An Account Of An American Who Accepted Islam – Ismail Goodwin
My name is Ismail Goodwin. I am a 47 year old white American. I work for Pacific Bell in San Francisco and I live in South San Francisco. I became a Muslim on May 15, 1991 at the Islamic Center in San Francisco.
Before embracing Islam I was not really unhappy, there just seemed to be something missing from my life. I considered myself to be a typical American bachelor. I had examined other religions and philosophical systems, but for one reason or another found something lacking in them.
After embracing Islam, my life has changed in very positive ways. My experience is the same as many others that I have heard of; I feel that I have been a Muslim my entire life and it is difficult for me to understand thoughts and actions prior to my conversion.
Q: Would you kindly tell us how your interest in Islam began?
A: Although I had an interest in philosophy and religion, I had always avoided material about Islam for some reason. It took a war to arouse my curiosity about Islam and Muslims. On the night that the United States started bombing Baghdad, I left for a two week vacation in Mexico. I encountered no support for this action in Mexico and I wondered why. I made an agreement with myself that when I returned to California; I would read 10 books about the Middle East to try to understand what led to this action by my government. These 10 books referred to Islam often enough that my curiosity was aroused. So I became interested in the religion of Islam because of the situation in the Gulf Region. I read a couple of books on Islam. There were a few times in which I was alone in my apartment in which I kept repeating the 5 pillars of Islam. I knew that in my heart I did believe in these 5 pillars of Islam, which are the basic principles of Islam. I also remember reading a Hadith or saying of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) which had a huge impact on me. The Hadith goes as follows, “If you take one step towards Allah, He will take two towards you. If you walk towards Allah, He will run towards you.”
I was a person without much faith. After reading this Hadith, I made a decision that I would pray to God to give me guidance. I truly believed that I should have faith and therefore I wanted to be given some guidance.
A short time later, I wrote the Islamic Center of San Francisco and asked for some literature on Islam. After receiving this literature, I read it and it was like a door had been opened for me. These were the first literature that I read by Muslim writers so therefore, they were written from a totally different perspective. Although the prior books I had read were not anti-Islamic, they just didn’t have the same effect on me. Perhaps the wording that was used was somewhat different. It was then that I realized that Islam was my chosen path. I sincerely hope that all people who are interested in Islam read books written by Muslim writers.
Q: Did you feel anything holding you back from Islam?
A: No, I do not think so. I had reached the point in my life in that I felt there was something missing. I just couldn’t deny it. Islam was a very seductive thing for me. I was ready for Islam and therefore very receptive to it. I felt in my heart that I was a Muslim. I could, therefore, either follow my true feelings or be untrue to myself and pretend that I wasn’t.
Q: Were you afraid that you might not be accepted by the Muslims?
A: The idea in Islam of the unity and oneness of God and the brotherhood of mankind was a very strong attraction for me. I cannot remember having any doubts or uneasiness about being accepted by other Muslims. Embracing Islam seemed so natural and right that I guess I just assumed I would be accepted. It just never was an issue.
Q: Were you surprised to find a deep message in Islam?
A: I was very much surprised. The biggest surprise for me was that I couldn’t believe that Muslims believed in what they did. Further, I couldn’t understand why Muslims were portrayed the way they are in the media and yet those are not the things they believe in or talk about.
I had been an average American person who bought into the media presentations and stereotypes of Muslims. Shockingly enough, I really believed that Muslims were “Madmen”. But after reading the literature on Islam, in particularly the ones from Muslims point of view, I was ready to become a Muslim. I didn’t know what that involved. I was even a little naive about it. I just remember sitting one night and saying to myself that I really believe in the message of Islam. I remember thinking that it would probably be very difficult in this society to go ahead and embrace Islam. But then I remembered a quote which might have been said by Abraham Maslow, but I am not really sure, which goes like this: “You should never for the sake of comfort deny your own experience.” So then I said to myself that I now have to make a choice. I can either take the easy, comfortable way out or go ahead and follow the path of Islam, which I believe to be the right path.
Q: Did you speak to any friends or family members and ask their opinions before accepting Islam?
A: Not so much. I told my family and friends of my interest in Islam and my wanting to embrace the faith.
Q: Did your family object to your studying Islam?
A: I informed my family of my intentions before embracing Islam. I think whatever problems they have regarding Islam are a result of the media presentation of the religion and political events in the world.
Recently my mother attended a lecture by Ahmad Deedat, a Muslim scholar of comparative religion, in San Jose with me. It means a great deal to me for my mother to accept my way of life. Little by little, my family seems to be more understanding. I believe this has to do with my behavior now as compared to my previous behavior.
