My name is Ashraf. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa. I used to belong to the privileged White minority. I used to have only three brothers, but now I have more than a billion brothers and sisters!
When describing my Islam, I always call myself a new Muslim and will till the day I die! I am very uncomfortable and feel insulted when described as a revert or a convert — I am not a car!
My journey started many years ago, at the age of 23, when I realized that I would not live long if I carried on with drinking wine, womanizing, and leading a bad lifestyle. I stopped my bad habits and when I was totally sober, I wondered what for — what was the point of being so good?
I worked in an environment that dictated that if you were not pretty, you did not work for me. At the end of the day, I would stand at the exit and say goodbye to the “girls” who worked in my business. There was one woman, who, at the end of the day, always smelled and looked fresh. I could not help but ask her why — why did all the other women look so worn out at the end of the day and she so fresh? She replied that it was due to her religion.
“What? Your religion tells you to be fresh?” I asked.
“No, my religion tells me how to be clean,” she replied.
“Your religion tells you when to wash?” I wondered.
“Your religion tells you how to wash?”
“Your religion tells you what to wash?”
“What religion is this?”
I then decided I should find out more about Islam. The first literature I got a hold of was booklets about comparative religion by Ahmed Deedat. May Allah reward him for his good works.
After reading a booklet about the Trinity (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), I meditated on it for a few days. I had been a good Catholic boy and had studied Catholicism until I was 18 years old, so I had a lot of conceptions and misconceptions to overcome.
After a few days, I re-read the booklet and found myself comfortable with the idea of there being one God. I was then able to move on and read all the Islamic literature I could find. I started learning the Shahadah, and after about a year, I decided it was time.
I took a shower, put my topi (head cover) in my pocket, went to my car, and headed for the nearest mosque. After circling the mosque for about 30 minutes, I realized that I would never become a Muslim if I kept riding round the block! I walked into the mosque and found a group of brothers sitting together. One of them asked if he could help and I told him I wanted to become a Muslim. He gave me an address and said I must go there and study.
I said “No, I want to become a Muslim now!” He asked me if I knew the Shahadah. I said, “Yes.” I then sat with the brothers in the mosque. I read my testimony of faith and was then asked what name I had chosen. I said “Muhammed Ashraf. “Al-hamdu lillah, I became a Muslim on that day.
I then started associating with Muslims, carried on studying, and after two years, I felt the need to get married. I married a sister of a friend of mine.
My marriage meant I was breaking three of our country’s laws:
1. Group Areas Act — I should have been staying in a White area.
2. Mixed Marriages Act — I was supposed to marry a White woman.
3. Immorality Act — I was only supposed to have sex with White women.
My wife’s family and mine were very concerned about our situation. Yet I believed that as long as my marriage was good in the eyes of Allah, all others could do what they wanted to — Allah was my protector.
One day in 1994, I happened to be alone at home during the week. There was a knock on the door and I opened it. According to my habit in those days, I checked out the shoes first. Yes, they were police issue (I sure knew because my father was a policeman and I had spent many hours polishing his shoes), but was this a White or Colored person? I panicked — should I push him over the balcony? Deny everything? Slam the door on him?
I tried to be steadfast. He said it had been reported that there was a Colored lady staying at this address. “No,” I said, “There was no Colored lady staying here, please come in.” He walked into our apartment, saw the Islamic calligraphy on the wall, sat on the couch, and put the folder to the side.
As he was speaking, I was still wondering what race he was. Then he told me that he was once a Muslim. I was shocked and asked why he said was a Muslim? His father and mother were Muslims, but then they got divorced and his mother married a White man and he and his mother became Christians.
The biggest joke was that his ID said he was White and he would regularly send his ID to Home Affairs and tell them he was Colored, but they always insisted he was White. We drank tea together, and before he left, he told me that I must not leave the country, as things would be changing.
I continued my relationship with my family after I became Muslim. I am conservative at heart and it was nice to tell my mother when she said to me “You are so old- fashioned” that “I am a Muslim!” When my mother saw my first-born child, a beautiful little girl, she said I must make sure she marries a good White boy!
I told her that she must marry a good Muslim boy! My daughter went on to marry a dark-skinned Indian boy and I am now the proud grandfather of my “golden boy” Altaaf.
Islam fits me like a glove. My wife and I started a family and I knew that I had to raise my children as Muslims. My children grew up as Muslims and were dedicated to their faith.
At school, when teachers used to record the ethnic make-up of my children’s class, my children would be left sitting. When they were asked what race they were, they would always answer “Muslim.” Much to their teachers’ frustration, they never said they were White, and if their teachers insisted, they told the teachers to put down what they wanted to.
Yes, I do have one regret in my life. As I mentioned before, my father was a policeman and he had been very frustrated at the lack of discipline in the Catholic Church. He went searching in other churches, yet he did not find the peace he was looking for and passed away before I had the knowledge and courage to speak to him about Islam. I am sure he would have found peace in Islam, as Muslims are perceived to be “militant” in our prayers. The ritual ablutions before prayer and standing shoulder to shoulder in straight lines would have appealed to the “soldier” in him. What I do know is that when he died, he was at peace with my chosen religion as well as my wife.
My family had the privilege of nursing my mother until she died of cancer. During her last moments, she expressed herself as a being a Muslim and was very proud of that. She asked to be buried in one of the beautiful long Islamic dresses that belonged to my wife.
My other brothers are not Muslims, but they are still very proud of me, their big brother. One of them stayed at my place for a few months and adopted certain Islamic behaviors.
In conclusion, I am a “new” Muslim who embraced Islam 25 years ago through the actions of a Muslim woman, but I have never been comfortable with the divisions of Muslims in South Africa. At gatherings, I normally search out my African brothers, and other Muslim “brothers” lose interest in me when I tell them I live in a ghetto and do not own a business.
Islam is not the property of the Indians, Arabs, Blacks, or anyone else! Those who perpetuate these divisions are impeding the progress of Islam on a continent and in a world that needs it.
By Ashraf Williams