Story of my conversion to Shia Islam


By “Mark Washington (Mukhtar Ali)”

Here in the States we have something called the Black History Month. And in Black History Month, I chose to do a report. So each of the students have to do a report on a particular person. I did a report on a black musician, by the name of, what’s his name, I think William C Handy. Can’t remember if that was the name, or not, but I did it on a black musician. And he was like a trumpet player or something like that.

And someone else did a report on a guy named Malcolm X. And I became very interested in the other guy’s report. And from that, I bumped into Malcolm X again, after being on punishment. And while on punishment, there was a book in my house, and it was The Autobiography of Malcolm X. So you know, punishment where you going to do, you can’t watch TV, you can’t go anywhere, you’re stuck in your room. So I picked up that book. And when I picked up that book, I saw so many characters that were very close to me.

And I liked what I saw. I didn’t agree with all of the ideology of Malcolm. But I definitely recognize some of the characters in my aunties and uncles. And I liked how he went from, you know, he switched his own narrative, he went from having a bad disposition to having a good disposition. And I like that. One of my grandmothers, she was very religious. But outside of her I, I didn’t know anyone that was religious. When I started reading the Malcolm book, I think I started really picking up books, a book of any nature, whatever it was, I would pick it up. If it said, this is a little, maybe later on, but if it was like the Bhagavad Gita, the Rig Veda I Ching, the Torah, acupuncture, acupressure, yoga, chakras.

If it was something that I didn’t know about, I would pick it up, and I would read it. And then, you know, once I would read a book on, you know, acupuncture, it says something about herbology. Right, wait, what’s herbology? So that would take me to a herbology book, and I just kept going on and on and on. And then, of course, at some point, this led, you know, into the religious arena. And again, I was doing the same thing, just picking up books and books, and books.

And then I started questioning certain ideals, such as something very distinct in my head, I remember going to, like a Christian camp, usually in the summer times, they, you know, Christian communities, they have these things where they do camps, and kids go have a ton of fun. And then they’ll learn a little bit about the religion.

So I went to a camp and we had fun all day. And then on the way back, the lady was dropping me off, and we started having a conversation about God. And at the time I guess I identified myself as being Christian. The lady, she was mentioning that God was a certain color. And that didn’t resonate. Academically, I couldn’t defend myself, but it just didn’t resonate with me. She said, God was a certain color, because he was from here, and people look like this, who are from here. And I said, I remember saying to her, no, God is yellow, brown, purple, orange, black, every single color that I could think of. I knew something that I was sniffing out was more in the right direction, than what she was telling, although I didn’t have the articulation to be able to explain myself.

Well, so little things like that were my initial questions into the religious arena. Why would God look like this? Or why would God pray to himself? Or these kinds of questions and these led me into picking up other kind of other books that were similar to these types of questions.

In my 10th grade years, while 15 or 16, I met a Cambodian brother. And this is in summer school, summer school was for kids who don’t do so well in school so they are in summer school for some reason. So I was in summer school and I told this brother, I said, one day, I’m going to be Muslim. And he said, I want to take you somewhere. So he took me to jumu’a (Friday prayers), and I made shahadah that same day. And then the day after I said, oh, wow. I realized what I did. I said, oh, man, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do that. I can’t do this. Oh, wow. Okay.

And I continued on. For me, I think, part of the gift of me and my family not being religious is I didn’t have any deeply rooted ideals. So if I ran across an ideal, it was very easy for me to look at it from five or six different perspectives, and then go with what I felt was the strongest perspective. So I didn’t have anything that it was challenging. My ideals, the only thing that I think, it was a challenge to my ideals. This was a challenge to me, my person, myself, my character, when I would read something, and I would agree with it, I would just say, oh, I have to change this about myself now.

But it was, it was a challenge, I find it interesting. Each time I would pick up a book, okay, I have to do this now, oh, have to do this now, like it, this was something else I would have to change about myself but it was making me become a better person. So, I wanted to do it, although there was a little resistance. I grew up in the Western world. So you turn on the TV and everything in the Western world, and in the TV is totally different than the theological world.

Well, prior to 16, my mom, one of the things she did on the side, she was a seamstress. So she would fix wedding dresses, and all different types of clothes. So I would see her rummaging on the sewing machine, and she would leave and then I would go and go crazy on the sewing machine. Just press the little motor and, I’m a guy, I wanted to just ramble through stuff. And eventually that kind of led me into having an interest in fashion.

