Conversion Story For Charles Abbas Belcher

Published on 21 Apr 2020

My name is Charles Belcher, I'm also known as Abbas Abdullah-Rahman. I was born in Newark, New Jersey, and I guess it was called the inner city ghetto situations. Around the age of, I guess 12, my family, my brother, my mother and my stepdad, we moved to the suburbs in Union County in New Jersey. So that was a big change, a lot of grass all of a sudden, and not just the park but all over the place. So it was new housing, my uncle also moved next door to us so the family kind of moved there, and we have most of our family still living in Newark. I had a budding athletic career, I was first team all county basketball, and I was also a captain and football team co-captain. 

My teenage years were I guess pretty typical for American teenagers. We did most of the, you know, went to New York City, which was close to us, we had a lot of entertainment. Going to the Apollo Theater quite often. And on Sundays, we would always go to Sunday school into the church. And so that was sort of my upbringing during my time in New Jersey. Yes, my family is basically from a Christian background. Well, no, it wasn't really that much pressure on us, though. 

We definitely were taught that going to Sunday school and attending in that Sunday was a special day and going to church was something that was looked upon as favorable, I went the Sunday school, but it wasn't really anything that was harshly put on us. It was pretty casual. But we did go to Sunday school, not every Sunday, but we used to go quite often, more like a meet neighborhood thing that our friends would be there. I guess for us, it was more, you know, dressing up, we'd like to dress up, having nice suits and ties and things like that. 

And after church, we would all go to the sweet shop on a corner and talk about what happened Saturday night at the parties and things like that, and, you know, show off our fineries and then we go home. Usually Sunday was also a great day for dinner. I was quite fortunate I had my grandmother cooking, and my aunts cooking, so I could choose which Sunday dinner I want to go to, I just had to call my mom: oh I'm eating at Grandma's tonight. So it was quite good, and Sunday was always a special day for us. 

Well, we didn't talk about it per se as a family but, I guess me personally, I always felt anytime there was any sort of... any wrong that was done or any sort of unseen tragedies, I always had the feeling that well, it's okay, God knows the truth about what's happening and that was a consolation for me. It wasn't that much connected to the church or anything, it was just sort of an understanding that I had, that there was a supreme being and that He was watching.

So I always had that in mind, though a lot of times my actions may not have indicated that. Well, going to Sunday school that was the main topic of the Bible. We heard some of the stories and of course, Jesus was the main focus, the Trinity wasn't really a big thing. I used to go to the African episcopal compelling church or Baptist Church, so it was a lot more like singing and celebratory sort of stuff.

Also in the tradition of the slaves, because our ancestors came from the slave population, it was a time of rejoicing for the freedom that we had, and Sundays was a day of wearing refineries and celebrating God and His prophets, but in a pretty casual kind of manner. We listened to the morals of the preachers and the pastors, they always gave us good lessons and things of that sort. But it wasn't that intense, it was pretty casual. More social than anything, I think. I just went to Sunday school, I really liked my Sunday school teacher. 

Well, of course, growing up in the Greater New York area, we had exposure to the Elijah Mohammed and, you know, Nation of Islam. So I was quite exposed to that. Being pious, doing no sins was like a new entity, and the fact that the brothers were strikingly different in their presentation, like they were clean dressing every day of the week, not just Sunday. They also had the drive for economics, they were selling bean pies and different sorts of products. So they were definitely one of the few black entities that was trying to start businesses in the community and things like that. And it was a sense of unity about them that was impressive.

When I went to University in New Jersey, I remember a particular time when the Black Student Union had two guest speakers. So two Muslim brothers came and had garbs, like robes, and they gave a lecture. And I remember watching them leave, and thinking like, wow, these brothers really were on point. And what they were saying was really great. But as they left, so did my conviction to what they were saying, I just turned around and became the college student that I was, and back to the old business of being a college student, and what all that entailed. 

Well, I think they basically just expanded on the exposure that the Nation of Islam had to the black community in the United States, which was making us aware of the names Allah, and Muhammad, and Islam. And also there was, of course, the movie roots, where, you know, Kunta Kinte when he was in the bush, and he was running and hiding, and he was like trying to call to another slave. And he said: Asalamu Aleykum.

So this was like oh what's he talking about Asalamu Aleykum. So Alex Haley, I have always wondered, why didn't Alex Haley embrace Islam after that, because it was pretty apparent that some of the slave population was Muslim. I did some DNA stuff, recently, and found that both my parents originate from Ghana. So that was kind of intriguing. And now of course, there's Lawrence Hill, who wrote the book, The Book of Negroes, and the star character there, the lady, she's from tribe, near Timbuktu. And she was also introduced to Islam and all that. So a lot of things kind of tied in, eventually.

