Compiled by: Abdurahim bin Mizhir Almalki
Andew W. Smith
I was born in a small town in Missouri and was raised a a Baptist, which is still my parent’s faith. What I will say here must not be misconstrued as racist in any way: I am a white Muslim. The reason I wish to state that I am a white Muslim is to dispel the prejudice against Islam that says it only appeals to African-Americans in the United States. Islam was, is, and ever will be for all people; and I am proof that it appeals to white Americans as well as others.
Although I had a relatively happy and stable childhood, I began to question my parents’ faith almost a soon as I was able to think for myself. This was not just childish rebellion, but a sincere questioning heart that wanted to know more about God. My parents had inherited their faith from their parents, and they were unable to answer any of the questions I brought up, even though they were very devout in their religion. The thing I questioned most was the idea of trinity – it just did not make sense. There was always ambivalent confusion about who or what I was praying to, even when I tried to understand it. There eventually arose many other unanswerable questions, but the problem of trinity – a doctrine not found in the Christian Bible – was the greatest one.
I grew up in the early 1960’s when the youth were questioning many traditional beliefs, and I was launched into a maelstrom of old and new religions in my quest for the best approach to God. I was attracted to the (traditional, pre-Vatican II) Roman Catholic Church because it seemed to have the most consistent doctrine and, after all, it was the church that first originated the trinity doctrine. About midway through the 1960’s, however, the Catholic Church changed drastically and become more like the Protestantism that I disliked and distrusted. The so-called “eternal” aspects of Catholicism had been compromised for a religion more appealing to the people. I then turned toward Eastern philosophy and religions to try to find some lasting truth.
During my search into world religions, I came across Islam. Although I liked it immensely, I felt that it was not for Westerners. It seemed to be the answer to the trinity problem, but it had elements of Judaism and Christianity which I had rejected. Nonetheless, I was attracted to it and continued to study it. When I was drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1968, I took with me a New Testament and a Pickthall translation of the Qur’an. In between battles on a hill south of Chu Lai, South Vietnam, where I was stationed, I read them both. At some point I decided that the Qur’an held more truth, and I pledged to Allah that I would serve Him upon my return to the US, if I returned at all. There in the middle of the Vietnam War, I silently took shahdah, although I scarcely understood what it meant at the time.
I continued to be a Muslim from then on, but I returned from Vietnam a mental wreck. Islam was always at the back of my mind, but trying to stay sane, work, and pursue the pleasure of life were foremost in my life. Having no idea how to be a Muslim in a small town in Missouri, I left it to take a back seat to my other concerns; and I began to “dabble” with other religions again. Many people who grew up in the 1960’s could tell you almost the same story about their spiritual quest. Brother Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) is one who has told his story repeatedly for the edification of the ummah.
I married a Christian girl in 1969, and both tried over the next twenty years to find some sort of stability in religion by going to various churches and joining a few. But I had made a solemn pledge to Allah in Vietnam, and I continually felt the need to try to practice Islam all throughout this time. In 1973, about a year after the birth of my first daughter, I registered with the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. with the name Al-Hallaj Kabir. But I still didn’t know how to practice Islam. As I said, I continued to try, along with my wife, to be a Christian of some kind, but I always ran into the same questions I had as a child.
By the age of forty in 1985, I had given up on religion and turned to Marxism and Atheism in spite of the fact that I was in the military. I had joined Air Force after Vietnam in order to provide for a family. I was in despair. Atheism was unacceptable, but I could not find peace anywhere.
In 1989 I finished my career in the U.S. Air Force, and we moved back to the Midwest. I entered graduate school as an English major and continued to be militanly left-wing and an atheist. I thought Marxism was strong and indestructible. But as Communism began to fall worldwide, I found that I had made a “home” in a house of cards. Both bitterness and despair set in much like I felt when I has been ‘betrayed” by the Catholic Church in 1965. After a near heart attack and heart surgery, my atheism also weakened. I found myself floundering without any clear sense of direction. I tried once more to be some kind of good Christian, but it failed for the same reasons that I had always failed before.
Then came the unfortunate Gulf War. I was not in danger of having to go, but my left-wing tendencies a well as my humanitarianism made me violently opposed to it. I wrote several articles, which were published locally, and used my teaching position to make my opposition known in the university. Then Allah’s providence stepped in perfectly and jarred my memory: war – Middle East – defending Makkah – war – Vietnam – my pledge to Allah – Islam. I knew the time had come to actually do something about being a Muslim – but what?
Allah’s providence guided me from there. I found the mosques in St. Louis and Kansas City, and I first attended Friday prayers at St. Louis Islamic Center shortly after my forty-sixth birthday. I was given and bought huge volumes of books about Islam, and I was determined to learn all I could about my longtime, but lost faith. I set up a prayer area in my house and read in Arabic prayers from different books for a long time until I had them memorized. My family thought I had lost my mind for a while, but soon learned that I was deadly serious about Islam and became tolerant of my strange new ways.
My four year-old son was especially fascinated and kept wanting to sneak up and touch me while I was doing sujud. I attended both the St. Louis and Kansas City mosques whenever I could, read the Qur’an and other Muslim works profusely, began to advertise my faith, and began to wear a kufi most of the time. I made my faith well known among my friends, acquaintances and students, and was never ashamed to proclaim it before anyone. I rid my home and my life of occult idols I had collected and an entire library of occult books, some of which I simply burned. I had found my faith and my Lord at last!
My only support in this sea of Midwestern Christianity is in Allah alone, and that is the most solid of anchors. I am still a little uncomfortable when I meet in the mosque with my brethren, but that is not because I am one of the few ‘white” Americans. They are all brothers and sisters, and I never see them as less than that. I feel so inadequate, almost deprived because I do not have the background and knowledge of Islam that they have.
I have found the eternal truth that I hoped to find in Catholicism or Marxism. I continually pray, in the words of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), that “You created me and I am your slave, and I am faithful to my covenant and my promise to You as much as I am able.” (al-Bukhari) I also pray in the words of Surah al-Kahf, 18:24: “Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct.”
It is not easy being a Muslim in midwest America, but having faithfully practiced the faith for over a year now (may Allah forgive me for all the lost years since my shahadah, I can say that it is possible and is consummately rewarding. Islam is a universal religion, and it must prevail in America for Allah! I call for nothing less than an all-out effort at teaching and da’wah work, that will enable Americans to understand and accept this wonderful faith of Islam – “the world’s most misunderstood religion!”
Allahu akbar! There is none worthy of worship except Allah, and Muhammad (pbuh) is the last and final Prophet of Allah! May Allah bless the ummah worldwide, and I ask your prayers that I stay strong in Islam.