I first met John Walker during a trip to visit his family before my junior year of college, in 1995. Although six years his senior, I found John to be a mature and thoughtful individual whose interests and curiosities closely paralleled my own. We both nurtured a fledgling interest in Islam that chiefly centered around the pseudo-Muslim murmurs within hiphop music. While my interest in Islam stalled around issues of social freedom and self-gratification, John exhibited a glowing innocence that propelled him to openly investigate the truth of Islam.
After graduating from college in 1997, I moved to the Bay Area, and John and I had a chance to spend more time together. It was then that he finally declared his faith in Islam. Having witnessed various intervals of his journey, it was clear that conversion brought him an inner satisfaction and a sense of completion. John, now Sulayman, introduced me to some knowledgeable Muslims who were able to answer some of my nagging questions about the religion. Soon after, I took the shahada as well and accepted Islam. As I began to meet Muslims in the Bay Area, those who already knew Sulayman spoke of him with admiration and enthusiasm. I can still remember the smiles people offered me when I mentioned that I was his cousin.
Sulayman and I only spent a short time together after we had both become Muslim. I moved to the East coast, and Sulayman eventually left for Yemen to begin learning Arabic. For several years, although I identified myself as Muslim, I dragged my feet in making the necessary changes in life-abandoning haram practices, establishing prayer and fasting. It wasn't until I got married in 1999 that I began to address my lack of attention to Islam. At this time, Sulayman was in Yemen for the second time, and we began communicating by email.
Like many Muslim converts, I was disillusioned by the unfortunate factionalism in the Islamic world. When I committed myself to practicing the religion properly, I still worried about navigating the various perspectives and in-fighting among Muslims. Sulayman has been portrayed by the media as impressionable and naïve-easily led into extremism. Yet, when I encountered different groups and schools of thought within Islam, I always found that Sulayman offered a carefully balanced and knowledgeable critique of various perspectives without condemning or damning those with whom he disagreed. In this area, Sulayman has been the most exemplary person I have known in his ability to balance an intense commitment to the purest elements of Islam with a general tolerance of other Muslims. Although he remains in the relatively early stages of Islamic knowledge, his personal qualities-faith, patience, piety, kindness-are like those that I have witnessed among the most learned in religion.
Last Spring, at age 25, I once again went to my 19 year-old younger cousin for his trustworthy and thoughtful advice about another group of Muslims-the Taliban. With doubts about the validity of Western propaganda against the Taliban, and realizing that Sulayman's experience in Pakistan may give him more direct knowledge, I asked what he thought of the movement. He explained that his view of the Taliban was built on consistently positive impressions from a series of personal interactions. He wrote that there are "many things I've seen in the Taliban that have led me to believe that they are indeed what they claim to be-the one and only purely Islamic state in the world."
Sulayman approached the Taliban like he did all Muslims-with tolerance, positive expectations, and the best of manners. Far from being naïve and foolish, Sulayman practiced the often difficult and commonly overlooked etiquette of approaching other Muslims without suspicion. Like any self-respecting Muslim, Sulayman was attracted to the Taliban rhetoric of rule by the Qur'an and Sunnah alone. If the Taliban were insincere in pursuing their stated goals, Sulayman cannot be held responsible
Sulayman's parents assert that he was always a pacifist. Indeed, Sulayman remains a pacifist. The Qur'an clearly states that Muslims must stand up and fight for a just cause, even if their hearts are averse to war. That is exactly what Sulayman did. Newsweek reported that Sulayman first went to fight in Kashmir. While Muslims in America, including myself, are content with making duas for the oppressed, Sulayman risked his life for people he had never met, and only for the sake of Allah. Similarly, if Sulayman engaged in any fighting against a band of rapists and thugs neatly dubbed the Northern Alliance, he maintained a pattern of behavior consistent with any standard of heroism. Moreover, even if Sulayman's good intentions were wrongly manipulated during his journey in Afghanistan, he entered the country long before the current conflict, never intended to abandon his citizenship, and never actively fought against the U.S.
Sulayman's grandmother, my aunt, once accused me of "getting John into this Islam stuff"-false, but a reasonable assumption considering our age difference. Insha'Allah, I would be blessed if I was at all responsible for his development as a Muslim. Sulayman is a champion of Islam. Years ago, when Sulayman was introducing me as a new Muslim at a San Francisco mosque, one brother commented that "this deen is thicker than blood." Yes, Sulayman is my cousin, so I will support him out of family loyalty. But as Sulayman's brothers and sisters in Islam, Muslims must work to defend him against an unjust and irrational prosecution, because he is one of our best.
McGuire identifies himself as a cousin of John Walker.