Bismilah ir Raham ir Raheem
First and foremost, peace and blessings on the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his family (may Allah be pleased with them all), and the righteous companions (may Allah be pleased with them).
As salaam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. My name is Henry Chelune, Jr. To give the reader some context, I was born and raised in New York City. My parents baptized me Catholic, and I was raised in the Methodist church. We attended the Methodist church because that was where the food pantry was. I grew up in an underserved community. I would frequent the church’s youth group on Wednesdays only for the free pizza. I was unwillingly active in the church routine of youth group meetings, Sunday school, communion, confirmation, and, of course, Sunday worship service. Due to this, I became somewhat versed in the Bible. I have always believed in God, so I had a genuine desire to understand what I was being taught. Even to this day, I am able to hold my own in a conversation on the Bible. I often questioned the Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders. Their answers never satisfied me. “It is the mystery of God,” they would say.
I NEVER accepted the concept of trinity; I knew that God was One with no partners. Even during my extremely wayward days as a youth, I viewed Jesus (AS) as a great man, and prophet. As I came to understand it, he was no different than the prophets from the Old Testament. What made that idea stick was that NEVER in the Bible did he refer to himself as the Son of God, but ALWAYS as the Son of Man. Rather than inspire hope in me, the crucifixion story scared me. It also made no sense; punishing someone for another’s sins is unjust. I knew that God is not unjust.
My first real exposure to Islam came in 1998 during a high school Global Studies course. This course gave me a very general and vague idea of Islam. The class discussed all world religions with no specifics on Islam. Islam would not reappear in my life until 2005.
In 2005, I was attending college for my Associates Degree, while struggling through my third bout of homelessness. It is in that school where I met some wonderful Muslims from Bangladesh. They were females; I not knowing the Deen or customs approached them. I never had the opportunity to ask practicing Muslims about their faith. I asked general questions. The questions surrounded the Islamic position on Jesus (AS). I asked if Islam believed in Jesus (AS), they replied “yes.” What about Mary (AS) being a virgin? They responded in the affirmative. The final question on Jesus (AS) blew my mind. I asked if Islam taught the Second Coming? They responded with “Yes we do believe Isa (AS) will return.” I was dumbstruck. I was under the impression that only Christians felt this way about the Second Coming. My last question was regarding the concept of trinity. They told me that God is Uniquely One. He does not have any sons, daughters, etc.
Some time later, they enabled me to obtain a copy of the Holy Qur’an. I read it thoroughly. It was the first religious text outside of the Bible I had ever read; I loved what was inside. Prior to this intense exposure to Islam, I had developed ideas on God. I always believed these ideas grew organically. I quickly realized that the tenants of Islam shared many of the concepts I often pondered about: the creation and role of Jesus (AS), the strict Oneness of God, praying directly to God, no crucifixion story, the Universe being created in six eons (not six twenty four hour days). There were times I had the Bible in one hand and the Qur’an in the other comparing and contrasting. As I read and researched, I soon learned there was no other option but convert to Islam.
I finally embraced Islam in January of 2006 at the Jamaica Muslim Center with Imam Shamsi Ali presiding over the Shahada. I did not change my name to an “Islamic name” out of respect for my father who is Henry Chelune, Sr. However, at a recent event at the Jamaica Muslim Center, I had the privilege of meeting renowned speaker Yusuf Estes, who conferred on me the name Hauron. I’ve since decided to use that name within Islamic circles.
I have now been a Muslim for seven years. I have yet to make Hajj (“anyone want to sponsor me?” in sha Allah) Since my conversion, I joined the United States Army, where I served one year in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I am currently a senior at Lehman College, City University of New York. I am applying to graduate school for Urban Affairs & Planning (please make duaa for my acceptance!). Allah has helped to turn my life around full circle.
This past summer, I started a daw’ah organization called the Ridgewood Daw’ah Project. My purpose is to invite the people of Ridgewood, Queens, along with Bushwick, Brooklyn to Islam with a bilingual approach. In addition to daw’ah, I am attempting to reawaken the Islam of the existing Muslim community. Since July, I have supplied non-Muslims with over 500 Qur’ans in both English and Spanish. In addition to Qur’ans, almost a thousand pamphlets on various topics in multiple languages have been distributed. If you or anyone you know would be interested in volunteering or helping out in other ways, please contact me!
Wa alaukum assalam
Contact info: Twitter: @RidgewoodDawah