Well, I guess I was in Toronto, and, you know, typical, sort of pretty immersed in the Western community at that time, and there was a brother that I knew from Trinidad. He was a DJ. We used to party a lot. And he embraced Islam. Then after about maybe a couple months, he came back to the house and he just confronted me and said, brother, you should be a Muslim. So I say, what you talking about man? Why are you saying that to me, what's going on? So he says, I know you should be a Muslim. So I say man, get out of here what are you talking about? So he says, okay, when you go to your grave and they ask you two questions, what are you going to say? So I said, Well, I'm gonna say, you know, Jesus is my prophet, and you know, I believe in God, and what do you mean what am I going to say? why are you asking me these questions? 

So he was a good buddy of mine, I wasn't really annoyed. But I was sort of intrigued. So afterwards, when I reflected, I said, well, these are pretty weak answers I'm giving. My commitment to these answers is also rather weak. So that put me on a journey to study the various religions. So I studied all the religions for about two years, I even had Rastafarian dreadlocks for a while. All of that. Just trying to open my mind and my scope to find out if this is really true, that when I die, I'm going to be held accountable for my religious beliefs. And when I did all these things, then I should at least investigate a little bit deeper, and come to a stronger conclusion.

So after about two to three years of kind of studying and delving into all the different religions, I had some buddies I used to go and hang out with, Muslim guys, and they were also giving me like da'wah and information and all that. That information was clearly superior to all the other information I was getting, and it made way more sense. So I was gravitating towards Islam basically because of the research that I'd done and just that Islam made way more sense than all the rest of the religions and kind of rang true for me, even though of course, family members and people are always dying around us. No, I don't know if  because we were young, but no a topic of death definitely didn't really come across. 

It was the day that Khalid asked me that question when it really hit me like, wow, yeah. I just thought it was just something that you just do and it's all over with but then he brought up the concept that no, it's not over, then you will be asked questions you're going to have to declare yourself. And so that put a different twist on the responsibility of not only living but also when I die, I have responsibilities to be accountable for my life. So that was kind of the first Great Awakening about the concept of death being more than just something that you succumb to.

Well, I studied Judaism, I studied the Trinity and Christianity, I studied Catholicism, the history of it, and the things that it entailed, Rastafarianism, and the history of it and all that entailed; Buddhism, Confucianism, yes I studied all of them, and you know in good depth too, and also Hinduism.

I guess it was in Toronto. I think it was probably after I took Shahada, but I never had a Quran, I don't think. Prior to that, I would go visit some brothers, I think they had a Quran available. But we were mostly reading Hadiths and things of that nature, historical stuff. But I guess it was when I embraced Islam in Toronto, brothers presented me with a Quran that day, yeah, I was quite taken aback that it was very similar to the Bible. There was a lot of stories that I already knew about and already heard from my days at the Sunday schools and things like that. So it was quite familiar to me.

Of course, Muhammad, peace be upon him, I didn't know much about his life or his story. So that was really the only part that was new, but all the rest of it was pretty familiar. Like I said, I was with these brothers, actually going to visit them, Muslim guys. One day they said: you come around here a lot, you are learning a lot of stuff, you should just be a Muslim. I said, Oh, I don't know about that. Like, come on, guys. Like I'm just checking things out, right. And they said, Well, do you believe in one God? I said yes, I always believed in one God. Will you accept Muhammad as His last messenger? I said, Well, yeah, sure. that's not a problem. They said: that's it, that's all you need to do. 

We went from land's down where the brothers had their apartment, or the house we were living in and we went to Boosted Avenue, and there was a tabligh jamaat in town that day, and it was led by a brother by the name of Colonel Mordeen. And apparently, he was a famous Pakistani general. And he had a mark on his head, so he was quite a striking figure, and he gave me the Shahada. So I always remember that day, and they had a bookstore there. So the brothers gave me a few books along with the Quran that day.

Yeah, I was with the Sunni Madhab for 15, maybe 16-17 years, a lot of tabligh jamaat brothers would come through, and we would sit and talk with them. And of course, we were doing a lot of studying. And at one time, one of the brothers said: you brothers are like Alims if you were in Pakistan, you brothers know the Quran, you brothers know, like these Hadiths and bakari and all these things, like really well. So, I think we were doing quite well, it was a bit of a - it was a bit of a change. Of course, we weren't hanging on a Saturday nights like we used to a party on Friday nights. We went to Jumu'ah and we were having meetings where we discussed Quran and trying to learn how to read Arabic and just embracing the Islamic culture. But still, there was some of the West Indian culture there too, because culturally, most of the brothers were West Indians.

