“I came to Islam because of a 19-cent ramen noodle”
Leading up to my incarceration I led a very typical life of a stereotypical African American who was born and raised in poverty of the inner cities of America. I was young, wild, and obnoxious. Clinging to the same hopeless aspirations of every other closed minded young black make with the same life experiences. That included being the best drug dealer that this world had ever witnessed. I also wanted to be recognized for being intolerant and violent, so that it would instill fear in the hearts of my friends and foes alike.
In spite of having a traditional Christian background, being raised as a baptist, I believed in nothing and no one. My loyalty was only grounded in those who were closest to me and the king and chief of the street organization (gang) that I was a part of. Even though I was raised in Church, I didn’t believe in any of the mainly established religion (Islam, Judaism, Christianity, etc…) As a child I would often suffer beatings from my mother, or fellow Church members for resistance to acquiesce to the beliefs of the religion in traditional sense.
By then I entered my young adolescent years, with all the things that I had witnessed and experienced in my innocence leading up to that point in my life led me to believe that there couldn’t possibly be a God. How!?! With so much death and destruction. The innocent and the good dying young and in the same horrible fashion as the guilty do. The communities that I resided in and those surrounding them were desolate and abandoned by God. This often had me thinking, What God, if any, would forsake his children like this? What merciful God would treat a people with such lack of compassion?
My perspectives of God, along with the suffering of my own tribulations and those tribulations that I’d closely observed of others led me to curse God frequently. This led me to a life of crime and living a very selfish and volcanic lifestyle that was saturated with kufr. I walked, talked, and thought shirk, especially leading up to my incarceration. I was young, uneducated, violent, and had no aspirations of changing. I was very content at that point of my life and only took joy in the observations of others’ physical, psychological, and emotional sufferings, because I suffered the same stresses. I was mentally poisoned and brainwashed my entire life and overwhelmed with the destructive matters of the dunya, Western culture, African American culture and perspectives on religion.
When I was first imprisoned, I very much loathed being incarcerated. To help me escape and cope with my reality of facing life in prison, I preoccupied myself with every wicked, evil, and foul thing you can imagine. The jail politics, gang politics, drugs, etc. I honestly think that I smuggled and consumed more drugs in jail than i did in my entire life. And that was in a two and a half year span, because I felt hopeless, heartbroken, and alone. In my mind I existed in a living hell. I didn’t view my situation in the same light as in the past , nor do I use my time as I did. Now I use my time constructively. I began with a 4th grade reading level, and since then I’ve acquired a college degree (ALS) and certificate of completion for two vocational techs.
Path to Islam
I first learned about Islam and Allah through the teachings of a street organization (gang) that I once was a part of, which has an Islamic theme or concept. The teachings that I initially received from the gang that I was once involved with made me question who was this God, Allah that they were referring to in their teachings of an Islamic concept and principles. In that sense it was something new and quite intriguing. Especially since I was raised from birth to my young adolescent years as a traditional baptist.
The second time that I ever heard about Islam or references to Allah in other than the street organization setting was the first time that I was imprisoned and I was about 18 at the time. So I started asking questions about the religion since one of the code of conduct of a representative of that gang was a mandatory attendance of Jummah services every Friday. I gathered a little information from listening to the khutbah every Friday for the short period that I was incarcerated. After I was released in 1997, I bought my first Qur’an on the streets and was a little interested in Islam on a level of spirituality outside the gang lifestyle.
During a little ways into this incarceration is when I decided to do some soul searching and researching on all the major religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity, etc.). When I completed my research, nothing stood out the most nor made more sense than Islam. It was then that I decided to get involved in the community of the facility where I resided (Hill C.C. in Galesburg Illinois) to further help me gain a proper understanding. The problem with that was that I was still a gang banger at heart and very much a part of that lifestyle and a part of the penitentiary politics that came along with it. I truly believed in that street brotherhood. It was a deceitful, treacherous, and selfish brotherhood.
Seeing those brothers in that community display Islamic brotherhood and how they loved, respected, honored, provided, and inspired one another enlightened me. The levels of selflessness, service, generosity, appreciation, gratitude, and sacrifice that they were displaying amongst each other was unprecedented and like I had never seen before. Brothers were kissing each other on the cheeks in jail and none questioned their masculinity. I just had to be a part of that brotherhood of enjoining righteousness and forbidding wrong.
I finally wholeheartedly accepted Islam the day that one of those brothers in that superficial brotherhood denied me something to eat and he literally had a property box full of food. I mean soups, chips, cookies, cakes, meat packs, etc. He had at least $50-$60 worth of commissary, yet he denied me knowing that I had to be hungry to approach him. But immediately after he denied me, I asked one of the Muslim brothers who was the Imam that umma at the time. He took me under his wing as he was teaching me the importance of seeking sacred knowledge. He was aware of my situation, having no financial support, so he would purchase books for me, 30 or 40 books. I just had to learn a surah of decent portion or three short ahadith in English and Arabic and I had to also write them in Arabic.
Anyways, this particular day I asked him for two noodle soups. When we went to his cell and opened his his box he had only one noodle. He tried to give it to me, but I was too proud to take his last. He said something to the like of “Would you deprive me a reward that is with Allah in al Akhira, for my deed of sadaqa? I give out of what Allah has provided to me only for His sake. This noodle will benefit me nothing, only a momentary pleasure, but the benefits of sadaqa will far outweigh that. I seek the pleasure of al Akhira, not the dunya.”
But after even saying all of that, he was so much of a brother that he came up with the idea of eating that one noodle together. Breaking it in half and putting peanut butter and jelly (that comes son our dietary trays) on the noodle and eating it like a big saltine cracker. This would cure my hunger and still provide him with a benefit of a good deed. And that’s exactly what we did. It was that simple display of selflessness, kindness and generosity which Allah chose to give me an epiphany and His guidance through a simple act of service. Something so small as a 19 cent ramen noodle, softened my hardened heart and led me to wholeheartedly accept lslam.
Once I wholeheartedly accepted Islam, my only initial problems were trying to convince my family, close friends and those who I put behind me at the time (the gang) that I was sincere in my beliefs, because not only was I a ranking member when I began my transition, I also had a reputation for being harsh and rough. So when I rejected them by openly embarking upon a path of closeness to Allah and Islamic redemption a path which was deviant and completely opposite of theirs. They would backbite me to everyone, call me fake, and fraudulent. They would try and test my patience and principles, they had no choice but to accept my decision and recognize my change. After that, most openly commended me for my decision and gave me their acceptance and extended their support.
The deen has taught me about the rights of others and the rights of the parents which has made me more tender and respectful towards my elders. My relationship with my mother has grown. I teach her about Islam and and the rights she has over me. She loves the hadith that says “Paradise is at the feet of your mother.” Before Islam I loathed my family and planned to never speak to them again, but Islam has shown me the importance of kinship bonds. So I no longer look to sever those ties, but to strengthen them.