The verse struck a chord with me so much so that when I got back to my classroom, I asked my teacher, a nun, for a copy of the Bible so I could look up the verse and read it for myself.
She was quite amused by this and told me that only the Priest can interpret the Bible for us because he is the intermediary between God and the rest of us. She further explained that because I had not been trained in the seminary and studied it for years, I could not possibly understand the mysteries of the Bible.
I knew that was wrong and proceeded to tell her so. But that did not go over too well with her. I received a good whack on the hands for my request. Can you imagine a Nun punishing a young boy for wanting to read the Bible for himself?
Looking back, I can see how Allah was working in my life at that young age guiding me. I say that because I learned firsthand the difference between religion and God, and being religious and having a personal, direct relationship with the One, True and Only God, Allah.
Well, I finally got a copy of the Bible and read it. It seemed that no Catholic I knew was in the practice of actually reading the Bible. I was shocked to find some very disturbing things. The first thing that I found disturbing was the fact that in church there were various saints and statues; the Virgin Mary with Jesus as a baby, Jesus as a man, not to mention the huge cross with Jesus hanging on it in agony. This led me to realize that Catholics didn't believe in One God, but instead, they believed in saints, Mary, and Jesus.
This all proved to be very contradictory to the Oneness of God. They violated the very 1st commandment which states, "I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God."
They kept the Bible out of the hands of the common folk because they were afraid if you read it you might begin to question some of the rituals, traditions, and teachings they so carefully taught in place of reading the Bible and coming to know God on your own.
I was very disillusioned. If they could violate their own 1st commandment, and could manipulate their followers in such a way, I wanted no part of the Catholic religion. So, for the next few years I studied hard and learned and got good grades in everything except the catechism they taught.
I was determined not to be part of a false religion. I was not sure what religion was out there that was not false, but I knew that the Catholics had got it wrong.
However, I am thankful to them for providing me with a fantastic curriculum. The nuns did their best to give us a well-rounded education. They succeeded marvelously. I can honestly say that the education I got in those grade school years was of the highest quality around.
Oh, and by the way, my parents paid through the nose for it. And, in the 7th grade when they were a little short of the money needed to send me to the 8th grade I got bounced out of there. Regardless of the fact that my parents had always paid my tuition and I had attended their school since the 1st grade. That was the Catholic charity I got.
But, Allah put it on my heart not to be disappointed in Him just because men had failed me, and religion had turned out to be less than satisfying. He was supposed to be the object of our faith, our trust, our worship and our devotion, and not anything or anybody or any religious tradition.
I went to a public school for 8th grade and discovered a whole new world. That world included drugs and alcohol. In the summer between 8th grade and my freshman year of high school, I began to use drugs heavily. I used needles to inject LSD, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, barbiturates, and anything else I could get my hands on. I smoked enormous amounts of marijuana, and drank alcohol along with all of it. I was basically zonked all the time.
Dealing drugs was next because I had to make money to afford my habit. The guys I hung around with were in some cases 20 years older than me, and I learned the ropes of how to deal drugs quickly, and quite successfully. For a time I was making more money in a day than my dad made in a week. This enabled me to be able to move out of my home at 15 years old, and live with some friends, paying my own way by dealing. It also allowed me to stay stoned all the time without my parents getting on my case about it. Like always, Allah had other plans for me. It all ended the night I got busted with 700 tabs of LSD at the California State Fair in the summer of 1967. That was the best thing that ever happened to me.
My mom and dad, who I had not seen in over 4 months were justifiably both scared for me, and extremely upset with me at the same time. In an incredible act of love, my father, after hearing from a psychologist who interviewed me while incarcerated, that the only effective way to get me to change was a complete change of scenery – new town, new friends, new school, new everything. So, he sold his business and packed up our whole family and moved from Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay Area. He wanted to give his oldest son a chance to live a good life because he loved me so much. I learned many lessons from my dad, none more important than giving up everything to do the right thing.
Allah blessed me with a good man for a father. Not a Muslim, unfortunately, but a very wise and good man. I did my best to undo the good my father had done, but never went back to needles to inject drugs, and never went back to dealing drugs. I did, however, continue to take drugs. My drugs of choice became powder cocaine up my nose, marijuana, and I continued to drink alcohol daily.
When I fell in love and got married it was easy to give up my own beliefs and consent to a traditional Jewish wedding because my wife and her family were Jewish. My two beautiful daughters, who are Jewish, came out of that marriage. They are the light of my life to this day.
I worked hard during my marriage and my wife and I were able to buy a home, have two nice cars, and live a good life. A comfortable life. One that would last, I thought.
But Allah had another journey in store for me, and I found out one day that my lovely wife, whom I loved so dearly, had been with another man, and wanted to leave our marriage. This was a blow to my very soul and for two years I went deep into alcohol and cocaine abuse.
One evening after that time I was sitting with my then fiancée watching television, and a commercial came on for the U.S. Army. It wanted me to be all that I could be, and said I could choose to be stationed in Germany if I signed up. That impressed me, but I was planning another marriage and it just went by me. However, when my fiancée got cold feet, I found myself groping around for a firm foothold again.
