Islam, a Life-Altering Experience
Abdul Lateef Abdullah
I thank Allah everyday for enabling me to 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 have been used to.
My experience in Islam began as a graduate student in New York City in 1998. Till then, for 25 years, I had been a non-practising Protestant Christian. 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 with the times. I found nothing it that applied to my life. I had begun to shun everything that claimed to be organized religion, due to my assumption that they were all pretty much the same.
Much of my frustration with Christianity stemmed from its lack of knowledge about the nature of God, and the individual’s relationship to Him. To me, the Christian philosophy depended on this rather intermediary relationship that we were supposed to have with Jesus, who on one hand was a man, but was also divine. For me this relationship was vague and set me on a quest for something else. 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. While in graduate school, I had a Jewish roommate who was studying an art called silat, a traditional Malaysian martial art that is based on the teachings of Islam. His accounts of silat, its uniqueness and its rich spiritual dimension were fascinating. Although I thought I was beginning a career as a martial artist, that day back in February 1998 really represented my first step toward becoming Muslim.
I was learning about Islam and 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. Unlike Christianity, which lends towards 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 experiencing first-hand how it can shape one’s entire life.
Islam appeared so new, different, powerful and foreign to me. 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 recited the kalima on July 30, 1999. In the intervening period I underwent a thorough self-examination that was comprised of two experiences: One was the process of questioning the culture I was brought up in, and the second was understanding the nature of God. American culture is very powerful because it constantly bombards us with sensual gratification.
Being a social scientist by trade, as I learned more about Islam, I came to the conclusion that societal ills are based on unhealthy, social behaviours. Since Islam is a lifestyle focussed totally on the positive way of conducting our lives in every setting, then it is, and will always be, the only true answer to 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.
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 the underlying purpose of remembering Allah. From this, our energy, our thoughts, and our actions all become redirected away from useless causes, and focused on the source of all goodness.
Thus, we are continuously tapping into His divine strength, mercy and grace. When I finally broke the news to my family that I had 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.
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.
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 aalameen......