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Latino Americans Are Eagerly Absorbing Islam

Latino Americans_Texas

“Islam brings about a clear sense of asking for forgiveness or repentance directly to God, without having an intermediary.”

Growing up was rough for Jaime Fletcher in Houston. He moved from Colombia to Texas when he was 8. In high school, kids splintered off into ethnic gangs. One day, he says an African-American gang leader attacked him.

“And so I just fought back, and because I beat him, beat up the gang leader, by default, they thought it was another gang. And I was the leader,” Fletcher recalls.

Fletcher says being in a gang became a matter of survival. He saw friends get shot and thrown in jail.  He says when he got a little older, he got caught up chasing women, driving fast cars and drinking too much.

“One night that I was with a friend of mine who I’d grown up with, after leaving a club and drinking, we were sitting outside of his house. He looked at the liquor that he had in his hands and he said, ‘I can’t believe I’m still doing this.’

“And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘I can’t believe I’m still doing this after having gone to Makkah.’ And I asked him, ‘What is Makkah?’ And he said, ‘It’s where the House of God is.’

“And that was strange for me. He said, ‘Islam is the true religion of God.’ And I said, ‘Well everybody says their religion is the truth.’”

Like most Latinos, Fletcher was raised in a Catholic family, but he says his parents also encouraged him to find his own truth. After briefly studying Christianity, Judaism, Taoism and Buddhism, Fletcher came to believe Islam was, in fact, the true religion of God.

Between Islam and Christianity

He converted and now goes by the name Mujahid Fletcher. He says Islam incorporated the family values he liked from Catholicism, while getting rid of one big disadvantage: confession to a priest.

“Islam brings about a clear sense of asking for forgiveness or repentance directly to God, without having an intermediary,” Fletcher says.

That holds great appeal for many Muslim converts, says Katherine Ewing, a professor of religion at Columbia University.

“There are frustrations with the structure of the Catholic Church, the hierarchy. A number (of Catholics) say that they’re kind of bored with the mass, that it doesn’t seem related to their everyday needs,” she adds.

Ewing says Islam and Protestantism are addressing those voids for many Latino Catholics.

Upward Trend

It’s difficult to estimate how many Latinos in the US have converted to Islam. Ewing puts the figure somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000. Still modest numbers, but Ewing says there’s a clear upward trend.

Latinos aren’t simply being pushed away by the Catholic Church, many Latinos have been pulled toward Islam, especially since September 11th, says Ewing. She says after the hijackings – and the immediate backlash against Muslims – Muslims began to reach out to outside communities to explain who they were. And many non-Muslims grew more curious about Islam.

“Maybe they saw it (Islam) as this terrorist organization and wanted to find out more about why Muslims would become terrorists,” says Ewing.

“They started to do Internet research, or to read the Qur’an to find out if it really advocated violence. And many, as they did that, actually saw Islam as a peaceful religion, as something that had more familiarity than they expected. They also found some of the beauty of the tradition as they explored further.”

Maryam Masjid, Texas

Maryam Masjid community in Sugar Land, Texas

That’s what Mujahid Fletcher found, and he wanted other Latinos to find this too. Problem though: Islamic texts aren’t easily accessible in Spanish. So, Fletcher began doing translations and making audio recordings of the verses.

Eagerness to Learn

Fletcher now runs a company called Islam in Spanish. He and his father, who also converted to Islam, have recorded more than 500 CDs and 200 cable access TV shows about Islam.

“The end goal with Islam in Spanish is to educate Latinos about Islam worldwide,” he says.

I visited Fletcher at the Maryam Islamic Center, his mosque in Sugar Land, an affluent suburb of Houston. The large mosque looked like something you’d find in the Middle East or Turkey – an attractive building with high, arched entrances, pillars and two minarets. There are reminders you’re in Texas though: Young boys were playing basketball on a court in front near the parking lot.

There were about 100 people at the evening prayer the night I went. Fletcher counted himself as the only Latino. Fletcher says Latino Muslims are spread out in small pockets in big cities like Houston.

