Christopher (AbdulHaqq) Caras (USA)
...No fear upon them, nor shall they grieve...
In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful
All praise is to Allah, and may He exalt the mention of His noble Messenger Muhammad and grant him peace and security. To proceed:
I was raised with traditional Christian values--my parents instilled with me not to lie nor steal and they forbade me from ever getting any tattoos or piercings, praise be to Allah. My father, a federal judge, was Gre[size=4][/size]ek Orthodox and my mother, a registered nurse/"home-maker" was a Lutheran. I used to frequent both church's and I had a strong faith and love for Christianity. I felt that Christianity had the answers to everything and I never questioned its doctrines, always feeling that I understood them.
In school I was a class clown, an honor student, and I made it my life's goal of becoming the President of the United States. I was angry at the various injustices that were taking place in America and around the world. I decided that, as a Christian, I should do what I can to try to change the courses of evil. I wanted to live what I thought was a perfect life. At age 15 I decided never to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, do drugs, and to be completely abstinent from sexual relationships and girlfriends.
When I tried to follow the steps that I had laid out in life I found so many obstacles and met with failure. I was so frustrated, "Why isn't God helping me? Am I not doing the best thing in the sight of God?" I had plunged into the dark depths of depression and angst. At 16, I was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic with major depression and I believed that I was someone whom I was not. I had a hatred for everything in existence, especially for God for bringing me into existence, yet I was in deep love with myself and with Adolf Hitler. When I was 17 I felt as though I was going to implode and I was unable to keep control. I left school, afraid of what I would do to my classmates. I checked myself into an adolescent psych ward--during which time two skyscrapers in New York City came crumbling to the ground in late summer 2001. This excited me into thinking that this would give me some purpose of living. After getting out of the hospital I went to the United States Armed Forces recruiting center after persuading my parents to let me drop out of school--they only wanted for me what would make me happy. The Marine Corps refused to even speak to me because of my illnesses, even though my father had served with them aforetime during Vietnam.
I started being homeschooled and would frequent the library to occasionally brush up on philosophy and hitlerian literature. During one visit, I saw "The Qur'aan" and it really caught my eye. I wondered, "is this the same as the koran? If I read this, I can say hey, guess what the Muslim's believe!"
Now I was a writer. In fact I would spend most of my days writing poetry and screen plays. I wasn't a "writer" like how anyone who likes to lament calls them self a writer. I later received a writing scholarship to a prestigious private college. But when I read the first chapter of the Qur'aan, those 7 verses, I was shaken. Philosophers will spend hundreds of pages deciding whether or not they exist. Yet here were 7 verses that answered, who is Allah, what are His qualities, what will this life amount to, what is our relationship with the Creator, and what it is we are to do and not to do in life. I could not read anymore. I remember saying if the rest of this book is anything like this, then there is nothing like it. And I wanted to remain in my path of self-destruction, yet my curiosity brought me back to the Qur'an after a couple days of keeping away. When I read about the descriptions of humanity in the first verses of chapter 2 I was blown away. No human being could or would ever say these things. Describing the attributes of those who believe, disbelieve, and those who used their claimed religion as a worldly tool seemed to describe everything around me that I could not put my finger on but felt very strongly about. Reading verses like Allah mocks at them and gives them increase in their wrongdoing... and Verily, Allah is not ashamed to set forth a parable... and others seemed to put the title of ALMIGHTY back into its spot. It had always bothered me that people treated God like some nosy old neighbor with occasional words of wisdom to put on the fridge with a use You when I need You and leave You when I don't attitude. Yet I did not immediately know that God "The Father" and "Allah" were actually one in the same. I just saw that Islam believed in a Creator of all things whereas God "The Father" was at a much lower status. For example, in the "verse of the footstool" (2:255) the Qur'an states that the footstool of Allah extends beyond the heavens and the earth. But in the Bible (Matthew 5:35), Jesus [peace be upon him] is attributed to saying that God's footstool is the earth. I perceived that "Allah" and "The Father" were different, each with separate religions making the same claim yet there was no comparison between the awesome power and might of Allah, the One Who could not be reached through any intercessor. I believed that this message--grand, foreign, old as it was--was a personal message to me from Allah. I was so excited to read from the Qur'an--I even remember taking it to my grandmother's house and reading passages of it to her. When I finally came to the verse "O you who believe! Enter perfectly into Islam..." [2:208] I closed the book and knew that I did not want to live anymore without being a Muslim.
