Compiled by: Abdurahim bin Mizhir Almalki
With a non-practicing Jewish mother and a non-practicing African-American Baptist father, both Socialists, religion obviously didn't play a role in my upbringing. Briefly exploring both Judaism and Christianity, which I felt inside me that there was a Creator, I agreed with my parents about the unworthiness, inconsistency and exploitation of organized religion.
At fifteen I was chosen to attend summer school at a community college. The teacher who chose me suggested that I take a class that I could never find in high school. I chose the Arabic class, because it was most certainly something I could never find at my school, and partially out of an interest in African and Asian culture that I always held fascinating.
After taking the six week class with a teacher who was an Italian Catholic, he passed out a pamphlet to all students on the last day and asked me to read it out loud. All he said about it was although he was a Catholic, he had no doubts that the words had to be written by God; it was the most inspiring poetry and had never been duplicated in Arabic, or any other language for that matter.
I read it in the original Arabic, and halfway through I was trembling. By the time I had finished the reading, I completely felt its meanings and was in tears. Since religion was never brought up in the class, I don’t know who was or wasn't a Muslim, but everyone in the class was as moved as I, and many were also in tears.
What I had read was Surah al-Fatihah, which began my journey on the right and straight path which I have now traveled on for almost forty years. The teacher said as he left the class, "Well, looks like another Muslim has come out of my class." As soon as I reached home, I grabbed a telephone book and began looking up anything that might be Muslim: "Moslem (the spelling in those days), Islam, mosque," but found nothing.
Then in the residence directory I came across a name that sounded as if it could be Muslim. Like an impetuous fifteen year old, I called this person, who turned out to be a Palestinian. Fortunately for me, he guided me to a small group of Muslims meeting every Friday night in a rented storefront in East Los Angeles. Those ten or so dedicated Muslims, some students, and one or two married couples, made up the entire Muslim community in those days. Now, thirty-nine years later, Muslims make up an estimated one million, and there are at least one hundred centers all over southern California.