JAMES FARRELL'S CONVERSION STORY



I do not intend to bore you with preaching or beg for sympathy with this story. My intention is simple: To inform Muslims and well as non-Muslims that there is a greater realm of Islam other than that what you witness by some misguided Muslims and what you see from the television. I also do not intend to ruin the reputation of anyone mentioned in this story.

It seems like yesterday when I was a little boy growing up in the inner city of Chicago. Mom and Dad would both work full-time jobs trying to support a family of ten. Things just didn’t work out the way they planned. Dad began drinking heavily and soon took up a habit of gambling and abuse. Whenever dad was around he was either drunk or on his way to jail; dad would frequent the Chicago jails many times a month. In my opinion my father had been arrested about 200-300 times in his lifetime. Whenever mom and dad were together in the same house there would always be a fight and one of the two would need medical attention. There were a few incidents that I recall when dad pushed mom and mom split dads head open with a hammer…and yet another incident when mom slammed an iron in dads face…then another time she broke a beer bottle over dads’ head. Maybe he deserved it; I do not know. When the fighting between mom and dad would end, the children got the end results. My brother and I have been whipped with hangers, wires, poles, glass, pots and pans, sticks, bottles, cables…. Whatever they could get their hands on we were hit with it. One time my mother had caught my brother and I playing with matches. I told the truth and she only slapped me, my brother lied and had his hand stuck in an open flame on the stove until his skin boiled. The level of stress in our household was so extreme my mother had suffered from 2 maybe 3 miscarriages; one of the miscarriages she had reached passed 6 months of her pregnancy when the fetus exploded in her stomach – dad was in jail. My parents had gone through a lot. There were times when there was practically nothing to eat. Many nights mom would only have eggs and bread to prepare for dinner. I remember she would prepare our dinner and whatever we didn’t eat that was her meal, if we ate our entire share she would go to bed hungry. This happened for many years. Before I reached the age of 10 I began feeling the need to commit suicide. With everything happening around me I felt as if there was no reason to live at all.

Although my parents had sent us to weekly Catholic school and frequent the Church, my heart didn’t feel alive. I would simply feel the need to go in order to get away from what went on at home. In school I wasn’t the brightest child. As a 6th grader I had a reading level of a 1st grader. Every year throughout elementary school I was ordered to take summer school in order to pass to the next grade.  I had failed the 2nd grade and hardly made through the remaining next 6.  It was in the elementary school when I learned how to steal. It would become a constant habit. Whenever I had the chance I would steal anything and everything I could get my hands on. Sooner than later my brother had joined me. We went to Gas Stations and stole candy, then to Department stores and stole toys. There was one time when mom gave us a few dollars to buy dad a "Father’s Day" gift. My brother and I decided to spend the money on popcorn and nachos and stole his gift…Evidently we were caught and were about to be arrested; Mom came to our rescue.

A few years later my brother had went in his direction and I went my own way. I gave up on stealing and began writing music/poetry and playing guitar. I eventually joined a band and would use the "jam" sessions as a scapegoat to get away from my problems. In High School my brother had befriended many drug addicts and soon he began doing drugs. I am not saying he was a drug addict but he did drugs like the rest of them.

When I was about 12 maybe 13 I began working as an electrician helper with my uncle. I held that job until I was about 16, then I began working on my own doing electrical, carpentry and painting contract jobs. This helped me move out of my parents’ home and move into my first apartment. Around this time I had met a girl who would become my fiancé within a matter of months. I was the extremely shy type. As matter of fact she had asked me out on a date instead of the other way around. Needless to say, we were together and wanted to get married. About a year or 2 into our relationship she began practicing Islam. She was born into a family where her father was Muslim and her mother was Catholic. My fiancé was jammed in the middle; simply confused. She began informing me of the Muslim religion and I was completely turned off by the whole idea. The more she spoke of it the more I pushed her away. There was a period of time where I didn’t want to have anything to do with her simply because she was practicing a foreign thing. The reason of my hate toward the Muslims is due to my upbringing, the actions of the majority of Muslims and the news media. Every Arab/Muslim that I had ever met was no different than me, if they were different they were worse. I knew Muslims who did drugs, attempted murder, fornication, lesbians, etc. 

