My name is Justin Peyton, and I am a 29-year-old African American convert to Islam, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I grew up in a loving, two-parent, and middle-class household with three siblings.
Growing up, my family and I identified ourselves as Christians, but we were never members of a church, nor did we attend Sunday services or other activities. The extent of religious expression in our home was celebrating Christmas.
[…] If I had to identify one single event as the starting point for my journey to Islam, it would have to be the tragic events of 9/11. After months of seeing very unflattering media coverage about Islam and Muslims, it occurred to me that the negative portrait being painted did not coincide with the experiences I had with Muslim classmates, neighbors, and others, growing up in Philadelphia.
It also occurred to me that despite knowing Muslims, I had never actually bothered to take the time to learn about their faith.
So, with the open-mindedness instilled in me by my parents, I decided to research some facts about Islam in order to reconcile the apparent disparity between my personal experiences and media coverage.
[…] Spurred to learn more, I went to a local bookstore, purchased a copy of the Quran, and began to read. I could spend pages listing which information struck me most and why, but suffice it to say that everything that I read made intrinsic sense to me.
After a few more months I decided that reading and learning about Islam on my own was not enough, so I searched to find any nearby mosques.
I contacted the closest mosque, which was about 45 miles away, spoke to their president, and arranged a time to visit and discuss Islam with local Muslims.
On the appointed day, I showed up and spent a great deal of time talking to a very helpful brother. Unbeknownst to me, the information he shared permeated my heart.
During my second visit […] it dawned on me that I believed that Islam was the truth, so right then and there, I took my Testimony of Faith and spent the whole weekend at the mosque learning what was necessary for me to perform the ritual prayers on my own when I returned to school.
That community was wonderful and had I stayed in the vicinity, and I am sure that I would have received a lot of support adjusting to my life as a new Muslim. But that was not to be. Prior to the events of 9/11, I had developed an interest in the military, and continued discussions with local armed forces recruiters, concurrent with the exploration of Islam that would lead to my conversion. […] Looking back on that part of my life, I am grateful for the skills I gained and the experiences I had during the course of my service. But in retrospect, the timing between these two events was less than ideal.
Even after leaving training, I was located in an area of the U.S. With no Muslim community, which prevented me from developing my faith. It wasn't until some three years into my service that I met another practicing Muslim service member who would be able to teach me both about Islam and how to navigate military life as a Muslim. May God reward him for his efforts.
After completing my military service in the summer of 2007, I moved back to Philadelphia, became an active member of a local mosque, and was blessed with the ability to obtain a job at the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a non-profit civil rights and advocacy organization for Muslims.
The two years I spent as a part of the Philadelphia Muslim community, and an employee of CAIR-PA was a tremendous learning experience that really spurred my development and whetted my appetite for more.
And that leads me to where I am now, an Islamic chaplaincy student at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, pursuing its combined Masters of Arts in Islamic studies, Christian-Muslim relations and Graduate Certificate in Islamic chaplaincy.
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The Beginning: Early Life Trials of Clinton Sipes
I grew up in a dysfunctional family setting in the atmosphere of alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse that came from my father. […] I began to imitate what I was being exposed to, this process of imitation began unconsciously. […]
[…] I began to hang out with the young adult type who welcomed my willingness to participate with no reservations in anything under the title of alcohol, drugs, crime, violence and racism. […] After 3 years of this (reform period) I was released. I was a walking grenade.
[…] At 16, I found myself incarcerated serving a 6 1/2 year sentence in the California Youth Authority for robbery, assault and weapons charges. […] I began correspondence with the KKK, and upon my release on parole, I was a full-fledged card carrying hate-monger. […]
With this last violation of parole, at the age of 20, the search for peace began. […] In a haze of anger and rage, I found myself stripped naked in solitary confinement with not even a mattress. Only me and a styrofoam cup. I began to review my past and the negatives which brought me to this point of reduction to the lowest terms.
While I was there my daughter was born. I began to assess my future. […] I said to myself, “Clint, you must make a choice between this evil or a good future. […] I had become alienated from them. I began searching for a purity to purge the cancer of hate from inside me. […].
