Islamic Studies

Confessions of a “practicing Muslim American”

By Red River Redclay

“You are a beautiful Person with so much to give. You have the strength and courage and ability and Power and everything to do it. I have seen so much sadness in your eyes I haven’t seen in anyone’s eyes before. I haven’t to see those eyes again and for them to Bright. You define yourself. Make that definition a Beautiful one and believe it. You Deserve it. I will never forget you. Thank you for sharing with all of us. You are an incredible person. I love you,” Written by a non-Muslim Friend.

Looking back at the years gone by I wonder how I had come so far and away from where I had started anew under the shade of Islam. I went from dark to light to “The darkening” and now I’m trying to find my way back again. I woke up in the dark scared and breathing and asked God to clean my heart in the still of the night and then woke up with calmness in my heart from His mercy, for the howling of the wolves stopped and I finally feel close to God.

Over the years while trying to find my way through a prism of dead ends while relying on faith alone; I realize now that it wasn’t enough. Surrounded by “brothers” that I thought were there for me I found myself all alone. We all need that caring voice to relinquish the howling of the wolves, the demons within. That’s why Allah says that He wants us to come before him with the clean heart “Kalbin Saleem,” and you deal with it now or in hell fire.

I remember once while a “practicing Muslim” and knowing better, I walked into a tattoo parlor to get my ear pierced because my imaan had fell so low and I was unrecognizable to my self – a pirate looking dude with a leather captains hat and a luigi mustache greeted me with a smile, looking like the grim reaper, and said hello good luck, but he didn’t really mean it – He just wanted to brand me like the rest of the heard walking in aimlessly not knowing where they are going. I was full of rage and mad at the world and mostly mad at myself. So I got my ear pierced because I figured it was the least destructive thing I could do to rebel against Islam and myself. – As I walked out the door I crossed the street feeling even crazier than ever and as I did, a motorcycle cop pulled up and wrote me a ticket for jay walking.

I told him I had just gotten my ear pierced and was in a daze. He said “well, maybe this is God’s way of telling you not to pierce your ear.” I thought he was an angel sent to deliver a message to me directly. Some type of divine intervention you know… as dumb as that sounds… I was carrying a planet of regret in my heart and soul from not having accomplished what I wanted by my age. I became delirious and spewed a mantra of a slacker. Which was not being under any orders to make the world a better place. I also started hanging with my old crew where I was safe in my comfort zone. By this point, my salah (prayer), my sweet salaah, was not so sweet anymore and did not reflect upon the decisions and actions of my life. Life became a random lottery of meaningless tragedies and a series of near escapes. (Reality Bites), So I escaped into clever clever land, but not so clever after all.

I never thought in my wildest dreams that after having become a practicing Muslim so many years back, that I would mess up and get lost again and leave the teachings of my murabi, and especially after joining the practicing Muslim crowd. I took some wrong turns and I felt like I was running on empty holding the title of a practicing Muslim American as those I surrounded myself by were wearing beards and hijabs and praying. And I put up an act running all my life from my past and not dealing with it in a proper way. You can run all your life from yourself but not go anywhere.

“So Where are you going?”

Felt like my soul had turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there… Dylan

I remember the days when I first became a practicing Muslim when I embraced Islam through a smile and I joined a weekly halaqah (study circle) that changed me for life and instilled confidence and Imaan in my heart. I was so eager to learn and I blocked out everything from my past and gave it up. I remember a scholar and a brother once told me “ River- tabaa- min a duweehee” (bad Arabic translation), “River went away from his enemies.” Damn straight bro, I sure did. It was the most peaceful time of my life. I was sitting with this brother who would tell us story after story about the Sahaba’ and it would make us cry like crazy. He softened our hearts. He would teach us fiqh from Sayid Saabiq and taught me how to read Quran. I was active in the work, but deep inside, I still hadn’t dealt with the calluses on my heart and really worked through that with a professional Muslim counselor. I thought I would be ok because I was in a new crowd and I actually did pretty well, even though once in a while I had the urge to go back to certain things. I tried to drown the sorrow deep inside of myself but I was drowning myself instead unknowingly.

I think it was the idea of not totally submitting my life and soul to Allah, and I tried and thought I was doing the right thing. And now I realize it was the root cause of my going back after many years later towards the darkness that consumed me. There I was embracing the sunnah once and it was instilled in me but then slowly but surely I allowed my life circumstances to dictate my Imaan, and became disconnected from the Muslim community and most importantly from Allah.

Where are you going brother? I felt so lost for so long and deep down I tried to connect with the community but they weren’t there. The heart that is connected to something else deep down and hasn’t dealt with it will never truly submit to its Creator. I seek refuge Allah with you from the evil of my nafs and oh turner of hearts, turn my heart to you.

