Muslim Revert and Ex-Gang Member, Michael North, Stands for Love
You are a Muslim Revert. Can you talk about your relationship with Islam and why you decided to become a "revert"?
As far my as relationship with Islam, I’ll share it all with you, for I have nothing to hide. After my father’s passing at the end of 2009, I started to receive signs of spirituality. These signs were not at all religious, just “wordless words” I felt in my soul that compelled me to make better decisions with my life. They came from a higher source. My creator. Our creator. Here is something that most reverts to any religion won’t usually say: you do not need any religion to find God! This is still the truth.
After a few years, I still reverted to Islam. The reason why? Because Allah asked me to. You see, I didn’t want to be a part of any religion, for several reasons. I didn’t want to give up eating pork. It sounds silly, but I am half Dominican (Latino) and we grew up eating the meat, as a part of our culture. I also grew up believing what the media said about Muslims; believing that they were terrorists who wanted to blow up and kill us all. I found that too many religious leaders and “common religious folk” are closed minded and too rigid with their views. I am not that like that all. In fact, my own daughter isn’t a Muslim, and I do not care whether she reverts or not.
Initially I ignored “the signs” for over 2 years, but they say that Allah always has the last laugh and a great sense of humor. These signs continued to come to me; monthly, weekly, and finally daily. It was at that point that I knew I had to revert to Islam. The major sign was that someone would always come to me randomly. Whether it would be in the neighborhood that I lived in or traveled to, someone would come to me, either alone or with their friends, and tell me that I had to convert to Islam. I finally obeyed. I have never been happier in my life, regardless of the negative stereotypes that I receive. Islam made my heart softer than it was, especially after my father returned to our creator. May he RIP.
What do you love the most about fatherhood and what are the main challenges you have faced? What has Islam taught you about fatherhood and has it helped you become a better father?
This is a simple question for me. Being a father gave me a bigger purpose in life. I am responsible for helping cultivate a better human being than I am. We all have one purpose and that is to serve. I might guide and parent my daughter, but I also serve by loving and taking care of her.
Islam showed me what I already knew about fatherhood. Women and girls are precious, and the key holders to paradise.
All I need is two daughters more to be allowed into Jannah. Now I just need to eventually find a wife, ha ha!
You were involved with street gangs as a young man. What led to you becoming a gang member, what did your life look like then, and why did you decide to leave the gang? I often think about the rise of the alt-right and how it's brought about so much violence in the US and Europe. Do you think the [emotional, spiritual, etc.] tools you found and used to leave the gang could be useful in helping members of the alt-right become more tolerant and open minded?
When I say that I am an ex gang member, there is a truth and non truth to this. For you never really leave the gang, you simply become inactive. I no longer believe in genocide and the destruction of the human race. I became a gang member and a member of the Elm St Pirus (Bloods) over 20 years ago, and the reason is much simpler than most would expect. I grew up in a destructive, abusive, and anger-filled household.
Growing up I was constantly told that I was a loser and that I would amount to nothing in life. Eventually I believed it and I chose to hide my pain and void by becoming a part of something violent; to protect myself and hide the pain I felt within.
When I decided to leave the gang lifestyle it was because I started to internally change. My heart was no longer in it and I realized that my soul needed something more. My father was also growing more and more ill and I had to focus on being there for him. As far as the alt right movement, it could be treated like any other hate group. Education is key, but so is love.
Hating your perceived enemies only fuels more hatred and anger. That anger eats away at the mind and soul, and no resolution can come of this. What we need is to all come together, not segregate ourselves from the rest of society like so many religious followers do these days. We need to speak, from there understanding can come. From there, a bridge of love can be established.
You have a twin brother and he's a Christian, please tell us more about that. How do you celebrate religious holidays with your family and do you tend to share more similarities than differences regarding your religions? Is it difficult to be a [bearded, visible, etc.] Muslim man in the US these days?
Religion could never superset or come between the bond that I have with my twin brother. After all, Allah created us from one embryo, which means I have more in common with him than anyone else in this world. My family does not acknowledge my holidays, but they do acknowledge my religious beliefs. For example, fasting, praying, and not eating some of the foods that they continue to eat.
All Muslims should love Jesus and acknowledge him as a prophet. I think we should leave our differences after that at the door. I can say that being a Muslim man in the United States, especially in New York, can be difficult. I’ve gotten racist remarks in passing from drivers. I have been placed on an airport watch list for no apparent reason, other than being a Muslim. I have also been visited by FBI and homeland security more than once.
You talk a lot about your inner peace and looking for a partner who will help you remain in that peaceful mindset. Would you pursue a relationship with someone who is not Muslim? What's the most difficult part about dating these days and what's your ideal date look like?
I often speak about peace, because peace was the hardest goal for me to achieve. The noise inside of my head made it difficult to be able to smile. Depression and anxiety reigned supreme, in all the corners of my mind, for most of my life. So after eventually finding my peace (partially a result of my father’s death) I knew what I needed to do in order to stay close to God.
Any partner that I may take on has to return the peace and love that I will inevitably give to her. Someone’s religion doesn’t matter to me. Yes, I prefer a woman who prays like me, but I wouldn’t deny my connection with any woman who can feed and take care of my heart and soul. The most difficult part about dating in general these days is the addiction of people to their phones. When you’re trying to get to know someone, who may in fact be into you, but also too much into their social life and social media, the turn off becomes all too real. An ideal date to me would be someone that I can laugh with, be able to talk to, be physically attracted to, connect with spiritually and, most importantly, be myself with. I expect no less from her.
What issues are you most passionate about and how has your activism changed over the years/months? What do you tell others who fear judgment and are afraid to become social justice activists for fear of what their [very conservative] family members might say or how society might react?
I don’t know if I would consider myself an activist, but just someone who speaks the truth regardless of what others think. Whether it would be racism here in my country, genocide elsewhere or injustices in countries that the U.S. is allied with, I will speak out against hate.
The only issue that I am utterly obsessed with is “love” and the lack of it. Love is the single most important entity in this universe, because it is God. Love can be so freely given to anyone at anytime. I wasn’t raised with enough of it, which is why, when I finally found self love, I made it my motivation and life purpose to give it to anyone who is in need.
I have never feared standing alone. In fact, I’ve done it for most of my life. After all, I am the sole Muslim in a Catholic family, living in a country with Muslims Bans in place and Islamophobia running rampant. I celebrate Ramadan alone and never celebrate Eid, because I have no one to celebrate it with. Yet, I still stand strong and I have never thought once about leaving my faith.