DEWAN ULAMA’ W.P

Ikon

Cakna ulama’,kebersamaan dalam pelbagai perkara dan amanah diatas tugas para anbiya’,’The boon and bane of Islamic Society’

My Journey to Islam

A 40 Year Struggle Towards Islam

An African-American Woman’s Long Journey

By Salwa Abd-Allah

 
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Salwa Abd-Allah Picture © pluralism.org

 

My name is Salwa Abd-Allah. I was born Edwina Mariea Fauntleroy to Reverend and Mrs. Jerry Cornelius Fauntleroy in Newport News, Virginia, US, in 1946. I have three brothers and I was the third of the four of us.
I have been striving to be a Muslim for approximately 40 years. I became socially aware in the 1960s in America during the Vietnam War era and the turbulent years of racial unrest as descendants of slaves in general began protesting the subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination that was spread in America at that time.

 

There is much to say about that era, but my focus here is my conversion to Islam. There were two avenues to change at that time. One was integration and the eloquent spokesman for that path was Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

The other path was separation and self-determination represented by the equally eloquent and courageous Malcolm X for Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam (NOI) — initially. During the time when I was growing up in Virginia, I followed my father’s lead and worked within the path of integration and of participation with civil rights activists in many marches, sit-ins, and conferences trying to earn equal access to all that was touted as the American Dream.

 

There was no voice in the mainstream media about the separatist option until the CBS TV news program aired The Hate That Hate Produced.

School segregation was still an issue in Virginia and so was equal access to voting rights. I spent my afternoons after school registering African-Americans, many who were veterans of World War II, to vote and priming them for the “literacy test” that had been often shown to be administered by illiterate Caucasian Americans determined to marginalize the descendants of slaves. Please note that, as a fact of history, both of the “spokesmen” mentioned above were murdered before their 40th birthday, attempting to end their efforts to bring change to their people.

 

When I went to New York University (NYU) at Washington Square, I had relocated to New York City. Here I was exposed to the Fruit of Islam, the military arm of the NOI. They were using the Muhammad Speaks newspaper to educate African-Americans to alternatives of which the majority of them was unaware.

 

There was no voice in the mainstream media about the separatist option until the CBS TV news program aired The Hate That Hate Produced. Note that this alternative — separatism — was reported as something not to be taken seriously, but as a pathetic reaction to discrimination and ignorance by any African-American that dared to consider it.

 

Since I had spent serious time and emotion in the “integration” model, I was able better than most to weigh the pros and cons of what the NOI was presenting as an alternative. The consistency of the brothers I had to pass coming from and going to classes gradually impacted me enough to consider what they were saying and to read some of the material they offered.

 

Having studied five years of French, I had an immature idea of how an alternative language offered greater choices.

I thought of how many years my father had worked peacefully demanding the dignity he knew he and our people deserved with little or no positive results. Then I looked at the appeal of the NOI to so many of the African-Americans marginalized in New York and how they responded to the TLC (tender loving care) given by the sincere followers of the NOI.

 

I finally decided to go to a meeting and try to listen openly to what was being taught. The integration movement had turned into a confrontation with many southern state governments. It was clear that the values espoused for the world about the “land of the free and home of the brave” did not include the descendants of slaves kidnapped and forced to come here.

 

The Federal Government was put in the position to uphold the Supreme Court Decisions and often found itself in conflict with the local and state governments. Elijah Muhammad was offering an alternative that allowed for the marginalized African-Americans to experience a self-determination that had nothing to do with the oppressive majority, and he was doing it in the name of religion.

 

One of its attractions for me was the Arabic that was being taught there. Having studied five years of French, I had an immature idea of how an alternative language offered greater choices. What I was not prepared for was the depth and breadth of development I experienced through studying the Qur’an and the Arabic language.

 

The human intellectual development that was fostered within the NOI by those studying Qur’an and Arabic was apparent. It caused my entire emphasis to shift from the “freedom to be manipulated” as part of the American culture to the “willing slavery to the One” Who created everything. At this point, I must distinguish that this was not the teaching of the NOI, but the impact on me from being exposed to the revelation — the Qur’an.

 

I was raised reading and I’ve always been a reader. We were taught at that time to have the Qur’an but not to read it, because we weren’t prepared to do so. There were expectations that after Elijah Muhammad’s death, we would be taught the power of Qur’an by his successor. But they were teaching Arabic classes and since I had the book, I read it.

 

I had the Muhammad Ali translation and the Yusuf Ali translation of the Qur’an. Having read the Bible most of my life, it was not surprising that I would get into reading the Qur’an.

 

I was surprised at how different the Qur’an was from the Bible. As I labored through my first reading of the Qur’an, I was amazed at how it addressed the “mundane.” It spoke of marital relations, cleansing oneself, what to eat, and the woman’s menses, among other things. It spoke of fasting three days if you made a commitment before Allah and didn’t keep your word.

