Islam: The Straight Path
As presented at Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia
on 12th April 2003
“Verily We take upon Ourselves to guide,
And verily unto Us (belong) the End and the Beginning.”
I was born in Geraldton, Western Australia about 35 years ago. I was supposedly born as a Christian, although I never practiced. I took scripture training in primary school, which is basically just a non-denominational study of the Bible. I did pretty well at it and took an interest in the life of Jesus. I could see from the writings that Jesus was the genuine article, and if you followed what he said and did, you couldn’t go far wrong. So I followed that during school.
Towards the end of primary school my Mother became involved with a man who was anti-religion, so I was basically discouraged from practicing any religion for a fair while. They split up, and when I was in my late teens I joined the army. Man did I learn some stuff there! One of the biggest things I learnt was drinking, and you couldn’t beat me at it. I could out-drink everybody, it didn’t matter how big you were, I could out-drink you. Not a good thing, because that really caused me a lot of trouble, which I’m still paying for today.
I learned a lot of lessons in that time. There was no religion. There was nothing in my life at that stage. Don’t worry about the beaten track, I was way off the puff. I was out in the wilderness!
I left the military in the mid 90’s. I started getting into trouble with virtually every man and his dog. Nothing serious, just traffic infringements and all that sort of stuff. I was still out in the wilderness! Personal relationships were not working; I had fines coming in from every angle, and I couldn’t find work.
I sat back and I thought, “what are you doing man? You’re lost.” I’m trying to find the way back on to the path, but I don’t even know where I am on the map; but there’s One Who knows the map, He wrote the map, and that’s The Big Guy. So I thought, “I know what I’ll do, I’ll start looking into religion.” So being Church of England born, I went to the Church of England. I started participating in Church services, and was going to communion twice a week.
By nature, I’m a person who asks questions. This is not because I doubt what you’re telling me, it’s just that I want to get everything sorted out in my mind. I know it’s place and as the other Brother said, the Holy Trinity . . . Man! I could talk to the Priest I’d say to him “Explain this Holy Trinity to me man it’s like I can’t get this in my head”. So we’d sit down, he’d explain the Holy Trinity and I’d say “Oh right thanks man”, and I’d go to take two steps, and then think, “I still don’t understand”. I don’t know how many times I’ve had the Trinity explained to me, and every time lost it. I couldn’t even explain to you now, how it’s meant to work. I know the theory of it, but I can’t get it straight in my head!
Quranically we are told: “They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no God save the One God. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve.” Qur’an 5:73
So that was one of the big question, and I had a lot of other questions for them too. I’d sit and read the Bible and I’d read things like: Jesus is the son of God but, he is God. I’d read in the Bible that Jesus was out in the desert and the Devil offered him the world if he turned his back on God and worshipped him. I was thinking, “how can you turn your back on yourself? How can you prostrate to the Devil if you’re God?” Because God created the Devil, He’s the Creator of everything. He can’t prostrate to the Devil, it’s not possible. So I came up with all these questions. I’d go to the priest and I’d say to him “How does this work?” And after a while, I got this answer that a lot of Christians get: “Don’t ask questions, you have to have faith.”
Wow! Did that pour the water on the fire for me? As soon as you say that, I’m out the front door, because
if it’s just follow blindly without thinking, don’t sign me up for that. I’ve got to understand what it is, so I started to lose interest, and then one day I just had this gut feeling.
I’d had an interest in the Middle East for many, many, years, although I had never really taken a lot of notice of Islam. I’d hear the Azan called on TV, you’d see it on TV shows and I always used to sit and think, wow what’s that? And it had a magical sound to my ears, so one day I had this gut feeling, I wanted to learn about Islam and I wanted to learn Arabic. So I opened the phone book, the only thing I could find even remotely close to it was The Australian Islamic College. I thought, “Yep, that will do. Islamic. They must know about Arabic. I’ll go there!”