They used to refer to me as a saltwater Yankee. Meaning that I was just talking like an American, where really I was a West Indian who went to America got the accent, and now I was in Canada trying to pretend I was an American. Things were going really well. One of my best brothers who had also embraced Islam, he was from South Africa. So we were at the masjid, and like I said, many tabligh jamaats were coming through all the time. They were always asking brothers to go on the path of Allah for 40 days, or 60 days, 20 days or 5 days. And they were quite influential and quite inspiring, the speeches they would give, and some of the information they would put out, and the fact that they had left their homes, which is thousands of miles away, and were traveling on a path was quite inspiring. 

So the fact that they were South Africans really triggered my friend because he was a South African. So he convinced me to go with him with them for 40 days on this tabligh jamaat. So we were quite immersed, of course. So it was now Islam from morning to night, like, everything was about Islam, we went to the city of Detroit, where we were visiting Muslim families, brothers who had maybe relapsed as far as going to the masjid and things like that, we were visiting them and encouraging them to get back on the path and also to come on the path with us to New York. So we were heading to New York. 

So I remember it was one session where we were praying, and a brother said, according to which madhab you follow, you either do two raka'a, or you do four raka'a. And I was confused, because as far as I'm concerned, there was only one Islam, and that's what I had been practicing for all these years. I didn't know there was any other sort of differentiation. So I asked the brother very politely, like brother, could you explain which madhab are we following? Let me know which one we follow. So he says no brother it's not like that, when you go back to Toronto, you go to the Imam at your mosque, and you ask him. So I said no, I want to know, for us now, like we're here together, I want to know which one are we following.

For the first time, I saw the brother get a little bit agitated and aggravated with my persistence. So I backed off and made a mental note that there's something about this that I don't understand, it's not fully explained to me, but I'm gonna have to pursue it at another time, because this brothers seem to be a little perturbed that I'm pursuing this question.

So we went to Detroit, and we ended up in New York City in Harlem and one of the Masjids there, and 40 days was up. And of course, we were close by where I grew up so me and a brother, we went to New Jersey and hung out in New Jersey with my family for about a week or so, and we returned back to Toronto. And you know, things went back to normal for quite a while. 

And then there was this one brother. He's a Ghanaese brother, actually, very good in his faith. We noticed that he was doing things a little bit differently. Like for instance, the biggest one was when we broke fast in Ramadan. You know, we always break fast, when Adhan went off. This brother was not breaking his fast. He was breaking his fast after he made the salat. So we were really puzzled by that, but he was one of our brothers. It wasn't a big deal. He was praying with his hands down. We didn't know what that was about, either. But like I said, he was one of our brothers, and we knew he was okay. He was very good in his head. It wasn't that big of a deal, but again, it was just a question; now, why is this brother Ahmed, like, why is he behaving like this now? But again, we just went back to normal life, everything was moving along. I guess it was about a year and a half - about two years that finally this brother showed up at my house along with another brother Abdul Karim, two brothers I respected a lot. And they said: Here we got some information for you, we just want you to check it out, and let us know, whenever you get time, just update us after you finish reading it all.

It was an article about Wilayat al-Faqih, and it was an article about the Ahlul Bayt, and a book, early history of Islam, and Fatimah is Fatimah, and Hussein the Savior, and Ali the Magnificent, this was the package. So of course, I delved into it with a lot of enthusiasm because I thought it would solve this mystery about what was going on with these brothers about this time that they didn't really talk to me about but I knew something was up. 

And so of course, that really opened my mind to like so many things about Islam that I had no idea, I wasn't aware of, and of course the tragedy of Karbala was so striking that I was like, sort of put back that well, here I am in Islam for so many years, and I don't know something of this magnitude. So we talked to the brothers and they introduce us to this brother they were being mentored by, the brother's name is Sayyid Al-Musawyi. So we started to go to Sayyid Al-Musawyi's house, he was giving us information, supplying us with books, and the like. But we were still loyal to the Jami' mosque and the brothers who were at the masjid there at the time - it was a brother who we knew for years, a Sudanese brother Abdul Idrees.

So we went to the masjid and I guess quite naiively, we introduced some of the information that we had newly found, you know, with enthusiasm to the brothers, we loved all the brothers there and they had always been good to us and we were always good with them. And it was a Sunday halaqa; we used to go sit in a circle on Sundays and just share knowledge that we had. So we brought this yellow Quran. And it had the Ahlul Bayt tafseer, so when we were reading this, one brother just jumped up and like was; 'Astaghfurullah!' you know, really carrying on, so we thought wow what a reaction ,like this is really over the top. 

