I converted roughly three to four years ago. This is a pretty long article but I felt it necessary to include all of the information. Please read and comment when you get the chance.
I grew up in the same neighborhood as Lil Bibby (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lil_Bibby). We attended the same school and he lived right across the street from me. I do not endorse the content of his lyrics but many of his lyrics and interviews provide a context to where I grew up:
We some savages, that’s what the hood made us/Bodies dropping everyday, they tryna blame us/That’s just how I was raised up.”
Many black people where I grew up in Chicago come into this world without silver spoons in their mouths; in the ghetto, the typical lifestyle consists of languishing in run down areas, being pressured to hustle on the streets, carrying out hits to protect their block as a result of the lethal underground drug economy, all resulting in a continuous cycle of going in and out of jail; many individuals born in these areas knowingly face an early death, and they do not expect to live pass eighteen.
My mother was a very devout Christian and still is. I attended Church as a kid and she often taught me stories about Biblical Prophets from Abraham to Adam. When I was young, I really devout in practicing Christianity but as I grew older it just became irrelevant to life and I stopped going to church.
For me, in Chicago, I noticed that the society I lived in seemed unnatural with constant gang conflicts, everyone doped up on drugs, food and liquor stores on every corner, and poverty all around me. So, as a young man, as I sought to learn about the causes of this discrepancy.
While in high-school, I would skip lunch to go to the library and I would read a lot seeking solutions to these problems.. I stumbled upon a book entitled “How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America” by Manning Marable. It described vividly the history of injustices that had been perpetrated against African-Americans that laid the foundation for the poverty and the anti-social behavior that I witnessed in my community. Furthermore, I read “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” and realized this was a global phenomenon. The book detailed how and why so many people do not have access to basic things such as food, clothing, and shelter. And, on the flip-side, there are many people who have an excess of these same tools for success in the materialistic life.
I attended high-school out of convention but it was largely irrelevant to my life. But one day, as I was catching the bus back home from school, my mother called me and explained that I had to meet her at the local park. My mother was crying frantically and explained that we had been evicted from our house. I knew she was struggling to keep up with the bills and this was not the first time that this happened, and she apologized that these sort of things keep happening.
But I explained to her that it was not her fault. I began intellectually telling her that these sort of inequities were something that were built into the capitalist economic system and that it had been set up that way in the beginning against black people. I am not sure my mother understand me fully, but I gave her a hug and she was happy that I did not blame her.
My mother would be allowed to attend a homeless shelter but the homeless shelters in Chicago would not allow adult men to stay there due to the high levels of sexual assaults. But gratefully, we found this lady who allowed us to stay in her home. I learned that these household was the headquarters for members of a street organization that I will not specify online. Most of them slept on the floor. This lady, who allowed me to stay in her home, explained how she herself was once in a similar predicament as us. While she was in a drug rehabilitation program her kids – who were living in this house with me—were occupying an abandoned house.
The lady then brought me to the room that I was to stay in and allowed to me sleep on a bed. There was only one bed in this house, the sheets were dusty, and the smell of marijuana filled the household. Recognizing how introverted I was, she told everyone in the household not to bother me. However, a few minutes later, a shirtless little boy came into the room; he was probably only ten to twelve years of age.
We began making small talk for a moment, and during a brief period of silence, he kept making weird hand gestures with his fingers. I asked him what he was doing. He told me, “I’m learning gang signs.” This looked foolish to me, so I ignorantly asked him, “For what?” He then told me, “If you out slangin’ dope and someone shoot you, they go put up they sign. You gotta know who they belong to if you want to get them back.” I was speechless for a few seconds. The fact that this kid, who was much younger than me, accepted being shot as just another stage in life shocked me. I recuperated and responded with a simple, “Okay.” This kid was pre-adolescent, and yet this is the way he was living.
At that point in my life I became more involved in Socialism. I called other people to it and actively promoted it. When I saw people doing marijuana, I would explain to them that drugs were utilized by the white man to keep black people out of their best mental state to challenge oppression. I would further explain how capitalism oppressed black people but despite the fact that I told them this and many would agree to embrace socialism, they would not stop putting down the drugs.
