Twenty Year Search begins a Lifelong Journey
It seems like I have always been a Muslim. I cannot recall ever believing that any other than Allah created the universe. I used to stare at the sky, animals, trees, etc and just marvel at how magnificent and great the Creator of all of these things must be. The only problem that I had with religion as an adolescent and young adult was that I was not mature enough to accept that complete submission to the Creator was necessary. My own desires came first. ‘What do I want, and how do I get it?’ was my primary concern. Throughout other experiences later, I came to understand that my own knowledge was infinitesimally small and that it was my Creator, Allah, alone who possesses all knowledge and who has power of all things.
When I was in sixth grade, my oldest brother became a ‘born again Christian’ at Immanuel’s Temple in Lansing, Michigan. He used to try to get all of us to go to church and ‘praise God’ with him. I remember being asked once when his girlfriend was spending the night at our house, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?” I don’t remember what my exact reply was, but I remember saying something to the effect that I believed that Jesus’ life was an excellent example of piety but that God alone was my Creator and that I was unable to accept that Jesus was, in fact, God. She seemed content enough to hear that I did indeed love Jesus and went on explaining how that meant I was saved from the fire, and on and on.
At the time, I was probably eleven years old. I started reading the bible with my brother from time to time, but I noticed that I had insights and questions about the passages we would study that he could not answer. I looked through the index and table of contents voraciously, thinking that I would find more references to all of the topics that were important to me, but the verses that I was directed to were always inadequate. In short, I observed that the book was not very well put together.
I remember thinking, ‘this does not seem at all like what the Creator of the universe would choose to tell His creations.’ Why, for example, in the opening passage in John, would He spend so much time discussing a genealogy? Why did Genesis sound so contrived? Why did Revelations and Acts appear to be so inconsistent with other parts of the book? What was all that symbolism and apocalyptic chatter mean? Who was supposed to be impressed? No, I did not accept that this book was from God, at least not entirely. Some of what I read moved me, but most of it was more boring and senseless than a 2000 page comic book.
There were only two times when my brother convinced me to attend church with him. All that I saw were people there trying to make themselves feel good about their own pathetic shortcomings. The preaching lacked sophistication. He kept claiming that he possessed all types of powers due to Jesus Christ. He kept trying to convince the congregation, and himself, that what he was saying was true. I thought, ‘what a quack.’ The best message in the world can never reach its intended target if the messenger’s approach is inadequate.
I wondered why all of those people at the church picked up the hymn books and opened up their bibles to the pages that the minister instructed them to read. How was it that he got away with making so many comments without being questioned? How come everyone was following what he was saying and not looking at other parts of the bible that clearly contradicted what
he was saying? I did not want to sell myself short by allowing him to stand in the way of me becoming acquainted with my Creator, but since I had already turned to and away from the bible, I concluded that those people were content with suspending their intellect and reasoning ability.
They accepted what they were feed, and because their beliefs taught them that despite their poor qualities and severely deficient characters they were still loved by God, they never looked elsewhere? If you believe that God loves you as a wretch the same way that he loves you as a pious person, then why would you ever change your beliefs? If you believed that Jesus died for your sins, then why would you stop sinning?
My quest for knowledge continued throughout high school. I read Plato and Aristotle. I studied Greek and Roman mythology. I looked at contemporary thinkers and philosophers like Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche, Freud, C.S. Jung and others. I tried to get into Thoreau, Emerson, other writers and other poets, mostly white Americans. I attempted to find some substance and depth in Black American writers like Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and others. In each of the different personalities, I found some elements that interested me and others that did not, but I was not impressed with any of them enough to make me think that what they knew was worth knowing.
During my first year of college, I started reading about Taoism (Daoism), Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism and Confucianism. Again, there were interesting elements and not so interesting elements. What path was I on and how would I know when I got there? Desiring to learn more about the African experience that I felt disconnected from, I transferred to another university for my second year to begin an African Studies major. I studied black social scientists and historians like DuBois, Diop and Senghor in class, and revolutionaries like Marcus Garvey,
Malcolm X, Steve Biko, Walter Rodney and Amilcar Cabral, out of class.
