Aminah Assilmi Remembered
The story of Aminah Assilmi (1945-2010) who died in a car accident in America four years ago, is a story of faith and conviction. It is a story of test, tribulation, success and of the triumphant victory of faith. It is a story of inspiration for the rest of us, and it is a story of confidence and reliance on Allah. Above all else, it is a story of Allah’s love and mercy and it is a story of Allah’s promise come true, writes MUSHFIQUR RAHMAN.
“I am so very glad that I am a Muslim. Islam is my life. Islam is the beat of my heart. Islam is the blood that courses through my veins. Islam is my strength. Islam is my life so wonderful and beautiful. Without Islam, I am nothing, and should Allah ever turn His magnificent Face from me, I could not survive.” ~ Aminah Assilmi
It all started with a computer glitch. She was a Southern Baptist girl, a radical feminist, and a broadcast journalist. She was a girl with an unusual caliber, who excelled in school, received scholarships, ran her own business, and were competing with professionals and getting awards – all these while she was going to college.
Then one day a computer error happened that made her take up a mission as a devout Christian. Eventually, however, it resulted into something opposite and changed her life completely around.
It was 1975 when, for the first time, computer was used to pre-register for a class in her college. She was working on her degree on Recreation. She pre-registered for a class and then went to Oklahoma City to take care of a business. Her return was delayed and she came back to college two weeks into the class. Making up the missed work was no problem for her, but she was surprised to find that the computer mistakenly registered her for a Theatre class, a class where students would be required to perform in front of others.
She was a very reticent girl and she was terrified to think about performing in front of others. She could not drop the class for it was too late to do so. Failing the class was also not a choice, for she was receiving a scholarship that was paying for her tuition and receiving an ‘F’ would have jeopardized it.
Advised by her husband, she went to her teacher to work out some other alternative to performing, such as preparing costumes, etc. Assured by the teacher that he would try to help her, she went to the next class and was shocked by what she saw. The class was full of Arabs and ‘camel jockeys.’ That was enough for her. She came back home and decided not to go back to the class anymore. It was not possible for her to be in the middle of Arabs.
“There was no way I was going to sit in a room full of dirty heathens!”
Her husband was calm as usual. He pointed out to her that God has a reason for everything and that she should think about more before quitting. Besides, there was the scholarship that was paying her tuition. She went behind locked doors for two days to think about. When she came out, she decided to continue the class. She felt that God gave her a task to convert the Arabs into Christianity.
Thus, she found herself with a mission to accomplish. Throughout the class, she would be discussing Christianity with her Arab classmates.
“I proceeded to explain to them how they would burn in the fires of hell for all eternity, if they did not accept Jesus as their personal savior. They were very polite, but did not convert. Then, I explained how Jesus loved them and had died on the cross to save them from their sins. All they had to do was accept him into their hearts.”
They still did not convert, and so she decided to do something else: “I decided to read their own book to show to them that Islam was a false religion and Mohammed was a false God.”
At her request, one student gave her a copy of the Qur’an and another book on Islam. With these two books, she started on her research, which she was to continue for the next one and half years. She read the Qur’an fully and another fifteen books on Islam. Then she came back to the Qur’an and re-read it. During her research, she started taking notes that she found objectionable and which she would be able to use to prove that Islam was a false religion. Unconsciously, however, she was changing from within which did not escape the attention of her husband.
“I was changing, just in little ways but enough to bother him. We used to go to the bar every Friday and Saturday, or to a party, and I no longer wanted to go. I was quieter and more distant.”
She stopped drinking and eating pork. Her husband suspected her of having an affair with another man, for ‘it was only for a man that a woman changes.’ Ultimately, she was asked to leave, and she soon found herself living in a separate apartment.
“When I first started to study Islam, I did not expect to find anything that I needed or wanted in my personal life. Little did I know that Islam would change my life. No human could have ever convinced me that I would finally be at peace and overflowing with love and joy because of Islam.”
Throughout these times, she continued studying Islam and although she was changing subtly from within, she remained a devout Christian. Then one day, there was a knock on her door. It was a man in traditional Muslim robe, who appeared to her as a ‘man in a long white night gown with a red and white checkered table cloth on his head.’ His name was Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik and he was accompanied by three other men in similar dress.
She was very offended by Muslim men coming to her in nightgowns and pajamas. She was further shocked when Abdul-Aziz told her that he understood that she waited to be a Muslim. She replied that she was a Christian and she did not have any plan to become a Muslim. However, she had some questions to ask if they had the time.
At her invitation, they came inside. She now brought up the questions and objections that she noted down while she was researching.
“I will never forget his name”, she said of Abdul-Aziz who proved to be a very patient and soft-mannered person. “He was very patient and discussed every question with me. He never made me feel silly or that a question was stupid.”
Abdul-Aziz listened to every question and objection and explained it within the proper context.
“He explained that Allah had told us to seek knowledge and questions were one of the ways to accomplish that. When he explained something, it was like watching a rose open – petal by petal, until it reached its full glory. When I told him that I did not agree with something and why, he always said I was correct up to a point. Then he would show me how to look deeper and from different directions to reach a fuller understanding.”
