Hajj Mustafa Ali
did I become a Muslim? I
answer that by saying that I didnt, because Ive always been.
There was no great conversion.
I havent changed my thinking, but only deepened it since I
made the shahadah almost a decade ago.
better question is why I am
a Muslim. I can answer that by talking about tawhid (the Oneness of Allah) and `Adl (the principles of justice that derive from it).
But for me personally, the real question is why Allah led me
to Islam. This neither
I nor anyone else will ever know until the Day of Judgment, which I
fear. The answer for
every Muslim and Muslimah lies somewhere in the unique path that
Allah has chosen for each one.
of the path Allah chose for me was my birth in the twentieth century
A.C. in America. I
could have been born in the Sudan as a Dinka, but I was not, and I
could have grown up before the final disintegration of the Muslim ummah
before the onslaught of Western colonialism, but I did not.
all new Muslims today, I am part of a great community of believers
and part of a movement of revolutionary change at this juncture in
undoubtedly is an important reason why others and I are Muslims; so
we should try to understand the responsibilities that flow from the
great gift of iman
in the modern world.
Muslims are trained by reading the Quran to see that in our
universe change is essential to its purposive nature, though we
often ignore the beauty inherent in this fact.
We have all seen the clouds gather rapidly before the
breaking of a storm, and many have watched the nearly imperceptible
advent of dawn. Our own
lives move even more slowly. We
all can notice the ageing of our bodies, but only a few philosophers
of history can detect the on-going and inevitable rise and fall of
entire civilizations. And
this all has Divine purpose.
geo-politicians are struck by a historically rapid shift in the
global balance of power and influence.
In the forty years since World War 2, the USAs share of
gross world product has fallen from 52 to only 22 per cent, now
below that of Western Europe. And
Japan has overtaken the Soviet Union.
people who worship the gods of power, prestige, and pleasure, this
is a big deal. This reshuffling of the deck could even threaten the ultimate
idol of a secular world, namely, the stability of world order.
who have absorbed the Quranic view of history see this
reshuffling of relative material wealth as merely a superficial
movement within the global Euro-American civilization.
The natural comment is so what!
If power is its aim, we are entitled to ask, how powerful is
this civilization anyway? Its
two most powerful leaders have differing goals, but they share the
single overarching purpose of controlling the world. How are they doing?
we might ask did the most powerful nation on earth shrink from
imposing a military solution to the instability that
grew out of its own total lack of practical concern for economic
justice in Central America? Why
did the second most powerful country on earth retreat before some
tribesmen in Afghanistan on its very borders?
And why did both superpowers quail before the revolutionaries
in Iran, who fought successfully alone for eight years to thwart the
two global giants?
in the Quranic paradigm of history, developed in some detail by
Ibn Khaldun six centuries ago, we Muslims watch for the eternally
valid signs of civilizational change.
Ibn Khaldun lived at the time of the Mongol invasion, which
triggered the end of the classical Islamic civilization.
He looked beyond the catastrophic but nevertheless surface
events of the universal destruction to see the cause of
disintegration in a loss of commitment to transcendent religious
major thesis, conveniently ignored by Western scholars, is that civilization
depends on what we would nowadays call culture.
As a deeply religious Muslim, though he is honored
erroneously in the West as the secular father of modern sociology,
economics, and historiography, Ibn Khaldun defined culture as
awareness, expressed in everything from art to politics, of moral
absolutes. And this
awareness operates not merely on an individual level, but most
importantly as a community phenomenon, a commitment, which he called
asabiyyah, to the
integrity and transcendent value of family, village, and nation.
In an Islamic society these represent various levels of ummah.
When cultures rise, so do civilizations, and when a culture
dies its dependent civilization does not long survive, though the
lag between cause and effect, now exceeding two centuries in the
West, may obscure the dynamic process.
the blind can fail to see that today, as the secular powers in world
politics are falling into internal decay, another force is rising,
and even in the heartlands of America and the Soviet Union.
Beneath the superficial level of shifting patterns in
geo-politics, a deeper and genuine change seems to be growing among
all the peoples of the world in their commitment to transcendent
revolution seems to be guided by the Divine strategy for personal
and social change revealed in the teachings of all the Prophets on
truth and justice. For
those who have bothered to study Divine Revelation, the only source
of guidance adequate to the task of cultural regeneration in a
disintegrating world is the Quran, as manifested in the life of
The Prophet Muhammad and explained for application in every aspect
of life by the great scholars of the shari`ah and by
wise men wherever they may be.
in this great global movement, every one of us whom Allah has led to
Islam has a role to play. When
Allah calls a person to Islam, He does not do so solely to bring
this person into His presence, both here on earth and in Jinnah. Every Muslim was created with a responsibility to the Islamic
ummah and to the ummah
that is humankind. By
submitting our lives to Allah we can find out what Allah has created
us to be and do, but we can know this only imperfectly and to the
extent that He wishes, for He guides us in ways unknown.