And then I had an uncle, who was a DJ, and he would have records and he would just play music. And I had an interest in music. So from 16 to 20, I am still studying and I continue to do the fashion and music thing, because I didn’t know that Islam had certain particular rulings that would maybe completely eliminate my whole interest in music or eliminate the type of fashion that I wanted to do. Initially, I went to school for fashion design, I was actually in high school studying fashion design.

It later became an issue. And it was definitely was a difficult issue, because these are things that I was very passionate about. I mean I went to college and I spent a lot of money to go to school, I went to London, Milan, Paris, I stayed in these places and did study abroad for fashion design. So this was something that was very much ingrained into what I felt like I was going to do with the rest of my life. And I might get a call, Hey, Mark, we need you to do wardrobe styling for for x celebrity, and it’s going to be on this magazine, or it’s going to be in this video or this commercial. And at that point I started becoming much more religious. So it was a, like, okay, do I want to get behind this, and millions of people are going to see this product, and, this particular product is completely contrary to what I believe morally, ethically and Islamically. So I had to start facing these kinds of questions.

I graduated college, literally, while homeless. But I had in my head all my aunties and uncles, they’re drop outs. So in my head, I said, if I don’t go to college, and if I don’t graduate, then my lifestyle is going to be very similar to theirs. So there was nothing that was going to stop me from not graduating college. With seeing the examples of my aunties and uncles and people around me, I think this made me a little bit stronger. So with me being the black sheep of the family and taking upon roles or ideals that they didn’t agree with, they kind of would just let me go, okay, just let him do his thing. My mom said if it makes him a better person than who he was before, then by all means, let him continue.

With fashion, I was doing wardrobe styling for a ton of celebrities, a bunch of huge companies, and I said, okay, I have to pull out of this and figure this out, and come back when I’m under my own terms.

With music, it primarily was okay, I’m going to walk away from this all together.  With music, I was the VP of A&R for record label called Uprising Records there. They became popular for putting out a group called the Fall Out Boys. Fall Out Boys went like, maybe triple platinum on Island. They’re a huge, huge group. I signed a couple of well-known musicians.

Again, I was becoming more and more religious. So I kept hearing this thing about music is haram. So initially, I didn’t pay much attention to it. And then I came across a couple of lectures. I started looking at lyrics because I was trying to match up what they were saying in the lyrics with what I would put visually. When I did that, I’m just looking at the lyrics like, wow, this is what this person is saying. And if you’re trying to match a visual to that, and they’re saying something haram, like, are you really going to match a visual with what they’re saying?

So that was another thing. Okay, like, is this something you really want to engage in? These weren’t academic ideals that I had to core with. These were pretty obvious. No, this is wrong, this is not good. You could be an atheist and say, no, this is not good. So I had to kind of back out of that as well. My decision, at least with the one where the biggest decision came from directing music videos.

I watched a documentary on music videos and the effects that it had on people. And then I listened to a couple of lectures about music and the effect that had on people. Then I went to a conference that was about music videos, and there was a very famous director that I was good friends with. He was being questioned by all the people in the audience. Why have you done videos like this? Why are these type of images in these videos? I’m sitting there watching this, and in my head, I was saying, wow, this is like, almost like Judgment Day. He’s being asked all of these questions, and he needs to provide answers, and he doesn’t have any.

And I said I don’t want to be in that position. So I said, I’m no longer doing music videos, unless it’s revolutionary or beneficial to humanity. If it doesn’t fit that criteria, I’m not touching it. So that essentially eliminated me from doing any type of music video.


And this is how Satan works. When I made that decision, I got calls that same week, from the four top musicians in the whole entire world. Hey, we want you to do a music video for this particular song. And I told him, hey, I don’t touch anything unless it’s beneficial or revolutionary to humanity. Oh, yeah, yeah, we got you. Yeah, okay, send the track over. And I listened to the first maybe five or ten seconds. Oh, no, I can’t touch this. I have a wife, I have two daughters, I have a mom, I have grandmothers, aunties. What am I? What if I do this? How am I going to face them? So that eliminated that essentially.

When I became Muslim I identified with Sunni ideology, because, of course, this is what most people, usually do. And then, just me being a studier, eventually, I started looking into Islamic history. But my road into Islamic history is very interesting. As I was studying, I came to accept many different ideas. So I do yoga, or I do Tai Chi. I don’t find too many Muslims that are into yoga or Tai Chi. I’m into reflexology, into herbology.