And now after the darkness and rage subsided, I recite the morning dhikr and recite the words taught to me, that it brings solace to my heart. Just saying Salalu Alahee Wasalam brings happiness to me immeasurable and deep down that it is the truth from my lord and that I can learn to be whole again. However, to remain consistent in that requires us to embrace and deal with the past and then make reason of what happened and finally letting go. That is easier said than done. Allah is the best of planners, but we need a personal plan to reverse the suicidal “kufr” binge that we have deep rooted with in us. (Oh Allah we seek refuge with you from Kufr and from the punishment of the grave.)

Kalle Lasne, founder of Adbusters Magazine called it “Culture Jam” which means to re-create our meaning of style and what we have define ourselves by through various ideas including media and popular culture. I created an ethereal idea of Islam through perhaps a local visit hear and their to a seminar lectured by some speaker. But what happened was that I fantasized about being good a Muslim and being accepted by the Muslim community and once in a while being a “nice” place to visit on occasion. And then I found myself going back to the “libido of the ugly,” as H.L. Mencken referred to the American esthetic.

The American Muslim esthetic I once knew; Once during the Ramadan of 1993, I was eighteen or so, and my mother asked me to go the masjid with her, so I obliged her and went. As I sat there during the taraweeh prayer surrounded by the servants of God, I found myself whispering to myself, “what am I doing here?’ I don’t belong here.” I was looking at the world through the lens of popular culture. I wanted to be like Easy E, Johnny Depp, River Phoenix and Mickey Rourke, because those were my idols back then and not the Prophet slw.

And I actually met Johnny Depp once and he told me “Fame- nah man, it’s the last thing you want.” I knew that meeting was from Allah sending me a message. I knew it then and I knew it when I was running away from my mom, and after my high school love- I actually went skydiving with her once because she wanted to and so I threw my life out of a plane for a chick I was madly in love with, and the only thing I thought I had in the world at the time. Man the whole way down while skydiving, I was screaming, “Allah- I love you-please don’t let me die.” And so He let me live to see another day. I lost a favorite cousin to reckless death around the same time and the world around me seemed to be collapsing; death, parental disputes, siblings running away, abuse and I thought only non-Muslim families went through this stuff.

It was a test from Allah preparing me for what lay ahead perhaps. But I hadn’t truly recovered from the hurt that haunted me for so long.

I tried so hard to please my parents and the community, especially my father who was dying and show him and them that I could make things right like finishing school, getting a job and so forth. It just didn’t turn out that way within the time I planned as much as I tried, so I felt like a failure and that the eyes of family and community were looking down on me in a negative way, while seeing everyone around me was making it in life, talking about “time shares,” and wedding plans and so forth, while I couldn’t even seem to take care of a chia-pet. So I thought perhaps Allah doesn’t love me and I turned on myself and everyone around me.

(I always came back around and your love showered me even though it was hard to show- and I said how are you, forgive me for hurting you-No problem son- now you took the road of Muhammad slw. just make sure you measure your miles to heaven and pray to them to let me in the door… I said don’t worry, They’ll read my sign ” I surrendered my deeds to you,” Ill try to be from the sons of Heaven and pray to Him to let you through the doors InshAllah…)

Some of us were fortunate to have been practicing Muslims and having grown up in great environments and never have slipped from the path of Islam after having been guided, but up until a year ago, I found myself slipping from the beautiful faces of noor and the words of God. We can all loose our way from the road very easily. But before it’s too late and as you stand at the crossroads, we must ask ourselves, where are you going?” where are you going?

Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding. A River Runs Through It. 1992

“The more I understood how concrete and how immensely practical the teachings of Islam are, the more eager became my questioning as to why the Muslims had abandoned their full application to real life.” Muhammad Asad, Leopold Weiss “Becoming Muslim.”

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  • Salaam,

    Red River Redclay very eloquent like a “stream” or should I say a “river of consciousness”. Thank you for sharing your unique writing style and this story.


  • Assalamualaikum,
    inshAllah you have come through this a better person.
    My solution to this issue – remember Allah in everything you do. Really think about Him. Are you praying salat because its time? Or are you praying salat because its your contracted time with your Creator? Are you dressing yourself to be with in crowd? Or are you dressing yourself because Allah is observing whether or not you are dressing correctly?
    Ponder upon every thought you have, every word you speak and every action you take.
    Once you have established this routine in your life – subhanAllah, you will feel Allah’s presence in your life. Once you’ve had that sweet taste, you won’t turn back inshAllah.


  • Man the whole way down while skydiving, I was screaming, “Allah- I love you-please don’t let me die.” And so He let me live to see another day.


  • Salaam brov, you have written down the pains in my heart.

    I reverted in 2004 and Alhumduliah changed a lot about myslef, but …. i noticed i was just a hypocrite that Allah (swt) they obey Allah when it was easy and they disobeyed Allah the command was difficult.

    my body is but a funreal for my dead soul.

    was is becoz i reverted but didnt revert my life goals as well? i.e being at home alone doing whatever i wanted to. or is it sth esle. Only Allah knows.

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