So next thing you know, we were called up to the Abdul Idres's office. He was saying, like, well, brothers, and we say, brother, don't you respect the Ja'fari school of thought? He said, Yes, I do. So, why can't we share this information in a masjid? He said: brothers if I allow you brothers to share this, I'll never forget this statement here. "If I allow you brothers to share this information in the mosque, the mosque will boil". 

We turned around, like, we're not trying to cause trouble, we are just excited about this new information we got. We were just looking for some clarification because, even though we had been in the deen for over 10-15 years,we still consider ourselves new Muslims, we still learning. We wanted to bring it to our place where we learn, the mosque and try to get some clarity. But we don't want the mosque to boil, this is the last thing we're trying to do. So there was friction going on around that area. And finally we decided, okay, we'll we'll leave the Jami' mosque and we'll go to the Bayview mosque, where we were welcomed by Maulana Baqri, who basically took us in and we told him our story, what was going on, and he just consoled us. We met the community there, it was very open. We began our education now more with the Ahlul Bayt. This was now accelerated by the fact that we were also playing a part in the Hajj conferences.

The scholars and Ayatullahs were coming over from Iran and Iraq, and they were making presentations in Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, and our group of brothers were a part of that scene, so we got opportunities to ask Ayatullahs personal questions about our marriages and some of the things that we've been going through as converts to Islam. So it was quite enlightening and uplifting. So for a final touch, we approached the brothers at the Jami' mosque and said, okay brothers, let's have a mubah halaqa, kind of thing, like, let's have a discussion of the two sides of these information. 

So we went and got contact with some brothers from Hamilton that we didn't really know. But we knew they were brothers from the Shi'a madhab. They came, and we sat in the mosque, and we had a discussion. The discussion was very one sided, the Shi'a information and arguments were totally accurate and convincing, and we even turned to the Sunni scholars who were there and said, brothers, do you guys know about this? And they said yeah, we are aware of these facts and figures. So they knew things of like, Ghadeer Kumm, they knew about it, and they knew about Ashura, Karbala, Imam Hussain. They knew about it. So we asked them, why did you brothers never let us know about this before? why is this such a....this information is only with you brothers, why? 

So it was like a turning point for most of us, some of the brothers actually remain Sunnis Alahu Akbar. They are still good friends with us now, we are still good buddies and all that. But the majority of the brothers decided to go to the Bayview mosque and here we are now about 20 years later, I guess.

There was also a lot of hostility now coming out of the jumu'ah khutbahs, by some very prominent people, which was also very shocking. And it was, I guess, they've always sort of hinted that anything Shi'a is bida' so don't even give it an ear. That was kind of how we were trained and taught. Once this thing was exposed, and we still went to the Jami' mosque for the jumu'ah khutbahs, but it was an obvious kind of combating against this new information, or this new awareness that we had, and so it got to be not so pleasant. And as far as the explanation, there was never any explanation at all. If anything, it was more like, well, you brothers are, doing something wrong, you brothers are doing something bad.

And unfortunately, that session with the scholars was a very limited session. It wasn't like aired for the public. It was really just our group of brothers who were there. So it wasn't really a public thing, per se. But there was no real explanation at all, from any of the Sunni brothers. When I embraced Islam, my mother, she said, why do you want to join something where these people in New York are killing each other all the time? She was concerned about the fact that there was a lot of friction in the Muslim community. There were killings happening in New York City and the way that the media was spinning it, it was Muslims against Muslim. But as far as the media, no the media wasn't as Islamophobic as it is now, it was...we had no ideas about Sunni, Shi'a, any sort of concept back in those days. The media wasn't really playing much of a part as far influencing any of us at that point. I think the biggest thing that happened in the media was when the Islamic revolution happened. That was huge. 

Prior to that, there wasn't much going on. I've always been kind of, you know, I left my family in New Jersey, I left the country, I think I'm the only one in this generation that has actually left America so I think I'd already established myself as somebody that does what I want to do. I think my family had more of a reaction to me leaving America, because of being a Marine Corps and a deserter, and not going to Vietnam than anything about Islam.

Well, I was a university student, and, you know, like most university students, I guess I got a little disillusioned with the university while I was on a basketball scholarship. So it was a pretty good life, I was looking for, as an 18 year old youth, I was kind of making mistakes, looking for adventure and wanting to travel the world. And I had had some experience with some of the brothers I knew had been in Marine Corps and had been to Vietnam. I didn't have extensive information about how they were doing, because now I found that later they weren't doing very well when they returned back. But I know some of the brothers had been to Thailand and these kind of places, exotic places that I sort of dreamed of going to, silk suits for 20 bucks and all that sort of thing. So I had that air about me that I wanted to travel, and so, looking back, I made a hasty move, left my college education abruptly and joined the Marine Corps. 