One of the ideals that I picked up was that I became vegetarian. So when I got into college, I think was maybe 18 or 19, I became vegetarian. And at a certain point I said let me make sure being vegetarian is actually Islamically acceptable. So I went through the research, I looked at all the different schools of thought, looked at all the different fatwas that were given about vegetarianism. And I ran across two particular things, this idea about one should eat meat every 40 days. And then there’s another one about people who are being extreme as practicing extreme asceticism. There’s a guy who wouldn’t wear perfume, another guy who wouldn’t have relations. And then there’s another guy who wouldn’t eat meat. So I looked into this, and I’ve looked at the fatwas by the scholars and they ruled that one could be vegetarian and be a Muslim.

During this time I’m looking at the different schools of thought, I run into the Ja’fari fiqh. And when I ran into the Ja’fari fiqh, I ended up running into many of the Ja’fari fiqh ideals are things that I just completely had no idea about because I hadn’t studied Islamic history at that point. So I didn’t know that Fatima, unfortunately, she reached her death not too long after the Prophet died. I didn’t know about Hasan, I didn’t know about Hussein. And I found, actually, a group who were vegetarian, who so happened to be Muslim, who so happened to be Shi’a. And I said, what is the Shi’a thing? And who’s Hussein, what’s all of this about? I never heard about any of these things happening. And this particular group, they were citing Sunni sources. So they were citing Sunni hadiths. So let me go look at this, and make sure what they’re saying is correct. So of course, I would go and look. And it would be right there, so I said oh, wow.

So then, I picked up Peshawar Nights, and picking up Peshawar Nights, you’re seeing the study between the two and I said, okay, I identify with this particular school of thought, and that led me becoming Shi’a from there.

Something that I thought was very interesting, was the ideal of the infallibility of prophets, which I was in total agreement with. And then muta’, which I’m totally in agreement with. I understand, there’s a lot of people who look at the idea of mut’a as, like, a form of prostitution. Or some people they would rather engage in illegal relationships before they engage in something like this. From the Western world, coming from where majority of the population in the States, at least 60%, are born out of wedlock, are born out of illegal relationships. This particular ideal would potentially solve that problem. So I looked at it very much differently than someone would who’s coming from an Islamic country, who’s viewing it as I don’t like that.

For me, I would not entertain marriage without actually entering into a mut’a first, because the mut’a to me, a lot of people in the West, they would identify mut’a as, like, oh, this is an engagement period. Usually Christians before they get married, they’re engaged, they have an engagement period, and then they gauge before they get married. I identify with the idea of mut’a as being very similar, though a lot more structured, but similar in that nature, I found that I do to be very very interesting, which was not part of the Sunni ideology.

Initially, when I first took my shahada you have these old men in the masjid and they want to give you names, and they would say, how about this name? No, I don’t like that. I wasn’t one, I’m never been one to take something that I don’t like. No, I don’t like that. I don’t like how it sounds. And it, it sounds too just……..what is that? Uh huh. So I eventually from history, I eventually ran into someone named Mukhtar al-Thaqafi. And I very much agreed with the ideals that Mukhtar incorporated. I liked that how how he came from money, and how he was a little entrepreneurial, and kind of a businessman. And then I also like that he was religious, which I kind of felt like I was. And to me Mukhtar, it’s not that similar but Mukhtar almost sounded like Mark. So I say, you know what, I’m going to take upon the name Mukhtar. Chosen! And then, I believe Ali was the rightfully chosen person. By our Prophet SAW.

I’ve been all over the world, many places, London, Milan, Paris, India, China. Up to that point, I had never been anywhere in the Middle Eastern world because one of the things I’m thinking about is safety. Here in America, anytime you see Iraq, Iran on TV, usually it’s about, somebody getting blown up, someone trying to get nuclear weapons, it’s usually all, all bad. And I listened to independent, I don’t even consume major media, I listen to independent radio and independent video sources.

Even though sources, they don’t report on like Arbayn and what happens. So, I didn’t have a really good reference point of what was going to happen there. I’m thinking about safety. I asked this brother, hey, what, how safe is it? And he says to me, brother, I felt more safe in Iraq than I’ve ever felt anywhere in America. I didn’t say this to him, but in my head, I’m thinking, I don’t know what you’re talking about. And then when I get there, I totally understand what he’s talking about, because it’s a theocratic society. So theocratic societies, they operate totally different than non-theocratic societies.

