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6445Articles on Converts/Reverts:

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  • Zafar Khan
    Mar 20, 2006
      Muslim cabbies change course of woman's life

      Berkeley legal assistant converts to Islam, plans
      journey to Afghanistan
      By Kristin Bender, STAFF WRITER


      BERKELEY — As a legal assistant in a law firm
      representing East Bay taxi drivers, Jane Stillwater
      built friendships with many Afghans who drive cabs

      She found them warm and hardworking, kind and

      Stillwater, a free-spirited woman who has lived in
      Berkeley for 40 years, felt at home among her new

      Slowly, she also started learning about their faith
      and, after years of research and study, she converted
      to Islam a year ago.

      "I figured it would be the one thing that I could do
      that would really (upset) President George Bush," she
      said with a slight laugh.

      In all seriousness, she said she accepted the faith
      because it meshed with her core belief that life is
      about trying to be a good person.

      "The way I look at it ... life is a competition. The
      winners are the ones who do the most good deeds," the
      63-year-old said.

      Now, Stillwater is trying to raise money to do some
      good deeds in Afghanistan. This summer, she hopes to
      take a "reality tour" of the country and support
      people in their reconstruction and peace-building

      On the tour, participants will deliver humanitarian
      aid to Afghan schools, hospitals, orphanages and
      refugee camps. They will visit with women at Kabul
      University to learn about their hopes and challenges.
      They will meet with landmine awareness groups and talk
      with journalists about efforts to createan independent

      "I want to make America aware of what is going on in
      Afghanistan," she said.

      Stillwater, who has written a blog
      (www.jpstillwater.blogspot.com) for about 600 on her
      distribution list since 2000, plans to post her story
      when she returns.

      "I would report the bad stuff and also the good," she
      said. "The American way is not prison and bombs. The
      American way is freedom and democracy, and that is not
      what came to Afghanistan."

      Stillwater's interest in the country started while
      working for 15 years as a legal assistant in a law
      office that represented taxi drivers.

      "I got to know many Afghans and (heard) their stories.
      People who used to be doctors and lawyers and even
      princes in Afghanistan were now driving cabs in
      America. But that didn't bother them. They were glad
      to be here in America, safe and employed."

      But Stillwater could see the trouble in her new
      friends' eyes.

      "What did bother them was that their country, which
      had been almost reduced to rubble during battles with
      the USSR in the 1980s, was now being even further
      degraded and destroyed by the American occupation,"
      she said.

      They'd ask Stillwater, who came to Berkeley in 1966
      and has a master's degree from the University of
      California, Berkeley, if she could help them. "They'd
      beg me, 'Please do it.' It pained them to their very
      core to see what has happened to their former
      homeland," she said.

      Stillwater wanted to know more.

      "They made me want to go see Afghanistan for myself,
      just to see the kind of country that could produce
      such kind and generous people even in the face of such

      One of the cab drivers Stillwater met was Wahid
      Aslami, the chief representative for the East Bay Taxi
      Drivers Association.

      Aslami left Afghanistan at age 14, but visited the
      country in 2004 and plans to take his

      9-year-old son back this summer.

      "When I went back to Afghanistan (in 2004) the changes
      were so drastic that it broke my heart," he said.

      Aslami said warlords ran most of the country outside
      of Kabul and drugs were everywhere. Children were
      being kidnapped and killed for their organs. Just two
      years ago, 40 bodies were found stuffed down an old
      well, and all the dead children had their kidneys
      removed. Young girls were being snatched off the
      streets and sold into prostitution, he said.

      Although Aslami said he believes things have improved
      in the northern part of the country since the fall of
      the Taliban, there is still much violence and unrest
      in the southern portion of the country.

      "When the Northern Alliance committed themselves to
      the new government, much of the heavy fighting and
      checkpoints were diminished. Life became better for
      the people. Where we are seeing the incidents are in
      southern Afghanistan.

      To that end, he commended Stillwater for her courage
      and desire to help his people.

      "She is really excited to go there to observe
      firsthand and see what is going on and to see if she
      could be of help to any organization, which we really
      deeply appreciate," he said.

      Because Stillwater will travel with the nonprofit
      organization Global Exchange on its "Nations at a
      Crossroads" tour, she will not be alone on the trip,
      which is from July 8-17.

