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Interview: From Islamophobe to Muslim (part 2)

This is the 2nd and final part of an extended interview with Brother Louis Llewellyn Shann IV. The 1st part is here.

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PART 2: THE DREAM

“I prayed to God on my way home and said, ‘God, if I am doing anything wrong, if all this is a mistake, please tell me now because soon there will be no turning back.'”

What happened after that? Were your prayers answered?

What I am about to say has made some people happy and others uncomfortable. I haven’t told many people this, but I feel like it’s important to say it now, because it might help someone reading this to change their mind about Islam.

After I came back from the pharmacy that day, I went upstairs and fell asleep instantly. I dreamt a regular dream at first, about me driving down a snowy road in the Virginia mountains and crashing my car, then ending up somewhere sunny. The second dream – well, it’s not so much a dream to me as it is a spiritual experience – was very different. I woke up from the first dream and turned to my side and suddenly I was in another place, not quite in a dream-like state, but I was in that place in the photo. I was on that rock lying on my side like how I was in real life. I remember turning around facing down and looking into the valley and seeing that place in the picture except I was seeing it from far away. I was looking into a hole that was the size of a softball maybe and instantly – instantly – I was in front of Him. I could not see Him, but I felt his fragrance, like incense but a thousand times more potent. I recall being very afraid.

I don’t know how the conversation started but I began talking to Him. What I remember so much is that it was so beautiful I couldn’t stand it. He talked to me in a grandfatherly voice, and when he laughed, it was so wonderful I could not bear it. So wonderful I was scared. I was scared for my life but I knew He was not going to harm me. I remember asking him many questions but the only ones I can recall right now is that I asked him if people of different faiths would receive their reward in paradise.

Now, I knew this answer from the 90s, but it was the first question I had in mind. He asked me what it says in 2:62  (“Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”). He told me that I know what it says there and that is the truth, and I shouldn’t let anyone tell me differently. Every time He answered a question it was like I couldn’t ask him anything else for a few minutes because I was so overwhelmed by what He said.

I was taking everything in; I kept looking back behind me into the valley below and looking at the grass moving in the wind, the clouds overhead and once again that laughter that was so beautiful I couldn’t stand it, that completely overwhelmed my senses. I know I asked him other questions, but sometimes I can remember them, sometimes I can’t. I asked Him various theological questions like “Am I on the right path?” He laughed and asked me what I thought the answer was. That to me was the confirmation I needed after converting. Once again after every question, I couldn’t ask another because I was too overwhelmed. It was the most wonderful thing I’ve ever experienced. I asked about Muhammad and Jesus – you know, theological-type questions. I asked where Jesus was and what happened to him. He told me that he’s with Him now, that I don’t have to worry about the details but he’s with Him. Things like that. After what felt like hours I felt like I really couldn’t stand it anymore. It was too beautiful, too wonderful for me. I woke up.

Now there are a couple reasons why I feel like it wasn’t a mere dream for me. First of all, it didn’t feel like a dream or anything like I’ve experienced before. Secondly, every time I wake up from sleep, I always feel groggy. You know, I need coffee and I have a certain look to me. But when I woke up then it felt like I had slept a season; no longer tired and not groggy at all. That has never ever happened before. Plus, my migraine was completely gone [laughs].

When I tried to speak, I couldn’t make any noise and nothing would come out of my mouth. After a few minutes, I tried to talk again but it sounded like gobbledygook. Just nonsense – nothing – I couldn’t talk. I heard my mom come up the stairs and I thought to myself that if she were to knock on the door and come into my room, I wouldn’t be able to speak to her. When I looked at the clock (mind you, I was perfectly awake and that has never happened before) instead of seeing numbers it was like an ancient script. It looked like something from the future or past. Not quite hieroglyphics – I have never seen anything I can compare it to. I laughed and rubbed my eye and looked at the clock again and realized that only an hour has passed even though it felt like I was asleep for a year and a half. I remember lying in bed thinking this was not a dream, it was an answer to my prayers. It took me about 30 minutes before I was able to speak coherently again.

When I told this to someone afterwards, they started crying. When I asked why, they said that this story was an answer to what they had been praying for for years.

IMG_4146Three months later, while I was looking up pictures of Cork County, Ireland (the place my paternal ancestors were from), I had another shock. Two of the pictures I was looking at were exactly from the scenes of my dream. One was from where I was lying down, and the other image was from a distance as I was looking at it. I had never seen these images before. In my dream I didn’t know where I was, and here, three months later, I was looking at this. It made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

It seems to me like your spirit may have met the Presence of Allah (swt). Dreams have much significance in Islam, and many people have seen the prophets in their dreams. The prophet Mohammed (pbuh) said that if you ever dream of him, it really is him, because shaytan can’t take his image. That means the Prophet’s presence really visits you in your sleep; your spirits really do meet.

Now amplify that to the Divine Presence. There’s no way satan could duplicate something so Supreme. So yes, it might not have been a dream in the normal sense, where the images you see are just in your head created by your subconscious, but it wasn’t, I believe, something your physical body experienced either. All of the things you felt were what happened to your nafs. The prophet did say that our spirits leave our bodies when we sleep. Allahu a’lem.

