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37. Tavis Adibudeen (Written in 1996 Revised in 98

Many of the things people go through prepare them for life and mold the choices they make in the future. Islam, now the fastest growing religion in the US, relays this very well. All of the converts (or more appropriately: reverts) to Islam have some significant or collection of insignificant events or people that shaped their concept of Islam.
This concept, for them, became action. It is fair to say that many of the things that introduce a person to Islam are difficulties and misunderstandings. It has been said that one must crawl before they can walk, or you must get knocked down before you can be picked up again. This is often the case for new Muslims in America. They don’t realize how precious Islam is, until they realize how hard life can be. We are not prophets, and therefore there is no revelation to us. Instead, we must come to terms with our reality before touching our spirituality. For African Americans in America, this is a difficult road in which to travel. Today, there is an estimated 7 million Muslims in the United States, 2 million of which are African American. Furthermore, most of the new Muslims are of African descent. For them, it is a story of self discovery erased by 200 years of slavery. Some identify with Islam firstly because it was practiced by many of the their ancestors from Africa, and Christianity was forced on the slaves by Europeans. Others, because it clears obvious mistakes and exclusions of African Americans in Christianity. Most, however, find a combination of all these things with Islam. This is the road I had to travel. This was my light at the end of the tunnel.
I was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana from birth to Christian parents. My mother, raised in Tennessee, was a Methodist Christian and a frequent church attender. My father was non-denominational and an occasional church attender. My mother was a very religious person, so my father, my sister, and I usually went to church with her. From as early as I can remember, I was always surrounded by Christianity. My father and mother both worked, and they were trying to finish school. This meant that someone would have to take care of me during the day. Until I was about three, I had a baby sitter. Then, I started going to Noah’s Ark, a private Christian preschool. By this time my sister had started elementary school.
Noah’s Ark was like living in Sunday school. We learned Bible verses, sang church songs, and also did general child-type activities. I often remember bringing home little cards that had bible verses on them. If you memorized the verse, you would get a reward. I don’t really remember what the reward was. I guess I didn’t memorize enough to know what it was. On Sundays we all put on our best clothes and went to church. To me it seemed to be mostly singing and nodding of heads. At my youthful age, I had little understanding of what purpose any of the things we did served. In fact I still question that today, but I thought my mother knew everything (and compared to what I knew she did). So, I did what she said. As I grew older, things seemed to drift away and eventually fall apart. My father began going to church less. For the first time, I was in a public school where the teaching of any religion is illegal, and I suddenly found myself in an environment much different from Noah’s ark. At this point in my life, there were two religions; one was Christianity, and the other one wasn’t. At ages six and seven, I had never heard of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or anything else. Actually, I knew of one other religion: Jehovah’s Witnesses. They seemed to just be strict Christians to me. My friend who lived across the street from me was a Jehovah’s Witness, but my impressions of them mostly came from the people who dressed up and went door to door trying to interest people. Often times, we tried to avoid opening the door so they wouldn’t bother us. The earliest church congregation that I remember was the one my mother stayed with until recently. In some denominations of Christianity, the minister preached for a living. He was paid by the congregation, and he lived in a house especially set aside by the church. Our first minister was energetic, but they got rid of him. The second was a women, who I thought was nice, but they got rid of her too. Then came a man who changed the way I looked at the religion. Maybe it was just because I was older, or maybe he actually had something to do with it. Regardless, I actually went to church to hear him, but that wasn’t until later in my life. They say, however, that children identify with their same sex parents, and I identified with my father. By the time I was in fifth grade, he usually only went to church on Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day. I soon followed. It actually wasn’t until several years later that the third minister would come to our church.
I had always loved Christmas, not because of its religious significance, but because it was a tradition to exchange gifts on that holiday. Many songs were about the birth of Jesus (alaiyhis-salaam), but it seemed as though there were and are just as many songs about Santa Claus. So many of stories that existed about Santa Claus seemed ridiculous to an adult but were sacred when told to a child. A big, round, rosy cheeked white man supposedly flew through the sky (propelled by flying reindeer) on Christmas Eve dropping off presents at people’s houses. My sister and I believed in that for many years. We decorated Christmas trees, baked Christmas cookies, drank eggnog, and went to bed early on 24 December every year so Santa Claus could come down our chimney at night and give us gifts. It seems so silly now, but it was something we believed and something our parents told us and helped us believe. Naturally, most children would eventually find out that Santa was fake and spread it to other kids. It was my sister that eventually told me.
