My journey toward Islam started out about 30 blocks from the Pacific ocean in Long Beach, California. My parents divorced when I was 4 years old and , shortly after, my father moved to another city and left me, my twin brother and my younger sister alone to be raised by my mother.
All I remember about my mother and father together is the constant fighting, yelling, screaming, followed by long periods of awkward silence. My father was a pot smoking hippie surfer who probably thought children were an inconvieniece. My mother was from a Republican Conservative Christian (Lutheren) family, and she was completely the opposite of my father in almost every other way. My mother became active in the political anti-war movement in the early 70’s although she never bought into the whole hippie lifestyle. I’m not quite sure why they ever got together in the first place.
To deal with the constant fighting, I retreated into my own world. I would constantly surrond myself with music to drowned out the fighting. My father had an incredible record collection of what they now call ‘Classic Rock’ (Dylan, the Stones, the Who, Beatles,etc) as well as jazz.
At first, I learned to operate the record player ( I think when I was three). By the time I was five, I couldn’t read yet buy I could pick out the albums by the cover art. I would sit for hours and hours and absorb every note. When I was six, I remeber that I could sing the whole ‘Tommy’ album by the Who, note for note, including all lyrics and sound effects. When I was about 7 or 8, I remember I got my first desire to play music.
I bought my first electric guitar from a pawn shop when I was 12 years old. After I learned how to play the intro to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ , I was hooked. I remember sitting in my room, practicing riffs till my fingers ached and started to bleed. I started to talk to other kids in my neighborhood and tried to get a band together, but none of them were interested.
During this time, my Grandfather noticed my keen interest in the ‘Devil’s music’ and started trying to ‘save’ me. He’d bang on my bedroom door every Sunday morning, “It’s time for Church”. He was a large, tall man, about 6’3″ with a booming voice. I would jump out of bed and throw on my shirt and tie.
I actually enjoyed going to Church, after a while. I made friends there and began to have some very interesting and in depth discussions with the Pastor about Chritianity, theology and philosophy. He was educated with a Master’s in Theology and had some other degrees which I don’t remember.
He was actually the first really educated person that I had ever talked to. In those discussions, I started to realize that I had the ability to have reasoned discussions and come to conclusions and solve issues. I kept going to church, but this didn’t diminish my love for guitars and rock and roll. I found a drummer and bass player, and began playing in my first band when I was 17.
We started playing at backyard parties in our neighboorhood. We also had long practice / jam sessions after I moved out of my parents house when I was 19. These sessions would also involve a fair amount of alchohol, drug use, and other related things. I was observing my bandmates and friends and their behaviour, and I began thinking, ‘There’s something wrong with this. This is how things are supposed to be’. I started to feel strange. I couldn’t really describe it.
It was like a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I remember thinking to myself, ‘What’s wrong with you. You have everything you always wanted. You’re young, in a rock and roll band, surrounded by beautiful women, on the verge of getting a recording contract. You are about to achieve the dream of making a living doing what you love to do, play music. So why do I feel like I’m not doing the right thing, I’m not where I’m supposed to be?’ I thought about that alot in those days.
A little history, when I was 15, my mother became a revert after taking a class in college about Islam.
She talked to me about the religion a few times, but mostly she set an example for me by having good morals and standing up for what she believed in under very difficult circumstances. This planted a seed in my mind (although I did not realize it at the time) When she reverted, in 1986, there were very few reverts period and none in our area. Three years after her reversion, she started wearing hijab.
At the time, she was working as a nurse in a large metropolitan hospital in the Los Angeles area. She had been working at the same hospital for about 5 years and when she put it on I can’t imagine what her co-workers thought. She was caucasian, American, with a European name, and noone else in her family was muslim at the time. This was an extreme act of courage that continues to inspire me till today. The other part of this was that when she reverted, we were all still living at my grandfather’s house. Suffice to say, he was not very happy with her choice. Her life became difficult in many ways, and we ended up moving out shortly after.
