WOMEN CONVERTED TO ISLAM
(From Catholicism to Islam)
I accept that I cannot control the events that occur in my life or in the lives of others.
Islam is the only religion that communicates total submission to our Creator, the Creator of all people and of all things.
As a Muslim I know that everything I do first begins with an intention and then I must transform that intention into an effort in order to carry out what has already been decreed.
wisdom defines my path to be a better person to myself, my family, my
community and to all of my brothers and sisters here on earth.
I am a recent convert. Catholicism is the religion followed by my forefathers. At the age of 14, I refused the trinity concept and narrowed what I saw as a complicated tale of 'three in one' down to 'two in one' and started attending a Baptist church.
Throughout my life, I have searched for understanding, but when it came to my faith I truly was confused about why God would come as a human being and would allow himself to die for the sins of only those privileged enough to believe in his (or his son's) crucifixion.
I found this explanation extravagant and shared my doubts with pastors and scholars who gave every effort to communicate the Christian belief to my understanding. I asked myself: "Why would my religion need to be so complex?"
When I reached adulthood, I decided to make it very simple. There was just one, our Creator and that was it. No other explanation could rationally make sense.
I see Islam as a religion that came to clarify the errors of human beings who changed the original word of God to fit their interests. Islam is simple: God is God. God created us and we worship God and God alone. God sent Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon him) to deliver his message to guide all people.
Jesus is the only prophet who never died which is why he is the only
messenger who will come back before the Day of Judgment to lead the
people of the books: [the Torah, the Injeel (Bible) the book of Psalms
and the Quran]. The Quran is the final book that has never been altered
to fit the changing interest of people throughout history.
Heaven is not an exclusive club for those who merely follow what their fathers taught them. Instead it is your responsibility, especially as a Muslim, to constantly search for truth, understanding and to read and think.
After reading every chapter in the Quran twice and taking detailed notes, I believe that this masterpiece could only have come from my Creator. Without a doubt the author of this book knows more about me than I know about myself.
It is no secret that Islam is seriously misunderstood and disliked by many here in my homeland, the United States. My conversion to this "controversial" religion has my family and friends puzzled.
It is my sincere belief that Allah led me to Islam by enhancing my passion in exploring unfamiliar perspectives through foreign travel. I have a genuine interest in building bridges with all people everywhere rather than promoting my own ideology as the only system that can work for all people.
While culture shock is a mild term to express the drastically different life styles of Muslims in the Middle East, I saw great beauty in the generosity of people, the cohesiveness of families and the immediate acceptance of a girl so foreign in her ways.
Even so, in the present I face a culture shock within my own predominantly Middle Eastern Muslim community. I do understand the challenges a Muslim born into their religion faces to dissect their own culture within it.
After finding myself in Islam, I am able to adhere to the teachings supported by the Quran and Hadiths while also managing to bypass the cultural manifestations taught by Muslims born into their religion. Islam is multi-cultural and is a system that can be adopted in any environment at any point in time.
I can confidently say that if Allah had not breathed Islam into my soul, I would have never found Angela. Well, today, here I am: Angela, a Muslim American: the soul who persistently searched for her Creator and has found the Creator of all that is in the universe and beyond, in Islam.
Excerpted from: www.readingislam.com/
(An American Police Officer Discovers Islam)
About five years ago, I was fifty-two years old and a Christian. I had not become a member of any Christian church, but all my life I had been searching for the truth. I attended many churches and studied with their teachers. All fell short and I recognized none as being the truth about Allah. Since I was nine years old, I had read the Bible everyday of my life. I cannot tell you, over the many years, how many times I searched it for the truth.
During the long years of my search for the truth, I studied with many religious faiths. For over a year I studied two times a week with a Catholic priest, but could not accept Catholic beliefs. I spent another year studying with the Jehovah Witnesses and did not accept their beliefs either. I spent nearly two years with the LDS (Latter-Day Saints, i.e. the Mormons) and still did not find truth. I had a Jewish friend and we had many discussions about the Jewish beliefs. I went to many Protestant churches, some for months at a time, trying to find answers to my questions.
