By Selma Cook
This article is based on an interview with Bilal Chin, who lives inLondon.
Bilal Chin was brought up in London but traveled to Egypt and stayed there for about one year. Now in his mid-twenties, he says that Egypt was good for him, as it helped him to get away from his surroundings and make a fresh start in his life.
He became a Muslim when he was nineteen years old. He admits that he had not really known what Islam was about. If he saw any women with scarfs and anyone who fasted, he thought he or she was an Asian or an Arab and that this was just part of their culture.
He didn't know it was a religion and no one tried to teach him about the religion. Later after, he embraced Islam, he remembered girls in school who used to wear a scarf and realized they were Muslims.
Before Islam, music was a very important part of his life and he had even started a music band. He went into business with a friend. His friend's older brother was well-respected in their community and he had a lot of money.
In south London people want respect and money and if they have both, they are considered to have 'made it.' Bilal and his friends really looked up to his friend's brother.
His younger brother and Bilal started a music band and Bilal used to play keyboards and different sound instruments. In the underground in south London he had a name for being a 'decent rapper.'
At that time, his friend's older brother and some other friends used to chill out in a place in south London, downstairs from the brother's house. A few times a day his friend's brother would come downstairs and ask them to turn down the music for five minutes. Later, Bilal learned that he was praying and that was why he had wanted them to turn down the music.
His friend's brother did not preach to Bilal and his friends but simply talked about their purpose in life and where they would go after death. Bilal admits that at that time many people around them were dying and he always believed there is a God and that when people die they will be judged.
Bilal found that what his friends brother said made sense and he wanted to be someone who knew what his purpose in life was and he wanted to be sure that God would be pleased with him and with what he had done in his life.
At that time, Bilal realized that he and his friends were all free-styling their answers; living how they wanted to live; and doing what they thought was right. At the same time, his friend's brother was asking Bilal and his friends how they knew God would be pleased with them. Bilal thought that was a very good question.
One day, Bilal went to the local Islamic book shop with his friend's brother in south London. Bilal wanted to buy a copy of the Qur'an because he had grown to love this man and respect him, so, he thought the Quran must be deep because it had made this man think as he did.
His Muslim friend suggested that he didn't buy the Quran and the shop owner suggested that he should buy a book by Harun Yahya, The Truth of the Life of This World. This book had Bilal set thinking like a Muslim.
He learned that money is not success and that people might be respected in this world and have plenty of money and that people might be impressed by the cars they had, the house and clothes they had and all the money they were making and their family might think they are successful but all that would not impress God.
The Creator wants us to worship Him. Bilal wanted to impress God by everything he did because when he dies he knew that is what is going to count. Bilal knew for certain that bad deeds will not impress God.
Bilal's Muslim friend told him, "When you come to Islam, Islam will come running to you." Indeed, Bilal saw that Islam started knocking on his door. One day, he wanted to buy some trainers and left his bike with a man in the market and this man said he would keep an eye on his bike if Bilal read a certain book. This man was a Muslim.
When Bilal went into the shoe shop he heard the shop keeper say: "Salamu Alaikum" when we was talking on the phone. Bilal realized that he too was a Muslim. Islam started coming to him from every angle.
The books he read explained how to worship Almighty Allah in the way He deserves to be worshipped. When Bilal read what a Muslim is; someone who surrenders to God - that was enough to make him a Muslim. He knew without any doubt that the only religion is to surrender to God.
Bilal believes that people should not take risks by elevating someone to God's level; that we should give all status to God. That is definitely what he felt comfortable doing. He does not think we should elevate Mary's and Jesus's (peace be upon them) status to a point of worshipping or hailing. Bilal says, "We can learn a lot from them but worship is only for God."
He went through all these changes at the age of nineteen. He entered the Muslim community and mainly met foreigners at first. The day after he converted was a Friday and he went to a mosque (masjid) for the first time. He had never seen Muslims pray.
A brother picked him up and they ended up being late. Everything was in Arabic and the brother told him to watch him and follow. The imam was leading the prayer and everyone said: "Ameen."
Bilal wondered if he was ever going to know how to do this. He thought he would have to learn the language if he was ever to understand all this, then he realized he had to move when the imam said: "Allahu Akbar." Most of the people he met at that time were Asians.
At first, he thought it was all so beautiful. Everyone was happy he was a Muslim; they gave him their phone numbers and invited him to different places. He felt loved.
However, after some time his impressions started to change. He found that such love was just to a limit. Then he realized how divided the Muslim community was.
He started by having a lot of Muslims around him. At the same time, his old friends on the streets became curious and many turned to Islam through him. The word kept spreading until Bilal and 3 friends, then 10 friends, then 50 friends from his life style – young black youth – were all going to the masjid together.
It was like the days when he and his friends went out to a rave – but now they were going to the masjid to pray. The Asians, whose mosque they used to frequent, did not expect to see them all come to their mosque.
Moving together down the street and going to the masjid made these young people feel happy. They were going together to do something positive. Twenty-five or more youths were going to pray! That is amazing.
Many of these young people had been involved in criminal activities but were now walking down the street going to pray. Bilal and his friends had many things in common, and they all had to grapple with poverty and hardships.
They had indulged in criminal activities trying to make things better, but most of these people converted to Islam and found a purpose to live for. To outsiders it looked like all the 'bad boys' who used to be thugs had become Muslims and were labeled as a serious gang.
This was so regardless of what they were doing; even if they were going to pray. Bilal and his friends just wanted to be like the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the Companions. They had become their role models.
In the beginning it was a problem to learn about Islam because for new Muslims there is a lot of confusion. The people in one masjid might tell Bilal and his friends not to go to another masjid and vice versa.
However, Bilal also found other mosques that were warm and welcoming. He says: "They'd let the young Muslims sleep there, and it would be open all night. The people there would say it is open for everyone and that it's the house of Allah. There was always someone there to teach Arabic and it felt like a community."
Bilal mentions sadly that for him and other young Muslims like him, it is very difficult to get out of the cycle of poverty, to have constructive things to do in their spare time and to find someone suitable to marry.