بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Ever since I was young, I was interested in learning, especially about history and culture. Due to my father’s work as a scientist, my family had a few foreign friends who would visit us while they were in the US, so I had an early exposure to foreign people, which fueled my interest in different cultures; I loved the various ways in which different peoples would express themselves.
In middle school, I started to study German. I loved learning a new language, and I thrived academically in the class, becoming the top student, which encouraged me even more to focus on the study of languages and cultures.
Meanwhile, my grandfather was a retired military officer, and I had grown up with the encouraged idea that I would go into the military as well and be of service to my country and the whole world. Once I became interested in the study of foreign languages and cultures, I began to move my career path more specifically to the field of intelligence. While I loved studying German, I also wanted to know what languages the US intelligence community was most in need of in order to increase my chances of pursuing that career. I found out that Arabic was one of those languages, along with a host of other languages.
Even though I didn’t really believe in religion, I still sensed something spiritual within me and had an interest in learning about different religions. As I had come to know of the issue of religious texts being altered over time through translations, being able to access a text in its original language became appealing. In my history classes, I found that there was something about the study of the Middle East that attracted me, especially as it is the cradle of the three dominant religions. With Arabic being the language of the Qur’an and affiliated with Islam, and also a language in demand by the American intelligence community, I decided that I would try to learn it.
Fortunately, my family was very focused on academic pursuit and encouraged me in my endeavor of learning languages, so they bought me some very basic books on Arabic, and I started to teach myself the script and simple phrases. I didn’t spend too much time on the pursuit though, as it was just a hobby and I still had my regular school and other responsibilities.
In my first year of high school, I had a history teacher who was a former Army Special Forces officer. During his years of service, he had been stationed in Egypt, working with the Egyptian military, and therefore knew Arabic. I told him that I had started teaching myself the language, and he offered his occasional assistance in my pursuit. After not even one full month into that school year, the events of September 11, 2001 occurred. At that moment, I realized that I had been correct in choosing to study Arabic, which was now going to become one of the most-needed languages. I decided that studying the Arabic language and culture would be one of my main focuses during my college years, which were still a few years away.
My mother passed away that October, and then I left my house in June, during the summer vacation. Even though I was essentially an orphan and my father was no longer caring for me, he still had legal control over me. During that summer, he removed me from the public school I had attended all my life and enrolled me in a private military boarding school, away from my friends and everything I had known. Despite my interest in the military, I had no desire to be ripped away from my life and sent to live at a school hours from home. Once I got there, the more I didn’t want to be there, especially as the level of education was clearly inferior to that which I had received at my public school. To me, it was a horrible time.
However, Allah has His plan. At the military school, I met a student who started there a year earlier; he just so happened to be from Egypt and came to receive an American education. As I had already developed an interest in Arabic and the Middle East, we quickly became friends. After the first semester, though, I was able to get my guardianship changed and return to my old public school. While I was happy to go back to my public school, I was saddened to leave my new-found Egyptian friend; however, we remained in contact through email, even after he graduated and returned to Egypt a couple years later.
Back at my public school, I continued studying German, while studying Arabic in my spare time. I also had the opportunity to travel to Germany and Austria with my German class on a ten-day trip – my first real time traveling abroad. Besides my language and culture studies, I was also very interested in history and political science, especially political philosophy. At this time, I largely felt that the best way to change the world for the better was through politics. Once I became Muslim, that would change.
Insha Allah, I will continue with the years of seeking knowledge in the next article, when I become more focused on studying Arabic and politics in the worldly domain, while privately seeking knowledge and personal answers in the spiritual domain.