At this period in time I was in a prime time of arrogance and didn’t even know it.  I felt as if I was a living piece of God and nothing could destroy me. I felt as though I were better than everyone else. Nevertheless, I was a lonely person who needed someone by his side. My fiancé had given me a Qur’an as a gift for my 18th birthday.  As I received the gift I cringed and felt like throwing it away. However, I simply stored away in my closet not feeling the need to disrespect her.  A few years earlier I got the urge to read. Once I began reading I couldn’t stop.  My father had once told me…"When you were a younger we couldn’t get a book in your hands for anything in the world, now we can’t get a book out of your hands." Now at this point of my life I had read numerous books and I was feeling that my philosophy of me being a part of God was a little shaky. While the Qur’an was accumulating dust in my closet I had prayed to God that He would send me a book or a sign with a key to all of the answers in the world.  May I remind you that I knew nothing what the Qur’an was and never before have I even touched a Qur’an let alone hear about it.

One night, after I had cleaned the house, I stood in the kitchen looking onward toward the living room. The house looked beautiful. The round glass table to my right; the soft tender gray carpeting below my feet; the smooth arch dividing the dining area from the living area; then finally a comfortable dim light illuminated the setting. I suddenly had an urge to pick up the Qur’an and read it.  I sat in my favorite tan colored recliner next to the end table.  With the Qur’an in my hands I began to read the introduction of Abdullah Yusuf Ali.  Before I knew it tears had flowed from my eyes. I wanted to beat myself senseless from how stubborn I was not to read this earlier. I read the same thing I believed all my life with a fine-tooth comb laying it all out straight. My heart overfilled with satisfaction and pain at the same time. Immediately I had called my fiancé and apologized for being an imbecile. We then agreed that our lives would indeed change and we would have to either get married or separate for good.

I was starving to learn more about Islam. Now that I had read the entire Qur’an I wanted to learn how to pray. I then began reading books about prayer and basically taught myself how to pray. For a person who felt that they were a piece of God and now bowing down to God this was probably the hardest thing I could do. I was embarrassed toward myself for praying to a thing that wasn’t even there. I then found books with English transliteration (followed along with the audio) and taught myself how to recite Qur’an. It was at this point where I wanted to go to the Mosque. I was given directions and hesitated many times. I would drive up to the Mosque, circle around a few times and turn back home. Then I started having dreams. May I point out that I had never seen a Mosque before this, nor have I ever been inside one.  I didn’t even know what a Mosque was. Needless to say, I began having dreams that would twist my soul yet wake me with passion.  I had a dream the night after I circled the Mosque. My dream began…I was walking in a well-lighted, flat leveled building. The carpet was soft and green and there were pillars/columns throughout this structure. Inside this building were friends from school and relatives that made my brief stay welcoming. The next morning I woke and went to the Mosque. And just like inside my dream I saw the very same setting; Green carpet, pillars/columns and people that made me feel at home. Some time later I had yet another dream of myself running through a field of grass.  An army was behind me chasing me and chanting "Kill him, Kill him!" I then came to a safe ground and prayed to God that I would be safe. I was then given 9 men to help me defeat this army of thousands.  Each man was given a stick for battle except me; I held a double-sided axe.  As the opposing army grew nearer I closed my eyes and swung. When my eyes opened the opposing army was defeated. My army hadn’t a single scratch on them. I then appeared all alone in a Mosque contemplating on the victory. As I sat on a bench at the backside of the Mosque with my head down I felt a sudden presence. A hand touched my thigh. His perfect voice said "Victory." I replied “yes, with ten men.” He commented by adding, "With God you were limitless." I then picked up my head and saw the most beautiful man I could ever imagine. His skin was the most perfect tone, his voice was gentle and soft but manly, and his presence was clear and comforting. He was clean from head to toe. His teeth shinned gleaming white and his beard covered his cheeks with style. --- I would have many dreams like this one for about 2 years.

