Aaron (Haroon) Eugene Nichols (USA)
Aaron (Haroon) Eugene Nichols (Monterey, California, USA)
Convert finds peace in Islam
Aaron Nichols looked into religion after Sept. 11
By ANDRE BRISCOE
Herald Staff Writer
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Aaron Eugene Nichols, then 17, did what many in the United States couldn't think of doing: He embraced Islam. "I wanted to know both sides of the story. I wasn't just going to believe what I heard on TV," said Nichols, now 21, who has changed his name to Haron, Arabic for Aaron.
"Everybody was saying how Islam and Muslims were terrorists, so I wanted to find out for myself. I was taught to think for myself, not to believe what others tell me. And I found out it was the complete opposite," said the Monterey man. Just as the events of Sept. 11 changed America, they also changed Haron and many other Americans who have accepted Islam and become Muslims, said a local imam.
Abdellah Khidar, who heads the Islamic Society of Monterey County's mosque in Seaside, said that in the years since the attack he has seen a greater interest by Americans in Islam. "It's true, after 9/11 there was a big change," said Khidar, a native of Morocco. "Before 9/11 there wasn't that much interest from Americans about Islam. But since then I have been asked to give speeches at universities, schools, even synagogs. Many who have wanted answers to questions about Islam have converted. Not just Haron." Khidar took over as imam at the Seaside mosque last year and has seen at least 20 Americans of different ethnic backgrounds convert to Islam, including one man who works at the Defense Language Institute. "The most important thing is that Americans have opened up," he said. "They are eager to learn the truth about Islam."
To Haron's friends and family, initially, the words Muslim or Islam were considered synonymous with terrorism. Haron was brought up Christian, though he never seriously practiced the faith. "I never felt comfortable in a church. But I felt very comfortable in a mosque," he said, clutching a large blue Quran written in Arabic, which he is teaching himself so he can read the Muslim holy book in its original form.
Nichols, who is of Irish and American Indian heritage, was born and raised in Monterey. He wears a kufi, a white knit hat, traditional for Muslim men. His 29-year-old-wife, Cynthia, covers her head with an hajib, traditional for Muslim women to preserve their modesty. She also converted after seeing the positive change becoming Muslim made in Haron. Haron was living in Fresno when he began studying Islam. He regularly attended a mosque across the street from California State University at Fresno, and studied under the mosque's imam, a Sudanese man named Omar. "We would have talks and I would ask questions. He always gave me straight answers but if he didn't know, he would ask somebody who had the knowledge he didn't have. That really showed me something about the integrity of Islam. That you don't just try to come up with some answer so you can get members."
Two years later he moved back to Monterey, but continued studying at a Castroville mosque. He finally converted late last year during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Now, as a Muslim, he feels it is his obligation to speak out against many misconceptions and misrepresentation about Islam. "Allah does not love aggressors. You're only supposed to fight a war if (someone) is attacking your home or your family," he said. "There are so many things in the Quran that says not to be a terrorist. Very blunt, very specific, about not being a man of bloodshed."
Nichols also defends the religion in terms of its treatment of women. Islam "says woman are more special than men because they are the mothers of our children," he said. "They are a blessing to men." Women are more likely to be treated poorly in the United States, he said, where their physical beauty is valued more than their intelligence. Instances where woman have been subjugated to men, not allowed to drive or vote in certain Islamic nations, are rules applied by particular countries, he said.
Nichols' family is supportive of his and Cynthia's acceptance of Islam. They see the positive changes he has made in his life. "My mom sees the peace it has created in me," he said. Nichols used to fret about money and his job as a car salesman, said Cynthia Nichols. "Now he has peace in mind and heart that he never had before," she said. Nichols continues to express enthusiasm and support for his new-found faith. People, he says, should "read the Bible, then Hadith, the Quran and figure it out for themselves... at least they will know that Islam is not a bad religion. Believing in a certain religion is not a crime." The only way for the public educate themselves about Islam is the do what he did -- "find out for themselves."