Sunday, 1 June 2014
Louis Shann: My Journey Within
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
This is the conversion story of Brother Louis Lewellynn Shann IV from the United States of America.
My name is Louis Lewellynn Shann IV and I am 42 years old, senior in college looking to be a history teacher in secondary education. Brother Terence Nunis had asked me to write down my conversion experience. I do not use the word, ‘revert’ but you can use what you wish. I have been writing and looking back on when I first wrote of my conversion. I was going to change so much but looking back on the history, I decided to keep my ‘life story’ when I first converted, as is, for its ‘rawness’.
Since then I had a few surprises on how much my experiences with Allah (s.w.t.) has been. The greatest feeling I had was when I first went public with it. I live in an area where there are hardly any Muslims and the feelings against Islam are real deep. It had taken me 4 months to tell my family and it went better than I expected it. I have a few that have a problem but most of the intermediate family, including parents, are supportive once they figured out what Islam means to me. I am glad I waited for though it was hard hiding and leading a double life, I am more educated on Islam and they have noticed the change in me after several months. Had I told my family after I converted it would have been a lot more difficult. I would advise new converts to ask Allah (s.w.t.) when it is the right time for you. Allah (s.w.t.) will Let you know when.
When I went public with my conversion on Facebook, I had expected my local friends and family to go crazy, to mock, or go ballistic. After I put it out there, I went to bed and this incredible peace come over me. It felt as if Allah (s.w.t.) was telling me after my prayers, “I will never leave you”. For those who do not live in certain parts of the United States, that is a really, really big deal. In blissful peace, I went to bed and slept great through although knowing I was going to get, ‘darts’ thrown at me and I figured I would be explaining myself for months.
I have included what I wrote down on Facebook on that night of the 21st March, 2014, several months after I converted. When I woke up and went online, I was flabbergasted at all the support I was receiving from friends I had not thought would do so. I felt happy and guilty at the same time. I know of so many converts who lose everything, family, friends, their life, over converting to Islam. I have put my Conversion story and my “coming out party” here. I hope this helps new converts or even born-Muslims. This is not for my own glory or to puff myself up in any way. This is for Allah’s (s.w.t.) Glory. He is Most Kind and Most Merciful
I was born in the state of New Jersey in the United States in 1970. My mother and natural father divorced when I was 7. My father was in the Vietnam War and when he came back, my mother said he was a ‘changed’ person. And it was not for the better either. I remember when I was a child, the abuse that my mom had to suffer through and wonder how she even came out of it alive. To this day, she is the strongest person I know. Some people may have had it worse than I did but it was not a fun childhood with that going on. When my folks were together, my mom would tell me things about God. I have memories of playing with my toys in the yard talking to God and walking around the neighbourhood without my mother’s knowledge, and having a conversation with God but I do not know how that came about. Religion or those kinds of things were not talked about much.
After my mother left my father, she met a man who would eventually be as close to a father as one can imagine. He was a Godly man and he would talk to us about God, Jesus (a.s.), the Bible and it was something that I absorbed and was excited about. We were going to a Baptist Church and have good memories of ‘Vacation Bible School’ in the summer that many in my country would be familiar with. Though like kids I did not appreciate my stepfather then as much as I should, what I did appreciate is the fact that I was in a stable family life, my mother was not being beaten and God was always involved in our family.
When I was 16, we moved to Virginia and that was something to get used to. People in my country might understand the differences between New Jersey and Virginia in terms of culture back in the 80’s. We were involved in a Baptist Church my last 2 years of high school. I would be involved in door to door witnessing programs. Going out to homes and preach the word. I do not think I converted anyone or got anyone to come to church but I was happy that I was trying. I was doing God’s work after all.
During my senior year in high school, our church went through and upheaval. It was said that our pastor had been stealing money from the donations; he would always preach to us to give and give until it hurts, and he would be riding around with a Mercedes and having the finest suits. He was a great speaker and next to God and parents, I always sought his approval. He was always nice to me and he could have asked me to do anything and I would have done it. But once it was known what happened, the church split into two and over half left it and eventually the church folded.
