Conversion Story For Sheikh Abdillahi Nasir

Published on 21 Apr 2020
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My full name is Abdillahi Nasir Juma.

I was born in Jua Kali Street, which is close by. I was raised here and studied here. My grandfather from my mother’s side was a Sheikh (religious leader), a religious specialist. His name was Ahmed Mohamed Matano. He was my maternal grandfather. My mother was a teacher in Madressa. She used to teach young girls. I went to Madressa with a lot of other younger boys, so I was raised with a religious education before I even went to school. Then I went to school and the school was called Arab Primary School. I studied there with other Muslim children, and non-Muslim ones as well. I studied there, then after that I went to Zanzibar to study education (teaching). In those days East African Muslims were sent to Zanzibar, because there while going to school, people would study religion as well. So I went to Zanzibar, I studied, and then I came back and taught at the same school I studied at. I was employed there. But it didn’t take many years, before was diagnosed with TB. I was sent to the hospital, and after a while I could no longer teach so I left my job. But after a while, I was employed at the Islamic institution called MIOME (Mombasa Institute of Muslim Education). There I worked as a book keeper and I also taught religion. I was a Sunni Muslim, at the time the Shia community was largely limited to the Indian ethnic groups and people from Bahrain. The Sunnis were dominant and most of them followed the Shafi’i school of thought. Shias were our brothers. People lived peacefully. There were no conflicts or wars of any kind between people. I was a believer in my school of thought; I got the opportunity to learn more when I moved to Zanzibar where I had a teacher who spoke English very well and studied at Makere University in Uganda. He was a biologist. When he taught religion, he would combine his scientific knowledge with that of religion. This was unique to me, as I had only studied religion on its own before without the scientific angle. So when I came back from Zanzibar, I had a broader perspective. When I came back I started teaching at school. But because my knowledge had broadened, I wanted to learn more even while teaching. But unfortunately the teachers here were quite traditional in their approach and they would teach Arabic, Kiswahili etc. but they wouldn’t go into other branches of education. The way I had studied, I had gotten used to asking questions and engaging in dialogue and discussing but unfortunately, the traditional Sheikhs did not like to be asked questions. They didn’t like to debate. So many of the Sheikhs didn’t have a high opinion of me because of my curiosity. So I wasn’t happy with the way I was being taught now. Fortunately, there was one teacher, who despite being old, he had very good insights and I got him to teach me and he really awoke me. He told me not to be afraid to read any book. This teacher encouraged asking questions. Back then asking questions was not easy, particularly to the traditional Sheikhs. The good part about this teacher was he not only encouraged me to ask questions, but when I asked him questions, he would ask my opinion. He would accept them as valid. For example, one of the questions I had was about Imam Ali. As a Sunni, we believe Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman were caliphs before Ali, but when I read books (Sunni books), I found as though Imam Ali was ahead of the 3 caliphs. Why then was he named behind the 3 caliphs? So I asked my teacher this, which would’ve been difficult to do with traditional Sheikhs. I asked my teacher, why is it that Imam Ali was named after the 3 caliphs, when his knowledge, his contribution to holy wars and the religion seemed to exceed those of the 3 caliphs. My teacher unlike the traditional Sheikhs did not get angry or get provoked by my questions. He told me that if I thought Imam Ali was superior to the 3 caliphs then I was entitled to believe that. He told me that each of us will be judged differently after we die, so if I had these beliefs, and if upon talking to people, I couldn’t be persuaded otherwise, then I should hold onto them. Given my Sunni upbringing, I was very conflicted but this is how I began my research into Imam Ali. But one thing my teacher had told me was that even though I had these thoughts, I shouldn’t advertise them because I was still a kid without any popularity or standing in society, so openly declaring my beliefs would disturb my life. But I was a kid, as a kid your blood boils and you want to debate so when I’d meet people, I would want to debate and explain my opinions. The news spread to the Sheikhs that I had problematic opinions. A while passed, and Sheikh Ghazali (my teacher) brought me some books and asked me to read them. The books were about Al Ghadir, and I took them and started to read them. When I read them my thoughts became even more enlightened than initially. After reading them I went back to the Sheikh (whom we called Maalim, as he also taught us at school), and I told him that these books were challenging my Sunni beliefs even more. He told me to keep reading and have an open mind and accept what I thought was true. And the other Sheikhs, when they would explain Shi'ism, they wouldn’t explain it well. They would misrepresent many Khoja practices (as those were the dominant Shias near us). For example, the practice of keeping flags at mosques or the practice of beating themselves. I gained more knowledge not just about Imam Ali and Imam Hussein but also about Fiqh, and I gained more awareness about the school of Ahlulbayt. It took me a while to declare myself as a Shia, and this was due to the advice I got from Sheikh Ghazali. He told me I was still young and I should not rush to declare myself Shia. Later, I was asked to speak at Hussein Day in Muharram. I told Sheikh Ghazali that I agreed to this proposal, to which he said that I had made a mistake. Sheikh Ghazali told me that he would write the Khutbah that I would deliver for me. Sheikh Ghazali asked me to go to his house, where he would deliver the Khutbah 30 minutes prior to when I was required to deliver. He gave the Khutbah for 30 minutes, and he asked me if I would be able to deliver it the same way. I responded that I would. I did not write anything down, I just memorized the Khutbah in my head. Then I went to the hall where I was supposed to deliver the Khutbah. There were both Sunnis and Shias at the event. Sheikh Ghazali also came to the event and he told me he would give me indications during my Khutbah as to whether I was saying the right things or not. Throughout the entire Khutbah he kept his head down (indicating that he approved of my Khutbah), thereafter he left and told me he would see me tomorrow. When I went to his place, he asked me what the Sheikh that had recommended me to speak at this Khutbah had said in response to my Khutbah. I told him that he blamed me and that he did not approve of my Khutbah. He stated that this Sheikh was there merely to slander me, and if I had delivered my Khutbah the way I wanted, that would have been the end of me. What Sheikh Ghazali had stated in his Khutbah was purely positive with regard to Hussein; he did not mention Yazid at all. He mentioned what Hussein stood for, what his enemies stood for, without mentioning specific names as Shias usually do.

