Have you ever been fascinated by something? I mean truly fascinated-- wherein you find yourself pondering, daydreaming, and even neglecting your hobbies to research the topic in question?
I attended three separate high schools from 1421-1425 (2000-2004 CE), so one might think that Islam would have been very topical during this period. I'll be the first to admit that my high school didn't cover Islam at all. We had no units on Islam or Muslims in World History nor did we speak of Islam in any sort of current events units in social studies (my schools didn't even offer World Religions as an elective). Although we had Muslim students, the only information we ever received on Islam was from an Evangelical Christian Language Arts teacher that I will refer to as Mrs. B. Mrs. B did not take a very favorable view of Islam at all & would semi-regularly sneak in mean-spirited verbal barbs about the faith itself. These usually were ignored by everyone or written off as “Oh, there Mrs. B goes again!” while we pondered whether what her proclamations regarding her specific flavor of Christianity somehow violated the prohibition on public school employees promoting their religious views. We also knew nothing of Islam except what the American media (usually through right-wing pundits) was trying to pound into our heads. That is, until an incredibly well spoken and gifted classmate came along: Massomeh.
Massomeh's came from a Muslim family and they had moved to the US from Tehran a few years prior to our sophomore year. She was a straight-A student who played on the girl's soccer team, never was so much as “shushed” by a teacher, and did her best to fit in socially while maintaining a level of integrity in her faith that not even the Southern Baptist students (who would act up outside of school), as vocal and virtue-signaling as they were, could hope to maintain during this period of American history, when the moral sentiments of previous generations began to “circle the drain”. Massey (how she preferred to be addressed by classmates) was the student that a lot of us wished we could be... until Mrs. B and a few other teachers began making their broad generalizations and giving false information about Islam, Iran, and Muslims in the wake of the attacks on New York City. As the idiom goes: “Sista don't play dat”, and we watched in awe as this peer of ours respectfully and concisely refuted, contradicted, and dismantled every claim that these faculty members made about Islam & Muslims (and occasionally Iran). She ended up becoming so popular with the students after these statements that she was voted as the head of our Student government (and also because her skill at persuading adults got us the few concessions in the cafeteria that we had wanted from the day the brand new high school opened its doors).
Massey's mini-lectures on Islam had a major impact on me. I was already well into almost an obsessive interest in religions by that point, and it was refreshing to be able to hear one of my peers deliver expertise on something aside from school gossip, gangster rap, or football. I heard her elaborate on what Islam was, what Islam taught (remember that she was not an Islamic scholar), and subjects like the Hajj & what it entailed. When she inevitably gave a presentation on Islam during a current events segment of social studies, she had prepared a PowerPoint presentation complete with graphics; and that's where I saw a picture of a structure that would come to dominate my imagination and interest to this very day: a large black cube in the middle of the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
The Kaaba. The “House of God”.
After the presentation in which she explained to the puzzled students that this grand, black cube structure was built by the patriarch Abraham (the root from which monotheism was reestablished) & it was believed to be the first house of worship ever constructed; I began to search out whatever pictures and information about this fascinating structure that I could. Of course, I was (nominally) Christian, so it made no sense to me why I was so enamored with this ancient structure when my own (nominal) religion had sacred sites and holy places of its own. My family didn't understand, and my teachers were uneasy with this fascination for whatever reason (likely politically motivated, as this was during the first presidential term of George W. Bush). I didn't look into Islam as a religion at this time, all I knew was that there was something about this large, black granite cube that captured my attention. Whether it was the shape, the Masjid al-Haram that surrounded it, or the ritual of the Hajj itself has been forgotten to me over the years; but I began daydreaming about its significance and even put a photo of it as the wallpaper on my 1998 IBM Aptiva PC (which troubled my mom and got me in a bit of trouble, as I was clearly “only doing this to rebel & get attention”). I had even printed a picture of It and glued it to the inside of my creative writing binder. This made no sense to anyone, least of all me: After all, I was the video-gaming, Magic: the Gathering-playing, anti-authoritarian punk rocker teen who was bored in school & had no plans on going to university or college after I escaped what amounted to little more than a government funded indoctrination daycamp. Why was I so star struck by this sacred structure, particularly as I was going through a period of doubting the existence of God and a general belief that “all religions have gotten it wrong”?
Fast forward to the present day (1441). As my life changes in so many ways, I am more fascinated than ever before with this amazing, beautiful geometric house of God. However, I still cannot give a good explanation of exactly what it is that piques my interest to the point where I dream of and draw pictures of this monument, I tear through the internet for any articles, scholarly or otherwise, that I can find (and access) that will reveal the history, purpose, and significance of the Kaaba to me. The argument will likely be made that this is another case of the “white man fetishizing a non-white culture”, but such a limited hand-wave of my interest in the Kaaba betrays a painfully ignorant view of Islam and Muslims that is almost ironic in its naivety, as Islam is a religion and a way of life (deen) for all people of earth, regardless of their native language, skin color, or national origin. After all, it was upon making the pilgrimage to this most sacred place that one of my heroes, Malcolm X, repented of his Black Supremacist views and left the Nation of Islam (which is “Islamic” in the way that White Supremacist hate groups in America claim they are “Christian”). Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad ((عليه السلام).) repudiated the idea of race in his farewell sermon:
“O people, your Lord is One, and your father is one: all of you are from Adam, and Adam was from the ground. The noblest of you in Allah’s sight is the most godfearing: Arab has no merit over non-Arab other than godfearingness.” (from the report of Al-Jahiz (translated), forgive me if I have made an error)
I wonder if the Kaaba and my obsessive interest in it was what drew me into pursuing Islam, or more appropriately (and truthfully), if this was the “introduction” to the Islamic way of life that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) used to begin to undo my ignorance in regard to the perfect path that he has ordained for ALL mankind through His final prophet & messenger Muhammad ((عليه السلام).), to draw me away from the imperfect, tainted “cultural Christianity” that I was born into & subsequently was my sole religious exposure until that fateful day in class. Since this period of my life began, I have moved closer and closer to Islam like a comet being drawn toward the sun. I do not know what the future holds for me, nor can I pretend to & doing so would be both absurd & presumptuous on my part; but what I DO know is that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) has created me for both his pleasure and to fulfill a specific destiny, no matter how insignificant it may seem to me & the world I occupy.
Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) is THE BEST of planners & Inshallah, I will eventually be able to live a proper and functional Muslim life. It's just a matter of arriving at that point.