I was born and raised here in Seattle, Washington. I was brought up in a roughly Christian background like many Americans. My family wasn’t really practicing, and might go to church on special holidays a few times a year.
But other than that, I had no real religious upbringing until high school when I went to Catholic school and that’s when I started becoming interested in religion.
In more than just religion, I started becoming interested in, you know, those big questions that everyone has somewhere inside them: ”What happens when I die? What is the purpose of life?” And things like that. And I was being taught about Christian history and new Catholic history and different prayers and things, but I never felt like this is for me. I never felt like really drawn to it.
So during high school I started reading about different religions. I took a comparative religions class that was actually offered at school, and I was taught about Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Darwinism and things like this, and I became very interested in no specific religion but just learning as much as I could about the different religions, and I guess Islam didn’t jump out of it at that point yet.
I think the first real expression or exposure to Islam that I had was in high school, I read the biography of Malcolm X, and it was a book that really changed my life, and it wasn’t like I wanted to be Muslim right away, but it just changed things for me.
I’ve also heard that. Every convert pretty much that I have ever met in my life or revert has said that if that book wasn’t the one thing that introduced them to Islam it was one of the major things, a very powerful book, amazing really. But I mean for me, I grew up kind of in a hip-hop community and there was a music I liked to listen to, and stuff like that, and in fact the first time that I heard the word Allah was in hip-hop rap music!
I mean it was kind of subconscious, you know, to me I was just bopping my head to the beat or something like that. It sounded good but it was like the seed was planted in me at that time, and you will hear a lot of it whether the rapper had proper understanding of Islam or not because there are a lot of Sunni Muslims in the African-American community that make the hip-hop music.
There is also Nation of Islam, Five Percent hip-hop known historically, and they would also talk about Malcolm X. A girlfriend of mine at the time actually was reading the book for school and I said “Yeah, I should read that. I want to know who this person is that people are talking about”. So I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into at the time.
But you know just as life as a journey made so reflective at that period of time in America, and also of today in America. America is a very racialized place, I mean racism is something we can’t escape from. And growing up in an inner city that is very multi-cultural, I could relate to many ways to Malcolm X’s journey. But when he went on the Hajj and he changed viewpoints a little bit, that’s when I was really impressed.
I think for me it’s a great reminder, because if you read the Quran, and the Quran is a constant reminder of death and a constant reminder of the Akhirah (Afterlife), and you know this is a test here, and few people that are really engulfed at that and which that it is, it gives you a beautiful perspective and I think maybe a lot of people can be called to that. A lot of Muslims are drawn away from Islam by the allure of this dunya (life) really and the pleasures of dunya.
But I think when you come out of a place like this, when you come here and meet the brothers, and when you come here for a prayer, and you walk out amongst that, you have a different perspective, and you are not so sure in allure anymore. And being someone who was non-Muslim before, I think a lot of Muslim converts have a certain immunity to that because they know what it’s really like because they might have been at that party a few years ago and they know you might be in fond of it in a moment but the reality it’s not everlasting or eternal happiness.
Interviewer: But on the same point, how important would it be for a new student coming to a big university to make sure he comes to a group like the MSA, or associations that are affiliated with Muslims?
I think you cannot put a price on how valuable that is. I mean the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said that you are the religion of your friends. I mean your heart is naturally drawn to like hearts and things like this, and being a minority in this environment in America in general and in the west is very hard to keep afloat without that.