I was an athlete already, so the Marine Corps the physical part of it wasn't that challenging for me.The mental part was very interesting, because I was training with people who were hippies when they joined, and they got their hair cut. They had long hair. Three weeks later, when we were standing outside the mess hall reading our newspapers, these same people are saying - because the news was that hippies were marching on Washington, and the Marines from Camp Lajune, were going to quell the riots. The same guys were saying, “I wish I was there so I could use my bayonet techniques.” This just made me go cold because I said... you were just a hippie, like a month ago, and now you want to go use your bayonet techniques on hippies?

I saw the amount of brainwashing and how quickly it happened. And of course, it was a time when the United States establishment was shooting Black Panthers on the streets of Chicago and LA at an alarming rate, also in New York. And I did have some connections, brothers were sending me certain newspapers and things like this, so I was kind of up to date with what was happening as far as America. And then when they shot four college students, white college students in Ohio, at that point I said, like, this government has gone crazy now, like I could rationalize why they were killing us, people of color, because we are trying to come up, we've been an oppression for generations, and they see us as a threat for sure. But now they are killing their own children, because they're protesting against this war in Vietnam? And I'm training to go there and fighting this war now? So I said that something is amiss here, something is wrong. So I started getting a lot of bad feelings about my position in the Marine Corps, and about having to go and actually fight for this country.

Prior to my leaving University, we did have a visit by Muhammad Ali, who was doing a tour at the time, because he was banned from boxing. I remember he pulled up in a purple Cadillac, that was the biggest thing that I remember. Of course, he gave a speech about not wanting to go to the war and, you know, his stance. I guess in spite of all of that, I still went. I think that was just the pressure, the culture, and I was an American. I guess even today, if I hear like the national anthem, or pledge of allegiance, like this indoctrination, you know, started when I was really young so I still have to make a conscious effort to say, you know, these guys tricked you. And what they got you pledging allegiance to and sing in the national anthem about is like, it's folly, it's not real. 

But I was 18 years old, 19 years old, so I went to Marine Corps and realized I was making a mistake. I went to them and said, you know, I don't think I'm cut out for this kind of duty, I think I want to leave the military. And they threatened to, like, arrest me and put me in jail and all that. So I said, well, that's not gonna work rationally. So I waited for my opportunity to just leave. So I went on a pass one weekend, I went to Washington, DC. And in those days, if you have a military ID, you can get on any plane if they got room, and they'll fly you wherever you want to go. 

So I got on a plane, flew back to New York City, and went home. When I went home there was a big stir, everybody said you better go back and they even brought an ex-army general, Colonel or whatever, karate guy I grew up with, to beat me up, make me go back home. I said yeah, if we are going to fight we are going to fight, I've been through basic training, I've been through advanced infantry training, I can fight. But it's not gonna make a difference. I'm not going back. 

So finally, they say, well, you are being hard here, you should go back. I said you guys don't know what I just went through, you guys don't see what I'm seeing, so I love you guys and all that, but I gotta do what I have to do. And I was gonna go to Trinidad, because I had a girlfriend from New York. She was from Trinidad. So I said Trinidad sounds pretty cool, so I'm going to go to Trinidad it's nice and warm there. But I read an article saying there was a lot of people who had deserted and went to the mountains in Trinidad and army had just made a big arrest. So I thought better not go to Trinidad, too hot. So Montreal came up in a magazine I was reading. So there was already one black guy there. So I said if these guys are hip enough to have these kinds of clubs in Montreal, and there is already a black guy there, maybe I should actually go to Montreal. And the next week, my neighbor's church was giving a bus ride to Montreal. So I said this is a sign here.

So I told him, I want a ticket for the bus ride but I'm not coming back. He said, you're not coming back? I said yeah, keep it quiet I'm not coming back, though. So he said, okay. We grew up together all these guys, in a close neighborhood, so he says, well, whatever you want to do, yeah. So we got to the border, and he took a kid and he put him underneath a blanket. So when immigration came they counted heads on the bus, 57, okay. We went for a vacation in Montreal for about two weeks, everybody else got back on the bus going back to New Jersey. I put my stuff on my back and I walked to McGill University. So I was in McGill University for about three or four weeks. I met a couple of guys there, it was nice, summertime, Montreal was really beautiful and all that, but I wasn't going anywhere and nothing was happening for me. So finally people said you should go to Toronto, you don't speak French, it's gonna be tough for you to make it in, plus your money is running out. So I went to Toronto, and Toronto had what was called the Toronto NC Draft Program. It was run by a girl named Naomi wells, and her partner, and they had a network of people who had emigrated to Canada from the United States due to the war, and now were established in Toronto and wanted to help out more people who are coming in. So they had places where you could stay, and they had ways of you making money, legally. So I was a Fuller Brush guy, I used to go around knocking on doors and selling Fuller Brush products for this guy who had the franchise.

