Shaykh Hamid Waqar
Shaykh Hamid Waqar was born into a mixed religious family as Michael Booth in the year 1978 to Hillary Arrow Booth and Robert Hensley. His father decided to shirk his family responsibilities and abandoned his mother one year after he was born. But, thankfully, his mother married Jason Booth a few years later and Jason proved to be an excellent father to young Michael.
He grew up as a normal American kid until he reached his high school years where two life-changing events happened. The first negative event that happened in his life was that he joined a subset of the Los Angeles Crips gang and lived the life of a gangster. The second event, which was positive, was that he decided to research religion.
He decided to search all religions that he could think of at the time, as he was only 16. The first religion that he looked into was called Hare Krishna, an idol-worshiping religion originating from Hinduism. Shaykh describes his experience: “I went to the Hare Krishna temple. As I went there I was amazed that something like this even existed in America. I walked in and saw this huge Buddha-like idol with incense being burned all around it. There were flowers placed on it. And it was huge. I mean it was the height of a two story building. It barely fit in the temple. Then the people were wearing thobes, had their heads shaved except for a piggy-tail thing, and were jumping up and down chanting something that I could not understand. Oh. yeah, they were wearing anklets with bells on them; so you can imagine what it sounded like. Basically, there were a bunch of people facing a huge Buddha-like idol wearing thobes, heads shaved, jumping up and down, and chanting. Wasn’t for me.”
After this experience, he decided to look into Christianity and Judaism. He found major problems in both of these religions leading him to reject them. The problem that he could not overcome in Christianity was the belief in the trinity; how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit could be three beings, yet at the same time, be one. He even went to church and asked priests to explain the concept to him. The answer he received was that he needed to have faith; that this concept is too difficult for the human brain to understand; and that he was looking at the situation incorrectly. One priest told him that instead of thinking 1+1+1=3, rather think 1x1x1=1. This was not enough to satisfy him.
Apart from the inclusiveness nature of Judaism and his family’s hatred of orthodox Judaism, he had a problem with the Torah itself. There is a story in the Torah where Prophet Jacob (a) wrestles with God (both the prophet and God are above such a story). Not only does he wrestle God, but overpowers him to the extent that God resorts to begging him to let him the light of dawn will expose him.
The next religion that he decided to look into was Islam. He bought a Quran and book describing the basic Islamic beliefs and practices from the local bookstore and started to read them. He was fascinated by these books and the more he read the more he wanted to become a Muslim. After reading them for a couple of months he made the decision to become a Muslim. The problem was he didn’t know any Muslims.
The book that he bought, which was a book written in accordance to Sunni school of thought, said that he had to declare the shahadatayn (bearing testimony to the oneness of Allah and the prophethood of Muhammad, may the peace of blessings of Allah be upon him and his holy household). Since he did not know any Muslims at the time, he decided to go to a public area inhabited by a number of people and declare the Arabic wording of the above sentences. He did so and everyone thought he was crazy, but he was happy that he became a Muslim.
Shortly thereafter he was faced with the ever popular question, are you a Sunni or Shia? One day he came home from outside and one of his dad’s best friends, Ted, was over at his house. After learning of Shaykh’s conversion, Ted asked him what sect he belonged to. Shaykh replied with the truth that he did not know anything about the Sunnis or Shias and was only a Muslim. Ted insisted that in order to be a real Muslim he had to adhere to one of these two sects. According to his knowledge learned from the university he attended many years ago he said that Sunnis were created about 50 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad (s), while Shiaism started during the lifetime of the Prophet. This was easy for Shaykh. He said: “I’m a Shia; I follow the Prophet.”
Unfortunately, Shaykh did not give up his lifestyle and remained friends with the members of his gang. At this time he did not perform any of the actions which he knew to be against Islam, for instance he did not drink alcohol and did not eat pork. But, he remained in the gang, got into fights, and sold drugs.
It was not until he was thrown down on his face did he realize that he needed to take Islam seriously. Shortly after graduating from high school he went on a trip with a number of members of his gang and some other gang bangers. On this trip a huge fight broke out and one of the gangsters was rendered unconscious…for three and a half months.
This resulted in Shaykh getting arrested and eventually, after the members of his gang “snitched” on him, being sentenced to five years behind bars. It was in this time of his life that he met true religious Shia brothers and decided to really practice his religion. A brother named Mujahid Ahmad blessed Shaykh with the name Hamid Hussein Waqar and another brother Abdullah Shafeeq taught him about Islam and inspired him to become religious.
Despite only one fight and a number of scares, Shaykh Hamid was released after spending a little over two years in prison. He was released early because he didn’t get into any trouble inside and finished the rest of his sentence on parole.
When he got out he found a number of great brothers living in Palms, California. These brothers really expanded his knowledge about religion and were able to show him through example of how a real Shia should conduct himself. The main teacher of the community, Kauthar Khan, really helped Shaykh Hamid learn the basics and encouraged him to learn more. Shaykh decided before meeting these brothers that he wanted to go to the Islamic Seminary in Qum, Iran in order to learn the depths of religion. Being amongst these brothers confirmed this decision.
In the summer of 2001 Shaykh went to Lebanon where he learned Arabic and then in 2002 he entered the Islamic Seminary of Qum. He stayed there for 10 years soaking up all the knowledge he could. In Qum, one can specialize in a number of fields, the field Shaykh embarked upon was jurisprudence. Towards the end of his studies he participated in the Dars-e Kharij (the highest level of Islamic jurisprudence) under the general tutelage of Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi.
When he left the Islamic seminary he played the role of a resident scholar in communities in Sydney and Luton. Currently he lectures throughout the world in addition to writing and translating Islamic material.
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