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From Guantanamo to Makkah

Terry Holdbrooks

Source : Nasim Chowdhury | Arab News
JEDDAH | 04 Jun 2011

The Grand Mosque in Makkah is a very long distance in every sense of the word from Camp Delta, the infamous US Navy detention center at the base at Guantanamo Bay, but life has its ironies and this one involves the journey made by former Guantanamo prison guard Terry Holdbrooks, who performed Umrah last week.

Terry, now known as Mustafa, embraced Islam in 2003 while guarding terror suspects (who have never gone to trial) at Camp Delta and was dismissed shortly afterward. The conduct of the inmates, a Moroccan among them in particular, was a major factor behind his conversion. Prior to that, his only exposure to Muslim culture amounted to seeing actor Morgan Freeman play a Muslim character in the movie "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."

His interaction with the prisoners drove him to look into Islam and study it for himself, and it was in this journey of reading and insight that convinced him to embrace the faith, he says.

“It (Islam) has kept my life very simple and very military-like with regard to regiment and structure," he said. "I enjoyed the military, and I enjoy Islam for the discipline that it requires of its followers.”

When Holdbrooks, 27, was invited by Shazaad Mohammed, president and founder of the Canadian Dawah Association (CDA), to perform the minor pilgrimage, he jumped at the opportunity. The CDA Celebrity Relations Program, under which Holdbrooks was given the invitation, “is inspired by the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) sending out invitations to regional leaders inviting them to embrace Islam,” says Shazaad Mohammed, who is also a UN Ambassador for Peace and adviser to many celebrities.

Holdbrooks had the opportunity to view the letters for himself when he visited various museums, holy sites and other attractions in Madinah, which he visited prior to his arrival in Makkah last Friday.

Former guests of the CDA Celebrity Relations Program include comedian David Chappelle, former rap stars Napoleon, Philadelphia Freeway, LOON and Jack Frost, and former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.

“When I first saw Makkah and saw the Kaaba, I was a little taken aback; it is sort of hard to take it all in with just one day to do so, or two days. You need a few days to really take it all in. I was in awe and realized that this was the center of my world. Maybe not the center of everyone’s world, or every Muslim’s world, but it is the center of my world,” said Holdbrooks.

After the Umrah, Holdbrooks had the opportunity to meet Sheikh Faisal Al-Ghazzawi, one of the imams of the Grand Mosque, who expressed his delight at meeting the American convert and gave advice regarding remaining steadfast in Islam, the importance of good character and the value of calling others to the faith.

The next day, Holdbrooks visited the Holy Kaaba Kiswah Factory in Makkah and had the honor of putting a few stitches in the new Kiswah that will be placed on the Kaaba in Haj season at the end of this Islamic year.

The trip was facilitated and assisted by the office of the General Affairs for the Two Holy Mosques, and Holdbrooks expressed his amazement at the efforts that the Kingdom has exerted in making sure that pilgrims are well-cared for and provided with every possible service.

Having returned to the United States, and reflecting upon his trip, Holdbrooks says he feels, "rejuvenated, refreshed and making new decisions.”

“Yes, it was an amazing experience," he added. "It has refreshed me and given me more rope to hold on strong. When I feel that rope slipping, Allah does something like this and gives me more rope and allows for me to hold on strong. Thank you Allah!”


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