Why I Am a Muslim
By Amina Cisse Muhammad
I cannot say how well my story represents those of the estimated over three million Americans of African descent who have converted to Islam in the last few decades, but I would guess our stories share common threads.
As a child born into a Christian family, the granddaughter of a Baptist minister and his very devout wife, I was required to attend Sunday School and church services every week. Although I always accepted the existence and omnipotence of a Supreme Being, I always had problems with the concept of the Holy Trinity upon which present day Christianity is based. I can remember sitting in church and feeling shivers go up and down my spine at the mention of the Almighty; yet, I was ambivalent, if not suspicious, when Jesus Christ (Prophet Isa, AS) was elevated to the status of the son of Allah, or even Allah Himself.
Equally disturbing to me was the hypocrisy I observed amongst members of the church congregation I belonged to, and in American society in general. Despite Christian and American ideals of equality and brotherhood, the disdain with which people of color and the poor were, and still are to a large degree, held was very obvious to me. That an unequal distribution of wealth formed the basis of capitalistic societies was obvious as well. The subsequent exploitation suffered by the disadvantaged masses at the hands of an advantaged few deeply troubled me and led me to become a “champion of the oppressed.”
While studying Sociology in college in the 1970’s, I was required to read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, which he co-authored with writer Alex Haley. Except for an occasional mention of “Moslems spreading Islam by the sword” in the Euro-centric textbooks used by my primary and secondary school teachers, and one or two encounters with followers of the Nation of Islam, my knowledge of Islam prior to reading this book was practically nil. The book had a profound impact on me, particularly the last few chapters where Malcolm X related the events that led to his discovery of true Islam.
Malcolm was one of time’s greatest spokesmen for the cause of the oppressed. For twelve years, as a follower and minister of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, he taught that the condition of African Americans was the result of evils committed against them by Whites, whom the Nation of Islam regarded as devils. Because of his teachings, Malcolm was labeled a Black racist who incited riots and violence among poor Blacks. However, before his murder in 1965, Malcolm was blessed to be exposed to true Islam when he made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964 and witnessed equality and brotherhood amongst Muslims with white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes; Muslims whose skin was the darkest of dark; and those whose skin color was of the many different shades in between. During this pilgrimage, Malcolm X became Al Hajj Malik Al Shabazz.
I identified with Malcolm’s analysis of the condition of African Americans, and I shared his frustration and anger over our four-century long exploitation. I was also deeply moved by his account of his pilgrimage where he was introduced to the Islam practiced by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) over fourteen centuries ago. This pilgrimage altered Malcolm’s attitude toward Whites, and it broadened his perspective on life – from one focused on the personal circumstances he had encountered as an African American in his immediate surroundings to a global perspective that allowed him to identify with all of the world’s oppressed peoples. The remaining less-than-a-year of his life he spent working to have African Americans identify with their long lost brothers and sisters in Africa – spiritually, culturally, and politically.
Al Hajj Malik’s story, along with events occurring at the same time in my personal life, prompted me to search for a belief system that was relevant to my life as a young African American female – one who recognized a Supreme Being and so accounted for the many otherwise unexplainable phenomena that we observe and experience each and every day. A belief system that was practical and could be utilized in my day-to-day living. A belief system that preached unity, love, and brotherhood, and was being practiced faithfully by those who professed to be its adherents.
I started my search by attempting to better familiarize myself with what I already knew – I began reading the Bible from cover to cover and I resumed going to church (I had stopped going when I left home to attend college). I even visited the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall (one of my older sisters was a Witness) in Greensboro, NC where I was attending school. However, my doubts regarding Christianity did not subside and the void in my life remained unfulfilled. Finally, I decided to pour my heart out to Allah and ask Him to guide me on the Right Path.
Around the same time, I met the man who would later become my husband. We were in a Philosophy class together. He had already embraced Islam, and I felt a certain unexplained attraction to him. As time went on, he began to tell me about Islam and the pieces in my life began to fall into place.
A significant analogy that I can remember being told by someone during this time was that of a person drowning in a river. Despite the fact that a river’s current is very strong, much stronger than a human’s strength, it is the natural impulse of a person drowning in a river to try to swim against the current. The feat being impossible, this person will likely soon tire and eventually drown from fatigue.
However, if this person submitted to the flow of the river and allowed it to carry them along, perhaps along the way, a rock or tree branch would appear that they could grab onto and save themselves. In the same way, I was told, as humans we quite often resist the natural order of things – the Divine Laws and Decree of Allah – and we perish. However, if we were to submit to that natural order – indeed, to Allah – not only is our salvation possible, it is guaranteed.
Although I wrote to my parents one day to inform them of my interest in Islam and assure them I would not make any impulsive decisions, it was that very night that Allah sent those individuals to me who would offer the final persuasion that Islam is definitely that “submission to the natural order of things.” The peace that I felt when I uttered the Khalimat Shahadah – Ashhadu an La ilaha ill Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan Rasul’ullah – has been sufficient to keep away any doubt, during the past almost 24 years since I embraced Islam, that this was the real thing. Allahu Akbar!
I must say that, unlike some converts to Islam, I never faced bitter opposition from my family. However, they have made several attempts to re-convert me to Christianity. I can remember my oldest sister asking me once if I did not feel strange (hence, obviously wrong) that everyone else in our family considered themselves Christians when I did not. She shook her head in amazement when I replied that I often marveled at the fact that Allah had chosen me out of all of them to become a Muslim. Allah is Most Merciful! Although I constantly pray that He makes them all Muslims, if there can be only one Muslim amongst us, I am grateful that it is me.
Though they all profess Christianity, my observation is that Christianity does not have nearly the impact on their lives as Islam has on mine. One example of this was in 1988 when my husband suddenly passed away. My younger sister who had also become a Jehovah’s Witness, said that she did not see how I could be as strong as I was, and that if it had been her, she probably would have fallen apart. The others were amazed as well. Couldn’t they see that it was Islam that gave me the perspective that nothing, absolutely nothing, happens except by Allah’s will, and that even though as humans, in our shortsightedness, we fail to see the good in so many things, Allah Almighty surely knows best?
When I compare Muslims to Jews and Christians, I use the analogy of slices of a cake. If we consider the cake to be Truth, since Jews accept some of the Prophets of Allah (but not Prophet Isa or Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon them) and parts of His Scriptures to mankind, we can say that they have a slice of the cake. Christians accept Prophet Isa (although as the son of Allah or even Allah) although they reject Prophet Muhammad (SAW), so we can say that they have an even larger slice of the cake. However, as Muslims, we are blessed to accept all of the Prophets of Allah and His uncorrupted Scriptures to mankind so we have the entire cake. Allah is Most Gracious!
Islam has brought peace to my life. Islam has taught me to more completely submit to the Divine order of things. It has given me purpose and direction in life, and so has filled the void I once felt. Islam has given me the vehicle by which I have established a personal relationship with my Lord and Creator, and by which I can continually move closer to Him. Islam has given me a practical and useful framework in which to conduct all of my affairs; hence, it encompasses all of my life – the physical as well as the spiritual and intellectual. The Muslims I have encountered in the last 24 years have not been perfect (no human being is), but they have come closest to practicing what they profess to believe and what they preach than the adherents of other faiths that I have encountered in my life’s time.
“On this day I have perfected your religion for you and completed my favor onto you, and have chosen for you as your religion Al-Islam” (Holy Qur’an, Sura’tul Maida (5), Ayat 5).
I thank Allah for Islam and for allowing me to be a Muslim. Allah is Most Kind!