So I walked into Dianella, and at this stage there was not an influx of people becoming reverts like there is now. A white Anglo Saxon walking in there saying, “ I want to learn Arabic, and I want to learn about Islam”. They must have thought, “What the hell is this? What are we going to do with this guy?” So they did a bit of ringing around, and they rang a guy who is now one of two special Brothers. Whether I was a Muslim or not, he would still be my Brother, one of two special Brothers I have, Rifaat Fouda. He taught me Arabic and he taught me the Pillars of Islam and this was during 1993, ’94, ’95.
I didn’t actually do anything with it, however. I was now coming back towards the path, and straight back out to the bush, again. Then, I dropped the whole thing, and I went completely off the path. At this time I was really one of those the Qur’an speaks about: “These are they who have bartered Guidance for error: but their traffic is profitless, and they have lost true direction.” Qur’an 2:16
I had a lot of trouble with the cops, with fines. I lost my license; lost my two cars; lost my flat, and much to my shame, by the age of thirty, I ended up sleeping on the floor of a one bedroom pensioner apartment that my Mother had, and I just couldn’t understand how I could have gone to this. I spent three years being depressed. Some days I didn’t even get out of bed, I would just get up and look at the watch, 10 o’clock in the morning, and think, “Why do I have to get out of bed today? Nup, just roll over and go back to sleep.” I did that many, many times.
I was actually living in Mandurah at that time, and we moved back to the city, and I made contact with Rifaat again, seeing him quite a few times. And then one day, just on impulse again, I decided it was time to stop messing around: “You’ve studied Islam before, it’s time to do something about it.” So I rang Rifaat up and I said “right, I want to be a Muslim now.” He probably thought, “What are you talking about?”
So he arranged for me to go up to the Australian Islamic College on Wednesday night for the discussion group they had. A funny little sidepiece for you – his son took me up there and tried to introduce me to Jem Oz and I thought, “I think I may already know him,” but I hadn’t seen him for five years. I used to sit and talk to him for hours down at Thornlie. So I looked at him again and thought, “Hang on! I do know this guy!” He recognized me. Anyway the long and the short of it is that he’s the other Brother that’s very special to me. These two guys, Jem Oz and Rifaat Fouda are responsible for a lot of what’s happened to me.
I was taking part in the Wednesday night discussion groups by this time, and then Jem said to me one night “The Dawah center has got a lecture on at UWA with a Sheikh from London, Abdur Rahim Green.” So I thought, “ Oh! Ok! I can handle that.” “What’s it called?” I asked. “Coca Cola Muslims” they said. “Hey that sounds pretty good! I’ll go have a squizzy at that.” So off we went.
It was a very interesting lecture and I had some questions on Riba for the Sheikh. Riba is usury, the taking and paying of interest. I went down to talk to him and he was sitting on his chair. He looked like someone had deflated him, I thought he’d been surfing all day! I was talking to him, asking him questions when he said to me “Are you a Muslim?” “Technically no,” I said to him. He looked at me and he said “What does that mean? Technically no? You are either a Muslim or you are not a Muslim. What are you talking about?” I said to him “Look, I believe in all the Prophets. Jesus was a prophet, not the Son of God. I believe Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was the last prophet. I believe in the Quran, Angels, Judgment Day, the whole shooting match. I believe it all. It’s just that I’m trying to learn as much as I can before I become a Muslim, because there are people out there who are going to ask me questions, and I don’t want to give them the wrong answer, because you only get one shot at it.”
He replied “Nup, that’s a cop out, that’s an excuse.” Then he stood up and put his hands out to me, and he
said, “Say the Shahadah now.” This was in front of like thirty people. I know what he was saying, he was saying, put your money where your mouth is. He was saying, that if you’re saying you’re studying it and you believe it all, prove it! So, being by nature a procrastinator, I thought, “I hear you, I’ll get around to it in a couple of days”. But then I thought, “Yeah, I’ll do it!” So I did it right then and there. Like it says in the Qur’an, “O ye who believe! Fear God as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam.” Qur’an 3:102.
