“As I realize now, instead of these schools and parents putting their kids on Ritalin and other junk, they should put their time and money in studying Islam and teaching their children about Allah. When nothing else worked – and believe me a lot of people tried to get me straightened out – Allah did it. Allah can do anything and everything. When He does something for you, that is the way it is supposed to be.”
Waa’il Abdul Salaam is formerly Austin Roe. Now 13, he converted to Islam by his own volition at the age of merely 10 years old. He movingly describes how difficult his childhood was and how the touch of Islam has changed his life entirely around. Many children who grow up to be aggressive or violent are often the result of their environment – whether within the home or without. They are not inherently as such. A right environment and guidance with love and mercy can make them rediscover themselves and rekindle their thought process and inherent potentials. The story of Waai’l Abdul Salaam will bear this out.
He contributed his story so that it may serve as a lesson for parents, doctors, as well as children.
My story of becoming a Muslim at the age of ten years old might be unusual, but it was very real for me. I want to share my story so that it might be beneficial for other kids who are going through the same problems I went through. I was born into a family with a mother who was Roman Catholic and a father who was Baptist. When I was born, I had one sister who was a year and a half older than myself. When I was six weeks old, my father took me from my crib and ran off with another woman. He left my mother alone with my sister. He hid me and was involved in drugs. I remember the first few years of being very hungry and alone. I remember how I was very angry and had a bad temper.
During those first few years, my mother’s friends got her a job as a bartender so that she could support herself and my sister. After a while one of my father’s friends went to her and told her where I was because he was afraid something bad was going to happen. My mother came right away and found my father and his friends doing drugs. She saw me running around being neglected, and so she picked me up and left with me. I did not really know her. I guess maybe I thought I was being kidnapped or something, so I threw temper tantrums every chance I got and became even more angry.
Eventually my mother finally got me to smile, learn how to hug, and even say I love you – things I did not know how to do when she found me. She had two of us kids to support and herself, and so she wound up spending more time working at the bar, which meant we were left with lots of different babysitters.
Then one day my father came to the house where we lived and took me back to where he was living with another new lady. By the end of that year, my father tried to put me in school, which did not work. I did everything bad I knew just to get into trouble.
The school called and said that I could not continue in the school because of my behavior, and so I was taken back and dumped at my mother’s doorstep. She was happy that I was back and took me to my sister’s school. I thought I was getting left again, and so I threw a fit, hit my teachers and other kids. The school called my mother and said I could not go to school there either. I was mad at everyone. I did the worst things I could think of at every chance I got. This time my mother got on a plane with me and we flew to her mother’s house – far across the country – in another state. She was very loving, but very strict about my throwing fits. She did not yell but whenever I destroyed something or had a tantrum, she would hold my hand and walk outside with me to a pile of small wood blocks on the side of the house. She would tell me to move all the little wood blocks from one side of the driveway to the other and when I was done to come and let her know. Then she would go back inside and leave me there by myself. At first I was so mad at her, but by the time I finished moving the little blocks, I was not mad any more. It was like a game.
By the end of the eight months that I lived with my grandmother, I stopped throwing tantrums, liked to sit on her lap and listen while she read bible stories and poems to me until I fell asleep. I learned all my school lessons, knew how to ride a horse, and I absolutely knew how to move blocks around. At the end of that time, it was time for me to go back home, and I was doing so well that I got to ride on a plane all by myself (with an escort of course). I felt very grown up and very happy. She told me that I was going to be just fine, and that whenever I got angry or sad or lonely, I should think about God. She said I should always remember how He took care of all the people in the Bible and if I would ask Him she knew He would take care of me too. She told me that if I got upset or angry, I should never hurt anyone. Instead, I should just pray to God until I was not angry anymore.
After I got back home, my mother was happy because I was not hurting people or throwing tantrums. I was eating well and not afraid to sleep. I was happy almost all of the time. My mother worked all the time while babysitters took care of my sister and a new brother who was born while I was away. My father knew that my mother had to work to take care of us and yet he would never give her even a penny to help. He divorced her without telling her.
Then again my father came one day. He saw how good I had turned out and just like before, he took me away.
