My name is Sayed Udeen. I am writing this story so I can share it with those interested in my conversion to Islam. I have tried to write my story in a way that will show the reader the thought process in my head. Unfortunately when we go on the long road to discovering truth we do not always travel on a straight path, but on a path that may go in spirals. That is how it worked for me.
When I was born I was given the hebrew name Melech Yacov. Today I still live in the area I was born to in New York. We were a semi religious family. This meant that although we belonged to a chasidic congregation which we went to every saturday but we did not keep all the strict observances required in chasidic Judaism. For those who don't know, Chasidism is known in the mainstream as "Ultra Orthodox" Judaism. They are called that because of their strict observances of halacha (Jewish Law) and their following of Jewish mysticism (cabala). They are the strange people you see walking down the street wearing black suits and hats and letting their beards and sideburns grow long. We were nor like that though. My family cooked and used electricity on the shabot and I didn't wear a keepa on my head. More over I grew up in a secular environment surrounded by non Jewish school mates and friends. (For many years I still felt guilty about driving on saturdays and eating unkosher food) My conversion to Islam was certainly no straightforward path.
Although I did not observe all the rules I nevertheless felt a strong sense that this was the way God wants me to live and every time I don't observe the rules I am committing sin in the eyes of God. From the earliest days my mother would read to me the stories from the great Rabbis like Eliezar, the Baal Shem Tov and the legends from the haggada and Torah. All these stories had the same ethical message which helped me identify with the Jewish community and Israel. The stories showed how Jews were oppressed throughout history but God always stood by his people till the end. The stories that me and all Jewish people were brought up on showed us that miracles always happened to the Jews when ever they were in their greatest time of need. The survival of the Jew in history despite all odds is seen as a miracle in itself. If a person wants to take an objective view on why most Jews have the irrational zionist stance on Israel than they must understand the way we were indoctrinated by these stories as children. That is why the zionists pretend they are doing nothing wrong at all. All the goyim (gentiles) are seen as enemies only waiting to attack and thus cannot be trusted. The Jewish people have a very strong bond with one another and see each other as the "chosen people" of God. For many years I believed this myself.
Although I had a strong sense of identity as a Jew, I could not stand going to saturday services (shul). I still remember myself as a little boy being forced to go to shul with my father. I remember how awfully boring it was for me and how strange everyone looked with their black hats and beards praying in a foreign language. It was like being thrown into a different world away from my friends and people I knew. This was what I thought I was supposed to be, but I (and my parents) never adopted the chasidic life like the rest of my family.
When I turned 13 I was bar-mitzvaed like every other Jewish boy who becomes a man. I also began putting tefilin on every mourning. I was told that it is dangerous to skip putting it on because it was like an omen and bad things might happen to you. The first day I skipped putting on tefilin my mom's car got stolen! That event encouraged me to put it on for a long time.
It was only a little while after my bar mitzvah that my family stopped going to synagogue altogether. They could not stand the 3 and a half hours of prayer either and just felt that getting me bar-mitzvaed was the most important thing. Later on my father got into a silly quarrel with some congregation members and we ended up not going at all to services anymore. Then something strange happened. My father was convinced by a friend to accept Jesus into his heart. God willingly my mother did not divorce my father for his conversion to christianity, but she has kept a silent hatred of it ever since.
This was also the period in my early teen years when everyone seeks to find something to identify with. My father's conversion helped me question my own beliefs. I began asking questions like; what exactly is a Jew any ways ? Is Judaism a culture, a nation, or religion ? If it was a nation then how could Jews be citizens of two nations ? If a Judaism was a religion than why should the prayers be recited in hebrew, prayers for Eretz Israel, and observance of "Oriental" rituals ? If Judaism was just a culture than would not a person cease to be a Jew if they stop speaking their own language and practicing their own customs ? If a Jew was one who observes the commandments of the Torah, then why is Abraham called the first Jew when he lived before the Torah came down to Moses ? (besides the Torah doesn't even say he was a Jew) The word Jew comes from the
name of one of Jacob's 12 sons, Judah. Jews were not called Jews until the Kingdom of Judah was established after the time of Solomon. Tradition holds it that a Jew is someone whose mother was Jewish. So you can still be a Jew if you practice christianity or atheism.
More and more I began to move away from Judaism all together. There were so many laws and mitzvahs (good deeds) to observe. What is the point of all these different rituals ? To me they were all man made. There is a story I head about a Rabbi and a student sitting in a park in the Heights. The student asked the rabbi, "why do we where the same black clothes all the time ?" The Rabbi responded, "because our ancestors did it." I began to realize that the Jewish religion was not much of a religion at all but mostly nationalistic pride. Just look at all the holidays Jews celebrate like Pesach (passover), freedom of Jews from Israel, Chanukah, the victory of Jews over the Greeks, and shavous, the time of mourning for the destruction of the 2nd temple and exhale of Jews from Israel, and Purim, the celebration of Jews returning to Jerusalem to build the second temple.
I was fascinated with Native American culture and their bravery in the face of the white settlers who stole their land. The Native Americans had over 250 treaties broken with them and they were given the worst strips of land that no one wanted. The story of the Native Americans is similar to that of the Palestinians. First Palestinians were living their for thousands of years and suddenly Jews replace them and the natives are forced into refugee camps which they still live. I asked my parents how the palestinians are different from Native Americans and the only answer I got was "because they want to kill all Jews and drive them into the sea." My understanding of the Palestinian people put me above any of the Jews, their leaders, an Rabbis who I once looked up to as wise men. How could any good Jew deny that Palestinians were killed, forced of their land, to make way for Jewish settlement ? What justifies an act of ethnic cleansing ? The fact that many Jews just died in the Holocaust ? Or is it because the bible says its "our" land ? Like it matters what some book written along time ago says, a book that is unreliable enough to begin with. Any book that justifies such a thing would be immoral and hence not of God.
