In this modern world, it’s not uncommon to see people indulging in all sorts of strange behaviors and practices. From tattoos and body piercings to reckless partying and unhealthy habits, it seems that anything goes these days. Growing up in America, I’ve certainly seen my fair share of this firsthand. Here in the States, people have a lot of freedom to be whoever they want to be. But with that freedom comes a lot of confusion and pressure, especially when it comes to finding your own identity.
I struggled with this a lot as a young person. On the one hand, I had a very spiritual mother who instilled in me a strong belief in God. On the other hand, I was surrounded by peers who were constantly trying to influence my choices and behaviors. I wanted to fit in and be accepted, so I often found myself going along with things that deep down didn’t feel right to me. As a result, I developed two very different personalities: a happy-go-lucky exterior when I was around others, and a more introverted, serious side when I was with family or alone. I wasn’t sure which of these was the “real” me, and it was very confusing and difficult to deal with.
As I got older, the more reckless, materialistic side of me began to take over. I cared more about my appearance and being popular than about my inner self and values. There were times when I would do or say things that made me feel uneasy, but I didn’t know why and I just shrugged it off and kept going. It wasn’t until I reached the end of high school that I started to take a more introspective look at my life. I began to think more carefully about my words and actions, and to question the choices I was making. Despite this, I still had all the typical goals and desires of a young person in America: a beautiful girlfriend, a good job, and lots of money to buy the things I wanted.
As I reached the end of high school, I began to start reflecting more on my condition. I spent more time consciously thinking about what I said to people and how I treated others. I began to question things to myself, reflecting on the state that I was in. However, I was still a young boy with hopes of living the American dream. I wanted a beautiful girlfriend and lots of money so that I could have a nice house, nice car and plenty of things to enjoy.
At that point in my life, I had the beautiful girlfriend. She was a former Miss Teen USA when she was 15 years old. She was a year younger than I was when I was a senior in high school. I had dated in the past, and I thought that I had found the girl of my dreams.
I didn’t have a whole lot of money, but I grew up in one of the wealthiest areas in the United States. I saw first hand the highs and lows that money brings to a person with many of the families of my friends that I went to school with. They had fancy cars, huge houses…and very dysfunctional families. Not to say that all wealthy families are dysfunctional, but there was that common thread in many of the people that I knew.
I really didn’t care about school, but I reluctantly filled out applications to various Universities in the area that I live. As I entered the first year of college, I didn’t really care about much. All I wanted was to be with my girlfriend and hang out with my buddies. It was strange though; I started to look at my friends in a different way. I started asking myself if they were true friends or just casual friends looking for a good time.
To my dismay, I only had what amounted to three really close friends. By the time my girlfriend finished high school, she was really interested in going to college. However, due to problems that she had with her family, she wanted to go to school out of state. This bothered me because I had wanted to marry this girl and had talked to her openly about the subject.
In the end, she kicked me to the curb and chose to go to an out of state school. I went through a period in my life then where I was really down. I looked back at some of the things that I had done to the other girls that I had dated in high school and came up with the only solution that made sense: God did this to me to teach me a lesson to not play with other people’s emotions. The cliché, “What goes around comes around” became a theme engrained in my soul.
After that, I began to question everything that had once seemed so normal to me. Eventually, so much of what I had thought to be cool was simply a mirage. Eventually, all of these worldly things began to depress me. I thought, “How can the world be this screwed up?” Every day, I saw racism, bloodshed, hatred and greed on a global spectrum. After a while, I asked myself what the point was of living in such a messed up world? I never had suicidal tendencies, but I felt as though a huge veil had been lifted from my eyes and for the first time, I finally saw what the world was really about.
It was a point of utter disappointment in myself and humanity as a whole. The conclusion as to why the world is so messed up was something that weighed heavily on my conscience for quite a while. Eventually, the truth became clear to me…at least as to why my own personal life was so backwards. I had my priorities all mixed up. I realized that I had been putting the One who created this world and all that it contains in the back seat.
I had been neglecting the very One who provides food, clothing and shelter for me every day. I turned away from recognizing the true rank of God. So what was I to do now? I knew all along that I believed in God, just that I was very ignorant of who He is and that I had become increasingly heedless of Him as I grew older. I did the obvious. I began to study religions.
The first religion that I studied was Christianity. However, the trinity is a doctrine that had always seemed confusing and contradictory to me. It didn’t make sense to me that God (the Father) created Himself into the form of a human being. I couldn’t understand how this All-Powerful and Perfect God could be born in the womb of a woman, one of the very creatures that He created? Then, for God to be crucified by His own creation was doubly confusing.
If He was dead, then who was it that was now controlling the universe? All this seemed to me to make what I understood as a God that was infallible and Perfect in every way to be a creature that was mortal and in need. After all, Jesus ate, slept, and drank; exactly as other humans do. For God to need food, drink and sleep seemed incomprehensible to me.
After deep refection and discussing these matters with various Christians, it became clear to me that this couldn’t be what God revealed to Jesus. I believe that God, who created the universe, was capable of guiding His creation to the true understanding of who He is and what is the straight path.
This doctrine didn’t seem to make much sense to me. Therefore, I moved on and looked at different things. After studying several other religions, I finally read the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Interestingly, the copy that I had was given to me by my former girlfriend whom I wanted to marry.
After reading the book, the par that affected me the most was the chapter in which Malcolm talked about his journey to Mecca for Hajj. As I read that a man who had developed a hatred for whites in America due to the oppression and racism shown towards his people was now embracing people who had the blondest of hair and the fairest of skin, I couldn’t believe it.
He realized at that point that the real Islam wasn’t about being a certain color, race or social status. It was about believing in the One True God, worshiping Him and living in harmony with humanity. It seemed to good to be true. I came across Muslims on campus at the university that I was attending.
I had known very little about Islam up to this point, although part of my family is originally from Turkey. These Muslims that I met on campus explained to me the tenets of the faith and through that and their actions in practicing those beliefs, it became clear to me that this way of life called Islam was the truth. Over a period of six months, I struggled to surrender my soul to Allah. It was in the blessed month of Ramadan of that year that I embraced Islam. I had been attending lectures and classes with my newfound friends throughout the month.
I had the opportunity to meet scholars and feel the energy of fasting that exuded from Muslims on campus. On the third week of Ramadan, the moment of truth came. I had just finished listening to a lecture that was given by a scholar that had been visiting from South Africa.
One of my friends introduced me to him, so we sat and spoke together about how I felt about Islam. By the end of the conversation, I had proclaimed my belief in Islam. My friends, who I now looked at as brothers, embraced me so warmly. I immediately began fasting the remainder of Ramadan.
I participated in my first ‘Eid that year, meeting so many new faces that I truly started to feel the worldwide unity of Islam. I had been praying and fasting with people from all over the world. They were people who spoke different languages, shared different cultures and were different colors. None of that seemed to be an issue. We were too concerned with serving God to even pay any of those differences any mind.