I also met Daniel Abdullah Hernandez, an imam at a mosque about 30 minutes away in the city of Pearland. Hernandez, a Puerto Rican-American who was raised Catholic, was also a gang member. He says he got drunk a lot and spent a lot of times at clubs. He says Islam helped turn him into a responsible husband and father.

“In the beginning, people think it’s a phase. My mother, after two years of seeing my transformation, she became a Muslim,” Hernandez says. His father and brother converted as well.

Together, the family visited Egypt to study Islam, a trip that cleared up any doubts they had about becoming Latino Muslims.

“Me and my family were feeling that we were going to be lonely during the holidays,” he says. “And that first year, we’re sitting with other Hispanics breaking bread and eating, and we were all amazed.”

For most Latinos though, Catholicism is more than just a religion, it can be about cultural identity. Even non-devout Latinos can have Virgin of Guadalupe altars set up in their homes. So while Islam, or other religions, may be replacing the Catholic religion for some Latinos, replacing the cultural connection to the Catholic Church, could be much harder.

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Source: pri.org

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Islam Fastest-Growing Religion in Ireland

By: Maggie Armstrong

Islam Fastest-Growing Religion in Ireland

It is estimated that up to 500 Irish people convert to Islam every year.

Islam is Ireland’s fastest-growing religion, with the number of Muslims recorded in the 2011 Census – 48,130 – expected to reach 100,000 by 2020. In a country where only 34pc of approximately 3.8 million Catholics attend Mass, many people are drifting away from religion. But a small number are finding that Islamic beliefs and practices, which allow for a peaceful and community-oriented life, fit their spiritual needs.

Growing Community

It is estimated that up to 500 Irish people convert to Islam every year. There is no official register and no baptism – to convert you simply have to recite the Testimony of Faith (Shahadah) in front of two Muslim witnesses.

While more women convert than men, and most conversions are for marriage, people can have very personal reasons for converting – or reverting as it is known in the Islamic faith, in which it is believed that everyone was born Muslim.

Ireland has a thriving Muslim community. Building begins next year on what is set to be the biggest Islamic cultural center in the country, in Clongriffin on Dublin’s northside. There are mosques and dedicated primary schools in each of our cities. And unlike the situation in France, there is no policy against Muslim girls wearing the hijab (veil) to school.

Support for converts is offered by the Muslim Sisters of Eire, an organization run by Irish Muslim women, and at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, Dublin, where theologian Dr. Ali Salem teaches a course for new Muslims.

“When people revert, they can be very enthusiastic,” says Dr Salem. “We teach a moderate understanding of Islam, and we also teach them (converts) how to change their lives gradually.”

Aishah (formerly Liza) Caulfield (36, crèche worker)

I come from Irishtown in Dublin 4, born and bred Irish. I became interested in Islam around 12 years ago.

My lifestyle wasn’t typically Irish on the social level. I wasn’t going to nightclubs and I wasn’t into drinking. I always wondered if there was a group of people out there who had a quieter lifestyle, a faith that matched how I lived my life.

I was missing a piece of the puzzle, and I was always searching. I already fitted this religion – I just needed to find it.

Through research I kept coming across Islam. I wasn’t very outward about it at the beginning. When 9/11 happened I thought, “Right, maybe not now, but I’ll continue looking”. I took the Testimony of Faith (the Shahadah), three years ago and got married last year to a Muslim from Mauritius.

My dad said, “It’s about time”, when I took the Shahadah. My family bought me hijabs and my dad was like, “I’ll get you one of those Qur’ans.” He was very hands-on. He’s a staunch Catholic, goes to confession every month and Mass every Sunday. He’d be praying morning and night.

I’m definitely happier. Islam is a quieter, more peaceful way of life. There’s a great sense of unity – our prayer times change day-to-day as the sun rises and sets. Everybody who’s Muslim, a quarter of the inhabitants of the world, is facing Mecca and praying at the same time. That is a very powerful and sacred feeling, putting your face to the floor and submitting to God.

