My Story …
I originally posted this story on another forum; I was asked by one of the members of that forum to post a story of my conversion to Islam. So to fulfill this request, I thought I would write up this little autobiographical account of how I came to accept this beautiful religion. I had written a more complete story of how I came to Islam back when I first converted and the events leading to my conversion were still fresh in my mind, but I have since lost what I’ve written, and to be honest, I can’t really remember much of what I wrote either. So, what’s presented to you here will be a somewhat sketchy account of my story, if Allah willed, and I hope that it suffices those of you reading this.
I thought I would first mention a little info about myself just to give you guys an idea of who I was before my acceptance of Islam. Firstly though, my name is Rasheed Gonzales (as you’ve probably noticed by my user name here)—and no, I haven’t legally changed my first name to Rasheed and I doubt I ever will. However, it is the name I go by the majority of the time (of course, that doesn’t include all the official legal stuff—e.g., work, taxes, etc.).
Before Islam, I was born into a Christian family and baptised a Protestant (of the United Church of Canada). My mom and dad (may Allah guide them both) are originally from the Philippines, but my two younger brothers (one of whom accepted Islam two years prior to me and may Allah guide the other one as well) and I were born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Although my family wasn’t ultra-religious, my mom did manage drag us to church every Sunday and also tried to encourage us to pray to God every night. Looking back at the lives we lived growing up, I guess you can say we experienced quite a bit—actually, we experienced quite a lot. But in spite of that, I still think I lived a fairly tame life. I say “fairly” because many of my friends who have heard what my brothers and I did while growing up were pretty shocked at the stuff we (i.e., the brother who accepted Islam and myself) told them. And while their reactions might be warranted and justified, the stuff I experienced growing up is nowhere like some of the things I know some of my other friends and acquaintances—whether converts or still non-Muslims, Canadian and American—have gone through in their lives.
From about the time I reached highschool my family wasn’t really that close-knit. In fact, I can honestly say that during my highschool years, we were a pretty disfunctional family. I’m sure that the fact that my brothers and I were drinking, doing mild drugs and rolling with “gangs” didn’t help all that much either (I put gangs in quotes because our crews back then weren’t really gangs, we were more like a group of trouble-making friends that hung out and got drunk or high together).
In the middle of highschool (early 90s), my family went through a really rough period. My grandmother on my mom’s side died due to colon cancer, my favourite aunt died from a stroke, another favourite aunt was murdered down in Florida and to top it off, my parents were thinking of splitting up. Needless to say, it was an extremely rough period for my brothers and I. It was during this rough period that I made the conscious decision to leave Christianity. Not to knock the religion, but I just saw too many contradictions and had too many questions left unanswered—the biggest one, a logical explanation to the Trinity (to this day I still haven’t heard one and I doubt I ever will).
So, for about seven years or so I lived life as I saw fit, making up my rights and wrongs as I went. I believed there was a God, I just didn’t know what or who He was—let alone what He wanted from us. I mean, I had my theories, but none of them were based on anything substantial. My friends and I would often engage in philisophical talks about what we thought this life was for and who and what God was and things of the sort (usually while in an intoxicated state of some sort).
In the beginning of 1999, life as I knew it changed drastically. It began with the death of my best friend’s father. He died from emphysema, which was a result of his smoking. That was the slap in the face that kind of woke me up. It was from then that I started to gradually, but unknowlingly, quit my seven year smoking habit. I developed a new nonchalant attitude towards life not caring about what people said or thought and lived life the way I wanted to. It was also during this time that my friends had picked up the past-time of going to raves and taking ecstasy. One of my friends (the one whose dad died—we’ll call him friend “Gee”), started getting into ecstasy a lot more than my other friends; so much so that it started to concern my brother (the one who’s Muslim now—by this time he had already converted, although wasn’t practicing that much).
One night, I went to my first rave with Gee and a few other friends. This was the night I dosed for the first time (i.e., took ecstasy for those not “hip” to the lingo). The day after was the start of some insanity. My youngest brother (the non-Muslim one) found out that I had dosed when he overheard a conversation I was having the next day with another friend who had also dosed for the first time that night. We both had a pretty crappy experience and said we were never going to take the stuff again. My brother ignored that portion of the conversation though and started yelling at me, calling me a crackhead and what not. My dad comes into the room to find out what all the commotion was about and my brother blurts out, “he’s taking heroine!” My dad starts freaking out and runs to me, checking my arms for needle tracks. This huge yelling match ensued and I ended up leaving the apartment, calling Gee and telling him to meet me at the coffee shop on the corner. My Muslim brother ended up following us that night and decided to take the opportunity to have the talk he’s been wanting to have with Gee about his drug ventures. This lead to a fall out between me and Gee which was a pretty hard for me to deal with because a lot of our mutual friends ended up cutting me off. To add to the personal problems, my girlfriend at the time and I broke up not long after that.
