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This is the story of how one of the greatest Muslim leaders of all time became a Muslim.  This is the conversion story of ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab (Radiallahu Anhu).

‘Umar ibn Al Khattab was a feared and well respected man from the Banu Adi clan from among the Quraish.  He came from a middle class family from Mecca.  Well known for his determination and fearless nature; he became one of the early opponents of the religion of Islam.

During the days prior to his acceptance to Islam; the religion was being taught in private.  There was fear of persecution from the Quraish.  The Muslims would meet in homes, and would learn the religion from Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wa alihi wassalam).

There were few men that had carried so much honor and fear in Quraish.  ‘Umar ibn al Khattab was one of them.  That is why, Prophet Muhammad SWS once made a Dua(invocation) to Allah:
“O Allah! Give Islam strength through one of the men you love more: ‘Umar ibn al Khattab or Amr ibn al Hisham(Abu Jahl)”

Umm Abdullah(Radiallahu Anhum)was running one day and had the plan to leave Mecca because of the persecutions.  She ran into, fellow tribesmen, ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab who asked her, “Why are you running around?” She responded, “You have caused us too much pain for worshiping Allah.”  To her shock ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab told her, “have peace on your journey.” Umm Abdullah told her brother that she ran into ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab, and her brother responded “He’s going to kill us.”  Islam began to soften the heart of ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab.

One day ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab went to visit the Haram.  Once there he saw the Prophet praying in front of his eyes. Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wa alihi wassalam)was reciting Surah Haqqah(the Reality).  Soon after listening to it he said “By Allah, this is poetry as the Quraish have said.”  Right when he said this; Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wa alihi wassalam) recited:
إِنَّهُ لَقَوْلُ رَسُولٍ كَرِيمٍ
وَمَا هُوَ بِقَوْلِ شَاعِرٍ قَلِيلًا مَا تُؤْمِنُونَ
“That this is verily the word of an honoured Messenger
It is not the word of a poet, little is that you believe!” (69:40-41)
Surprised by the verses, he said to himself “He must be a soothsayer.” Another accusation made by the Quraish.  As soon as he said that; the next verses were recited:
وَلَا بِقَوْلِ كَاهِنٍ قَلِيلًا مَا تَذَكَّرُونَ
تَنزِيلٌ مِّن رَّبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“Nor is it the word of a soothsayer , little is that you remember!
This is the Revelation sent down from the Lord of the ‘Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists)” (69: 42-43)
Later on in life, when speaking of this moment, ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab said “This is when Islam entered my heart.”

‘Umar ibn Al Khattab, a man known for determination and his anger, made a sudden decision of killing Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wa alihi wassalam).  Even though Islam was slowly entering his heart; the hatred he had for the new religion still existed.  So on that day that he just decided that he was going kill the Messenger of Allah.  On his way he ran into Na’im ibn Abdullah (Radiallahu Anhu)who began to talk to him.  When Na’im found out that ‘Umar wanted to kill the Prophet; he told ‘Umar that maybe he should speak with his sister first(inferring that she became Muslim).  When he came near his sister’s house he heard the recitation of the Qur’an.  Upon enteringhe asked his sister and her husband Said ibn Zaid (Radiallahu Anhu) “Have you صدها (left the faith of your forefathers)?”.  He then began to attack his sister and her husband.  Upon seeing blood of her sister; he had began feeling guilty.  He apologized to his sister and her husband, and requested to read the words of the Qur’an.  Upon the request his sister said “you are not clean go wash your self.”  Upon reading the verses of Surah Ta ha; Islam began to enter his heart again.

Now ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab returned on his plan to visit the Prophet.  While he made the stop at his sister’s house; Na’im ibn Abdullah went and warned the Prophet and his companions of ‘Umar’s intentions.  When ‘Umar got to the house-sword in hand. The warrior Hamza ibn AbdulMutallib (Radiallahu Anhu) said, “I will kill him with his own sword.”  The Prophet(Sallallahu alayhi wa alihi wassalam) told him, “No, go hide.”  When ‘Umar entered the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wa alihi wassalam) grabbed ‘Umar by the collar and shook him; then asked him, “O Ibn Al Khattab, Why have you not accepted Islam?” ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab (Radiallahu Anhu)responded:
أشهد أن لا إله إلاَّ الله و أشهد أن محمدا رسول الله
“I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

The Muslims that were hiding began yelling “الله أكبر”(God is the Greatest).  This became so loud that it could be heard through out Mecca.  Till this day, when a person accepts Islam, upon him finishing his deceleration the people say “الله أكبر”
After years of secretly spreading Islam, from that moment on, Islam began being preached in the open.  Outside for everyone to accept.