The one big change is wearing the hijab. I wear it because it’s a sign of my devotion to God. It shows humility with my husband and with the male members of my family. For me my beauty is my hair and my body, and that’s not for everyone.

I also wear it because one part of my faith is to discuss Islam with non-Muslims. If I’m in the supermarket and someone hears my Ringsend accent, they’ll ask, “Oh, how long are you here, love?” And I’ll reply, “Actually, I’m Irish”. It’s a way of sharing your faith with people, of saying: “Don’t be afraid of us – we’re all human, we all come and go the one way.”

I always dressed modestly. I was never comfortable with showing the figure off. We’re living in a society where people feel threatened because I choose to not show my body, whereas you have girls as young as 11 or 12 who take it to the extreme.

You should be valued for your soul and your personality, not because of how much of your body you show – that’s private, and that’s my beauty.

People often look at Muslim women and think we must feel oppressed. I, for example, when got married, I was given a dowry (mahr) which is a right of the woman in Islam.

You’re going to hear negative stuff in the media – “Oh, the poor Afghan women” and that – but I often say to people: “Please, don’t confuse culture with the faith itself.”

Bridget Darby (68, retired hotel manager)

I was born in Trim into a Catholic family. In the 1950s you were brought up in the fear of God and told, “You’ll be punished, you’ll go to hell”. It was the culture and you did what you were told.

When I was 18 I went to England to study nursing. I met an Englishman in the Royal Air Force. I was at a very vulnerable time and I fell in love with him and we got engaged. He wasn’t a Catholic, so he and I had to have some religious instruction.

One day I showed up by myself and the priest asked me, “Have you got your dress?” He went from the dress to say, “Have you got new underwear?” I tried to answer as best I could, cringing on the edge of the seat. I got out of that office immediately, shaking.

I made myself a promise: that after we married I wouldn’t walk into a Catholic church again, and I never did. We got married, had a child and were stationed in Cyprus and Australia. We got divorced after about 15 years, and in 1985 I went to America. I still had no religion, but I was a good person – I believed in God.

In 2006, I went to Cairo for a vacation. That’s where I was formally introduced to Islam. I had leased an apartment and the owner asked if I would like to visit her ranch outside the city. She picked me up – her husband was driving. She’d asked me to cover appropriately because her farm workers hadn’t seen a Western woman before.

I got in this car, scrunched into the back, and she asked me if I believed in God. “Yes, I do,” I said. Then she asked, “Do you believe in one God?” I said I did. She got really excited and started babbling in Arabic to her husband. She had me reciting, “Mohammad is the prophet and there is only one God”, by the time I got to her house. She was wonderful.

She explained to me about the five pillars (obligations) in Islam. She walked me around her farm and showed me the area where she prayed five times a day.

I walked over to the river and was bathing my feet in the Nile. I can’t describe the feeling, to see the peaceful, respectful way they went about their lives. I had this idea that it was a terrible religion, but by the end of the day I was so taken by it – and I don’t do things on the spur of the moment.

All the years that I’d not been recognizing any religion, trying to survive by myself, I used to feel that someone was guiding me. I realized when I accepted Islam that God was with me anyway.

I’ve been back in Ireland a short time and I haven’t gone around waving a banner that I’m a Muslim. I know that people are afraid of the religion. You don’t see peace, you see violence. The media tells you that al-Qaeda bombed America and brought down the towers, so you tend to stereotype.

A lot of the restrictions are cultural – some are not Islamic. I now have a purpose. I have a belief, I have faith, I have new friends. It’s a sense of security to believe in God. I pray five times a day, but sometimes I miss it. I have the Qur’an by my bed. Islam is very much in your heart. You don’t have to stand on the street and wave the Qur’an. What I have is beautiful for me.

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The article is taken from  Irish Independent with slight editorial modifications. 

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My Path to Islam: It’s about Sincerity & Persistence

nature flowers

Religion is the only one stable you can have in life. So whenever you have any hardships and difficulty in life you should go to your God.

