PART 2: When I least expected it, there was a couple who offered to take me into their home and try to help me. They had no children living with them and promised to homeschool me until my behavior improved. They also reassured me that they would not give me any drugs and that I would only need to see doctors if I was physically sick. This was my last chance, so I agreed and was sent to their home by plane. When they picked me up from the airport, I suddenly felt different.
This was a new couple and they were unfamiliar with my routines. Back at my home, the family there knew exactly how I acted and were quick to catch me whenever I did something wrong, but these two were not aware of how I operated. At first, I tried to be loud and misbehave, hoping to remind them of their promise not to give me drugs. They seemed unsure of how to handle me, but they reiterated that their promise was still valid.
When I arrived, they had a room all ready for me. It was decorated in my favorite color, pale blue, with a blue carpet, blue drapes, and even a blue bedspread. There was a desk just for me and a small fish tank with swimming fish. The room even had a light that stayed on all night. It was incredible and I had never had anything like it before.
Before, I used to sleep on the floor on a blanket or on the living room couch. As the days passed, the drugs were gradually leaving my body, making me feel tired and drowsy for the first few weeks. As a result, I slept a lot.
I was only ten years old, but I weighed only 48 pounds because the drugs made me too sick to eat. By the end of the first month, I had gained several pounds and felt better than I had in a long time. I never wanted to be subjected to that kind of treatment again. The following month, my homeschool materials were delivered to the house and Jumaana began to teach me every day while Waseem was at work.
I noticed how different things were in Jumaana’s and Waseem’s house. For example, I would often see Jumaana leave the room to go to her room, wearing a long scarf over her head and placing a small rug on the floor. I wasn’t sure what she was doing at first, but I later realized she was praying. I saw her do this every day and eventually I asked her about it. I think that was when I stopped misbehaving and started becoming more curious about other things.
I noticed that their house was quiet and peaceful, something that I couldn’t even imagine because for the past ten years, I had only known people who were either drunk or on drugs, or just plain mean. It was like being on a different planet. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but I did start to enjoy being there. I tried not to get too attached because I was afraid that I would be sent away again, as had always happened before.
That’s why I would have a few good days and then revert back to my old ways. Every day, I asked more and more questions and Jumaana or Waseem did their best to answer them. I was curious about prayer and eventually asked if I could pray with Jumaana. She said I could and even gave me a new blue velvety prayer rug from her closet.
I followed everything she did and listened to every word, but I found it difficult to stay still and kept wiggling and moving around. After a couple of weeks, I was finally able to remain motionless and felt very peaceful inside. I had never experienced that feeling before.
One evening, after I had settled into bed for the night, Jumaana came into my room and asked if I was doing okay. I told her yes, and she mentioned that I had been quieter lately and wondered if there was anything I needed. She and Waseem always spoke kindly to each other, and I never heard them fight or argue like the people in my old home used to.
I was amazed at how kind they were to each other, and now they were speaking to me that way too. I couldn’t quite understand it. I thought maybe it would be okay if I told Jumaana that I wanted to be a Muslim too. I really did want to be, but I didn’t know how to go about it. So, I just said it outright: “I want to be a Muslim.” She smiled and asked if I knew what being a Muslim meant. I admitted that I didn’t, but I still wanted to be one. She tucked me in, gave me a hug, left the room, and returned with some children’s books on Islam.
That night, I read the books until I fell asleep. The next day, I finished them and couldn’t get enough. I read about the Shahada and told Jumaana that I needed to say it right away so that I could be a Muslim. They reminded me that I was only ten years old and maybe I should study more first. I insisted that I had already read all the books and had to say the Shahada that very day.
Although I was young, it didn’t feel that way to me at the time because all I knew was that I had to become a Muslim. It just felt right for me and I knew it from the start. Later that night, on December 29, 2000, I officially said the Shahada to Jumaana and Waseem and became a Muslim. Jumaana continued to homeschool me and I managed to complete both the fourth and fifth grades in a single year.
Jumaana and Waseem allowed me to read any book I wanted from their shelves, which included books on all religions. I read every one they had on Islam and asked lots of questions about the differences between religions. I couldn’t understand why not everyone in the world followed Islam.
I visited the library in the small town where we lived and got to know the librarian, who ordered more books on Islam for me and asked me questions about it as well. She said I knew a lot for my age and was impressed by how much I knew about Islam. After I had read everything available at our local library, I went to the big public library downtown and found even more books on Islam.