Immediately after becoming Muslim; ‘Umar asked Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wa alihi wassalam), “Who is the hardest on the Muslims?”  The Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wa alihi wassalam) told him it was Abu Jahl ibn Hisham.  So ‘Umar immediately went to the house of Abu Jahl and knocked on his door.  Abu Jahl greeted his nephew, but then ‘Umar said to him “I am a Muslim now.”  Upon hearing that Abu Jahl slammed the door on his face.

The young Abdullah Ibn Umar (Radiallahu Anhu), the son of ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab, who secretly was already Muslim at a very young age could not be happier.  When he found out he began running through the streets yelling “‘Umar has left the religion of your forefathers.”

Within one hour of becoming Muslim; ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab began fighting with the Quraish.  Many of the Polytheist came out and began fighting with ‘Umar.  When ‘Umar began to fatigue, he would grab an honored son of Quraish and threatened everybody that he would poke his eyes out if they didn’t back off.  He continued to do this until he was completely tired.

This is what made ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab (Radiallahu Anhu) special.  He was a man of action.  He not only believed, but he did something.  We can all take a lesson from his life.  We sit around and we have been Muslim for days, weeks, months, years, and most of us our whole lives.  This man was Muslim for just an hour, and began fighting for his faith.  How can we be too lazy to do anything; when we had an example like ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab.

This is a brief history of a science that took place for 3 or 4 centuries.

Contrary to popular belief, the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad SWS was being written down during his life.  The fact that it was being written down during his life, has been proven without a shadow of a doubt.  ‘Amr ibn Aws RA once a doubt came to him, and he asked the Prophet PBUH “should I write down everything you say even when you joke”, Prophet Muhammad SWS pointed to his tongue, and then said “write, everything that comes from this tongue is the truth.”

The Prophet PBUH allowed many of his saying to be written.  Once he gave a Khutba and a man asked could I have what you said in writing.  Then the Prophet PBUH said “Right down for Abu Shah.”

It is reported that over 60 companions would be scribes for the Prophet PBUH, they would write down the Qur’an and Hadith, which came from Prophet Muhammad PBUH.

After the death of Prophet Muhammad SWS, the companions realized the responsibility and importance of preserving the Hadith.  That is why the major companions would narrate so many hadith.  Jabir ibn Abdullah, Abdullah ibn Abbas, Aisha bint Abu Bakr, Anas ibn Malik, Abdullah ibn Umar, and Abu Hurairah who narrated the most hadith. May Allah be pleased with them.

The Prophet PBUH even made a special Dua for Abu Hurairah so he could remember the Prophets Hadith.  Narrated Abu Huraira: I said to Allah’s Apostle “I hear many narrations (Hadiths) from you but I forget them.” Allah’s Apostle said, “Spread your Rida’ (garment).” I did accordingly and then he moved his hands as if filling them with something (and emptied them in my Rida’) and then said, “Take and wrap this sheet over your body.” I did it and after that I never forgot any thing. (Sahih Bukhari)

One person even asked Abu Huraira why he narrated so many Hadith, yet he only lived with the Prophet PBUH for 3 years.  He said because when he came to Medinah he became part of AhluSuffa.  Unlike other companions who had business, he only spent time with the Prophet.

Many of these companions opened schools.  Not physical buildings, but they had students who learned from them.

The formation of the Science of Hadith began in the time of the Tabaieen and the Taba Tabaieen.  If you wanted to study Hadith, it was understood you had to travel.  First study in your city, and then travel to the other cities.  For example Scholars of Hadith such as Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim, they traveled all over the world.  Bukhari’s life began in the area of Russia, and he traveled through almost all over the Muslim world.  Then at the end of his life he returned to his home.

For Hadith to be written down in the form of books did not begin until the time of Imam Malik, when he wrote down his Al-Muwatta.  This does not mean hadith were not written before this, they were written way before this.  The only difference was, that previously they were written for the person’s personal notes, not as a book to spread to everyone.  This was the first book for mass distribution.  This book was written by Imam Malik in Medinah around 130 AH.  So for those Quraniyoon that say “Bukhari came 300 years after the Prophet” the easy refutation is “Yes he did, but his sheikh’s sheikh’s sheikh wrote down the Hadith during the life of the Prophet.”  This is something they cannot refute, because it is the truth.