I became involved with human rights groups and I started my own human rights group.[…] My goal was to reach out to children to help them escape the environmental circumstances that had overwhelmed me once […] but I was still involved in crime. […]
It began upon my arrival to federal prison. An African American offered to assist me in my cosmetic needs. He said he was a Muslim, and Muslims are commanded to help those in need. It struck my interest to check this Islamic thing out. However, I was under the impression that this was a religion exclusively for African Americans. I was thinking, no way I can become a Muslim, I’m white!
Still, I asked this brother for some literature on Islam. I found out about the universality of it, how it transcends color, ethnicity and race. It sounded real and pure. It began to appeal to me. […] I was given a Quran, and as I read the translation, I felt the purity and truth of it. There was no hocus-pocus, no spookism, no mysticism, just plain, simple understanding of the “Truth.” When I heard the Adhan (the call to prayer) I felt a closeness to God that penetrated my heart and soul. After some research and study of the Quran, I discovered its total infallibility, no contradictions in it.
There are religions based on believing in certain sciences, multiple deities, the religion of 3 gods in one. I was a thinking man, and none of them made any logical sense to me.
Here was Islam, based on the belief in One God who created the creation itself out of nothing, and the fact that this book I was reading (Quran) had not one vowel or language changed in over 1400 years was a miracle in itself. Thus, I was sold on the oneness of God and the unity of Islam.
[…] There is only one God and one Religion, and religion is “Submission” to the one God. This is the meaning of Islam. […]
After years of falsehood, half-truths, following others on the road, and then, from within a place (prison) where more than one million people are cast away, the same environment that once honed my anger and hate to a razor sharpness was now the place where Islam greeted me and proceeded to change me into a “Servant of [the Source of] Peace.” […]
The Creator, Originator of the very existence of peace. There is no peace but the Peace of God (Whom all praise is due). I have found this Peace, I am now “Abdus Salam,” the slave and servant of The Originator of the one and only source of Peace...God, The Most High, Whom all praise is due.
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By Clinton Sipes
I was raised as a Christian and went to a fundamentalist Bible believing church. I made a profession of faith to Jesus in 1969. In all of my years as a growing up Christian, I read and studied the Bible regularly. Later on, I enlisted in the US Marines and led Bible studies with my troops. In 1988, I started my own church reaching out with a special Spanish ministry to the Hispanics. In 1990, I got out of the Marines and joined the US Navy reserves.
In 1991, I was ordered to active duty for Operation Desert Storm. I remember being impressed with the Arabs worshipping 5 times a day and I never forgot about hearing the Adhan (call to prayer) 5 times a day over the many loudspeakers in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. […]
As I continued in my Christian faith, when I got home, I started to become unsettled regarding it. I went to several different churches and faiths over the years and studied their doctrines. I studied and read the book of Mormon quite a bit and became fascinated with the Mormons. However, I eventually found many conflicts between the Bible and the book of Mormon.
I later joined a 7th Adventist Church and thought this was the true path. I studied and read several of Ellen G. White’s books concerning the 4th commandment of keeping the Saturday Sabbath. However, I eventually saw some conflicts between the Bible and one of Ellen G. White’s visions of heaven.
I stayed home from all churches after that and got a job working for the Kansas City Star newspaper. I came across a couple of Muslims at work and observed them daily, becoming impressed with their humble and pious character. One day, I went to my favorite used book store and saw an English translation of the Noble Quran in Jan of 2008. I took it home and began reading it. I started to feel a drawing to the Islamic faith after about 4 weeks of reading it daily.
One January early morning, I was looking up on the internet on how to convert to Islam. I found and repeated the Shahada very prayerfully and did this 2 or 3 times while meditating on it and with a prayerful attitude. I suddenly felt a great weight lifted from my shoulders as I discovered that God had forgiven me of all my past sins. […] Since saying the Shahada, I immediately began performing Wudu (ablution) and Salat (prayer) 5 times daily. It has now been 9 weeks since I converted to Islam and I am reading the Quran and studying the Islamic books daily.
On a side note, my wife has become upset with me over my conversion and has been trying to get me to renounce Islam. I tell her I can never turn my back on God and continue to lead a humble Muslim life before her and being patient with her in the hopes of her one day embracing Islam. I am now mentally, spiritually and physically feeling my best since converting to Islam.
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