And if you speak to people who have reverted, ask them how they felt after they said their Shahadah. The one thing I found is that everyone has had a common feeling. That night when I drove home, I didn’t drive home, I flew home. I really felt like I was on a magic carpet. I was ready to tell everyone. I didn’t care who, I would have told George Bush if I could have found him! I was the happiest I’d been for years. It’s like “Wow!”. I told my Mum, she wasn’t particularly concerned, she’s never been upset about it. Family members? Yeah, I’ve told some of them; no one said anything bad to me. I’ve got a Born-Again Christian neighbour, he doesn’t think too much of it, but that’s all right!
It’s funny though how people treat you initially. The reaction is: “What the hell have you done?” It’s like I’ve had a sex change! That’s the sort of treatment some people get. It’s like “What have you done man?” “Oh I’ve become a Muslim.” “Oh you’re not going to Afghanistan with Bin Laden are you?” “Well I wasn’t thinking of it, but is that an offer!” That’s the sort of treatment you get.
After a while people get used to the idea and they start asking you questions like “Hey, what do you guys think of Jesus?” and that sort of thing. And one of the areas that really surprised me when I began to study Islam was that Jesus actually has a higher profile in Islam. A higher profile than he did in Christianity; he’s thought of better. He’s the only human being ever not to have committed sin. And I mean, look at what the Christians believe and look at what the Muslims believe, and he has a special status. He’s not worshipped, but he has a special status in the whole deal. Now when Christians find out that we are waiting for him to return they still have the same response – they think I’m joking. I get to the situation now where a lot of people are saying, “Well what about this, and what about that?” Ninety-Nine-point-nine per cent (99.9%) of any of the negative stuff is now gone, and they are just more curious. I find people are thinking about it lately.
Since I’ve said the Shahadah, my life has gone from like that to like this. I’ve got a couple of Jihads going – which for those of you who don’t know, doesn’t mean holy war, it means I’ve got a couple of struggles. One of them is against my procrastination, that’s my biggest one. If you’re going to be a Muslim you actually have to do something about it.
Some of my other Jihads are connected to my now studying Law. Whilst I’m studying Law, I’ve got I don’t know how many cases I’m fighting over on the side, we’re fighting ASIO; we’re fighting ASIC; we’re fighting the Police. It’s like, man! It’s almost like the conflict in Iraq, and I’m on the receiving end. I’ve got all these people out there with all these resources. We’ve got nothing . . . but, insha’Allah we are beating them.
So it’s a case of, at the age of 35, it feels like I have had a mission revealed to me. I’ve actually found what I’m meant to do. It’s taken me 35 years to find out I have to be in Law; to help the people who can’t help themselves. But as I said to someone the other day, there’s a much, much better man than me that had his mission revealed to him at the age of 40, and that was the Prophet. He started getting revelations at the age of 40 and I’m like, “Why was he at that age?” Maybe it’s because he had to live his life and get wisdom in his head before he could understand what he was getting. There’s no point in been given a tool, if you don’t know what to do with it. And I think that with a lot of the things that have happened to me in the past, I didn’t actually appreciate what I had; what to do with it; and how to go about it. I had to have all the suffering; all the trouble with booze; and people giving me a hard time. And I wouldn’t take one part of it back, because if I took any of it back, I might not be standing here talking to you now.
The biggest thing that’s ever happened in my life, other than being born of course, was that evening in March last year at UWA when I said the Shahadah. Everything from there has just grown – instead of having like five friends, I’ve got five hundred and five friends, and I know they are all genuine friends. I could ring any of them up and say “Hey man I need this, what can you do about it?” And if they couldn’t help me, they’d do their best to find someone who could. And joining the Islamic community in Perth is, I couldn’t even describe it to you, it’s a very, very different community. As the Brother said, the answer to
racism is right here for you, in Islam. People look at the Muslims as being one big community and yet you’ve got every cultural background going, which sometimes doesn’t work in our favour! But it’s a good thing, we get to mix with all sorts of people, and learn how they think.
