Embracing the Prophet ﷺ After Embracing Islam: A Converts Reflection

We were sitting together in a circle in the masjid and today’s talk was about the Prophet Muhammadﷺ. Young men and women, many of whom not born Muslim, moved to sit with us after performing the ‘asr prayer. We had come together to speak about the man whose life was dedicated to teaching us our religion.

One of the young men among us, Jacob, had only embraced Islam a few months earlier and had become immediately passionate about his new faith. As we all sat together Jacob revealed a secret: “I remember when I first embraced Islam,” he said, “I didn’t know that much at all about the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. And, I would see all these people around me just in love with him… I loved Islam… but I did not know why people were so obsessed with him?”…

(read more on Healing Hearts Blog)

Embracing the Truth: Answers After Converting to Islam

Imagine this. You are standing in front of a crowd of people, whom the majority you do not even know. You have been contemplating for weeks, months, some even years about this important decision that you are about to make. A ton of emotion and thought runs through your body.

Something had been missing your whole life, there was always something that didn’t feel right, and you never really knew why, but you continued to search until this day. After keeping faith, hope, and never giving up, you finally found exactly what was missing-Islam. And at this very moment, your are about to proclaim your faith. Suddenly, it’s said “ashadu a lā ilāha illa Allāh, wa ashadu anna Muammadan rasūl Allāh.”

Immediately everyone rushes you with gifts, kisses, handshakes, hugs, and advice. Those strangers whom you were looking at 5 minutes ago, now claim to be your brother and your sister in Islam. It is now that you are officially accepted, integrated, and welcomed by all who surround you. Your emotions run like crazy: the discovery of truth, the feeling of peace, joy, and for some…fear.

Sadness reigns as a result of the disapproval by your loved ones. Fear settles at the bottom of your gut because you now have to hide from ridicule and remarks by those who you trust. Uncertainty develops as you practice something you are completely new at, and unfortunately, those who called you a brother or sister in Islam don’t even realize it. Their backs are turned, and the help that was professed on day one is no longer there. You begin missing your salah’s without feeling any regret. Your mentality of the very existence of Allah is starting to diminish, and before you know it, you are no longer practicing Islam…

HOW CAN WE HELP?

In order to address such issues, SALAM Center’s Outreach Committee presents a series of topics given by a panel of convert scholars and activists to help identify the unique needs and situations of converts, along with how to best assist our new brothers and sisters with integrating into Islam and the Muslim community.

The night will reflect understanding, encouragement, and change for many. Although the event is targeting a majority convert audience, we hope to have born Muslims, convert Muslims, and re-dedicated Muslims attend; as the message will relate to each group in a special way.

Each speaker will speak about issues including: Islam & Family, Culture & Islam, Islam in the Workplace, Women & Islam, and the American Convert Experience. Attendees will be given an opportunity to express issues they have faced after embracing Islam. For those of the immigrant community, attendance is encouraged. A well respected environment filled with thought is an absolute must for those who would like to help assist and understand their Muslim brothers and sisters.

Event will be held September 18, 2010 in Sacramento, CA

Registration is Required, Please Register Today!

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DINNER WILL BE PROVIDED!

Below is a short bio of our selected panel of scholars and activists:

Br. Khalil Abu Asmaa (Christopher J. Moore)

Khalil Abu Asmaa (Christopher J. Moore) was born and raised in America into a practicing Christian family. While on the path to becoming a professional musician, he went through a deep spiritual and emotional journey that led to his conversion to Islam in the summer of 1994 at the age of nineteen.

He later traveled to the Muslim world in search of sacred knowledge and a balanced understanding of the prophetic legacy. He has studied in the blessed city of Madinah (1996 to 1999), the deserts of West Africa, the Atlas Mountains of Southern Morocco, and the Hadramawt Valley of Yemen.