Exposure to Islam
I was involved in the debate team at my school. I was quite good at the activity and as a result I won a scholarship to attend a University Debate Camp. Debate camps as an activity are extremely elitist and mostly white. However, debate camps in order to meet diversity quotas give scholarships to low-income African-American students and I was one of the only black students there in the midst of what I thought was going to be majority white elitist people.
But there, I met a Bosnian Muslim Brother – we instantly clicked, which was odd, because at the time I was not too amenable towards white people, and he would occasionally tell me things about Islam. I honestly couldn’t believe I was being friends with a white people. I didn’t think this could happen in a million years. Despite our “friendship”, I keep clowning him for white and I keep telling him how his people had oppressed my people. But after my long rants, he would simply say “Okay”, and didn’t bother to respond or issue a rebuttal. But one day, I was ranting about how elitist he and his fellow white people at the debate camp were. But he explained to me that actually he came here as a war refugee from the Bosnian genocide in which many of his family members died. I actually felt bad and tried to change the subject.
I knew he was Muslim, because he would occasionally take breaks to go pray. Back then, we used to “troll” people a lot to try to get under their skin. I had a high level of respect for Islam due to individuals like Malcolm X but never looked into researching it further. But one day, I sought to “troll” him by asking him why him and his fellow Muslims keep committing acts of terrorism. He got indignant, and quickly began refuting all of my “arguments” and was going on about this continuously. Finally, I told him to relax and said I was just joking. With a serious face he turned to me and said,”You don’t joke around like that about Islam.”
I was astonished. He got more upset when I said negative things about Islam than when I said negative things about white people. I said to myself that I really need to look into this religion. I had already had some familiarity with Islam. My situation caused me to adopt a variety of ideologies, and at one point part of the way to uplift the black community was to discuss black history.
I would study and ready extensively about West African civilization as well as Islamic Spain. I would research such civilizations to learn about black history, but not much so for the purposes of Islam at the time. I would tell people about the glorious history of black people, before slavery. I thought it would motivated my brothers and sisters to try to rebuild that legacy. Every time I came across some of the West African Islamic scholars such as Ahmed Baba, Uthman Dan Fodio, and Askia Muhammad, I would read that they were scholars of Islam in various disciplines—hadith sciences or Fiqq. Yet at the time, I had no real interest in religion, and my only reason for researching these men was their connection with black history.
This Bosnian brother was the most intelligent person in my age group I had ever met in my entire life. Unsurprisingly, he ended up winning the University debate tournament. At one point at the camp, we began talking about Karl Marx and Socialism. He on a theoretical level efuting socialism. I would honestly just sit back and listen to him speak. His knowledge of Socialism was even deeper than mine. He was able to quote the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital on the top of his head. He gave me some articles to read about Economic Justice in Islam and I did my own independent research as well.
I picked the book “Marxism and Other Western Fallacies: An Islamic Critique by Ali Shariati” which was incredibly influential on my life. I of course eventually started reading the Qu’ran. I read Al-Baqarah, even thought it was in English translation, I was stopped in my tracks and had never come across words so powerful. I eventually read this verse in the Qu’ran in which Allah in the English translation, Says, “Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people until the People change that which exist inside of themselves.” When I was a Socialist, I was not doing anything productive in my life. I was doing things I know I shouldn’t have been doing, but other people in my community did, and I would pathetically justify it saying, ‘well I am a product of my environment”. The concept of dialectical materialism had been so ingrained in my head, and as I was reading the Qu’ran, I began to realize that I was living my entire life the wrong way. I learned, I had to not be a product of my environment, but my environment a product of me. I began to see the limitations of Socialism and its failure to motivate people to change their lives, so I embraced Islam.
I never thought in a million years that I would ever embrace any religion as a result of words and information given to me from a white person but it happened. Since becoming Muslim, I began learning about how we were put into different races and tribes to get to know one another and not to despise each other, and the strong Islamic stance against racism. But at the time before becoming Muslim, I didn’t want anything to do with white people but by Allah’s grace, it happened and even to this day, a white brother is my best friend and I have grateful to Allah for the Dawah he gave me:
“Remember God’s favour to you: you were enemies and then He brought your hearts together and you became brothers by His grace; you were about to fall into a pit of Fire and He saved you from it- in this way God makes His revelations clear to you so that you may be rightly guided.” al-Imran 3:103