BY THE HAND
is led not merely by the environment selected by Allah but by direct
intervention in his or her life, and sometimes through the agency of
angels who are part of Allahs infinite mercy.
Although one rarely knows it at the time, in retrospect it is
often clear that Allah has been leading one almost by the hand.
This has occurred so often in my life that it seems
incredible how I could have dismissed such occurrences as simply a
my life Allah has led me to explore the unknown and has always
protected me from harm. The
first time I ran away from home was at the age of 18 months, when my
mother found me two blocks from home at the lip of a hill in the
middle of the road about to be run over by a car.
I was an inveterate hitchhiker.
By the time I was fifteen, I had visited every state in the
nation. I filled in
this missing state at the age of 17 when I was working my way on a
merchant ship to China on the way to hitchhike across Mongolia.
When the ship docked for oil, I missed its departure, which
probable saved my life.
of my friends once quipped that if he had a dollar for every jail I
have been in, he would be a rich man.
My first such experience occurred at the age of fifteen, when
I hitchhiked to see for myself the misery of the Indians whose
villages had been destroyed by a volcano in Mexico. I reached the volcano but had no money to get back and after
several days without food was picked up as a suspicious character by
the police. This gave
me the opportunity to perfect m Spanish by learning first-hand why
people end up in prison in Mexico.
next imprisonment as at the age of 19 in East Germany, where I had
gone to contact members of the underground in order to write a
manual on how to overthrow a totalitarian state from within.
Having been raised on the history of my Native-American
Cherokee ancestors, who fought a losing battle against their
subjugation by the worlds most savage colonial power, I was
always interested in the nature of evil and how to combat it.
The incarnation of evil I thought was modern Communism.
an incredible odyssey evading the Communist police while crossing
into East Germany near the Czechoslovak border, while others were
brutally shot under my very eyes, I finally was caught by a routine
identity check and thrown into the local prison in Plauen.
My cellmate I could tell had become an agent of the police,
as had no doubt almost all the others, simply in order to stay
alive. We had a choice
of solitary confinement on half rations or slave labor on full
rations. But it was not
much of a choice because one would starve either way.
I believed my cellmate when he said that no one had been told
why he was arrested to begin with and no one had been told how long
he was to stay.
principle I refused to work for Communist barbarians.
Since, as a linguist, I was fluent in both German and
Russian, my cellmate and later the interrogators were convinced that
I was a Russian escapee from the Gulag.
Later, when I was paraded before the populace on the way from
one prison to another, the curiosity of the onlookers suggested that
the rumor about the Russian escapee had spread beyond the prison
feigning stupidity bordering on insanity, I convinced them that they
would gain nothing by returning me to the Soviet prisons and that
neither they nor anyone else could ever force me to betray my
parents, whom I invented as a reason for my visit behind the Iron
I was suddenly released, apparently so the police could follow me.
When I boarded a train going toward the West, instead of to
my non-existent parents in Leipzig, the train was held up for half
an hour, as I later learned, so that the Chief of Police and the
Chief Interrogator could board it.
At that time, all the tracks connecting East and West Germany
along this part of the frontier had been torn up, so the only access
was by foot over a nearly impenetrable zone several miles deep.
I took the train to the last station, from which I thought I
knew the way across. I
had hardly left the train when the two senior police officials
appeared on either side of me.
But, to my amazement, I simply walked away and no one
when I reached a woods a mile away, was an alarm sounded.
The church-bells of a border village, populated, I was later
told, by agents of the police, summoned all the men from the fields
to find me. There was
no way to escape so I merely sat in the small woods until dusk.
Soon motorcycles pulled up at the edge of the woods and teams
of police dogs started following my trail.
But again I seemed simply to have disappeared.
When the dogs came to within 20 feet of me, they whined
loudly and refused to go any further.
an hour the coast was clear for me to make my way toward the border,
or so I thought. But
when I emerged from the woods, suddenly sirens sounded all along the
border for miles. Somehow
I avoided my pursuers by running for several hours, but finally I
gave up and simply followed the railroad bed toward the west.
After a few minutes a border guard appeared next to the
tracks and pointed an automatic weapon at me.
I made no effort to run, but when he was only ten feet away
and looking right at me in the bright moonlight, I realized that
again I had become invisible. So
I simply stepped aside and with a puzzled expression he passed by.
next few hours I can remember only in disjointed flashes.