It would not be long before she would externally submit to what she had already been submitting to internally during the last one and half years. Later in that same day, this Southern Baptist girl would declare in front of Abdul-Aziz and his companions: ‘I bear witness that there is no god but God and Mohammed is His Messenger.’ It was May 21, 1977.
“I embraced Islam about 24 years ago to the consternation of most of my family. The reaction of my family was so severe that one member of my family actually tried to kill me… And yet, by applying Islam to my life, by living Islam, most of my family is now Muslim. The thing is that everywhere you go, if you actually are living Islam, if you are demonstrating Islam, you will impact people. And you will change mindsets.”
Conversion to Islam, or to any other religion for that matter, is not always a simple thing to do. Except for a few fortunate ones, a new Muslim usually faces consequences. The convert may face isolation from family and friends, if not pressure to go back to the family faith. Sometimes, a convert may even face severe economic hardship, as in the case of those who are asked to leave the house because of converting to Islam. Some converts are fortunate to continue to be well-respected by family and friends, but most of them face minor to severe hardship especially during the first few years after the conversion. But the difficulty that Aminah Assilimi had to go through and the sacrifice that she had to make for the sake of her conviction and faith are almost unheard of. There are few who could rely so much on Allah as she did, standing firm and meeting the challenges, making sacrifices, and yet maintaining a positive posture and influencing people around with the beauty of what she found and believed in.
She lost most of her friends, for she was ‘no fun anymore.’ Her mother did not accept her becoming a Muslim and hoped that it was a temporary zeal and that she would soon grow out of it. Her ‘mental health expert’ sister thought that she lost her mind. She attempted to put her in a mental health institution.
Her father was a calm and wise man. People would come to him for advice and he could comfort anyone in distress. But when he heard that his daughter became a Muslim, he loaded his double-barrel shotgun and started on his way to kill her. “It is better that she be dead rather than suffering in the deepest of Hell”, he said.
She was now without friends and without family.
She soon started wearing hijab. The day she put it on, she was denied her job. She was now without family, friends, and job. But her greatest sacrifice was yet to come.
She and her husband both loved each other very much. But while she was studying Islam, her husband misunderstood her for her apparent changes. She became quieter and stopped going to the bar. Her changes were visible to him and he suspected her of having affair with another man, for whom she must have been changing. She could not explain to him what was happening.
“There was no way to make him understand what was changing me because I did not know.” Eventually, he asked her to leave and she started living separately.
After she openly accepted Islam, it went worse. A divorce was now inevitable. This was a time when Islam was little known, much less understood for what it is. She had two little children whom she loved dearly and whose custody should have rightfully been given to her. But in a grave violation of justice, she was denied their custody just because she became a Muslim. Before giving the formal verdict, the judge offered her a harsh choice: either renounce Islam and get custody of the children, or keep Islam and leave the children. She was given 20 minutes to make a decision.
She loved her children very dearly. It is, perhaps, the worst nightmare that a mother can have: asked to willfully leave her child – not for one day, month, or year, but forever. On the other hand, how could she keep the Truth away from her children and live as a hypocrite?
“It was the most painful 20 minutes in my life”, she said in an interview.
Those of us who are mothers and fathers, especially of young children, little imagination is needed to feel the pain and torment that she must have passed every second in those 20 minutes. What added further to her pain was that according to doctors, she could never bear another child because of certain complications.
“I prayed like I had never done before… I knew that there was no safer place for my children to be than in the hands of Allah. If I denied Him, there would be no way in the future to show my children the wonders of being with Allah.”
She decided to retain Islam. Her two dear children – one little boy and one little girl – were taken away from her and given to her ex-husband. For a mother, is there a sacrifice greater than this – a sacrifice that is done for no material reason but only for faith and conviction?
“I left the court knowing that life without my babies would be very difficult. My heart bled, even though I knew, inside, I had done the right thing.” She found comfort in the following verse of the Qur’an:
“Allah! There is no deity but He: the Living, the Self-subsisting by whom all subsist. Slumber does not overtake Him nor does sleep. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth. Who is there that can intercede with Him save by His leave? He knows what lies ahead of them and what is behind them, while they comprehend not aught of His knowledge, save such as He wills. His Kursi extends over the heavens and the earth; and their preservation tires Him not. He is the Exalted, the Supreme.” (Qur’an 2: 255)
“This veil warns people upfront that I am not a woman to be messed with. It shows that I am a woman with a mind and that I know I am more than a body. In no way does this veil equal oppression and we don’t want you to feel sorry for us.”
Perhaps the air of Colorado was too thin for justice. Or, perhaps, there was a plan in Allah’s greater scheme of affairs. Aminah Assilimi later fought back and took her case to the media. Although she did not get custody of her children again, a change was made in the Colorado law that one cannot be denied child custody on the basis of his, or her, religion.
Indeed Allah’s love and mercy engulfed her so much that, as if, she has been granted the touchstone of Islam. Wherever she goes, people are touched by her beautiful words and Islamic manners and become Muslim.