There was a PHD Dissertation by Sheikh Muhammad Mustafa Azami at Cambridge University.  This was one of the rare books that were translated from English to Arabic.  This book is actually available at Amazon titled under “Studies of early Hadith literature.”  He compiled the names of people who actually WROTE down hadith for the first 200 years of Islam.  Before both Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim.  He compiled the names the authors, what were there personal manuscripts.  In order to refute the idea that hadith weren’t written down until 300 years after the Prophet death.  The idea spread by the Orientalist, the “modernist” Muslim, and Qur’an alone Cult.  He proved without a shadow of a doubt that there were works written down before that.  Usually these people ask the question, where are these manuscripts.  The answer is quite simple; first realize that these were personal manuscripts not published books.  They were not preserved like books.  The main reason they were not preserved, because later works absorbed them, and there was no need for them to be preserved.  The works for the 1st and 2nd century were absorbed by works of the 3rd and 4th century.  The greatest proof for this is the Saheefa of Haman ibn Munayba; Saheefa means manuscripts.  Haman ibn Munayba was one of the students of Abu Hurairah, in his manuscripts he wrote down the hadith of Abu Hurairah.  He recorded about 100 or so hadith, and he died 110 years after Hijrah.  Amazingly this manuscript exists to this day.  A modern scholar Muhammad Hameedullah he discovered these manuscripts early this century, around the 1920’s.  He discovered these manuscripts in a museum in France.  The most interesting part of these manuscripts, was that the over 100 hadith in them, they can all be found in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.  These manuscripts were written around the 40’s-70’s after the Hijrah, meaning lest than half a century after the Prophets death.  When Imam Muslim narrates this hadith, he also mentions that this hadith can be found in the Saheefa of Haman ibn Munayba.  Even more amazing, is that Imam Ahmad, in his Musnad narrated all of the hadith of Saheefa of Haman ibn Munayba, in a single booklet.  This proves that Imam Muslim and Imam Ahmad both viewed the Saheefa of Haman ibn Munayba in their lifetimes.  This is proof, that there is no need to keep the earliest works, because later works absorbed them.

The hadith when they were compiled were compiled in a special order.  This was a very deep science, and the scholars organized the Hadith in special ways.  Some scholars organized them by the topic of the hadith, others by who narrated the hadith, or by who they learned the hadith from.  Imam Malik’s Muwatta was the first and the one that cannot be categorized.  It was the first, and the organization began later.

The early works were the Musnad works.  The Musnad works organized the hadith, by the Sahabi who narrated the hadith.  The Musnad would for example list all the Hadith narrated by Abu Bakr, and then all by Umar, and then all by Uthman, and then all by Ali, and so on.  The most famous Musnad is of Imam Ahmad, al Musnad Imam Ahmad.  Imam Ahmad compiled over 30,000 hadith.  This is one of the largest collections of original source hadith.  This Musnad is still in tact today.  Another famous Musnad is of Baqi ibn Maqlad, this was the largest book of hadith ever written.  This Musnad is not available in its complete form now.  Our scholar’s referred to these Musnads in their books, but many of them do not exist in our times.  One reason for this is many Europeans came and stole them.  That is why you can find many early copies of Hadith books in Princeton, Oxford, France, Holland, and the most are found in Germany.  Some people believe this Musnad is still in existence with the non-Muslims, because our scholars referred it to just 200 years ago.