I converted to Islam in October 2007. I was raised a Catholic. I used to teach Catholicism, and I was not so much reactive in the church.

I started to have questions about life I went to the church for my answers and I was met with a lot of resistance. I decided to take my time in knowing about different religions. I started studying Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism , Jainism and, eventually, Islam.

My life has been very different after converting to Islam. It has been one of the most beautiful things that can ever happen to me but it has also brought its share of hardships. My family since I’ve accepted Islam doesn’t speak with me.

As a result, they have taken my daughter from me. I have suffered a lot, I’ve lost my job, I can’t attend school anymore because I’m not able to afford it financially though I was one of the top students in my school.

In life nothing is stable. You can have money, you can have family, you can have anything and all can go in the blink of an eye. But religion is the only one stable you can have. So whenever you have any hardships and difficulty in life you should go to your God.

And going to the church and being told ‘that’s the way it is’, ‘because God said so’, and ‘you shouldn’t question that’, was not acceptable for me.

If I need answers where am I going to find them then?

Being Catholic you believe that there’s the trinity in it (the religion), that Jesus is son of God and he is God, etc. It’s when you can take your mind out of it and look at it, it doesn’t make sense. But it is hard – when for so many years you have this as your faith; this is what you defend and what you’re dedicated to, to take this step back and kind of be open-minded about it.

For me, it took time. I started it for a long time, I had a lot of misconceptions about what Islam was. I even hated Muslims.

I thought all Muslims should die, and in my mind that anyone who is Muslim was they shouldn’t exist; why are they here? They should go back to their countries. You know I had the common American idea of what Islam and Muslims are. But that was my own ignorance following the media.

At this point I read often…

What happened to the sister? Why the change of Heart?

Learn more about what questions the sister had and what answers she have found and how? What did Islam gave here, and how have it contributed to all aspects of her life?

Watch the sister telling her touching and inspiring story her…

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Happiness Like I Never Felt before: Former French Rapper Diam’s

French rapper Diam’s talks about her conversion to Islam

“I discovered a religion of wisdom, of nonviolence, of peace, of sharing, of kindness; the religion of Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Salomon and of all the prophets.”

Four years after she converted to Islam, French Rapper Diam’s explains why she decided to take this amazing step that changed her life. In an interview with the French channel TF1, she explains that Islam has brought a lot of meaning to her life.

“I became a normal woman. When I wake up every morning, I know that I have to improve myself,” she said.

“When you carry God’s love in your heart, you are fulfilled.”

She went on to say that she was not built for stardom, clarifying that the life of stars made her miserable. “I tried very hard to have fun in the parties, but, I was not built for that. I believed in the dream of becoming a star, but it was just an illusion,” she said.

Connection with God

The turning point of her life was when she was with her Muslim friend Sousou. When Soussou went to do her prayer, Diam’s asked her if she could pray with her.

“When I prayed with her and I prostrated, I felt being connected with God,” she explains.

When she went on a trip to Mauritius, she took the Qur’an with her in order to read it: “It was a revelation, I was intimately convinced that God exists,” she explained.

“The more I was reading, the more convinced I became.”

Concerning her decision to wear the veil, she explained how it all came step by step. She was not ready to wear I at the beginning, but when she learnt more about Islam, she grew convinced that she needed to wear the hijab.

Hostile Reaction

When the press and her entourage discovered that she converted to Islam, she explained, as she was filmed coming out from a mosque, the press lashed out at her.

Some went as far as accusing her of becoming a danger for all her young fans. She deplored the confusion that the media created about the story of her conversion to Islam.

“I lost my team, because nobody trusted me. When a young girl converts, people say that either she is indoctrinated or her husband forced her to do it, as if I did not have my intellectual independence as if people knew that I was a woman with a weak personality or no character,” she added.

Her veil stirred controversy, especially that she had never explained what led her to change her path. She highlighted the intolerance of the French society and how it is far from being benevolent towards her when she decided to convert to Islam and how she went through tough moments after her decision.

