By Ahmed Jaradat
When hanging out with my friend Abdulsalam, he is usually quiet and reserved. Even when you converse with him,
he doesn’t give much of an opinion about anything, silence is his strength. However,
when talking about Islam his eyes seem to light up and he becomes fully engaged. You can just feel him radiating towards the subject.
Abdulsalam, his name means “slave of Allah,” or, “the peace,” which is one of Allah’s 99 names, was given the name Michael Deonarain at birth.
He was not always a Muslim. He converted to Islam in 2009. He was born a Hindu.
Abdusalam is a Junior a Hunter College. He is a History/Geography and Childhood Education major. He is 5’10, dark skinned with a buzz cut and fistful beard. When not in school he wears a black shirt that reaches his ankles, Islamic clothing that is called a “Thobe.”
He is 21 years old, yet his knowledge of Islam is greater than that of men double his age, even men who were born Muslim, including my self.
It’s for that reason he wants to become a teacher. Aside from wanting to teach children, Abdusalam gives Friday sermons at City College.
“I want everyone to learn what I learned, so they can establish their foundations to start practicing.
Thats the problems with muslims these days, they don’t practice.”
In his spare time, Abdusalam likes to read Islamic literature and general war history. “I love history.” Born and raised in Queens, Abdusalam loves his borough. “I lived there my whole life…there’s a large Muslim community.”
Prior to his conversion or reversion, his father had died, as excessive drinking gave him colon problems, which eventually gave out.Everyone in his family was shocked. He has only one older brother,
25 years of age and away at Stony Brook College trying to become a doctor, and a mother, whom he still lives with. Because of his father’s drinking,
Abdusalm said his relationship with him was not normal though it was all he knew.
His relation ship with his brother wasn’t that strong either, more so after his conversion to Islam.
It was his father’s death that started his path towards Islam, as he converted about a year after.”I started to ask why me? It’s something you hear on TV, it was like a dream…it hurt, it hurt, it really really hurt.”
Though his father was in the hospital he didn’t expect him to die. He described when his brother picked him up in a silver Mercedez Benz C class, driving near the Grand Central Parkway.
“I didn’t go to school that day, we were in the hospital the day before.
My brother picked me and told me Dad died. I just stood silent for a minute, I didn’t say anything.”
Seeing his father’s corpse in the morgue and funeral was pain he never experienced before.
His mother, who he said was bit hysterical after the father’s death, is someone who he is still close with, closer than his brother.
He said he had a lot of fights with his brother growing up and sometimes his brother would fight with his mom too.
However, Abdusalam said that there personalities are one in the same, which is something people always say he said. His brother has a shaven face which is in complete contrast to Abdusalam’s fully grown beard.
He said they both like to make people laugh, including each other though he said they have a sort of demented relationship.
“He would make fun of me being Muslim…when Osama Binladen died ,
he jumped out of the corner and said Osama! He said I’m sorry your leader died, you guys had a good run.”
His extended family is very large. He said he has problems with his uncles for being Muslim but his cousins are very supportive, as he still hangs out with them.
“Everytime we want to go somewhere, I keep my mouth shut but they always ask me where I want to go, I thought that was sweet”
Abdusalam doesn’t go to bars or clubs and prefers to eat food that is halal.
When it comes to the conflict with his uncles, he says it’s never direct though he knows they say things behind his back. Even before his conversion he knew his Hindu family had alot of animosity towards Muslims.
His uncles even had a problem with his mother having a Muslim name, Bibi.
In Highschool, Abdusalam said he was that kid that always craved attention.
“Our school was broken up into institutes, I was big on promoting my institute,
humanities…our Arch rivals were the theater and Pre-Med institutes.We wrote, “Pre-Med sucks more balls than pacman!”
They also did chants saying “Pre-Med-Swine Flu.”
Abdusalam loved high school and said Senior year was the best year of his life. However, in the summer of 2009 after his graduation,
things would drastically change for him.
“One of my friends was Muslim, his uncle came from Florida and he was big on converting people. I wasn’t interested at first,
and I wanted to be a nurse and I always wanted to help people. He told me about fasting, praying, Mecca but I wasn’t feeling
it but when he told me about Zakat. I liked it” Zakat, one of the 5 pillars of Islam, is an obligation upon Muslims to give two and half
percent of their savings every year to the poor.
“I was skeptical before and then I was convinced. If I’m gonna do it, I’m going to do it a 100 percent.” Abdusalam had told the man he would think about
it but he was told that he doesn’t know when he was going to die and that he should do it now, which made sense to him.
That night in front of the Islamic Circle of north America Mosque in
Queens, which he said is very famous and known as ICNA Masjid, he converted and made the Shahada.
The Shahada is the bearing witness that there is no God but God [Allah] and Muhammad is his messenger,
which is all that is required to become Muslim, though a fully practicing one would be called a believer. That night at Masjid, the man who showed him Islam, hugged him and
to the brothers inside the Mosque, where he was greeted and embraced with hugs, given gifts, as well as taken out to eat.
“All I cared about was the truth” he said. Abdusalam said he lost alot of friends and during that summer and before he converted he said
“all we did was party, drink and smoke…I ditched my self away from that.”
He said he liked this lifestyle better and though he wasn’t necessarily sick of his old lifestyle.
“It felt more right to do it this way.” as far as the stigma surrounding Islam went, he didn’t believe any of it,
“I knew there was a small group of people that did not represent the entire thing”
Abdusalam didn’t sit anyone down and tell them that he became a Muslim but rather it began to reveal itself on its own, as he would carry a Quran and read Islam books all the time. “People just figured it and they asked and I told them.”
His Mom was actually happy for him, though to a point. “When I started practicing Sunna I caught alot of fitna.” Sunna means
Following the ways of the Prophet Muhammad,
which includes growing a beard, having your pants above your ankles,
wearing Islamic clothes, not touching women and doing voluntary fasts, among other things.
The main fitna he was catching though, was because of the beard. Fitna is an arabic word which means trials and tribulations.
He would get insulted even by his mother. She would call him a terrorist and stuff that he says got to him. His female friends,
said he looked smelly and like a bum, though he said he doesn’t know how someone can look smelly.
“So i felt ostracized with my friends, I felt lonely, I didn’t fit into the Masjid yet, I couldn’t connect. I made Dua [supplication]
to Allah for one of my friends to convert. Someone who I know that can go through the struggle with.” surely enough, his prayers where answered as his friend
Abdel Malek became a Muslim. Abdelmalek did indeed go through a struggle as his parents kicked him out of his house.
When I go through my own calamities, I look to Abdusalam for advice because I know he is God fearing and
though I have been a Muslim my whole life I have only been fully practicing for 3 years and he just became a Muslim, he is a source of inspiration because he embodies the cool mentality that is needed to sustain faith in a society that is divided by so many different cultures and mainstream outlets.
As far as dealing with stigmas and things like the beard, Abdusalam keeps it quiet. It doesn’t bother him anymore when people say or stare at him and it helps now because beards are trending.
“Allah made it easy for me.” Indeed I hope he makes it easier for us all. Amen.