My heart told me Jesus was not God but a Prophet. My heart told me Adam and Eve were responsible for their sin, not me. My heart told me I should pray to God and no other. My reason told me that I was responsible for both my good and bad deeds and that God would never assume the form of a man in order to tell me that I was not responsible. He had no need to live and die as a human; after all, He is God.
So there I was, full of questions and praying to God for help. I had a real fear of dying and not knowing the truth. I prayed and I prayed. I received answers from preachers and priests like, “This is a mystery.” I felt that God wanted people to go to heaven so He wouldn't make it a mystery as to how to get there, how to live life accordingly, and how to understand Him. I knew in my heart that all that I was hearing was untrue.
I live in Arizona, USA and at the age of fifty-two had still never talked to a Muslim. I, like many Westerners, had read much in the media about Islam being a fanatical religion of terrorists, so I never researched any books or information about Islam. I knew nothing about the religion.
About four years ago, I retired after twenty-four years as a police officer. My husband also retired as a police officer. The year before my retirement I was still a police sergeant/supervisor. Police officers worldwide have a common bond, which we call a law-enforcement brother-sisterhood. We always help one anther no matter what police department or country.
That year I received a flyer asking for help with a group of Saudi Arabian police officers who had come to the United States to learn English at a local University and attend a police academy in the city that I live in. The Saudi police officers were looking for homes to live in with host families in order to learn about US customs and to practice the English that they would be learning.
My son is raising my grand daughter as a single parent. We helped him to find a house next to ours so that we could help in raising her. I talked to my husband and we decided that it would be good to help these police officers. It would be an opportunity for our grand daughter to learn about people from another country. I was told that the young men were Muslims and I was very curious.
An Arizona State University Saudi interpreter brought a young man named Abdul to meet us. He could speak no English. We showed him a bedroom and bathroom, which would be his when he stayed with us. I liked Abdul immediately. His respectful and kind manner won my heart!
I grew to love these young men, and they told me that I was the first non-Muslim they had ever taught Islam to...
Next Fahd was brought to our home. He was younger and shyer, but a wonderful young man. I became their tutor and we shared many discussions about police work, the USA, Saudi Arabia, Islam, etc. I observed how they helped each other and also the other sixteen Saudi police officers who came to the USA to learn English. During the year they were here, I came to respect and admire Fahd and Abdul for not letting the American culture have any impact on them. They went to mosque on Fridays, said their prayers no matter how tired they were, and were always careful of what they ate, etc. They showed me how to cook some traditional Saudi foods and they took me to Arab markets and restaurants. They were very kind with my grand daughter. They showered her with presents, jokes and friendship.
They treated my husband and me with much respect. Each day, they would call to see if I needed them to go to market for me before they went to study with their fellow Saudi officers. I showed them how to use the computer, and I ordered Arab papers online and began to search the Internet to learn more about them, their customs and religion. I did not want to do things that would offend them.
One day, I asked them if they had an extra Qur'an. I wanted to read what it had to say. They sent to their embassy in Washington DC and they got me an English Qur'an, tapes, and other pamphlets. At my request, we began to discuss Islam (they had to speak English and this became the focus of our tutoring sessions). I grew to love these young men, and they told me that I was the first non-Muslim they had ever taught Islam to!
After a year, they completed their studies and training at the police academy. I was able to help them with their police studies, as I had been a police instructor during my career as a police officer. I invited many of their brother-officers to the house to help with university projects and to practice English. One brother had his wife come to stay here in the US, and I was invited to their home. They were very gracious and I was able to talk to his wife about Muslim dress, prayer ablutions, and similar things.
A week before "my foster sons" were to return home to Saudi Arabia, I planned a family dinner with all their favorite traditional foods (I bought some because I didn’t know how to cook all of them). I purchased a hijab and an abaya (long Islamic gown). I wanted them to go home remembering me dressed appropriately as a Muslim sister. Before we ate, I said the Shahadah (public declaration of faith). The boys cried and laughed and it was so special. I believe in my heart that Allah sent the boys to me in answer to my years of prayers. I believe He chose me to see the truth by the light of Islam. I believe Allah sent Islam to my very home. I praise Him for His mercy, love and kindness to me.