Prior to going, one of my experiences was that you have this very close relationship with death and your mortality. In Islam, of course, we have this thing where one should have a will prior to dying. I’ve traveled to many places, I’ve never had to prepare a will prior to going somewhere. I had a will, but it got lost in a computer. So I needed to prepare a will prior to me going to Iraq and Iran. While I’m preparing this will, it dawns on me like, hey, you’re actually going to Iraq, there’s a possibility that you may not come back home. Are you okay with that? And I reconciled that by saying what if I died there, there are Prophets that are buried in this land, and I know there are Prophets and Imams buried in this land. So if I die there, as far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best places to die on the planet Earth.

So I was able to reconcile that far. Okay, what about your wife and kids? Will you be ready not to see them if you go there. I was able to reconcile that by making sure I made the most of my time. And it’s just the idea of death, it being in your head, makes you very serious as you start thinking. It’s like he, every year when you get a year older, you start thinking, okay, have I done the things I wanted to do with my life? Am I at where I want to be? What things should I change about myself? I have these these type of ideals going in my head. And then you hear about when you go every single step that you make you receive 1000 of these type of blessings, you’re forgiven 1000 times on this, and then your status is elevated 1000 type of times. So you’re like, okay, let me add it, I want to go right now, I have some things I need to clear out.


So I wanted to go, by all means. So I go there. And I get there. We fly from LA to Turkey. And then when we get to Turkey, there’s a nine hour layover. Everyone there go to sleep. I said, oh, no, no, no, I’m not going to sleep. This is not going to be the flight that I miss. No way, I know where I’m going. I know, I’m going here, and Adam is buried there, and Noah is buried there. And Imam Ali is right in between them. No, no, I’m not missing this flight. I’m staying up. So I stay up the whole entire time. We fly there. So it’s like two hours flight afterwards.

As soon as we get there we had to wait a couple of hours. I still didn’t have no sleep. So I’m up. At this point, it had to be maybe close to 36 hours. So I get into Najaf. And when I’m there, I know where I’m at. So I said, Oh, no, I’m not going to the hotel. Oh, no, I’m going straight to go see Imam Ali, I’m going straight to see Noah, I’m going straight to see Prophet Adam. And when I get there, I go straight there and I see them I have that experience.

When I’m there, very interesting things start playing out. Some people they kind of get a whiff of who I am, where I’m from. Everyone is asking each other where they’re from, because everyone speaking different languages, people look a little bit different. But it’s a little different when you tell someone you’re from America, you were born Christian, you became Sunni. And then from Sunni, you became Shi’a. And then, this is the type of work you do, you work with these type of celebrities, and all of a sudden they’re saying in their head, why are you Muslim? Why are you here? Why did you become Shi’a? And, are there asking? Some people, we were literally maybe 200 yards from where Imam Ali is buried, and Prophet Adam and Prophet Noah are buried, and I would get questions. Oh, what is it like working with this celebrity? And I’m thinking in my head, hey, look at who’s buried right down the street? We have three of the best of humanity, that’s ever been created right there. You’re asking me about this celebrity? And I come so far to see them. So it was a very interesting experience for me as well as them because they wanted to know about where I came from, and I wanted to know about where they were at. They were so close to a source, and then they were looking at me, like, I’m so close to a source. We both kind of wanted to trade worlds. So it’s very, very interesting.

And I very much enjoyed doing the walk. Initially, when I did the walk, this was within the first couple of days of me arriving. So I still had some of my Western ideals in my head. The group that I went with, they were saying, okay, we’re going to get up. We’re going to do salat al-layl, and then after that we do fajr. And then we’re going to go start walking. And its salat al-layl, but they were thinking of leaving around 3am. So in my head, I say, 3am. This is Iraq. It is dark! I’m not walking at 3 am in Iraq, and I can’t see what’s coming or going, Oh, I need to be able to see what’s coming, if I need to make a quick move or defend myself. I’m not leaving at three o’clock, I’m going to leave around seven o’clock, where I can see everything. So I had in my head I’m going to do the full entire walk. And I was able to do the full entire walk alhamdulillah. I walked with three other brothers, two Iraqis and one Pakistani. They were born in Iran, Iraq and in Pakistan and they grew up in America. And I did the walk with them. We did it in two days. And yeah, it was a beautiful experience. To me. I think it’s probably one of the most revolutionary things that any of humanity could ever do, period, regardless of what their ideals are.