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6495Converts/Reverts: Convert finds peace in Islam

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  • Zafar Khan
    Apr 14, 2006
      Convert finds peace in Islam
      Haron Nichols looked into religion after Sept. 11
      Herald Staff Writer
      Posted on Mon, Apr. 10, 2006


      In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Aaron Eugene
      Nichols, then 17, did what many in the United States
      couldn't think of doing: He embraced Islam.

      "I wanted to know both sides of the story. I wasn't
      just going to believe what I heard on TV," said
      Nichols, now 21, who has changed his name to Haron,
      Arabic for Aaron.

      "Everybody was saying how Islam and Muslims were
      terrorists, so I wanted to find out for myself. I was
      taught to think for myself, not to believe what others
      tell me. And I found out it was the complete
      opposite," said the Monterey man.

      Just as the events of Sept. 11 changed America, they
      also changed Haron and many other Americans who have
      accepted Islam and become Muslims, said a local imam.

      Abdellah Khidar, who heads the Islamic Society of
      Monterey County's mosque in Seaside, said that in the
      years since the attack he has seen a greater interest
      by Americans in Islam.

      "It's true, after 9/11 there was a big change," said
      Khidar, a native of Morocco. "Before 9/11 there wasn't
      that much interest from Americans about Islam. But
      since then I have been asked to give speeches at
      universities, schools, even synagogs. Many who have
      wanted answers to questions about Islam have
      converted. Not just Haron."

      Khidar took over as imam at the Seaside mosque last
      year and has seen at least 20 Americans of different
      ethnic backgrounds convert to Islam, including one man
      who works at the Defense Language Institute.

      "The most important thing is that Americans have
      opened up," he said. "They are eager to learn the
      truth about Islam."

      To Haron's friends and family, initially, the words
      Muslim or Islam were considered synonymous with
      terrorism. Haron was brought up Christian, though he
      never seriously practiced the faith.

      "I never felt comfortable in a church. But I felt very
      comfortable in a mosque," he said, clutching a large
      blue Quran written in Arabic, which he is teaching
      himself so he can read the Muslim holy book in its
      original form.

      Nichols, who is of Irish and American Indian heritage,
      was born and raised in Monterey. He wears a kufi, a
      white knit hat, traditional for Muslim men. His
      29-year-old-wife, Cynthia, covers her head with an
      hajib, traditional for Muslim women to preserve their
      modesty. She also converted after seeing the positive
      change becoming Muslim made in Haron.

      Haron was living in Fresno when he began studying
      Islam. He regularly attended a mosque across the
      street from California State University at Fresno, and
      studied under the mosque's imam, a Sudanese man named

      "We would have talks and I would ask questions. He
      always gave me straight answers but if he didn't know,
      he would ask somebody who had the knowledge he didn't
      have. That really showed me something about the
      integrity of Islam. That you don't just try to come up
      with some answer so you can get members."

      Two years later he moved back to Monterey, but
      continued studying at a Castroville mosque. He finally
      converted late last year during the Islamic holy month
      of Ramadan. Now, as a Muslim, he feels it is his
      obligation to speak out against many misconceptions
      and misrepresentation about Islam.

      "Allah does not love aggressors. You're only supposed
      to fight a war if (someone) is attacking your home or
      your family," he said. "There are so many things in
      the Quran that says not to be a terrorist. Very blunt,
      very specific, about not being a man of bloodshed."

      Nichols also defends the religion in terms of its
      treatment of women.

      Islam "says woman are more special than men because
      they are the mothers of our children," he said. "They
      are a blessing to men."

      Women are more likely to be treated poorly in the
      United States, he said, where their physical beauty is
      valued more than their intelligence.

      Instances where woman have been subjugated to men, not
      allowed to drive or vote in certain Islamic nations,
      are rules applied by particular countries, he said.

      Nichols' family is supportive of his and Cynthia's
      acceptance of Islam. They see the positive changes he
      has made in his life.

      "My mom sees the peace it has created in me," he said.

      Nichols used to fret about money and his job as a car
      salesman, said Cynthia Nichols. "Now he has peace in
      mind and heart that he never had before," she said.

      Nichols continues to express enthusiasm and support
      for his new-found faith.

      People, he says, should "read the Bible, then Hadith,
      the Quran and figure it out for themselves... at least
      they will know that Islam is not a bad religion.
      Believing in a certain religion is not a crime."

      The only way for the public educate themselves about
      Islam is the do what he did -- "find out for

      Andre Briscoe can be reached at 646-4345 or abriscoe@

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