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Sunday, 17 November 2013

How a "Martial Art" led brother Abdul-Lateef Abdullah (Steven Eric Krauss) to Islam

My experience in Islam began as a graduate student in New York City in 1998. Up to that point in my life, for 25 years, I had been a Protestant Christian, but had not been practicing my religion for quite some time. I was more interested in “spirituality” and looking for anything that didn’t have to do with organized religion. To me, Christianity was out of touch and not relevant to the times. It was hard for me to find anything in it that I could apply to my everyday life. This dissolution with Christianity led me to shun everything that claimed to be organized religion, due to my assumption that they were all pretty much the same, or at least in terms of their lack of relevance and clarity.

Much of my frustration with Christianity stemmed from its lack of knowledge and guidance around the nature of God, and the individual’s relationship to Him. To me, the Christian philosophy depended on this rather bizarre intermediary relationship that we were supposed to have with Jesus, who on one hand was a man, but was also divine. For me, however, this difficult, and very vague relationship with our Creator left me searching for something that could provide me with a better understanding of God, and our relationship to Him. Why couldn’t I just pray directly to God? Why did I have to begin and end every prayer with “in the name of Jesus Christ?” How can an eternal, omnipotent Creator and Sustainer also take the form of a man? Why would He need to? These were just a few of the questions that I could not resolve and come to terms with. Thus, I was hungry for a more straightforward, direct and clear approach to religion that could provide my life with true guidance, not just dogma that was void of real knowledge based in fact.

While in graduate school, I had a Jewish roommate at the time who was a student of the martial arts. While I was living with him, he was studying an art called silat, a traditional Malaysian martial art that is based on the teachings of Islam. When my roommate would come home from his silat classes, he would tell me all about the uniqueness of silat and its rich spiritual dimension. As I was quite interested in learning martial arts at the time, I was intrigued by what I had heard, and decided to accompany my roommate to a class one Saturday morning. Although I did not realize it at the time, my experience in Islam was beginning that morning at my first silat class in New York City back on February 28th, 1998. There, I met my teacher, Cikgu (which means teacher in Malay) S., the man who would provide with my basis and orientation to Islam. Although I thought I was beginning a career as a martial artist, that day back in 1998 really represented my first step toward becoming Muslim.

From the very beginning, I was intrigued by silat and Islam and began spending as much time as possible with my teacher. As my roommate and I were equally passionate about silat, we would go to my teacher’s house and soak up as much knowledge as we could from him. In fact, upon our graduation from graduate school in the spring of 1998, upon his invitation, we spent the entire summer living with him and his wife. As my learning in silat increased, so did my learning about Islam, a religion that I had hardly any knowledge of prior to my experience in silat. 

What made my orientation to Islam so powerful was that as I was learning about it, I was also living it. Because I studied at the home of my teacher, being in the presence of devout Muslims allowed me to be constantly surrounded by the sounds, sights and practices of Islam. For as Islam is an entire lifestyle, when you are in an Islamic environment, you cannot separate it from everyday life. Unlike Christianity, which lends toward a separation between daily life and religion, Islam requires its followers to integrate worship of Allah into everything we do. Thus, in living with my teacher, I was immersed in the Islamic deen and experiencing first-hand how it can shape one’s entire way of life.

In the beginning, Islam was so new, different and powerful to me. It was also very foreign in many ways and the amount of discipline it requires was difficult to understand. At the time, I was so liberal in so many ways, and was used to shunning anything dogmatic or imposed, regardless of who authored it! As time went on, however, and my understanding of Islam grew, I began to slowly see that what seemed to be religious dogma was really the lifestyle put forth to us by our Creator – or the Arabic term, “deen” of Allah. This lifestyle, I would later learn, is the straight path to true contentment, not just the sensual and superficial way of life that my society and culture promote. I realized that the question is quite simple actually. Who could possibly know better than the all-wise Creator, what is the best way of life for human beings?

From the day of my first silat class in New York City to the day I took my shahadda, July 30, 1999, I underwent a thorough self-examination that was comprised of two major experiences. One was the process of questioning the culture I was brought up in, and the second was struggling to understand the true nature of God and the role of religion in my everyday life. As for my culture, this one was not as difficult as most people would think. For me, growing up in America and knowing no better, it took a powerful experience, a gifted teacher, and the right knowledge to experience truth. American culture is very powerful because it constantly bombards us with sensual gratification. Unless we are removed from it, it is difficult to see its limitations, which are based on worshipping and putting faith in everything but God, the only One that can provide us with real, lasting support in our lives.

Being a social scientist by trade, much of my time is spent working on and pondering over the ills and dilemmas of our society. As I learned more about Islam, I came to the conclusion that societal ills are based primarily on unhealthy, dysfunctional social behaviors. Since Islam is a lifestyle focused totally on the most healthy, positive way of conducting our lives in every setting, then it is, and will always be, the only true answer to any society’s social dilemmas. With this realization, not only did I decide that Islam was relevant to my everyday life, but I began to understand why it is so different from other religions. Only Islam provides knowledge and guidance for every aspect of life. Only Islam provides a way to achieve health and happiness in every dimension of life – physical, spiritual, mental, financial, etc. Only Islam provides us with a clear life goal and purpose. And only Islam shows us how to live in and contribute to a community, not just talk about it. Islam is what everyone needs, and what so many who have not found it yet, are searching for. It is the path to purpose, meaning, health and happiness. This is because it is the straight path to the source of all the power we could ever need – Allah.

It was only until I actually became Muslim that I realized just how encompassing our lifestyle truly is. Literally everything we are instructed to do has one underlying purpose – to remember Allah. It just shows the absolute and divine brilliance of the deen, in that there is a lifestyle that can show you how to remember your Creator in as simple an act as greeting someone, or getting dressed in the morning, or waking up from sleep. Islam shows us that by constantly remembering Allah, everything we do becomes focused on Him, and thus becomes an act of worship. From this, our energy, our thoughts, and our actions all become redirected away from unhealthy and useless causes, and focused on the source of all goodness. Thus, we are continuously tapping into His divine strength, mercy and grace. So, by remembering Allah constantly, we become stronger, better, and healthier in every aspect of our lives.

There were, and still are, aspects of Islam that have proven at least somewhat difficult for me. Nevertheless, I thank Allah everyday for the ease to which he has allowed me to make the necessary changes in my life so that I can continue to live in America and still be, Insha-Allah, a good Muslim. As a white, middle-class American, many of the cultural aspects of Islam are quite different from what I, and those close to me throughout my life, have been used to. In fact, when I finally broke the news to my family that I had taken my shahadda and become Muslim, almost all of their questions and concerns were related to cultural differences – marriage, social life, family, etc. They were much less concerned about my general beliefs around God and religious practice. For my family, friends, and co-workers, becoming Muslim was not seen necessarily as a negative change, but it has required a great deal of education for them about Islam. In fact, as with my own education, this process of sharing the truth about Islam with them is never-ending because there is no limit to how much knowledge we can acquire, and it is the responsibility of every one of us to share whatever right knowledge we have.