Afterwards, I began to change. I was not bitter. I thought my faith was strong. It was just that at time, I was 19, and I wanted to raise hell and hang with the wild ones and I did. To this day, I do not know what my mindset was. I figured I was saved. I was taught, ‘Once Saved, always Saved no matter what after you become a Christian.’ Everyone I knew, who was Christian, would talk about their old ways and how much fun they had so I figured, before the world blew up in the Apocalypse, I would have some myself. Indeed, I did.. For several years, I would get by with meaningless jobs but my main occupation was getting high, chasing women, or pretending to run from them, depending on how you looked at it, and selling narcotics. That life for me, was fun. I felt like I was rebelling against the world and having fun and chewing gum at the same time. I did not feel upset with God. I had my ‘get out of jail free card’ concerning the afterlife after all, right? I was ‘Saved’ so what was a little fun, and down the road I could get serious again.
At 27, I moved back to Virginia and took a job for 10 years that changed my life. I got my Certified Nursing Assistant license and worked as a certified nursing assistant and unit secretary in the medical intensive care unit at a hospital. I never thought I would be able to stomach or work in that kind of place. I almost quit because I was so nervous. It is, to this point, the best job I have ever had. The things I saw, the things I did, opened my eyes in so many ways. I was even on the Code Blue team. I did chest compression on someone whenever they ‘coded’ in our unit. It opened my eyes to what real human suffering and death were all about. As a bonus, I was involved in a lot of fights at the hospital because we would get patients who were on drugs or just plain crazy and I would have to be the ‘guard dog’ of our unit. And whenever something was going on in other areas of the hospital, where people were acting violent to the staff, they would call me and it would be settled either peacefully or not so peacefully. This was just before the age of lawsuits and lawyers getting involved in the medical profession. Also, another bonus, I was one of the few males at the time working there. I lived near my place of work, working with a lot of nurses. I was enjoying life to the fullest or so I thought at the time.
During that time, I read a book, ‘Conversations with God,’ by Neil Donald Walsh and it changed the way I looked at the spiritual world. I threw away a lot of beliefs that I once held and improved on other ones. I still was into Jesus (a.s.). I just felt that God was the one we should be praying to, not an intermediary.
I left the job I love because I was hired for a job in the federal government. It involved working with mentally and physically disabled adults. For 3 years, I enjoyed my job very much and had seen another side of life I was not accustomed to. I never thought I would enjoy working with those truly ‘special’ people. During that time, I got married. The job and my marriage lasted almost as long. She was a good person in a lot of ways but she was a Jehovah ’s Witness and I just was not happy from the time I said my vows. It was during my last year there that I went back to school. I was a 40 year old freshman. At first, it was to get into nursing. But I decided to take my late Uncle’s advice and become a teacher. I have always loved history, so it seemed like a natural choice. I ended my marriage about this time as well.
This past couple months prior to my entering Islam, I was thinking about how I used to look at God and the spiritual world. I was excited, being in the Dean’s list at the university, and felt like life was going good. But I still felt like something was missing. Just a little bit. I always believed in God. To me, it takes more faith to be an atheist. And I have personally witnessed the power of prayer and that God has a Connection with us. For the past 10 years or so, I was into spiritualism and ‘new age movement stuff’.
In the beginning of August 2013, I sat on the porch one night and thought of a childhood song I sang when I was a kid. The chorus went, “I want to know you Lord, much more than I do”. I do not sing very often but remembered meditating on that. I decided for first time in 23 years or so, to go back to church. A friend of the family invited me to go to his place of worship and I gladly went. I enjoyed the services and was glad I went. But I felt like I was still missing something. I could not put my finger on it. Was I not right with God? It was like I felt I had a problem and I did not know quite what it was.
For some time, I had been talking to a 3rd cousin who lives in Egypt, Lee Gabriel. She had moved there when she was 6. I remember her mother from when I was a kid but I had not talked to her a whole lot. We had a lot of laughs, good talks, as much as you can online anyways. She did not talk about her religion, Islam, much but I was intrigued in a way. I knew she was a Godly woman, knew she was strong in her faith. I also came to believe years before that people who had different religions do not have to roast in hell or are infidels. I thought of God as always Merciful beyond our understanding and had always thought, especially in last few years, that there was more than one way to follow Him. I felt God’s Love was Open to all. After all, people cannot help where they were born and raised.