I haven’t been discriminated against in the wider community. For some reason people don’t want to play around with me! Maybe it’s the way I look, I don’t know, but some people have been discriminated against in Perth. I know of one lady who has had her hijab ripped off her in the bus, but I haven’t had anything happen to me.
I now have the ability to walk into the court, and I just tell it like it is, and people say to me, “How can you walk into a court room and say to a Judge that he’s wrong and it’s this, and this, and this, and this?” What are they going to do to me, shoot me? I don’t think so. Are they going to fine me? Well I’ve already got lots of them. Are they going to put me in jail? Well I can practice Islam better in jail, because there are no distractions! What are they going to do to me?
So at the end of the day, my belief in Allah, motivates me. Actually one of the things we were taught is that, if you fear no one but Allah, he’ll make his creation fear you. I don’t fear anybody at all. I’ll tell George Bush that too, if I get my hands on him, but that’s another story. I don’t fear any of these people, so the guys – a Judge, big deal; a Policeman – doesn’t mean that they are not wrong! Everyone’s got the ability to be wrong.
“It is only the devil who would make (men) fear his partisans. Fear them not; fear Me, if ye are true believers.” Qur’an 3:175.
As I have said, I now feel I know what my mission is. I’ve got the belief that I can follow it through, even if it ends up fatal. Not that it will, but even if it ends up that I’m in danger. There are people floating around in Perth – and I’ve told this story before but never to a public meeting – an American guy I’ve known for six years turned out to be working for the CIA in Perth. He didn’t know I’d said the Shahadah, he thought I was just studying it. He turned around and said to me “We want you to work for us.”
I can’t repeat what I said to him because I wouldn’t say that in front of the ladies, but it went like this, “No man”, so he started. There are only two techniques that these people use: we’ll give you something, or we’ll take something away. The offers didn’t work so the threats started. I just said to him “You know where I live” and he actually threatened to put me into a mental institution. I said “Fine, if you can get me out of the house, do what you want.” He said to me “There’s not going to be two, or three, or four of us, there will be twenty of us.” I said “Maybe there will be, but I’ll get half a dozen of youse first.” And they basically left me alone. What they were looking for was for me to be an informant within the community. What I was going to tell them, I don’t know? Like the Brother said, if you’re going to go looking for terrorists then it’s going to be a hell of a long job.
There are all sorts of funny little things that have happened on the side, but in retrospect, if I didn’t have all of the bad things happen to me in my life, I wouldn’t be here today. What I was given, and they say that we were brought into this by Allah – not by this guy talking to me, or that guy talking to me – so if He wanted me to be a Muslim, which I truly believe he did, then, if I wasn’t here today where would I be? What would I be doing?
I sit back and I look at all those troubles and I think, “Those were learning experiences”. Every time someone slaps you in the face you learn a lesson. You ask yourself, “Why did they do it? What could have stopped them? How do you stop it from happening again?” and move on. All in all, all the bad stuff has helped me to make up an overall positive picture. So I’m quite happy to be a Muslim, obviously!
* * *
My niece came up to me one day and said “Do you find that the women you found attractive, are different now?” I thought about the answer and I thought, what she’s actually asking me without actually saying it, is has my perception changed? So I thought about it. Well on one hand you’ve got the Western women walking with virtually nothing on; and on the other hand you’ve got the women in Abayeh and Hijab. Which one would I want? Well, I like that one. I had to say, “Yes! The women I find attractive now are different”. I then started looking into the way I think about things, and I noticed how everything is changing. I used to be in to all this nationalism sort of thing, flags. This doesn’t interest me any more.
I look at a lot of the things differently. Islam has given me an ability to look at Television in a different light totally. I look at it and laugh at people who come on TV and say, “ Oh we are not going to put up with these people – they do this, and this, and this!” And really, it’s almost like watching a comedy.
My perception of the whole world is changing, and I find that I like it, looking at the world in a different way.