Because acquiring right knowledge is such a critical component to a Muslim’s development, having a teacher who has taught me how to apply Islam in everyday life that has made all the difference for me and helped me in managing whatever difficulties I have experienced from my reversion. Having someone knowledgeable you can turn to whenever you have questions is a wonderful support that every new shahadda should go out of their way to find. Islam is not a religion that can be rationalized, in the way that Christianity and Judaism have been over the ages. It is a clear path that must be followed exactly as Allah laid for us through the life of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW), his companions, and the saints and scholars of Islam.

In this day and age, in this society, discerning the path can often be difficult, especially when we are constantly faced with questions and doubts from people who on the surface may not be hostile to Islam, but whose general lack of faith can have a harmful effect on someone who bases everything they do on their love for Allah. It is also not easy being in an environment where we are constantly bombarded with sensual temptations which are seen as ordinary, common aspects of everyday life. But when we have the support of a knowledgeable, experienced teacher, who is able to apply the universal teachings of Islam to his life, then the truth becomes clear from error, exactly how Allah (SWT) describes in the Qur’an. From this, we are able to understand how to apply Islam correctly to our own lives, and thus receive Allah’s many blessings. The ultimate test, however, of anyone who claims to have true and right knowledge, is to look at how they apply it in their own lives. If their actions support their teachings, then and only then should we look to them for guidance.

My journey to Islam, although short, has been a life-altering experience. It is one that with every passing day, makes me more and more appreciative and thankful to Almighty Allah. The extent of his mercy can only fully be understood from the perspective of someone who prostrates themselves regularly and submits their will to that of the Creator. This is what I strive for through Islam, and what the ultimate jihad is. It is the struggle that we must fight every moment of every day, but one that we love, because we know who to turn to for support and who is helping us along.

I look back at my life prior to Islam and reflect on the different ways I sought guidance. I think back to all the different ideas I once had of who God really is, and how we can become close to Him. I look back now and smile and perhaps even shed a tear because now I know the truth. Through Islam, I know why so many people who do not believe have so much fear inside them. Life can be very scary without God. I know, because I once harbored that same level of fear. Now, however, I have the ultimate “self-help” program. It’s the self-help program without the self. It’s the path that puts everything is in its proper place. Now, life makes sense. Now, life is order. Now, I know why I am here, where I want to go, what I want my life to be, how I want to live, and what is most important not just to me, but to everyone. I only hope and pray that others who have not found the path yet, can feel the same that I do. Alhamdulillahi rabbil aylameen (All praise and thanks are for Allah, the Lord and Cherisher of all creation).

Friday, 30 August 2013

Finding the Prophet in his People - Ingrid Mattson

I spent a lot of time looking at art the year before I became a Muslim. Completing a degree in Philosophy and Fine Arts, I sat for hours in darkened classrooms where my professors projected pictures of great works of Western art on the wall. I worked in the archives for the Fine Arts department, preparing and cataloging slides. I gathered stacks of thick art history books every time I studied in the university library. I went to art museums in Toronto, Montreal and Chicago. That summer in Paris, "the summer I met Muslims" as I always think of it, I spent a whole day (the free day) each week in the Louvre.

What was I seeking in such an intense engagement with visual art? Perhaps some of the transcendence I felt as a child in the cool darkness of the Catholic Church I loved. In high school, I had lost my natural faith in God, and rarely thought about religion after that. In college, philosophy had brought me from Plato, through Descartes only to end at Existentialism-a barren outcome. At least art was productive-there was a tangible result at the end of the process. But in the end, I found even the strongest reaction to a work of art isolating. Of course I felt some connection to the artist, appreciation for another human perspective. But each time the aesthetic response flared up, then died down. It left no basis for action.

Then I met people who did not construct statues or sensual paintings of gods, great men and beautiful women. Yet they knew about God, they honored their leaders, and they praised the productive work of women. They did not try to depict the causes; they traced the effects.

Soon after I met my husband, he told me about a woman he greatly admired. He spoke of her intelligence, her eloquence and her generosity. This woman, he told me, tutored her many children in traditional and modern learning. With warm approval, he spoke of her frequent arduous trips to refugee camps and orphanages to help relief efforts. With profound respect, he told me of her religious knowledge, which she imparted to other women in regular lectures. And he told me of the meals she had sent to him, when she knew he was too engaged in his work with the refugees to see to his own needs. When I finally met this woman I found that she was covered, head to toe, in traditional Islamic dress. I realized with some amazement that my husband had never seen her. He had never seen her face. Yet he knew her. He knew her by her actions, by the effects she left on other people.

Western civilization has a long tradition of visual representation. No longer needing more from such art than a moment of shared vision with an artist alive or dead, I can appreciate it once more. But popular culture has made representation simultaneously omnipresent and anonymous. We seem to make the mistake of thinking that seeing means knowing, and that the more exposed a person is, the more important they are.
Islamic civilization chose not to embrace visual representation as a significant means of remembering and honoring God and people. Allah is The Hidden, veiled in glorious light from the eyes of any living person. But people of true vision can know God by contemplating the effects of his creative power,

Do they not look to the birds above them,
Spreading their wings and folding them back?
None can uphold them except for The Merciful.
Truly He is watchful over all things (Qur'an, 67:19)

If God transcends his creation, it is beyond the capacity of any human to depict him. Indeed, in Islamic tradition, any attempt to depict God with pictures is an act of blasphemy. Rather, a Muslim evokes God, employing only those words that God has used to describe himself in his revelation. Among these descriptive titles are the so-called "99 Names of God," attributes that are recited melodiously throughout the Muslim world: The Merciful, the Compassionate, the Forbearing, the Forgiving, the Living, the Holy, the Near, the Tender, the Wise.... Written in beautiful script on lamps, walls, and pendants, each of these linguistic signs provokes a profoundly personal, intellectual and spiritual response with each new reading.

Deeply wary of idolatry, early Muslims with few exceptions declined to glorify not only God, but even human beings through visual representation. Historians, accustomed to illustrating accounts of great leaders with their images captured in painting, sculpture and coin have no reliable visual representations of the Prophet Muhammad. What we find, instead, is the Prophet's name, Muhammad, written in curving Arabic letters on those architectural and illustrative spaces where the sacred is invoked. Along with the names of God and verses of the Qur'an, the name Muhammad, read audibly or silently, leads the believer into a reflective state about the divine message and the legacy of this extraordinary, yet profoundly human messenger of God.