I remember the first Grey Cup game, it was like a celebration. I said wow, maybe Canada is going to work. But then, I was on Bathurst Street in Toronto, and the War Measures Act came down. And I'd already been in the Newark riots. So, my friend, we were living in suburbs, but we were there talking one night, and we decided to go back to our hometown in Newark, to see what the riots look like. I guess we got stopped about 50 times before we could make it to Newark and back out. And we saw the National Guard guys lined up guarding all the big stores, and the police and all the state troopers. They stopped us at every corner, had us get out and check us out. Because we knew the city better than them, we could tell a lie, we’re coming from work we are trying to get here. So they couldn't say anything, but it was a terrifying experience to see the city where we grew up, burning, and now under siege.

So when I was in Canada and saying, well, it's now safe and all that, all of a sudden the War Measures Act came down, and there were tanks on the streets of Toronto, so I was like, wow, this is like a deja vu. But it was quickly over, everything went back to normal. And there was also this place called Rochdale on Bloor Street, where all these hippies were and all that kind of stuff was going on. I used to always walk a couple blocks away from Rochdale, because the FBI was there, and they were arresting my uncle on a regular basis in New Jersey, coming to my house knocking on the door, searching the house, and he happened to be in there helping my mother, you know, do her floors or whatever. They kept arresting him thinking he was me. So we always joke when I came back, he says you owe me a lot man because I had to go to jail for you and all that. The first time in American history that we got the amnesty. So after five years of being on the FBI list, they declared amnesty for all of the hundred thousand deserters and draft charges, first time in American history, and we returned to Fort Benjamin, Indiana and got our discharges. 

Well, my name was always Abdul Rahman when I was in Toronto. So I added the name Abbas because of the tragedy of Karbala, when I embraced Shi'a Islam. I think this is the completion of the deen in a sense for me, since such a huge piece that had been missing in such an intrical part of the legacy of Ahlul Bayt that I sort of incorporated that name and the part that Abbas played on that day. But all of the Ahlul Bayt is extraordinarily special to me, and of course, the Prophet may peace be upon him, is the main guy.

I was in Syria, so I did go to Bibi Zeinab's mausoleum. We were there in route to Hajj. So we were there, but I haven't been to Iraq or Iran yet. We were staying at a five star hotel, so this was like a big deal. But, you know, the entrance to the shrine and going to the shrine clearly outweighed any of the glamour of the five star hotel. So that really was striking. Also the fact that in Syria, we also went to the tomb of Bilal, I remember that pretty distinctly. Well, just a reverence that everyone was praying to Bibi Zeinab and of course, again, tying in the story of the tragedy of Karbala and the part she played for Islam, that was huge. I felt very fortunate, because, I can look back and say, well, if I wasn't exposed to Ahlul Bayt, I could have easily gone to Syria, and, have no knowledge whatsoever of Zeinab's life or story or anything. So I felt very fortunate that at least I went to Syria at the time that I was aware of the Ahlul Bayt and her presence, her importance. 

I don't think there's any comparison to any sort of struggles that we have that compares to the sacrifice of Imam Husayn on the planes of Karbala, I think it is the epitome of sacrifice. I think the relation to the great sacrifice of the Prophet Abraham, and how this was suspended and put in place for it to be Imam Hussein, I think that was really a key thing. I felt very fortunate that after such a long time, feeling like I was educated in Islam and the deen, that these important pieces, I was now at least aware of them. So I felt fortunate that I was no longer in the dark about Imam Husayn and his sacrifice and all that it entailed. 

Yes, my wife and I, we both work in the healthcare field, she's a nurse and I'm a youth and family counselor. We work with kids in psychiatric and psychological crisis, we met in Toronto working together in this field. So when we came out here, she actually embraced Islam while she was here. So she a new Muslim compared to my experience. One of the highlights, I guess, of our time here was a time when I had retired from my job at Children's Hospital, and was just working sort of casually. So we took the opportunity to come to the school, and work with the teachers and students here at the school. I was basically working for her, she was more or less the spearhead of it. 

And we called our little Union Hearts first, because we were dealing with the transformation of child development, that we should be looking towards enriching the child, trying to increase their generosity, trying to get away from seclusion and coersion.... If you don't do this, you're going to do that. These things now have been scientifically proven that they are not the best way to raise children, for their development, so we're trying to introduce a lot of that into the environment here into the school. And as counselors also, though we were dealing at Children's Hospital with a lot more serious sort of issues, we were in tune to child development and able to detect certain things out of children's behavior. So it was quite a rewarding and interesting time that we spent here. 