After the Musnad came the Sahih.  Where our scholars only kept the Sahih (Authentic).  There are two famous ones of these.  The first Jami as Sahih also known as the Sahih of Imam Bukhari who died in 256 AH.  The second As Sahih Imam Muslim of Imam Abul Husayn Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, or more popularly known as Imam Muslim who died in 261 AH.  Sahih Bukhari is the more authentic of the two Sahihs, but Sahih Musim is the better organized of the two Sahihs.  If a hadith is found in either of the two books, it is known as 100% Sahih.  The mass majority of Muslims scholars, minus 4 or 5, have said that the two Sahihs are 100% authentic.  These two scholars, and their two works were one of the greatest blessings to the Muslims.  If you look at the lives of these two scholars, they had so many trials and tribulations just to put these collections together.  It was a great blessing for us to have them as our scholars.  Allah has blessed these two Imams, by keeping their works around, and mentioned right after the book of Allah.  Some Hadith rejecters even go so far as to claim that Imam Bukhari did not know Arabic, which is an absolutely stupid argument; this is because they have no knowledge and speak out of hate.  Imam Bukhari had authored books in Arabic, how is it possible to write books not just narrations of hadith, and not know Arabic; this is how sad and low their argument is.  People like the great idiot of the 20th century Rashad Khalifa, speak out of ignorance instead of intelligence.  There are other works of Sahih.  Sahih of Ibn Quzaima who died in 350 AH.  This book was lost very early on after its compilation.  Ibn Hajr ever said that during his lifetime that he only came across one fourth of it.  Many scholars believed that the whole book was lost, but recently Sheikh al Adhami found the one fourth of it in Turkey, mixed with another manuscript.  It was obvious that there were to manuscripts mixed together.  Another book of Sahih was by a student of Ibn Quzaima, Ibn Hibban who died in 354 AH.  This is a very large volume; it is called Sahih Ibn Hibban.  Both the books of Ibn Quzaima and Ibn Hibban are not 100% authentic, but the general rule is most of the hadith are Sahih.

After the Musnad and the Sahih, then came the works of the Sunnan.  The compilers wanted to organize the Fiqhi aspect of the hadith.  These are organized by the order of Fiqh.  They compiled them to make Fiqh easier.  Some major Sunnan works are of Sunnan ad Dharami who died in 256 AH, Sunnan Abu Dawood who died in 275 AH, Sunnan Ibn Majah who died in 279 AH, and Sunnan An Nasai who died in 303 AH, Sunnan Ad Darulkhutni who died in 385 AH, and Sunnan Bayhaqi who died in 458 AH.  As for the Sunnan of at Thirmidi, its proper classification is al Jam’I, although it is very close to the Sunnan.  Scholars refer to the four Sunnan: Sunnan Abu Dawood, Sunnan At Thirmidi, Sunnan Ibn Majah, and Sunnan An Nasai.

The other categories of Hadith literature are the Mu’jam works.  The Mu’jam works are categorized by the Sheikhs you heard them from.  These are organized according to the scholars a person hears the hadith from.  The greatest of Mu’jam works are the three works of At Tabarani, he wrote Al Mu’jam al Khabeer, Al Mu’jam al Awsat, and Al Mu’jam as Saghir.

There are many ways to categories Hadith, but these are the 4 main ways, the Musnad, the Sahih, the Sunnan, and the Mu’jam.

Ahlus Sunnah, has 6 books called the Al-Sihah al-Sittah.  These six books do not have a preference over the other books of hadith except Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Musim.  These six; Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunnan Abi Dawood, Sunnan At Thirmidi, Sunnan an Nasai and Sunnan Ibn Majah.  These six books are selected because they are the easiest for a person took pick up and find the narrator.  This does not mean that the four books, not named the Sahih, are all authentic.  These six books are the most comprehensive of all the Hadith books.

Non-sourced Hadith books:  These are books like 40 Hadith An Nawawi and Imam Nawawi’s Riyaad us Salaheen.  Riyaad us Salaheen, is probably one of the greatest works ever, and something that every Muslim should have.  People often make the mistake of thinking this is a source hadith.  Hadith from these works can not be quoted, because Imam Nawawi in these books says “I got this from Bukhari” or “I got this from Muslim”.  If there is a book, which quotes a hadith from the works of An Nawawi, there is a clear lack of knowledge from the author who quoted this.  Another book al Mundareez at Taghrib wa Tarhib, this is just a compilation of hadith from other sources (ie other Hadith books such as the Sahih Sittah).  Another is Kanz al-Ummal fi Sunan wal Aqwal wal Afwal by Sheikh al Hindi.  It is the largest collection of Hadith under two covers.  This book was a collection of Hadith by topic; it was an encyclopedia of Hadith.

In the Qur’an, God tells the story of the Pharaoh and Haman:


And Fir’aun (Pharaoh) said: “O Hâmân! build Me a tower that I may arrive at the ways,

“The ways of the heavens, and I may look upon the Ilâh (God) of Mûsa (Moses) but Verily, I think Him to be a liar.” Thus it was made fair-seeming, In Fir’aun’s (Pharaoh) eyes, the evil of his deeds, and He was hindered from the (Right) path, and the plot of Fir’aun (Pharaoh) led to nothing but loss and destruction (for Him).