My Journey in Islam
My Saudi boys returned to their homeland about a week after my reversion. I missed them greatly, but was still happy. I had joined the local mosque as a member almost immediately after my reversion and registered myself as a Muslim. I was anticipating a warm welcome from my new Muslim community. I thought all Muslims were like my Saudi boys and the other young Saudi officers whom I had met and spent time with during the previous year.
My family was still in a state of shock! They thought I would stick with this new religion for a while, become disgruntled, and move on to another religion as I had done all my adult life. They were surprised at the changes that I began to make in my daily life. My husband is a congenial man, so when I said that we were going to be eating halal foods and eliminating haram (forbidden) foods, he said, “Okay.”
My next change was removing pictures of people and animals from the rooms in the house. One day my husband came home from work to find me placing family pictures that had once hung on the walls in our home, in large, handsomely-bound photo albums. He watched and didn’t comment.
Next I wrote a letter to my non-Muslim family telling them about my reversion and how it would and wouldn’t change our family relationships. I explained a few of the basics of Islam. Still my family kept their own counsel, and I continued to work on learning prayer and reading my Qur’an. I got active in sister groups on the Internet and this facilitated my learning about my new beliefs.
I also attended a “Fundamentals of Islam” class at the mosque when I could get away from my work. I was still a state police sergeant and it was difficult – no, impossible to cover. This became a source of real discontent and concern for me. Just eight months and I could retire, so I asked for and was granted the right to telecommute from my home three days a week doing planning and research projects.
After the first six months had passed, sisters at the mosque that I attended still hadn’t warmed up to me. I was disappointed. I began to feel like an outsider. I was puzzled and concerned. I tried to become active in community services with a few sisters who had been friendly towards me. I looked for the kindness, friendship, and best of manners that were practiced each and every day by my Saudi boys. I made many mistakes at the mosque, such as talking in the prayer room as I tried to get up and down from the floor. I went to a community celebration and ate with my left hand; I wore clear nail polish on my trimmed nails and got scolded. I did wudu (ablutions) incorrectly and was frowned at. I became very discouraged.
Then one day I received a package in the mail from a sister-friend who I had met on the Internet. In the package were several abayas, hijabs, silk stockings, and a warm and friendly note welcoming me as her sister in Islam. She lives in Kuwait. Next a dear sister sent me a prayer robe and prayer rug she had hand-made herself. This dear sister lives in Saudi Arabia. I got an email that had a statement that I always remember at times when I get that “outsider” feeling. The note said: “I am glad that I became Muslim before I met many Muslims.” This is not an insult. It was a reminder that Islam is perfect and it is we Muslims who are imperfect. Just as I have shortcomings, so may my sisters and brothers. I also began to understand what I personally believe to be one of the greatest gifts that Allah gave to the Muslims: the sister and brotherhood in Islam.
Over the past four years my life has changed dramatically. My family has come to accept with generosity and tolerance that I am Muslim and will remain Muslim. All thanks be to Allah for sparing me the trials of so many reverts who must deal with beloved family who strive to dissuade them from Islam.
My journey in Islam will continue, and I look forward to many new experiences.
Gradually, I made some sister friends locally and by cyber space, dozens of sister friends became my Muslim family bringing me support, love and friendship. It was close to my first year as a Muslim that I became ill with a series of life-threatening diseases. I clung tight to the rope of Islam and was grateful for the black seed tea and ZamZam water that my sister-friends sent me from around the world along with their daily du`aa’ (supplications).
As my health continued to fail and I grew weaker physically, I had to discontinue community service work and became more isolated from the local Muslim community. I continued to work hard on my prayer, having great difficulty with the Arabic pronunciation but not giving up. My Islamic teacher made some cassette tapes, and a sister brought them to my home to help me. After two years, I had learned to recite four Surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an. This may seem like a small number to most Muslims, but for me it was a very big accomplishment. I set about learning the words for the other parts of prayer; another two years of struggle.
During the early part of my third year as a Muslim, I suffered a heart attack and had heart surgery. It was a sad time for me, as I knew that I would never again touch my head to the floor when praying, but would forever have to sit in my chair and pray. It was at this time that I truly understood the provision from Allah that Islam is the religion of ease. Praying while seated in a chair is acceptable; not fasting when one is sick is acceptable. I did not have to feel that I was less a Muslim because of these circumstances.
