A heartfelt discussion with Shaikh Vinay Khetia about finding the path of Islam as taught by the Holy AhlulBayt [as].
Q: What religion were you affiliated with before your conversion? How practicing were you in this faith and how much did it mean to you?
A: My religion previous to my reversion to Islam was Hinduism. I traditionally come from a very religious and practicing Hindu family. In Hindu terms, my family is in the caste of Brahmins, which is the priest class. I was always very spiritually inclined and inquisitive about my own faith, and I was in touch with Hindu priests.
When I was 14, an event occurred in my life that led me to research my own faith and have a firm belief in God. Islam was quite alien to me still at this time. I was quite well versed in Hinduism. I had some books with in-depth information on spirituality. Then after the age of 15, this spiritual quest of mine had died out again, and I became just like any other non-believer or lost youth who engaged in certain immoral things because I did not have a spiritual inclination or a thirst to get to know my Lord. I was just a youth lost in the depths of filth and corruption of this world.
Q: What was your perception of Islam before you began studying more about it?
A: I had no real perception of it. I just saw it to be another faith. I respected it. Culturally I was told that Muslims and Hindus don’t normally become best friends. But I always rejected that irrational notion.
Q: What sparked your interest in Islam?
A: Before I begin with the initial spark, I would like to provide some more background information. Throughout my high-school career the majority of my friends were of the Islamic faith. I was always exposed to Islam through their discussions, and from time to time I would see them pray or recite the Qur’an. But even though I had all these Muslim friends, I never dreamed of ever converting to Islam, nor did I ever have the slightest inclination to do so.
The initial spark I would say had to have begun with my trip to London, England, and the United Arab Emirates. In London I was amazed by all the Muslim women who I saw in fully veiled clothing. I was just mesmerized by the thought of someone being completely veiled in black and walking in the heat of midday on Oxford Street in Central London. I was so curious as to who these women were, and why they dressed the way they dressed.
Then after leaving London, we were en route to Dubai on Emirate Airlines. While on the plane, I was exploring the on-board TV/radio stations, and I came across this unique language which was being recited so beautifully that it totally captivated me. I honestly was mesmerized by the sound of this language being recited. The channel was called “The Holy Quran”. On that flight, I felt like I must have heard the entire Qur’an at least two times over. I listened to it in secrecy, because I did not want to seem like a weirdo if my parents heard me listening to it. But nonetheless, there was something about the recitation of that Qur’an which caught me by the heart at the age of 17 and sparked the need for me to learn more about this faith.
Then when we reached Dubai, I was again amazed by the Arab culture, dress, language, and religion. I was thirsty for more information. The minute we left the airport, I was looking for those beautiful mosques I would see on TV with those tall minarets at the front, from which someone would recite the call to prayer. Being in a Muslim country like this amazed me. I would listen to the radio in my hotel anytime I was alone. Again, I had found the station which played the recitation of the Holy Qur’an. Whenever I was alone in the hotel, I would attentively listen to the beautiful recitation of this holy book.
Coming to the Middle East was a total culture shock for me, seeing so many women covered up in black, men with beards, hearing this Arabic language everywhere, seeing the traditional Arab dress .When the trip ended, I was quite sad to leave, but I had to.
When I got back to Canada, life for me just moved on as usual until the event of September 11th. The event of September 11th was also one of the catalysts which led me to Islam. I was constantly asking my friends about what September 11th had to do with Islam, and who was this Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) that they frequently referred to?
In about the late fall/early winter, a very close friend of mine asked me if Hindus believed in One God. He was always curious. My response to him was “yes.” But he wanted proof. So at two a.m. in the morning on a school night, I was sifting through the Baghagavad Geeta, which is a holy Hindu text supposedly revealed by or to “Lord Krishna”. After a critical reading of this text, I came to realize that yes, Hinduism really does believe in one supreme God, and that idol worship is not a correct form of worship.
Q: Can you describe the process of your reversion to Islam and how you came to choose Shiism?
A: After I discovered that there was only one God which humans cannot see, I began to research different religions and what their perceptions of God are and how they go about worshipping something they cannot see. Another very close friend of mine also gave me an English copy of the Qur’an for me to read out of interest. I was now on a full-fledged quest to find the truth, and I would not settle for anything less than that.
Everything turned around the day I received a book called Index of Quranic Topics. Within this book, it quoted a prophecy from an ancient Hindu ascetic who foretold the coming of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny). He [the Hindu ascetic] went on to say that Muslims would be circumcised, would eat meat, and establish a call to prayer. I was totally amazed by this, because the ancient Hindu philosopher that foretold this was one of great magnitude for the Hindus, and very well-respected. He is an ancient respected figure in Hindu theology by the name of Maharishi Vyas.
As I continued to research prophecies about Islam from the Hindu books, I found out that the Kaaba and how Abraham and his son built it is written in the Hindu text. The name of Muhammad is also in the Hindu texts. Islam and the coming of Muhammad is also prophesied through the Buddhist texts, Christian texts, Jewish texts, and all prophecies were in utter praise of this man named Muhammad that was going to come. All this was so overwhelming for me. I discovered websites with Islamic miracles, all over the world, anywhere from Turkey to Australia. I knew there had to be something special about these names – Allah and Muhammad.