Unfortunately, she had contracted breast cancer 10 years previously and the cancer returned, she was in remission for about 10 years and the cancer return, it was metastasized. So she became quite ill again, so we had to stop and she's been under treatment ever since. The good news is that through all the prayers, because she became quite well known quickly. Through the prayers of all the Muslims here in the community and of course, the brothers in Toronto and Ottawa that we know who knew her and knew of the situations, the duaas were pouring in all over. 

And Al-hamdulil-Lah, she had an emergency in August, where she was quite ill, and fought off two infections. The doctor changed her medication when she came out of hospital, and from that time to now it's been steady improvement. So no, she's not fully recovered she doesn't have her full energy, she was able to make it to the journey of Islam this year, which was a great thing for her because she got to see a lot of kids that she had been working with. She was asking, oh, do you remember me and you know, so I think that really lifted both of our hearts a lot. So the community has been outstanding as far as their support, and the love and caring that they've shown us has been unbelievable. We are very much in debt to the community and the duaas everyone has sent.

It was a time when I felt pretty powerless at times. I wasn't able to go to work when I wanted to go to work a lot of times, so it was really constricting. I was making a lot of duaas, I guess it really humbled me that I didn't have much control over what was going on. Here's a woman, my best friend in life and she was not doing well, there was not much I could really do about it, other than console her. She's a nurse, I didn't think I would be taking care of her, and I thought it'd be the other way around. It would have been more fitting the way I look at it, but as one of the brothers told me, that's not Allah’s plan. Allah’s plan is for you to take care of her. So buck up and rise to the occasion. So al-Hamdulil-Lah, it was quite a hard experience, for me; I'm not that nursing kind of guy, but family, friends and like I said the community was outstanding as far as their support for me also, they would always ask how she was doing, it was really quite a good support for me, so it helped me out a lot.

Oh, most definitely. You know, death is inevitable. And you know, this life is preparation for it. But you know, we're all scared of it, and it's unknown, and none of us know what our tabulation is at this time. And you know, just things that we have no control over. So I think that reality was really sprung upon me, at an unexpected time. Some of the brothers said Allah loves you, He's showing you this test so that you can be stronger and all that, you know, while tears are rolling down my eyes, and I'm feeling like a little baby. But now I can kind of reflect on it. I guess when we are going through things, a lot of times, it's hard to see the hikma of it, but Allah reveals things in His own ways and His own time, so I'm thankful for the journey. 

I feel like I should be one of the ambassadors because I know the outside world, I'm a North American, I know the population, and, you know, I used to be like those guys who are not into the deen. So I think I could probably do a better job. And now that Islamophobia is such a rampant pitch, I think it's even more incumbent upon us to come up with more inventive ways and more persistent ways to actually put our message out. I think the journey into Islam - I just brought two people; one person was a family member, the other one was a work colleague. So I was happy about the work colleague, he responded very well. And when I checked Facebook, he had put pictures and a lot of his friends said, yeah, he's good. You should know about Islam should learn about these sort of things. 

So you know, I think there will come a time when people will be embracing Islam in troops, but I think it's up to us to make it happen. And it's gonna take a lot of courage because it's easy for us to hide, like, I can take off my hat and you see I’m a little bald here with a little bit of hair coming in, hear my American accent, there's no way you would think I'm Muslim, unless you saw me and thought I was a Pakistani, then I opened my mouth, oh, he's not a Pakistani, he's American, he can't be a Muslim. So little things. I think it's different for women, and women who are wearing the hijab al-Hamdulil-Lah, it's very apparent. But, you know, the brothers, I think we need to show a little bit more bravery. 

And I think there's a story by shaykh - I don’t want to mispronounce this brother's name - shaykh  Osama. He used to sound like he's from the West Indies, and I heard his story. His father is always in Arab garb in the West Indies. So the brothers were visiting him, and said why are you always in a garb like this? Like, you don't have to do that to be Muslim. And he said, well, because the sisters have to wear the hijab, and it makes them very obvious. So in support of them, I want to be obvious too as a Muslim. So I think these kind of things are interesting, because as a Sunni, I think we were much more into wearing the garbs and coming out on Jumu'a day, proud, strutting down the streets with our turbans and the whole clothes. 

