A Featured Story
by Sister Alison
I was always told stories as a part of my cultural indoctrination growing up in Jamaica because my family had strong griot traditions. My grandmother would sit me down in the living room, especially on nights with bad weather, and tell me folktales, parables, and stories with a moral or life lesson. These stories informed, to an extent, the way that I interacted with the world, and were a large part of my experience in Jamaica. I internalized from an early age that in telling stories you can reach people and can teach people how to learn from the experiences and tales of others. And so ironically enough, as I sit here during the first storm of 2021, just as my grandmother sat on bad weather days in Jamaica years ago, I would like to tell you all a story, my story. My story is about finding belief, finding hope, and finding faith.
One stormy evening, in late October of 2012, I made a decision that would change my life forever. While Hurricane Sandy ripped her way through the Tri-State Area, causing massive flooding and power outages, I sat in my living room lit entirely by candles. As I sat in my living room, with a phone unable to connect to the internet, and void of the distractions from life birthed from social media, I made the decision to make good on a promise I made to myself years earlier. I began to read the Qur’an. Although I was raised as an Anglican, a denomination of Christianity predominately found in Jamaica and in the United Kingdom, I was moved beyond words by what I read in the Qur’an. In the Qur’an I found perfection, I found beauty, I found something that I had been looking for my entire life. Prior to reading the Qur’an, I did not know that my spirit had been searching for anything. However, in reading Surah Al-Fatiha, and a precursory introduction providing readers with insight into the completeness of Allah (S.W.T), I knew in an instant that I found so something special that it spoke to my being and resonated with my soul.
Fast-forward eight years to October 2020. I made a decision during this time that acutely changed the trajectory of my life. After months of adjusting to social distancing, new shopping dynamics, and a general slowing down of life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I sent an email to the Islamic Center of America, the Masjidu Ahlus Sunnah in East Orange, NJ. I used to drive past the masjid at least twice a day Monday through Friday for ten years, and for eight of those years I always thought to myself that one day I would go inside for Salah. Although I had found belief on that stormy evening in October 2012 when I first read the Qur’an, for eight years after that, I allowed a host of other life circumstances, and frankly speaking fear, to interfere with becoming a part of the Muslim community for which my spirit yearned. However, something changed in me in 2020.
2020 was a monumental year. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting government regulations and CDC recommendations, forced me to take several steps back from my social activities and close relationships. I learned that I had underlying health conditions that required me to re-evaluate my eating habits and the energy that I exert during my daily activities. I also left my job of fourteen years, the only job that I have had since graduating from college. Life was overwhelming, and at one point, I felt like I lost so much in 2020 that I did not know how to pick myself up, or how ask for help.
When I was at my lowest, I experienced a moment of serendipity. While cleaning my book shelf one afternoon I found an old book that I received years ago, but had not gotten around to read. The book that I found is about Islam, the characteristics of Allah (S.W.T.), and about what it means to be a Muslim. I devoured the information in this book, and it struck a chord in my heart as it reminded me of what I found eight years ago when I first read the Qur’an. In that moment, I realized that while in 2012 I found my belief, I found hope and faith in 2020.
Belief without hope and faith ultimately leaves a person hollow. I learned that that hollowness will be filled by whatever the mind contrives for better or worse, but most often for worse. Taking in the influences from news, and social media about the state of affairs due to the worsening pandemic, wars overseas, unemployment rates, mindless entertainment, and programs lacking substance can fill a person with a miasmic energy that contorts how a person views the world, others, and themselves. It took me eight long years to learn this lesson. In the course of these eight years, while I had belief, I lacked hope and faith, and so I was living a life dictated by the influences of others. My purpose for being, the things that I valued, and the things that I thought that I wanted for myself were impacted by external stimuli. I could not continue living my life under this influence, and so finding that book on my bookshelf, and reading that book shook me to my core. Immediately after reading the first few chapters of this book, I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed. After prayer I felt at peace, a feeling I had not had in quite some time. This feeling of peace opened me up to wanting to become more invested in Islam.
Although I thought that 2020 brought me low, the truth is that it was in 2020 that Allah (S.W.T.) saved my life. I was reminded by that book that I found on my bookshelf that, as a Muslim I submit myself entirely to Allah (S.W.T.). I seek refuge in Allah (S.W.T.), and to Allah (S.W.T) alone do I turn for help. I pray to Allah (S.W.T.) for guidance, and to Allah (S.W.T.) alone do I ask for forgiveness. The Qur’an is the answer and the cure to my problems, and the Sunnah is The Way, lit by the proverbial torch of knowledge. In learning about Ar-Rahman ArRaheem, two of the many names of Allah (S.W.T.), I felt hope in knowing that the entirely merciful, entirely compassionate nature of Allah (S.W.T.) enables me to strive to always do better, rather than giving up. My faith was sparked and inspired when I read an article explaining the significance of the Takbir, Allahu Akbar. Allah (S.W.T.) is greater. I learned to have faith because regardless of what I may be going through, and no matter how much of a challenge things may seem to be to me, Allah (S.W.T.) is greater.
That brings me back to the Islamic Center of America, the Masjidu Ahlus Sunnah. Through prayer, and soul-searching, I changed my outlook on 2020, from a deficit perspective, where I thought that I lost a lot, to one that took into account all of the time I now had to dedicate to matters that I, at my core, value and hold dear, namely Islam. I am a Muslim, and it is important for me to be a part of a community of Muslims. And so, in wanting to be a part of a community of Muslims, I offered my services to the Islamic Center of America, the Masjidu Ahlus Sunnah. I decided to send an email to the masjid to inquire about how I could give to the community in 2020. Even though I had never been inside of the masjid, I thought that giving of what I had to give was a good starting point. And while I cannot make up for time lost, my intentions are to become involved in the community I used to watch from the parkway for eight years, and to be a more purposeful Muslim moving forward. That is how I ended here, writing about my story. I do not know how the masjid will benefit from what I offer, but I offer what I can give all the same, because I am motivated by Islam itself.
I pray that whoever reads my brief story takes away from it the understanding that people are brought to Islam in different ways and for different reasons. It took me one hurricane, one pandemic, losing friendships, a health reality check, walking away from the only job that I have ever known, and finding a book on my bookshelf which had been ignored for years, for me to find my way, and here I am. One thing that stands out to me about my experience is that life became easier once I eliminated a lot of things that I thought I needed, but were not really necessary to living life. I learned that in simplicity there is truth. Brothers, and sisters, Islam is simple. Islam has taught me that I need to lead a purposeful life wherein I walk with faith, and be guided by prayer and the Qur’an. Simple. I no longer allow external sources to dictate my purpose, my mood, my values, and my actions. Simple. Instead, Islam is my nucleus, and it is from Islam that I draw my inspiration, Insha’Allah. I am deliberate in the things that I do, and the things that I do, I do for the love and pleasure of Allah (S.W.T.). Simple.