Few topics touch a raw nerve in the United States like race and racism in America.
Given the deeply embedded psychology and history of racism found in American society, it is often surprising to discover individuals who have truly fought against racial hatred with not just their words and actions, but in the two most important battlegrounds: their hearts and minds.
Abdussalam Sipes is one example of this.
Sipes is currently chief of security at a masjid. His calm, frank discussion of his journey from being a member of the virulently racist American white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to his decision to leave racial hatred, and then his acceptance of Islam will make you not only see one individual's courage to change paths and "see the light" -it will also bring tears to your eyes.
Sound Vision interviewed Sipes about his former racism, what brought about his change and why he ultimately chose Islam. This is an edited version of that interview:
SV: What exactly was your connection to racism before your conversion?
AS: "I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and before that I was a member of other (white supremacist organizations) too. I was originally just a card-carrying member and I grew up in their ranks. I started with them when I was 14 years old and by the time I was 21, I was a high-ranking official in the Klan organization.
I was involved with major recruiting efforts. I was the main organizer of most of the activities in my region. I was in charge of a large geographical region of Klan chapters in the northern district of California.
My activities involved everything from media interviews, recruitment drives to literature leaf letting to criminal activities [and went] as far as assaults on people, violent crimes, intimidation. I've spent most of my life in prison, over 13 years.
SV: What factors in your childhood or personal experiences made you adopt racist views?
Just being around the people I grew up around who were racist. I grew up in a predominately white California suburb.
All of my family used the word "n*****" (a racial slur against African-Americans) and referred to black people as parasites on society, kind of like cockroaches, just violent and bad in nature. They just [reaffirmed] the stereotypes that white America has of people of color.
I went to prison for armed robbery and attempted murder. I was 15 at the time. I was involved with a group that was a paramilitary organization and their activities were intimidating blacks in the town that we lived in. We used to [commit] a lot of violent crimes against people. This particular crime was not race-motivated but we had particular views that were racist.
In prison, things [are racially] segregated. You've got the blacks, Mexicans and whites. Of course I gravitated towards the white organization. In every subculture, you have organizations and you have groups and individuals. You have a rank and file and you fall into that rank you feel is part of your culture. People that you share a lot in common with culturally.
SV: What triggered you to change your racist views?
AS: I eventually came to question some of my actions and some of my beliefs through my search and study of genealogy and the origins of man.
The racism drove me to study to find out proof and evidence and to find out the origin of my own people (Europeans). The deeper and deeper I got into the subject I began to find evidence that revealed that all human beings have the same origin. So I began to doubt the validity of the supreme, pure race of people anywhere in the world, let alone Europeans of Aryan race.
The other element [of my change] was [that] when you hate somebody so passionately and you just live and just consume the hatred everyday, it starts to deteriorate.
It's like a cancer because it destroys your personality, it distorts your soul, and it destroys [those] close to you because it wears off on other people. I was inflicting more harm on myself than the people I hated. I was basically destroying my family and anyone else who had contact with me.
Hatred and racism will manifest itself in any people in the world and that's the interesting thing as far as the world is concerned. Everyone looks at America because of the recent slave trade, because we have the most recent history of slavery. [But] when we look at what the Serbs do to the Albanian or Bosnian Muslims, for some reason because it's European versus European, we overlook the fact that it's blatant racism.
SV: What made you consider converting to Islam, and did it have something to do with your previous views on race?
AS: I made a decision to get out of the white supremacist movement. Unfortunately, I was still living my life without guidance. I ended up going back to prison. I was in the federal penitentiary for possession of Semtax explosives (a solid form of plastic explosives).
With the hatred and burden of hate off my shoulders I was able to think, contemplate. My heart was a little more open to spirituality so I knew I was tired of the life I was living, tired of going to prison. I just felt that I hit a plateau in my life where I wanted to make some serious changes again, but I didn't know which direction to go.
I think all sincerely decent, kind, caring, loving human beings always gravitate to whatever is most near to them in their subculture. My interactions with people (Christians) were always pleasant. I would sometimes gravitate towards the church but their way of believing in God, the words in the Bible, their basic beliefs, I just couldn't grasp it, I never could develop any real belief based on the Christian view of God.
The turning point was when I got to federal penitentiary in Pekin, Illinois. At that point, I had given up being racist, the guards came and asked me if I had any problem having black roommates (they interview you to see where they can place you because you have three to four roommates in one prison cell). I said I didn't care. They usually take advantage of that because most people want to be with their own kind. I got one black roommate. This person had a friend named Fareed who was Muslim. When Fareed came to the cell, [he] noticed I had nothing-no cosmetic items, stamps to write my family, or money.