So one night, I figured since I had read everything else in my life, studied Buddhism, Greek Orthodoxy, New Age, Stoicism, all kinds of other philosophies, why not read the Qur’an so that it could be said that I had finally read it. All night long, God Moved me to read it. I read about tolerance, I read about defending oneself, I read about God, I read about Jesus (a.s.), I read about Moses (a.s.), I read about philosophy, I read about how it is important to ‘try’, to ‘submit to God’ and all will be well. It was not just the words. It was the force behind the words. I remember on many occasions just pausing and wondering what in the world was happening. Then I could hear a voice within, knowing Who it was, Saying, “Well, you asked Me, you wanted to get to know Me much more then you did, so here you have it.” It was just like the childhood song I was thinking about just a week or two prior.
It was a night of reading, praying, laughing, crying. Not only did my walls come crashing down, my tolerance level went up also. Prior to this, I did not think much of Islam and, sad to say, people from the Middle East in general. I am not proud at all for saying that, and I feel kind of dumb admitting it. I thought they could still get a piece of God, but I thought they were going about it in a weird way. I also fell into believing all of the media stereo types and propaganda I had always heard.
All night long, I read and read it. The next day I was reading some more. I had also started reading about the life of Muhammad (s.a.w.) and it was nothing like I was always told about him. He was a tolerant man, a man who did not look for war but war and treachery came to him. He allowed Christians and Jews freedom of worship in his land. He changed tribal laws where woman be treated like dogs and cattle anymore. I was blown away that I was reading about this on many non-Muslim sources. It was like a veil had been lifted.
I had no one to talk to about this, other than Lee. I think she did not know what to think at first. I spent about a week of praying, in the Muslim style that Jesus (a.s.) himself prayed in, as alluded to.
39When he had gone a little further, he fell upon his face in prayer, and said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass me by; only as Thy Will is, not as mine is.”
I told Lee I wanted to convert but I did not really know how. I did not feel worthy of doing that. Her advice was pure gold: “The fact I felt that way, was proof of my sincerity,” and that God Honours, “striving to be your best,” not perfection. She said patience and sincerity is the key. I will also add tolerance to that. Some Muslims and many others would disagree with this but I believe God Honours people of all faith who try, with sincerity, to serve Him. God has Reassured me of this. I also got in touch with someone else long distance and his advice mirrored hers and I was happy for I felt like a new being.
I did see it that I left Christianity. Rather, Islam has made me a better Christian. I am a true Muslim now. Submission to God makes one free. My prayer life is better than ever. I feel a connection directly to God I never felt before. I am more tolerant towards others. I am more focused than ever before. I am eating healthier than ever. I sin a lot less, I appreciate Jesus (a.s.) in a whole new manner. One cannot have Islam without Jesus (a.s.) having a role in it. I pray so much more and the prayers are an absolute joy. Swalah is my favourite part of being a Muslim.
There are those who, like me, have heard so many things about Islam and Muslims that they frighten a lot of people. From a future history teacher and someone who watched a lot of news, they are all lies and propaganda. The overwhelming majority of Muslims put their pants on just like we do. They raise families, they have the same worries and concerns like us in the Western world have. They have backsliders and probably 1-3%of them are intolerant nutcases who distort the Qur’an for their own hateful ways. Throughout history, so called Christian leaders have done the same thing. As a matter of fact, throughout history, the Jewish people have been treated better under Muslim rule then Christian rule. I can give many historical comparisons and examples.
I know many will be in shock, who knew me before. I am still Louis Shann, I am still who I was before but better. I still believe that God’s Mercy is open to all people no matter where they came from. God is Most Wise and Most Merciful. Submission to God makes one free.
Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to Allah, does good, and follows the way of Abraham the true in faith? For Allah did take Abraham for a Friend. (Surah an-Nisa’:125)
After I told my family, it was time to let the whole world know. When I posted this ‘coming out of the closet’ note about embracing Islam, I was expecting a huge backlash. I did not post the reactions but had close to a hundred comments of support from the most unexpected of places. I am not trying to say what a heroic guy I was. There have been so many believers that made my expected suffering a drop in a bucket. It was still a big deal and I was expecting loss of friendships, family, ridicule, lots of messages, and lots of explaining. This explained it all and so many were happy for me, I almost felt guilty for thinking badly of them.