Now, another friend of mine (we’ll call him “El”) had also accepted Islam about a month or so after my brother. El’s then girlfriend and now wife had accepted Islam just a few months before I did and it was during this time (i.e., during the fall out with Gee and break up with the ex) that the three of them took the opportunity to start officially introducing me to Islam very subtly. Mind you, some time before the fall out, my brother had already started the job by playing some tapes while my friends and I were around (some in English, and some in Tagalog—my parents’ mother-tongue, which I can understand fairly well). We wouldn’t necessarily be listening to them with him, but he knew for sure that we’d pick things up here and there. We were also heavily into learning about Freemasonry and trying to discover and read about conspiracy theories and all that stuff. One of the main tapes my brother used to introduce us to Islam was a tape called “From the Shadows” (or something like that—you can listen to it here, if you like: part 1 & part 2). It was a tape about the Freemasons and their plots against Islam. That was one tape my friends and I did end up listening to in full. A lot of it was based on conspiracy theories, some of which were true and some of which were false, with no real way to verify which was which—but we’re not going to get into that discussion here. My brother and El would also say things to me here and there: short little one liners that would get me thinking about stuff for days. One such thing I remember vividly was a question he posed to me one day out of no where. He asked, “What’s science?” Thinking it to be a rhetorical question, I snapped back, “It’s the way things work.” He shook his head and simply said, “Wrong. It’s the way God makes things work,” then turned and walked away. So, this was the type of unofficial introduction to Islam they gave me.
In any case, after the fall out with Gee and the break up with my girlfriend, El took the opportunity to start talking to me more, being the ear lent to listen to my ranting and raving about how crappy things were. My brother felt that El would be a better person to invite me to Islam since he and I weren’t really too close and he felt that I would be more open to listening to El rather than him.
Around may 1999, my brother started becoming more religious and wanted to start practicing more. He planned a three month solo-trip; two months in the Philippines to visit our family back there and the last month split, the first half to make the lesser pilgrimage (‘umrah) in Saudi Arabia and the second half to attend some huge conference at Madison Square Gardens in New York City. Before leaving he asked El to stick with me and keep telling me stuff about Islam here and there. He had a very strong feeling that I would accept it sooner or later, and the praise is Allah’s that his gut feeling ended up being right.
So anyhow, he left at the end of May for his trip and El and I started hooking up more often and just talking about life and stuff related to it. He listened a lot to my gripes and sorrows, throwing in his opinion or his advice here or there, may Allah reward him greatly for that.
Now, during this time, I also had a dear friend living in Los Angeles, California: a devout Christian, who is the one I give credit for getting me thinking about religion again after my seven year period of being “religionless”. She (we’ll call her “Cee”), may Allah reward her (you’ll see later why I’m asking Allah to do such), also lent her ear to my problems during this rough period and gave me advice about life here and there. We would often talk about religion and God—her, from her perspective as a Christian and me, funny enough, from my brother’s perspective as a Muslim. We would compare thoughts and beliefs and stuff like that—not to debate, just to talk and build on our understanding of things.
