As we made our way to Cleveland, OH I kept thinking, why do they call this place ‘the mistake by the Lake’? Cleveland has a very unfortunate history of losing and losing in dramatic fashion in the sporting world. But, for me ‘the mistake by the Lake’ was a reminder of past personal mistakes. In Cleveland lives a former College teammate, Jerome Harrison, whose life was threatened by a surprising Brain Tumor.
Jerome came to Washington State University in 2004. A standout RB on the ﬁeld, he quickly became accepted by his fellow teammates. Jerome and I formed a good relationship were we hung out off the ﬁeld a lot. There was a time in my life that I’m not proud about at all. It was back when I was ‘ﬁguring it out.’ Although we are born into Islam, sometimes, we still have to get bit by the Dunya before we can fully submit to Allah in Islam.
There was a particular instance where Jerome had to take care of me, when he saw me at the lowest of the low in my ‘ﬁguring it out’ stage. This happened in 2005. Fast forward to 2012. Jerome had multiple surgeries to remove his brain tumor. He was told he would never walk again, talk again, a vegetable at best, at one point the doctors even told his family to come say their goodbyes. His wife recalled a moment in time where he was “skin and bones.” Normally a muscular 205 lbs. turned into 145 lbs. of paralysis. Half of his memory was pretty much erased from this tumor. Being the ﬁghter that he is, Jerome is talking, walking with a cane, reclaimed his body, he’s determined to get back to normal. Through all of this, when I walked in he started smiling, then laughing and reminiscing about that low point that occurred in 2005.
We joked about it, had a good laugh but, every time it was brought up I would cringe. The juvenile I was in 2005 is not the person I am today. As a Muslim, we never know who is watching us. The one time we are not following our Deen, that weak moment, that low point in our lives, could greatly impact someone else’s views on Muslims and Islam. All I can think about is that if Allah took his soul, and asked him, “Why didn’t you become a Muslim? Why didn’t you take my servant Husain as an example? Why didn’t you use the signs around you?” And Jerome replies, “Oh Allah, I was around Husain for a while and he was not a Muslim. His language, his demeanor, his actions were not of a Muslim. Oh Allah, I never had any righteous signs, I never knew a true Muslim.”
This scared me and still does as I write this blog. All I kept telling him was, “We have to hang out again.” Now I want him to see the man I have become, to see what a Muslim looks like, what a Muslim talks like, how a Muslim should act regardless of the situation around him. This is what I want. A second chance.
As Muslims we speak for the Ummah and Islam everyday. We must capitalize on these opportunities to exemplify a Muslim. Otherwise, it’ll be another race against the clock to gain that second chance and right your wrongs. Please make du`a’ that Jerome fully recovers from his surgeries and the condition he is in now. Also, please make du`a’ I get a second chance and this time I am successful at being a proper representative of Muslims everywhere and the perfected religion of Islam.
I’ve always wanted to make the visit to Toronto, ON, Canada. When I heard about all the Muslims in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), we had to make this one of our stops. A selﬁsh visit for that and a few other reasons. A brother named George Green reached out to us. A recent Revert who gave up a ﬁve-star lifestyle to submit his will to Allah in Islam. I had to hear his story in person. We also wanted to meet Shaykh Shazzad, he heads the Canadian Dawah Association (CDA). He wanted to sit down and speak with us as well.
The drive from Cleveland to Toronto was a breeze, the excitement of leaving the country for only my second time kept me awake, that and the cappuccino I drank with the extra shot of coffee. Oatmeal from McDonalds for Suhoor and the white thread was upon us. Arriving at the hotel we were greeted by our brothers in Islam George, Hany, Luqman and Usman. After exchanging Salams we headed to the room and caught up on rest.
We attended Jumah prayer in Missisuaga at ISNA Canada. Shaykh Shazzad gave a strong khutbah on success. From the linguistic deﬁnition, to the ultimate success in Islam. After, he invited us to a conference room to sit and talk. He gave us a quick class on the rights of Hajj. He also showed us the work of the CDA. Many “Stars” and people of status have accepted Islam or have made the pilgrimage to Makkah, KSA and Madinah, KSA because of them.
I applied the khutbah to what I was witnessing. As Muslims sometimes we buy in to what is being sold by the media, Hollywood/Bollywood, Movies, Music, etc. and we think this is our success. Then, I see the ones who have all these things we desire and they want what we have: purpose, integrity, character, certainty, etc. Success in this life (Dunya) versus Success in the Hereafter (Akhira). An easy choice but tough struggle when you think about it. I checked myself and made Du’a that my Akhira is not jeopardized by my pursuits in the Dunya.
We had more down time then we had in the states, so I used my time wisely and held a Skype date with my wife and children. This has been the longest I’ve been away from home so I probably needed it more than them. It was great to see the smiling faces and hear Jalaal’s energetic stories. This Re-charged my battery. Now I am ready for the second half of Ramadan and the tour to continue.
When you add the stop at the border, the drive from Toronto, ON to Boston, MA had to be the longest of them all. The worst thing about the trip was not the duration of the trip, it was the toll roads. The Interstate should not have toll booths and when they do, they should not try and break someone’s pockets. While in New York we exited the freeway and quickly returned because a toll booth stood between us and the bathroom. I payed over $15 at one toll for no apparent reason. Then $3.75 within twenty minutes at another toll. And ﬁve minutes after that, the toll booths extorted $1.25 from me. A scenic drive in upstate New York but, a pricey one as well.
