From Racism to Islam
|Wednesday, April 18,2007 00:00|
|By Marc Springer, Discover Islam|
My journey to Islam was not the usual one. Most white converts I have met usually come from a liberal and very open-minded 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 also was very racist myself until about the age of 24. I can remember as a child listening to my father lambaste and attack Arabs and Muslims and bash their religion, their way of life, and their race. As this was the way I was raised, this is the position I took as well.
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. My involvement in the neo-Nazi skinhead movement was the same. I was well known and feared in the town where I grew up.
My longing for family and friends, however, never killed the seed in my heart that told me what I was doing was wrong and unjust. I remember a Mexican schoolmate of mine asking me, when I was 16, "Why do you hang out with those losers, 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, 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 and 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, doing drugs, and 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 my home state when I was 23, and, for the first time in my life, I 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 that 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.
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 I was always worried that I might offend her with my new ideas and way of 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 led me to collect a small library of books that now consists of over a thousand volumes, everything from Kant and Descartes to Tariq 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 anyone 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 had been 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 its beliefs. At this time, the Internet was gaining in popularity so I used both print and Internet sources to help me gain an understanding on the basics of Islam and its history. I was living in Washington State and was not aware of a Muslim community there, so there was really no one with whom I could talk. Shortly after this, my wife’s job transferred her to England, so that was all about to change.
When I got to England, my interests strayed for a while. 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, certain things struck a chord with me and answered doubts I had always had concerning the religion I was raised in. I had always taken issue with the idea that God could have offspring. From my readings, I recognized this belief as being derived from pagan sources. Zeus, Odin, and numerous other pagan gods all had children.
In the case of Odin, his followers even believed that he had been hung on a tree, much like Christians believe that Jesus was 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 other issue that I had always struggled 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 had 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’ true role as a prophet, and not as the son of God. Islam reveres all of the prophets and recognizes 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. My main issue was to try implementing Islam in my life.
As I said before, I was married to 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 that the way I needed to change my life was to start living in a proper manner, but I knew this 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 woman, so we split up. Before I left England, I went with a young Lebanese man I had met in London and said my Shahadah in a mosque there.
When I left my ex-wife, I was forced to leave England. I would have loved to stay there because the opportunity to learn about my newfound religion there would have been great, but al-hamdu lillah, 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 it 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 for information concerning Islam the best I could, from the Internet and other sources.
I used to travel, from time to time, to the Washington DC area for business. I made friends within the Muslim community there. 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 for Muslims to fulfill their deen (religion) is through marriage.
I was a bit worried about this, being a convert. I knew that many Muslims came from ethnic backgrounds that would not be too welcoming of a white American convert marrying their daughter. This was compounded further because I had tattoos from my teenage years, 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 who was looking to get married, so he asked her if it was OK to give me her number. I tried to call her when I first got home, but she wasn’t there and I left a message. The next day I called her back, and we talked for hours. We exchanged e-mail addresses and for the next 3 days, we talked for dozens of hours. We hardly slept those first 3 days. I got so little sleep that 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 about religion, but she could also help me with Arabic because she was a native speaker. We talked on the phone and via e-mail for several months.
Talking and e-mailing were wonderful, but we both knew that we had to meet each other face-to-face to see if the connection we had would still be there. 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 of her 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 100 percent 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 Washington DC right before sundown, 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 Arab headdress. I greeted him with "as-salamu `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 as 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-foot walk from the curb to the door seemed to me like 20 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, al-hamdu lillah, 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 woman and I had a connection that transcended the miles and the phone line.
I came back to the Washington DC area that January, when we got 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 Washington DC area and took up a job with a division of my company. I have been here almost 2 years now.
It is amazing, subhan Allah, how God led me from disbelief in a home filled with hate and then 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 this 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.