Pleasantly Unexpected Series of Events

The path that life takes us can be a scary thought. Your qadr (destiny) is divine and pre-ordained. Although this might seem counterintuitive to people like me who try their hardest to make sure everything goes according to plan, I have always understood that, in a way, I can achieve success through perseverance even if it is supposed to be already ordained. This is especially difficult at such a young age when making decisions could irreversibly affect my life. Everything may be written but how it plays it is a mystery to us. In a way, we all took drastically different paths to come together either reading this blog or in the same physical, mental, or religious state.

I experienced the magnificent lives of a man and a family today that show that life can sometimes be a pleasant plethora of events, even if those events are not. Driving into Charlotte, we headed directly to Masjid Al-Shaheed, a predominantly African-American mosque, where we were welcomed nicely and comfortably. After prayer and a short lesson by Imam Khaleel, we naturally started conversations with people in the mosque. You could immediately sense the feeling of community as each nomad conversed with a different person, each with their unique and awe-inspiring life experiences. I naturally talked to an inviting man beside me. I could see by his face that he has gone through a lot in his lifetime and his story was just as brightening as his smile and attitude. I started conveying my life story, spurring him to do the same. He later admitted that he is more of a listener than talker, but today was different.

Ameen Sharif was born and raised in North Carolina. He was born into Christianity, but faced many undisclosed problems in his early years, including ones related to alcohol and drug use. His religion, the one he tried to go back to after these struggles, did not hold firm in heart. Instead Ameen was saved by something else, the growing movement of the Nation of Islam in the 1970s. Ameen warned us that the Nation was, in retrospect, “bad,” as they believed each one of them was god, were very militant-like, and committed shirk (associating partners with Allah). When I asked him whether this movement was negative in his life, however, he told me it was the best thing that has ever happened to him. Through God’s will, according to Ameen, Islam only came into his life as a result of a transition from the Nation of Islam. He changed his beliefs to mainstream Islam after son of the Nation’s leader, W.D. Mohammed, took the Nation of Islam in another direction. If he were to have heard about mainstream Islam on the streets before joining the Nation, Ameen said he would have never ‘reverted’ as a result of fear and modern Islamophobia (when I used the term converted, Ameen urgently corrected me to say reverted, because all people are born Muslim). The Nation of Islam attracted people off of the streets and cleaned them up. They then were converted to mainstream Islam, not their original plan when joining the Nation of Islam. That transition was crucial for Ameen and many others in the mosque. Even his non-Muslim family supported him to Islam because it saved him from his previous lifestyle. Ameen ended by saying, “I wish I found Islam earlier in my life. You guys are so lucky. You have a whole life ahead of you. I wish I found the message of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Quran sooner.” Ameen found the religion of Islam as a way to keep his heart firm, actions clean, and heart pure. Whether he was born with it or reverted to it through a “religiously incorrect” movement, he found his home and community in this religion.

The second story is one of the truest displays of rising up against the norm and finding love in Islam. Walking into the house of D.I von Breisen (Inayat), his wife Munirah (Sheikha), and their 5 kids, I felt like I was in a typical American home. The playfulness and welcoming character of the family enlivened the atmosphere in a room filled with books, crescent-shaped and Christmas lights, people, and most importantly delicious homemade cookies. Both Inayat and Sheikha discovered Islam at a young age through self-reflection and perseverance. Inayat converted after his mother and step father converted through a generous act by Palestinian family while visiting Jerusalem. This influenced Inayat into thinking about Islam and researching the beliefs behind practices, such as alcohol or gender relations, in high school. Sheikha, also discovered the religion at such an early age but in different conditions. She was unhappy with her catholic upbringing and questioned it throughout her youth. A guest teacher in one of her classes inspired her to discover Islam. After 6 months of learning, she converted to it to the discomfort of some family members.

After going to college, Sheikha started thinking of marriage and a support partner. Prompted by her friend, she submitted a “looking for” ad in Islamic Horizons Magazine. In a two-liner, she was looking for a white or Arab husband, who was a supportive, sincere Sunni Muslim. She did not receive any letters in months, and then received 80 letters all at once. Of the 80, three were American and two of those were in jail. The last one was a twelve page letter written by Inayat himself. After a year of communication, the two met for the first time and were engaged 36 hours later. Sheikha said there were other options, but she “ended up with the right guy [clearly].” Inayat added, “She was my mail order bride, literally.” Both, at this time, were still finishing college, sacrificing time and education for each other, and supporting each other to grow intellectually and religiously. Five kids later, the two are still on a spiritual journey. Sheikha studied under different teachers in many countries to expand her knowledge, gaining her title of ‘Sheikha’ and ijazah (religious certification). The two also took their kids with them during these journeys to Senegal, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco to expose them to third-world and other cultures. The couple’s amazing and continual journey of discovery, love, and nurture has created one of the closest and most inspiring families I have seen. The rarity of two Caucasian Americans, at least in my experiences, discovering Islam individually, meeting through indirect means, and creating a loving and happy home and family is a true testament to Allah’s will and planned path for all of us, whether we discover it sooner or later.

While I did not fully convey the experiences in both stories, that hardships and doubts each person faced must have been great. Just as we all doubt our abilities, futures, and beliefs; we must persevere and put our trust in Allah. This tawakkul can end up giving us rewarding provisions and relationship, just as I saw and felt in these past two stories. The path may be planned, but we do not see it coming. All that is left for us to do is to persevere and keep moving. So stop stressing over declaring a major or a seemingly irreversible life decision. Consult others, take the road less traveled, have tawakkul, and follow your heart; the end goal is not a clean sheet of happy experiences but a pleasantly unexpected series of events.