He holds a B.A. in English, with a minor in Religious Studies, from George Mason University (2001) and a M.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland (2007). He has also studied Arabic-English translating and interpreting at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

Ustadh Usama Canon

Born and raised in California, Usama Canon embraced Islam in 1996. Since then, he has had the honor of studying various Islamic Sciences both at home and abroad under some of today’s foremost scholars. Currently, Usama Canon serves as an Instructor at Zaytuna Institute and as a Muslim Chaplain for the State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Usama Canon is the Founding Director of Ta’leef Collective and maintains an active role in various facets of outreach and education, concentrating on issues facing Muslim youth, assisting converts, and developing support systems for Muslim ex-offenders.

Br. Mustafa Davis

Mustafa Davis embraced Islam in February 1996 in Santa Clara, CA. After traveling to many countries in the Muslim world he attended the Badr Institute for Arabic and studied various Islamic Sciences with a focus on Shafi’i Fiqh at Dar al Mustafa Institute in Tarim, Yemen. In 2003, he returned to the USA where he pursued studies in filmmaking at the New York Film Academy (Universal Studios – Hollywood, CA). Upon graduation Mustafa relocated to the Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where he established the Media Division of the Tabah Foundation for Islamic Studies and Research. He held the executive positions of Media Division Director, Film Producer/Director and Media Advisor. Mustafa resides in the California Bay Area and is an established documentary film producer and instructor.

Br. Aaron Haroon Sellars

Aaron Haroon Sellars was born in Washington, D.C. and attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where he majored in graphic arts and developed a special interest in film, photography and music. Subsequently, after joining the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists/Screen Actors Guild, he worked for four years as an extra in movies and television, acted in commercials, and did voiceover work for film and radio broadcasts. For over two years he was lead singer and songwriter for the alternative band Motiongrind as well as a producer of a large body of material as a solo artist.

He converted to Islam in 1994 and has been serving as the audio-visual technician at Zaytuna College (former Zaytuna Institute) since 2001. At Zaytuna he uses a variety of media including digital photography, audio and video to document and share the college’s historic mission to be the first fully accredited Muslim College in America. A published poet, he lives with his wife and their three daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Br. Isa Shaw

Isa Shaw was raised the son of a Pentecostal pastor and a Baptist minister.  He converted to Islam in year 2000 after serving with the Marines in the Gulf War.  His spiritual journey began while living on a Baptist theological seminary that his mother was attending.

Brother Isa works as an outreach volunteer for the Muslim Community Association of the Bay Area where he teaches the 5 week Discover Islam class for people of all faiths and the 14 week Exploring Islam Class for new Muslims.  He also serves on the Executive Committee for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area.

Sr. Christine Chase

Christine Chase has been a Computer System Administrator at NASA Ames Research Center for about 14 years. She is an American who became Muslim as a young adult. She married an Egyptian Muslim and has 7 children aging from almost 13 to 25 years old.

She has been involved with the Santa Clara Muslim community for over 25 years. She has volunteered in many positions such as the women’s committee, the outreach committee, the funeral committee, and the Granada Islamic School Board.  Her children have grown up in the Muslim Community Association of the Bay Area. They are active volunteers in the MCA community as well as in the greater community. They have also been volunteers at Stanford Hospital, Red Cross, and Second Harvest Food Bank.

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Post submitted by Br. Joshua; a student of UC-Davis and fellow convert.

An Impact I Never Knew…

We never know what impact, if any, we will ever have on the lives of others, and I was both blessed and surprised today to discover that a few kind words of mine helped to change another human being’s life.

2 years ago I used to frequent a Jamba Juice near my home in California. I would stop in briefly to get a fruit smoothie and generally strike up a short conversation with the person at the register. I just like being nice to people and honestly feel that it is just the best da’wa. Having a beard, wearing a kufi and telling them “Ibrahim” when they asked for my name, I would sometimes get asked about whether I was a Muslim and sometimes then about Islam. I loved it whenever they did, and welcomed any conversation about religion.

That summer I was also teaching an 11-week Introduction to Islam course. Whenever anyone brought up religion, whether at Jamba Juice or elsewhere, I was ready to mention to them “Hey, you might be interested in this class” and then hand them a flyer. I would tell them a little bit about all the topics we cover and then leave them to think about it with an open invitation. Most people don’t end up attending, but I always leave hoping that they do.