Words, written and oral, are the primary medium by which the life of the Prophet and his example have been transmitted across the generations. His biography, the seerah, has been told in verse and prose in many languages. Even more important than this chronological account of the Prophet's life are the thousands of individual reports of his utterances and actions, collected in the hadith literature. These reports were transmitted by early Muslims wishing to pass on Muhammad's tradition and mindful of the Qur'an's words: "Indeed in the Messenger of God you have a good example to follow for one who desires God and the Last Day" (Qur'an, 33:21). Eager to follow his divinely inspired actions, his close companions paid attention not only to his style of worship, but also to all aspects of his comportment-everything from his personal hygiene to his interaction with children and neighbors. The Prophet's way of doing things, his sunnah, has formed the basis for Muslim piety in all societies where Islam spread. The result was that as Muslims young and old, male and female, rich and poor, adopted the Prophet's sunnah as a model for their lives, they became the best visual representations of the Prophet's character and life. In other words, the Muslim who implements the sunnah is an actor on the human stage who internalizes and, without artifice, reenacts the behavior of the Prophet. This performance of the sunnah by living Muslims is the archive of the Prophet's life and a truly sacred art of Muslim culture.

I first realized the profound physical impact of the Prophet's sunnah on generations of Muslims as I sat in the masjid one day, watching my nine year old son pray beside his Qur'an teacher. Ubayda sat straight, still and erect beside the young teacher from Saudi Arabia who, with his gentle manners and beautiful recitation, had earned my son's deep respect and affection. Like the teacher, Ubayda was wearing a loose-fitting white robe that modestly covered his body. Before coming to the masjid, he had taken a shower and rubbed fragrant musk across his head and chin. With each movement of prayer, he glanced over at his teacher, to ensure that his hands and feet were positioned in precisely the same manner. Reflecting on this transformation of my son, who had abandoned as his normal grubbiness and impulsivity for cleanliness and composure, I thought to myself, "thank God he found a good role model to imitate."

In my son's imitation of his teacher, however, it occurred to me that there was a greater significance, for his teacher was also imitating someone. Indeed, this young man was keen in every aspect of his life to follow the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. His modest dress was in imitation of the Prophet's physical modesty. His scrupulous cleanliness and love of fragrant oils was modeled after the Prophet's example. At each stage of the ritual prayer he adopted the positions he was convinced originated with the Prophet. He could trace the way he recited the Qur'an back through generations of teachers to the Prophet himself. My son, by imitating his teacher, had now become part of the living legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.

Among Muslims throughout the world, there are many sincere pious men and women; there are also criminals and hypocrites. Some people are deeply affected by religious norms, others are influenced more by culture-whether traditional or popular culture. Some aspects of the Prophet's behavior: his slowness to anger, his abhorrence of oath taking, his gentleness with women, sadly seem to have little affected the dominant culture in some Muslim societies. Other aspects of his behavior, his generosity, his hospitality, his physical modesty, seem to have taken firm root in many Muslim lands. But everywhere that Muslims are found, more often than not they will trace the best aspects of their culture to the example of the Prophet Muhammad. He was, in the words of one of his companions, "the best of all people in behavior."

Living in America, my son's role model might have been an actor, a rap singer or an athlete. We say that children are "impressionable," meaning that it is easy for strong personalities to influence the formation of their identity. We all look for good influences on our children.

It was their excellent behavior that attracted me to the first Muslims I met, poor West African students living on the margins of Paris. They embodied many aspects of the Prophet's sunnah, although I did not know it at the time. What I recognized was that, among their other wonderful qualities, they were the most naturally generous people I had ever known. There was always room for one more person around the platter of rice and beans they shared each day. Over the years, in my travels across the Muslim world, I have witnessed the same eagerness to share, the same deep belief that it is not self-denial, but a blessing to give away a little more to others. The Prophet Muhammad said, "The food of two is enough for three, and the food of three is enough for four." During the recent attacks on Kosovo, there were reports of Albanian Muslims filling their houses with refugees; one man cooked daily for twenty people domiciled in his modest home.

The Prophet Muhammad said, "When you see one who has more, look to one who has less." When I was married in Pakistan, my husband and I, as refugee workers, did not have much money. Returning to the refugee camp a few days after our wedding, the Afghan women eagerly asked to see the many dresses and gold bracelets, rings and necklaces my husband must have presented to me, as is customary throughout the Muslim world. I showed them my simple gold ring and told them we had borrowed a dress for the wedding. The women's faces fell and they looked at me with profound sadness and sympathy. The next week, sitting in a tent in that dusty hot camp, the same women-women who had been driven out of their homes and country, women who had lost their husbands and children, women who had sold their own personal belongings to buy food for their families-presented me with a wedding outfit. Bright blue satin pants stitched with gold embroidery, a red velveteen dress decorated with colorful pom-poms and a matching blue scarf trimmed with what I could only think of as a lampshade fringe. It was the most extraordinary gift I have ever received-not just the outfit, but the lesson in pure empathy that is one of the sweetest fruits of real faith.

An accurate representation of the Prophet is to be found, first and foremost, on the faces and bodies of his sincere followers: in the smile that he called "an act of charity," in the slim build of one who fasts regularly, in the solitary prostrations of the one who prays when all others are asleep. The Prophet's most profound legacy is found in the best behavior of his followers. Look to his people, and you will find the Prophet.


Dr. Ingrid Mattson (born August 24, 1963), Ph.D. is a Muslim religious leader, a professor of Islamic Studies and an interfaith activist. She lived and worked in the United States beginning in 1989 for over two decades and is now the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada.
Ingrid Mattson, the sixth of seven children, was born in 1963 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada and raised in Kitchener, Ontario where she attended Catholic schools. She stopped practicing Christianity as a teenager and “forgot about God altogether. She credits the Catholic women religious of her youth with providing “a fantastic education” and “a place to explore and develop this early, youthful spirituality. She studied Philosophy and Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo in Canada from 1982-1987. For her program, she traveled in the summer of 1986 to Paris, France where she befriended West African Muslim students. She converted to Islam in 1987 in Waterloo after reading the Qur’an gave her as she put it, “an awareness of God, for the first time since I was very young.” From 1987-1988 she lived in Pakistan where she developed and implemented a midwife-training program for Afghan refugee women with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). She moved to Chicago in 1989 to pursue doctoral studies at the University of Chicago.
Mattson is the first woman and first convert to lead the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). In 2001, she was elected vice president of ISNA, and re-elected for a second two year term. In 2006 she was elected president and was re-elected for a second term in 2008. From 1998-2012 she was Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary, Hartford, CT, where she also founded the first accredited graduate program for Muslim chaplains in America. For a number of years she was also the Director of the MacDonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary. In 2012 Dr. Mattson was appointed the first London and Windsor Community Chair of Islamic Studies at Huron University College’s Faculty of Theology.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Professional Lady Pilot Reverts To Islam

My Name is Aisha Jibreel Alexander and I grew up in a Roman Catholic family. I was always very interested in knowing about religion and always questioned the “dogmas” of the catholic faith, but I found the same answers every time I asked about the trinity. “You have to believe and not question your faith because you are committing a sin”, the nuns at the school always replied. With this concept, I grew up and I developed a fear of challenging my faith, so I continued in the road of Christianity with great faith and trust in God and on what I learned to believe, “the holy trinity.”