 

Once Elijah Muhammad passed away and his son, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed began to teach us the beauty of Islam as revealed to Prophet Muhammad ibn `Abdullah.

It was very difficult reading the first time. It seemed like a test of tenacity, and I felt I had to get through it if I wanted to understand Islam. Once I completed it the first time, I understood why it was so important. There within the pages of this wonderful gift of guidance to humanity were so many promises from our Benefactor, the Life Giver.

 

The promise that I still find most compelling in the Qur’an is the statement from Allah, the Most High, that He never changes His way (33:62 and 35:43).

 

[(Such has been) the course of Allah with respect to those who have gone before; and you shall not find any change in the course of Allah.] (Al-Ahzab 33:62)

 

I have spent most of the last 40 years enjoying the beauty of those words. When we can realize how priceless the gift of guidance is from the only One Who can provide such a gift, we will spend as much time as possible assessing every incident for factors that will assist in our understanding what to expect from Allah Al-Haqq (The Truth).

 

There are no surprises when we keep our faith simply focused on our Creator and the ongoing debt we owe to Him. This truly is the essence of tawheed (Oneness of Allah.)

 

Once Elijah Muhammad passed away and his son, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed began to teach us the beauty of Islam as revealed to Prophet Muhammad ibn `Abdullah, the light of guidance has truly taken the darkness of ignorance out of my life. Allah tells us that His word is the highest.

 

He asks why we don’t ponder and deliberate over His words in the verse that gives the meaning of:

 

[Do they not then meditate on the Qur’an? And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy.] (An-Nisaa’ 4:82)

 

Such reminders and subtleties only demonstrate His loving guidance in the face of the freedom to choose that He has allowed each of us. Once I began the journey of the Qur’an, I had the criteria to choose to be grateful and patient.

 

We have the greatest gift in existence and the intellect to benefit from it as long as we remember that Allah knows and we don’t.

 

[Allah is the guardian of those who believe. He brings them out of the darkness into the light; and (as to) those who disbelieve, their guardians are idols [false gods] who take them out of the light into the darkness; they are the inmates of the Fire [Hell], in it they shall abide.] (Al-Baqarah 2:257)

 

This particular verse is quite instructive, because it shows the power of Allah to protect and control; even more important for me, it warns those “in the light” to beware of not becoming disbelievers and thereby going into the darkness. It instructs us to be vigilant in our taqwa (piety and fear of Allah) and never take the blessing of belief for granted. It reminds us of the prohibitions not to be among the doubters, but to know that the Truth is from Allah.

 

I have been blessed with three sons, and they continue to strive to live Islam by the grace of Allah, the Most High. There have been genuine struggles to know the truth in this climate of “everything is relative” and “whose truth?” and “do your own thing” and the parade of debauchery in the media and its growing acceptance in the mainstream of US values.

 

I worked with a team of believers in Boston to establish the first full-time Islamic school in Massachusetts and it was accredited by both the Boston School Committee and the Massachusetts Department of Education. I worked as its Principal for several years while I also worked to assist in the establishment of full-time Islamic schools throughout the US and Canada.

 

The companionship of the Qur’an has taught me to value every command and every prohibition.

It was a wonderful time to learn and grow and see the truth of Allah’s promise on countless levels. I learned that we cannot allow ourselves to be conditioned by a culture that is not following the guidance of our Creator. We have so much to offer and we continue to do so despite the suspicion and mistrust of our neighbors — often orchestrated by those who really fear the changes that accompany accepting Islamic values.

 

Some of the beauty of comparing my experience growing up in America and reflecting on Qur’anic values has been to really understand integrity of thought. This is not something mentioned or discussed frequently, but it continues to impact my life.

 

Seldom are we in a position to question the values with which we are raised and the culture to which we belong. However, the turbulence of the 1960s here in the US allowed me the opportunity to do that. Seeing the shameless manipulation of the truth in advertising on the newly introduced television never ceased to shock me — even until now. The misinformation and constant bombardment by advertisers is immoral.

 

The Qur’an only commands those who believe to be with one group of people. This is such valued advice. This helps us to know how to select good companions and from whom to seek sound advice.

 

The US press, which certainly is not the vessel of truth we would hope, has actually published headlines such as “Mr. President, Please Tell the Truth.” For me this is one of many indicators that we do indeed need an excellent example to guide us to success in this life and in the hereafter.

 

The constant joy of my decision to put my trust in the One that created me increases daily. The companionship of the Qur’an has taught me to value every command and every prohibition. It has prompted me to study the methodology of our Creator in teaching humanity His will and to be mindful that we will be held accountable for our decisions.

 

Allah’s use of the interrogative is a wonderful guide to seeking knowledge and I end this with Allah, the Most High, asking about our intellect. He says what means: [Have you no intellect?] And, this is from our Creator, Who knows exactly what we have! May we work to use our intellect, for surely the Truth will manifest there from the sincere truth seekers

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