So, a lot of people have this pretentious bio that they have to use for conferences and events and the like. If you’re looking for that, click here. If you’re looking for who I really am, read on.
I grew up a pretty typical Muslim guy, to be honest. Besides the fact that I had a ton of non-Muslim relatives, because my dad is an Irish-American convert, everything was pretty standard. I used to go to weekend Islamic school, though my mom was pretty active at home with teaching. I have three sisters (two older, one younger) and a brother (older) that really molded a lot of who I am today.
I remember going to Islamic school for middle school. I remember Islamic studies class, Quran and Arabic class, the Muslim atmosphere. I remember going abroad to study with my brother in a program in Makkah during some summers. I remember going to Islamic conferences, I remember praying because I was told to, fasting because everyone else in the family was, going to taraweeh prayers at night. I remember it all, very vividly, like someone remembers the exactly indescribable flavor of a beautifully baked vanilla cupcake.
And, like a lot of young Muslims, I remember hating it. A lot.
I wanted to be who I was, I wanted to do what I wanted. I knew my limits, and I was sick and tired of the rules. I wasn’t going to hurt anyone else, I just wanted to live life, and the laundry list of religious things I had to do (and the list of things I couldn’t do) really made it tough.
So, when I got expelled from Islamic school midway through my freshman year in high school, I entered into the promised land - public high school. All of the fantasies that us private school kids dreamed about were there - and more! Girls, friends, parties, being on a real sports team, dances, not having to do anything religious. It felt awesome, it really did.
But living at home was still hampering my fun. It’s hard to come back from a friends house smelling like smoke when you live in a Muslim household. My relationship with my parents deteriorated to near nonexistence. Forced hellos, forced goodbyes - I always had love for them, but didn’t want to play the role of a good son. So, I did what a lot of us do when we don’t like dealing with reality - I ran away.
For a few years, actually, I lived away from home. Stayed with friends and their families, perpetuating this sob story about how Islam is too tough and how I just wanted to be a normal American kid. Even tried other religions. Church was interesting, wasn’t used to singing in a place of worship, and it was kinda embarrassing that everyone else knew the words except for me. But, I’ll admit, not being judged was nice.
So, after years of living a lifestyle of hedonism (serving the self, following desires blindly), I felt a new feeling. I had become accustomed to feeling awesome, feeling carefree, feeling fun. But this new feeling felt different. It felt empty. It felt tired. It felt dead.
I think it was my heart. Actually, I know it was my heart.
I tried to shake it, the dead weight in my chest, holding me back from furthering who I had become. I remember sitting in the parking lot of Woodfield Mall after work, one day. I went to buy a Christmas gift for my friend Tori. The deafening silence of the Chicago snowfall giving me a rare clarity. I had a weird, fleeting thought of who I’d become in the past 4 years, and I realized that I had taken my relationship with my Creator, and shattered it. I was destroying my heart, like sweets that taste delicious destroy the teeth of someone who eats them a lot - all for the sake of pleasing myself.
The social scene, the girls, the popularity, the parties, the drinking, the smoking - all that had become my God. And so, the meaning of the phrase we were taught since we were kids “There is nothing worthy of worship except for Allah,” came to life. I had sacrificed worshiping the Lord that created and continued to bless me, and instead began to worship myself. My desires took precedence, sacrificing any and everyone who loved me along the way. A lot of you know exactly what I mean.
Tears didn’t fall, actually, but my heart did. Right into my stomach, giving me a sharp pain, something I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was there, in the middle of retail purposelessness that I realized - we have a purpose.
I’m not writing this to gain sympathy, or to impress anyone with a history that I really regret. I just want people to know where I’ve come from. A lot of people see me in person, or on a stage or minbar somewhere, or (the worst) on YouTube, and they think “he has no idea what I’m going through.” I may not know exactly what you’re going through, but I’m willing to bet that we can have a conversation about it.
I look back and regret what I’ve done. I really do. That’s part of the reason that I try to serve. I feel that if I don’t do my best to serve my community and our humanity, that I will be held to severe account by Allah.
After Prophet Musa went through his entire life of test and trial and tribulation, a difficult path to Allah, when he finally met Him in the Valley of Tuwa, Allah told him that all of the events in his life were preparation for something bigger.
“And I’ve prepared you for myself.” 20:41 Source