      Tour organizers say the goal is to enhance
      "understanding of Islam and Afghan culture as well as
      the role the Afghan people want (Americans) to play in
      building lasting peace in Afghanistan."

      Although Stillwater said she is not concerned for her
      safety, there are risks. Four years after the fall of
      the Taliban, violence continues in Afghanistan,
      according to Amnesty International, which is
      particularly concerned about reports of attacks on
      civilians by anti-government forces in recent months.

      Stillwater, who said she lives in low-income housing
      and eats a lot of peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches,
      is currently trying to raise at least $3,500 for the
      trip. She is collecting donations outside the Grand
      Lake Theater, where owner Allen Michaan often posts
      anti-war messages on the marquee.

      She has only collected $37, but she isn't deterred.

      "I don't expect that I will get anything out of this,
      but I can't not try. Even if I don't raise a cent,
      hopefully I will make someone aware that there are
      problems there and they are big ones."

      To donate to Stillwater, send an e-mail to
      sajpstillwater@... or call her at 843-0581.

      Islam and the black inmate
      Many convert while behind bars
      Posted: Mar. 18, 2006

      Cloaked in a spring green jumpsuit, Paul Butler walks
      into a cloistered room at the Racine Youthful
      Offenders Correctional Facility, bows his forehead to
      the ground and prays.

      The room is slightly cluttered and a little dingy. He
      doesn't notice.

      "Allahu Akbar!" Butler says in Arabic, which in
      English translates to "Allah is the greatest." "Allahu

      Unbeknown to his family and friends in Milwaukee,
      Butler, 20, is no longer a Baptist but a convert to

      Butler, convicted in 2005 on charges of possession of
      a firearm by a felon, says he converted to Islam
      several months ago, finding a sense of unity and
      brotherhood that was absent from his life.

      When Muslims from the Racine Islamic Center come to
      the prison for prayers, Butler rarely ignores the
      opportunity for fellowship.

      "It's amazing how much Muslims respect each other," he
      says. "You need that support from one another."

      The situation at the Racine prison points to a larger
      trend happening across the country: Islam is the
      fastest growing religion among young, incarcerated

      Through Islam, they say they found brotherhood, a
      sense of belonging and racial acceptance.

      Some figures suggest that one out of three
      African-Americans in federal prison are Muslim and
      most converted during their imprisonment.

      The trend has become so prominent that the Islamic
      Society of North America, a national association that
      supports and promotes Muslims in the United States,
      plans to hold a conference in Illinois in April on the
      growth of Islam in prisons.

      "Being a Muslim is not a religion," says inmate
      DeAndre McCune, 21, of Milwaukee. "It's a way of life.
      I'm just trying to live that way of life."

      Since the 1960s, African-Americans have converted to
      Islam in significant numbers, and they make up one of
      the largest percentages of the Muslim community in the
      U.S, according to the American Muslim Council.

      The council, based in Chicago, estimates that of the 5
      million to 8 million Muslims living in the U.S., about
      24% are African-Americans.

      Experts say African-Americans, particularly young men
      in the prison system, are drawn to Islam because of
      its emphasis on racial integration and social justice.

      Lawrence Mamiya, a professor at Vassar College and
      national expert on Islam and African-Americans, says
      many African-Americans' conversion to Islam represents
      a return to their African roots.

      According to some estimates, as many as 20% of slaves
      that came to America were Muslims.
      'A stronger macho image'

      "It appears that men in prison are more attracted to
      Islam because it has a stronger macho image than
      Christianity," Mamiya said. "Many of the men tend to
      view churches as female institutions."

      The Racine Islamic Center, a small religious center,
      is the only mosque in Racine County.

      About 15 people are part of the center, and most of
      them are African-Americans who converted. The center
      also offers prayers and religious classes.

      Wali Shakoor-Luqman, a solid man with a full beard
      from the Racine Islamic Center, is an imam, or
      spiritual leader, with the center.

      He is one of thousands of Muslim chaplains across the
      country who preach to inmates.

      His sermons are a mix of teachings from the Qur'an,
      the Muslim holy book, and sharp street language. He
      says he's been preaching to Muslims since 2002.

      "You like being in green?" he asks, referring to their
      prison garb. "Look at your neighbors. What do you see?
      A bunch of zombies!"