In 2001 I had the first encounter with Islam when I worked for a Canadian Company owned by Muslims. There, I had my first confrontation with the faith, but as I was young and very much dedicated to my professional career, I left the questions about religion behind, and I concentrated on finishing my career and taking care of my responsibilities with my family who also relocated with me from Colombia (my mother and my grandmother who are now 61 and 93 years old). I was very blessed with the family where I was born. These two women taught me the love and respect of God. They started my journey towards Islam by teaching me that I could not be or do anything without faith in God. Regardless the school they adhered to or followed, they taught me all about faith and respect of God.

I got married in 2003, a marriage that unfortunately marked my life with domestic violence, but out of the sad episode, I had my dearest son who is now eight years old. My husband at the time did not believe in God. Or should I say he believed in his own way. He drew me far from God; even from Christianity. It was the saddest episode of my life. But one day in 2005, I broke out of that situation with the help of my mother, and I continued life alone with my son and my mother, working hard to achieve  my career goals, while  becoming the main provider for my home.

Aviation brought me many opportunities; most of them really good. I had the opportunity to live in Malaysia, a country that shares three religions - Islam mainly, Hinduism and Buddhism. Back then, I lived in South America and I worked in the United States as a Corporate Pilot. Now, I am an Airline pilot flying mainly to Asia, Middle East and Europe. Unfortunately, being the only female pilot, almost everywhere I went, I spent most of time lonely. Maximum of my colleagues spent their spare time in night clubs and bars, and I was looking for something else that I could not have ever found in a club or at a bar, so I dedicated my spare time to continue my university studies online, but no time for God, other than a small prayer in the morning, and maybe at night time; no time to go to churches. So I was growing as a career woman but what about the life after?

Whenever I travelled to the Middle East, I always felt something special inside. There, I felt like dressing in a more decent manner than I normally did. I used to wear tight jeans, tight pants and fashion tops but I didn’t feel like dressing that way in the Middle East, not at a place where they called the name of God five times a day. I felt ashamed. I guess this is how the conversion started. Once in Bahrain, while waiting for my airplane to be fixed, I downloaded the Quran and I began praying every day in the morning before going for breakfast. I was feeling very empty inside; my life then was limited to waking up, working, eating, exercising and sleeping, but what about my spiritual life? Even when I returned back Home, I was not leading my son spiritually in the way I was supposed to. Previously, on my search to find God, I went from the Catholic church to the Baptist church, and after the ceremony of baptism, we only went to church a few times, mainly because of my tight schedule at work and honestly, there was no connection. Something was  missing. I was not there completely.

Was God in my life? Yes, indeed! But He had better plans for me. I think He was just waiting for me to realize that my life was not only to work and pay bills. He knew I had more responsibilities with myself and my son; responsibilities to build for the life after. So God knocked at my door...and I was afraid to open. I thought just by talking to God in my mind all day and saying His name many times in the day was enough to feed my soul….but no it wasn’t enough. God knew I was in urgent need of Him saving my life.

The moment I said Islam was for me, it was in the Middle East; when I heard the call for prayer. At that moment, I had to cover my eyes with my sun glasses in front of the other pilots that were with me on the way to the restaurant, because my eyes were filled with tears...I felt like saying, “stop! I have to join this prayer”. I still remember one of them making fun of the call for prayer, and I felt so upset inside. I felt like calling him ignorant, & saying, “Don’t you realize it is a call for praying to God?”…but the words didn’t come out. Only tears kept rolling down my eyes. On that night after dinner, I came to my room, grabbed the praying rug, and bowed down to God; as I asked for His guidance for finding my spiritual light. After that night, my search started stronger than ever. I watched videos, read the Quran on my long flights, looked out for Islamic organizations to find answers, and finally one day in Argentina; while resting after a long flight, I listened to a program about Islam in the country. So I googled for Islam in South America, and found that I was not the only Hispanic interested in Islam. The community was bigger than what any one could imagine. I committed myself to return to Argentina soon and visit the biggest Masjid in the American Continent. So I did. Three months passed, and I was assigned a trip to Argentina on thanksgivings day. After arriving, I made an appointment and went to visit the Masjid. I met with the Sheikh, a Saudi Arabian man who led the prayers in the Masjid. We talked for about three hours and before I left, he asked me if I wanted to embrace Islam. I said right away, “Yes!” I feared I might not return back to Argentina or get a similar opportunity.

My biggest struggle was to change my preconceived conviction of Jesus (peace be upon him) being God. At first, I felt I was betraying him. I was concerned and scared. I couldn’t wash out those phrases of the nuns back at school saying “not to challenge the religion because it was a sin”. This was the most difficult part.

Sheikh Mohammed from the Masjid in Argentina helped a lot with a little phrase he said to me, “Ibrahim, Moses, Noah, and Jesus (peace be upon them) where all in this road. Do you think is there any reason why you can’t be following them?” Reading the Quran and finding the recognition that Jesus (peace be upon him) enjoys, the importance of Maryam in Islam (she is in Islam, more important than she is for many Christians in Christianity), reading about the influence of Constantine and how he changed Christianity, all these studies helped a lot in clearing out my mind and feeling comfortable with accepting the truth that was always hidden to me; not by purpose, hidden just because it was the truth that my parents and ancestors knew, but “never challenged”.

As far as my lifestyle was concerned, I stopped drinking; this happened few months before I accepted Islam. Soon after my trip from Bahrain, after I prayed for guidance, I met with a good friend of mine; she and I always ate at the same restaurant and had a drink or two with the food. That day, I said “no” I don’t drink anymore, and I declared inside I was never going to have another alcoholic beverage, because I wanted to seek God. Also, I don’t eat pork anymore and I am changing my wardrobe, which is very difficult because I love clothing and fashion.  I was always proud of my body and I liked dressing in a way so that everyone would look at me. Now, I have starting wearing a Hijab, wearing loose clothing, abayas, and modest long shirts.

At work, I am struggling very much. In the company where I work, most people are biased towards Islam. As far as my mother is concerned, she is still Christian, but she says she’s glad of my positive changes, and she is learning more and more about Islam every day, and she feels proud of me for being a Muslim. And now that my 8 year old son also reverted to Islam at his own free will, she is happy that we are on this safe path seeking for God.

My dream as a new Muslim is to study Islam, and help those families that are struggling with accepting the idea of converting to Islam. I want to focus particularly on children coming to Islam.

