05 Sep Short Stories of American Converts to Islam – Abdul Hai Thomas
Abdul Hai Thomas – Jacksonville, Florida
In July 1991 and November 1992 I begged my mother to take me to see ‘Boyz n the Hood’ and ‘Malcolm X’. Although hesitant to let a 9-10 year old watch violent movies, she agreed to take me as long she “covered [my] eyes during the bad parts”. However, I wasn’t interested in the violence or the bad parts, I was intrigued by the cultural and societal implications of the stories.
After watching those two movies, four scenes left indelible impressions on me:
1) Furious Styles taking Tre and Ricky to Compton and telling them about gentrification
2) Ricky being killed by gang violence
3) Malcolm X struggling to fall to his knees in submission
4) Malcolm X’s pilgrimage to Mecca
In connecting these scenes, even as a young child, I knew that Islam was the remedy. In that theater in Dayton, Ohio, November 1992, Allah Almighty chose me. I turned to my mother and told her I was going to do that one day (i.e. become Muslim and perform Hajj). However, it took nineteen years later for me to submit.
I was raised Presbyterian—at times I was fervent, but ultimately I did not connect to Christianity. Because difficult questions could not be answered by family or religious leaders, and dogma was logically inconsistent, I left the church, and from the ages of twelve to twenty-nine I went through religious and spiritual turmoil—Christian, atheist, agnostic, Muslim during Ramadan for a few hours, atheist, Buddhist, agnostic…I read about every religion and philosophical, sociological, political, governmental, and economic ‘ism’ conjured by mankind, but still could not find peace. I attempted to find peace within the deception of the world, which only exacerbated the turmoil.
On July 26, 2011, my twenty-ninth birthday, I humbly prayed for the first time. I supplicated, “God, if you’re real please show me a sign. If you do, I’ll change my life.” For the next few weeks I repeated this prayer. August 15, 2011, God sent His sign and I was introduced to Ahmadiyyat.
I read Ahmadiyyat literature and juxtaposed it to other literature. I had conversations with Ahmadis and reflected on previous conversations about religion with Christians, Buddhists, Spiritualists, Existentialists, and Atheists. I thought about my time in the Marine Corps where I spoke to hundreds of Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Djibouti. Nothing compared to Ahmadiyyat.
I accepted Ahmadiyyat rationally; however, my body and heart took time to follow. Ahmadiyyat challenged me to align intentions, speech, and actions. It wasn’t until reading ‘The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam’ that I understood that what I considered moral and ethical were simply natural impulses. Learning to exercise natural states in the correct manner to cultivate moral conditions required immense efforts of unlearning and reformation. During this time I fit the Promised Messiah’s (as) description of a “weak child who does not wish to stumble and fall but does so out of weakness, and is then remorseful over his infirmity.”
As I learned Salat, I was ashamed. I thought about the aforementioned scene where Malcolm struggled to fall to his knees. I could not fathom how Allah Almighty would forgive me having strayed for so long. I could not fathom how I would look to others if they walked in the room and saw me praying. I could not fathom how I would do this every day for the rest of my life.
Through each moment of reformation, light entered my heart. I felt “the second birth of the Soul” that the Promised Messiah (as) majestically describes in ‘The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam’. I entered the fold of Ahmadiyyat Islam, March 17, 2012.
After accepting Ahmadiyyat it took time to understand and embrace Khilafat. Obedience and service to Khilafat paralleled my submission to Allah Almighty—I understood it rationally, but again, it took time for my body and heart to follow. I watched a ‘Real Talk’ episode where Khuddam were reflecting on the passing of Khalifa Rabay (ra), and that their lives were empty without a Khalifa. They described how that emptiness was filled once Khalifa Al Khamis (aba) was appointed. I could not relate to their zeal for Khilafat.
I had mulaqat with Huzoor (aba) at U.S. Jalsa 2012. While waiting, brothers discussed how exciting and how much of a blessing it was to meet Huzoor (aba), and asked me how I learned about Ahmadiyyat. I listened to all of their advice, stories, anecdotes, and answered their questions. However, my anticipation and excitement did not match theirs, but when I met Khalifatul Masih V, I saw the noor I saw in dreams. In that meeting my relationship with Khilafat began.
I began to seek istighfar so that I could reflect forgiveness. I asked Allah Almighty to grant me the ability to forgive my mother’s betrayal and deceit during her drug addiction—an internal illness that had been plaguing me since 2003. I also asked Allah Almighty to grant me the ability to forgive the man who fed my mother’s addiction.
In August 2013 at UK Jalsa, as a part of the American delegation, the floodgate of spiritual blessings began to flow through my connection with Khilafat. Not only did Huzoor (aba) read me and my wife’s Nikkah, but I met the man who fed my mother’s addiction. We were having a conversation about ourselves prior to accepting Ahmadiyyat Islam. In discussing our back stories, we found out that we lived and frequented the same areas around the same time. From that I inferred that this was the man that helped destroy the relationship between my mother and me. Although I kept the assumption to myself, Allah Almighty began to remove the anger from my heart, and I wept throughout the group mulaqat. All I could think about was my mother and the spiritual blessing that Allah Almighty bestowed upon me through my relationship with Khilafat, and I asked our Beloved Huzoor (aba) to pray that my mother accepted Ahmadiyyat when it was my chance to introduce myself.
When I got back to the United States, I called my mother and asked her if she knew the brother I met in London. She said yes, and I asked her to describe him—she described him perfectly. I prayed to Allah Almighty that through obedience and service to Khilafat I would be able to wholeheartedly forgive my mother and this brother. Again, through my relationship with Khilafat, Allah Almighty opened doors and bestowed upon me the spiritual blessing of forgiveness.
As members of MKA USA, this brother and I crossed paths again in London, April 2015. In praying and visiting our Beloved Huzoor (aba), and taking ba’iat with this brother at Huzoor’s (aba) hand, Allah Almighty manifested Himself to me and filled my heart with forgiveness. As Huzoor (aba) led prayer, my heart melted in His noor and I wept as I emptied my heart of this illness.
When I returned home, I sent my mother photos of him and me. I asked her if it was him, and she said yes. It was the first time she had seen him in a decade, and she was astonished at his transformation. She could only say that she was proud of him and how much his face had changed. I called this brother and told him of our connection and he could only apologize and beg for forgiveness. I could only say “you’re forgiven” and “Alhamdulillah”.
I feel the deep connection to Allah Almighty through Khilafat. My soul is at rest, and my family and I are recipients of Allah Almighty’s unobstructed mercy. Subhana’Allah. Alhamdulillah. Allahu Akbar. I express the zeal of those who professed that their lives were empty without Khilafat. My anticipation and excitement matches theirs.
Without obedience and service to Khilafat I would still suffer from this illness. The institution of Khilafat is a living example of Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih II’s commentary in Surah Al-Dhariyat, “[subjecting] oneself to a rigorous spiritual discipline, working with all one’s inherent powers and capacities to their fullest scope, in perfect harmony with and in obedience to God’s design, so as to receive the Divine impress and thus able to manifest in oneself God’s attributes”.
The blessings of Khilafat allowed me to experience, manifest, and reflect the light, countenance, and character of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw). Only through the blessings of Khilafat was I able to experience and manifest Allah Almighty’s attributes.
I knew at the tender age of 10 that Islam was the remedy. I didn’t know that the remedy would be so sweet.
There is no life without Khilafat. There is no life without service and obedience to Khilafat. There is no life without keeping the company of the righteous. Ya Haiyu Ya Qayyum, crush our bones in Your light, that we may submit to Your will. Ameen.