It was indescribably beautiful. Wonderful doesn’t negate the experience of what I felt it was. There were too many things that I never experienced in a dream. I was truly blessed. I know I’m unworthy. Truly.

Yes, blessed; enlightened. We’re as insignificant as dust compared to His Preeminence, yet even then, He loves and looks after us. I have tears in my eyes.

He is indeed the most kind and merciful, sister.

I can see how salah feels like more than a routine for you. What does praying the Islamic way mean to you?

I didn’t know anything about how a Muslim prays other than watching it on TV. Other than that I really knew nothing about it. I didn’t know what to do the first time my cousin mentioned salah. I would get on a link while trying to pray and have one eye on my laptop reading the directions and one eye on what I was doing. I felt like a moron and I probably looked comical.

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I remembered what Lee said: “It’s all about intentions, striving to be your best” so I figured Allah (s.w.t.) would forgive my mistakes and I started going through the motions. When I first put my head onto the blanket (I knew nothing about prayer rugs), I could immediately sense a closeness to my Creator. For me, when I put my head on the blanket and prostrated to my Lord, saying the words “Oh Allah, glory be to You most High” I knew immediately that this was something special and felt some kind of energy exchange with Him. I was hooked right away. Not only did I never pray like that before, but I was pleased that Jesus prayed like this as well.

I will never forget the immediate charge I felt and I find that praying this way makes me feel closer to God than ever before.

Now that you identify yourself as a Muslim, what do you think your friends and family think of you?

Well it has been mixed but much better than I had imagined. I waited 5 months to tell my parents and siblings because of some reasons that were personal and others that were a matter of timing. I found that not telling anyone right away and hiding it was really hard. I had just moved back with my parents after my father’s surgery and had to hide praying “Muslim style,” so was careful to be extra quiet. I felt like a teenager hiding smoking cigarettes from his parents [laughs].

They were very supportive of me when I told them, and said that they knew something was different about me in the last 5 months, that I had changed for the better. One of my sisters was very upset, but eventually she got comfortable with it. I had a longtime family friend who I had known since I was a kid cut off ties with me when he found out. The ones who have a problem with it don’t talk to me but most people who know me, who have worked with me, who have talked to me etc, know and feel my positivity and are always willing to help.

This is a sad reality for many new converts, unfortunately. Do you resent those who will not tolerate Islam? Do they remind you of what you used to be like?

When I hear someone talk about Islam or about Mohammed (pbuh) in a bad way that is not true, I get angry at first, then I realize that I was much worse in my view of Islam and the Prophet. I remind myself that they have only the propaganda to go by. I know now that what is being said about Islam are lies because I actually did some research for myself.

There is a steady rise of Islamophobia these days because of current events. Many Muslims actually fear for their safety. What do you think can be done to stem the flow of hatred and fear?

Everybody needs to to do their part, especially converts from the United States and the West. No matter how small in the world you think you are, we have a voice and can play a big part. Especially in the information age we are living in. Ideas, posts, thoughts, go around the world and can affect others in a much bigger way than you might think.

New converts need to take an interest in history, especially how Mohammed (pbuh) started out. If people in my country knew the real story they would find it the “ultimate underdog story;” the triumph of the little guy. How a man who just wanted to worship one God gave up so much and had so many bad things happen to him. How, at his lowest point, he was persecuted, driven away from his home, lost his wealth and personal relationships, yet he prayed to God to make sure he kept doing what was right. He did not pray to smite anyone, did not pray for revenge, and at his most anguished, he only prayed to God to make sure he was still pleasing Him. It’s a great story. It’s a labor of love of mine to continue to defend Islam but defend it using truth, love, and hope.

I’m currently writing a book about The history of Muslim mercy from historical to personal perspectives. It will contain the examples of mercy from historical figures like Mohammed (pbuh) to Saladin, as well as stories of people most people have never heard of, like the Muslims who risked their lives helping Jews in the holocaust for example. I will also be describing my conversion story in more depth.

Are you more God-conscious now? Do you feel like you’re at peace?

Without a doubt I’m more God-conscious and the irony is that I used to think I was before. Compared to now though it was like having a mustard seed whereas now that seed has grown into a tree and is still growing.

I don’t do good deeds in order to rack up points to get me to heaven. I do it because my Creator wants me to and that is the beauty of Islam. In addition to the prayers, in addition to what we are promised. I didn’t get into Islam so I could have a “get out of hell free card” – I already had that as a Christian. I realize more then ever that if you ask God to make you a better servant, and not worry about the afterlife, it will take care of itself.

I am more at peace in my life than I ever was because I worship my Creator as a free man and one of his blessings is giving me that peace, in this life and the next inshallah.

May God grant you and your loved ones everlasting peace, and bless you with happiness in this life and in the hereafter. Thank you, brother Louis Llewellyn Shann IV, and Assalaamu alaikum.

Thank you sister for the opportunity and may Allah bless you. I hope all of God’s servants, regardless of their religion, find peace and happiness with their Creator.

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