The following was what I posted on my Facebook page, 21st March 2014, to let my whole world, including my remaining family, who did not yet know, my friends of all persuasions and many who I thought were going to be so against me:
I am going to make a statement, a long winded statement (you know me those of you who do). There is something I believe it is time I got off my chest and the timing is right. My intentions are not to hurt anyone’s feelings or offend. No one could possibly get their own feelings hurt based on what has happened to me and what I am happy to say but I do have something to say and this may clear up some confusion. Back in the summer, I started to pray to God out in the backyard at night, along with meditation. The question I proposed was, “How God (My Creator), can I get to know You better?” (Pardon to all my agnostic and atheist friends; even you have to admit once you read this really shouldn’t be a big deal); I was not in a bad state or in duress. I was very comfortable in my life, where I was heading, where I was going. I had started going back to church after many, many years and it was good but felt like I was not 100% of what I wanted. Let me repeat, I was not having a bad time in my life. This was just reflection and soul searching. For those of you who don’t know me well or for a long time, I have always been a monotheist. I always believed there was one Creator (stick with me, my atheist friends: at least you will be entertained). There was, shall we say, questions I have always had and well, I was always a big believer in prayer and the energy exchange with the One Who Created us; I just never truly thought that only a certain ‘clique’ of good old boys / girls had the keys to heaven all by themselves. I know we all could copy and paste our favourite verses or theories to rebut that, but allow me to get to the point finally.
On the first or second week of September, just before my dad had his surgery, I converted to Islam - You can pick yourself off the floor for those who have known me a long time. Islam and Muslim = Submit or one who submits to God. Allah, for those of you who don’t know, is just a word for ‘God’ but it is special for it can’t be more than one linguistically. In other words you can’t add an ‘s’ to it and make it plural. If you were to go to a Christian church in Egypt, they would be saying Allah (in Arabic) = God (but can’t make it plural)
How did this happen? I started when back in the Spring, I realised what a shallow man I was. I was making fun of someone who I would see walking down the street for years. I just had it in for this guy apparently. You know how we shouldn’t be when we see a bum, a tramp, crack head. Well, I found out by watching the local news this man was a leader among men and what a man should be. He was in charge of community gatherings to help the homeless, the down and out and when I saw him, he spoke in such a way, about all the good deeds he was doing; well let me tell you I felt like the biggest scumbag in the world and was thinking to myself, “What have I done with my life to justify my existence. Who am I to judge like that.” Also the last chapter of 2nd Timothy really touched me a few days later when I read it. It was the last hours of Saul of Tarsus’s (Paul) life and he was looking back how he served God and had no regrets. That really moved me when I read that last chapter and saw a TV special at around the same time about it.
Why am I explaining this to you on Facebook?. I read the Qur’an because I wanted to see what made an important friend in my life. I think the world of this person and her family is absolutely wonderful. They are distant family and they under in no way shape or for encouraged me to do this. They had no idea for I did not really talk to them about it. In the 5 years I got reacquainted with this part of the family, and we absolutely hardly ever brought it up in any kind of discussion. I cannot empathize that enough! Well I was thinking of this person and family about what made them be a Muslim… and decided well, I read the Satanic Bible 15 years ago, I read the Bible dozens of times forwards to backwards, I’ve read every philosophy book you can imagine since I was able to read (I am a nerd at heart); so after thinking of the family that has lived away from the States for so long and thinking of how great they were, I said sure, why not? I’ll read the Quran for a few minutes. What turned into what I thought was a few minutes turned into two all-night readings on the patio. I was blown away at the prose, at what I thought it was about, turned into something I never expected. I was reading verses about tolerance, love, Jesus, philosophy, science, doing good deeds and how much God Wants us to help the helpless. It was nothing like I had expected. I will spare the running commentary but as I was reading this book, I could hear a still soft voice whispering, “Well you wanted to know Me better, here you go.” Now, many will laugh at that and that is fine. I can’t really spend time now telling you more than that but after a few days I read about the life of Muhammad.