The new lady my father was living with was so cruel. I lost a lot of weight. I am not sure how things happened, but it was during that time that I supposedly split my head open on monkey bars at the school, and supposedly was hit by a jeep in front of their home. I do not remember those things too clearly, but I do remember his girlfriend picking up a two-by-four and hitting me with it in the front yard. I also remember my father slamming my head into the kitchen table because I did not write fast enough. He and his lady friend would threaten me by convincing me that the devil would come out of my bedroom floor and take me to burn in hell if I got out of bed while they were having drug parties.
This went on until I was in fourth grade. My father used to show me a big baggie filled with drugs he was then getting from a doctor and telling me how good they made him feel. His house was filled with dirty magazines and MTV movies and it all seemed normal because that was all I ever knew back then. I did not know there was any other way to live. I had long forgotten how my grandmother had taught me to pray and I could not remember the wonderful days I spent with her riding horses, being hugged, and read to about God. All the bad stuff at that age seemed to push the good stuff away. When it was time to start fourth grade I acted uncontrollably at school, hoping that I would get sent back to my mother or grandmothers. I did not stop until I got what I wanted, and it worked. I was taken back and left with my mother. By then she was working around sixty hours a week. She would come home tired, yelling and screaming and expecting us to take care of ourselves and not give her anymore trouble. I wanted attention from her, and so I went back to being a brat and being mean to my sister and my new little brother whom I resented even more.
By the end of the first month of that school year, I was the worst I had ever been. My mother could not cope with me one minute longer. My father had already made me go to doctors who put me on five different kinds of medicines – from Ritalin to even worse drugs – to try to control me, but even that did not work. In fact, that stuff made me worse. I beat up other kids, started fights, accused them of doing things they did not do, stole things, lied, refused to obey the teachers, or do any work. School to me was a place I was going to play and do whatever I wanted to do. I knew they could not do anything about it. I thought I was really something and all I thought about was myself. They sent me to the hall, to the office, to home, and even put a box around me in class to keep me from bothering other kids, but I still did not give up.
Do not get me wrong here – I am not saying all these to sound cool. I was an idiot to say the least – I know that now. I want other kids to know that it does not have to be that way regardless of their family problems. So, if I do not say how bad it had gotten they will not be able to understand. I was only ten years old then. I am almost fourteen now. When I look back about what I was at ten, I cannot believe that I am the same person, or that the kid I am telling you about above was for real. But he was for real and he was me! Most people would not believe that a ten-year-old kid could be as bad and do as bad things as I did. It all finally came to an end for me when, one day, I called the home of a kid, pretending to be another kid, and told them that their boy was missing. You can image how much trouble I was in then. That only got me into more drugs from the doctor. All those drugs made me see things and hear things that were not there and made me angry enough to be dangerous. I do not believe anyone should put their kids on those drugs even if the school insists. Adults just have no idea what those drugs do to kids or what they make kids think about. I am proof to tell you that kids are not going to admit to parents or doctors or anyone about having horrid thoughts because of the drugs. Anyway, when the drugs were not helping and I was getting into even more trouble, it was at that point they threatened to put me out of the family forever. All of a sudden, my mother did not want to put up with it anymore. My father did not want me either. I did not know what was going to happen to me.
When I least expected it, there was a couple who offered to take me into their home and try to help me. They did not have children living at home, and so there would be no one for me to hurt. They would also homeschool me until my behavior got in check. Neither of them drank used drugs. They were not going to give me any drugs and promised to me that I did not have to go to a bunch of doctors unless I was physically sick. It was my last chance. I said okay and I was put on a plane and sent to their home. They picked me up from the airport. It was Jumaana and her husband Waseem. All of a sudden I felt different. Here was a new couple. The family back at my home already knew my routines, so they caught me right away every time I did something wrong, but these two did not know how I operated. At first, I tried to be loud and a real brat. I did a good job for a few days, reminding them both that they said I did not have to take all those drugs. They looked like they did not know what to do with me exactly but they re-assured me that their promise was good.