Answering the question if it was complicated to live in France while being a veiled woman, she explained that although France remains a country that promotes freedom, people are not that kind towards her: “France remains the country of freedom since I can still wear my veil, but people’s prejudice and nastiness, make one tired,” she said.

She deplored the fact the French press and the public opinion accused her of becoming a ‘danger for the youth’.

“Is this danger, to advocate peace and be a nice person, and have a family life?”, she wondered.

“I wonder if I people would have said the same to me had I ended up like Amy Winehouse,” she added.

Religion of Peace

She criticized the people who defame Islam without having any knowledge about it and the amalgam between Islam and extremism:

“There are some people who are ignorant and they should refrain from talking. When we talk about something, we have to know what we are talking about,” she said.

Regarding the accusation of extremism leveled at Islam in Western countries, she emphasized that Islam is a religion of peace.

“That is not what I discovered. I discovered a religion of wisdom, of nonviolence, of peace, of sharing, of kindness. It is the religion of Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Salomon and of all the prophets. Why do people make it look like that? Under no circumstances can we find it normal that innocent people are killed in terrorist attacks.”

“I am very happy to the point that I have happiness in my heart that nobody can take away, neither through taking pictures nor attacking me, I have faith,” she concluded.

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Source: Morocco World News

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Ireland’s Muslims and the Quest for the Truth

By: Maggie Armstrong

Islam in Ireland

It was a search of something; a search for knowledge and a search for the way. It’s Islam that brought me here.

Philip Flood (60, community worker with drug addicts)

I’m from Ringsend in Dublin, and I’m a Muslim 12 years now. I was a Buddhist for five years before I started to learn about Islam. I had been on a 12-step programme for addictions – alcohol and drugs. I was single at that time and I was never well enough to have a family. I worked part-time on the docks.

The 11th step on the programme was to search “through prayer and meditation to improve your conscious contact with God“, and I started to look at all the different religions through that. I got a higher power into me there.

Most people go back to the religion they were brought up in, but I was never happy with that. I never felt right with the Catholic teachings. My mother and my father were Catholics. I made my ‘First Holy Communion’, Confirmation, went to Mass, was an altar boy. I had and have good friends, priests and nuns. But I didn’t believe, especially with Jesus on the cross. I never felt it was right. I believed in Jesus okay, but not in the cross.

I went for a walk one Friday evening on Sandymount Strand and I met a Muslim couple there, from Libya. I was with the Buddhists at the time and I was telling them about Buddha and his teachings, and they started telling me about Islam. They brought me home to their flat, and we were discussing the different things.

I used to visit them, have a cup of tea and that. They brought me to the mosque. A few weeks before that I had bought a Qur’an in a Pakistani shop in the city centre where I used to buy food, and I could understand the Qur’an more when I was discussing it with them.

When I heard the adhan (the call to prayer) I think my soul connected with that. There was something very spiritual about it, and there were no statues in the mosque.

When I came into Islam I started to study the life of `Isa (Jesus, peace be upon him). I found that made more sense than the Catholic teachings. `Isa was just a prophet; he wasn’t God.

My Life as a Muslim

My family was just happy. They saw the change in me. I married a Muslim woman and have two young children. Part of the Islamic life is to get married and to have children. I went to Morocco on a holiday and I met my wife. About a year after that we got married and she came here. Our two kids are Mohammad and Isa (after the baby Jesus).

I pray five times a day, so that keeps me spiritually well. I visit the mosque as often as I can on Friday for prayer. God has made it easy for me – I don’t have to work on a Friday. I have a television station at home, the Arabic station, and I watch Mecca and Medina, the two holy places in Islam. I get a lot of peace from watching that.

I listen to the Qur’an on a daily basis, even just a small piece, and I read a bit of Islamic literature. I learned a lot of meditation methods with the Buddhists, so I do that quite a bit. It’s the way I live now, and I have the responsibilities of being a husband and a father. I live as best I can on a spiritual basis.