Continue reading “An Impact I Never Knew…”

A Faith I Had Never Considered

I have not always been a Muslim. There have been times in my life that I have been the very opposite of what that means to be; yet, in some way, I feel like my whole life has led me to it.  I had been raised to hold a Christian faith in a home of mixed denominations. Before my mother, a devout Roman-Catholic, would accept my father’s proposal for marriage she made him promise before a priest that they would raise their children Catholic. Though my father comes from a very devoted Mormon family, he accepted. The result for us- their children- was still a mix between the two. My uncle once joked that this is why I became a Muslim, because I couldn’t decide between my parents opposing faiths. My uncle did not know the long search I ventured upon before I was finally guided to Islam.

Folsom HighMy mother had always been very vocal about her faith. There was not a day that would go by where we did not hear her cheerfully singing aloud her daily prayers or reminding us to be conscious of God. My father was more reserved in speaking about his faith, though deeply committed to following its moral obligations. If I ever, or any of my siblings, were in any kind of trouble we would find his faith in his just nature, and understanding. I did not realize how much of an effect their practice had upon me until I graduated high school. It was during those last few years at Folsom High that God choose to put my family though its greatest trial.

My mother, who had previously battled severe tumors while I was in grade school, had been diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer. The doctors could not promise her much help or time. With firmness she attended her chemo-therapy sessions even though her hair would fall out as a result; while also seeking other treatments. She was determined to see her children grow up. The family gathered around her in an amazing support. All of her children were there to care for her, especially my younger sister.

I was seventeen years old and did not know how to help. High school seemed to add problems on top of it for me, with its own pressures and friends who did not know how to be supportive. Feeling both grief and shame due to my powerlessness to change my mother’s condition, I often left home just to reflect alone, or acted as if there was no problem at all. When a hospital bed was finally brought in, I knew then that I would not have that much time to spend with her. I would have to let her know that I loved her for I feared that I may not have another chance.

Greatest TrialOne evening when I felt that I would have an opportunity to speak with her alone I went downstairs and stood by her bedside. She had lost an incredible amount of weight and had an oxygen tank to help her breath, but when she saw me she smiled so big it was as if none of that mattered. I stood there for what seemed like several minutes, though it was probably only a few seconds, taking in what I saw. Her eyes glowed with love and optimism and she had a smile to match. In her greatest trial in life she seemed to bare it with such strength; strength that I did not even seem to have. I told her then that I loved her and her smile grew even wider. Sensing why I had elected that time to say so she leaned forward as much as she could and said that I had nothing to worry about, that everything was going to be okay. I felt in her a warm trust in whatever God had planned for her, and her words left an impression upon my heart. Only a few weeks later my sister knocked on my bedroom door to let me know that our mother had passed away.

She had been a devoted friend, a loving sister, and an active member of the community, as well as a mother. Her funeral was attended by hundreds of family members and friends. Each of which had nothing but the best things to say about her. There was one statement though which changed my life forever. While giving the eulogy the priest asked each one of us to think of one characteristic my mother had which we treasured, and to place that character trait within ourselves. “That,” he said, “would be her legacy.” I knew right then that I treasured most her inner strength, which allowed her to be so optimistic and loving even through her greatest trial. I knew as well that this strength came from her firm faith in God. I became determined to find that same strength, but it would only come with a search for a faith I could find certainty in.

I can’t remember a time in my life that I did not believe in God, though there were times that I wrongfully criticized Him. My mother had raised me to be a Catholic but I never understood the necessity of calling upon saints when we are also taught that God is All-Powerful, and I had difficulty accepting a human being to be my Creator. There was faith in my heart for God, but I did not know how to understand Him. Inspired by a famous historical figure who at eighteen planned to be on the road to stardom by twenty-three, I made a promise to myself to be on the correct religious path- whatever that might be- by the same age.