I think converting to a new faith is harder for parents with younger children because they can be easily confused. This is why I would like to concentrate on children of converted families in the future.

I also would like as a Muslim Pilot, to show the world that Islam is not the submission or oppression that many think it is, and defeat the idea that Islam rejects career women; on the contrary, being able to do what I do is something that only Allah could make possible.

          The last thing I would like to share is that I have chosen a Muslim name for me, which is Aisha Jibreel. Aisha means ‘new life’, as Islam is a new way of life for me, and Jibreel, because he is the messenger of Allah, and I am in Islam because Allah delivered to my heart a message of peace, by showing me the road to Islam.

Friday, 5 July 2013

"Journey to Light" by Anna Linda Traustadóttir

I was born Anna Linda Traustadóttir to Icelandic/Danish parents in Reykjavík, Iceland in 1966 and baptised into the Lutheran Church. My family moved to Vancouver, Canada and then to New York City when I was young. I finished high school at 16. In 1988, I got my B.A. from McGill University, Montréal, Canada. Since then I have been travelling around the world, studying and working. Denmark has been my base since 1990.

In 1997, while studying Arabic in Cairo, one of my English girlfriends, a born-again Christian bought me a portable Bible, with both the Old and New Testaments. I was extremely pleased because I had decided that I needed to know what the Bible was and what was in it. And I felt that I could hardly call myself Christian without consciously studying the Bible.

In 1998, whilst studying at Damascus University, I read the whole Bible, from cover to cover, taking notes as I went along. Once I had completed it, I realised that there were too many inconsistencies, too many things I didn't agree with. Like the Old Testament's portrayal of God and women, not to mention all the things that Paul wrote in the New Testament. And when I read about the holy men, the Prophets, like Noah, Lot, David, etc., I found that I didn't respect them. I love and admire Moses (from the Old Testament) and Jesus (from the New Testament). Having already read the Torah, I tried getting a complete Jewish Talmud, to no avail. I’d always heard that Jews (except for reformed) do not recognise someone who converted to Judaism. Also, many, though not all, Jews are Zionist (those who support Israel). And I am terribly anti-Zionist and anti-Israel, and so, by default, pro-Palestinian. I also wanted a religion that would accept a convert. I dabbled with Buddhism but decided this was not for me, as Buddhists don't believe in God. And I strongly believe in God, always have. Buddhism is still interesting as an alternative way of life. My mum and I used to discuss Hinduism and so I was very interested in it, but there are just too many Hindu gods for me. Therefore Hinduism was out of the question. That, and the fact that you cannot convert to Hinduism.

When I had my son, Andrés Ómar, in October 2001, I was asked whether he would be baptised, and even then I refused. I felt that innocent children would surely be welcome in Heaven, baptised or not. Anyway, how could I introduce him into the Christian religion when I myself did not call myself a believing Christian, though I was born and raised as a Protestant? I didn't believe in the Trinity, in Mary as the "mother" of God, in Jesus as the "son" of God, in Jesus dying to cleanse us of our sins, in Jesus crying out in Aramaic on the cross: "Eli, Eli, lama sabakh-tha-ni?" I mean why would Jesus cry out: "My God, my God, why hadst thou forsaken me?" when Jesus knew he was sent on a mission by God as a prophet of God?

I grew up being one of the most anti-Muslim, anti-Islam people you could ever meet. This is true: I was. I had also been anti-Arab before moving to Cairo to study Arabic (I thought Arabic calligraphy was beautiful). I'd grown up in the States, raised on American movies, which always portrayed Arabs as fundamentalists, radicals, women-oppressors, religious fanatics, terrorists, never normal, average people. The large majority of people who are anti-Arab have never been to any Arab country. The reality there is very different.

In 1999, I went back to Damascus to work at an embassy. There in 2000, I met an engineer named Muhammad. We married soon after we met. To be honest when I married Muhammad, I married him because I loved him, even though he was Muslim. Over time, I realised I loved him because he was Muslim. A good Muslim. I had met many Muslims here in Denmark and in the Middle East, and just like in my life, I've met some nice and not-so-nice Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. I thought all those Muslims I'd met were representing Islam. And whenever I asked Muslims questions about Islam, one thing struck me: Nearly everyone claimed to be an expert in Islam, even those who gave me, I later found out, false information. It would have been more prudent just to say: I don’t know/I’m not sure. Yet I never judged Christianity or any other religion by its followers. Strangely though, I judged Islam by every Arab I met, even though 1) not all Arabs are Muslim. Some are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Druze, Coptic, Alawite, etc. And 2) most Muslims aren't Arab. Muslims can be Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Macedonian, Malay, Russian, Thai, African, Bosnian, American, Swedish, etc., and of course, Arab. I had been raised not to be prejudiced, but I was. It took me a long time to realise this.

It's only after countless hours of discussion, and at times arguments (!), with my husband that I came to be open-minded enough to realise that I didn't have the full picture.

During Ramadan, November 2002, I asked Muhammad whether he would help me read the Qur'an in Arabic. He had little time, but I was determined to read the Qur'an in Arabic with the help of a good translation. When I read the Qur'an, Islam’s holiest book, I thought it was beautiful, so scientific, so compassionate, so feminist! Nearly all the books I'd ever read about Islam, all written by non-Muslims, showed Islam in a negative light. Those people who wrote against Islam sometimes gave partial quotes from the Qur'an, leaving out the rest of the verse, or they would translate the verses incorrectly, on purpose or by mistake. I knew enough Arabic to know that what I was reading was unlike anything I'd ever read.

So much science, so much knowledge that has been only recently discovered. I mean the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) mentions: black holes, space travel, DNA and genetic science, evolution (transformation and mutation), geology, oceanography, embryonic development, aquatic origins of life... WOW! I had always heard that the Qur'an was basically just a watered-down version of the Bible, but none of this was in the Bible! I wondered how someone over 1400 years ago could have written anything like this! Some of these ideas were only discovered this century. Then I thought, well, Arab scientists, astronomers, mathematicians, cartographers were so advanced for that time, maybe some of them got together and wrote a book, loosely based on the Torah and the Gospels. But then I studied it further and realised that the Arabic scientific revolution followed the arrival of Islam. Then I read that Muslims believe that the Qur'an was given to Mohammad (peace be upon him) through the Angel Gabriel, and is the continuation of God's word. Muslims believe that parts of the Torah and parts of the Gospels, which speak of Jesus’ life, are inspired by God, or "Allah" as God is called in Arabic. Not just Muslims, but Christian and Jewish Arabs also call God "Allah." Muslims revere Abraham, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, and Noah, in fact, all of the Biblical Prophets. It is also mentioned that there are other prophets that came to other nations to help them become better people. They also believe that the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) is the last prophet, until Jesus returns to Earth.