Rasheed (formerly Olegs) Tucs (33, sterile processing technician)

I’m from Latvia. I converted to Islam in 2010. My generation was raised to a certain extent in the Soviet Union. It was a system with its own ideology, in which religion was marginalized. People were discouraged from taking part in any kind of religious services. We were raised in a very rational environment.

In 2006, I met a woman who I fell in love with and I proposed to her. She told me that she had a condition as she was Catholic. She said, “The only way I’m going to marry is in church”. And I said, “I love you, I will do it for you”. It was a bit complicated to become a Catholic, but it gave me a new perspective on the world. My world had been very materialistic, very scientifically oriented.

We got married and the love story continued. But my wife became quite seriously sick with malaria. I started to pray, not like a Catholic because I didn’t care much – it was just a perspective, not a faith. I started to ask someone, something, to make her live and to make us go on. Thank God, she got well. This was the first time I really prayed.

We were going on holidays to Latin America and we had to change flights in Istanbul. On the plane, I got a severe eye infection, conjunctivitis. In two hours I couldn’t see anything. In the middle of a flight, it’s a bit scary.

We had to disembark in Istanbul and go to the doctor. I woke up in the early morning and heard something nice, which was the call to prayer. My antibiotics had worked, my eyes were clear. Then you start thinking, ‘What is it?’ I did a bit of research into all the religions, because I had a whole new perspective for seeing things. During this time, Islam was the message which seemed to me without conflict.

My wife is still Catholic and I’m a Muslim – it doesn’t disturb us. She prays her way and I pray my way. But our prayers, they go to the same place.

Duplin Mosque

Dublin Mosque, Ireland

You have to conform to certain standards. In Islam, it’s said that the only purpose of humans is to worship God. At first you may think that worshipping God is praying five times a day. But actually, worshipping doesn’t mean only praying – it means being a good custodian of the planet. Recycling, buying local or fair-trade food is a way of worship because you are doing the right thing.

A very sensitive issue would be the prohibition of alcohol and all the mind-altering substances. In Islam, it’s said that God has given us a mind and an ability to think and an ability to make a decision, so if we deliberately impair that, we are denying the gift. I used to drink. Eventually, this wish to have a drink or a cigarette, it wore off.

I consider this time as being in search of something; a search for knowledge and a search for the way. It’s Islam that brought me here. I was an embryologist in IVF clinics in Nairobi, and the work was not compatible with the religion, so we had to look for something else.

In Ireland, there are a number of local mosques and cultural centres. In Latvia, there is only one mosque for the whole country. People are good here. Ireland is very friendly to outsiders. In Latvia, people from other societies are still looked at with great suspicion.

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Source: independent.ie.

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From a Christian to a Houston Imam: Yahya Graff

From a Christian to not just a Muslim, but also a prominent imam and teacher in Huston, Texas, Yahya John Graff’s journey to Islam is an extraordinary and moving one.

Exposed to all kinds of Christian practices, dominations, walks, churches and schools, such seemingly religious upbringing, for John, was nowhere near truly religious.

More interestingly, his childhood dream was to be am orchestra musician. He studied to be a vocal music teacher and conductor. During his student internship and on a ski trip in Colorado the shift happened.

How did the shift towards Islam start? How was his first contact with Muslims? How did Islam enter his life?

How did he feel about the religion before meeting it in person? How did learning about Islam change his views and whole life?

Now a Muslim, how does he see misconceptions about Islam, anti-Islam rhetoric and alleged enmity between Islam and the West and between Islam and civilization?

From where did his journey begin, how and why?

In this episode of ‘Path to Guidance’ watch Imam Yahya John Graff give answers to all these questions as he thoroughly describes his journey to the truth; Islam…

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From a Christian Preacher to a Muslim Community Leader: Khalil Meek

Raised in a typical American Christian family, going to traditional Bible school, Khalil Meek aspired to be a Baptist preacher. During this time he got involved in religious conversations with whoever he met and on college campuses, and, unsurprisingly, very much enjoined it.

