Every day I asked more and more questions. Jumaana or Waseem would do their best to answer them. I wanted to learn to pray too, and so one day I asked if I could pray with her. She said I could and even opened her closet and gave me new blue velvety prayer rug. I followed everything she did and I listened to every word, but I could not remain still and be always wiggling and moving around. After a couple weeks I could remain motionless, and I felt very peaceful inside. I never remembered feeling that way before. One evening, after I had gotten settled into bed for the night, Jumaana came into my room and asked if I was doing okay. I told her yes and she said she thought I had become quieter lately and wondered if there was anything I needed. She and Waseem always talked nice to each other, and I never heard them fight or anything like what the people did in my old home. I could not believe how nice they were to one another, they were now talking to me that way too. I could not quite figure things out. I thought maybe it would be okay if I told her that I wanted to be a Muslim too. I really did want to be and I did not know how to do it. So, I just came out and said it, “I want to be a Muslim”.
She smiled and asked if I knew what being a Muslim was. I told her I did not but I wanted to be one. She tucked me in, gave me a hug, left the room and came back with some children’s books on Islam. That night I read them until I fell asleep. The next day I finished the books and I could not get enough to read. I read about saying Shahada and so I told her right away that I needed to say it, so that I could be a Muslim. They reminded me that I was only ten years old and so maybe I would need to study more first. I told them that I had already read all the books and I had to say the Shahada that very day. I know I was young, but it did not seem that way to me at the time, because all I knew was that I had to become a Muslim. It was right for me and I knew it – right from the beginning. Later that night, on December 29, 2000, I officially said the Shahada to Jumaana and Waseem, and I became a Muslim.
Jumaana continued to teach me at home and I passed the fourth grade and the fifth grade all in one year. I was also given the privilege to read whatever books I wanted from the shelves of books Waseem and Jumaana had. They had books on all religions, but I read every one they had on Islam. I asked lots of questions about the difference in religions because I did not know why everyone in the world was not following Islam. I went to the library of the little town where we lived and got to know the librarian there. She ordered me lots more books on Islam and would ask me questions about it too. She said that I knew a lot for my age and was surprised about how much I knew about Islam. Then after I read everything they had, I would go to the big public library in downtown and find all kinds of books on Islam. I knew I could never be anything except a Muslim.
My parents did not want me to come back and live with them ever. They only remembered me the way I was when they sent me away. I also did not want to go back to my old way of life, or live with them with the drinking, drugs, fighting, and chaos either. They had not sent any money to take care of me during the entire first year I lived with Jumaana and Waseem. Waseem was ready to retire but he kept on working just to take care of me. Jumaana also had given up her writing to teach me at home. They had done these things because they cared about what happened to me. I really did not want to ever leave them. So, after I lived with them for a year, the courts granted me a legal adoption. It was the only way they could have the right to make decisions about my schooling and other legal issues since they were not considered my parents. Because my parents had not had contact with me and never sent any support for the whole year, the court could make me go into a home or foster care if it wanted to. I was so afraid that if my parents all of a sudden wanted to take me back because I was so much better, then they would do the same things to me they had before. I also knew they would never let me stay as a Muslim.
I prayed so hard every day – five times a day or more – asking Allah to help me. Adoption in this country is the only way to assure legal rights. More than anything, I wanted Waseem and Jumaana to adopt. I was so happy when the court felt it was the best thing for me too. The papers were filed and my parents were notified accordingly. But they did not even bother to contact the court to contest it. In fact they quickly signed the papers to give me up. I was happy about that, actually. Then on the day of the adoption, the judge even told me that I could change my name. I chose “Waa’il” because it meant “one who returns for shelter”, and I did feel like I went to Jumaana’s and Waseem’s home for shelter. I also felt like I had returned to Islam, and so that was a shelter for me inside. It was the best thing in my whole life that ever happened to me. Because of the delays in removing the parental rights of my birthparents, the date for my adoption was changed, making it fall on the first day of Ramadan in 2001. It was, as if, Allah was blessing me over and over again.
Three and a half years have now passed by, and I see how incredibly different my life has been from what it used to be. Sometimes it is hard to look back and think what it used to be like before becoming a Muslim. Having had such a stubborn and defiant attitude during those first ten years of my life still affects me sometimes, but I am still very different from what I was back then. People do not think me as a thirteen and a half year old when they meet me – most of them think that I am a lot older. I think it is probably because of having such a tough life from the time I was born until I came to live with my new parents. They encourage me to keep at least some kind of contact with my family, which is fine because I know that they cannot come and take me away anymore or tell me that I cannot be a Muslim. I know that I am safe. I also believe that Allah made it all happen, which makes that negative period of my life more bearable now when I remember it. For, I have found Islam and found Allah, which I probably would not have found if all that stuff had not happened. At least, this is how I think now.
My sister came and spent a week during her school break this last December/January. I had not seen her in over three years. She is fifteen now and flew here on her own to stay with us for the week. She was shocked at the changes in me. I had grown to five feet ten inches in height from being half her size when I left, which made me tower over her by almost a foot. I also outweighed her by fifty pounds, after having last been seen a scrawny skeleton of a kid. When I left I was wearing a Rugrats hat and Harry Potter clothes from television and cartoon shows. When she saw me this time, I was wearing a Kufi – or one of my other kinds of Islamic caps – and a Kurris. When I left I had been a loud, troublemaking, obnoxious brat who had failed three out of five grades and who could not even write a complete sentence, and she hated me. This time she saw me polite, quieter, having passed all my grades, and even skipping a whole grade which put me in the same grade as she was. Sometimes she would see me stop whatever I was doing and go to prayer five times a day. She hated me when I left home at age ten, and was expecting me to be the same. Now, she told me after a couple days of being with us that she could hardly believe that I was that same person. She really liked me as her brother now. She found out that I was a Muslim. Because I had changed so much, she asked a ton of questions about Islam, took back a bunch of Islamic books I gave her, and told everyone back there that they just would not believe how different I was. Now, every once in a while, my mother will let my brother and sister call, and she even talks to me for a few minutes. I send books for them to read about Islam and I hope that someday they will all become Muslims too. I know they would be so much happier if they did.
My life seems a hundred years away from the way it used to be. I have become a Muslim now going on for four years, been blessed with new Muslim parents, had my adoption finalized on the very first day of my very first Ramadan, learned my prayers in Arabic, read my new parent’s entire library of books on Islam, exhausted the public libraries of their Islamic books, been given a new name and a new life. I do not know what else I could ask for. I am studying very hard to finish my high school in another two years. I will be sixteen by then, but I feel like I am a lot older. I know now that I did not need drugs to make me behave. I did not need anger to get me through all those years of chaos. I did not need to be so hurtful to others just to get attention. I did not need to cause such chaos for others. What I needed all along was Islam. I needed Allah. As I realize now, instead of these schools and parents putting their kids on Ritalin and other junk, they should put their time and money in studying Islam and teaching their children about Allah. When nothing else worked – and believe me a lot of people tried to get me straightened out – Allah did it. Allah can do anything and everything. When He does something for you, that is the way it is supposed to be.
By Waa’il Abdul Salaam (Austin Roe)
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