Haman has been ordered by the Pharaoh to build a tower.  So lets look in the bible, is Haman told to construct something in the bible? Yes, but not by the Pharaoh.  In the Book of Esther, Haman is an advisor to Xerxes (Ahaseures) and in Babylon.  So there are three discrepancies between the Qur’an and the Bible regarding Haman.

  1. Haman worked for the Pharaoh in the Qur’an, while Haman worked for Xerces in the Book of Esther.
  2. Haman was in Egypt in the Qur’an, while Haman was in Babylon in the book of Esther.
  3. Haman was in the neighborhood of 1,000 years earlier in the Qur’an than in the book of Esther.

Now when people in Europe began studying eastern thought, as well as Islam they discovered this.  Almost immediately they began saying that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) took this religion from some priest and mixed up the stories when he was “making” the Qur’an.  Their main goal was to say that the Qur’an was made up, or written by man.

Louis(or Ludovico) Maracci a Catholic Priest and confessor to Pope Innocent XI. ( wrote:

Mahumet(Muhammad) has mixed up sacred stories. He took Haman as the adviser of Pharaoh whereas in reality he was an adviser of Xerxes (Ahaseures), King of Persia. He also thought that the Pharaoh ordered construction for him of a lofty tower from the story of the Tower of Babel. It is certain that in the Sacred Scriptures there is no such story of the Pharaoh. Be that as it may, he Muhammad has related a most incredible story”

Encyclopedia Britannica said in 1891:

“The most ignorant Jew could never have mistaken Haman (the minister of Ahasuerus) for the minister of the Pharaoh”

Those are just a few of the examples of ignorance thinking that it is the truth.

In the late 19th century, the Catholic Church declared the Book of Esther, of being a book of tales and not a historic book.  Even the modern Jewish Encyclopedia has stated that this book is just a book of stories, stating that it was more of a book about Romance than did it state historic fact.  While not ONE Muslim ever doubts what the Qur’an is, it is the word of God, not inspired to humans, but the actual word of God.

So now we have discussed what the Qur’an says, what the bible says, what the Christians scholars say about the authenticity of the Qur’an, and then what they say about the authenticity of the Book of Esther.  Now lets discuss  history.

In the 19th and 20th century when the study of Hieroglyphics began to revive the language of the ancient Egyptians; a French Doctor Maurice Bucaille, was studying history and came across this disparity in the Qur’an and the Bible.  So he went to Egyptologist to get to the root of the person named “Haman”.  What he discovered was at the estimated time of Moses, there was a man who was named ‘Haman’ and he was a worker of the Pharaoh and his duty was “The Chief of the workers in the stone-quarries.”  SubhanAllah (Glory be to Allah) just as the Qur’an described it. So Dr. Bucaille went to one of the French Egyptologist and told him that the a man in 7th century who claimed to a Messenger of God, said that there was a man named Haman and that he was an architect for the Pharaoh.  He was later told that this book was the Qur’an, and the Egyptologist responded:

Had the Bible or any other literary work, composed during a period when the hieroglyphs could still be deciphered, quoted ‘Haman,’ the presence in the Qur’an of this word might have not drawn special attention. But, it is a fact that the hieroglyphs had been totally forgotten at the time of the Qur’anic Revelation and that no one could not read them until the 19th century AD. Since matters stood like that in ancient times, the existence of the word ‘Haman’ in the Qur’an suggests a special reflection.”

Not just that alone, there was a statue found in Egypt, which is currently in a museum in Australia of an ancient architect from the time of the Pharaohs, with his name sketched into stone, ‘Haman.’


Now we don’t know if this is the same Haman as mentioned in the Qur’an, but the Qur’an has the correct location, the correct name, the correct occupation, and the correct timing,  none of which the Bible has.

Dan Ephron


From the magazine issue dated Mar 30, 2009

Army specialist Terry Holdbrooks had been a guard at Guantánamo for about six months the night he had his life-altering conversation with detainee 590, a Moroccan also known as “the General.” This was early 2004, about halfway through Holdbrooks’s stint at Guantánamo with the 463rd Military Police Company. Until then, he’d spent most of his day shifts just doing his duty. He’d escort prisoners to interrogations or walk up and down the cellblock making sure they weren’t passing notes. But the midnight shifts were slow. “The only thing you really had to do was mop the center floor,” he says. So Holdbrooks began spending part of the night sitting cross-legged on the ground, talking to detainees through the metal mesh of their cell doors.

