How Gang Shootouts Led Me to Islam
(Editorial Note: This Ramadan, Black Dawah Network inspired by the Hadith of the man who killed 99 people but who constantly sought Allah’s forgiveness, will be highlighting Ramadan reflections from incarcerated African-American converts to Islam who are serving life or near-life sentences due to murder convictions. They will be warning Black youth on the realities of street life and discussing how their lives were transformed by the message of Islam.)
A Qu’ranic Reflections on the Traps of the Streets
My name is Abdul Mateen, which is Arabic for Servant of the Most Strong. Austin Harmon was my slave name. I was convicted of first-degree murder and I am serving a 65-year sentence. I am currently on the plantation known as Menard Correctional Facility in Illinois.
This reflection is a journey in my life and the events that resulted in me embracing the religion of Islam. I was born and raised in Chicago and the Chicago-land area. Like many young Black men in the hood growing up in poverty, I desired to have material possessions. By acquiring these material possessions, I sought to feel more important or liked. This resulted in me hustling on the block selling drugs.
I want young Black youth who may be allured by the streets not to be deceived or tricked, it’s a lie. I know it may seem cool or many people in your neighborhood may be glorifying that lifestyle but it’s much more to the story that these rap artists do not talk about it. So, from someone who lived it, let me tell you what many of these rappers won’t tell you about.
If you look at the state of Black people in America, you will see that Black people are in the worst communities with the lowest pay, lack of opportunities, below-average schools, poor health care, poor food quality, high incarceration rates. Ask yourself a question. Is this a coincidence or is it by design?
If you reflect you will see it is by design. You’ll see that this system is rigged up. It’s called white supremacy. The design began before you were born, they wanted you to be in prison. Or they wanted you dead at an early age. So if you know that then why would you help their plot by harming those in the same poor condition as you. Why not strive to defy the odds? When you do this you will be in a good position for yourself and you also won’t be the next prison statistic.
Each time we as African-American people fall victim to the traps that help us become a statistic, it prevents us from advancing. It also prevents each generation from advancing, keeping each generation worse than the previous. Gang-bangin, doing drills, drugs, fornication, are the traps used to keep our people down. I fell into some of these traps because I didn’t know they were traps. When I became a Muslim and started thinking deeply, I began to see the reality of the traps in the hood and the reality of white supremacy.
Becoming a Muslim for me was a process. One thing about incarceration, especially doing time in a max joint, that goes on lockdown frequently and where you only come out of your cell 3 times a week, gives you more than enough time to ask yourself important questions like why am I still alive, what’s my purpose in life, are there any lessons to learn from my past experiences in the streets. It was actually my experiences in the street that gave me the conviction that there is a Creator that controls affairs and has power over all things.
I’ll give an example. Have you ever been in a shootout point-blank range and not been hit? How can you explain that when according to physics you were supposed to have been hit or having your closest friend shot multiple times pronounced dead and within 15 minutes they come back to life? These were the experiences I started to think about. I was raised a Christian but really didn’t believe in it. It was not until I came to jail which gave me time to read and study different topics that I stumbled across religion and began to question the beliefs that were passed down from my grandma to my mother. Eventually, I stopped believing in any religion but maintained conviction in an all-powerful God.
So every morning I would pray to the same God that stopped me from being shot at point-blank range and other near-death experiences. I would pray and ask God to seek His way, guide me to the truth, the religion He wanted me to follow, and show me what His religion is.
Those prayers led me to Islam. I noticed the Qu’ran is still maintained in its original text, language, and without any changes. No other religion can make this claim. Since 2011, I have been working on submitting my will to the Creator and I do this by taking the Quran and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, to be my source of guidance. The Qu’ran, warns against fighting over material things and speaks about the rivalry in worldly increase. I started selling drugs in order to have my own money, to buy clothes, and cars. However, I wasn’t aware that selling drugs came with an entire destructive lifestyle.
The Qu’ran has deep knowledge about things scientists are only beginning to discover. It’s the truth and provides a moral guide to bringing humanity out of darkness into light. The Prophet Muhammad’s, peace be upon him, life is an example of what’s key to cleaning up the hood, cleaning up the streets. I’d advise my people to look into his example and to emulate his character.
I’m roughly 12 years into a 65-year sentence for a murder conviction. I want you to look at at least ten people who entered into the drug game and have been in the streets for at least 5 to 10 years. Tell me where they are now. Learn from me young Black man, avoid the pitfalls and traps set up in our hood, become a Muslim.
All praise be to Allaah and may peace and salutations be upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad, his family, companions, and all those who follow his guidance until the last day.