JEDDAH: George Green, a celebrity manager for some of the most prominent names in the world of entertainment in the West, recently visited Saudi Arabia to perform his first Umrah after he embraced Islam a year ago. Coming from a life replete with several vices, such as, alcohol and illicit relationships with women, Green eventually became a Muslim in April 2011. In this interview, he shares with Arab News what brought him to Islam and then how life has changed for the better.
Q: Please tell us about your growing-up years and about your family.
A: I was born in Detroit, Michigan and moved to New York when I was a teen. My grandmother raised me in a single-parent household. Both my parents were young, impressionable and not ready to be parents. My childhood was not bad but confusing. Being a kid and having a dysfunctional family situation with constant fighting, arguing and no father figure was tough for a city kid to deal with. As I grew older, I got involved in street gangs, drugs and crime. That's when the trouble began.
Q: What was your impression of Islam and the Muslims when you were younger?
A: I really never gave much thought about Muslims or Islam earlier because religion wasn't too important. I was just being young and doing things young people do. However, I was fortunate enough to be raised around multiple cultures and nationalities and many of them were Muslims. Growing up I could never recognize what a good example of a Muslim is. I was familiar with Muslims who were into partying, women, drugs, etc. I was ignorant of what the correct way of Deen is.
Q: How did you enter the entertainment industry? Was it a childhood dream?
A: As for my line of work, it actually found me. I had no intention of working in the music industry at all. Earlier, I interned at record labels just to be part of social circles, get free music and party for free. Shortly after graduating from the Auburn University of Montgomery, I worked with several start-up labels and companies, until I landed a position with Roc-A-Fella Records as the assistant national director for marketing, branding, event promotion and tour management. It was here that I honed my skills of developing and marketing artists. My childhood dream was to play professional American baseball, but my injuries did not allow me to pursue that dream.
Q: What attracted you to that lifestyle?
A: As a young black man from an urban environment, the culture was appealing. The flashy cars, money and women were all very welcoming. Every kid from where I come wants to be rich and famous, have lots of women, power and respect.
Q: What kind of people did you work with?
A: I worked with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Some educated and some not. I worked with egotistic people, who have endless amounts of money. I worked with humble, laid-back people, who are easy to work with. There were also co-workers and artists who created problems.
Q: What made you consider entering the fold of Islam?
A: I was living a lifestyle of emptiness — chasing women, doing drugs, drinking, violence and so on. I felt incomplete daily. As I travelled to countries in the Middle East, such as, Dubai, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi in 2004, I started to develop a curiosity about Islam that I could not abandon. As any American coming to those Muslim countries, I entered with a preconceived notion of not being welcome. However, I was wrong. I was warmly welcomed and the hospitality in each country was unbelievable. I observed people interacting with each other in the Muslim community and could not resist asking questions about Islam. As my quest for knowledge increased, I began researching and asking more questions. I even spent 15 days in Iraq and Kuwait during Ramadan in 2010. The unity and dedication amazed me. My experience in the Middle East single-handedly helped me see Muslims and Islam in a clear, non-judgmental fashion. When I returned to the US, I was ready to make my leap into Islam. I was a bit fearful initially and apprehensive of how others would view me for my decision to embrace Islam.
Q: How did you feel when you finally took the shahadah?
A: I had been procrastinating for five years before I officially took the shahadah. I was nervous worrying about what my peers, family and friends would think. I saw a dream one day, after which I felt that I must do it now. And I did it, without any reservations.
Q: Could you briefly describe your first year in Islam?
A: I completed my first year as a Muslim on April 30, 2012. It has been rewarding as well as challenging. My first few months as a new Muslim were more than challenging. I was under a lot of pressure because of other Muslims, who were judgmental about everything I did. Everything appeared to be Haram and not many helped me. Brothers and sisters from other countries did not make me feel welcome as a new Muslim and they did not even greet me with Salam. Some said the books I was reading were not good. I was confused and began losing interest. I even stopped going to the mosque for some time.
I was thinking it is hard to be part of a religion, where people treat me as an outsider. Eventually, as time passed I started to go to the mosque again. My faith got stronger and my love for Islam continued to grow as I realized there is a difference between the beautiful religion of Islam and some Muslims, who may not be the best example.
Q: What were your first impressions of Saudi Arabia?
A: My first thoughts were how beautiful the country is and how warm and welcoming its people are. In Madinah, I could not believe I was actually there and seeing the Prophet's (peace be upon him) mosque, something that I had only seen in books. I had the pleasure of being part of a VIP tour through the Canadian Dawah Association (CDA) of the museum, which contains ancient manuscripts, copies of the Qur'an and letters of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
As for the Kaaba, that was an overwhelming feeling. I got emotional and could not believe I was really there. It was a dream come true to lay eyes on the very first worshiping site in the world. It was just an incredible feeling. Performing the Umrah was the most amazing thing that has happened to me besides being a Muslim. The feeling cannot be described in words.
Q: When do you plan to perform Haj?
A: Insha'Allah I hope to perform Haj this November. It all depends on His Will.
Q: How has your trip to the Kingdom impacted you in terms of your outlook of life and your relationship with Allah (SWT)?
A: This trip has changed my life forever. It has given me clarity on what is important in life and what is not. It has brought tranquility and coolness to my heart. I feel I have a stronger connection with Allah (SWT) after this journey. I have become more inspired to spread the message of Islam and peace among others. I have been appointed as the Ambassador of Cultural Exchange for VIP's & Celebrities at the CDA.
Green met several people during his visit here, including the imam of the Prophet's (pbuh) Mosque Sheikh Salah Al-Budair, and Mohammed Abdullah Al-Bishir, Madinah high court judge. Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Hadlaq, director general of the interior ministry's ideological security directorate in Riyadh, also received him.