Omar Abdul-Salaam

In this issue of the Bulletin we would like to introduce you to a gentleman who rose from the depths of despair and darkness into the light of Islam. We hope you will find it as inspiring as we did.

Omar Abdul-Salaam

February 1992…my wife and I are driving down Highway 80 [Northern California] heading back home to San Francisco after a weekend in Reno [a popular town in Northern Nevada for gambling casinos…little sister to Las Vegas] about a 5 hour drive from the Bay area. I’m in a severely distressed state of mind as I have lost about $350 which I cannot afford. More than the fact that I have lost playing poker is an undeniable sense of despair about my life and where my destination seems to be heading.

For the past seven plus years my free time has been occupied by heavy liquor consumption on a daily basis. A situation which obviously needs correcting, but given my theological-philosophical point of view at the time, a day without drinking is not possible for me.

As we near San Francisco a heavy thunder storm begins to pound into us. This is the first time I’ve seen a full blown storm in the Bay Area replete with numerous lightning strikes which can be seen flashing all around the valleys to the east and the ocean to the west.

As suddenly as the storm hits, I am hit with a lightning bolt of undeniable realization….for me it’s over! My nights of drunken bitter meandering about the philosophical virtues of Jean Paul Satre, Nietzsche and Dostoevesky have brought me to a place of dark anguish and existential hopelessness. This is why I drink, I tell myself. I am convinced that there is no point to birth, life or death beyond this present reality. I cannot see investing a lot of effort in something which is as obviously finite as the human life-span. I can’t beat it so I might as well stumble about in a drunken stupor. So on this night, rolling down the highway amidst the thunder and lightning, I can sense for the first time that God is telling me “Enough is enough”. For you, it’s over.

The following day at work, I go through the motions as usual, but I know that something is terribly wrong. At my lunch break, I tell the boss that I’m sick and head home. I’ve got to do something about this alcoholic condition. I read the phone book searching for a way out. I call a place in the Los Angeles area which offers a 30 day in-house treatment program. This sounds plausible to me. When my wife arrives home, I lay out the whole scenario to her and in her wise and wonderful way she advises me to see what happens over the next two days. If I drink…go for the treatment. Keep in mind that this is the first night in over seven years that I haven’t had any liquor. I’m tense and nervous but agree with my wife’s idea.

The next morning I tell my boss the story as my company insurance would have to cover the treatment program. I’m embarrassed, but relieved that I’m doing something about this problem. When I get home that evening, right on schedule, my sick alcoholic mind tells me, “Just go to the liquor store for a half-pint…you can ease off gradually and this will calm you down.” But this time I don’t go. As I sit on the sofa, head in my hands, lost in my own internal struggle, it hits me like a “bolt of lightning”! READ THE QUR’AN! As is my usual way, I don’t analyze this impulse, I just do it! As I read Surah Fatihah, tears well up in my eyes and Allah- blesses me with the sweetest of miracles!. I continue to read the sacred script for the next two hours until my wife returns from work. A transformation was taking place inside of me. Coming from me it doesn’t sound like much, but I proclaim to her and my workmates that I have become Muslim and have quit drinking.

For the next eight months, I read the Holy Qur’an on a daily basis. I read everything on Islam that I can find. Understand that I had the Holy Qur’an (English translation) at home only because I had every other religious book that I knew of. I had read bits and pieces of it prior to Allah’s blessing me with the revelation, but I had also read the Bible, the Bhagivad Gita, numerous Zen texts, the Kabbalah, as well as all of the major Greek and existential philosophers mentioned previously. I had a large selection of books promising enlightenment to choose from. It was not mere chance that I picked up the Holy Qur’an that fateful evening.

I had heard of people in life-and-death situations beg God to rescue them and they will follow whatever religion they are brought to. It seems that they invariably convert to Islam. This is the human beings natural religion. As the Holy Qur’an tells us, we are born Muslims…it is the parents that call us Jews, Christians, etc.

For the first eight months I stumbled about praying salat in English, trying to practice my deen as best I could alone. At times I tried to reach out I would look through the yellow pages but the numbers I called [masjids] were either unanswered or I would be immediately invited to the mosque. I was too afraid of looking foolish in front of the ‘real Muslims” as I couldn’t even say “Assalamu Alaikum”.

I had first become aware of Islamic conversion in America from reading about jazz musicians that I looked up to such as Yusef Lateef and Ahmad Jamal. I was a big jazz fan and a poor saxophone player myself. I knew of a number of African Americans who converted to Islam, but not many whites like myself. This made me hesitant to approach a masjid. I didn’t know what to expect.