In the summer of 1998 I had went to a Mosque on the North side of Chicago called the “Muslim Community Center (M.C.C.)” for a conference.  At the conference I had publicly declared that I was Muslim.  The man who had walked me through the testimony of faith was Jamal Badawi, whom I had no idea who he was.  I knew that I just put a huge responsibility on my shoulders and my entire life would completely change.  

By the spring of 1999 there was a Mosque being built from a tavern about 3-4 miles away from my home.  The only problem, it was in a neighborhood I didn’t belong.  The fact of the matter is I lived in an all white neighborhood and the Mosque was in an all black neighborhood.  The whites and blacks are not allowed to walk through each other’s neighborhoods unless it’s for drugs, prostitution, or briefly passing through by car.  I was the type that didn’t care.  I walked the 3-4 miles to help the Muslims refurbish the Mosque.  Throughout the whole summer of 1999 I walked back and forth at least twice a week.   During this period I was harassed, spit at, rocks were thrown at me, children cursed at me…one of the many times I was harassed it was by the Police.  I had just left the Mosque from the Friday prayer and I didn’t reach 2 blocks and an unmarked Police car pulled up next to me, and 2 uniformed men began shouting at me.  “Turn around and put your hands on the car, now!”  I slowly turned and placed my hands on the car.   As one officer stuck his hands in my mouth and searched my entire body the other officer asked, “What are doing in this neighborhood boy?”  I said, “It is my Sabbath day.  I came to pray.”  He replied, “You’re not suppose to be in this neighborhood.  Now go back to your neighborhood and I don’t wanna see you back here.”  I then walked home and returned back the following week.   I continued to do this until the winter of 1999.  This is the winter that changed my family forever.  Up until this point I hadn’t been completely open with my family about my conversion.  I knew that they would take it hard and probably beat me and throw me out so I felt that taking it step by step would be the best idea…it wasn’t.  One night my father came home from work with snow all over his body and shoes.  He didn’t bother brushing it off.  He charged through the door like a madman and darted after me yelling and threatening my life.  I just sat on the couch gripping the cushions hoping he wouldn’t smash my head into the wall.  With his fist locked he brought it up to my face with extreme torment.  Something held him back from knocking my head off.  I know if it were a few years earlier I’d be in the hospital.  My father just doesn’t stop when he reaches his boiling point.  After he yelled and said he’d kill me I was no longer welcome in his home, my mother felt the same.  I had nowhere to go.  I began sleeping in my car and spending most of my time in libraries.  It was very hard for me to get around because that winter Chicago had endured the worst blizzard since the 1970’s.  Many nights I thought I was going to die due to the cold and hunger.  I finally went back to the original Mosque I had dreamed about and slept there for one night; that’s all they allowed.  Soon after that a friend had made a deal with me.  I would build a prayer area in the 2nd level of his muffler shop and in return he would let me live there until I found a place of my own.  As I built the prayer area I found a job and paid my way through college and eventually joined the Muslim Student Association (M.S.A.).  By January 2000 a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to share an apartment paying 1/3 of the rent.  I agreed.  By the next month I was on my way to Saudi Arabia to make my pilgrimage.  There is no other way to explain my experience other than…making the pilgrimage is like reliving and witnessing the history of Islam replay all over again.  You’ll look at the mountains and catch a glimpse of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad journeying into the night; you’ll look at the Ka’ba and witness the destruction of the idols by the Prophet Abraham; you’ll stand on the mountain of Arafat and hear the final sermon of the Prophet Muhammad…When I left Saudi Arabia my heart cried to go back. 

 

A few months after my return to the United States I was engaged for the second time.  The engagement lasted about 5 months.  At the ending of 2000 I was engaged for the 3rd time.  This time there was more chemistry between the two of us and our level of understanding life was mutual.  We had scheduled our wedding to be in the spring of 2001.  Early February my fiancé had called me to inform me that she had cancer and was calling of the wedding and our relationship.  More than anything I was hurt for hurt, not by her, but for her.  She was a new convert, like myself and her family wasn’t supporting her at all.  I knew what she was feeling and I knew the loneliness she was feeling.  That was the end between us.  It seemed as if every time I tried to plan out my life and make the decision it never worked out.  I just gave up on trying to get married and left it all up to God. 