One day he came to my cell and he asked me: ‘don't you have any money or anything like that. I said I didn't 'have any. He said you want some? I said no.
About 15 minutes later, he came back and he had a bag in his hands.
He said ‘here' [giving it to Sipes-it contained some basic items he needed]. I said I don't want it, I didn't ask for anything. I said don't come to me next week saying I owe you something. He said it's not like that at all, its just part of my religion.
I just kind of smiled and laughed and said what religion is that? He said Islam; I'm a Muslim.
At that point, I said ‘yeah right'. Now I was convinced this guy is going to give me problems. He'll be back saying I owe him something, I'm going to have to look for [a] knife or some weapon to allow me to eliminate this problem that he's going to bring to me later.
At this time, my understanding of Islam was that it was a black, racist religion [with] their teaching that the white man was the devil. I knew this from run-ins with the Nation of Islam [an African-American nationalist and spiritual movement].
He [Fareed] came back later. I said why don't you give me something about your religion, because I was thinking I ‘m going to catch this guy in a lie. I was going to get a hold of some of his literature and ask him ‘how can you believe the white man is the devil and you're going out of your way to help me? How do you explain yourself? How are you going to share with the devil (me)?
He came back with some literature. It was an introduction to Islam.
It was just really different from what I had thought it would be. It was something that I was not expecting to find and at the same time it was something that I needed to find.
This was a real religion based on truth and that's basically what I was hungry for and what I was searching for. I found out how simple it was, that there's no intermediary between man and God, [that] you had a direct link to God. I felt that this is a religion where you can practice without the help of outsiders, putting partners with God.
Allah created Islam with a purity that could not be rivaled with.
I finally got a hold of the Quran. Every page I read I broke down crying because I felt that as I was reading the Quran, in a way my soul was cleansing itself of all the poison. The Ayat (verses) that I was reading, they compared to Christianity, but there were a lot of things that sound so much more believable [in the Quran than the Bible]. [It] sounds so pure.
When I read [most of] the first two Surahs of the Quran, that was enough for me. I was convinced the Quran was a miracle and it was the Divine word of God.
I couldn't find anything wrong with the Quran. I felt in my heart that this was the true religion Allah had created for us. I was convinced at that point.
After I took my Shahada, I read more [in the Quran about] how Allah keeps those people in ignorance and He brings people out of ignorance as He wishes. He had a plan for me to become a Muslim. At this stage in my life, Alhamdolillah, since I took Shahada, everything has been in a positive direction in my life. Everything keeps getting better.
SV: What was your reaction when you read verse 13 of Surah number 49, given your background as a former racist?
I broke down and cried.
I just wanted to be part of a world religion where there is no racism involved, where everybody's created equally in the eyes of God. I wanted to be part of a religion in which God did not favor anyone other than those who were most pious.
When I read that particular Ayah, it really validated this religion for me because that told me that Islam is the sworn enemy of racism.
This is one Ayah of many that jumped out at me. The Quran was answering questions for me. That was a very powerful Ayah for me because of my past.
It was proof for me that I could go ahead and be a Muslim because God was saying how mankind should be towards one another. That was complete harmony [and] that was a beautiful, beautiful thing.
SV: What would you advise Muslims seeking to rid themselves of racial hatred?
AS: Basically, people to have to work on strengthening their Iman (faith) because when you lose your Deen, when you lose your prayer, Shaitan steps in and then he takes over. And then it's all Fitna (trials and temptations) after that.
Other than prejudice in our Ummah, we're plagued with many other problems. The answer to all of those problems is that we need to start practicing the Deen and becoming better Muslims in our Ibadah (worship). When we lose our Deen, when we lose our prayer, we lose His (Allah's) favor; we lose His protection from the Shaitan.
People don't realize the power of Shaitan, he gets between people. He manifests the divisions between us. As Muslims, we should have no real difference. Yet if Shaitan gets in there, he'll make some reason not to get along. That's my understanding.
Every Muslim knows this is a fundamental belief that there is no racism in Islam and everybody knows its Haram (forbidden) but they just take it like any other subject that they know is Haram because the Iman is so weak, the Taqwa (fear of Allah) is [in] such a low state that they continue to commit acts and they get worse. The farther away you get from Islam [the worse its going to be].
Photo Attribution: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KKK_night_rally_in_Chicago_c1920_cph.3b12355.jpg
Religious instead of racial
Islam removes religious discrimination but legitimizes and indeed, makes it obligatory, religious discrimination.
