From Prison to Prayer
My name is Saleem Abdul Muhaimin. I was born October 5th 1953 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before accepting Islam in 1973 my name was Howard Lewis Alexander. My family lived in the West Philadelphia area, 4016 Fairmount housing project. There I lived and grew up for 12 years.
At the age of 16 years old, my brother who was 18 years old at that time was home on leave from the military, the army. A rival gang entered our area outside of our housing project and my brother was stabbed to death. This was a major turning point in my life. I began to lose interest in just about everything. I felt that if there was a God, He had truly let me down, allowing my brother to be killed, an innocent soul who entered the military armed forces to better himself and keep away from all the negative street violence that was going on in our area at that time.
At this stage of my life I continued to get influenced by bad company. My friends were people who were indulged in heavy drinking and drugs and alcohol and gang violence. Alcohol and drugs had become an addiction with me. I always kept a job and was quite capable of taking care of myself financially. However I wasted a lot of time and money on alcohol and drugs and doing negative things to attempt to drown out the pain of losing my only brother.
In 1973, at the age of 19, another shift of events happened. I got involved in a robbery with some of my friends and was sent to prison. This was to me a great tragedy; however, it was also a great blessing because it actually took me off a very destructive path that I was travelling on. I found Ahmadiyyat, Alhamdulillah [all praise belongs to God]. A brother, the late Bilal Abdus Salam, was managing a very successful Islamic program at the prison, Graterford State Institution. And when I began attending the classes I was very deeply impressed with the brothers. I felt they had a connection with God. It impressed me so much I converted to Ahmadiyyat through Islam. This spiritual joy and peace and harmony and respect was something I thought could never happen in a place like lockup, in jail. I felt an intense need to take control of my life and decided if I was going to be a Muslim and truly change my life, the time was now.
When I returned home from prison I was a changed man, a Muslim, an Ahmadi Muslim. I presented this message to my fiancé who I had asked to marry at a very early age. Her name is Sha’irah Muhaimin. She said to me, ‘If we are to be husband and wife I am willing to study Islam and see for myself what it is all about.’ We got married in 1974 and after studying for one year she accepted Islam and Ahmadiyyat and signed the Bai’at [Initation Ceremony], Alhamdulillah.
In 1978 we moved from Philadelphia to York, Pennsylvania, and enrolled our children in an Ahmadi school. The name of the school was the Nooruddin Mosque School of York. This school was later visited by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh prior to him being elected as Khalifah [Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community] and Alhamdulillah I had the opportunity of meeting with him and walking the landscape of the Nooruddin School, discussing tabligh [preaching and propagation]. This was one of the best experiences I have had as an Ahmadi Muslim.
Since that time I have served the Ahmadiyya Jamaat in a number of ways – as Naib Sadr [Vice President] of Khuddamul Ahmadiyya [Ahmadi Muslim Youth Association] for about two years in the early 80’s, York Harrisburg [chapter] president for a number of years in the early 90’s and also Tabligh secretary, and Nazim Ansar [head of the local chapter of the men’s auxiliary organisation] of the headquarters region. Some of my early mentors who have played a significant role in my life are brother Hussain Abdul Azeez of Philadelphia, the late Bilal Abdus Salam of Philadelphia, Munir Hamid of Philadelphia, the late Zakaria Hussain of Philadelphia and Mujeeb Chaudhary, also of Philadelphia who is currently the Sadr [President] of Philadelphia at this time and also the late Sahil Abdul Azeez of Willingboro [New Jersey].
I felt very privileged to become a Muslim and Ahmadi and in 2016, Alhamdulillah, I was sent a letter from Tabshir [Foreign Missions Office of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community] that I was selected to represent my country [USA] in the international Bai’at [Initation Ceremony] and I felt so unworthy of this yet I was chosen. The International Bai’at is an initiation of faith, like a rededication of yourself internationally. As you see on MTA [Muslim Television Ahmadiyya, the official television channel of the Ahmadiyya Community] where everyone has his hand on the shoulder of the next person so that energy and vibration of faith can generate itself throughout the convention, throughout that time and throughout the world.That was a special time because the International Bai’at on MTA is so overwhelming and I was right there; so torn up with tears hoping I can hold myself together. After this was done and I had my mulaqaat [audience] with His Holiness [Head of the Ahmadiyya Community], I came into the office and His Holiness greeted me so warmly; he grabs you and just holds you. I mentioned to His Holiness that I was at the International Bai’at and he said I know and I said I felt so unworthy of being there as I had my struggles and challenges. His Holiness replied that if you were not worthy God would not put you there. That was very special to me and it fortified my faith.
This was something I thought would never ever happen in my life, something that I never even thought could possibly happen. A person coming from such a violent background, of addiction and drug violence to actually be sitting next to and taking the oath of faith and dedication to Allah and developing such a deep love for our beloved Imam [Head of the Ahmadiyya Community], sitting at his desk and representing the entire United States, giving allegiance to Allah and our beloved Imam.