My North American Hijra

WRITTEN BY J. SELDEN HARRIS JR.|  DECEMBER 2021|  CHRISTIANITYISLAMWORLD RELIGIONS

Iam 63 years old. And I am proud to be a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. I joined the Community in January 2018. Since then, I have learned why Allah created me and why Allah gave me the life experiences I had. Before initiation into the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, my life was being prepared to embrace true Islam.

I was born and raised in Virginia. I am white. I was born and raised in the Presbyterian Church (USA). In 2013 at age 55, I retired, serving 30 years as a Pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). In that time, I served churches in Texas and Virginia. My reason for retiring was simple. I wanted to explore the ”draw” I felt to Islam for at least 22 years. During that time, I read (daily) the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, and the Holy Qur’an. All three were the “Word of God” for me. But in 2013, a strange thing happened. I noticed that the only book I was reading was the Qur’an.

I never bought into Trinitarian Christianity. I was more “Muslim” than Christian. So I decided to retire to determine what it was that Allah wanted me to do. Each morning, I arose at 4:30 am and read until about 10:00 am. My ”home study room” was my mountain, cave, and wilderness. It was where Allah gave me knowledge, reminded me of experiences, and gave me wisdom. My life journey became clearer.

I remembered something at age six that got me thinking. At Church, my Sunday School teacher told us the following: “After Jesus came, God made no more ‘revelations.’” This statement bothered me for the next fifty years! What? Did God take a ”retirement” on revealing? Is God Sovereign? Or are we Sovereign?Who are we to say what God can and cannot do? If my Sunday School teacher were correct, then that would mean that God could not use Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to “reveal” the Holy Qur’an!

photo of man kneeling while praying
Photo by Ali Arapoğlu on Pexels.com

In September 1986, my wife, our 18-month-old son, and I moved to St Andrews, Scotland, to attend Graduate School at the University of St Andrews. Having already served as Pastor of a Presbyterian Church, I wanted to research Islamic Studies. What was interesting here as far as my journey to Islam was concerned is the experiences I had “outside of the classroom.” I was invited to be a part of an Interfaith Study Group comprised of Shi’a Muslim students from Iran and Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) students. The Iranian students had hoped to come to the USA. 

However, the Revolution in Iran made that impossible. There was an Iranian student from Qom named Fatima. Her dream had been to study at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, the place where I was born while my father was in Medical School. Fatima came up to me at a break and asked me if I knew “who” the inspiration for her Revolution happened to be. I told her that I understood Ayatollah Khomeini and Dr. Ali Shariati to be the architects. Smiling at me, she reached into her pocketbook and pulled out a copy of the American Declaration Of Independence by Thomas Jefferson! She told me that we Americans were not the only people to whom Mr. Jefferson was writing. She told me something that I remember every day: 

“As Mr. Jefferson was telling the American Colonists to rid themselves of British King George III, he was also telling Iranians to do the same to rid ourselves of the Shah.”

When we returned home in 1988, I began a “lifelong commitment” to Interfaith Dialogue. Fatima had cured me of the teaching of my Sunday School teacher at age six. What she taught me was “a pivotal point” in my journey to  Ahmadiyya Islam. I knew that God was not finished with making “Revelations.” The Qur’an was real. So was Islam!

In March 2009, I was serving the “last” Presbyterian Church I would ever serve. In March 2009, the Church I served resettled a Shi’a Muslim family from Baghdad to Virginia Beach. The family, targeted by Saddam Hussein, had been granted asylum by the US Government. Although they were devout Shi’a Muslims, they were actively involved in the Church. It was the most beautiful Interfaith experience I have ever seen.

As I mentioned earlier, I retired in 2013. I began speaking in Mosques located in Dearborn, Michigan. In September 2016, I received an invitation from the President of the Islamic Republic of the Gambia in West Africa. My Dearborn connections helped me to receive this invitation. I spent three beautiful weeks in that country. While in Africa, I acquired “new Knowledge.” I had two “thoughts” that continually reminded me how and why knowledge is important to Muslims. One is a Prophetic Hadith: 

“The acquisition of knowledge is incumbent upon all Believers. The acquisition of knowledge is more important than the acquisition of belief (1).”  

The second thought came from one of the Marabout Teachers at the Madrasa in Timbuktu, Mali: 

“There are two types of knowledge. The first is the knowledge that you know. The second is the knowledge that you do not know. Always be in pursuit of the latter.” 

