“I had a dream of the Prophet ﷺ and took my shahada, but then I ended up in prison again.”
I was a new convert to Islam when I was released from prison. While in prison religious strength was felt being within the Jamah because if I wasn’t to notice the straying of my actions another brother would and he or they would’ve given me Nasihah. Thereafter I was released without establishing a network of brothers and not knowing where the Mosque in my neighbourhood was located. I believe that played a role on my straying off the Path to some extent, and Allah (swt) knows best, because while in prison I felt strength, support, direction, etc. Certainly, thinking in retrospect I could have asked for the location of the nearest Mosque. Unfortunately for me at the time I believed that asking questions, directions, etc., was a sign of stupidity. Fortunately for myself, I no longer hold that erroneous belief. It is my personal opinion today that a stupid question is a question not asked. I express today with repentance, remorse, and deep regret in my heart that after a while I dropped my guard and gave in to the temptations of world (dunyah). As a consequence of that lifestyle, without making any admissions and/or denials, not too much longer I was arrested, tried, and sentenced. I was sentenced to 12 1/2 yrs. by the government and 60 yrs. by the state of [omitted for privacy].
At the time of my incarceration my primary concern was on all the materialistic things that I had gathered which, at that time, I thought defined my success. There was no reflection into what I had done against society to get incarcerated. Definitely, the old misconception towards material wealth has changed. And, I am glad to inform other the fact that material wealth does not define me nor my success. Success is measured by how I live up to the Commands of Allah (swt) and refrain from committing the Prohibitions Allah (swt) has set, while praying for Allah’s (swt) Mercy and seeking entrance into the Akhira, i.e., Jannah.
I thank Allah (swt) for giving me the opportunity to get my life in order. As brothers and sisters may know, it’s a lifelong process. I started decades ago by making Tawbah to Allah (swt), and by committing myself to learn Islam (Quran & Sunnah) enough to be able to stand anywhere without wavering, a good example of a Muslim. All Praises belong to Allah (swt), I’ve been making accomplishments by studying the Quran and Tafsir, the Sunnah of our beloved prophet Muhammad (saws) studying at the Tayba Foundation, and by implementing what I have learned.
Path to Islam
I was born to a family of Catholic parents. I was made to go through Sunday school. As early as I remember, I had a belief in God, His Angels, His book (because I thought the Bible was the only Book of God at that age), His messengers, the Day of Judgement, Heaven and Hell, and life after death. My belief at that early stage of my life was influenced by the beliefs of my family. I know after becoming Muslim that those early beliefs prior to becoming Muslim were distorted and incorrect. May Allah (swt) forgive me and have mercy upon me. I thought the angels had genders as a consequence of the church depicting and portraying them to look like young men or young women.
At the age of approximately eight, I became an alter boy at Saint James Cathedral. That became the beginning of my turning point. I was being taught the Ten Commandments and their interpretation. Allah (swt) allowed me to notice the contradiction of the church’s inadherence to the First Commandment. It was too embedded in my conscience and in my heart. See for yourself: “… Worship no god but Me. Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals…” [Exodus: 20]. I respectfully questioned the priest but he would call my questions blasphemy, and try to explain to me the church’s concept of ‘Trinity’. My heart and conscience would not accept his excuse. Therefore, I left the church.
Over a decade later, after becoming a Muslim, when I come across what Allah (swt) says: “O people of the Scriptures (Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The messiah Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary) was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His word, (“Be!” and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Ruh) created by Him;…so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not: “Three (trinity)!” Cease! (it is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah (God), glory to be Him (far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs.” (Noble Quran 04:171). I say Subhanallah! And I am grateful to Allah (swt) that I left the church and never returned.
At that early age in my life I had a perception of how God’s religion would be for all of mankind. I did not know it existed. As mentioned above, in 1993 I found myself incarcerated at the county jail. I was placed in a cell with a Muslim brother of good character and example. When I read the Forty Hadith by Imam an-Nawawi I knew that I found God’s true Religion. Then a little doubt crept into my mind and I found myself looking for contradictions or a downside. I found none. Instead, I found the answers to questions I had since a very early age.
I found Islam impressive, I studied Tawhid, the Five Essential Pillars of Islam, and the articles of Faith. One night I had a dream with a man who in the dream I recognized him as the Prophet Muhammad (saws) in a dream. That evening I declared my Testimony of Faith (Shahada). Declaring the Testimony of Faith instilled upon me a wonderful emotion because I knew that my entry was/is the greatest decision that I made in my adult life. There was a sense similar to knowing that everything in Allah’s (swt) creation in the heavens and the earth in its own unknown fashion bears witness to the Oneness of Allah (swt) and that Muhammad (saws) in His Messenger and that I just became part of it. It was an emotion that’s difficult to put into words. I felt clean, and spiritually like a newborn child.
While in prison from 1993-approximately 1995, the Islamic community seemed to have every Islamic function well organized. It seemed as an easy but short phase of my Islamic development at the time. The hardship and test presented itself upon my release. I failed to make any preparations for my transition. I did not network with any brothers. I did not seek the location of my town’s nearest Mosque. Making an honest living as required by Allah (swt) seemed difficult to me at the time because a residue of attraction remained within me towards the life and the glitter of the dunya. Consequently leading toward my shortcomings as explained above due to not developing a solid Islamic foundation in knowledge and practice.
After my incarceration in 1996, I decided to commit myself to learn Islam as much as I can. Starting with the essentials of Ibadah and extending my Islamic education as much as I am able. I continue the commitment I made formally by receiving an excellent education through the Tayba Foundation’s courses, and informally by studying on my own. My humble intention is to learn as much as I can, for as long as Allah (swt) allows me, to get closer to my Lord, seek His Mercy, seek His Forgiveness, and gain the ultimate success (Akhira).
At first my family did not want to accept my decision and would try to make me decide between my faith and them due to having misconceptions about Islam. They thought it was a phase that some prisoners go through while in prison. Now I am glad to inform the world that although they have not accepted Islam as their religion, they respect and support the religion of Islam due to the transformation they have witnessed me make in all spheres in my life due to my obedience of Allah (swt) and my Islamic religious practices. As for my friends, I did not have true friends. And as for other prisoners, some respected the decision, while others held personal biases. Similar to what’s going on out there in the free society.