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I was teaching Mathematics from the 9th to the 12th grades at Fort Mead 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 Studies classwork?” 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.
Nevertheless, 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 a mosque in the neighboring town, Laurel, Maryland. I demonstrated to him how the Muslims pray. He liked the simplicity and direct communication between the person and Almighty God.
James told me that he wanted to become a Muslim. I explained to him that it was a very simple process. However, I warned him about the consequences of reverting back to disbelief. Thus, I advised him to take more time in educating himself about Islam before becoming a Muslim.
After a few days he insisted that he must embrace Islam. Praise be to God 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 the Arabic alphabet which he mastered very fast. James was a musician and was very keen to learn the Adhan(call to prayer). He soon became the Muadhin(caller to prayer) in the mosque. I noticed that the Adhan was highly effective from a new Muslim. Gradually, he started reading the Quran in Arabic.
One day I went to pick him up from his house. I was surprised to see him in Saudi dress from head to toe. This shocked me since my students, his parents and friends were already talking quietly about my regular visits to his 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 imaan(faith) is weak.” I asked him, “Are your parents upset with these clothes?” He said, “No. They are very understanding. My mother even cooks halal food for me daily.” This gave me some 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 Huseyin Abiba.
Here I would like to mention a remarkable feature of American society. Many American youth try to seek temporary jobs to offset the expenses of their further education. Although some parents are rich and they hold a high status in society, their children do not feel shy to seek even a menial job for this purpose. The youth do not hide this activity; they very proudly share it with their friends, relatives and neighbors. These jobs give the youth an exposure to the ‘ups and downs’ of the real life. This enhances their maturity and sense of responsibility. In the case of James, he was looking for a summer job after his high school graduation. My wife trained him as a medical receptionist and appointed him in her medical clinic. Her medical practice was new and not very busy. As such, James had plenty of time to read Islamic books there.
James used to observe Eid(a Muslim celebration) with my family. One year Allah brought me from America to Makkah Mukarrama and Madina Munawwara during the month of fasting and Eid. I was, however, concerned about James’ loneliness in America. On my return to the U.S.A., I immediately inquired about James’ well-being from some brothers in our mosque. 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 itikaf.” They added, “He is always ahead of us in practicing Islam.” James was very humble and never mentioned anything to me about his itikaf.” I pray that Allah accept James’ sincere submission to Him.
He went on to college and graduated majoring in Islamic History. He was a well-known leader of the Muslim Student Association on his university campus in College Park, Maryland. He married a Muslim girl from India. Both of them started teaching at the Universal Islamic School in Chicago.