When I got to high school I became interested in philosophy and read all the great thinkers of the past. I also spent time with good friends who read philosophy to and went along with me through are bumpy paths to truth. One of the philosophers who had an impact on me was the Jewish born Spinoza. Spinoza was a 17th century Talmudic student and he questioned everything he was taught such as the belief in life after death, a belief that is found no where in the Torah. In fact many of the early Jews didn't have such a belief. Spinoza was expelled from the Jewish community for his views. I enjoyed reading his views on the Bible which he said could not be taken literally without a boat load of contradictions and problems. Spinoza showed us that the Torah could not have been written by Moses as tradition holds because it says thing Moses could not have know, such as his own death.
Then I read two significant books that had totally swept away any ounce of sympathy I had for Judaism. The first book was called "On the Jewish Question" by Abram Leon. Leon was an underground communist organizer in Belgium during WW2 and later he was caught and died at Aushwitz. His book answered the age old question; why did the Jews survive for so long ? He gave a superb historical account of the Jews from the age of antiquity to the modern day and shows that their survival was by no means a miracle. In the words of Karl Marx, "it is not in spite of history that the Jews survive but because of it." First he shows how much of the Jewish community left Israel on their own before the destruction of Jerusalem. Then he explains that the Jews were valuable to the kings and nobles of the middle ages because of their status as middle men. Then he shows how during the process of capitalist accumulation the status of Jew finally took a turn and were persecuted for their usury.
The second book was called "Who Wrote the Bible ?" by Elliot Freedman which takes up the historical task of Spinoza. The book shows us that the Torah is actually written by 4 different people. Freedman explains to us that there were 2 different traditional accounts from the Kingdom of Israel and Judah, and that a redactor intertwined them together to get the bible we have today.
Besides reading philosophy with my friends, we also took up many different political trends in our youth. We experimented from everything from republicanism to communism. I took up reading all the works of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Trotsky. I found in Marxism what I felt was missing in my life. I also believed that I found all the answers to everything and hence felt intellectually superior to everyone. The philosophy bandits ( as I like to call us) got together and formed our own little socialist club. We went to allot of different activist events like protests and labor strikes.
After meeting all the different cult groups that surrounded the political left in America we all became disgusted at the way they acted and denied reality. No revolution would be made in a country by these type of people. Fighting for social change cannot win by using methods of the past. I also learned in those years that just because you might be right about one thing doesn't mean you are right about every thing else.
Although I gave up the fight for revolution I became an active pro-palestinian organizer. This is the one cause I am very passionate about. We are very small and attacked by the mainstream which gives me a sense of pride. I wanted the world to know that not all Jews are bad people. It shames me to see people who I once looked up to support the agressive regime of Israel. The lies coming from Israel are nothing less than holocaust denial.
I was never really an atheist though. Although I gave up Judaism and I looked at this world as the ultimate aim of man I was never really an atheist though. However I had a strong hatred of all religion and believed it was just a tool the people in charge use to keep everyone else in check. When you see the way Fundamentalist Christians act in America, doing things like denying science and upholding values of old white men, you can understand why I was skeptic of all religions. The way Jews acted toward Palestinians did not help either. God was still something I believed in at the very back of my mind. But with religion gone, I had a big emptiness left in me. I sometimes even wished that I was a religious person because I felt that they lived happier lives.
Honestly I do not remember what got me interested in Islam. Especially after many years of strong anti-religous feeling. I remember hearing my mother as a kid talk about Islam and how Mohammed worshipped the same God as us, and also how Jews are related to Arabs through Abraham. So in a way I kind of accepted Islam as just another religion that worships God. I have a faint memory of my cousin (a chasid) who said to me that if a Jew gives up his life as a Jew and lives like a Muslim he wouldn't be committing any sin! Looking back I am astonished to have heard such a thing.
When 9-11 happened there was accrues all the anti Islamic stuff in the news. From the very beginning I knew that it was all lies because I already developed the perspective that everything on the media protects the interests of those who control it. When I saw that the most militant people in attacking Islam were fundamentalist christians, Islam just started looking more attractive to me. I thank G-d for what I learned in my activist days because without the knowledge of society and the media, I would have believed all the garbage I hear about Islam on the TV.
One day I remember hearing someone talking about scientific facts in the bible so I wondered if the Quran had scientific facts on it. I did an internet search and I found allot of amazing stuff basically. Then I spent a great deal of time consuming articles on various aspects of Islam. I was surprised of how logically consistent the Quran was. As I read the Quran I would compare its moral message to that of what I learned from the bible and understood how much better it was. Also the Quran was not nearly as boring as reading the bible. It's fun to read. So after about 5 months of intense study I said my shahada and officially became Muslim.
Unlike my old religion, everything in Islam made sense. All the practices like praying and Ramadan I understand. Although I imagined Islam to be like Judaism where you follow all these different rules dogmatically, I was wrong. My understanding of the world also matched what Islam taught me. That all religions are basically the same but have been corrupted by man over time. God didn't make a name called Judaism and Christianity and tell people to worship him. God taught that the people only Islam; that is submission to God. It is just clear and simple as that.