My name is Jeremiah bin Salaam (which means chosen by God, son of Peace). I was raised Jewish. My spiritual journey started in 1992 when I graduated High School. I read the autobiography of Malcolm X. The thing that totally encapsulated me about Islam was the universalism of it, that you had people from all over the earth from many different nations, tribes, and colors in unity to worship God. I liked the brotherhood of Islam and also that the original way of the Prophets had been preserved, such as making full ablutions and prostration during prayer. I also liked that the actual prayer was the same as how the Prophet prayed. I also liked that Islam was always called in the Qur'an 'the Religion of Abraham.' It is a universal message, the same as Prophet Abraham's message to all the nations.
After I finished my first year of college, I traveled to Israel and attended the Discovery Program through Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem in the summer of 1993 and consequently studied in their Yeshiva (Jewish Madrassa) in the Old City of Jerusalem and another Breslov Yeshiva in Jerusalem for about 1 year from the summer of '93 to the summer of '94. During my time in Israel, I also traveled to Hebron and other parts of the West Bank.
When I came back to America, I was very intrigued to know what Palestinians believed in so I starting reading about Islam and I read the English translation of the Qur'an. In 1996, I met with a couple Muslims, and they referred me to a Shaykh whom I met with quite often until I embraced Islam several weeks later. For me, embracing Islam was NOT a rejection of my Judaism and my former beliefs but rather just an extension of it. I became convinced that Prophet Muhammad was in fact the last and final Messenger of God and that the Qur'an was the word of God. This is did not conflict or contradict with the strong love that I felt for Judaism and the Jewish tradition.
I continued to study with him for about 4 years until 2000. When the Palestinian Intifada broke out in 2000, my Shaykh became increasingly anti-Jewish in this rhetoric. This made me very upset as I have no issue with people taking issues with policies of the Israeli government, but I will not tolerate anti-Jewish bigotry and hate. I broke away from his mentorship.
In 2003, I attended a month-long Rihla (a spiritual journey undertaken for the sake of divine knowledge) in New Mexico with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Shaykh Abdul-Hakim Murad, and Imam Zaid Shakir of Zaytuna Institute amongst other Shiyukh. I studied the Hanafi Madhab with Shaykh Jamal Zahabi. I also started taking classes in Chicago with Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah from the Nawawi Foundation. The things that I liked about the Hanafi Madhab was that it was more similar to Jewish Halachah including forbidding the eating of shellfish, the importance of wearing a skullcap (Kufi or Kippah) and growing a long natural beard, to emulate the example of the Prophets. It was during the Rihla, that I first participated in the ancient Sufi practice of Zhikr (the remembrance and meditation on Allah). It was a mind-blowing spiritual experience for me, I felt like my heart opened up to the Nur (light) and Beauty of Allah, and I cried profusely with Joy, Clarity, and Purity of Heart that I had never felt before.
It was also during the Rihla, that I found out that the Wahhabi/Salafi ideology does not represent true traditional Islam. My previous Shaykh had studied in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi version of Islam, which originated in 18th century Arabia, it is extremely intolerant of all others, whether they be Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus or even other Muslims such as the Shia and the Sufis. Saudi Arabia exports its version of Islam through the use of oil-money in publishing huge amounts of pamphlets and books, their translation and commentary on the Qur'an, which distort its true meaning. They also add to the 5 pillars of Islam, a sixth pillar of violent war against all disbelievers which they misappropriate the term Jihad to be. True Jihad (struggle) is of 2 forms... the greater Jihad is the inner struggle to overcome negative character traits such as arrogance, pride, lust, anger, etc. The second form of Jihad is to wage a DEFENSIVE war against those who oppress you such as fighting against soldiers who expel you from your land or home or prevent you from practicing your religion, but even then you are not allowed to kill civilians, women, children, and the elderly. Unfortunately, Wahhabi/Salafi groups such as ISIS, Al Qaida, and Hamas do not follow these rules that the blessed Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) clearly laid out.
Later, in 2008, I taught a class on Judaism at the local Mosque as well as a class on Islam at a local Synagogue. I also participated in several Jewish-Muslim dialogue groups such as one called 'Children of Abraham' and another Jewish-Muslim dialogue group with another Synagogue. I have been very active in combating stereotyping and generalizations of either side. I also try to educate both sides about the diversity within each community. For example, on the Islamic side, besides the well-known split between Sunni and Shia, you have Salafi and Sufi, Conservatives and Liberals, etc.. On the Jewish side, you have Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. And amongst the Orthodox, you have Chasidic, Anti-Zionists, Religious Zionists, etc.
In 2013, I wanted to investigate the spiritual teachings of the Sufi Way more and I started reading the teachings of Mawlana Rumi, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Mawlana Shaykh Nazim Al-Haqqani and his representative Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, and found that their teachings and practices were 100% in accordance with what I always truly believed in my heart and it was then that I took Bay'ah into the Naqshbandi Sufi Order. Bay'ah is the act of becoming a Mureed (disciple) of a Spiritual Master for him to guide you through the Sufi Way to get closer to Allah, His Prophets, and His Saints.
Shalom Aleichem / Salam Aleikum / Peace be upon you!