I had been reading the Quran after being intrigued by the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Whether it fittingly opens in Mississippi, Pakistan, or New York my story begins and ends with absolute unquestioning submission to Allah as His humble and undeserving servant.
I was born into this world, an American Christian, a Southern Baptist in the deep heart of the mythical south: Mississippi. Always a sensitive child, given to prayer and Bible reading. I prayed and studied and slowly wandered away from the faith of my ancestors during my early teenage years.
I became a modern American. Which is to say I believed in the media-driven Cult of Celebrity, the necessity of Consumerism (to ensure the continual growth of the American economy), paying lip-service to general Christian religious beliefs, and becoming as independent of my parents (and my extended Southern family) as quickly as possible.
After years of experimentation during my teens, twenties, and early thirties with Western and Eastern philosophical ideas, both benign and malignant forms of Paganism, power and lust, I was a shell of a human, an existential mess. Desperate to appeal to a higher power, but helplessly unable to start, I was frozen into my seeming damnation. I had embraced Shaytan and damnation as inevitable (and therefore desirable).
It was the fall of 1999. My career and my luckless marriage were on the back burner. Searching for I knew not what, treading water, I had been reading the Qur’an after being intrigued by the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Not knowing what the lyrics meant (though I suspected they were religious in nature), I was curious as to the appeal and value of the Quran as one the world’s great writings of “wisdom literature.” Somehow, Islam had eluded me. Maybe it had appeared too irrational to my “enlightened mind”? I had studied in some detail, Western Philosophy from Plato to Derrida while working on a Ph.D. in post-modern thought, so my world view was twisted into a Gordian Knot.
After a weekend of typical Manhattan debauchery, I realised—or it was revealed to me—that I was near the end. No Exit. Either I found God or I committed suicide. No options. My best friend, a Muslim, had given me a prayer rug his father brought from Makkah. I took it from where it hung as decoration on my wall and placed it on the floor, fell to my knees. For three days I wept and beat my head against the ground: slept, cried, prayed, slept, cried, and prayed in a cycle of absolute repentance.
It seemed the universe opened up to me. I could see a light trillions of trillions light years distant. What that light was, was the mystery of mysteries to my natal mind. Nevertheless, I believed and knew it to be Allah, the One Unity. I begged this Unity to lead me along the straight path, to allow me to renounce my evil and rebellious ways. My heart broke open like a ripe pomegranate and long-buried seeds of faith spilled forth.
After three days, the sun rose and I left my home a changed man. There WAS a God, there WAS a meaning to Life, and there WAS a moral code to be followed in order to achieve Heaven and avoid Hell. This revelation, however, did not mean that immediately I understood the implications of what I had experienced that I appreciated fully the profundity of the Quran, or that I gave up every one of my sinful ways. However, I was trying, and I was a better person than before. When one wanders along the crooked and thorny path toward Jahannum, when one revels in the desires offered by the modern world for years, one becomes crippled. Time is necessary to learn to walk strong and straight again. I believed in the Islamic Creed and in the Articles of Faith, but I was still paddling in the waters of Islam. Occasionally attending a mosque, fasting a few days during Ramadan, reading my Quran at times, studying the history of Islam, and praying (though not according to the strict rules of salat): these were my first steps toward the True Faith.
Knowing so little fiqh/Sunnah, I was unsure about the degree to which I was a Muslim already—a Muslim in rebellion, but a Muslim nevertheless. I had never taken Shahada.
Then in the spring of 2001, I went to Pakistan with my best friend to visit his family. The trip was meant to be a tourist jaunt in a foreign land, but Allah had other plans. In Pakistan (throughout Sindh province), I met all the right persons. While I was under no illusion regarding the human faults of Pakistan, my eyes seemed to be open only to its spiritual beauty.
There, I was exposed to the ugliness of deprivation and the comeliness of a true Muslim soul-worker, my friend’s uncle, a saint of a man. Though I felt ashamed in his presence and believed he saw into the evil of my past, my friend informed me that his uncle “saw a light in my face.” Shaken by guilt as I pondered and prayed over the manner in which I had wasted my youth, I made a “devil’s deal” with The Almighty (a great blasphemy): in exchange for my absolute devotion to Islam, it’s Rasool (Pbuh) and it’s Ummah, I needed a strong sign of Allah presence and power. I asked to be struck deaf, blind, dumb, lame, or dead as proof of his final reality. Praying, sobbing for hours, I suddenly arose to a cold world beneath an enormous flowering pink tree in a courtyard. Friends hovered around me to see what was wrong. I exclaimed, “It’s very bright and cold under this tree...” Suddenly, I fell to the ground in a faint. The tree also was struck to the ground.
I faced my Death Abyss for 12 hours. A raging fever that would not subside took hold of my brain; friends were worried that I was dying as my temperature rose past 106 degrees despite the ice water being poured onto me. I screamed and raved that needles of ice and fire were piercing me. In the depths of my torture, I repented and begged Allah not to let me die before being allowed to serve Him in this world. My wish was granted. I slept for a day and awoke a True Muslim. Upon returning to New York, I took Shahada at Al Falah Masjid in Queens. (Courtesy:www.alinaam. org.za)