As I was about to read, I was thinking, “Surely this man is an Attila the Hun wannabee with a religious bent”. I thought he was a nutcase, a whack job. I figured once I read about him, I won’t be into this anymore. Well, after reading about his life for 2 days on 3 neutral sources, I can say that he is one of the most Godly of men that ever lived. He has had one of the most interesting of lives I ever read about. And let me tell you from a future history teacher’s viewpoint, that is saying something. What makes this so even more incredible was just prior to this, I was the most anti-Islamic person you can imagine. I could not even begin to start on the things I said about it before.
After reading the Qur’an and after praying, and after much more soul searching, I had asked a person who I really admire as a human being, who also is a Muslim convert. I think she probably thought I wasn’t serious at first but she talked with me and answered my remaining questions and I will, as long as I live, never forget the words, “Striving to be your best”; along with this woman’s help, I said the shahadah: I believe in One God. I believe and do pray 5 times a day Muslim-style (based on how Jesus / ‘Isa prayed in Mathew Chapter 26); I do as many good deeds as possible for the down trodden or anyone who just needs to be smiled at; who has a kind of day when opening a door for them, a kind word. Those things matter and those are the kinds of things that we are put on this earth for. I don’t care what you believe! I did not enter Islam so I can have a ‘get out of jail / hell free’ card. I was assured of my Salvation when I was a little kid. I never feared hell. Not that you would surely think I should, but the fact is, my intensions spiritually are proof of my sincerity that my Creator, God, Allah, knows all about. Say what you want but I worship as a free man. I am not doing this for rewards. Whatever happens in the afterlife (I surely know it will be most wonderful) will take care of itself. That is proof of the intentions in my heart. I only have God as my Witness for that.
A week later, I asked God for Guidance (what my agnostic friends might be thinking). Picture yourself saying your most sincere prayer that you ever made. That was that one. I asked for Guidance (Istikharah). There are about 10 of you who know about my dream. I wish I could go into detail. I will tell you about it if you sincerely and it might help you. I got mostly positive response from that and it is something I will always treasure, adore, and feel so blessed and privileged to have. I still to this day get goose bumps and feel scared in a way but in a good way. What do you know of me that is bad? I have a clear criminal record. I am a senior (granted two year double major) with a GPA of 3.85. I will do anything for anybody within my power. I had helped take care of those in need and sick for many, many years. For those of you who worked with me, you know what kind of worker I am, and what kind of friend I am. My fellow nurses who worked with me in MICU for 10 years know what kind of person I am. My friends and family who have known me for so long, as many of you who are reading this, know what my heart is like. This is what I am better at now: I have more kindness for all, I do what I can for all and what little contribution it may appear, good deeds go a long way.
I pray 5 times a day and I love it, love it, love it. The ritual, its mysticism, its energy exchange with our Creator and Islam also made me more liberal in areas where I was once conservative, and made me conservative at things I was more liberal. One example being dating and premarital sex. I have and will continue to be celibate since my conversion and until I get married and raise a family, even if it takes another year or two (that bombshell is probably more explosive than my change of faith) for those that know me forever but hadn’t seen me in awhile. But the thought of having sex before marriage makes me ill, and let’s face it I got around the block for a long time, many of times but that was my old life. It has made me a better Christian (being a Muslim) and a better human being. I have more purpose-driven energy and positive, more clear-headed thoughts. I have gone on way too long and thanks if you got this far. I am still me, Louis Shann. I am still a proud American, a proud Jersey guy.
I will answer your questions if you ask but to list them all is beyond my bed time right now. I will answer any questions if you have any for me. Just give me time to respond. I am working full time, schooling full time, got a project this weekend to finish and working overtime this weekend also. So give me awhile to respond but I would be happy to answer questions. Just don’t do the “copy and paste thing.” Please, discussion but not bumper sticker discussion. I have to finish; I am getting tired and it is late. I want to say if you unfriend me for this, then that is your thing, If you think I am some kind of anti-American for this, brother, you don’t know what you are talking about. This has nothing to do with culture or politics but spiritual. If you debate with me on history bring your A-Game - bumper sticker debates don’t cut it with me, only dialogue will work. If you ignore this, that is cool and just want my friends to know so if they see me saying something, they can look this up for a reference. I love you all. God Bless all of you who touched me at some point in my life. I love you all!