I began to read the Qur’an a bit later, and after that my heart and mind was completely focused on the words I was reading. I was so amazed and taken aback by these words – I would stay up late nights after everyone would go to sleep and read the Qur’an. This was a book which I could not put down; I just kept reading and reading and researching miracles. My faith in God was now at an all-time high. I decided that this faith was for me. I had only completed the first 4 or 5 surahs of this Qur’an, and my heart just told me that this is the solution to life!
All this time I was hiding this from my family; well, at least I thought so. I felt at this time that my entire family would be against me, everyone except my mother, so I decided to go into what I now know to be Taqiyya. I was told by some brothers that this is fine.
In early mid-winter, I went to a Muslim brother’s house, where he taught me how to make Wudhu, pray, gave me some books, and I took the Shahada – the testimony of faith. At this time, only my close friends knew about my leaving Hinduism and embracing Islam. My life felt different from the day I took the Shahada. The feeling is indescribable.
The process of how I came to Shiism was just through nonstop study and through introduction to a friend’s father, who I later came to know was an Islamic scholar. His name is Dr. Liyakat Takim – may Allah bless him. He was the one who gave me the reading material which led me to become a Shia Ithna-Ashari. I thank Allah everyday for giving me the opportunity to meet this man, for if not I fear I may have followed the path of the “Ahul Sunnah wa Jammah”.
The following books led me to believing in the basic beliefs of Shia Islam: The Right Path and Nahjul Balagha. After this I had many questions about Shia Islam, and I would like to thank the following people for giving me the material and helping to guide me to the true path: Dr. Takim, Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, the Office of Ayatollah Sistani, and the Office of Ayatollah Khamenei. May Allah bless them all.
Q: How did you learn to live as a Muslim? Who or what was most helpful to you in this?
A: My close friends were very helpful in teaching me the rules of Islam and how to live a daily life as a Muslim. I have received guidance whenever I needed it from organizations and Islamic scholars like Dr. Takim, Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, the Office of Ayatollah Shirazi, Shaikh Usama Abdulghani, the Office of Ayatollah Khamenei, and last but not least, the Office of Ayatollah Sistani. I learned to live as a Muslim and rely on Allah through making du’a, through my prayers, and though guidance from knowledgeable people. May Allah forgive me if I have forgotten anyone’s name.
Q: How easy or difficult was it for you to take on certain aspects of practical life as a Muslim, e.g. the daily prayers, fasting etc.?
A: The daily prayers were the hardest thing for me to get used to, because I had to learn how to say them, what to say in what part of the prayer, and the different physical positions of prayer. Memorizing this was a task on its own, but Alhamdulillah with the help from Allah, I was able to achieve this within two months after praying five times a day every day. All the other aspects of life, like fasting and Halal meat, came quite naturally to me, again with the help from Allah and the results of Allah’s clear response to my supplications.
Q: How did your choice to become a Muslim affect your relationship with family and friends?
A: My relationship with my family is changed forever; they have a son who is a Muslim! At this time I am still not able to gauge where I stand, but with my mother I know I will always be comfortable, but with my father things are definitely progressing towards a positive relationship of mutual respect.
Q: Do you have any message for the youths of our community?
A: My message to the brothers and sisters of the community would have to be, to please keep your agreement with Allah and realize the privilege you have being born as a Muslim. Remember every time you recite the Shahada (the proclamation of faith in Islam), you are making a pledge to Allah that you believe in only Him and His Messenger, so according to these words you are a Muslim and thus must act like one.
Islam is a faith that solves all your problems in life without a doubt. If you want happiness, if you want to feel content, just turn to your Lord. Allah loves those who glorify Him through the night and morning. Miracles will happen in your life, you will feel a Noor (light) within you, and you will notice that your faith will become virtually unbreakable.
Please don’t get into the corruption of this society, such as smoking drugs, drinking, clubbing, and being friends with those people who you know deep down can only be harmful to your faith in your Lord. Every time someone does these things, it’s as if they are eating away at their own faith, and they are hurting themselves and the people around them that care for them. Wake up and realize the peace one shall get out of submission to his or her Lord. If you truly try and are able to do this, the Satanic powers and influences will not move you off the Siratul Mustaqueem.
I would like to end with two verses from the Qur’an, Surah Saba verses 1-2: In the name of Allah the Most Gracious the Most Merciful-Bismillah ar Rahman ar Rahim. Praise be to Allah to whom all things in the heavens and on earth: to Him be praise in the Hereafter: He is All-Wise, All-Aware. He knows all that goes into the earth and all that comes out thereof; all that comes down from the sky and all that ascends thereto and he is the Most Merciful the Oft-forgiving.”
Editor’s Note: Since his conversion to Islam in 2002, Shaikh Vinay Khetia has studied in the Islamic seminaries of Qom and Damascus. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Islamic studies at Concordia University.