They had a room all ready for me when I arrived. The walls were pale blues, my favorite color. It had a blue carpet and blue drapes and even a blue bedspread. There was a desk, just for me to use, and even a small fish tank with fishes that swam in and out of the rocks. It had a light that stayed on all night. It was incredible. I never had anything like that for myself. I used to sleep on the floors on a blanket or on a couch in the living room before. As the days passed, the drugs were draining out of my body. It made me tired and drowsy most of the first few weeks and I slept a lot. I was ten years old but weighed only forty-eight pounds because the drugs make one too sick to eat. By the end of the first month, I gained several pounds and felt better than I had in a long time. I did not want to be put up with that stuff ever again. The following month, my homeschool box was delivered to the house and Jumaana began to teach me every day when Waseem was at work.
I could see how different it was in Jumaana’s and Waseem’s house. At certain times, for example, Jumaana would leave the room to go to her room. I would pretend to keep working, but I could not help but notice that she would put on a long scarf over her head and a small rug on the floor. I was not sure what she was doing back then, but she would be praying. I watched her do that every day. Finally one day I asked about it. I think that was when I stopped being so bad and started wondering about other things. I would see their house was different, quieter, and more peaceful – something I could not think of because for ten years I had only known people who were either drugged up or drunk, or just plain mean. This was like a different planet, one might say. I did not exactly know what to think about it, but I did start liking being there. I tried not to get too attached because I thought that one day I would get sent away again, which always happened and I did not want to think about it. That is why I would have a couple of good days and then I would go back to my old ways.
Every day I asked more and more questions. Jumaana or Waseem would do their best to answer them. I wanted to learn to pray too, and so one day I asked if I could pray with her. She said I could and even opened her closet and gave me new blue velvety prayer rug. I followed everything she did and I listened to every word, but I could not remain still and be always wiggling and moving around. After a couple weeks I could remain motionless, and I felt very peaceful inside. I never remembered feeling that way before. One evening, after I had gotten settled into bed for the night, Jumaana came into my room and asked if I was doing okay. I told her yes and she said she thought I had become quieter lately and wondered if there was anything I needed. She and Waseem always talked nice to each other, and I never heard them fight or anything like what the people did in my old home. I could not believe how nice they were to one another, they were now talking to me that way too. I could not quite figure things out. I thought maybe it would be okay if I told her that I wanted to be a Muslim too. I really did want to be and I did not know how to do it. So, I just came out and said it, “I want to be a Muslim”.
She smiled and asked if I knew what being a Muslim was. I told her I did not but I wanted to be one. She tucked me in, gave me a hug, left the room and came back with some children’s books on Islam. That night I read them until I fell asleep. The next day I finished the books and I could not get enough to read. I read about saying Shahada and so I told her right away that I needed to say it, so that I could be a Muslim. They reminded me that I was only ten years old and so maybe I would need to study more first. I told them that I had already read all the books and I had to say the Shahada that very day. I know I was young, but it did not seem that way to me at the time, because all I knew was that I had to become a Muslim. It was right for me and I knew it – right from the beginning. Later that night, on December 29, 2000, I officially said the Shahada to Jumaana and Waseem, and I became a Muslim.
Jumaana continued to teach me at home and I passed the fourth grade and the fifth grade all in one year. I was also given the privilege to read whatever books I wanted from the shelves of books Waseem and Jumaana had. They had books on all religions, but I read every one they had on Islam. I asked lots of questions about the difference in religions because I did not know why everyone in the world was not following Islam. I went to the library of the little town where we lived and got to know the librarian there. She ordered me lots more books on Islam and would ask me questions about it too. She said that I knew a lot for my age and was surprised about how much I knew about Islam. Then after I read everything they had, I would go to the big public library in downtown and find all kinds of books on Islam. I knew I could never be anything except a Muslim.
My parents did not want me to come back and live with them ever. They only remembered me the way I was when they sent me away. I also did not want to go back to my old way of life, or live with them with the drinking, drugs, fighting, and chaos either. They had not sent any money to take care of me during the entire first year I lived with Jumaana and Waseem. Waseem was ready to retire but he kept on working just to take care of me. Jumaana also had given up her writing to teach me at home. They had done these things because they cared about what happened to me. I really did not want to ever leave them. So, after I lived with them for a year, the courts granted me a legal adoption. It was the only way they could have the right to make decisions about my schooling and other legal issues since they were not considered my parents. Because my parents had not had contact with me and never sent any support for the whole year, the court could make me go into a home or foster care if it wanted to. I was so afraid that if my parents all of a sudden wanted to take me back because I was so much better, then they would do the same things to me they had before. I also knew they would never let me stay as a Muslim.