It says in the Qur’an that Allah can put a veil over our eyes and a stone over our hearts so that we can neither see nor feel the message of the Qur’an. Only when Allah is ready for us to know it, do we understand. On 12 December 2002, I had an incredible dream that started me thinking and contemplating religion more deeply. Dreams are very important in Iceland and dream interpretation is practically a science! I never thought I needed a religion. Religion fascinated me, but I had believed I was doing fine just believing in God, taking bits from different religions until I got my own cocktail: "Anna’s Mix."

In January 2003, I started looking at the Internet, just doing searches like: "Islam," "Qur'an," "Muslim," etc. In March, whilst in Reykjavík, I got the opportunity to speak with one of my best Icelandic girlfriends, a Muslim, and she recommended a really good English translation (the Abdullah Yusuf Ali version), to go along with the original Arabic. In April, I received it and started using it as a supplement.

In May 2003, my Icelandic Muslim friend returned the visit and stayed two weeks with us. We started talking about the Qur'an. I told her that I wanted to translate it into Icelandic. She told me it was her dream too. We agreed we would do it together. We used our time together well, discussing Christianity, Judaism and Islam all day, every day. She had questioned her Lutheran faith, considered Judaism, visited Israel ("Occupied Palestine" as far as I am concerned) twice, and only on her second visit, started to consider the other side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. She got interested in Islam. She had earlier gone a similar path as I, coming to the same conclusions. Back in 1995, when she told me she'd become Muslim, I behaved badly: I was extremely negative. Shame on me for being unsupportive!

Now I found myself seeing myself Muslim. I told my husband about my revelations, and he questioned me at length. He asked me to wait with changing my religion. He told me that becoming Muslim would make my life more difficult, that people who didn't know Islam would treat me differently, that at this time, in the year 2003, and in this world we live in, people would ridicule me. He said I might lose contact with my family and my friends if I took on the Muslim faith. He feared that people that didn't know me so well or that I hadn't seen in a long time, or ever met him, would think he was forcing me to become Muslim. I told him if that were true, we could not have got married, for when we married, I was Christian, and had remained Christian up until then. Also, I argued, people who have known me at all know I am a strong-minded, true feminist/humanist, that I am opinionated, but not narrow-minded, and that no one can control me...My parents have tried for years to no avail!

I decided then and there that if friends and family didn't want any contact with me because I decided to become Muslim, so be it! My religion is mine and I am proud of my research into Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. It has taken me years and countless hours of reading and soul-searching to get to this point. My belief in God is something I have always taken seriously and I have never been ashamed to declare this faith, even when others ridicule me for believing in something they say we cannot see. I argue, look around you, how can you not believe in a supreme being that created everything around us. And for those of you that view Islam as some kind of cult, it isn't. Its one of the biggest religions in the world, if not the largest: One in four people on this planet is now Muslim, and it's the fastest growing religion.

So finally, on 4 June 2003, I decided to officially become Muslim so that I could go on Hajj to Makkah. I had been searching for answers for a long time, since my childhood, and by the mid-1990's, I was buying books on different faiths. Deep inside, I imagined it would find the answers for me. I remember the first time I heard the "Azan" (the Muslim call for prayer, when a fellow says "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) from a minaret at a masjid). It was a bright, sunny, February Sunday in Cairo in 1997, so church bells were also ringing, but when I heard the call for prayer, tears streamed down my face, without my realising it. I wasn't Muslim, but it moved me. One of my oldest and dearest friends, a Catholic, was in Beirut a while ago, staying at a hotel and woke up to the call for prayer at 4.30 during her first night in Lebanon. She thought it was so moving that she also cried.

When I read the Qur'an, I feel it in my stomach, deep in my gut, that this is right for me. The inspirational beauty of the Qur'an makes me sometimes cry. It's an all-encompassing way of life. No other religious book ever moved me to tears.

The Qur'an simply put is the most complex book I've ever read. The more you read it, the more you understand and at the same time, question. The Qur'an is meant to inspire you to learn more. Every time you read it, you peel off different layers of understanding. I am not an expert; I never will be. Even if I read from it every day for the rest of my life, I will still learn something new. It's full of mysteries. I still also supplement my Qur'anic studies with Biblical studies like the "Gospel of Barnabas," "The Torah," etc.

I've also since got some new Muslim girlfriends over the Internet. Whilst searching the net, I came across an Icelandic Muslim site: www.islam.is, and I contacted the writer. We started a correspondence. Around New Year's 2004, I sent her a report I wrote entitled "Islam in Iceland 2003," which I am submitting to the Saudi Government, she suggested we three work on the translation of the Qur'an from Arabic to Icelandic (Kóraninn), as she also speaks Arabic. So it seems that we will be three Icelandic Muslim women working on translating the Arabic Qur'an. For those of you looking for a good English version, I’ve heard the Muhammad Asad translation is also very direct, but I myself have yet to get hold of it.

I did however buy an incredible amount of reading material in Kuala Lumpur last summer. It’s a new Muslim’s Makkah for books. I really stocked up! My husband, son and I stayed a month in Malaysia. What an incredible place! Of Islamic areas, I had only been to the Arab Middle-East and here was a whole new Islamic world in South-East Asia! The experience was wonderful to say the least. I had always been fond of Islamic art and architecture, and all of Malaysia is both an indoor and outdoor museum!

I always try to be positive, so I think it's a very exciting time, the 21st century! If someone like me can become Muslim, there’s hope for anybody! The friends that I have discussed religion with recently know that I have become Muslim, and without fail, they have been extremely supportive. I was a bit surprised that they were not shocked. They said they knew one day I'd find my niche (I'd been searching so long), and they were happy for me. Some even call me by my new Muslim name: Núr, which means light. I also still use Anna Linda, because it's the name my parents gave me and it represents part of the person I was for 36 years. Núr is just the continuation of me!

So ends my story: "Journey to Light," a journey which is, in fact, just beginning!

Maa is-salaama wa Allah makum!


Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Man, The Legend - Malcolm X

Early Life
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother, Louis Norton Little, was a homemaker occupied with the family's eight children. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey.

Earl's civil rights activism prompted death threats from the white supremacist organization Black Legion, forcing the family to relocate twice before Malcolm's fourth birthday. Regardless of the Little's efforts to elude the Legion, in 1929 their Lansing, Michigan home was burned to the ground, and two years later Earl's mutilated body was found lying across the town's trolley tracks when Malcolm was only six. Louise had an emotional breakdown several years after the death of her husband and was committed to a mental institution. Her children were split up amongst various foster homes and orphanages.

Malcolm was a smart, focused student and graduated from junior high at the top of his class. However, when a favorite teacher told Malcolm his dream of becoming a lawyer was "no realistic goal for a nigger," Malcolm lost interest in school and eventually dropped out at the age of fifteen. Learning the ways of the streets, Malcolm became acquainted with hoodlums, thieves, dope peddlers, and pimps. Convicted of burglary at twenty, he remained in prison until the age of twenty-seven. During his prison stay he attempted to educate himself. In addition, during his period in prison he learned about and joined the Nation of Islam, studying the teachings of Elijah Muhammed fully. He was released, a changed man, in 1952.