Sheikh Ghazali later died in the 1960s, and I began teaching his class tafsir of Quran. Later I entered politics, and this enabled me to gain popularity. Sheikh Ghazali had told me that I would not be able to declare myself a Shia openly until I had a following, because otherwise I would be killed. Because of my political following and support, I also gained support for my religious views. At this point I then declared myself a Shia. At the time I was teaching Quran and I used to tell people about Imam Ali and used to explain historical events such as the death and funeral of the Prophet and the attack by Umar [and] Abu Bakr on the house of Bibi Fatema without stating that these perspectives are Shia. It was the Sunni Sheikhs who would tell people that these were Shia views. But given the logic with which I would explain the Shia narrative, such as stating that the people, who were allegedly closest to the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam like Abu Bakr and Umar, were not at the Prophet's funeral and were instead deciding who would take over, people would grow skeptical of the Sunni narrative. At this point the Sunni Sheikhs started attacking me. I used to circulate cassettes and that helped my popularity. I gave a 3.5 hour speech on Salman Rushdie at the mosque in Nairobi, which attracted a massive crowd, and I was able to explain how a lot of what Rushdie said came from Sunni sources. Imam Khomeini had avoided bringing the sectarian narrative into light whilst condemning Salman Rushdie. This cassette of my speech about Rushdie spread extensively. Even people in China had access to it. The concept of caliphate - how Umar could be chosen by Abu Bakr but the Prophet was not fit to choose Imam Ali - this did not make sense to me. In addition, the fact that Umar brought a new system from that of the Prophet, which did not make sense to me because the Prophet had completed the religion of Islam, and changing it would no longer mean it was Islam. Many Sheikhs would come to my classes to debate or attack me. At one time, 11 Sunni Sheikhs came to my office from different parts of the world, like Pakistan, Egypt, Kenya etc. They did not come to debate me, instead they came to ask me about why many of my students were reading books by Beheshti and Imam Khomeini. This was right after the Iranian revolution. These Sheikhs were alarmed by this and wondered why these students of mine were no longer reading Mauluds, Saeed Kutub etc. and instead reading about Iran. When they asked me this, I told them this was not a question they should ask me, rather they should address it to the students themselves. I personally read all books. One of the Sheikhs who was a staunch Wahhabi told me in English: Let us not beat about the bush, I have not met worse people than Shias, more horrible people than Shias, greater Kafirs than Shias. So I asked him what his definition of Shia was, because perhaps I thought what he defined as a Shia was indeed the most horrible person. The Sheikh defined what he thought a Shia was and it turns out the Sheikhs couldn’t even agree on what a Shia was. So they debated for 50 minutes and eventually they left. This entire conversation was being recorded, and fortunately, they did ask for my permission to do so, I agreed on the condition that they would send me the tape after it was recorded. It turns out that the Saudi ambassador had sent these people and they reported back to him falsely that I had no response to their arguments. When people heard this, they came up to me and asked me why this was, to which I responded, "Let us wait for the recording". Fortunately, I got sent the tape the day after, and I had this tape sent to the Saudi ambassador. He called the Sheikhs and told them that they had lied to him and instead of me having no response to their claims, they had made complete fools of themselves.

Don’t listen to what people say, read books about Shia with an open mind and you will learn what Shias believe etc.

This video was first published on 11 Oct 2017 by ABTV Reborn as Reborn - Sheikh Abdillahi Nasir - Reading our books I found Imam Ali to be ahead of other caliphs. We are grateful for their cooperation.

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