Assalaamu’alaikum warahmatullaahi wabarakaatuh.
You know me as Ali Camarata but I bet you do not know about the story behind the man constantly requesting your help in his mission to help the underprivileged orphan kids. I was born and raised as a Christian. Growing up in America, my grandmother would bring me to church on the weekends and there would be the regular Bible studies along with the summer camps. But as I got older I was spending less time with church and more time with school, sports and so on. During the high school, I left religion altogether and became an atheist, after having discussions with a teacher who was a staunch atheist.
However, I later joined the military when I turned 17 and was still in high school. It was around this time that I renewed my faith and became a born-again Christian. I devoted a large part of my life to reading, learning and praying. As a Christian, I was always concerned with the truth vs. falsehood when it came to religion and my religion’s veracity never really convinced me. The more I would study, the higher my frustration got. Then 9/11 happened. All over the news and at every social gathering, the only topic that was being discussed was Islam. People were discussing how Muslims believe that the more disbelievers they kill the better their place in Heaven will be and other similar misconceptions that would make one hate such a “savage” religion.
Many people developed a blind hate for Islam and so did I. I was among those influenced by the anti-Islam propaganda and became angry at this “evil religion” that taught people to kill others. I was your average white American supremacist in the military with a strong hatred against Islam and Muslims. For many months, this situation only became further aggravated by the non-stop, biased and anti-Islam media coverage pertaining to Islam, whose sole objective seemed to be, to malign Islam and stir hatred against Muslims.
Some three months later one of my teachers made a proposition that if any of us made an original and unique project, we would get an automatic passing grade for the class. Considering the recent events, I decided to make a game based on finding and killing Osama bin Laden and finished the project early. Since the project was due after our week-long Christmas break, I decided to bring it home and add more detail to the game in my free time. I wanted to make a game event where you lit Osama’s turban on fire so I went to Google to search for some ideas and that’s when I came across some actual articles about Islam that opened my eyes.
I remember reading the headline for one article that explained how Muslims believe in Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets that I had grown up knowing as a Christian and that I read about daily when I read and studied the Bible. As a practicing Christian this really intrigued me, how could they believe in these prophets but not be Christian? I put the game aside and ended up not touching it again because I focused on reading actual articles and books, rather than news aimed at sensationalizing our hate towards what one or two Muslims did. I would literally wake up and read about religion and then fall asleep while in the middle of reading more, all day long during my break.
During this reading, I reflected that when someone desires to be religious and have a relationship with God they turn to what they know and were raised with – not necessarily what is the truth. I decided that to be a true Christian I would have to look at Islam and other religions and choose Christianity, not just have it by default. It was after studying early Christian history and seeing that the original message of Jesus was not what was followed by the Church who then standardized dogma and burned anything (and anyone) who went against them that I found God did what he had always done and revived His religion and the true message via sending a prophet, which was Muhammad who was born in 571.
I also studied the Quran and read about the fact that it had never been changed, even a single letter. As a Christian, this was a big factor since we’re always told that the “Holy Spirit” guided those who wrote and compiled the Bible but then history shows us that it has been tampered with and we have nothing original to confirm anything. You also see, when you read the Quran, that it is the direct and literal Word of God in the first person – not someone who saw someone else do something and then told it to another person who wrote a letter to another person and then a book compiled off those letters (which the originals are lost) and read as a narrative story – the Quran was God’s Word and He was talking to me. Additionally, I read of fulfilled miracles and prophecies of Muhammad and the Quran.
After this research and study I wanted to meet a Muslim and discuss the religion. I had never met a Muslim before so I set out to find a local masjid (mosque) but could not find one anywhere near my house so I turned to the internet and chatted with Muslims via IRC chat rooms and had a dialogue with people from Asia, Europe and even a Spanish convert in America. After conversing with them about these beliefs I could no longer deny the obvious truth.
I was convinced in the truthfulness of Islam, after the though provoking discussions and the extensive research I had carried out but then it hit me, “I can’t become Muslim… I’m a White American!” I would hear voices in my head, misgivings such as, “but you’re not an Arab, Islam is only for Arabs” or “what will your friends and family say, especially after 9/11″ and so on.
But these doubts proved to be minor and short lived. Eventually, I overcame such feelings and since there was no masjid nearby, I became Muslim by giving Shahadah (testifying) in my room alone that “There is no god except God (Allah) and Muhammad is His Messenger” on the New Year’s Eve. On a day, when most commit sin, Allah saved me by guiding me towards Islam.
After entering Islam, I kept it a secret for a few months and when I did “come out” of closet, the reaction of my family and friends went as expected. I was a terrorist to some, a traitor to others (especially people in the military). I received disapproval from almost all my friends and family, who hated me for it. Most wanted nothing to do with me and even my own family called me a terrorist and worse – as to whether I was going to hurt my mom and sister in their sleep because “all Muslims hate women” and so on. Such accusations and misconceptions arouse out of their heavily brainwashed minds, created because of the media propaganda.
Innallaha ma’a as-sabirin (Indeed Allah is with the patient). [Quran 2:153]
Soon after this I had to go for basic training for four months and being the first summer after 9/11 it was filled with many who joined because of their hatred of Muslims, which presented an interesting situation to me since I was the only Muslim in our company who had come for training that year.
I returned home, still a Muslim after basic training and disappointing many of my family members who had hoped that the military would “fix” me and cure me of my madness. Though, I don’t blame them since I too had believed that Islam was just another phase in my life that would go away with the passage of time.
I slept in my car for a few days that winter before a brother I knew from Virginia invited me to move in with him. I became part of a Muslim community and started growing in my deen, attending classes anywhere I could and reading books to study Islam in depth. I came to realize the struggles of being a new Muslim and being completely alone (besides Allah) and then the difference support like this makes.
The instant brotherhood that exists between two people who follow Allah is something that is unique to Islam in a way no one on the outside can understand, all praise to Allah (Alhamdulillah). Had it not been for the Islamic concept of “Brotherhood”, it would have been hard for me to endure the difficulties that I faced. I got welcomed by Muslims all over and received tremendous support wherever I went. A brother opened his doors with no rent when I was poor and on my own as a new Muslim, in a new city, may Allah reward him, Ameen.
Since then I have studied formally and traditionally from many Islamic scholars as well as studying comparative religion as well. Unlike when I learned deep parts of Christianity and my faith became weaker, with Islam the more I have learned it has only ever increased my faith and continued to show the perfection of God’s true religion in every aspect. While many misunderstand things when they look at them in isolation, Islam is a perfect and complete system or way of life. It offers perfect guidance in morality, manners, spirituality, and social laws.
May God guide all of us to follow His path with sincerity, Ameen.