 

March 2001, I had just returned from a week vacation in Florida and went to my favorite pizza restaurant.  I developed a relationship with the owner from going there almost daily for about a year.  Her and her husband had asked me if I wanted to get married and I told them, “no.”  I said that I gave up on it.  They told me to go home, take a shower and come back because they had some one for me to meet.  Again, I left it all up to God.  I went home prayed to God and did what they asked me to do.  It was March 8th 2001 at 9 p.m. when I arrived at her house.  I was engaged 3 times before and on each engagement I was nervous, but not this time.  I was as calm as I would be if I were to hang out with my friends.  I entered into the house with my two friends (later to find out they were the girls’ aunt and uncle) and I met a man who greeted me at the door, “Asalamu Alaykum.”  I replied, “Wa Alaykum Salam.”  I sat down and chatted with this man for a few moments and out came his daughter.  We spoke for a few hours and I found myself beginning to wonder how I got where I was.  Not so much the place and time but about a year prior to this I was homeless, living in my car.  Needless to say, this woman that I had just met had became my wife.  We were married July 8th 2001. 

 

In the early weeks of November 2001 our lives had changed.  Due to the actions of a few delusional people smashing into the world trade center building 2 months prior, the United States government went out on a full fledge war on Islam.  The FBI paid many Islamic charity organizations a visit and shut them down; the Global Relief Foundation was one of them, I worked there since 1999.  When the FBI raided the foundation they just didn’t shut down the organization under false pretenses they ruined our reputation.  They took everything from our organization including extension cords, hairbrushes, hair spray and moose, computers that were never used, fax machines, copy machines, cell phones, poems, personal files, etc.  They took my house and cars keys and refused to give them back.  They drained our personal checking accounts from every last penny.  They left us with nothing.  And after they did that they raided our homes and invaded our privacy.  Still to this day they have not found one penny used in the wrong way or used in any way other than that of supporting humanitarian aid.  Their case is bogus.  My wife and I were only married 4 months when all of this took place.  The FBI had left us with only $30, that’s what was in my pocket.  We had bills that needed to be paid, rent was due; almost no food in the house and Eid Al Fitr was in a day or so.  But like always Allah was there to help.

 

I worked two jobs, sometimes 3 to get back where we needed to be.  At the same time I had reunited with my mother and sisters after a few years of silence.  On November 6th 2002, the first day of Ramadan, my son Amir James Farrell was born.  My heart melted the first time I held him.  I was there throughout the entire delivery and helped every step of the way.  I cut the umbilical cord the first chance I got I kissed the person whom Allah has allowed me to raise, my son.  Amir is my pride and joy and Laila (my wife) is my strength and comfort.  Many people do not realize the importance a woman has in Islam.  Always remember these few examples:  When the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad who was the first person he went to…his wife Khadijah.  He cried in her lap.  And when the Qur’an was completely revealed and the Prophet Muhammad was dieing who was he with…his wife Aisha.  He cried in her lap.  And two last examples, one on the last sermon the Prophet Muhammad had made he told every one “…and treat your women well…” he knew that he was going to die and he knew that people would treat their wives badly so he informed them that they are special and treat them well.  Lastly, in an authentic hadith it is said that Heaven is at the footsteps of the mother…there are 100’s of examples that can be given but I wish not to over do it.  To conclude on this, I came to respect my mother so much more due to Islam and the birth of my son. 

 

Early February 2003 I had reunited with my father.  The last time I had seen or spoke to him was when he had threatened my life…I was happy to see him again. 

 

There is so much more I can write and so many details I had left out but I did not want to bore anyone.  My wife always tell me, “When you are feeling down just pick up a pen and write all the things you are grateful for…”

 

This brief story is a sample of just that.