I went to the United States in the spring semester of 2016 under the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, Pakistan. Murray State University in Kentucky was my host university. During my stay, I met an American Muslim, Abu Sayf who serves as secretary of the Muslim Student Organization at Murray State University besides pursuing his studies in Spanish with Teaching Certification. In this interview, he shares the beautiful story about his journey towards Islam.
Q) Kindly introduce yourself for the readers.
My name is Abu Sayf and I was born in Lexington, Kentucky (United States) to a biracial family. My mother is white and my father is black. They are both PhDs. I have two older siblings.
Q) What prompted you to learn about Islam?
I wasn't really religious from the start. I was a secular Christian. I started questioning my belief in God by the time I was thirteen and I came to the conclusion that God doesn't exist. I was an atheist until my sophomore year (Grade 10) in high school. During my time in high school a lot of stuff started happening. In my junior year, a kid who lived in my neighborhood had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head before school. A girl, whom I sat next to in math class, had a seizure in a bathtub and drowned to death. Another acquaintance from high school was murdered in a dispute. These deaths happened one after the other and began stirring questions in my mind, like why I was here? Why did this happen? That was the time when I began connecting with the Muslim students in my school and began learning about Islam. What really peaked my interest was the women covering their head and the Muslim style of prayer.
Q) Why did you decide to convert to Islam?
I was afraid as to what my outcome would be, after seeing so much death in such a short amount of time. I started researching. I came across the videos of Ahmad Deedat, Mufti Menk, and Yousaf Estes. I made shahadah (an oath of one's belief in God and the last prophet, Muhammad (sws)), before I started to identify myself as Muslim, in 2012. By the summer of 2013, I decided to convert to Islam. I made shahadah alone, coincidently during Ramadan.
Q) Were you sure about yourself when you were taking shahadah?
I was sure that I wanted to be a Muslim but I didn't go into Islam knowing everything. There were certain aspects of Islam about which I was uninformed. But I still believe in it. In fact, at my first Eid prayer I didn't know how to offer the prayer. I observed my friend from the corner of my eye and followed accordingly.
Q) How did you learn to pray? And how did you learn the other main acts of worship?
YouTube! Since I converted to Islam, everyone has assumed that I know how to offer the prayer. I learned how to pray along with the Arabic that one recites during the prayer from YouTube. I watched tutorials to learn reading Quran by knowing the Arabic alphabets and their pronunciation. I didn't know about the rules of the fast during the Ramadan that I converted to Islam but at second Ramadan I knew that one is not supposed to eat after fajr. I knew about hajj. Sadaqah and zakah for me were a bit confusing. Even before I was a Muslim I was actively involved in giving charity. I used to give books and toys to the children staying at the Ronald McDonald house (place where children stay with their parents while getting treatment).
Q) Did you ever meet Muslims to address any questions that you might had?
I told my soccer couch, who was a Muslim, about becoming Muslim. He told me that he will provide any help that I may need. He wasn't quite excited though because he knew people who had been disowned by families. With me being so young I am still dependent upon my family for financial support, housing etc. So he wasn't so much excited but excited at the same time that I was taking the decision! My friend's father who hailed from Egypt was good at answering my questions though in Arabic but would had it translated to English. One of my school friend's father is an orator and he gives Dawah and Friday sermons. I would usually go to his pizza shop on weekends and ask him questions about Islam.
Q) What was your family's reaction?
My parents are secular Christians. They weren't thrilled, to say the least. My dad grew up during the civil rights movement at the time of Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Elijah Muhammad and Mohammad Ali, when Muslims were at the forefront of the American news. My dad's image about Muslims comes from that moment in history. My mom is a very independent, strong-willed lady. She has strong opinions about certain aspects of religion as a whole, not just Islam, but when I told her that I was planning to convert to Islam, the first thing she said was, "do you know what they do to their women?"
Q) Did 9/11 have any impact upon your perception about Islam?
It didn't have any impact upon me because I grew up with the understanding that terrorism isn't the by-product of religion. In fact, I didn't really know what Muslims were until 6th grade. But I grew up knowing that it was terrorists who did the 9/11 attack, not Muslims!
Coming from a mixed race family and a father who grew up during the civil rights moment, he had a different idea what terrorism is. It doesn't just come from Muslims it comes from any one. So I never grew up with the idea that a religion is capable of committing terrorism rather it's the people who can commit terrorism.
Q) Is there any difference that you observe in yourself after embracing Islam?
I am a less angry person and have much more self-control. I don't do a lot of things that I used to that would have been detrimental to my afterlife.
Q)What do you like the most about Islam?
Probably the sense of community. I can go to a Muslim house and they all treat me like their long lost cousin. Every Muslim that I meet, though it is different for different countries because we have different culture, but for American Muslims I feel like I have known them for decades while I have only met them for an hour or two.
Q) What are your future goals?
Become a teacher, go to Makkah and Madinah and travel around the Muslim world, when it's more stable. Get married and have kids.
Q) Would you like to share anything with the readers?
People often think that I am not from the U.S. because I am a Muslim. For some people at the university, it's hard to realize that there are American Muslims. Even if I tell them that I was born in the U.S. they'll want to know where my parents and even my grandparents are from, which is fine, but also it makes me wonder, do they really believe me when I say that I am both an American and a Muslim.
Q) Any message that you would like to give to the MSO members and affiliates?
Islam is more than just from where you come from, because Islam has different faces depending upon where you go. But one should always remember that Muslims, regardless of their origin, are all brothers and sisters in the religion.
Q) A message for the readers?
Life can be easily and quickly extinguished. Don't waste your time on this earth!