By accepting Islam, she became a changed person, and a much better person. So much so that her family, relatives, and people around her started appreciating her mannerism and the faith that brought about such changes in her.
Despite her family’s initial reaction, she remained in touch with them and addressed them with respect and humility, just as the Qur’an enjoins the Muslims to do. She would send cards to her parents on different occasions, but she would always write down a verse from the Qur’an or the Hadith without mentioning the source of such beautiful words of wisdom. It was not long before she started making a positive influence among her family members.
The first to become Muslim was her grandmother. She was over 100 years old. Soon after accepting Islam, she died.
“The day she pronounced Shahada, all her misdeeds had been erased, while her good deeds were preserved. She died so soon after accepting Islam that I knew her ‘book’ was bound to be heavy on the good side. It fills me with such a joy!”
Next to become Muslim was her father, the one who wanted to kill her after she became Muslim. Thus, he brought alive the story of Umar ibn Khattab. Umar was a companion of the Prophet who persecuted the early Muslims before he converted to Islam. When he heard one day that his sister became a Muslim, he went out with an open sword to kill her. But upon hearing some of the verses from the Qur’an that his sister was reciting, he recognized the truth and went straight to the Prophet and accepted Islam.
Two years after she (Assilmi) accepted Islam, her mother called and said that she appreciated her faith and hoped that she would keep it. Couple of years later, she called again and asked her about what one would need to do to become a Muslim. Assilmi replied that one had to believe that there is only One God and Muhammad was his Messenger.
“Any fool knows that. But what do you have to do?”, she asked again. She replied that if that is what she believed, then she was already a Muslim! At this, her mother said, “Well… OK. But let’s not tell your father just yet.”
She was not aware that her husband (Assilmi’s step-father) had had the same conversation with her a few weeks earlier. Thus, the two lived together as Muslims for years in secret without knowing that the other was also a Muslim.
Her sister who wanted to put her in mental institution accepted Islam as well. She must have realized that becoming Muslim is, indeed, the most healthy and sound thing to do.
Her son, upon becoming adult, accepted Islam. When he turned 21, he called her and said that he wanted to become a Muslim.
Sixteen years after the divorce, her ex-husband also accepted Islam. He said that he had been watching her for sixteen years and wanted his daughter to have the same religion that she had. He came to her and apologized for what he had done. He was a very nice gentlemen and Assilmi had forgiven him long ago.
Perhaps, the greatest reward for her was yet to come. Assilmi later married another person, and despite the doctors’ verdict that she could never conceive another child, Allah blessed her with a beautiful boy. If Allah (swt) makes a gift to someone, who can prevent Him? It was truly a wonderful blessing from Allah (swt), and so she named him Barakah.
“It did not take me long to start being aware of His blessing… I learned how very important it was for me to share the truth of Islam with everyone. It did not matter if people, Muslim or not, agreed with me or even liked me. The only approval I needed was from Allah. Yet, I discovered more and more people who for no apparent reason loved me. I rejoiced, for I remembered reading that if Allah loves you, He causes others to love you. I am not worthy of all the love. That means it must be another gift from Allah. Allah is the Greatest!”
The sacrifice that Assilmi made for the sake of Allah (swt) was tremendous. And so Allah (swt) turned in mercy to her and rewarded her with enormous blessings. Her family discarded her after she accepted Islam, and now, by Allah’s mercy, most of them are Muslim. She lost her friends because of Islam, and now she is being loved by so many. “Friends who loved came out of nowhere,” she said.
Allah’s blessings came upon her so much that wherever she goes people are touched by the beauty of Islam and accept the Truth. Both Muslims and non-Muslims now come to her for advice and counseling.
She lost her job because of wearing hijab, and now she is the President of the International Union of Muslim Women. She delivers lectures nationwide and is on high demand. It was her organization that successfully lobbied for the ‘Eid Stamp’ and had it approved by the United States Postal Service, but it took many years of work. She then worked on making the Eid Day as a national holiday.
She retained tremendous trust on Allah’s love and mercy and she never lost faith in Him. She was once diagnosed with cancer some years ago. Doctors said that it was in an advanced stage and that she would live for another year. But her faith in Allah (swt) remained strong.
“We must all die. I was confident that the pain I was experiencing contained blessings.”
As a brilliant example of how much one can love Allah, she mentions about a friend of her named Kareem Al-Misawi who died of cancer when he was in his 20’s:
“Shortly before he died, he told me that Allah was truly Merciful. This man was in unbelievable anguish and was radiating with Allah’s love. He said: ‘Allah intends that I should enter heaven with a clean book.’ His death experience gave me something to think about. He taught me of Allah’s love and mercy.”
All praise is due to Allah, she continued to live in good health, and would later think that having cancer was the greatest blessing that she ever had.
Assilmi’s is a story of faith and conviction. It is a story of test and tribulation and success. It is a story of triumphant victory of faith. It is a story of inspiration for the rest of us, and it is a story of confidence and reliance on Allah. It is a story of Allah’s love and mercy, and it is a story of Allah’s promise come true.
“True, Allah has tested me as was promised, and rewarded me far beyond what I could ever hoped for.”