And in the Gambia, I sought the latter. I learned so much. For example, most of my African American sisters and brothers descend from enslaved West African Muslims stolen from their African homeland, the Gambia. I know what the hideous Atlantic Slave Trade did to my African American sisters and brothers. What I had never considered was what the Atlantic Slave Trade did to the development of West Africa.

Then came Friday, September 16, 2016. A day that I shall never forget. It is an important day in my journey to Ahmadiyya Islam. It was a Jummah, and I was with my host, the President at the central Mosque in Banjul, the capital city. We attended Friday Prayer together. I had been attending Jummah even before I retired. After the Prayer, the President went back to his office. I remained behind to meet people. I met three Gambian families who had also attended the Friday Prayer. They told me that they were of a Muslim group unknown to me. Here is what they said: 

“We are Muslims of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. We follow the last ‘Revelation’ of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah. Our Promised Messiah is ‘Messiah to the Christians, Mahdi to the Muslims, and Sri Krishna to the Hindus.’ And we will carry his message to the ends of the earth!” 

What? 

A new Revelation? 

I was hooked! Their words were music to my ears. My thoughts immediately returned to my six-year-old self in Sunday School being told that “God had taken a permanent retirement from giving further Revelations!” My three new “family friends,” these Ahmadi Muslims, have given me the answer to my search, my Hijra, which took me to Africa, the birthplace of the human race.

The three families and I remained at the main Mosque in Banjul for the next four hours. I had questions, and they had answers. They gave me information for the Ahmadiyya website. I read books (PDF) until 7 am Saturday morning! I knew that Allah had led me to Ahmadiyya Islam, the faith which I always held. Yes! I believe that it is the Revelation that unites all Religions. But I also knew that Allah had brought me to this faith.

I returned home and started teaching at an African-American Mosque that was in the communion of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad. In 2017, I traveled to Baitur Rahman Mosque, where I met my dear brother, friend, and mentor, Imam Hammad Ahmad. In January 2018, he helped me perform my initiation into the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. 

Since initiation, I have been continuing my research into the Islamic Faith of enslaved West African Muslims. Using my knowledge of history, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and Syriac, I believe that they kept their Islamic Faith well into the “Southern Insurrection” known as the American Civil War. We know who they were. For example, Umar ibn Said was an enslaved Muslim from Senegambia. He was educated at Timbuktu. He wrote a Qur’an from memory while enslaved in Wilmington, North Carolina. He also brought new agricultural techniques in cotton production, which accelerated the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. We need to tell their story.

Ahmadiyya Islam is the fastest-growing religion in Africa. I believe that Allah has been preparing me to take leadership in telling this story. I am ready! 

In closing, let me say this. I believe that Allah has been preparing me to finish the work of fellow American Muslim Malcolm X. Here is how. In 2006, I had a guest at my Church, the late Imam Warith Deen Muhammad of Chicago. Imam Warith was the son of the late Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Black Separatist Nation of Islam. Imam Warith and I remained dear brothers until the day he died. Imam Warith broke with his father and led the vast majority of African American Muslims out of the Nation of Islam and into mainstream Islam. But Imam Warith had another claim to fame. He encouraged the late Malcolm X to go on the Hajj. 

In Mecca, Malcolm X wrote his famous “Letter From The Hajj.” It should be the Number 1 American Classic in Religious Conversion and, because I grew up as a white person in Virginia, I had never heard of it until I was fifty years old. Note what Malcolm X said: 

“I was wrong. White people are not the enemy. We are all one human family created by Allah. Here I am in Mecca, eating and drinking from the same plate and cup with black people, red people, yellow people, and yes, white people! Yes! We are one family…America needs to know and understand Islam” (2).

Had Malcolm X and Martin Luther King lived, our history of race relations would have been better. Well, I believe that Allah has both prepared and called me to, in the words of Malcolm X, “to help America understand Islam!” And from there, “I shall take thy message to the ends of the earth!” (3).

Love For All! Hatred For None!

References

1. Al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, Page 3

2. https://www.alislam.org/library/books/A-Present-to-His-Royal-Highness.pdf

3. “Letter from the Hajj,” from “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (New York: Grove Press, 1964)

source https://muslimsunrise.com/2021/12/04/my-north-american-hijra/

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