But I took precaution none the less. I went to church the next Sunday to see if I felt anything from it. Then, I visited with one of my former counselors, Father Michael, from the Greek Orthodox church. I told him my intention which of course shocked him. He asked me what I thought about during the service and I confessed I couldn't stop wondering if Allah approves of all these statues and pictures. He admitted not knowing hardly anything about Islam and did not try to dissuade me from my path. Instead he furnished me with the number and address of a local Islamic center and prayed for me that I would be like the prodigal son.
For those who don't know, the prodigal son is a biblical story of a man who leaves the home of his raising to adventure into the world. After being away for a long time pursuing the glitter of this world he realizes the need to return to the home he left behind. He fears that his family will be mad at him and cast him out upon return but instead finds them joyous wherein they give him a great reception. And it may be that this is really a parable of a person returning to their fitra, or what they were naturally created for, and Allah knows better.
After my meeting with the reverend I had told my parents about my intentions and I don't think I could have said I'm going to the mall and gotten any different response. They were calm and collected but my mother mentioned to me to do some research first. I suppose that I had put them through enough already that nothing from my end could surprise them. It wasn't until right before I would go to the local mosque later that week that my parents realized that I wasn't joking. My father was very passive it is not uncommon to have doubts about one's religion and organized religion at this age he would say. My mother was very devastated--several years later I learned that she thought I became a Muslim only to spite her. My feeling of need for Islam outweighed anything and I threatened my parents to take my own life or to live on the streets in downtown Peoria if they made life difficult for me on account of becoming a Muslim. After that stance of mine, irregardless of how right or wrong it was, my parents have always been very tolerant of my becoming a Muslim, giving me support, and reading/listening to what I offer them.
On October 26th, 2001 I pulled up to the local Islamic center and waited in the parking lot. I stopped to look at who would go inside. When I saw an Arab pull up and escort his wife to one entrance and himself take a different one I realized that this was not a Nation of Islam center so I went ahead and entered. At 6:20 pm I met the first Muslim I had ever met, Abu Usaamah Khalifah adh-dhahabi (may Allah guide him) who helped me repeat ash-hadu an la ilaaha illa Allaah wa Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan Rasoolullah -- the words necessary for becoming a Muslim. About 30 people accepted Islam in Peoria following September 11th. Of those, I am the only one practicing today, and Allah knows best.
But life did not become rosy and peachy from then on. [Can anyone say that it does?] In fact, for two and a half years I called myself a Muslim, and Allah knows better about that. The books I was given on the onset of accepting Islam were miles over my head (Shaykh al-Albaani's unabridged description of the prayer and Kitab-at-Tauheed). I was assigned a mentor who, with all due respect, was very kind and caring, and I greatly appreciate his help and support throughout my various car accidents and laziness. But the brother did not teach me what I needed to be taught when I was ready. Everyday in that first week I would wake up at 5 am to drive 30 minutes downtown for the morning prayer at the Bradley MSA yet how quickly did the enthusiasm begin to wane. Then, after being a "Mozlem" for 3 months I tried to debate with my parents about religion and I felt so humiliated that I overdosed on aspirin. The next morning I was in the hospital vomiting--back to the psych ward. After this second hospitalization I finished my junior year without incident and returned to the actual brick/mortar building for my senior year whilst I pulled up my grades.
After graduating from high school I went to Knox College to study political science. I chose Knox because of its proximity (close to home, but not at home), large international community, and faculty . But when I saw the Muslims there Yeah, you should meet Temur, he's very conservative, he prays...I realized I was in trouble. I tried to spend as much time as I could with "Temur the conservative" (whose dorm furniture was made out of Papa John's pizza boxes). After a year at Knox being a "jumu'ah man" Temur asked me to be the imam the following year. I protested to this but when I considered everyone else... I reluctantly accepted the post.
All this time I was having problems with praying so I asked the Peoria imam for advice but he told me to read about Tauheed. I thought what kind of advice is this? I ask about prayer and he says tauheed? And it took me three attempts at Kitab-at-Tauheed (Muhammad ibn AbdulWahhab Raheemahullah) before I realized what I was reading. But this was the defining moment of my life as a Muslim. It was like smoke was being removed from my eyes, my mind, and my heart. I started praying regularly and on time and have yet to falter, praise be to Allah.