I didn’t understand what direction my soul was moving at the time because I was still into my teenage / early 20s do your own thing phase. I was so wrapped up with my own desires, they became like an opaque bubble that surronded me. I couldn’t see anything on the outside, and from inside, everything looked black.
Like I said, I had everything I wanted and yet it wasn’t like I thought it would be. It became like a mirage, I had spent my whole life running toward it, then once I got there, it disappeared. I tried to forget about it, push it down deep within my concious, drink more, party more, play more gigs, stay longer at the studio. That didn’t help, it didn’t go away. It kept coming back, like a loose bolt that was rattling around inside my brain.
Things began to lose their meaning. Things that I once enjoyed, like socializing with friends, jamming, writing new songs, etc. didn’t hold the same joy. I began to sink further down. It was right before my 21st birthday. Finally, I got down on my knees and did something that I hadn’t done in almost 2 years, I prayed. I told God that I obviously do not know what is good for me.
I have tried to live the way I thought was best and that would pray me joy and happiness. I had failed miserably at this. I had ignored the advice of every sane person around me, including my mother. I asked God to show me the right way. I asked him to give me a path that would lift my depression and lead me to sucess in this life and after death. I ended with the pray that Jesus (a.s.) prayed in the garden , “Not my will, but thy will be done”.
The very next day, I was having lunch with my mother. I told her that I was not feeling good, depressed, etc. She told me about some friends that met with on Saturday, and if I wanted to come to their meeting. She said they would have Arabic food. I liked Arabic food, so I thought if nothing else, I will have a good meal.
The next day was Saturday. I pulled up next to the house and saw my mother and a few women in hijab, and then there was this tall man with a wide face and piercing brown eyes. My mom told me that his name was Mohammed and we started talking, making chit chat. He said that he was from Syria, but he spoke perfect English almost without an accent. We made small talk for a while and then he asked me, “Do you believe in God”. I said yes. He then asked me what religion I was. I told him that I was raised as a Christian, but that I did not go to Church anymore.
He asked me why. I thought that that was strange, coming form a Muslims. I thought he would be happy that I was not going to Church. I proceeded to explain how I had problems with some Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and original sin and that noone could ever justify there based on logic and the bible and also that religion didn’t make much difference in my daily life. I explained that I was in a rock band and that the only religious person I knew was my mother. Then he asked me another question
“Do you every think about death?”
“Sometimes, but I try not to think about it too much”
“Because it’s depressing. It’s like the unknown.”
“Why is death depressing”
“What do you mean, it’s depressing for everyone. I mean, I could walk out of here and get hit by a bus, and then what. Maybe I go to hell, maybe I become nothing, I don’t know”
“If you believe in God, do you believe God is just.”
“Then why would a just God send you to hell or make you into nothing without giving you a chance
to get something better.”
” I guess he wouldn’t. But I already had my chance. I don’t go to Church anymore. I don’t have ‘faith’
in the Trinity and a lot of other nonsense in the Bible. ”
“You know the religion of your Grandfather is not the only way to reach God. There are other ways, there are other chances”
“Noone ever told me about any. I mean my mom tried to talk to me about Islam, but.. I don’t know”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you about my religion. If it makes sense to you and you can’t find any flaw in it, would you accept it?”
“Yes, but I’m telling you right now that I’ll find a flaw. I seem to have a talent for that.”
“If you can’t then will you accept it?”
So we talked about Tauhid, Prophethood, prayer, etc till about 4:00 a.m. the next morning. I couldn’t find any flaws or inconsistencies in his arguments, and I really tried. He was so simple and clear in explaining things and it all made perfect sense. It solved all my problems I had with Christianity and gave me additional information about things I had been wondering about. It’s as if he was reading my mind, but I know now that he wasn’t. At the end there was nothing else to say, so I kept my word and I said the Shahada at about 5:00 a.m. the next morning.
The next day I walked into the studio, told my bandmembers that I was quitting, to find a new guitar player, and I haven’t looked back since. That was 13 years ago and my Iman is stronger than ever. Al Hamdulillah