I prayed so hard every day – five times a day or more – asking Allah to help me. Adoption in this country is the only way to assure legal rights. More than anything, I wanted Waseem and Jumaana to adopt. I was so happy when the court felt it was the best thing for me too. The papers were filed and my parents were notified accordingly. But they did not even bother to contact the court to contest it. In fact they quickly signed the papers to give me up. I was happy about that, actually. Then on the day of the adoption, the judge even told me that I could change my name. I chose “Waa’il” because it meant “one who returns for shelter”, and I did feel like I went to Jumaana’s and Waseem’s home for shelter. I also felt like I had returned to Islam, and so that was a shelter for me inside. It was the best thing in my whole life that ever happened to me. Because of the delays in removing the parental rights of my birth parents, the date for my adoption was changed, making it fall on the first day of Ramadan in 2001. It was, as if, Allah was blessing me over and over again.
Three and a half years have now passed by, and I see how incredibly different my life has been from what it used to be. Sometimes it is hard to look back and think what it used to be like before becoming a Muslim. Having had such a stubborn and defiant attitude during those first ten years of my life still affects me sometimes, but I am still very different from what I was back then. People do not think me as a thirteen and a half year old when they meet me – most of them think that I am a lot older. I think it is probably because of having such a tough life from the time I was born until I came to live with my new parents. They encourage me to keep at least some kind of contact with my family, which is fine because I know that they cannot come and take me away anymore or tell me that I cannot be a Muslim. I know that I am safe. I also believe that Allah made it all happen, which makes that negative period of my life more bearable now when I remember it. For, I have found Islam and found Allah, which I probably would not have found if all that stuff had not happened. At least, this is how I think now.
My sister came and spent a week during her school break this last December/January. I had not seen her in over three years. She is fifteen now and flew here on her own to stay with us for the week. She was shocked at the changes in me. I had grown to five feet ten inches in height from being half her size when I left, which made me tower over her by almost a foot. I also outweighed her by fifty pounds, after having last been seen a scrawny skeleton of a kid. When I left I was wearing a Rugrats hat and Harry Potter clothes from television and cartoon shows. When she saw me this time, I was wearing a Kufi – or one of my other kinds of Islamic caps – and a Kurris. When I left I had been a loud, troublemaking, obnoxious brat who had failed three out of five grades and who could not even write a complete sentence, and she hated me. This time she saw me polite, quieter, having passed all my grades, and even skipping a whole grade which put me in the same grade as she was. Sometimes she would see me stop whatever I was doing and go to prayer five times a day. She hated me when I left home at age ten, and was expecting me to be the same. Now, she told me after a couple days of being with us that she could hardly believe that I was that same person. She really liked me as her brother now. She found out that I was a Muslim. Because I had changed so much, she asked a ton of questions about Islam, took back a bunch of Islamic books I gave her, and told everyone back there that they just would not believe how different I was. Now, every once in a while, my mother will let my brother and sister call, and she even talks to me for a few minutes. I send books for them to read about Islam and I hope that someday they will all become Muslims too. I know they would be so much happier if they did.
My life seems a hundred years away from the way it used to be.
I have found Islam and found Allah, which I probably would not have found if all that stuff had not happened … I have become a Muslim now going on for four years, been blessed with new Muslim parents, had my adoption finalized on the very first day of my very first Ramadan, learned my prayers in Arabic, read my new parent’s entire library of books on Islam, exhausted the public libraries of their Islamic books, been given a new name and a new life. I do not know what else I could ask for.”
I am studying very hard to finish my high school in another two years. I will be sixteen by then, but I feel like I am a lot older. I know now that I did not need drugs to make me behave. I did not need anger to get me through all those years of chaos. I did not need to be so hurtful to others just to get attention. I did not need to cause such chaos for others. What I needed all along was Islam. I needed Allah. As I realize now, instead of these schools and parents putting their kids on Ritalin and other junk, they should put their time and money in studying Islam and teaching their children about Allah. When nothing else worked – and believe me a lot of people tried to get me straightened out – Allah did it. Allah can do anything and everything. When He does something for you, that is the way it is supposed to be.
I am Waa’il Abdul Salaam and this is my story.