When Conversion goes awry: The strange case of Umar Lee

I sympathize with converts to Islam like Umar Lee. It’s the kind of sympathy I feel for a child about to hit puberty, trapped between the innocence of childhood and the anxiety that comes with being a grown up. Converts have to cope with complex ‘push factors’ i.e. the reasons that cause them to part ways with a lifestyle, religion, or lack thereof, and the consequences that comes with that decision. But that’s not all. They have to then navigate the landscape of the “pull factors” i.e. the things that attracted them to Islam. And that’s a whole other game.

Converts like Umar Lee (and he’s certainly not alone) gravitate to men with short trousers and long beards who shout and wail in accents that betray the rage of hearts in need of some badly needed rest.

To converts, folks like me, born into a Muslim family, with all our small ‘t’ traditions (call them bid’a if you like), unsophisticated communities (close minded and parochial, yes), and a demeanor unruffled by the discourse of the ideologues burdened with the desire for political power or the narrative of vengeance neatly wrapped in Quranic verses and ahadith from the war ravished lands of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia, are the reason why Islam lost the grandeur it once had.

And so the convert swell the ranks of the Salafis to fight against the majority of Muslim who follow one of the four Sunni madhahib, adhere to the ‘aqida of Ahlus Sunnah Wal-Jama’ah and have a daily routine of spiritual practices be it a wird or the recitation of Ayatul Kursi, dhikr and dua’ after salah.

Umar Lee is a smart person and he recognized the tragic pitfalls of the Salafists/Wahabi da’wah, or minhaj if you like. And one might say that’s a good thing. Lot of Sufis lined up to congratulate him. Converts like Saraji Umm Zaid and Abdur Rahman Robert Squires, hard-core Muslim convert bloggers with world-wide audiences, have recently denounced Islam and are now pursuing other options. Religion, not only Islam, can burn people out if they’re not careful.

I am sorry it took a personal tragedy to cause Lee to realize that the Salafis are shells devoid of kernels. But I say this to all converts: If you became Muslims to hike up your pants, grow your beards, don a black niqab, fight with other Muslims and marry/divorce as many women as you can before the sight of a Viagra brings a smile to your face, then go back to what you’ve been raised on and hope for the best. Trust me you’d be better off.

But this Lee fella digs himself a deeper hole. He’s now dreaming of a Sheikh named Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani. Lee says a person can’t believe everything he reads meaning perhaps he’s read or heard something about Gilani and his followers who go these days by the name Muslims of the Americas. I agree that you can’t or shouldn’t believe everything you read, but heck dude, believe some of it at least. If Lee is looking for a spiritual path he might have more chance finding it in Jacksonville instead of Holy Islamville.

I know Gilani. In fact, I am perhaps the only Western journalist to have interviewed him on camera for the CBC’s 5th Estate “Seeds of Terror.” A few years ago when his good friend Khalid Khawaja was alive before being executed by the Pakistani Taliban or the ISI, Gilani wrote me a four page letter apologizing for not being able to meet me in person while I was on a working trip to Pakistan. Funny thing was, I didn’t even request a meeting with him.

My own personal investigation has uncovered a trail of blood left by Gilani’s dervishes that stretched from Trinidad, Guyana, the United States and Canada. Long before September 11, 2001 rolled around Gilani and his fuqara were beating the path of ‘jihad’ assassinating prominent Hindus, Ahmadi missionaries and Muslims deemed heretics by Gilani such as Rashad Khalifa. I’ve counted 20 major criminal acts of terror dating from 1981 to 1990.

Gilani’s followers today are peaceful, no doubt. Some are on the run or in jail or looking at extradition from Canada to stand trial in the U.S. Some, like three men who plotted to bomb a Hindu temple and an Indian theatre in Toronto in 1991 have served their 12 years in an Ontario jail and have been deported to the land of their origin in the Caribbean.

Whoever was responsible for creating Gilani and sending him to the United States in 1981 when Zia-ul-Haq was supremo leader of Pakistan and a Jihad had to be won in Afghanistan against the evil Red Army, is still a mystery. But I can tell you this Lee, setting up Sufi khanqas was the last thing on the mind of Gilani and his handlers. Sticking it to the Ahmadis, American allies of Indira Gandhi and recruiting a steady flow of Jihadists for Kashmir and Afghanistan seem more in line with Gilani’s mission.

But that’s all history now. His followers, many of them very nice converts whom, I say respectfully, sing wonderful qasidas in authentic Urdu – you can see them on Youtube – have impeccable adab even as they espouse some very strange nonsensical gibberish. It is not Sufism and they are yet another manifestation of a cult.

So, I end by saying this to you Lee, you’re better off doing security for Mr. Suhaib Webb. God in heavens knows even a one time bouncer need protection from Pakistani uncles and aunties at ISNA convention. It’s all about appearances. Although, I have no interest in Webb’s message ever since he bought into the ideology of the Ikhwan hook line and sinker, I know this about him, he ain’t no fool.

Read about Umar Lee’s dreams here.

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