Lastly, this is my advice for converts: I do not use ‘revert’.
And there are among them illiterates, who know not the Book, but (see therein their own) desires, and they do nothing but conjecture. (Surah al-Baqarah:78)
If any Muslim leader or teacher-wannabe, ever tells you that only the ‘scholars or learned men,’ can discover the mysteries of this wonderful Guide from Allah (s.w.t.), run away from them. Give them no ear and do not make them a part of your life. It is better to have Allah (s.w.t.) with you and you alone, rather than to follow ‘professional jurors’ masquerading as leaders. What I love about the fluidity of the Qur’an is how different verses can mean and apply to different things. Sometimes this happens when you go back later in time and read the same passages even in the same context.
This verse can be applied to the Jewish people but I can also apply it to Muslims who do not feel or have been told they are not qualified to receive Divine Inspiration and learning from Allah (s.w.t.). So if you hear someone quote you scripture that might not sound right to you, ask Allah (s.w.t.) for Guidance, read the passage in its historical and literary context and Allah (s.w.t.) will Show you the way. You can count on that.
Naturally, what you get out of the Qur’an is based on how you are progressing in the ‘Straight Way’, your empathy, and the good deeds you do. The Qur’an will be a different Qur’an for someone who is intolerant, bigoted, prideful, narrow-minded and a shallow soul. Allah (s.w.t.) Say start you out in a small way, Opening a door for someone. If your heart and mind is in full submission and in full motion towards love for others, then the Qur’an you read will be different than the one who is a ‘professional judge, jury and executioner’.
Many scholars and learned men are useful and I turn to one in particular when I have questions; but only because I know he has compassion and kindness for people in all walks of life. If a scholar says something that is not based on kindness, mercy, tolerance and people of other faiths to receive Allah’s (s.w.t.) Glory based on their own relationship to God, (though Islam for me is the inside track), then they are probably looking at life with a narrow heart and are more concerned about their position in life and look at things as a juror or judge would see and do.
Islam is not about being perfect. It is about doing better each and every week, month, year. Do you sin less, and feel bad when you do? Then pray to Allah (s.w.t.) more, do more deeds out of kindness, help the weak and receive Allah’s (s.w.t.) Instruction the best you can and are improving on that. Congratulations then, you are following on the ‘Straight Way’. Do not let anyone tell you, you have to be ritualistic perfect. Only that you have to get better in small steps. If you could have seen me when I first tried the prayers, you would have laughed.
Remember, a brother or sister who struggles against evil is not one who earns evil. The fact he is striving to do his best and tries to overcome it, will end in victory with Allah’s (s.w.t.) help.
Apply ‘receiving Allah’s (s.w.t.) Blessings and Mysteries’ when it comes to prayers also. I do not speak Arabic. I cannot wait to learn it. I have enjoyed discovering certain Arabic words and meanings compared to English translation. But anyone who tells you that Allah (s.w.t.) does not take in a prayer that is in English or other native language compared to someone who does it in Arabic, does not know what they are talking about. The prayer that comes out of the .heart. Intention and sincerity is what Counts to Allah (s.w.t.).
And lastly, I am going to say something that will shock many: Have fun in Islam. Yes, you read me right. Islam is meant to be fun in our worship with our Creator. There will be trials and struggles and burdens to bear. Guess what? There will be those things whether you are a Muslim or not. The difference is you are submitting yourself to Allah (s.w.t.). Allah (s.w.t.) Wants you to have joy in your worship and daily walk with Him. Do not recite the Quran or pray just strictly out of duty. Many do because they feel they are not qualified to receive Allah’s (s.w.t.) Blessings and Answers or His Fellowship. Allah (s.w.t.) Loves each and every one of us and surely you know yourself that Allah (s.w.t.) Wants us to share in His Love, and Knowledge, of the things He Makes Available to us.
When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed Close (to them); I Listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he Calleth on Me; let them also with a will listen to My Call and believe in Me; that they may walk in the right way. (Surah al-Baqarah:186)