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“The Red Road,” My Journey to Islam



All Praise is due to Allah, the Creator who guided me to Islam, the Way of Life, the Red Road, the Straight Path.

I, Lois Stands-Ali, began my journey on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, in the Oglala community. When I was born, my earth parents placed me in the care of my grandmother, a mid-wife and a spiritual woman. We attended many ceremonies and pow-wows, and I witnessed other spirits begin their journeys. Taught as a child by my grandmother to respect Mitakoyasin, all of my relations, and to know that I was Lakota -the people. I did not understand all of the many words of wisdom that she shared. Yet, throughout the years, all that she told me has helped in every way one could imagine.

One thing that really stuck in my head was when she told me: “There are Washecus (foreign people) out there …another world. One day you will have to learn to speak their language. Learn everything about them. Learn how they think and to out-think them, because one day they will try to kill you.”

My grandmother told me that Tunkashila (the Creator Grandfather, the Wakan Tanka, The Great Holy One, Mita Onje Ate) made many people, all different, but He was the same Creator of everything – of the sky people, water people, earth people, fire people, the four-legged and the two-legged.

Soon, her journey ended, and as she lay in this box asleep, I knew that she would return. One day, as I played outside she came walking up to me and said, “You will be Wenya Chante Wishak Uha (Woman Who Has a Strong Heart).”

Later, my earth mother and father came to my grandfather’s to take me up north to my earth mother’s reservation, Standing Rock. At that time, the King Alfred Act allowed the government to take Indian children –to teach them to assimilate into the outside culture. I was one of those taken to the boarding school. Out of 500 Indian children, about 50 of us had been raised by our grandparents. I knew we were different. We were not allowed to go back home during the summer vacations. The instructors were harder on us, and we were stubborn. We refused to speak English. We were beaten if we were caught speaking our own language -the only one we knew. In all the confusion, my Ena’s words came back to me about having to learn the Washecu’s language. I feel now that the Creator allowed all of this to happen because He was shaping and molding me to be a strong spirit. I remained in boarding school for nine years.

At 16, my earth father arranged my marriage to a man who took care of me. I was given material things, yet wanted more than this material world. But, where was I going to learn the truth? I believed in the Red Road and tried to stay on it by doing good, being generous, praying and asking the Creator for guidance and protection. I always prayed for a helper even though I was married and was blessed with bringing four beautiful spirits into this world.

One day I was so miserable, I knew I had to seek the truth of my existence. My marriage was failing and I decided to leave it and begin my journey. Sadly, my children chose to stay with their father. He was good to them, in spite of his treatment of me.

My journey took me to big cities where I saw how the outside world was corrupt, and the values and morals were nothing I wanted to be a part of. Yet where was I to go? I met other Indians who were lost. I continued to pray for guidance as I moved across the continent. I moved far from Indians -away from the purification lodge, the ceremonies, the pow-wows, the traditions, the culture. I felt alone, but knew the Creator was always with me.

One day in Atlanta, Georgia, I heard about a minister who was going to speak at the Omni Theater. I decided to go. I stood in line to buy my ticket and everyone was looking at me. I guess I did look different with beaded earrings, a scarf draped over my head and a long dress. While I waited in line, I heard an intercom turn on and this man started to sing.

My spirit let me know instantly that this was a prayer, and I became reverent and listened. I didn’t understand the language, yet it seemed familiar, this song. I felt something like lightening coming up from mother earth, all the way up my back and out the top of my head. I wanted to cry. My spirit was feeling happy. It was being fed by this song, this prayer. I later learned this was the Adhan, or call to prayer, and it was followed by Al-Fatiha, which is the Opening of Holy Qur’an.

I asked about the man speaking, and was told he was a Muslim. I wanted to learn more about Muslims and this powerful prayer because I did not experience these feelings except in the purification lodge, at the sun-dance and ceremonies. Over time, my excitement grew as I finally found some believers and began my introduction into Islam. All praise is due to Allah!

Now, when asked if I am Muslim, and knowing it means one who submits to Allah, the Creator, I feel pride when I say, “Yes.” I can bear witness that there is no God but Allah, the All-in-All, and that Islam is the way of life, and Prophet Muhammad is God’s Messenger [peace be upon him]. I knew that the Creator would send his true religion meant for us on our journey in this life to all people, just as I had thought the White Buffalo Calf Woman came bringing the peace pipe through which our prayers were sent. The way of life, the Red Road, is the Straight Path to my people. Then there is the Holy Qur’an, the Book of truth, as we Lakotas didn’t have a book, except inside us.

Now, I can be among brothers and sisters who believe as I do. And, most of the time I feel at home among my Muslim brothers and sisters, as I look most of the time through spiritual eyes. But, sometimes our cultures and traditions get in the way, though I have left behind those traditions that did not apply to Islam and the Red Road. Other traditions are so similar to Islam that I’d like to share them to understand and be understood. We also pray towards the East. The tipi doors were faced to the east and when log houses were built the doors faced the east. We believe in one God; in respecting yourself by the way you dress and carry yourself. We pray daily, especially the early morning prayer at the dawn of the new day; and before doing so, we wash the body, keeping it purified.

As Allah puts Muslims in my path, I know I have a family. Yet, there are times this world and its control through traditions can still have a hold on us, my brothers and sisters, and can dictate to even those of us who say we are on the Straight Path. It can cause us to look at each other on the physical, material plane.

I recently read an Islamic journal, and my spirit urged me to record my experiences as a Muslim. If it will be the will of the Creator, I hope other Native American Muslims will also share with the whole Muslim community as I feel it is important to help our brothers and sisters gain an awareness of Native Americans.

However, I would prefer to be simply called a Muslim, not a Native American Muslim, as when we separate ourselves in this physical world, it also separates us in other worlds.

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