I now realize that this advice was based upon the Prophetic instruction, let the first thing you call them to be singling out Allah for all aspects of worship, if they obey you in that, then tell them that Allah has ordered 5 prayers for every day and night. Before then, I was occasionally reading "Islam and science" and "Islam and Christianity" and other useless literature. Praise be to Allah, I now realize that a person will never attain true certainty or strength as a Muslim except by following this methodology of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) by beginning all affairs with Tauheed [understanding the true relationship between the Muslim and Allah].
I started writing down questions and I asked my former mentor if he could answer them for me but due to his busy schedule he directed me to another brother. This man later became my best friend, an orthodox Muslim from Kuwait. I was impressed with the way he answered questions it doesn't matter what I think, but the Qur'aan says... and the Messenger says... and the scholars explained for us that this means... He didn't offer any of his own opinions, amusing anecdotes, nor tell any stories, everything was to the point and from the only sources that mattered. He furnished me with the right books and so that summer I decided to read and read and read until it became an all-day addiction.
When I returned to college I couldn't focus on my studies as I was so busy reading about Islam. I decided to abandon political science and I thought about going into culture studies until I realized that I wanted to devote the rest of my days to the study of Islam. It took a series of lengthy letters to my family and becoming extremely sick before I could leave Knox College for good. The summer after my would be sophomore year saw a trip to the psychiatrist that I had known for years. The medication I had been taking for 3 years--powerful enough to make a pharmacist gasp...which I was supposed to be taking till the day I die, was relinquished--doctor's orders. My mother fell to the ground crying, saying I knew this day would come.
I have since become a respected member of the Muslim community, given some lectures about Islam, done some occasional writing as well as teaching Islam for the local masjid weekend schools.
Recently, I decided to gather my thoughts and perform hajj. I went with many of those most beloved to me on earth, the brothers from Newark, NJ and Philadelphia, PA. Therein, Allah blessed me with a chance to see some of the great scholars of our time, Ubaid al-Jaabiree and Rabee' al-Madkhali among others, may Allah preserve and protect them. I was awestruck in their presence from what light (noor) and weight that seemed to emanate from them and their words.
But today I'm a welder, and I'm distancing myself from saying anything about Islam because of the loftiness and tremendous weight with that station. I'm currently making plans to move to the east coast, get married, find a way to learn Arabic and ultimately live amongst the Muslims and learn more about this blessed religion of Islam. This way of life which Allah blessed me with in my most desperate hour. I used to come home from school every day and place my face in a pillow and cry, fantasizing about death, and praying for deliverance. I, like so many millions and billions, was unaware that anything like Islam existed. I'm so happy that Allah chose me amongst the billions upon billions on earth that are in need of His guidance. I know that there is nothing I did to deserve His Help except that He has fulfilled His promise to Help those who call upon Him. And He has thus far answered my prayers, "Oh Allah, place me amid the rightly-guided, in this life and the next." Sometimes in the midst of my daily affairs I pause and think about Islam, to consider the vast scope of its guidance. There is perfection in every matter, whether it is the way in which the Muslim is called to believe and understand their Lord and the unseen world about them, or to behave with himself, or to establish a family and live in society. Balance, justice, truth, and practicality are some of the aspects of this way of life, but they are perfected beyond any scale of human conception. The difference between Islam's guidance in a matter and anything else are not like the comparison of one step above another, but rather like the comparison of the stars above to what we are down here--if there is any comparison. When I consider that all of this guidance was revealed to one man in a single 23-year period, when before then the Arabs new nothing of guidance... I am floored. The only thing I can do is praise and thank Allah, keep my duty to Him as much as I am able, and never be too proud to ask His forgiveness for whenever I err.
"Is he who was dead (without Faith by ignorance and disbelief) and We gave him life (by knowledge and Faith) and set for him a light (of Belief) whereby he can walk amongst men – like him who is in the darkness (of disbelief, polytheism and hypocrisy) from which he can never come out? Thus it is made fair-seeming to the disbelievers that which they used to do." [6:122]
AbdulHaqq [Christopher] Caras al-amreeki