James Ali Abiba

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James Ali Abiba

True Stories of American New Muslims

I was teaching mathematics from 9th through to the 12th grade in Fort Meade High School in Maryland. I had to teach five groups of students daily. Each group consisted of about forty students. James Abiba was not enrolled in any of these classes. He contacted me through one of my students seeking permission to see me. I readily agreed. He asked me a few basic questions about Islam. I briefly answered them. Later he came with more questions. I asked him, “Are these questions from your Social Study class work.?” He said that he happened to read a book about Islam in his school library. It made him somewhat curious about Islam. I made him aware of the conflict between religion and state and hence, the government school was not the right place for such detailed discussions. I invited him for a snack in a fast food restaurant. We had a very positive discussion there. James was only sixteen years old at that time.

Several things haunted my mind. James was only a teenager and not an adult. His parents could possibly bother me. Fort Meade is a military base situated next door to a National Security Agency. I wondered sometimes if an unpleasant situation may arise for me. On top of this James’s father was employed full time in the National Security Agency.

However, we had several sessions in the fast food restaurant. Our discussions were frank and productive. He wanted to see the place of Islamic worship. I showed him a very old house used as mosque in the neighbouring town, Laurel, Maryland. I demonstrated to him how the Muslims pray. He liked the simplicity and direct communication between the person and God the Almighty.

James told me that he wanted to become a Muslim. I explained to him that it was a very simple process. I further warned him that reverting back to disbelief is the worst act in the eyes of Allah (SWT). Hence he should take more time in educating himself about Islam before embracing Islam.

After a few days he insisted that he must embrace Islam. Alhamdo Lillah he did. Now there were more challenges ahead for both of us. I had a job to do I had to pick him up every Sunday from his house to bring him for afternoon prayer in the mosque. During his stay in the mosque I taught him Arabic Alphabets which he mastered very fast. James was a musician and was very keen to learn the Adhan. He soon became Muadhin in the mosque. I noticed that the Adhan was more effective from a new Muslim. Gradually he started reading Quran in Arabic.

One day I went to pick him up from his house. I was surprised to see him in Saudi dress from top to toe. This shocked me since my students, his parents and friends were already talking quietly about my regular visit to James’s house. I told James, “You do not have to create this scene. A Muslim can pray in American clothes also.” He said to me, “Mr. Ahmad, your faith (Imaan) is weak.” I asked him, “Are your parents upset with these clothes?” He said, “No. They are very understanding. My mother even cooks Halaal food for me daily.” This gave me consolation.

James was still in high school. He approached me and wished to change his name to a Muslim name. I cautiously remarked that with his present name he would have easier communication with his peers in order to explain Islamic values to them. They  may avoid him if he took a Muslim name. James said sharply again, “Mr. Ahmad your faith is weak.” His new name is James Ali Abiba.

James graduated from high school. He was looking for a summer job to meet his college expenses. My wife appointed him as receptionist at her medical clinic. Her practice was new and not very busy. James had plenty of time to read Islamic books there. James used to celebrate Eid with my family. One year Allah (SWT) brought me from America to Makkah Mukarrama during the month of fasting. It was first time for me to spend the whole month of Ramadhan in Makkah Mukarrama and Madina Munawarah. I even celebrated Eid in Makkah Mukarramah. I was, however, concerned about James’s loneliness in America. On my return to U.S.A., I immediately enquired from some brothers in our mosque about James’s well being. They enthusiastically said, “He participated in many activities during Ramadhan and even stayed in the mosque day and night during the last ten days of Ramadhan observing I’itikaf.” They added, “He is always ahead of us in practicing Islam.” James was very humble and never mentioned to me about his Aitakaf. I pray that Allah (SWT) accepts James’s sincere submission to Him.

He went on to college and graduated with Islamic history major. He was a well known leader of Muslim Student Association at his University campus, College Park, Maryland. He married a Muslim girl from India. Both of them started teaching at Universal Islamic School in Chicago. Last time I met him was at an ISNA convention. He was in a special dress with a big green turban on his head. I asked him, “Now what is this?” He said, “Mr. Ahmad please don’t talk about it.” Obviously he had joined a Zikar group.

Imtiaz Ahmad