Q: How did your mother react to you accepting Islam?
A: At the beginning my mother was very supportive of me and happy that I had found a religion I was happy with and believed in. However, she became very upset with Muslims in general after the World Trade bombing. The media’s portrayal of Muslims during the World Trade bombing was not very good. My mother and I had a few ups and downs since then, but all in all, she has been fairly supportive of me. Since then, I have taken her to hear Ahmed Deedat speak in San Jose last month. She has also watched several Ahmed Deedat videos with me.
My mother accepts many of the principles of Islam and is very adamant about the fact that she doesn’t accept the trinity. Nor does she believe that Jesus is God. I really wouldn’t be surprised if she accepts Islam one day, Inshallah. I think that she is a Muslim at heart, but just not yet ready to admit it.
Q: Were you concerned how your friends would react to your accepting Islam?
A: No, not at first. At the beginning, I guess I was naive to assume that I could be a Muslim and people would just accept it. But I found that was not always the case. Let me just say that, there are friends that I had before becoming a Muslim that I no longer see. There were no arguments or hostility; it just seems that we are going in different directions now. Many of the things that we had in common are no longer important to me. So I guess we drifted apart. I believe that when people look at me and the way that I live my life and compare that with my previous lifestyle, they are able to see positive change. I believe the negativity regarding Islam stems from the media presentation and not from interaction with Muslims.
Q: Did any of the beliefs and practices of Islam intimidate or frighten you?
A: No, that wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t really that hard for me to change because I really didn’t hang around in all these social circles. As for the drinking of alcohol and eating of pork, this was surprisingly easy for me to give up. And although they had played a huge part of my life prior to my accepting Islam, once I became a Muslim, they were very easy to give up.
Q: How difficult was it to suddenly stop and give up many things that you had been doing?
A: I think one of my difficulties had been that I never knew how to behave. I had beliefs of right and wrong but it was too easy to rationalize and justify my errant behavior. Islam provides you with an entire framework for life and a code of conduct. This makes it easier to let inappropriate behavior drop away. I know what I should do! I know what is most pleasing to God! So this makes the process of reforming my behavior easier.
Now let me also say that I still struggle with many aspects of my life. I am certainly not perfect, but I now know where to look for guidance. I humbly request that anyone reading this will pray for me.
Q: How did you feel the first time you went to the Masjid?
A: I wasn’t afraid to go to the mosque the first time. I just didn’t know how to act. Everybody really made me feel welcomed and was very nice to me. I remember the first night I attended the masjid, I heard the men referring to each other (one another) as “Brother”. This really gave the atmosphere one of unity. That made a special impact on me because it showed the acceptance of all the men as being equal–all the men were brothers. This really impressed me because it seemed so sincere.
Q: Did anyone notice a difference or change in you after you accepted Islam?
A: The change was gradual. I am still changing today. However, I have noticed a change in the way I see things and also I am a much more tolerant person today. I seldom cuss these days nor do I use the same kind of language that I use to. I am still learning many things and therefore still changing and improving my behavior.
Q: Was it difficult for you to give up the belief in the trinity when accepting Islam?
A: No, I never really believed in the trinity. I haven’t attended a church in over 20 years. When I was in high school, I used to attend church more for the social activities than for any religious conviction. Intellectually I could never go along with the trinity. I used to see everybody believing in it so I assumed that I was the only one with the problem. So I use to go along with it to participate in the church.
Q: What impressed you most when you read the Holy Quran?
A: The single most impressive aspect for me, is the purity of the text. Whether or not you believe the Quran to be the word of God, if you are honest, you must admit that these are the words that Muhammad (SAW) recited to the people in the Arabian Peninsula 1400 years ago. Maurice Bucaille, a French surgeon, wrote a book in which he examines scientific information contained in the Quran. Dr. Bucaille’s conclusion is that a man living in 7th century Arabia could not have had some of the information contained in the Quran.
I have been studying Arabic for two years and feel that my efforts are finally paying off. The most impressive thing to me is that I can be absolutely certain when I read the Quran, in the original Arabic, that these are the words that Muhammad (SAW) actually spoke and which I believe to be from God.
So if you have doubts about the Holy Quran, you can learn Arabic and examine it yourself. The text has not been corrupted; it exists in the original words of revelation.
Q: Now that you are a Muslim, what are your impressions of Muslims?
A: Let me tell you a story. I was walking down the street in Istanbul, Turkey. Men were entering a small mosque during the call to prayer. I performed my ablutions and participated in the congregational prayer.