I joined the Army and went to Germany; for three years I gave the Army all that I had. I did well, and it felt comfortable. When I got out I moved back to Sacramento and hooked up with a couple of old high school friends who had their own business. I began working with them. Not making much money, but the company was good, and the work was consistent. We drank a lot, and one Friday I had off of work I found myself in a TGI Fridays drinking shots of whiskey and beer at 11am. I drank steadily until around 1:30pm. I was extremely drunk, but of course, I got in my car to drive home.
I never made it home. I was in a car accident and snapped my right leg in two and broke a couple of ribs. Since I hit an oak tree that had been in the same place for about a hundred years and wasn't moving out of the way for me, at about 90mph right in the driver's door, I was lucky to be alive.
Allah was calling me, and I was listening now. I began to study the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Book of the Dead, the Lotus Sutra and slowly but surely began to be somewhat of an expert on what I thought a good Christian should be. I went to services at a Pentecostal church, thinking that because they encouraged the personal study of the Bible, that I was on the right path. I continued studying all the religious and spiritual books of every religion I could get my hands on. The only book I never picked up, for some reason, was the Quran. I was not ready for Islam. But Allah was preparing me by showing me the shortcomings of other faiths and practices.
Then came 9/11. I was astounded that someone could hate us that much. I knew nothing of Islam and had never known a Muslim. I decided to change that. I began studying the Quran from an English translation I found in a used book store. At the outset I was determined to make the focus of my study the flaws in the Quran. That way I could talk to a Muslim and refute Islam. I read and read and studied and studied, but could find none. Even in English, the Quran is flawless.
I began to see the truth in the words of the Quran and eventually that truth hit me right between the eyes. I no longer wanted to refute it, I wanted to read it in the original Arabic, and know more about it. I was ready for Islam. Without knowing why, I began to pray on my face for guidance from Allah. I prayed that if this was the truth, He would lead me to it. And that He did.
In the weeks that lead up to my conversion, as I continued to ask Allah for guidance, I found out that there was a small masjid only a few blocks from where I was working at the time. I drove by several times before I got the courage up to go in. When I did finally go through the door, the Imam was standing not four feet in front of me. He smiled, but was not sure if I had made a mistake or what I wanted. He only spoke very broken English, and I spoke no Urdu at all, but we managed, with Allah's help, to make each other understood. I wanted to know about Islam, and he wanted to teach me. I went back every other day for two weeks, and talked to him and watched prayers, but did not participate.
At the beginning of one prayer time a man came in and saw me there and slapped me on the back and said "Let's make Voodoo!!" Voodoo? Oh man, did I get a wrong number? Then someone explained to me it was spelled Wudhu and it means a ritual ablution in preparation for prayer. A Muslim performs this five times a day with each prayer time.
The next time I came I was encouraged to make my declaration of faith by saying the "Shahada." In Arabic it is: "Ashadu inna la ilaha Ilallah wa ashadu inna Muhammad Rasul-Allah." In English it means: "I attest that there is no god except Allah, and I attest that Muhammad is His messenger." The brothers who were there along with the Imam conferred for a while and gave me a new name to go along with my new faith. Abdu Rahim. I treasure that name. It was given to me by some very sincere and devoted brothers.
I quickly discovered that my name wasn't the only thing that needed to change. Accepting Islam meant giving up one my favorite things in the whole world at the time; bacon, and all pork products. That is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Heroine was not as hard to give up as bacon. I jest, but it is the truth.
I accepted Islam in September of 2008, and in May of 2009 I was involved in a car accident; not my fault this time and there was no alcohol to blame. I broke my right leg again, this time lower and really bad.
Allah is still working in my life. He put me flat on my back so I could internalize my faith, and strengthens it in the face of adversity. I hope I have passed the test. I still limp, and have to use a cane to get around. They tell me this is Sunnah. In other words, the Prophet (S) used a walking stick. Anything that the Prophet did in his lifetime that we can emulate is called "Sunnah" or, the way of the Prophet.
All Muslims strive to emulate the Prophet; in their faith in one God, their prayer, the way they gather knowledge and remember Allah in all things, how they think more of other Muslims than themselves, and practice with a sincere heart all the things the way the Prophet did, so as to have such a level of faith that each encounter we have with anyone, be it Muslim or non-Muslim they come away encouraged, and with a sense of who Allah is and how they can find him.
I have only told a handful of my family of my conversion and only one of them, my youngest daughter, is ok with it. She thinks there is much truth in it, but as yet has not embraced Islam. I pray for all my family and the friends from my former life to accept the truth of Islam in their lifetime; but we can't compel, nor can we force the truth on anyone. Only Allah has that ability.
I praise Him and thank Him as often as possible for leading me to the truth of Islam, and am involved in the day to day programs at my local masjid as often as possible. My practice is growing, and my faith is getting stronger. Now I am just a day away from the first day of Ramadan I am able to actively participate in, and I am hoping for strength and patience from Allah to get me through.
My story is not over. I still am a young Muslim, and there are so many things to learn and to know. I am enjoying the journey more than ever, because I have faith that Allah is in control. He always was and always will be. He has guided me and protected me from going too far in any bad direction, and helped me find a place where I feel I belong. I always felt Allah at work in my life, leading me somewhere. My name is Abdu Rahim, and I am a Muslim.
All glory and All praise to Allah. The Master and Creator of the Universe!