All those years Mommy and Daddy had been putting the presents there at night, not Santa! I felt violated. I was taught at Noah’s Ark that we weren’t supposed to lie, yet Americans lie to their children every year. These Christian children seemed to hold the mystical Santa Claus more dear to them than the real Jesus Christ (ahs). Strike one.
At the age of eleven, Islam was introduced to me for the first time, although very briefly. In middle school we studied various cultures in my social studies classes. I only learned that “Muhammad was the prophet of Islam, and Muslims prayed five times a day.” I didn’t learn anything else. I did know of some famous Muslims such as boxer Muhammad Ali and basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but I knew little about them. It was, however, the same year that Kareem played his last basketball game before retiring. This was also the first real extensive amount of time I spent in a normal public school with normal classes and normal kids. I was suddenly not special anymore. I was not in higher classes than other kids anymore. It was as though I had to start over for no reason, but it exposed me to a wider variety of people. I became more in touch with people who looked like me. Middle school had many more African Americans (due to busing children) than I had ever seen outside of my old neighborhood.
I also began to realize things about white teachers and students. I had only read about racial discrimination until now. Suddenly, I was growing up, and teachers began to treat me like a “black male” instead of a student. This only made me realize other things about my religion. I began to wonder why all the pictures of Jesus (ahs) were pictures of a white man. Why was the Son of God a white man? This seemed to indicate that black people were inferior to white people. Strike two.
As I progressed through Middle School, I became more aware of our differences. Blacks and Whites almost totally segregated themselves. It seemed as if all the things I read about were still happening. The more that white people did and said things that were mean and offensive to me, the harder I found it to love the Son of God. I began to rationalize wondering if this white man was as racist as the white men with which I came in contact. It came to the point where I almost became militant. My grades began to fall as my black friends and I found little interest in the white school system. It seemed as though it wasn’t meant to teach us at all. We were excluded from history books and literature books. When we did achieve things, it was played down by the white teachers. By the time I reached the eighth grade, I didn’t even want to step one foot into a church. Ironically, it was about this time that I met the minister that had a different approach to Christianity. His teachings were more understandable and down to earth. I still found it hard, though. This was because he was saying one thing, yet the things and people around him said another.
It was nearly required that you dress up for church. People talked about people if they didn’t or couldn’t dress as nicely as they did. It was a fashion show. Most of the time was spent singing, or so it seemed. I didn’t see the point in singing, but it was beautiful when done correctly. I could not, however, deal with the fashion show. We became the models as we walked down the aisle. Gossip constantly circled about people in and outside the church. The things that I didn’t like about the world outside of church suddenly seemed to be a part of the church. Strike three.
Around this time a revolution was occurring in hip-hop culture. From birth I had been raised listening to rap music. It was a part of me, and many “pro-black” teachings were at the foundation of this movement. What made this time period significant, however, was that the Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan began to inject his message into the words of rappers. Naturally, I heard this message. It was a very different message from the one I heard in church. Instead of the “son of God” being a pitiable white man on a cross, everything associated with religion was painted black. Groups such as X-Clan and Public Enemy had a big influence on my thinking at that time.
It was at this time, my freshman year in high school, that I declared I would never go to church again. I saw it as stupid and pointless. I didn’t feel comfortable there. Instead it felt like I was in a theater and the minister, my friend, was on stage. If he performed well he’d get paid and keep the seats filled. If he didn’t, his fate would resemble the two before him. As if almost by fate, I first became aware of the religion called Islam. I had a friend in my English class who was a Muslim. After all this time, this was the first time I had come in contact with a Muslim. He mostly talked about the things that Muslims did. I listened, but I really didn’t show much interest in it. He never really said what their beliefs were, and I never asked.
At age 15 I met another guy who was just a militant as I, if not more. I’ll call him MC. MC was the first person to ever tell me how bad pork really was. My mother, raised in the south, naturally cooked a lot of it. We had ...
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