The 'Nation of Islam'
Upon his release, Malcolm went to Detroit, joined the daily activities of the sect, and was given instruction by Elijah Muhammad himself. Malcolm's personal commitment helped build the organization nation-wide, while making him an international figure. He was interviewed on major television programs and by magazines, and spoke across the country at various universities and other forums. His power was in his words, which so vividly described the plight of blacks and vehemently incriminated whites. When a white person referred to the fact that some Southern university had enrolled black freshmen without bayonets, Malcolm reacted with scorn:

When I "slipped," the program host would leap on the bait: "Ahhh! Indeed, Mr. Malcolm X, you can't deny that's an advance for your race!"

I'd jerk the pole then. "I can't turn around without hearing about some 'civil rights advance'! White people seem to think the black man ought to be shouting 'hallelujah'! Four hundred years the white man has had his foot-long knife in the black man's back and now the white man starts to wiggle the knife out, maybe six inches! The black man's supposed to be grateful? Why, if the white man jerked the knife out, it's still going to leave a scar!

Although Malcolm's words often stung with the injustices against blacks in America, the equally racist views of the Nation of Islam kept him from accepting any whites as sincere or capable of helping the situation. For twelve years he preached that the white man was the devil and the "Honorable Elijah Muhammad" was God's messenger. Unfortunately, most images of Malcolm today focus on this period of his life, although the transformation he was about to undergo would give him a completely different, and more important, message for the American people.

The Change to True Islam
On March 12, 1964, impelled by internal jealousy within the Nation of Islam and revelations of Elijah Muhammad's sexual immorality, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam with the intention of starting his own organization:

I feel like a man who has been asleep somewhat and under someone else's control. I feel what I'm thinking and saying now is for myself. Before, it was for and by guidance of another, now I think with my own mind.

Malcolm was thirty-eight years old when he left Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam. Reflecting on reflects that occurred prior to leaving, he said:

At one or another college or university, usually in the informal gatherings after I had spoken, perhaps a dozen generally white-complexioned people would come up to me, identifying themselves as Arabian, Middle Eastern or North African Muslims who happened to be visiting, studying, or living in the United States. They had said to me that, my white-indicting statements notwithstanding, they felt I was sincere in considering myself a Muslim and they felt if I was exposed to what they always called "true Islam," I would "understand it, and embrace it." Automatically, as a follower of Elijah, I had bridled whenever this was said. But in the privacy of my own thoughts after several of these experiences, I did question myself: if one was sincere in professing a religion, why should he balk at broadening his knowledge of that religion?

Those orthodox Muslims whom I had met, one after another, had urged me to meet and talk with a Dr. Mahmoud Yousef Shawarbi. Then one day Dr. Shawarbi and I were introduced by a newspaperman. He was cordial. He said he had followed me in the press; I said I had been told of him, and we talked for fifteen or twenty minutes. We both had to leave to make appointments we had, when he dropped on me something whose logic never would get out of my head. He said, "No man has believed perfectly until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."

The Effect of the Pilgrimage
The pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, is a religious obligation that every orthodox Muslim fulfills, if able, at least once in his or her lifetime. The Holy Quran says it, "Pilgrimage to the House (of God built by the prophet Abraham) is a duty men owe to God; those who are able, make the journey." (Quran 3:97)

Allah said: "And proclaim the pilgrimage among men; they will come to you on foot and upon each lean camel, they will come from every deep ravine" (Quran 22:27).

Every one of the thousands at the airport, about to leave for Jeddah, was dressed this way. You could be a king or a peasant and no one would know. Some powerful personages, who were discreetly pointed out to me, had on the same thing I had on. Once thus dressed, we all had begun intermittently calling out "Labbayka! (Allahumma) Labbayka!" (Here I come, O Lord!) Packed in the plane were white, black, brown, red, and yellow people, blue eyes and blond hair, and my kinky red hair all together, brothers! All honoring the same God, all in turn giving equal honor to each other.

That is when I first began to reappraise the "white man." It was when I first began to perceive that "white man," as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily; primarily it described attitudes and actions. In America, "white man" meant specific attitudes and actions toward the black man, and toward all other non-white men. But in the Muslim world, I had seen that men with white complexions were more genuinely brotherly than anyone else had ever been. That morning was the start of a radical alteration in my whole outlook about "white" men.

There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.

Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white but the "white" attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.

Malcolm's New Vision of America
Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities, he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the wall and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth, the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to.

I believe that God now is giving the world's so-called 'Christian' white society its last opportunity to repent and atone for the crimes of exploiting and enslaving the world's non-white peoples. It is exactly as when God gave Pharaoh a chance to repent. But Pharaoh persisted in his refusal to give justice to those who he oppressed. And, we know, God finally destroyed Pharaoh.

I will never forget the dinner at the Azzam home with Dr. Azzam. The more we talked, the more his vast reservoir of knowledge and its variety seemed unlimited. He spoke of the racial lineage of the descendants of Mohammad (peace be upon him) the Prophet, and he showed how they were both black and white. He also pointed out how color, and the problems of color which exist in the Muslim world, exist only where, and to the extent that, that area of the Muslim world has been influenced by the West. He said that if one encountered any differences based on attitude toward color, this directly reflected the degree of Western influence.

The Oneness of Man under One God
It was during his pilgrimage that he began to write some letters to his loyal assistants at the newly formed Muslim Masjid in Harlem. He asked that his letter be duplicated and distributed to the press:

Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the House of Abraham, Mohammad, and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures (peace be on them all). For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.

You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions.

This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.

During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug) while praying to the same God, with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the "white" Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana.

We were truly all the same (brothers) because their belief in one God had removed the "white" from their minds, the 'white' from their behavior, and the 'white' from their attitude.

I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man, and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their "differences" in color.

With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called "Christian" white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster - the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves.

They asked me what about the Hajj had impressed me the most. I said, "The brotherhood! The people of all races, color, from all over the world coming together as one! It has proved to me the power of the One God. All ate as one, and slept as one. Everything about the pilgrimage atmosphere accented the Oneness of Man under One God.

Malcolm returned from the pilgrimage as El-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz. He was afire with new spiritual insight. For him, the struggle had evolved from the civil rights struggle of a nationalist to the human rights struggle of an internationalist and humanitarian.

After the Pilgrimage
White reporters and others were eager to learn about El-Hajj Malik's newly-formed opinions concerning themselves. They hardly believed that the man who had preached against them for so many years could suddenly turn around and call them brothers. To these people El-Hajj Malik had this to say:

You're asking me "Didn't you say that now you accept white men as brothers?" Well, my answer is that in the Muslim world, I saw, I felt, and I wrote home how my thinking was broadened! Just as I wrote, I shared true, brotherly love with many white-complexioned Muslims who never gave a single thought to the race, or to the complexion, of another Muslim.