I remember falling through the ice in a swamp and feeling the
water freezing to ice all over me.
I also know that I climbed over the main barbed-wire fence at
the frontier, but also that I climbed over another one equally high.
In retrospect, what must have happened is that I made it out
of East Germany into the West but then somehow
crossed back again.
next I remember is finding a village, going to the biggest house,
and ringing the doorbell, thinking that I had finally escaped.
I must then have collapsed, because my next memory is of
approaching sunrise and the shock of ringing the doorbell and
simultaneously reading the sign on the door above me, in Russian:
Headquarters of the Border Police.
decided there was no point in running anymore, so I simply waited
for the border patrol to open the door.
When he was sound asleep and now with daylight I could find
my way back across the frontier without the danger of being
outside of town I met a man who said he was fleeing to the West and
would show me the way. Naively
I followed, right into a police trap.
time I was imprisoned in the basement of a farmhouse together with
about thirty other escapees. Then
commenced another of the apparent disappearing acts to which I
should have already become accustomed.
All of the inmates in our farmhouse prison, except me were
called out by name and led away.
Twice during the day the room was filled with newly captured
people and twice again all were called out except me.
When I asked the guard what was going on, he did not hear me.
when a third group had been assembled during the ensuing night and
again led out, I decided to walk out with them.
No one seemed to notice me, so I just kept on walking right
on into West Germany.
the time of these events and afterwards too, I simply dismissed them
as a mystery. I had no answers to what had happened so I simply did not
think about it. But
what I had seen and heard about the injustices in a modern
totalitarian state convinced me that I should go back and fight it
in any way I could.
the previous three years I had been seriously thinking about
studying for the priesthood and joining the Jesuits, who were known
as the shock troops of the Catholic Church.
I decided now to join the Franciscans instead, because they
had been given the mission by the Pope to convert Russia back to
then I experienced the only really important event in my life, which
made it impossible ever again to think of becoming a Christian
priest. One summer
after a trip to the Rocky Mountains, I developed a high fever and
soon was hospitalized. The
doctors were puzzled, until my record-high white-blood cell count
brought in a diagnosis of trichinosis, the deadly disease that comes
from eating pork. In my
case, thousands of tiny worms had invaded all the muscles of my
body, and unless my body could encapsulate them fast they would soon
multiply into the millions. The doctors did not tell me this until later, because I
almost died in the hospital and they thought that death would not be
I did die in the hospital. Only
Allah knows. Certainly I was no longer in this world.
This was when I experienced the only absolute certitude that
any human being can ever know, when he experiences the light of
Allah. Then he knows
what the Prophet meant when he was asked whether he had seen Allah.
The Prophet gave the only possible answer in his declaration:
How can any man see Allah, when Allah is light!
also showed me the entire world from an enormous height and showed
me hundreds of millions of people on earth as individuals in one
community. It is of
course humanly impossible to distinguish at one time so many
individual souls, which is why I know this vision was the work of
did Allah show me all this? What
am I to learn from it? I
have never known. Until
I became a Muslim, I never even mentioned it to anyone, because it
seemed obvious that, whatever the reason, it was meant only for me,
since it could not possibly have any meaning for anyone else.
I still am convinced of this.
I have learned two things from this experience.
The first is that such insights are best forgotten, because
one cannot in fact remember them.
All one can remember is the memory, which is not the reality,
and ones own memory can become a substitute for Allah, a false
god. Allah gives you
to understand what He wills when He wills, no more.
importantly, I learned that Allah is One, which is why I could never
again actually believe in Christian theology and could never become
a priest. I could
explain the trinity as well as any Christian, but I knew the truth
because of direct experience. Whenever
I asked Catholic theologians to explain how one can pray to God
without praying to one of the trinity instead, the answer was
always, Dont think about it.
years, I searched for a word to describe God, as I had known Him.
I avoided Islam with all my might as a disgusting parody of
truth, simply because all I knew were parodies of Islam.
I was reliably told that for Muslims heaven is a
whorehouse (all the hurries, you know), and that in order to enter
heaven every Muslim must kill a Christian.
What could be more diabolical!
I met an actual live Muslim, an old man who dared to admit what he
was. And he wasnt at all what I had expected.
We didnt discuss religion, but he obviously loved all that
God had created, including even me. Something was obviously wrong.
I had sought the truth all my life, but here was something
then I met other Muslims who seemed to know things that I thought no
one could understand. Eventually
I learned that they had the word I thought must exist but could
never find: Allah.
the first time, I realized that Allah had not placed me alone in the
world, and that I was one of the millions He had shown me the day I