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From  Darkness To Light

I came to the United States from the Middle East in the 70’s. I already had two of my brothers living in America so naturally I wanted to join them and live ‘the good life.’ I remember being so excited that I would have a chance to make it rich; unlike the simple, poor life that I had been accustomed to. I come from a large family and although there was much love and happiness in our home, I was young and wanted money to buy material things. So, I came to Denver, Colorado and worked hard and saved my money.I eventually opened a big night club in Denver called Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.
I was on top of the world with my new business. I excitedly remodeled my nightclub, spending a great deal of money to include a huge dance floor, a stage for belly dancing, a bar, and a restaurant.

Business was doing very well and my nightclub attracted many people from the Middle East. Once, a very wealthy Middle Eastern was organizing a private party and requested that Nagwa Fouad, a popular Egyptian singer, be brought over to perform for him. I told him he must be crazy; that would take a lot of money to do that. He told me that money was no object and that he would pay to see this singer perform live. Sure enough she, along with her entire group which consisted of 12 dancers, 35 musicians and singers, a choreographer, a costume designer, and a makeup stylist/hairdresser were brought from Egypt for this one grand party.

To be perfectly honest, I was quite happy with my lavish lifestyle. I was married, happy, and making a very good living. I was not thinking about my Islamic responsibilities, nor was I thinking about what I should be doing to gain Allah’s pleasure.

So, I was going about my busy life preparing for another evening at my nightclub. To my shock, a group of men, who were all dressed in long, Islamic-styled clothing, came into my nightclub. Even though they didn’t look like the kind who would come to a nightclub, I told them that the club wasn’t opened yet and to come back later. They told me that they did not want to come to the nightclub but instead were here to see and talk to me. I couldn’t imagine what they wanted to speak to me about; there was nothing I wanted to talk to them about. Who told them about me or how they came to know of me was anyone’s guess. Anyway, they came to my night club and I was literally shocked. It was the first time I had encountered men dressed in long, white flowing robes. I mean, this was America, not the Middle East. The way they were dressed was overwhelming. And they came with a strong message. Of course they spoke to me about Islam, a Muslim’s duties to Islam, the importance of prayer, etc. Although all of the Brothers were so inviting and kind, I really did not feel comfortable talking to them. I mean, I knew what they wanted to talk to me about and I really did not want to listen. I remember one brother, Sheikh Mabruk, (الله يرحمه), who did most of the talking. Anyways, he could tell that I was a bit uncomfortable so he invited me to go to the masjid with them. I said fine, that after closing tonight, I would meet them there. Frankly, I really didn’t want them hanging around the nightclub because I thought it wouldn’t be very good for customers to see these guys hanging around the place. I didn’t want these guys ruining my business.

After closing the nightclub at 3 or 3:30 am, like I had promised, I went straight to the masjid, which was not a masjid but a small house. I didn’t think anyone would be awake. When I walked in the room, I remember seeing Sheikh Mabruk reading a book. When I said “Assalamu Alaikum,” he got scared and dropped his book. Sheikh Mabruk was so happy to see me; he hugged me. He made tea for me and we proceeded to drink tea and talk about many things. Soon it was time for Fajr salah. He did not ask me to join the salah, but instead told me to finish drinking my tea and that he would come back to join me after salah. Sheikh Mabruk led the prayer and about 20 people came to pray. I still remember the first ayah which was read many years ago:

الا من تاب و امن و عمل صالحا فأولئك يبدل الله سيئاتهم حسنات و كان الله غفورا رحيما

“Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.”

(Quran 25:70)

I had never experienced anything like it before. In front of me, I saw a restroom and made wudu. I then joined the prayer. In the second rakat, the ayah was so powerful:

قل لعبادي الذين اسرفوا علي أنفسهم لا تقنطوا من رحمة الله ان الله يغفر الذنوب جميعا انه هو الغفور الرحيم

Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is Forgiving, the Merciful.”

(Quran 39:53)

When the Sheikh finished his salah, he saw that I had prayed. A big smile came across his face. I too felt very good inside. After so many years, this was the first time I prayed. As I was driving home, I was pondering over what had happened. Tears began streaming down my face. I went home and tried to go to sleep but I was still thinking. This experience left a huge imprint on my life.

My passion for my business had begun to diminish. I no longer was feeling the same drive that I had once felt and I had begun to lose interest. I felt heaviness in my heart and a nagging feeling of different emotions, like sadness, guilt, and anxiety. My wife saw me in this distressing condition and she thought I was sick.

Probably the most shocking was that I no longer was interested in ways on how to boost my business. For example, I used to have a Happy Hour in my nightclub, typically in the late afternoon between 4 PM and 7 PM; I no longer wanted to go. I had also been the one who was always in charge of everything at the nightclub. From making sure the speakers were working, the lighting was all set, the stage was looking good, the music was ready, the dancers well versed, I was the one who made sure that everything was running on schedule. I no longer enjoyed my work, nor did I feel in the mood to even show up at work.