After visiting several mosques and observing that they were like mini United Nations, I began to see that the small groups within the mosque were mostly formed because of language and culture and not because of liking or disliking any person. I felt good that regardless of these differences, I could always count on a smile and an “As-Salaam’ Alaykum!”
After a while, I began to gravitate towards sisters who are reverts to Islam like me. We have much in common – we experience many of the same trials, such as non-Muslim family members, difficulty pronouncing Arabic, being lonely on Muslim holidays, and not having a family member to break fast with during Ramadan. Sometimes our reversions meant losing life-long friends who just couldn’t accept our new habits, or it was because of our discontinuance of activities common to non-Muslims, such as dancing and mixing in groups.
As I grew less able to do community services, I searched for some way to contribute to the greater Muslim community. I continually asked Allah for His help in this. One day, my young grand daughter suggested that I write books about my Saudi boys, Islam, and my family’s experience with Islam. I decided to write the books and also include stories about a group of young girls, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who were friends. The stories would include the young girls’ problems encountered at school and at home and I would use my knowledge of Islam as a guide for these book characters.
I began writing a book series that I called Islamic Rose Books. I created an e-group for sister authors and aspiring writers and this developed into the creation of the Islamic Writers Alliance. The Alliance is an international organization created to provide support for female Muslim authors and aspiring writers. Our main goal is to help each other promote our works to readers and publishers. I also decided to help two Muslim food banks by creating databases that help them to track their inventory, clients, and contacts and to create reports necessary for funding purposes. I decided that I would spend a large portion of my profits from book sales to buy books for Islamic children’s libraries. I have discovered that many such libraries have lots of empty shelves where Islamic books belong.
I still have much to learn about Islam. I never tire of reading the Qur’an and one of my favorite pastimes is reading about prominent, historical Islamic figures. When I am unsure about something in Islam, I look to the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). I see how he responded to situations and use this as my guide. My journey in Islam will continue, and I look forward to many new experiences. I thank Allah daily for His Mercy and Love.
Excerpted from: www.readingislam.com/
(An American Teenager Discovers Islam)
The card that Valerie received years ago from her pen pal Yasemin
I could say that my journey to Islam began before I was even aware of it. I was born with a progressive hearing loss. My mother did not realize that I had difficulties hearing until I was 4 years old. Once it was discovered, I received my first hearing aids, and began attending a school where hearing and deaf children were integrated.
At first I was placed in classes that contained only deaf children. Then I began to attend some classes with hearing children, and I had a teacher come to help me learn how to integrate. I felt at home there. I did not realize that I was being prepared to leave the school and go to a mainstream public school.
Once I changed schools, I had a very difficult time adjusting. My constant moves to different homes also compounded the issue. Finally, in middle school, I encountered some stability. I lived in a very small Texas town called Wylie. When I was about 12 years old, my English teacher was special: She was from Turkey. Now, anyone who knows Wylie knows that in those days this was extremely unusual.
The teacher had come to my small town on an exchange program. Of course she never spoke with my class about religion, but it was enough at the time just knowing her. She got us involved in a pen pal project with students from Turkey. My pen pal's name was Yasemin. I still have a card she sent me, with a picture of mosques and churches side by side. The significance of this was not apparent to me at the time, but it was just one among many signs that God had chosen for me.
During this period of my life, I yearned to be close to God, to please Him, and to receive His love. I became very involved in the church of my grandfather. He and his siblings were raised as Pentecostals, and both his father and his brother were preachers.
Every afternoon I would come home from school and play the piano. I played it for God and for myself to feel peace. I was taught that praise for God rises to heaven like the smell of sweet incense. I would imagine this as I was playing. Sometimes I would sing a little along with the music, although the music usually expressed my intense feelings more than my words ever could.
One day, I felt God's presence in the room with me. It was immense and overwhelming. The air felt extremely heavy with the awesomeness and majesty of His Being. I suddenly stopped singing, and my fingers froze over the piano. I began to shake. I did not know what to do. Then, slowly, by instinct (or, I should rather say by the guidance of God), I turned away from the piano and prostrated on my knees and my head.
I knew I could never be perfect, but I still did not feel all right.