      Deondre Jones, 21, of Chicago, another convert and
      inmate, says he learned about Islam from friends.

      He says he respected the emphasis on unity.

      Jones says that when he is released from prison after
      serving on drug-related charges, he wants to convert
      his son to Islam.

      "I have a lot of friends who converted to Islam,"
      Jones says. "With Islam, you can pray anywhere. You
      can be in the streets."

      After Shakoor-Luqman prays with the men, he leaves the

      When inmates are released, he hardly sees them at the
      Islamic center.

      He hopes they are living crime-free lives.Mamiya of
      Vassar says there are no statistics that suggest
      converts to Islam have a lower recidivism rate than
      their peers.

      Some evidence suggests that in many cases, inmates who
      convert to Islam tend to leave it behind after they
      are released.

      Inmate Donald McElrath, 22, of Milwaukee, says he
      converted because he wasn't living a positive life.

      Court records indicate that he was convicted in 2001
      of first-degree sexual assault of a child.
      An hour of prayer

      "There was a need for a change in my life," he says.
      "The way I was living my life . . . it was not a
      righteous way of life."

      The men pray for about an hour before they return to
      their day. Prayer sessions are open to everyone. Dan
      Buchler, warden for the prison, says the center is
      providing a service to the offenders.

      Butler said he intends to remain a practicing Muslim.

      "My family doesn't know I converted to Islam," he
      says. "But, they will have to support me. I'm a man."

      Butler hopes to be released in a few years. He says he
      would like to leave the area and find work in Arizona.

      "I'm not a religious person, but I'm a God-fearing
      man," he says. "I wasn't getting anything out of

      Since I Already Am, I Want to Be*
      A Slovakian Man Discovers Islam
      By Jusuf
      Mar. 14, 2006


      "Once a man already is,

      He should try to be.

      And once he is trying to be and he is,

      He should then be what he is and not what he is not,

      As it often tends to be the case."

      — Jan Werich

      I began the story of my journey to Islam with a quote
      from a famous Czechoslovakian actor, comedian, and
      philosopher. I did not pick this quote at random.
      There were a few reasons for my choice — starting with
      my admiration for this man inculcated in me by my
      parents — and ending with the similarity of my own
      life to the message of this quote. I always strived to
      be someone else, until I found myself through my
      discovery and acceptance of the faith in One God.

      But let me start my story at the beginning and share
      it with you as it unfolded. I was born 26 years ago in
      a town in central Slovakia. I lived there during my
      early childhood according to the spirit of the times.
      I did not become interested in religion and the belief
      in God until I was about 10 years old. This is when I
      first visited a church and read the Bible.

      I gradually became more interested in the historical
      events that had been mentioned in the Bible and began
      to make unpleasant, yet interesting discoveries. I was
      particularly fascinated by the contradictions between
      the New Testament and the historical facts. My doubts
      about the authenticity of the Gospels began here. It
      was only later when I started to realize the
      contradictions within Christianity itself. The truths
      and realities as stated in the Scripture were all too
      different from the visible realities in everyday life.
      Yet, I resisted exploring this any further because I
      didn't want to "be."

      During my childhood, I was a carefree child who later
      became a youth without any interest in religion or
      God. My main interest was how to make it to the next
      day, month or a year, and where and how to have some
      fun. Of course, I was still interested in history and
      education and it was thanks to this (but first and
      foremost thanks to God) that I gradually returned to
      the path of discovery and learning.

      In hindsight, the key turning point was when I came
      across a certain book. In those days, it was very
      difficult to find books about religion and even more
      so about Islam. The book that opened for me the door
      to the study of the teachings of Islam and the Divine
      Message that God had left for humanity through the
      Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was
      the historic work of Ibn Khaldun, Al-Muqaddima.
      Through this book, I gradually became familiar with
      the words Allah, Prophet Muhammad, Qur'an, Sunnah, and
      so on. I started to discover the teachings of Islam
      and I gradually started to "be."

      I came across Al-Muqaddima when I was in high school.
      I was a young person who, in addition to seeking fun,
      something that the young people typically do, began to
      discover myself, the meaning of human existence, and
      my relationship with the Creator. I longed to know
      more, to know God, the Qur'an, and myself.