The Shia Islam when they wear turbans, because this is the garb of the scholars, I think we're a little bit more knowledgeable and our dresses are pretty, you know, we look like we could be Christians or whatever, we don't wear topi. If you look around the crowds, even on Eid day, and all that. Eid day, when we were Sunni brothers we had Eid to the bone, like, you know, everything. It's like the Sunday school when we were kids, we were in our finery, and we were proud and we walked in the streets and the people could honk blow their horns, you know, Toronto, we don’t care because we love it. So that kind of pride, I don't see that, transferring, as Shi'a. We are much more subdued, conservative in the kind of congregation of Jumu'a. If you take a picture, it could be one brother got a topi. But you never know, so I don't question it because I know, it's all about our hearts, but if we are talking about exposing and educating the public, then we can be a little bit more apparent, so our neighbors will be curious. And they can ask, oh, I didn't know he was Muslim, tell me about this, tell me about that. Because I find if you are open to people, and especially if people know you, then… because this year when about four or five people came to me and said, oh, I want to go to this thing. I say sorry, like registration is already closed now, maybe next year. So they were quite disappointed. But then I found that they could have come at seven o'clock, 7.30, after dinner was over. So it was all about how many people will be there for dinner. So I wasn't that informed, I didn't really know, by the time I called them back and said, oh you guys can come at 7.30 it will be okay, it was kind of too late. So, you know, I think I'm also very guilty of not being as involved in the masjid as I could be, trying to go to work and you know this kind of thing. So I think in my situation, I could definitely do more. But I think as a community, and as you see these things like Dearborn, Michigan, you know, there's Muslim communities there, they got their football teams. And so, you know, I grew up with these sort of things. This is what North America is kind of about. So I think we'd be more visible. We could have a Muslim hockey team. When I was here in the school, working with the kids, we did some basketball, but we weren't involved in the private school leagues and these sort of things. 

So I realized that people want to be cautious, as far as exposing the kids to the quote “North American” culture and society, but I think we have to have more faith in the youth. They are they tougher than we think they are. And I think a lot of times it's the adults’ apprehension as far as letting the kids really go out and experience, and be able to come back and still be loyal. I think parenting could use some input. And again, my wife and I are trying to play some role in that - we probably could play a better role. She's getting well, so we hope we can return to the school and maybe contribute some more to that. 

I would say follow your heart and use your head, and realize that if you’re even contemplating it, it's a blessing from the Creator, because the wrong path is like the path of North America, you can go down it and you get blinded, very easily. And be conscious, because I look at myself, I feel very fortunate that I'm not an ISIS fighter in Syria right now, murdering people and dying in that state of being a killer and a murderer. I could have easily been there if I hadn't been introduced to Ahlul Bayt. Because as a Sunni Muslim, to go fight Jihad and all that, we were the guys that would have done that because we were tough guys, we're street guys, we fight. So very easily, me and the brothers that I was with, we could have been there very easily. 

So fortunately, we get the insight into this, and now we are on other side. I'd much rather be the target of that kind of oppression or that kind of ideology, rather than have been immersed in it, because I was there at a time, and it is only by the grace of Allah that I'm now sitting here in this position. So for people to be very cautious when they are making decisions at this point. And also to consult many authorities, not just one or two, not just one scholar, talk to many scholars, because I think that's an advantage you get a wider point of view. And you'll find the truth within that, rather than just putting all your faith in one particular scholar. I think it's good to go to as many as you can.

I give my Assalaam Aleikum to all the brothers and sisters there and hope to see you in Hajj one day, if I'm lucky enough to return. Remember the sacrifices of Imam Husayn and may this be our call for us to be a little stronger, more assertive. This North America is Allah's country, so this culture thing about where I'm from here, I'm from there. Well I'm an immigrant from America. But I feel like Canada is just like America, as far as I'm concerned, as far as my entitlement. So I think if you come from far away, or you come from close by, you know, this is Allah’s place so own it. Don't let the culture of Canada, which is changing under Harper, hopefully things will be different under Trudeau. But you know, we are here and we are full citizens from the jump because of the sacrifices we made to come here, and the contributions that we have made here makes makes us full citizens, no second class anything. 

Of course, Islam wants us to be the best at whatever we do, so that doesn't just mean at our occupation, but also as far as a citizen of this country. So Shaykh Murtadha is always telling us that we need to be more involved in politics and writing letters, I think this is definitely true. I come from a background where we were oppressed in the United States for hundreds of years, and that fight is still going on now. And now with Islamophobia, the thing that is most hurting to me is that I see the black community in America all of a sudden, they are no longer the target, and they want to be big Americans all of a sudden. So for them, I say you guys wake up, this is all a trick. This life we have is precious and it's short, so own where you’re at, and be proud of what you believe in, and, you know, be kind to people and treat people well. But don't let people run over you, and stand up for your rights because we do have the right to Allah's land and to live happily and freely and without oppression. So that would be my message.

This video was first published on 29 Jun 2016 by ABTV Reborn as Reborn - I was told if I shared this in the Mosque, the Mosque will boil. We are grateful for their cooperation.

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