6445Articles on Converts/Reverts:
- Mar 20, 2006Muslim 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
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
"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,"
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
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
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
By SHEILA B. LALWANI
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
"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
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
Some evidence suggests that in many cases, inmates who
convert to Islam tend to leave it behind after they
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
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."
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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