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My Revert Story - Dr. Bilal Phillips

“After about 6 months of reading and discussion, I had made my decision and embraced Islam in 1972.”
Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, born in Kingston, Jamaica, grew up in Toronto, Canada, where he reverted to Islam in 1972.

Tell us the turning point for you. What really touched you into becoming a Muslim?

I was raised a Christian, during my university days I joined the communist party with a desire to make the world a better place, to remove injustice and oppression and replace it with equality and freedom and all ideas that communism offers. But after some years, as a student I came to realize that communism could not deliver the goods that they were proposing. And asides that I found that it was lacking in the area of morality as well as in economic theory, which probably is the greatest aspect of communism. It could not compete with capitalism.
So at that point where I became disillusioned and after reading about the massacres of human beings under communist leader Stalin, justified in order to achieve the communist goal, made me even more doubtful. A close friend of mine in the communist party converted to Islam and that caused me to have a look at Islam. Though I had seen Islam before in America in what was called the Nation of Islam by Elijah Muhammad but its theology was so crazy that I could not give it any consideration. Though I was somehow impressed by its teachings, but it wasn’t an option for me back then.
I had read the autobiography of Malcom X which is one of the biggest factors for African Americans to Islam in the earlier stages of the 60s and 70s. But then I guess mentally I wasn’t really ready for it because in most parts he was still talking in context regarding the Nation of Islam. The last part where he talked about how he converted to Islam somehow struck in me.
So what really attracted me to the teaching of Islam was summed up in a book called ‘Islam: The Misunderstood Religion’ written by Muhammad Qutb. This, in a comparative political study, was sufficiently convincing to win me over to the religion of Islam. However it took some months after reading the book, you could say intellectually I was convinced, I read more and talked to more people and all that and then had my own personal experience with God or what I felt was the hand of God giving me that final push to make the final step into Islam. That in a nutshell was how I converted to Islam.

“While studying in Simon Frasier University at Vancouver in Canada, I played the guitar in shows, nightclubs. When I went to Malaysia, I also performed onstage and became known as the Jimmy Hendrex of Sabah in East Malaysia. However, when I became a Muslim, I felt uncomfortable doing this and gave it up both professionally and privately,” he said. 
“My parents accepted Islam 21 years after my conversion”

A year after embracing Islam in 1972, he applied and studied Islam at the Islamic University of Madeenah in Saudi Arabia as he wanted to learn about Islam from its classical sources instead of picking it up from cultural practices. While completing his MA at Riyadh University, he prepared and presented some programs on Saudi Television Channel Two called ′Why Islam′ which focused on interviews with those who had converted to Islam from different backgrounds and their reasons for doing so.

With lack of literature to satisfy the queries of those seeking answers about Islam, including his own family members, he did some research and came out with his first book entitled ′Polygamy in Islam′ which dealt with the subject of plural marriage in Islam on a historical and biological basis, while focusing on the rational behind the system. The writer's itch then took over and his second book ′Fundamentals of Islamic Monotheism′ came into being, clarifying the unique aspect of Islamic belief in one god.

After completing his MA, he then worked in the religious department of the Saudi Arabian Air Force headquarters in Riyadh during the Gulf war (Desert Storm) where he lectured American troops on their bases in Bahrain and the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. “Because the image of Islam is so distorted in America, I and five other Americans, for five and half months after the Gulf war, were involved in a project to clarify the doubts of this religion to half a million US troops based there, following which over 3,000 soldiers embraced Islam”, he said.

He then visited the USA to help the converted soldiers and with the help of an organization called ′Muslim Members of the Military (MMM)′ held conferences and activities to ultimately cause the establishment of prayer facilities for Muslims in all US bases internationally. The US administration became obliged to request the Muslim community to suggest candidates for chaplainey which resulted in appointing Muslim chaplains in the US military in subsequent years.

He said that some of the Gulf War Muslim converts went to Bosnia to train the Bosnians and fight alongside them in their struggle for survival in face of atrocities by the Serbs. He then traveled to the Philippines to lecture at different venues on Mindanao Island where he spoke about ′Islamization of Education among Muslims′. This led to development of a University in Cotobato City with Islamic orientation, where he set up a department of Islamic Studies on MA level to prepare teachers with Muslim orientation.

In 1994, he migrated to the Emirates at the invitation of Sheikh Salim al-Qasimi, where he joined a Dubai-based charitable organization known as Dar Al Ber and set an Islamic Information Center, now known as Discover Islam, in Karama to clarify misconceptions about Islam. Helping him in this effort were people from different nationalities including Uthman Barry (an Irish convert), Ahmed Abalos (Filipino convert) and Abdul Latif (from Kerala).

He said that in the past five years, about 1,500 people from America, Australia, UK, Russia, China, Germany, Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan had converted to Islam at the center. “The reasons behind their converting were frustration and dissatisfaction, besides the need for a solid rational, spiritual foundation. Some also did it to marry Muslim while others chose to out of curiosity fuelled by exciting discoveries about Islam and its people,” he said.

The last three years have seen him set up a department called Foreign Literature Department of Dar Al Fatah printing press for bringing out literature in foreign languages which aimed at clarifying the teachings of Islam to non-Arabic people.

One of his happiest moments came when his parents, who were both in their seventies and having spent their lives around Muslims in Northern Nigeria, Yemen, Malaysia, accepted Islam. This happened four years ago after they saw how society had deteriorated in America and the changes wrought in his life.

Today, he teaches about the historical aspects of Islam and a scientific study of the compilations of the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad since the Hadith refers to prophetic traditions about his way of life (which were compiled and recorded in texts and formed the basis of the Islamic religion).

Your school has over 150,000 students from over 219 countries, where do you see the school in the next five years?

In the next five years I hope we should hit over a million students and the goal of the school is to reach out to as many as we can. We want to reach the masses of Muslims and make it as accessible to them as possible. Obviously the school is not about making money, the goal is to reach out to Muslims from an Islamic prospective.


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