FriendsI soon picked up a new copy of the Bible and started reading it. I shared some of my questions about God with friends, but they never seemed to take religion seriously. With an open heart I tried to find in the Bible a clear direction in life. Being unsure of any correct denomination to follow, I tried to let the Bible speak for itself. Within the verses I found ethical guidelines, history, and genealogical information. I believed in the prophets of God, but- though I loved his words- believing Jesus (peace be upon him) as God was still the most difficult concept for me to accept.  I wanted so much to believe but I could not force it upon myself. While feeling utterly lost one night I begged God to give me the faith to believe that Jesus was God. For a moment I thought that I felt it, but it was soon lost. I then began my search for faith in other religions.

Into the works of Hinduism, Hare Krishna, New Age, and Buddhism I dove. They offered beautiful sayings and stories describing the struggles of moral people, but I could not find within their works anything to provide me with any certainty. Meditation and the focus on self-control in Buddhism did offer a clearer sense of practice than other faiths I had studied, but the God Whose presence I was seeking was not to be found in their scripture. I was not just seeking a theology to accept, I was yearning for the feeling of conviction that comes only with true faith.

After considering what I thought to be all of the major religions I decided that whatever God wanted me to practice must have been corrupted by human hands, or misunderstood by its adherents. I was certain the truth could only be found by separating all of these human additions to scripture through an in-depth, and sincere, study of them all. Feeling still uncertain of what I should believe I placed my hope in God, that He would help me find Him.

I was fortunate enough to have a friend invite me to live with him in Santa Barbara, California. Both he and I treasured the idea of being away from old friends who only seemed to criticize our efforts to find God and our true selves. I was just turning twenty-one at the time, and saw his offer as an opportunity to dedicate more time to trying to find God before my twenty-third birthday and to fulfill the promise I had made to myself. Living away from friends and family also gave me a great opportunity for personal growth and to meet people with similar interests. There I met an array of spiritual people of various creeds and discussed with them their ideas; some of which seemed very beautiful while others caused me to question their vision of reality. I enjoyed speaking to others about faith, but I did not come across anything new which offered me something I could truly believe in. I wanted to know the truth so I could act upon it, and not just make conversation about what the truth might be.

Though I went through a lot of personal growth I still did not find the faith I was seeking in Santa Barbara. I moved back home to Sacramento and, with my twenty-third birthday a few months away, I began to feel lost and utterly depressed. The most important promise I have ever made did not seem likely to be fulfilled. Disappointed, I then stopped reading any spiritual works and took to learning about current events. I was very interested in knowing more about conflicts in the Middle East, especially the Holy Land. I went to my local bookstore and bought a book about the conflict in Israel and Palestine that kept referring to a religion that taught people violence, and hatred. The author made clear that this religion was the problem in the Middle East and, not knowing any more about this religion than what he told me, I took the author at his word.

IntoleranceIn conversations I would reference the work, and speak out against this religion of intolerance; this “Islam”.  I did this until a sincere friend asked me if I realized I was being prejudice. He was right, I actually only knew about Islam through the text I had read. I decided I would ask my store manager who was a convert about Islam. She very gladly gave me a copy of the Qur’an and her husband suggested that I visit them at their house for further discussion. For a month and a half I visited with them every Friday night and spoke with them about religion. They were very generous, serving me dinner every time I came, and answered my questions without pushing me to believe.

I had read part of the Qur’an before but now having someone to answer my questions my heart opened and I really tried to understand its meaning. The Qur’an stood out from any other scripture that I had ever read. It was far from being intolerant, rather it was uniquely balanced. Its simultaneous emphasis upon both societal laws and mercy made sense and its passages revealed a deep knowledge of human character. Concepts I found true in other scripture were also present in the Qur’an, and if they differed I found the Qur’an to actually make more sense. After six weeks of discussions and reading I was convinced that the Qur’an was divinely inspired.

On Friday February 25th I made the announcement that I was going to convert and that Sunday I said with full conviction that, “ I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God”. In Arabic this is called the “Shahadah”. As the sun rose the following day, and I was contemplating upon my new faith, I realized that it was my twenty-third birthday and it was God who had helped me fulfill my promise. After all of my searching God revealed to me a faith that I had never considered, and it is the greatest gift that I treasure.  Every time I read the Qur’an, or learn something new about it, I only grow in my faith. This is the type of conviction that I was seeking, and it is what gives me the strength to be the person I am today.