Non-Muslims are not to be befriended, they are to be hated (for the sake of Allah), in a Muslim country they are to be subjugated (see Pact of Umar), etc.
And let's not forget gender discrimination, which is also an integral part of Islam.
And that's why I am not a Muslim anymore, because I can't believe the one true God would prescribe religious apartheid and gender apartheid.
Najeem, sincerity and courage to leave Islam
I am really happy you were sincere enough to leave when you found things in it you realize were deeply immoral. However, I've been muslim for over 25 years. I am familiar with the concerns you mention, but am pretty positive they has been a miscommunication or misunderstanding regarding them. Islam doesn't say to hate anyone. It advises to not not take members of other religions as close friends because of the difference in lifestyles. I have experiences with non-muslim friends trying to innocently set me up with guys when I was trying to be celibate until marriage, encouraging me to drink, smoke weed and dress contrary to my idea of modesty. You really do adapt the religion of your peers. Also because as you see today based on all the islamophobia, there is a concern as to whether you are in good (safe) hands with them. These are the concerns brought up in the Quran and hadithes. When early muslims conquered a land, they allowed non-muslim citizens to continue to practice their previous religion, build churches and other places of worship, and were provided the same protection as muslim citizens. Non-muslmis paid the jizyah tax, and muslims also paid taxes called zakat. The difference, zakat is a religious tax, jizyah is tax for living there, just as citizens of all countries pay taxes. I very gently and politely think it might be a good idea to re-research the information that led you to the views you expressed. They seem to be based on misinformation. Regarding gender discrimination, do you realize islam gave more rights than any of the abrahamic religions? This concern is more true of the teachings of the Bible than the teaching of the Quran and sunnah. It is very easy to fall prey to the media's propoganda and interpretation of why Islam teaches this or that. But most of us know the truth. Don't allow yourself to fall prey to their propoganda. Be strong and seek truth. It's easy to leave at first glimpse of something we don't agree with, but I've found when I exercise patience and give the benefit of the doubt because I've seen so much more good and wisdom than negative...that in time, my concerns are cleared and my faith only increases. And these concerns are not cleared up by desire to love or to be in denial. They're from desire for truth instead.
No you are wrong there is no pact of umar saying such things rather he was killed by his Christian slave he was not even mad hadd punishment rather in his pact he called for tolerance for non Muslims there is no religious discrimination in Islam prophet Muhammed himself created constitution of medina insuring rights of non Muslims do you really think there is gender discrimination see this quranic verse whomsoever work righteousness be ye male or female they shall not loss their works see you are wrong what you have done is a big crime see the qurunic verse if anyone left Iman he will be presented in day of judgement and one having faith will be presented in judgement the faithful will get white powder while unfaithful will receive black powder repent now
Happy to read
i'm happy to read this beautiful interview. May God Bless !
May Allah reward you brother. I typed in "KKK becomes a Muslim" because I know Allah has the heart of each individual between his two fingers and can turn them either direction He chooses. I knew I would find a story like yours. Alhamdullilah!!
It's great to hear that a christian has been guided to become a muslim. It's also nice to know that he understands everything clearly about Islam. May Allah give him strength and reward him with paradise. May other people understand the problem about racism. Ameem!
I am so happy to read that a brother has been guided to the deen(alhamdulillah), the KKK are renowned for the notorious actions they take out on non-whites also to know that Allah (swt) has guided and Allah (swt) guides those he wishes.Let us pray for the brother to stay on this path of Islam and make dua for those who are misguided and ourselves, family and friends (inshallah).This article can inspire many others, muslims and non-muslims.
In the name of Allah(swt) the Most Gracious, and the Most Compassionate...My husband often remind me that Allah(swt) doesn't need everyone to accept the Truth of Islam, but those that do...All Praises to Allah(swt)... I didn't expect for my tears to shed, but they were warm and very familiar to my cheeks as they ran down my face. May the Peace and Guidance of Allah(swt) always be with you and your family Inshallah....Truly this was an enlightment to my heart and soul...Stay encouraged...May I see you where the Rivers Flow underneath...Inshallah. Salam
W'salam, Alhanduillah, I hope Allah blesses you and makes you an example for others. Inshallah, may Allah(swt) bless you with jannaht Fardows. M'salam
Peace be up you Brother, I Pray that ALLAH make it easy for you, and give you the Heven, and for those who are not Muslim of your family may ALLAH, Open ther hearts to the truth, I Shallah.
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