Islam my Choice

by Andre Abdullah Hilal

The Islamic Review (UK), February/March 1987 Issue (Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 8, 26)

My decision to become a Muslim did not happen like I thought it would. I mean, I figured that if I ever got religion, it would be accompanied by thunder and lightning, a chorus of angels and, at the least, the parting of a sea or two. But it did not take place like that at all. In fact, I cannot say exactly when I made the decision to accept Al-Islam. Certainly nothing in my background would have made me a candidate. I never wanted to be a Muslim or anything else; I did not even like religion or religious people. However, I believed that God did exist but never gave any thought to anything beyond that.

I had always known some Muslims, mostly from the Nation of Islam in America, and a few Arabs and Iranians. I have always respected their discipline, culture, personal morality and obvious piety but I was deeply entrenched in a lifestyle centred around drugs, guns and sex, and I was quite content to stay there. My contact with religion was minimal. I was brought up in a Christian home, regularly attended church as a child, and even taught Sunday school for a while, but never did I once consider myself a Christian or ever consider my commitment to the Church to be a serious, meaningful part of my life.

It was not until my arrest for murder in 1975 that I attended an Islamic service, at the instance of another inmate who had befriended me. Again, I was not much impressed with the service itself but I continued to attend out of friendship and respect for Brother Asadullah N. Muhammad, who was my friend and also because the jail, and later the prison staff, that made it abundantly clear that they were anti-Islam. I went to the Islamic service just to spite them.

As I continued to be around Muslims, I became more knowledge­able and impressed with their personal moral qualities and I felt a desire to be part of that moral growth and discipline, which I saw in them, rising in my mind. I could not resist the call of my inner-self for long and, on January 31, 1976, I stated my Shahadah:

I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) is His Messenger.

I am not sure as to whether I stated the Shahadah on that day at San Quentin State prison because I believed in Allah or because I wanted to change my life or simply because I liked those people and their moral manners and discipline. I think probably because of the latter, as I continued to gamble and to use and even to sell drugs for about twelve months even after declaring my Shahadah.

When did I become a true Muslim in my heart? When did the change take place? When did and how did I put aside the ignorant deeds and start to develop a sense and spirit of taqwa? When did my spirit grow from a “spirit prone to evil” to the stage of “a self-accusing spirit”? These questions are hard to answer. All I can say is that it was a gradual transition that continues even now. I have discovered that spiritual journey is an endless journey, which continues even after death and I feel extremely fortunate that I have at least started on this path. I am not yet the type of Muslim I would like to be and hope to be. I pray to Allah to grant me wisdom and strength to fortify my moral spiritual self in such a way as is pleasing to His sight, and to grant me the strength to overcome the weaknesses of which I suffer. Amen.

What change my accepting Islam has worked in my lifestyle and in my outlook towards life can easily be discovered and detected by those who know me since my pre-Muslim days. A former rapist, burglar, forger, robber, drug-dealer and murderer is now a crusader against all these evils rampant in our American society and a soldier in the path of Allah who now cares not only about himself, his family, and his community, but also about the sufferings of all mankind. From a debased criminal, Islam has turned me into a self-respecting human being who is aware that his creation and his life have a purpose which can be put in two simple statements:

“Submission to Allah, and Service to Mankind.”