About two weeks after that visit to the mosque, I was in my nightclub staring out the window. The restaurant was slow that afternoon and there were only a few who were dining on lunch. Suddenly, I see 20 police cars surrounding my place. They rushed in and what seemed like a matter of seconds, the police officers handcuff two the men, arrest them, and take their briefcases. I was in shock as to what was happening before my eyes. Later, I learn that one of the men had 2.5 million dollars in cash in his briefcase and the other had almost the same amount in heroin.

During the 80’s, this was one of the biggest drug busts ever. The police then asked for the owner of the club. I told them that I was the owner, all the while scared to think of what was going to happen next. The police then ordered me to come with them. They informed me that my nightclub had to be permanently closed.

Everything after this was happening like one big blur. I had to go to court and try to keep my nightclub opened. No matter how hard I tried, though, Allah always knows better. He knew that I was ready to make a change and lead my life as a practicing Muslim. As it says in the Holy Quran,

عسى ان تكرهوا شيئا وهو خير لكم و عسى ان تحبوا شيئا وهو شر لكم و الله يعلم و انتم لا تعلمون

“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not.”

(Quran 2:216)

During this time, Brother Mabruk and the others still came to visit me. And I had begun frequenting the masjid more often. I still would not say that I was a perfect Muslim, but I was getting better.

Occasionally I would accompany the brothers when they went to visit other Muslims. Once, I accompanied Sheikh Mabruk and a few other brothers who went to visit a Muslim grocery store owner. That day, the grocery owner, who was apparently in a bad mood, lost his temper and said, “Why are you bothering me?” and spit in Sheikh Mabruk’s face. I was so mad, I wanted to punch him. But the sheikh held me back and cleaned the spit with his hand. He did not use a napkin. The Sheikh told the owner Jazakullah khair that Allah has blessed me with a brother who has ‘la illahah illalah’ in his heart and we left. Those words had actually had an impact on me. It was heart whelming to actually see and witness how important it is for Muslims to visit and remind other Muslims of the importance of salah and other Islamic duties. My life changed after that visit. You can never know what simple act you may do that will affect another person’s life.

Sheikh Mabruk had the best personality; I have never met a person who had such qualities like him. In fact, whenever I hear stories of the Sahabah, I always think of him.

When we returned to the masjid I was still mad. I saw the Sheikh making dua, and was thinking to myself, “Good, the Sheikh is making dua that the man’s grocery business fails or something terrible.”

At maghrib time, the store owner came and was looking for Sheikh Mabruk. When I saw him, my blood was boiling. I said this is my chance to take care of him, but Sheikh Mabruk stopped me. What happened next made me realize that there is hope for each of us. The man kissed the Sheikh’s head and told him to please forgive him for what he did. The Sheikh told the grocery owner that he had been making dua for his guidance. As the grocery owner was leaving, he could not find his shoes. Sheikh Mabruk found them, then bent down and placed them on the man’s feet. What a beautiful thing that happened before my eyes. To make a long story short, the grocery owner sold his business and moved to Toronto. He now lives a very pious and religious life.

How I began joining and traveling around with these brothers to give dawah was purely accidental. Once I went to the masjid to offer my salah. Visiting there was a group of brothers from Saudi Arabia. Sheikh Mabruk was there, too, along with some of the local brothers. He told me that they were spending forty days traveling around the United States. Traveling around doing what, I asked? He explained to me that these brothers came from Saudi Arabia to help remind the Muslims of their Islamic responsibilities.

All the way from Saudi Arabia, I thought. Now, that was a bit silly. I’m sure they could have found people a lot closer to have done that. Anyways, was there even a need to do this? Wow, what a serious waste of time, money, and loss of work. Something I would never do.

Sheikh Mabruk said to me, “Why don’t you spend time with them?” I told the sheikh, “There is no way I can spend forty days.” He said that they needed brothers to help drive so how about 3 days. They were going to travel from Denver to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and then San Francisco. So I told him that I would drive these brothers a portion of the trip, to Las Vegas. My hope was that after driving them, I would stop and do a little gambling. My intention was not to spend time with them but to gamble.

I called my wife and told her that I would be gone for about 3 days–that I would be driving a group of brothers to Las Vegas. To my surprise, she was fine with it. On our way from Denver, one brother sitting behind me was reading Surat Yasin from the Quran the entire way.