That’s was how he communicated Christianity with others, through asking people what they believe and why. And for him it was amazingly beneficial and entertaining as well.

That’s where he found utmost passion and pleasure.

So what did he find and learn from such conversations? How did he react to it? What findings did he come across?

What did make someone of such a conservative upbringing, who always believed in Christianity and never challenging or questioning its teachings and beliefs, convert to Islam?

From such conservative upbringing, how did Khalil Meek make his way into Islam, being now one of the founders of Muslim Legal Fund of America?

From where did his journey begin? How did he learn about Islam?

The interview below of ‘Path to Guidance’ with Khalil Meek brings a very important theological discussion about his captivating story on the path of guidance

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Path to Guidance: Christianity Led Me to the Light of Islam

God guides whom He wills to His path, the path of guidance. Though, we have to seek His guidance to get on that path. That’s how brother Philippe found his way to Islam.

Born and grown up in Brazil his life was not different from what is usual for a child there. It was when he moved to New Jersey, United States that he began to question the truth behind all this.

Exposed to different religions, backgrounds and lifestyles, he wanted to seek and find the truth himself. He went to various religious schools and joined different churches that reading the Bible was a part of every day. He joined the Marines Corps which was before 9/11.

During his traineeship upon graduation from the Marines he embarked on his soul searching journey; reached a stage where he introspected and questioned life on a much deeper level, beginning with his very Christian background.

It was his Christianity that opened the door to the light of Islam, bringing him closer to the true religion of God.

Nine years into Islam now, brother Philippe is not just a devout Muslim; Islam has guided every aspect of his life and profoundly influenced his family members and almost every one who get to know him.

Watch brother Philippe Martins unfold unbelievable details of his very interesting journey to Islam in his interview with ‘Path to Guidance’…

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American New Muslims and the Challenges of Conversion

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 40% of Muslims in the U.S. were not raised with the faith, but joined it as adults.

Though Will Caldwell was born, raised and college educated in Georgia, he is uncomfortable praying there.

He has felt that way since a clear summer evening in 2007 at a nondescript gas station off a nondescript interstate somewhere between Savannah and Macon. He was on his way home to Saint Simons Island from Emory University, where he had just finished his junior year. Caldwell had pulled his red Mini Cooper into the rest stop because the sun was starting to set and, since he had converted to Islam one year earlier, this meant that it was time to pray.

In the empty field next to the gas station, he found a discrete corner, laid out his mat and began to recite the verses of the Qur’an, first standing, then bent forward, then on his knees with his head to the ground. He noticed two people looking at him, secretively peering out from behind their truck.

Uneasy, he rushed through the ritual, folded up his mat and got back in the car to leave. As he pulled away, he could see in his rear view mirror a cop car pulling into the parking lot. The people who had been staring were flagging down the police officer and pointing at Caldwell. He drove on at an intentionally moderate pace, and the cop did not follow, but he has not risked praying publicly in the South since.

Caldwell is soft spoken. He pauses thoughtfully before talking and sometimes between sentences. He wears a plaid button down shirt, slacks and small, round wire-framed glasses. His wide-set green eyes gaze out earnestly from his creamy white face. One quickly gets the sense that he is a kind and spiritual person. Perhaps this is his fatal flaw.

Political Percept

After growing up in the Episcopal Church, Caldwell rediscovered his spirituality in Islam and decided to convert. Now, less than a hundred miles from where he was raised, onlookers see Caldwell’s prayer as a potential threat. Why might this be?

“The political context we are in is so charged with anti-Muslim rhetoric that it’s almost impossible, I would say, for that conversion not to have some kind of political ramifications even if the convert in no way intends it,” says Brannon Ingram, a professor of religious studies at Northwestern University, who specializes in Islam and Sufism.

In July of 2013, Fox News correspondent Lauren Green interviewed religion scholar Reza Aslan about “Zealot“, a book he just had written about Jesus Christ. She repeatedly questioned his credentials and asked him to explain how a Muslim could write about Christianity. In 2013, a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press study found that 45 percent of Americans believe that Muslims face ”a lot“ of discrimination.

