How I Found My Father’s Family

As-Salaamu Alaikum,

First, let me assure you that everything I’m about to tell you is the absolute truth. I would swear to Allah, but I think that’s going a little too far.

This is going to be a pretty long email, so make sure you’re comfortable.

BTW, you might need some Kleenex or tissue nearby. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

My entire life changed a few days ago and there’s no way this could be anything but the decree of Allah. I had very little to do with what happened.

Let me start from the beginning. The very beginning.

My mother was my father’s third wife. He was a traveling jewelry salesman and made very little money. But he did what he could to take care of his huge family (4 adults and 7 children at the time this story begins).

He probably shouldn’t have married three wives without having the means to care for them, but hey, it is what it is.

The entire family would shuttle from city to city, selling handmade jewelry wherever they could find a spot. My father’s other two wives were really good at making the jewelry.

But of course, a situation like this couldn’t last but so long.

First one wife left, and then the other left, both returning to their hometown of Chicago, Illinois (which is also where my father was from).

Meanwhile, my mother was the only one left and even she was getting ready to leave.

My father, intent on keeping his family together, sent my now pregnant mother to Birmingham, Alabama to stay with her family. His intention, so he told her, was to go back to Chicago, and get his
other two wives to come back. Then he would come back for my mother.

My father left for Chicago. A few months passed. I was born, and he did not return. No calls. No letters. Nothing.

After a while, my mother headed back to New York City (where her mother lived), and went back to work in the NYC public school system.

And so, I grew up never knowing my father. I never saw him. Didn’t even really know his birth name (he went by Rasheed Ismail after accepting Islam).

So for years, I lived with the idea that my father had abandoned me and my mother. My mother told me what little information she could, but they weren’t married long and there wasn’t much for me to go on.

Over the years, I speculated about what could have happened to my father. The best thing, I thought, was that he may have died or been killed while traveling back to Chicago.

That may sound bad, but the way I saw it, being orphaned was better than being abandoned.

When I grew up I used the little information my mother had to try to find my father and his other children. But all I had was a last name (Ismail), a city (Chicago), and the names of two of his other
kids that my mother remembered, Naba and Abdul Islam (don’t ask about the name; this was the 70’s).

That just wasn’t enough.

Obviously, I adjusted fairly well to the situation. I think I turned out to be a pretty good father and husband. I studied Islam, graduated from college, got married and all that jazz.

But of course, always in the back of my mind was the idea that my father may have abandoned my mother and I.

And when my mother died a couple of months ago, I figured the story was over. She was my only link to my father and without her, there was little chance of me ever discovering more.

Then, in early December, I had a strange dream. I won’t go through all of it, but I will say that in that dream, the date December 9th held some importance.

Don’t ask how I knew that; I just did.

On December 6th, I reactivated my Facebook account after being off for almost two years.

On December 7th, I recorded a new podcast episode about Surah Taghaabun.

On December 9th, I received a Facebook status update saying the Masjid I used to work at, Ar-Rahman Islamic Center, had been sold to ICNA.

Okay, I thought. Perhaps this was what my dream was about. Maybe something’s going to happen with ICNA, me, and ARIC.

Later that afternoon, I began to send out friend requests to many of the Muslims I had met while in Atlanta.

Later that evening, I logged back into Facebook to see who accepted my friend requests. One of the responses was from “The Muslim Journal,” the official newspaper for Imam W.D Mohammed’s group.

Facebook, like it always does, suggested I might know some people who were also friends with the Muslim Journal.

One of the names was “Gabriel Ismael.”

Curious at the spelling of the last name (as it is slightly different from mine), I clicked on Gabriel’s profile and scanned through. I saw that he lived in Houston and was born in Atlanta.

Accept that he was born in Atlanta, there wasn’t much of a connection.

Then something caught my eye. He had 14 family members.

I clicked on the link to his family members and saw a whole bunch of people with the last name Ismael. I clicked on one of them and saw that she was born in Illinois.

Interesting. The wheels were starting to turn, but mostly out of curiosity.

I clicked on another sibling and saw he was also born in Illinois. And then I saw that Gabriel Ismael had a sister named “Neba,” but with a different last name.

Now I knew I was onto something. There were too many coincidences.

And then I saw the kicker. A link to a profile named “Rasheed AbdulAziz Ismael.”

I clicked the link and saw a black and white picture of a man in his twenties wearing shades and sitting by a dock. Except for the fact he was shorter and had less facial hair, it was like looking
in a mirror.

Well, I messaged Gabriel Ismael through Facebook and explained that I had reason to believe we were related. He took a little convincing, but he eventually believed me.

He called me and we talked for about an hour. He filled me in on our father and explained that he had died several years ago and the Facebook page was a memorial.

But most importantly, Gabriel explained that our father never abandoned me. He did leave to look for his other wives. But by the time he got back to Birmingham my mother had already left for NYC. My mother’s family (who weren’t too happy about my mother marrying a man with two wives) weren’t very helpful. And somehow or another, things just got disconnected.

Gabriel told me how my father had been looking for me for years and had explained to his other children that they had another brother out there somewhere. In fact, Gabriel had gone to Birmingham to try to find me, but of course he didn’t know I was living in New York City at the time.

Over the next couple of days I connected with several of my brothers and sisters on my father’s side. Inshallah, I plan on traveling to Houston next spring to meet them in person.

The lesson in all of this?

Trust in Allah. Even if it takes 37 years, He’ll take care of you.