Many people have asked me lately how I came to Islam. It is not an unusual question for a convert (or revert) to be asked. I guess I'm being asked about it again because of having this regular column in the Message. Every person who accepts Islam has a unique story and tale to tell. I remember getting one of the books filled with "convert stories" and being enthralled for days at the variety of experiences people have.
Many "born" Muslims, as they call themselves, take a great interest in such convert-stories as well. It reaffirms their faith and strengthens their resolve. After all, if people are accepting Islam in droves today, even though Islam has been stigmatized in popular and secular culture all over the world, there must be a hidden value. Reading what others see in accepting the Islamic Way of Life reinforces our awareness of this value.
There is another valuable source of convert stories as well. A source which can have an even greater effect on your Eman and Taqwa than contemporary sources. I would recommend that people spend more time reading these stories than those of modern converts. This other source is the stories of the Sahaba (Companions of the Prophet).
Did you know that almost all of the Sahaba were converts to Islam? Every last one of them has a unique story and quite a few have suspense-filled adventures on their way to the truth. Sometimes when I read about one of them, I find parallels in my own journey to Islam. Other times I find myself amazed at the power of the human spirit to overcome even the most insurmountable obstacles.
My personal favorites among the Sahaba are Fatimah, Salman al Farsi, Abu Darda, Abu Dharr al Ghiffari, 'Umar, Mu'adh ibn Jabal and Umm Ammarah. (My wife holds the story of Julaybib close to her heart.) In my humble understanding, I feel every Muslim should make it a point to be familiar with the stories of at least ten of the Sahaba. Skim through a book of their biographies, pick a few that seem to interest you and then read in detail. Compare their examples. How did they interact with the Prophet and others? What lessons are there for our own lives today?
I sometimes find myself wishing that in study circles and Tarbiyya sessions that Muslims would move away from repeating the same worn-out old topics (lessons of the Hijrah, significance of Surah al 'Asr) and explore other, deeper themes that are more relevant. The struggles, achievements and trials of the Sahaba have a timeless relationship to what people face in every age.
Is it any wonder that the Blessed Prophet advised us to follow the example of his Sahaba and even Allah, Himself, praises the Sahaba in many places in the Qur'an. Today our children's heroes are basketball players, fashion models, singers and movie stars. People who do nothing important. All they are is entertainers. They teach nothing good in a real sense, they contribute nothing to society and all they do is present an example of a wild and wealthy lifestyle which makes our children want to duplicate it.
What of the Heroes of Islam? Time and time again I have seen Khatibs, lecturers and scholars mention the names of Sahaba and others to an audience which was filled with people who didn't know anything about those names. The speaker may feel flushed with pride mentioning those names, but his or her listeners don't know the deep implications and significance.
That's a whole other topic, of course: the gap between the scholars (who live in a dream world) and the masses of the Muslims (who are cut off from most Islamic knowledge). I'll save that for another column. Suffice it to say, by reading the stories of those who have accepted Islam, we ourselves can learn jewels of wisdom which can permeate our own experience and make us better Muslims.
Every parent, school and teacher must make certain that our children know at least ten Sahaba stories in a meaningful and relevant way. Then our children will look to the real giants of history as their heroes and born Muslims can get a sense of pride in their way of life that goes beyond, far beyond what stories those of us converts of today can tell.
Do I have any suggestions for you to begin? Of course, that's the whole reason I write this column month after month. I want improvement. Business as usual may be fine in a dilapidated Muslim country, but the Islamic movement is alive and kicking in America. I want to see it stabilize and become a permanent part of this nation's fabric.
As far as books to read for the stories of the Sahaba, there are three main sources I recommend: "The Beauty of the Righteous and Ranks of the Elite" (Akili) "The Companions of the Prophet" (Hamid) and "Hayatus Sahaba" (Kandhalvi). These three sources are available just about everywhere. If you don't know where to get them you can call a Muslim bookstore and they can send them to you. Here's a couple of phone numbers you can try: 1-800-337-4287 or 1-718-721-4246.
There you have it! The names of three great sources for learning and the numbers where to get them. It just doesn't get any better than this! After reading one or all of these books, choose ten Sahaba which you feel most drawn towards and then accept this further challenge. Sit down with some paper and a pen and write a short essay to yourself about what impresses you most about each Sahaba and what lessons you can draw for your own life.
Save those essays and read them again every few years or months as you need to. If you're feeling down or helpless or stressed you can center yourself by reading the examples of others who had even tougher struggles than us and who came through with flying colors. Let's not be like the people that Allah spoke about, the people who are like donkeys carrying piles of books. Let's apply our reading, make it meaningful for our lives and do something with it. Will you accept this challenge? I will.