Negative sentiments about Muslims most often link to an association of Islam with radicalism and terrorism. A 2007 document by the New York Police Department entitled ”Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” says, ”Jihadist ideology is the driver that motivates young men and women, born or living in the West, to carry out an ‘autonomous jihad’ via acts of terrorism against their host countries.”

Because of these beliefs, the police instated surveillance over New York City’s mosques and Muslim communities using informants, neighborhood mapping, photos and video footage. When the American Civil Liberties Union caught wind of this policy in June of 2013, they sued the NYPD.

The Impacts

Muslim converts have received extensive media attention. Katherine Russell, the widow of one of the notorious Boston Marathon bombers, began practicing Islam after meeting her husband. Samantha Lewthwaite, known as the “White Widow“ after her husband’s 2005 suicide bombing in London public transit, is among the suspects implicated in the Nairobi mall massacre in September 2013.

She, too, is Muslim convert. Nicholas Brody, a main character of the popular television show “Homeland”, becomes a Muslim while he is imprisoned by Al-Qaeda in Damascus, Syria. Once back in the United States, he collaborates with his captors to plot and execute terror attacks.

Karen Danielson, Director of Outreach at the Chicago chapter of Muslim American Society, says that any event that brings Islam into the public consciousness – for negative or positive reasons – generates interest. ”After 9/11, for example, there was a large influx of converts. Sometimes people come forward hostile, but then even they end up converting because of what they discover,” she says.

“They investigated, they read the Qur’an, and it answered a lot of questions that they had before.”

Danielson herself found Islam in 1983 when she was a young adult. She has worked in community building for Muslims ever since and has interacted with hundreds of converts and support groups.

Despite their powers of attraction, these terror-infused portrayals are very problematic for converts, says Iqbal Akhtar, a professor of Islamic Studies at Florida International University. New Muslims are forced to view themselves as outsiders in their own culture and are not given the opportunity to reconcile the different parts of their identities.

“Even if in day-to-day interactions you can pass for being American or not being differentiated, you live in a society where the media is constantly defining the Muslim as an ‘other’”, says Akhtar. ”All these things fit into how you define yourself.”

Why We Choose Islam?

Converts to any faith seem increasingly abnormal as the United States gravitates farther away from religion. According to a Pew Research study, the number of Americans who do not affiliate with a religion has gone up by 5 percent in the past five years, from 15.3 percent in 2007 to 19.6 percent in 2012.

Yet the number of Muslims in the United States is increasing. In the seven years that followed the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the Muslim American population grew from 1,104,000 to 1,349,000, according to the 2012 census. And in a study of that same time frame, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 40 percent of Muslims in the United States were not raised with the faith, but joined it as adults.

This anomalous increase in religious practice may be because conversion to Islam is quick and very simple.

“It really just requires reciting a formula called the Shahadah (Declaration of Faith) in front of a number of witnesses,” says Ingram. He translates the verse to mean, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger.”

And that’s it. There’s no training, no test. You just recite the creed. Ingram attributes the successful global spread of Islam to the ease of this process.

To be continued…                                                                                                                                     

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Source: Ummid.com.

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New Muslims Reflections

I Want to Be Muslim, But…

There’re many people who are interested in Islam; in learning about Islam, seeking deeper knowledge about its true teachings and principles, and contemplating converting. But there are many things, that is to say many obstacles or challenges, stand in their way.

What could be holding them back from entering the fold of Islam? What challenges do they face? What concerns and fears do they have?

Being a Muslim is no way an easy or small decision, but rather a life-changing one, which brings with it challenges and obstacles. When one is a convert it is undoubtedly frightening and overwhelming.

So, what do they need to know and learn before entering Islam? And how can we, Muslims, help them take the decision, feel easier about it and find their feet within Islam?

A sister talked with Nouman Ali Khan about her fears and concerns over converting to Islam. Watch him discussing this issue in the video below…

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