly like the one my father gave me twelve years before.
I had been giving a public teaching session on Christianity; it was a four-day session. At this time, I had decided I would test the beliefs of my faith. It had been said that God chose me to be a healer and prophetess to the people and because of this whenever I spoke to someone in my church or touched them, they said they were healed. So, on the last night of the conference I prepared my speech and decided I would just tell people random things from my mind. So I told them of healings and messages that God supposedly had revealed to me to tell them. People jumped up and down, went unconscious and testified of pain leaving their body. I knew that this was all false.
I went home that night and read all of the books on Islam from the library. I stayed up all night. The next day in the middle of my living room, I took my shahadah (declaration of faith). I knew that what I had read was the truth. I found answers to questions I had all of my life but was told that I just needed to have faith and not to ask too many questions.
In those days, there were not many Muslims in Alaska. I wanted to learn how to pray, how to speak Arabic and many other things. So, I packed my car and two children and drove to Seattle, Washington. By the mercy and decree of God, the first person I met when I crossed over into the city limits of Seattle was a Somali Muslim putting gas in his car. I identified him because of the cap on his head and I excitedly gave him the greeting and said, “I am new here and I am a Muslim; a new one! Can you tell me where I can find other Muslims?”
He explained to me that he was the owner of a halal supermarket, restaurant and clothing store and if I followed him in my car, he would take me there to meet the women of his family. On this day I began wearing hijab. The women excitedly took me to the back of the store, gave me an abaya and showed me how to wrap the hijab. I rented an apartment that had all Muslim residents representing six different countries. There, I learned the basics of the religion from my beautiful neighbors. I learned how to pray, fast, give charity and to read and write Arabic. I also began memorizing Quran there.
Fifteen years later and residences in five American states and two Muslim dominated countries, I am still holding on to the greatest thing that has ever happened to me; Islam.