He developed a strong relationship with the General, whose real name is Ahmed Errachidi. Their late-night conversations led Holdbrooks to be more skeptical about the prison, he says, and made him think harder about his own life. Soon, Holdbrooks was ordering books on Arabic and Islam. During an evening talk with Errachidi in early 2004, the conversation turned to the shahada, the one-line statement of faith that marks the single requirement for converting to Islam (“There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet”). Holdbrooks pushed a pen and an index card through the mesh, and asked Errachidi to write out the shahada in English and transliterated Arabic. He then uttered the words aloud and, there on the floor of Guantánamo’s Camp Delta, became a Muslim.

When historians look back on Guantánamo, the harsh treatment of detainees and the trampling of due process will likely dominate the narrative. Holdbrooks, who left the military in 2005, saw his share. In interviews over recent weeks, he and another former guard told NEWSWEEK about degrading and sometimes sadistic acts against prisoners committed by soldiers, medics and interrogators who wanted revenge for the 9/11 attacks on America. But as the fog of secrecy slowly lifts from Guantánamo, other scenes are starting to emerge as well, including surprising interactions between guards and detainees on subjects like politics, religion and even music. The exchanges reveal curiosity on both sides—sometimes even empathy. “The detainees used to have conversations with the guards who showed some common respect toward them,” says Errachidi, who spent five years in Guantánamo and was released in 2007. “We talked about everything, normal things, and things [we had] in common,” he wrote to NEWSWEEK in an e-mail from his home in Morocco.

Holdbrooks’s level of identification with the other side was exceptional. No other guard has volunteered that he embraced Islam at the prison (though Errachidi says others expressed interest). His experience runs counter to academic studies, which show that guards and inmates at ordinary prisons tend to develop mutual hostility. But then, Holdbrooks is a contrarian by nature. He can also be conspiratorial. When his company visited the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Holdbrooks remembers thinking there had to be a broader explanation, and that the Bush administration must have colluded somehow in the plot.

But his misgivings about Guantánamo—including doubts that the detainees were the “worst of the worst”—were shared by other guards as early as 2002. A few such guards are coming forward for the first time. Specialist Brandon Neely, who was at Guantánamo when the first detainees arrived that year, says his enthusiasm for the mission soured quickly. “There were a couple of us guards who asked ourselves why these guys are being treated so badly and if they’re actually terrorists at all,” he told NEWSWEEK. Neely remembers having long conversations with detainee Ruhal Ahmed, who loved Eminem and James Bond and would often rap or sing to the other prisoners. Another former guard, Christopher Arendt, went on a speaking tour with former detainees in Europe earlier this year to talk critically about the prison.

Holdbrooks says growing up hard in Phoenix—his parents were junkies and he himself was a heavy drinker before joining the military in 2002—helps explain what he calls his “anti-everything views.” He has holes the size of quarters in both earlobes, stretched-out piercings that he plugs with wooden discs. At his Phoenix apartment, bedecked with horror-film memorabilia, he rolls up both sleeves to reveal wrist-to-shoulder tattoos. He describes the ink work as a narrative of his mistakes and addictions. They include religious symbols and Nazi SS bolts, track marks and, in large letters, the words BY DEMONS BE DRIVEN. He says the line, from a heavy-metal song, reminds him to be a better person.

Holdbrooks—TJ to his friends—says he joined the military to avoid winding up like his parents. He was an impulsive young man searching for stability. On his first home leave, he got engaged to a woman he’d known for just eight days and married her three months later. With little prior exposure to religion, Holdbrooks was struck at Gitmo by the devotion detainees showed to their faith. “A lot of Americans have abandoned God, but even in this place, [the detainees] were determined to pray,” he says.

Holdbrooks was also taken by the prisoners’ resourcefulness. He says detainees would pluck individual threads from their jumpsuits or prayer mats and spin them into long stretches of twine, which they would use to pass notes from cell to cell. He noticed that one detainee with a bad skin rash would smear peanut butter on his windowsill until the oil separated from the paste, then would use the oil on his rash.

Errachidi’s detention seemed particularly suspect to Holdbrooks. The Moroccan detainee had worked as a chef in Britain for almost 18 years and spoke fluent English. He told Holdbrooks he had traveled to Pakistan on a business venture in late September 2001 to help pay for his son’s surgery. When he crossed into Afghanistan, he said, he was picked up by the Northern Alliance and sold to American troops for $5,000. At Guantánamo, Errachidi was accused of attending a Qaeda training camp. But a 2007 investigation by the London Times newspaper appears to have corroborated his story; it eventually helped lead to his release.