Finally after eight months of self-study and research, I called the Islamic Center of San Francisco and spoke to a brother there. He made me feel at ease, he spoke English clearly and he didn’t act as though I was another insecure American following a temporary religious whim. He invited me to the Friday night program at the Islamic Center in the area.

This was November 6, 1992. I drove to the mosque following the brothers directions and arrived at 6:00 P.M. even though the ‘program’ didn’t start until 8:00 P.M. I wanted to ‘look before I leaped’. I was very nervous, but Alhamdulilah, Allah guided me out of my car and up to the front door. I was greeted by a brother named Muhammad and as I shook his hand, I felt not only welcome, but that I had ‘come home’ after 37 years of searching. I was then introduced to another brother who was a most knowledgeable and pious man who patiently instructed me in the requirements of the deen. He taught me how to make proper wudu (the act of cleaning oneself before prayer or the handling and reading of the Qur’an) and finally, he led me in reciting the Shahada (the Muslim declaration of faith) which was the single most significant moment of my entire life. May Allah make it easy for all people who seek His guidance to be as blessed as I was with so many understanding brothers and elders as I had, and continue to have the honor of knowing. They have been of immeasurable help in aiding me in the practice of the deen.

Four months after officially taking Shahada, I spent the last ten days of Ramadan in the path of Allah, doing the work of dawah (inviting others to Islam). This gave me a real first-hand look at the beauty of this deen when practiced at what is our current best. As an ummah (brotherhood), I could not believe how I met so many pious brothers who were actually practicing their faith to the best of their abilities.

Over the past 6 years I have had the blessing of being able to spend a week here or there in the path of Allah performing dawah, and I can say without a doubt that it is a sure way to increase ones’ iman (faith). All of us in the Ummah of Rasulullah (swm) have a responsibility and a duty to invite others towards the good and forbid the evil. May Allah guide us to a true understanding.

If I may summarize, the deen of Islam (submission to the will of God) is the only religion. It was the religion of the prophet Abrahim (swm) when he had the blessings of revelation and destroyed the idols of his father and his fellow tradesmen. It was the religion of Moses (PBUH) when he received the law of Allah and defeated the army of Pharaoh. It was the religion of Jesus, son of Mary ((PBUH) when he healed the sick and confirmed the law of Moses, and when he foretold the coming of Muhammad (pbuh) and the final revelation until the day of judgement.

Allah has blessed humanity with the miracle of the Holy Qur’an, a book which has remained unchanged since it was revealed to our beloved prophet Muhammad (swm), and will remain unchanged until Allah judges all that He has created. We have no excuses. The Holy Qur’an is a document that can lead to eternal paradise, Insha’Allah (If God wills it). It is a miracle which Allah in His mercy has bestowed upon mankind. We have the Qur’an, a miracle and blessing from Allah. We have the Sunnah (the actions) of the holy and final prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It lights the way to the path which is straight and leads to paradise and brings us closer to the one Creator. No other revelation or book or prophet is going to come to guide us. There is no need for any other instruction. We have it all in the Holy Qur’an.

Where did we come from? Allah, Subhana’Allah (God is Awesome), created us to manifest His glory in this reality. Why are we here? To bring glory to the One true Creator of all things and to enjoin good (the Law of God) and to forbid evil. To fight our own desires and to bring the remembrance of Allah to mind. When tempted by Shatan (the devil) to invite all humanity towards the greatness of Allah.

Where are we headed? To eternal paradise, Insha’Allah. How do we get there? By following the ways of the one who is an example by which to live. Allah in His Mercy and Grace has blessed us with Hadeeth of Rasulullah (swm) so we are able to find the way.

It is often said that Islam is simple and we make it complicated. Let me tell you dear brothers, sisters and elders…Islam says it all! I wandered so long in the darkness of existential dead ends and esoteric thinking and the answer was there all along.

I can’t say that my struggle came to an end when I converted to Islam. We all must continually strive to improve our faith and practice and shatain is ever vigilant to our weaknesses. But Allah in His Mercy has given us this light called the Holy Qur’an as a guide, His Beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in which to make it through this brief journey of life.

May Allah increase all of our understanding, raise our Iman and Bless all who seek His guidance with the strength to live our deen to the best of our abilities.

Asalamu Alaikum

Omar Abdul-Salaam
Daly City, CA 1998