After arriving in Las Vegas, we prayed fajr, ate breakfast, and rested in the masjid. At dhuhr time, one of the local brothers came and invited us to rest in a room of a local motel. The owner was a Muslim and he had a motel connected to a small casino. Many of the customers were Middle Eastern. Many times, Muslims have forgotten Islam. I sincerely and wholeheartedly wish hedayah would come to every Muslim. I wish that Muslims would realize the Power of Allah, the connection that one could have with Allah and the feeling of imam (faith) in his/her heart. This is something that every Muslim needs. As practicing Muslims, we should also be well-wishers for the entire humanity. As Muslims, more than anybody else, we should realize that they have a treasure in their hands (Islam) and they should take advantage of it.

So, I went with two of the brothers to visit the Muslims in the casino. Before going in, one of the brothers told me to listen only. Since I was new, and not knowing what to do, I just stood there watching and listening. I was so involved watching a man gamble, I had not noticed that the brothers had moved on to talk to another person. Anyways, while watching this man play cards, the dealer dealt an initial hand of two cards and the guy I was standing behind had a total of 16, so I told him nam nam (stand), “Take no more cards.” He turned and looked at me; I was wearing a white thobe like the rest of the brothers. So he told the dealer, “One more card.” He ended up losing. I told him, “Didn’t I tell you ‘nam nam’?”Sheikh or Gambler

The man played another turn and took 2 cards. This time his total was 15. So I told him “Take another card,” but he refused and would not take another card. His next card was a two. He ended up losing to the dealer. So I asked him, “Why didn’t you listen to me?” He said, “La hawla wa qwata illa billah.” The man asked me, “Are you a sheikh or a professional gambler?” So I told him, “Do you want to win?” He answered “yes.” So I said, “Come and talk to 2 brothers about Islam. Then I swear to you that you will come back and win.” Instead of telling this man that gambling is prohibited in Islam, I’m telling him to go back in and he will win. The man then joked with me that whatever place I play at, he will make sure to not play against me. When I think about my early days and how far I have come in my religion, sometimes I blush from embarrassment.

After returning to our room, some of the brothers had prepared lunch for the entire group. Another brother brought me coffee the way I liked it, with a splash of milk. They told me that I had a long drive back to Denver, so they wanted to make sure that I ate well. It was at this moment that I felt a complete change in my entire being–a feeling of humbleness engulfed me. I went outside, called my wife and told her I was going to spend 40 days with the brothers. When the brothers wanted to see me off, I told them I wanted to spend forty days with them. They were very happy about this and I had a different intention before I came to Las Vegas, but subhanallah it changed.

We continued on our journey; stopping in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and beautiful San Francisco. I started growing a beard, and the brothers commented that my face had so much light. My entire life changed because of these 40 days spent. I now felt peace and tranquility.

When I came back home, my wife was surprised by how I looked, for I had grown a beard. But even more surprising than that were my actions. She couldn’t believe that I had changed so dramatically. I was a better husband, more compassionate and caring.

After returning home to Denver, there was a group of brothers who were planning to spend 4 months abroad, visiting India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They asked me to join them. I was a bit hesitant, not knowing what to expect, but after discussing it with my wife, we both agreed that it was something good for me to do. So, I spent the next 4 months of my life visiting Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.

These were the best 4 months of my life! I was able to work on perfecting my Islamic qualities and especially becoming punctual with my salah. This was also the time that I reflected on my purpose of life and I became more God-conscious. The atmosphere allowed me to become a better Muslim; all the while contemplating on ways to become a better husband and father. In addition, the Islamic environment enabled me to totally work on bettering myself, listening to the lectures of the different scholars, and very importantly, sharing, talking and learning from my fellow Muslim brothers. The time that I was spending abroad was whizzing by and I had a lot of things to learn. Even though I was aware of many things before, I never really understood my Islamic duties nor did I realize that we, as Muslims, are responsible for the entire Ummah.

Looking back on my life, I am thankful to Allah (SWT) that He has blessed me with His Guidance. For without Allah, we are nothing. After returning from my trip, I became even more successful in business. My two brothers became my business partners and Allah has blessed us with a successful and halal business. Guidance has also come to my two brothers; one of them became more religious than all of us. Alhamdullilah. Since I took Islam back, I feel like Allah ( سبحانه وتعالى ) is in control of my life…. my life feels in control again. I feel like I have Allah’s (Suhanahu wa Ta’ala) help now.

It has been many years now since I’ve found my way back to Islam. Sometimes when people are born Muslim, we tend to take it for granted everything that Islam has to offer.

I cannot conclude my story if I do not give full credit to where credit is due. Of course, nothing happens without the will of Allah. And I know that Allah is the best of planners. However, I am also indebted to Sheikh Mabruk (May Allah have mercy on his soul) who so tirelessly and patiently affected so many Muslims lives. I for one would not be the Muslim man I am today without his efforts (and other brothers such as him).

It had always been his dream to be buried in Medina. While performing the Hajj, Sheikh Mabruk died in Mecca and was buried in Medina. May Allah have Mercy on him.

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