In prison, Errachidi was an agitator. “Because I spoke English, I was always in the face of the soldiers,” he wrote NEWSWEEK in an e-mail. Errachidi said an American colonel at Guantánamo gave him his nickname, and warned him that generals “get hurt” if they don’t cooperate. He said his defiance cost him 23 days of abuse, including sleep deprivation, exposure to very cold temperatures and being shackled in stress positions. “I always believed the soldiers were doing illegal stuff and I was not ready to keep quiet.” (Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said in response: “Detainees have often made claims of abuse that are simply not supported by the facts.”) The Moroccan spent four of his five years at Gitmo in the punishment block, where detainees were denied “comfort items” like paper and prayer beads along with access to the recreation yard and the library.

Errachidi says he does not remember details of the night Holdbrooks converted. Over the years, he says, he discussed a range of religious topics with guards: “I spoke to them about subjects like Father Christmas and Ishac and Ibrahim [Isaac and Abraham] and the sacrifice. About Jesus.” Holdbrooks recalls that when he announced he wanted to embrace Islam, Errachidi warned him that converting would be a serious undertaking and, at Guantánamo, a messy affair. “He wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into.” Holdbrooks later told his two roommates about the conversion, and no one else.

But other guards noticed changes in him. They heard detainees calling him Mustapha, and saw that Holdbrooks was studying Arabic openly. (At his Phoenix apartment, he displays the books he had amassed. They include a leather-bound, six-volume set of Muslim sacred texts and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam.”) One night his squad leader took him to a yard behind his living quarters, where five guards were waiting to stage a kind of intervention. “They started yelling at me,” he recalls, “asking if I was a traitor, if I was switching sides.” At one point a squad leader pulled back his fist and the two men traded blows, Holdbrooks says.

Holdbrooks spent the rest of his time at Guantánamo mainly keeping to himself, and nobody bothered him further. Another Muslim who served there around the same time had a different experience. Capt. James Yee, a Gitmo chaplain for much of 2003, was arrested in September of that year on suspicion of aiding the enemy and other crimes—charges that were eventually dropped. Yee had become a Muslim years earlier. He says the Muslims on staff at Gitmo—mainly translators—often felt beleaguered. “There was an overall atmosphere by the command to vilify Islam.” (Commander Gordon’s response: “We strongly disagree with the assertions made by Chaplain Yee”).

At Holdbrooks’s next station, in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he says things began to unravel. The only place to kill time within miles of the base was a Wal-Mart and two strip clubs—Big Daddy’s and Big Louie’s. “I’ve never been a fan of strip clubs, so I hung out at Wal-Mart,” he says. Within months, Holdbrooks was released from the military—two years before the end of his commitment. The Army gave him an honorable discharge with no explanation, but the events at Gitmo seemed to loom over the decision. The Army said it would not comment on the matter.

Back in Phoenix, Holdbrooks returned to drinking, in part to suppress what he describes as the anger that consumed him. (Neely, the other ex-guard who spoke to NEWSWEEK, said Guantánamo had made him so depressed he spent up to $60 a day on alcohol during a monthlong leave from the detention center in 2002.) Holdbrooks divorced his wife and spiraled further. Eventually his addictions landed him in the hospital. He suffered a series of seizures, as well as a fall that resulted in a bad skull fracture and the insertion of a titanium plate in his head.

Recently, Holdbrooks has been back in touch with Errachidi, who has suffered his own ordeal since leaving the detention center. Errachidi told NEWSWEEK he had trouble adjusting to his freedom, “trying to learn how to walk without shackles and trying to sleep at night with the lights off.” He signed each of the dozen e-mails he sent to NEWSWEEK with the impersonal ID that his captors had given him: Ahmed 590.

Holdbrooks, now 25, says he quit drinking three months ago and began attending regular prayers at the Tempe Islamic Center, a mosque near the University of Phoenix, where he works as an enrollment counselor. The long scar on his head is now mostly hidden under the lace of his Muslim kufi cap. When the imam at Tempe introduced Holdbrooks to the congregation and explained he’d converted at Guantánamo, a few dozen worshipers rushed over to shake his hand. “I would have thought they had the most savage soldiers serving there,” says the imam, Amr Elsamny, an Egyptian. “I never thought it would be someone like TJ.”