I started to get absorbed into the ‘struggle;’ the plight of African and descendants of Africa in world dominated by Western hegemony. I revisited the injustices of the transatlantic slave trade and plantation enterprises in the Americas. I compared the plight of Blacks in the United States with Africans living in post-colonial (neocolonial) Africa, and I was determined to unite the oppressed under a banner of pan-Africanism. Several friends and I founded a small group that we called, Africa’s Progeny for Global Power (APGP). We were devoted to enlightening and empowering our ‘people’ around the world, the Caribbean, Latin America, North America, Europe, Asia, and of course, Africa. We were sharp, results-oriented and focused.
I decided that I had to visit Africa in order to begin to actualize my dreams. I applied for a scholarship that I eventually won to study at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. A few months later, with no second thoughts, I was on a plane headed back to the ‘motherland.’ People told me that living in Africa would change my way of thinking profoundly. I replied that my most fundamental beliefs could never change, but admitted that the superfluous activities would probably vanish forever. What did I feel most committed to at that time? Ironically, I was committed to serving my Creator, but the difference between then and now is that I felt my own manner of serving Him was adequate. I thought I was left free to worship on my terms. Later I realized worship has to come on the terms of the Worshipped, not on the terms of the worshipper. Imagine having a your slave tell you, ‘yes master, I will serve you and commit myself to pleasing you, but before all that happens, let me go over here and handle some other business!’
It does not make sense at all does it? Imagine acknowledging that a Creator exists. Without knowing any further information
to describe your Creator’s attributes or His orders and commands to His creations, one would have to conclude that it was a duty to submit and worship his Creator. The Being with the power to make things that we ourselves cannot even comprehend deserves our complete attention. Anything that a creation wishes to do that is not in harmony with the desires of the Creator is done in vain. Why keep bumping one’s head going against the grain, when all one needs to do to be successful is submit to his Maker? All creation must acknowledge that the Creator alone is fit to be worshipped and must disavow any distraction or ‘partner’ that could distract from worshipping the One True Supreme Being.
I lived in mainland Tanzania and in the offshore Zanzibar Islands on and off for four months before I accepted Islam. I had reached the point where I realized that all of my efforts were futile if they were not centered around pleasing my Creator. This is humanity’s natural mode of existence. This is the way that all creation, animate or inanimate, functions. Mountains have behavioral characteristics determined by Allah, the Creator. Scientists may believe in geological evidence, but Muslims understand that all of those sciences are just man’s attempt to comprehend what Allah creates. An astronomer can try to calculate the earth’s orbit around the sun, but no matter how close he comes to accuracy, all he can discover is what Allah already established. In that sense, there is no such thing as new knowledge. All knowledge is with Allah, and the only knowledge that we have is what Allah chooses to endow us with.
For example, let’s take someone many societies assume to be knowledgeable, like a physician. A physician studies anatomy, physiology, epidemiology, etc in order to gain a better understanding of the way that a human body operates. However, all of that knowledge and training can never change a
matter once Allah has ordained it. When someone’s heart stops and doctors revive the person, they credit medical technology with a miracle, but if those same doctors, using that same technology failed to revive the heart, then they would recognize that technology and knowledge has limits. The limit is the extent to which Allah endows us with His own knowledge. That determines our ultimate aptitude.
When I accepted Islam, I did not have any epiphanies or land-shaking experiences. What I felt, was that after 20 years of searching, Allah opened my heart to accept the truth. It was always there. Imagine an archaeologist excavating the remains of the skeleton that he always believed existed. Whether or not he located the first bones, they were still there. He did not create them, he merely received the benefit of having his knowledge expanded by learning about the bones. The discovery, like accepting Islam, is the first step, and not the final answer. Assembling the individual bones into the proper order is similar to a Muslim putting his life together by building his faith. Finally, after assembling something that resembles a finished piece, the archaeologist can spend the rest of his life increasing his understanding of his new finding because he has more evidence than ever for study. The parallel works with a Muslim who devotes his life towards increasing his knowledge in order to become the best servant of Allah that he can possibly be.
Accepting Islam-that is to accept that Allah alone deserves worship, has no partners, is unlike any of His creations, and towers high above all things, and to believe that Muhammad was Allah’s messenger-that is the most important step, but it is also only the first. In no way should merely accepting the faith make one believe that he has become a believer or even a good Muslim for that matter. Improving oneself and one’s devotion to his Creator is a lifelong endeavor, but only those who are smart enough to understand and mature enough to accept the truth
will ever experience this felicity. Allah, the High and Exalted, guides whomever He chooses. I am just thankful to be among that list.
Holy Quran 16:3