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From Anarchy to Islam

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From Anarchy to Islam*




Seeing Islam practiced on a deeply personal and communal level in the desert villages and camps of Mauritania affected Sam.


Sam Abdul Wadoud Highsmith is an American ex-anarchist who embraced Islam in the summer of 2001. Having hitchhiked extensively throughout the United States while even braving a grizzly bear attack in Alaska, Abdul Wadoud continued his adventures abroad and first came into contact with Islam while driving his motorcycle across Mauritania.


After converting to Islam back in America, Abdul Wadoud visited numerous Muslim countries in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and the Middle East both for da`wah activities and political protests. He is currently an undergraduate student at the American University in Cairo where he studies anthropology.


Abdul Wadoud answers your questions about his conversion to Islam and his life:


* Q. Did the falsified image of Islam as a terrorist religionâ€â€Âpropagated by many non-Muslim sourcesâ€â€Âprevent you from embracing Islam? What advice would you give to such people who consider Islam as an outdated, uncivilized and terrorist religion?


- A. The image of Islam and Muslims currently propagated by the international media was not as prevalent before 9/11, though it was still present. In that sense, I had less prejudice to overcome than might be expected given the current environment. To be honest, the prejudice I had to work the hardest to overcome was a prejudice against religion in general as consisting of fairy tales designed to keep the ignorant masses dumb and happy. In my case, this impression was countered by the strong message of justice and balance advocated in Islam.


My humble advice would be to present Islam as a viable faith-based system, that is often not followed properly, but that nonetheless provides humanity with a system of living that is far superior to any man-made system. It is superior because it is the way of Allah, not of any person or group of people.


* Q. How did you react the first time you read the Qur’an?


- A. The first time I started reading a translation of the meaning of the Qur’an I was not seeking spiritual enlightenment and did not find it. I read my translation with an eye for possible discrepancies, inconsistencies and things that just didn't seem to make sense. Whenever I thought I found one I would ask some of the Muslims at my local Masjid about my “discoveries� in a very confrontational way. May Allah reward those kind and generous men for their patience and thoughtful responses that slowly became the cause for Allah to incline my heart towards Islam. The Qur’an revealed (and is revealing still) its beauty to me slowly and with poise, like a flower opening in the sun, not like a flash of lightning.


- Q. What was it that most attracted you to Islam, and how have people reacted to your change?


- A. This is a difficult question but the thing that most attracted me to Islam before I was Muslim was probably the perfection of Islam as a system of living. Also, the continuity of scholarship and practice across both time and space was impressive and provided a way of connecting myself to something bigger than just my own ego.


The reactions of my family and friends upon my acceptance of Islam were and have been overwhelmingly positive. I don’t try to impose any of my beliefs on them but I do answer a lot of their questions about Islam and Muslims. Of course, I have changed as a person after becoming Muslim but I am still the same person; the same son, brother and friend. If I am in any way deficient in any of these roles after accepting Islam, it is my fault entirely. And if I have improved in any way, all praise and thanks is due only to Allah. Please remember my family and the Muslim community at large in your du`aa’.


* Q. What would you say were the top three things that lead to your Islam, after the pure guidance of Allah (which we all know is the only REAL reason in reality)?


- A. I will try to enumerate some reason for accepting Islam below in no particular order:


1. Having the privilege to see Islam practiced on a deeply personal and communal level in the desert villages and camps of Mauritania.


2. Seeing Islam as a contiguous tradition across time and space that can be practiced in environments as desperate as North Africa and Northern California. The effort is mostly the same but the results are different.


3. Before I became Muslim, a wise Muslim man in my town looked me in the eye at exactly the right time in my spiritual development and told me “Allah has a hold of you and He won’t let you go.� This solidified my as yet unconscious intentions to accept Islam.


* Q. Do you find Islam a practical religion within your expectations?


- A. With all praise due to Allah, Islam as a religion and practical way of life has consistently exceeded my expectation. It is certainly not easy to apply all of the aspects of an Islamic Lifestyle, but the effort itself is satisfying even though it is never-ending. Islam indeed has the answer to any practical or spiritual question this world can put before us, the only difficulty is in making the commitment to Allah so He will allow us to pursue the option most pleasing to Him. May He guide us all and allow us to perform even the most mundane tasks with fear of Him and ihsan.


* Q. What is your advice to a Muslim, when ever his/her iman becomes weak, have you confronted such situation and how do you handle that?


- A. Thank you for your question but I don't know if I am the best person to answer it. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf said something to the effect that our faith naturally goes through both high and low points. This is not a personal fault of the individual believer, but part of the design of Allah. When our faith is low, we strive to increase it through du`aa’, prayer and keeping the company of the righteous (to name a few methods) and this teaches us to value faith and not take it for granted as well as how to struggle for the sake of Allah. When our faith is high, we know from experience that we can increase it through effort and this teaches us never to be satisfied with our spiritual level. For myself, I know that it is extremely important to surround myself with good and pious friends. Al-hamdu lillah, I am fortunate enough to have friends who exceed me in religion and are willing to help me on the path.


* Q. What effort is being taken by the Muslims in USA to educate the other faiths, that Islam shuns all forms of violence and also to convince the public that it wasn't Muslims as implicated responsible for 9/11?


- A. I have spent nearly all my time as a Muslim outside of the United States so I am largely ignorant of the U.S. Muslim scene.


I’m not sure about the last part of your question (it could be interpreted in many ways), but to those Muslims who think that the Jews or any other non-Muslim group crashed the planes into the World Trade Center, let me say that they may be simply avoiding self-criticism (muhasabah) which has always been an important aspect of the Islamic intellectual tradition.


* Q. What do you think is the most important message Islam came with?


- A. I think the most important message within the religion of Islam is that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger. May Allah give us all true understanding of this brief but immensely meaningful message.


*Adapted from a live dialogue session with Sam Highsmith. (islamonline)

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