In July, I decided I needed some time away from my life in Toronto and needed to get away for a bit. Cee was at Penn State University down in State College, Pennsylvania and I thought visiting her down there would be just the break I needed to get away from everything. I made plans with Cee to head down there and meet up. On July 9th, just a couple days before I was planning to head down to Penn State, El called me up asking me to hook up with him. He wanted to take me to an Islamic centre to get some Islamic material to read while on my short trip. I thought why not, and went to meet him. As soon as we walked into the centre, he introduced me to a brother by the name of ‘Abdus-Salâm. ‘Abdus-Salâm was the brother at that particular centre who was unofficially in charge of inviting people to Islam. He asked me if I would sit and talk with him for a bit, and I agreed. What happened next was a 20-30 minute conversation—the vast majority of which I don’t even recall. In fact, from the little I do remember is that even though we were talking, I couldn’t make out a word he was saying. I just remember seeing his mouth moving and me replying to whatever he asked—what he asked, only Allah knows. Anyhow, I remember feeling insanely terrified. I didn’t know why at the time, but for the first time I can remember in my life, I wanted to run—and when I say run, I mean run! I didn’t know where to, but I knew for sure that I wanted to get the heck out of there. After a few minutes of talking (much of which to me sounded like “blah blah blah … blah blah blah blah blah”) and him asking me questions about my beliefs and stuff, he asked me to accept Islam and become Muslim. I remember telling him that I wasn’t ready yet and that I was going down to visit a friend down in the States and spend some time soul searching and that I would consider it when I got back. He said fine and continued his conversation with me. A few more minutes of “blah blah blah” and he asked me to accept Islam again. Again, I told him that I wanted to wait until I got back from my trip. He then continued to tell me things trying to encourage me to take that leap. Now, keep in mind, this whole time I’m still insanely terrified, thoughts swirling around inside my head, screaming so loud I could barely make out what he was telling me. The devil was really working hard to get me to get up and leave without accepting Islam. Something deep inside kept me seated though, and again, the praise is Allah’s for that. He then asked me to accept Islam again. I sat there thinking about taking the leap, about accepting the religion I knew deep down inside was the truth, a religion that answered many of my questions thus far, a religion that just simply made sense. I sat there thinking, for what seemed an eternity. Thinking about what it would be like if I left not accepting Islam, thinking about what it would mean to accept it. I told myself that if I didn’t do this now, I might not get the opportunity to do it again and I wasn’t comfortable with that. I thought for a bit more, then told him that I would. At that, he lead me through the testimony of faith and as I uttered those short and simple, yet meaningful words, I felt this huge wave of relief. The screaming thoughts, silenced. The intense fear, subsided. And I turned around to see El and his wife standing behind me, happier than I’ve ever seen them in the previous years I knew them. Later on that night, El taught me how to perform ablution and I prayed my first two prayers with them, not really knowing what I was doing and just going through the motions following them—I didn’t actually start learning how to pray on my own until a few weeks after that and looking back at that day, I can remember a number of mistakes we made (as both El and his wife—as well as my brother—were just starting to unlearn many of the erroneous things they learned when first accepting Islam).
It’s coming up on six years since that day, which seems like ages ago and at the same time, seems just like yesterday. I’ve learned so much during my five years of being Muslim. I’ve learned how to read, write and partially comprehend Arabic. I’ve read a number of books (mostly in English) about various different topics and learned a great deal in a short amount of time. I’m married to a good, new Muslim sister and together we have a very tiny, yet beautiful and extremely intelligent little girl. Throughout my Muslim life, Allah has always surrounded me with a core of good brothers upon the Sunnah and the correct understanding of Islam, and again, and again, the praise is Allah’s for that.
Currently, I’m a volunteer for the Canadian chapter affiliate of QSS (the Qur’an & Sunnah Society), taking care of various duties here and there. And all of this, from Allah’s bounty and blessings. and yet again, the praise is His for that.
So there you have it, a not so tiny nutshell of how a nobody from Toronto came to accept Islam. Like I mentioned at the beginning, I hope this suffices in fulfilling the request posted to me. I apologise for the sketchy account. I’m sure there’s plenty of events and details I forgot to include. But hey, it’s not like my story is all that intriguing or important any way. I hope you all enjoyed this … I know for me, it was a nice little trip through memory lane.
Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention … about my friend Cee from Los Angeles, she ended up accepting Islam August of that year, just over a month later, and the praise is Allah’s. I’m not sure how she’s doing nowadays since we’re not in contact anymore, but I pray she’s doing well and that Allah has allowed to keep that faith in her heart. Well, that’s it. you guys can get back to whatever it was you were doing before you stumbled across this story of mine …
I say this speech of mine, while seeking forgiveness from Allah for me and for you. Indeed, He is Forgiving, Compassionate. And may Allah send salutations and peace upon our Prophet Muhammad, upon his family and all of his companions.
The one in need of Allah,
Rasheed, Aboo Ishaaq.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
Edit: I wanted to add that Allah has recently blessed my family with another child; a boy named Mustafaa. He was born in February 2006 and is quite the handful.
Update: On October 12, 2007 (1st of Shawwâl, 1428 the day of ‘Îd al-Fitr), a third blessed addition to the family was given to us by Allah. It came in the form of a 6lb, 6oz baby boy named Saleem; the best ‘Îd gift I’ve gotten thus far.
Update: On October 11, 2011, a fourth blessed addition to the family was given to us by Allah, our smallest gift yet at 5lbs, 14oz, a baby boy we’ve named Ilyaas.