After prayer, I exchanged communicate to them that I was Ismail from America. One man said to me “Chay (tea)!” and gently tugged at my sleeve. We walked with our arms around each others shoulder through a maze of buildings and alleys to his small tea station in an office building to share tea and mutual goodwill. I walked arm and arm through unfamiliar surroundings in a strange country with a complete stranger whose language I could not speak. I never once had any concern for my well-being or questioned my judgment. Such is the beauty of Islam, and the feelings of the Muslims toward one another reflect this beauty.
My impressions of Muslims are very positive. We are certainly not perfect, but generally speaking we hold ourselves to a higher standard of conduct than the average person. As with any generality, there are certainly exceptions.
Q: Have you ever felt that it was all part of a plan–the path you have taken in life to finally reach Islam?
A: Yes, I do believe it was God’s plan. Perhaps I needed to go through some of the negative experiences I did in life to finally reach and appreciate the point I am at now. Ten years ago, if a Muslim person knocked on my door trying to explain the teachings of Islam to me, I probably would have thought that he was crazy. But at the point where I am now in my life, I was confronted with the beliefs of Islam and ready to accept them. It was a very easy transition at the time that I made the transition. I feel that I wouldn’t have been able to make this transition at any other point in my life.
Q: If you had to look back and make any changes, would you like anything to have been different with your life?
A: There are many things I have done in life which I am not proud of. Overall, maybe I had to go through these things. The interviewer reminds Brother Ismail about a saying of our Holy Prophet (pbuh) which says: “The believer doesn’t fall in the same hole twice.” Brother Ismail continues, “Inshallah that will be true. Inshallah I can stay out of all these holes. Perhaps I had to experience many of the things in life so I would not be curious about them. I’m really not sure– maybe this is just a way of justifying my life.”
Q: What are your plans for the future now that you are a Muslim?
A: My immediate plans are to participate more in dawah, or the propagation of Islam. Because I am an American and English is my native language I feel a strong obligation to attempt to clear up some of the negative stereotypes relating to Islam. Because the United States, at least nominally, is a Christian country, I have spent time studying Christianity and comparative religion. I sense a great spiritual vacuum and a spiritual yearning in the West. I feel that Islam is the answer, and pray that I can participate in the spread of Islam here. Recently, I was up in San Quentin Prison to give dawah. I think I would like to get involved with the brothers up there. I would also like to marry soon and Inshallah start a family.
Q: Was it a positive experience visiting San Quentin Prison?
A: It was a very positive experience. We were very well received by the inmates. Inshallah I will be able to spend more time with these brothers.
Q: Did you face any difficulty or embarrassment after you accepted Islam?
A: I must admit that I do feel a certain distance between myself and mainstream America. It seems to me that religion in America is viewed as old-fashioned and not relevant in today’s world. Whatever difficulties or embarrassment I have encountered seem to become less important as I continue to practice my religion. This is another of the beauties of Islam, practice of the religion becomes easier and difficulties seem to resolve themselves with less effort on my part. I view Islam as the greatest gift of my life, a gift from God, a gift that I am not worthy to receive. I believe that God will not test me beyond my capability. This belief minimizes the difficulties in my life. Life is much more easier for me. In Islam there is Peace.
Q: Is there anything, Brother Ismail, that you would like to conclude with?
A: I think throughout my life I had always had a certain spiritual inclination that I had been denying. I hate to blame anything else but I think in a way Christianity pushed me away from spirituality. I had always been searching for the truth. The last place I looked was Islam. I had been searching but totally dismissed Islam because the media has always portrayed such an ugly picture of Muslims. I was taught to believe that Muslims were obviously mad men. It is funny to look back on those things now.
I had always wanted to be spiritually inclined but I was turned off by Western religions and spirituality. This is why I hope that more Westerners, in particularly Americans, are exposed to Islam from a Muslims perspective as opposed to having Islam exposed to them by the media.
Let me conclude by inviting everyone, who is not a Muslim, to examine Islam and decide for yourself about this religion which is practiced by one out of every five people in the world. As a Muslim, I invite you and encourage you to seek out a Muslim and initiate a dialogue. In the words of the Old Testament; “Come now, and let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18)
My prayer and advice for all mankind is contained in the Muslim call to prayer, the Adhan.
Hayya ‘Alas Salah (Come to Prayer)
Hayya ‘Alas Salah (Come to Prayer)
Hayya ‘Alal Falah (Come to Success)
Hayya ‘Alal Falah (Come to Success)
Assalamu Alaykum and may Allah (SWT) guide us closer to the truth.