Visit to Kingdom changed my life forever

Updated 23 May 2012
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Visit to Kingdom changed my life forever

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.

 


The beauty of prayer in Islam

Updated 23 September 2016
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The beauty of prayer in Islam

GOING deeper into our spiritual state during prayers (salah) requires that we have a presence of heart and are mindful of the words being said during the prayers.
Our prayer will feel shorter, yet when we look at how much time we actually spent, we will think, “Did I just spend 10 minutes?” or even 15 and 20 minutes.
A person who began applying this said he wished the prayer would never end.
A feeling that Ibn Al-Qayyim describes as “what the competitors compete for… it is nourishment for the soul and the delight of the eyes,” and he also said, “If this feeling leaves the heart, it is as though it is a body with no soul.”

The love of Allah
Some people’s relationship with Allah is limited to following orders and leaving prohibitions, so that one does not enter hell. Of course, we must follow orders and leave prohibitions, but it needs to be done out of more than fear and hope; it should also be done out of love for Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an: “… Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him.” (Qur’an, 5:54)
We often find that when a lover meets the beloved, hearts are stirred and there is warmth in that meeting. Yet when we meet Allah, there is not even an ounce of this same feeling. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And (yet) among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals (to Him). They love them as they (should) love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Qur’an, 2:165)
And those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. There should be a feeling of longing, and when we raise our hands to start the prayer, warmth and love should fill our hearts because we are now meeting with Allah. A dua of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “O Allah, I ask You for the longing to meet You” (An-Nisa’i, Al-Hakim)
Ibn Al-Qayyim says in his book Tareeq Al-Hijratain that Allah loves His Messengers and His believing servants, and they love Him and nothing is more beloved to them than Him. The love of one’s parents has a certain type of sweetness, as does the love of one’s children, but the love of Allah far supersedes any of that. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Any person who combines these three qualities will experience the sweetness of faith: 1) that God and His messenger are dearer to him than anything else; 2) that his love of others is purely for God’s sake; and 3) that he hates to relapse into disbelief as much as he hates to be thrown in the fire.” (Bukhari)
Thus, the first thing he mentioned was: “… that God and His messenger are more beloved to him than anything else…”
Ibn Al-Qayyim says: “Since ‘there is nothing like unto Him’ (Qur’an, 42:11), there is nothing like experiencing love for Him.”
If you feel this love for Him, it will be a feeling so intense, so sweet, that you would wish the prayer would never ever end.
Do you truly want to feel this love? Then ask yourself: ‘why do you or should you love Allah?’
Know that you love people for one (or all, in varying degrees) of three reasons: For their beauty, because of their exalted character or/and because they have done good to you. And know that Allah combines all of these three to the utmost degree.

All-embracing beauty
We’ve all been touched by beauty. It is almost fitrah (natural disposition) to love what is beautiful. Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said about the Prophet, peace be upon him, that it was “as if the sun is shining from his face.” Jabir (may God be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah was more handsome, beautiful, and radiant than the full moon” (Tirmidhi)
Allah made all His Prophets have a certain beauty so that people would have a natural inclination toward them.
And beauty is more than what is in the face, because beauty is in all of creation and somehow has the ability to take our breath away and give us peace simultaneously. The glimmer of the crescent moon on a calm night, the intensity of a waterfall as the water drops for thousands of feet, the sunset by the sea … certain scenes of natural unspoiled beauty stirs something in us. As Allah is the One Who made it beautiful, so what of Allah’s beauty?
Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”
This fitrah for loving what is beautiful is because Allah is beautiful. One of His Names is Al-Jameel (the Most Beautiful). Ibn Al-Qayyim states that the beauty of Allah is something that a person cannot imagine and only He knows it. There is nothing of it in creation save for glimpses.
Ibn Al-Qayyim says if all of creation were the most beautiful they could be (so let’s imagine, ever single human being looked as beautiful as Yusuf, peace be upon him, and the whole world was like Paradise), and all of them combined from the beginning of time until the Day of Judgment, they would not even be like a ray in comparison to the sun when compared to Allah. Allah’s beauty is so intense that we will not even be able to take it in this life. In the Qur’an, Allah describes Musa’s (peace be upon him) request: “And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.’ (Allah) said: ‘You will not see Me but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious.” (Qur’an, 7:143)
Even the mountain could not bear the beauty of Allah and crumbled, and when Musa, peace be upon him, saw this (he did not even see Allah), he fell unconscious. This is why on the Day of Judgment it is Allah’s light that will shine on everything. We talk about breathtaking beauty, but we have yet to experience Allah’s beauty. While things in this world can be beautiful or majestic or if they combine both they are finite, true majesty and beauty are for Allah: “And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” (Qur’an, 55:27)
Keeping all of this in mind, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Allah directs His Face toward the face of His servant who is praying, as long as he does not turn away” (Tirmidhi).
Remember this in your prayer, and ask Allah to allow you the joy of seeing Him in Paradise.