      Shortly before finishing high school, I started to
      think about what I should do next. My parents —
      especially my mother — wanted me to go on to the
      university to become a lawyer, an economist, or a
      doctor. Fortunately — or rather thanks to God — they
      did not insist. At that time I had made my decision. I
      wanted to study Islam. I wanted to leave home for a
      country where Islam was alive and present in its daily

      My aim was to go to Egypt and study at the famous and
      respected Al-Azhar University. But the events took a
      different turn so I could write this story today.
      Perhaps out of fear or perhaps out of a sense of
      responsibility and dedicated love for my parents, I
      put conditions on my departure. I decided to send in
      my university application to the department of
      political science and law, intending to leave as
      planned should I not get admitted.

      I didn't spend much time preparing for the entrance
      exam, hoping I would not get in. But today I'm
      convinced that it was God's will for it to happen
      otherwise. I ended up studying political science.
      Paradoxically, I received the highest score in the
      entrance exam and instead of going to Egypt, I went
      off to study in the "Rome of Slovakia" (the town of

      In my first year I continued to learn about Islam. In
      addition to Ibn Khaldun's book, I learned about the
      Qur'an and in one of my term papers I even wrote on
      the topic of the Shari`ah and human rights. I started
      to feel that I was finally what I was — a man serving
      his God. But I was not a Muslim.

      In addition to studying at the university, I also
      gradually learned the "benefits" of the university
      lifestyle. I stopped reading and searching for God and
      started to dedicate more of my time to partying,
      staying up late at night, and to drinking alcohol. All
      this was closer to me than "Egypt" which was becoming
      more distant by day.

      Yet, I was doing well in my studies, and so I assumed,
      with satisfaction, that I was on the right track. From
      time to time, I did not feel like myself; I was
      unfriendly and aggressive towards my friends, and when
      I became alone I felt completely empty. But I was not
      paying too much attention to this initially. Bad days
      would follow good ones, but I thought this was the way
      it is supposed to be. Four years had passed and I had
      to choose my dissertation topic. I had quite a few
      ideas, but in the end I chose to write about Islam in

      I began to work on it. I returned to the study of
      Islam. I was rediscovering things that I had
      frivolously thrown behind me a few years before. When
      writing my dissertation, I wanted to meet some real
      Muslims in an effort to get to know Islam at a more
      intimate level, not just from books. I had managed to
      contact an Islamic organization based in Slovakia.

      I met a few times with Muhammad — the man to whom I am
      grateful for helping me with my dissertation and for
      reawakening my interest in reverting to Islam. But my
      story does not end here. Despite my resolve to become
      a Muslim, I was still too scared to make the final
      step. Most probably I wasn't yet meant to "be."

      My dissertation turned out well and I successfully
      completed my studies. I was a university graduate who
      did not know what he wanted to be. What next? I again
      thought about Egypt, about Islam, and about life. Soon
      enough after finishing school I had managed to find a
      job — I became a teacher. Working with students — many
      of whom were my age — felt almost like the student
      life all over again.

      Work, fun, and nothing else. After maybe a year, I
      realized that I was going down the very same familiar
      path, in the direction in which I had already once
      treaded. In May 2004, I decided to end this life. I
      longed to be finally what I wanted to be and what I
      was — a Muslim.

      In the fall of the same year I decided to try fasting
      during the month of Ramadan. My friends made fun of
      me, my colleagues at work were perplexed, but I
      managed to complete this test with success. I had
      learned the Shahadah (testimony of faith in Islam) and
      I often repeated it to myself — either out loud or in
      my thoughts. But I was scared to move any further.

      Finally, after a long period of hesitation, I decided
      to call my friend Muhammad, whom I had not seen for
      two years. I met with him shortly before Christmas
      2004 with an intention to convert. I spent the
      following month reading stories of converts and
      pondering over how such a step would change my
      relationship with others, especially with my family.

      After returning from the Christmas break, in front of
      the packed prayer hall in Bratislava, I finally
      recited my Shahadah on the day of Eid al-Adha
      celebration in 2005 CE (AH 1425). Looking into the
      eyes of dozens of Muslims, brothers from different
      parts of the world, I finally felt that I am "what I
      am supposed to be and not what I am not, as it often
      tends to be the case." I was extremely happy and
      remain so until today. I have realized that since I
      already am created by God, I want to be a Muslim.

      * This story first appeared on http://www.islamweb.sk
      It is republished with kind permission.

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