Arriving at Malcolm X Blvd, we allowed the street name to sink in. We went into ISBCC for Asr prayer. There were a few uncles hanging out outside the Masjid, it looked like they were going to be chilling until the sun dropped.
Leaving and returning I quickly noticed something, Non-Hijabis, Non-Thobe wearing brothers, Non-Muslims. They were in the Masjid chilling, relaxing as if it was the place to be. They were posted, not being intrusive or interrupting anyone’s space. Imam Suhaib Webb does a great job with that. Typically, as soon as we step through the door of a Masjid, someone is right on top of us telling us how many things we’re doing wrong. Non-Muslims are shunned and so are our Muslim youth. Not here.
Open door policy. As long as you are respectable to the Masjid, the Masjid will respect you. I seen a homeless man sleeping in the corner of the Masjid. I took a moment and thought, “How many other Masjids would allow this?” ISBCC does a great job of getting people to take their Shahada. Not only do they take their Shahada, they remain Muslim and become heavily involved in the community.
I ﬁnally had the opportunity to meet Adam Khaﬁf. He’s a young brother heading to college that owns his own clothing company. He’s made some t-shirts that are ﬂat out killing the game. He put his artistic touch on these shirts to promote the #TeamFajr movement. If you have a chance check out his work and help our young brother to succeed. Want for your brother what you want for yourself applies to all your Muslim brothers and sisters worldwide.
We made a quick stop to the Sharon Masjid to give our salams after Taraweeh. A swarm of youth bounced numerous questions off of us. My favorite was a group of young Muslimahs that held a conversation with me. There was soccer players, basketball players, medalist, tall trophy winners, artist and more that ﬁlled this crowd. Eventually Tauqeer and Tehreem escorted us to the freeway where we left for New York City.
September 9, 2001: Mrs. Rodriguez asked an intriguing question in our eleventh grade English class. “How many of you feel your an American?” A class of thirty ﬁve plus in Pomona, CA at Pomona High School, few hands were raised. If that. Predominantly an African American and Hispanic school, we felt left out. Forgotten about. Hispanics identiﬁed with Mexico as their country and the gangs formed in Pomona. African Americans were identifying with Hip Hop and Gangs more then they did the USA.
September 11, 2001 I woke up, went to the bathroom to shower and get ready for school. Turned on Power 106 to listen to Big Boy’s neighborhood, my usual routine. Instead of hearing the “Phone Tap”, I heard reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Didn’t make sense. I threw my clothes on, and started my ﬁfteen minute walk to school. I never felt so weird doing the same thing I had done for years. I get to school and everyone is talking, we crowded around Mr. Nguyen’s class (one of the few teachers with a TV in his room). A second plane hit the buildings. Lost, I wondered if we were under attack similar to Pearl Harbor. “Why? Who did this?” are the questions that raced through my mind. “YOU did this!” This was the answer I received.
Terrorism, a word that rings in all of our ears. Regardless of what the deﬁnition is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it means psycho Muslims engaging in Jihad to destroy America. A Muslim sister walks the halls, already alone for concealing her beauty by wearing loose clothing and covering her hair, now becomes even more of a target. My cousins and I was looked at as if people wanted to jump us. But, they’ve known all of us since Kindergarten, why are we the enemy now? The picture became cloudy, dark, no rays of sunshine.
The Koran teaches this, Moslems believe that. The propaganda began to ﬂow. The marketing of the destruction of Islam was in full effect. Sadly, I was buying into it all.
Already possesing weak Iman, this hurt me even more. I was strong on the outside, deﬂecting all the hate and standing up for Islam. But I was weak on the inside and my beliefs started to slip. A fork in the road presented itself. I remembered what we read in Surat Al Fatiha, “Show us the straight way.”
I found a cure for this nonsense. The Qur’an. A friend sent me a chain email that had some drawn up verses allegedly in the Koran about violent destruction, buildings all happening to the country represented by an eagle. I immediately looked up the Surat and Ayat from the email. Nowhere to be found. I told myself, I would no longer be ignorant in my Deen, my way of life. I emailed my friend back and told him to stop spreading that garbage. Sadly, it had already reached hundreds of thousands of people before it even got to him.
I began working on myself, bettering myself, educating myself. Unless you were an Imam, Shaykh or a Scholar, I wouldn’t listen to you on anything you had to say about Islam. I wanted to learn from learned individuals. Not those who soaked up the media’s version of Islam. This pursuit of knowledge helped shape me and allowed me to grow as a Muslim.
The trip to see New York, where all of this happened, was amazing. It was surreal being in Downtown looking at the memorial and the new construction of the Freedom Towers. I couldn’t even imagine being there on that day, during that week, not even that month. I said a prayer for those who passed away, their family and their friends. September 11, 2001 is something I still don’t fully understand.
During our tour stop, I was honored to meet fellow Muslim Athletes Ibtihaj Muhammad and Sadam Ali. They shared their stories with the youth as well as Hamza and me. Hearing things from a new angle helped me gather more information about life. I am blessed to have this opportunity to sit amongst people of this stature and to share my thoughts with you. As-Salamu `Alaykum.