Saturday, December 15, 2012

My name is Bobby-A journey to Islam

My name is Bobby!
A journey to Islam

 "Takbeer!,” someone sitting next to me on the floor of the mosque shouted. It was so loud that I nearly jumped off the floor.
Everybody in the mosque and I happily yelled in unison "Allahuakbar" (God is the greatest)
"Takbeer," a second person shouted louder from behind me.

"Allahuakbar," we all repeated.
Then a third brother screamed even more loudly, for the third time "Takbeer" 
We all loudly repeated "Allahuakbar."   
Several months ago, over Thanksgiving break, my wife and I went to visit her family in San Francisco California. One evening there, after dinner my brother-in-law, Hassan, took us all to the local mosque for Isha (night) prayer and a short halaqa (study circle). Right before leading the prayer, Imam Abdullah asked us to stay after the prayer to witness Bobby taking the shahada (declaration of faith).
They started with the traditional 3 "takabeers", to celebrate the conversion of Bobby to Islam.  Of course, the isolated sisters, at a back room packed with screaming-at-each-other and running-everywhere children, participated in this happy moment, (as my wife told me later that night). At this mosque, I was told that the sisters were only allowed to hear what was happening at the brothers’ side through the use of modern technology. Although they could see through one-way glass, they could not be seen or heard.
 During the prayer, two little boys - escapees from the sisters’ back room, were chasing each other, yelling, and giggling and having fun. One of them would shout, “On your mark, get set, go” and they raced across the mosque. They were certainly disturbing our “khushou’” (spiritual concentration). As I was in my prostration posture, I was making plans to protect my head if I heard these boys charging in my direction.
 As soon as the prayer leader, Imam Abdullah, announced the end of the prayer, “assalamu alukum wa rahmatullah, assalamu alukum wa rahmatullah”, the two boys did, guess what? They miraculously disappeared.
After the prayer, a nice looking young man, in his mid twenties, dressed in suite and tie with a neat haircut and light beard, came from the back and sat near the Imam. He had a nice smile on his face but looked nervous and shy.
Imam Abdullah, smiling, said “Welcome, welcome, what is your name brother?"
The man replied, “My name is Bobby"
"You're here to become Muslim? What a wonderful thing!"   
Bobby, nodded: "Yes, sir"
Imam Abdullah: "No, please, please, don't call me sir. Call me Imam Abdullah. Tell us what made you like Islam to a point that you’re willing to become Muslim?"
Bobby, looking more calm, started "Well Imam, its simplicity! Islam is an easy religion to understand. Islam is the religion of all prophets from Adam to Muhammad ("sallallahu alyhi wa sallam" –peace and blessing be with them, the Imam and many of us interjected in unison). Islam means submission to the will of Almighty God. Allah (the Arabic name of God) He himself introduced Islam in a few words and …. ”.  
Imam Abdullah (surprised at Bobby's answer, as we all were, cut him off.) "Few words, only few words!, what do you mean?”
 “Well ,Imam” Bobby continued “when Allah spoke to Moses in Mount Sinai He told him:
‘Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance. Indeed, the Hour is coming - I almost conceal it - so that every soul may be recompensed according to that for which it strives.  So do not let one avert you from it, one who does not believe in it and follows his desire, for you [then] would perish. ‘”
Imam Abdullah (even more surprised) said “Mashaallah!, Mashaallah! Mashaallah!  (Whatever Allah wills, It is used in occasions where there is surprise in someone’ good deeds or achievements), did anyone make Da’wa to you, I mean preach you?”
Bobby, shook his head: "No Imam, I did some study, I read the Quran and God has opened my heart”.   
The two little boys appeared again charging at each other, screaming from row to row. Their respective fathers sat still, ignoring them as if they did not know to whom these kids belonged. The Imam had to intervene to stop these boys so we could hear the Shahada.
After Bobby took the Shahada, we responded to the calls for the 3 takbirs. Then we all lined up and started hugging him and tapping on his back and arms one after the other. Some practically crushed him in bear hugs, so strongly, I was scared that he’d suffocate.
That night, soon after the Halaqa was over, everybody left the Mosque and Bobby was left behind alone, or was he left alone?
Almost a year later, I met Hassan during a national Islamic conference in Washington, DC. As we were having dinner together, I remembered Bobby and asked:

“How’s Bobby doing?”
“Who Bobby?” he replied as if he’d never heard of this name before! 
“The young man who took the Shahada last year during Thanksgiving’s break”
“Oh yeah! I remember now, Bobby became, Abdulshakur Abdultawwab Mujahid  Alislam”, he replied. “Shortly after Bobby took his Shahada, he was completely neglected by the majority of people of the mosque, except for few. These few brothers are nice people and are blessed with a lot of time to spend in and around the mosque. They are self declared ‘muftis’ (scholars in Islamic jurisprudence). They managed to cause some changes to Bobby’s life. Starting by forcing him to take what they called an ’Islamic name’!” and to dress ‘Islamicly’.
As Hassan was talking, I thought to myself, wondering, out of the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, what are the odds that two people exist with the name Abdulshakur,Abdultawwab Mujahid Alislam?.
Certainly Bobby’s new name is so beautiful; Abdulshakur means the servant of The Appreciative. Abdultawwab is the servant of The Acceptor of Repentance and Mujahid Alislam is the one who is ready to struggle to serve Islam. The Appreciative and The Acceptor of Repentance are two of the 99 beautiful names of Allah. Of course with such a unique name Bobby does not have to anymore worry to become a victim of identity theft!
Hassan added, “Bobby quit his college since he could no longer, according to his new muftis, accept student interest-bearing loans nor could he work for non Muslims.(Of course these muftis were not willing to financially support Bobby through his college  because they could barely support themselves!). He cut off his relation with his family, he left his hair grow to his shoulders, he’s wearing kufiya (head cover) and a dishdasha (an-ankle-length garment). He’s spending most of his time in and around the mosque living off small odd jobs and charity.”
Bobby, like many converts, felt like he needed to “prove himself” as a good Muslim. He thought, wrongly, that he needed to give up his heritage and reject his society in order to “fit” and hence he became a soft target.  All of these changes he did to fit in were not things any regular person born Muslim would think of doing.  No Muslim should cut relationships with his family, even if they are not Muslim.  Many Muslims get student loans and even more work with and for non-Muslims.  Kufiya and dishdasha are cultural clothing for some ethnic groups of Muslims, but they are a minority in the Muslim world and they usually wear American style clothes when they stay in the States. 
Sadly, for Bobby and the like, many Islamic institutions are too busy with inner fighting. In most cases fighting is over leadership. Sometimes we don’t even know what the fighting is about. Valuable time and money are vainly spent on dispute upon dispute upon dispute, and in protracted costly law suits.

Where are the regular Muslims to open their arms to people like Bobby? We leave Bobby to take care of our own things, and spend our time with our own friends, people like us from our own ethnic backgrounds.  We leave Bobby alone because he doesn’t fit in to our little cliques.  But those who practice extreme interpretations of Islam, those who ignore moderation in affairs, they focus their time to attend to Bobby and teach him their version of Islam.
Meanwhile Bobby will never “fit”, or will he? Where will he feel at home among brothers?
Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this piece are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.


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