My pilgrimage broadened my scope. It blessed me with a new insight. In two weeks in the Holy Land, I saw what I never had seen in thirty-nine years here in America. I saw all races, all colors, blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans in true brotherhood! In unity! Living as one! Worshipping as one! No segregationists no liberals; they would not have known how to interpret the meaning of those words.

In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I will never be guilty of that again - as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man. The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks.

To the blacks who increasingly looked to him as a leader, El-Hajj Malik preached a new message, quite the opposite of what he had been preaching as a minister in the Nation of Islam:

True Islam taught me that it takes all of the religious, political, economic, psychological, and racial ingredients, or characteristics, to make the Human Family and the Human Society complete.

Since I learned the truth in Makkah, my dearest friends have come to include all kinds - some Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists! I have friends who are called capitalists, Socialists, and Communists! Some of my friends are moderates, conservatives, extremists - some are even Uncle Toms! My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow, and white!

I said to my Harlem street audiences that only when mankind would submit to the One God who created all, only then would mankind even approach the "peace" of which so much talk could be heard but toward which so little action was seen.

Too Dangerous to Last
El-Hajj Malik's new universalistic message was the U.S. establishment's worst nightmare. Not only was he appealing to the black masses, but to intellectuals of all races and colors. Now he was consistently demonized by the press as "advocating violence" and being "militant," although in actuality he and Dr. Martin Luther King were moving closer together in outlook:

The goal has always been the same, with the approaches to it as different as mine and Dr. Martin Luther King's non-violent marching, that dramatizes the brutality and the evil of the white man against defenseless blacks. And in the racial climate of this country today, it is anybody's guess which of the "extremes" in approach to the black man's problems might personally meet a fatal catastrophe first "non-violent" Dr. King, or so-called "violent" me."

El-Hajj Malik knew fully well that he was a target of many groups. Inspite of this, he was never afraid to say what he had to say when he had to say it. As a sort of epitaph at the end of his autobiography, he says:

I know that societies often have killed the people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America, then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.

The Legacy of Malcolm X
Although El-Hajj Malik knew that he was a target for assassination, he accepted this fact without requesting police protection. On February 21, 1965, while preparing to give a speech at a New York hotel, he was shot by three black men. He was three months short of forty, the age of maturity according to the Quran. While it is clear that the Nation of Islam had something to do with the assassination, many people believe there was more than one organization involved. The FBI, known for its anti-black movement tendency, has been suggested as an accomplice. We may never know for sure who was behind El-Hajj Malik's murder, or, for that matter, the murder of other national leaders in the early 1960s.

Malcolm X's life has affected Americans in many important ways. His conversion must have had an influence on Elijah Muhammad's son, Wallace Mohammad, who, after his father's death, led the Nation of Islam's followers into orthodox Islam. African-Americans' interest in their Islamic roots has flourished since El-Hajj Malik's death. Alex Haley, who wrote Malcolm's autobiography, later wrote the epic Roots about an African Muslim family's experience with slavery.

More and more African-Americans are becoming Muslim, adopting Muslim names, or exploring African culture. Interest in Malcolm X has seen a surge recently due to Spike Lee's movie, Malcolm X. El-Hajj Malik is a source of pride for African-Americans, Muslims, and Americans in general. His message is simple and clear:

I am not a racist in any form whatever. I don't believe in any form of racism. I don't believe in any form of discrimination or segregation. I believe in Islam. I am a Muslim.

From MTV To Makkah

Kristiane Backer, 45, a London-based former MTV presenter who had led a liberal Western-style life, turned her back on it and embraced Islam instead. Her reason? - "The ‘anything goes’ permissive society that I coveted had proved to be a superficial void."

The turning point for Kristiane came when she travelled to Pakistan in 1992 during the height of her career. She says she was immediately touched by spirituality and the warmth of the people.

Kristiane says: ‘I began to study the Muslim faith and eventually converted. Because of the nature of my job, I’d been out interviewing rock stars, travelling all over the world and following every trend, yet I’d felt empty inside. Now, at last, I had contentment because Islam had given me a purpose in life.’

‘In the West, we are stressed for superficial reasons, like what clothes to wear. In Islam, everyone looks to a higher goal. Everything is done to please God. It was a completely different value system.’

‘Despite my lifestyle, I felt empty inside and realized how liberating it was to be a Muslim. To follow only one God makes life purer. You are not chasing every fad.’

‘I grew up in Germany in a not very religious Protestant family. I drank and I partied, but I realized that we need to behave well now so we have a good after-life. We are responsible for our own actions.’

‘In Germany, there is Islamophobia. I lost my job when I converted. There was a Press campaign against me with insinuations about all Muslims supporting ­terrorists — I was vilified. Now, I am a ­presenter on NBC Europe.’

‘I call myself a European Muslim, which is different to the ‘born’ Muslim. I was ­married to one, a Moroccan, but it didn’t work because he placed restrictions on me because of how he’d been brought up. As a European Muslim, I question ­everything — I don’t accept blindly.’

‘But what I love is the hospitality and the warmth of the Muslim community. London is the best place in Europe for Muslims, there is wonderful Islamic ­culture here and I am very happy.’

Kristiane Backer, who has written a book on her own spiritual journey, called From MTV To Makkah, believes the new breed of modern, independent Muslims can band together to show the world how much stress the faith of Islam lays on the rights of women.

‘I know women born Muslims who became disillusioned and rebelled against it. When you dig deeper, it’s not the faith they turned against, but the culture.’

‘Rules like marrying within the same sect or caste and education being less important for girls, as they should get married anyway —– where does it say that in the Quran? It doesn’t.’

‘Many young Muslims have abandoned the “fire and brimstone” version they were born into have re-discovered a more spiritual and intellectual approach, that’s free from the cultural dogmas of the older generation. That’s how I intend to spend my life, showing the world the beauty of the true Islam.’

She writes about her spiritual journey to Islam in her book "Der Islam als Weg des Herzens: Warum ich Muslima bin." Backer discusses her high-flying media life, where she hosted many live music shows in Europe with acts like the Backstreet Boys and Lenny Kravitz, and was cheered by thousands of screaming fans. She met many people in the business who were wealthy and "took drugs or drank a lot" but were not really happy. She says she used to drink champagne at parties every night, but now that she is a Muslim and doesn't touch alcohol she is happier, and her happiness comes from within.

Backer performed Hajj in the year 2006. She called the pilgrimage a serene experience "so holy, On Hajj the whole universe is gathered, a king prays next to a servant, a black next to a white. You realize in front of God nothing counts but what is in people's hearts and their actions."