I knew I could never be anything other than a Muslim. My parents didn’t want me to come back and live with them again and only remembered me as I was when they sent me away. I also didn’t want to go back to my old way of life or live with them, with all the drinking, drugs, fighting, and chaos. They hadn’t sent any money to take care of me during the entire first year I lived with Jumaana and Waseem. Waseem kept working past retirement age just to take care of me, and Jumaana even gave up her writing to homeschool me.
Jumaana and Waseem had done all of this out of care and concern for me, and I really didn’t want to leave them. After living with them for a year, the courts granted me a legal adoption, which was the only way they could have the right to make decisions about my schooling and other legal matters since they were not considered my parents. Without contact or support from my parents for the entire year, the court could have placed me in a home or foster care if it wanted to.
I was afraid that if my parents suddenly wanted to take me back because I was doing better, they would do the same things to me as before. I also knew they would never let me stay as a Muslim. I prayed frequently, asking Allah to help me. In this country, adoption is the only way to ensure legal rights. More than anything, I wanted Waseem and Jumaana to adopt me and I was overjoyed when the court agreed that it was the best thing for me.
The adoption papers were filed and my parents were notified, but they didn’t even bother to contact the court to contest it. In fact, they quickly signed the papers giving me up. I was actually happy about that. On the day of the adoption, the judge even told me I could change my name. I chose “Waa’il” because it meant “one who returns for shelter,” and I did feel like I had returned to Jumaana’s and Waseem’s home for shelter. I also felt like I had returned to Islam, so that was a shelter for me as well. It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my whole life. Due to delays in removing my birthparents’ parental rights, the date for my adoption was changed to the first day of Ramadan in 2001, as if Allah was blessing me repeatedly.
Jumaana and Waseem encouraged me to maintain some kind of contact with my family, which was fine because I knew they couldn’t take me away or tell me I couldn’t be a Muslim anymore. I knew I was safe. I also believe that Allah made it all happen, which makes that difficult period of my life more bearable when I look back on it. I wouldn’t have found Islam or Allah if all of those things hadn’t happened, at least that’s how I see it now. My sister came to stay with us for a week during her school break last December/January. It had been over three years since I saw her. She was fifteen now and flew here on her own. She was shocked by the changes in me. I had grown to be five feet ten inches tall, almost a foot taller than her, from being half her size when I left.
I also weighed 50 pounds more than her, after being a scrawny skeleton of a kid when she last saw me. When I left, I was wearing a Rugrats hat and Harry Potter clothes from television and cartoon shows. When she saw me this time, I was wearing a Kufi or one of my other Islamic caps and a Kurris. When I left, I was a loud, troublemaking, obnoxious brat who had failed three out of five grades and couldn’t even write a complete sentence, and she hated me. This time, she saw me as polite, quieter, having passed all my grades and even skipping a grade to be in the same one as her.
Sometimes she would see me stop what I was doing and go to pray five times a day. When I left home at age ten, she hated me and expected me to be the same. After a couple of days with us, she told me that she could hardly believe I was the same person. She really liked me as her brother now. When she found out I was a Muslim, she asked a lot of questions about Islam, took back a bunch of Islamic books I gave her, and told everyone back home that they wouldn’t believe how different I was.
Now, every once in a while, my mother allows my brother and sister to call and she even talks to me for a few minutes. I send books for them to read about Islam and I hope that someday they will all become Muslims too. I know they would be much happier if they did. My life seems a hundred years away from the way it used to be.
I have been a Muslim for four years now, been blessed with new Muslim parents, had my adoption finalized on the first day of my first Ramadan, learned to pray in Arabic, read my new parents’ entire library of books on Islam and exhausted the public libraries’ Islamic books, been given a new name and a new life. I don’t know what else I could ask for. I am working hard to finish high school in two years, when I will be sixteen, but I feel a lot older. I know now that I didn’t need drugs to make me behave or anger to get me through all those years of chaos.
I didn’t need to be hurtful to others to get attention or cause chaos for others. What I needed all along was Islam and Allah. Instead of schools and parents putting their kids on Ritalin and other drugs, they should put their time and money into studying Islam and teaching their children about Allah. When nothing else worked – and believe me, a lot of people tried to get me straightened out – Allah did it. Allah can do anything and everything. When He does something for you, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Story By – Waai’ll Abdul Salam (Austin Roy)