Trembling and longing flooded my soul. Flummoxed for words, I simply thought, "God, please anoint me. Make me special. Make me serve You." I remained prostrating for a few more minutes, then, with a deep breath, I got up and resumed my other usual activities.
Another time around this same period of my life, I was at my school where parents and students had gathered for an academic awards assembly. My name was called, and I went up to receive my award. Afterward, my mother told me about something strange that had happened. She said, "While you were walking up to take your award, a strange woman came to me, someone I don't know. She said, 'I just feel that when I look at your daughter I have to tell you that God has a plan for her.'" I wondered for the longest time what His plan for me could possibly be.
I was feeling depressed by the many restrictions of the Pentecostal Church then. I couldn't comprehend their purpose very clearly. I also was quite disturbed by things I would read in the Bible, and when I asked about them, I did not get satisfactory answers. In fact, my questions were met with disapproval. So my mother and I started attending a different church together and, again, on two separate occasions, two different strangers approached my mother and told her that God had a plan for me.
I recall that I requested a private meeting with a preacher to discuss something. One of the questions I asked him was, "Am I going to heaven?"
"Well, do you believe in Jesus?" he asked.
"Ye-e-e-s ... ," I answered.
"Then you are going to heaven," he said. Inside myself I was not satisfied with his answer. I felt doubtful. Summer came, and I went to church camp, where two momentous events occurred.
First, the preacher who was speaking to us told all of the youth who were present to come to the front of the room if they wanted him to pray for them. "If you feel like you have any barriers between you and God, and you want me to pray that those barriers will be removed so you can get closer to God, come up," he said.
I was among many others who formed a line in the front. We stood up, and he started to place his hand on each person's forehead and make a supplication. That's when something very odd happened: They all fell flat on their backs without even bending their knees, like dominoes! I began to feel a trifle nervous. "What's happening?" I wondered.
The preacher came to me. He slapped his hand on my forehead and pushed me a little. I rocked on my feet and remained standing, while he went on down the line and the others continued to fall. At the end, only a few of us were still standing. I was left wondering what had happened to those who fell and why I was different. Had I missed out on something?
Another experience happened when the preacher of my youth class was giving a very emotional lesson to hundreds of young people. Then unexpectedly he looked directly at me and said, "Valerie, stand up."
I stood, and he continued, "I want you to know that God wants to heal your ears." He thought he was moved by the "Holy Spirit" to say this with authority.
He placed his hands over my ears and prayed. Nothing happened. I was very embarrassed. The following Sunday, one of the students in my class asked him why, if anything was possible in the name of Christ, sometimes prayers weren't answered. The preacher did not look at me, but he threw a pen in my general direction. "God answers prayers," he replied, "but sometimes people do not have enough faith to receive it." My mother and I were of course very upset by this, and we left that church.
I drifted for a while, not really attending any church on a regular basis. I felt lost. I felt that I kept failing, and that somehow I was getting it all wrong. I knew I could never be perfect, but I still did not feel all right. An indefinable sensation always lingered in the back of my mind.
When I was 15, I went to live with my father. I stayed with him for two and a half years, and during that time I became regularly involved in a Methodist church. I also sometimes attended the Baptist church that my stepmother went to. At each church that I visited, I always felt that something was missing. And even though everyone was friendly to me, I always felt that I did not belong among those people, especially my age peers. Still, it never occurred to me to look for another religion.
When I was 17, I had a dream one night. I was standing beside a green bush with small leaves and small yellow flowers. An angel swooshed before me, but I couldn't see it, except for a kind of clear outline of its form or energy. It gathered a bouquet of the yellow flowers for me. The flowers sparkled. Then the angel picked me up and carried me to a special place. Because I could not see the angel, I saw everything around me as if I were flying.
Through its life-permeating system, Islam has affected the decisions I make in life. Islam is not just a "Sunday-feel-good affair."
I entered a place where the sun shone, filtered through a light mist. At first I saw tall grass swaying and trees with large maroon leaves. As we proceeded, the grass became shorter, and there were trees with very bright red, pink, and white flowers with small black centers. The flowers were profuse; they covered the branches and the trunks, even the ground at their bases. The next trees were some kind of evergreen trees.
As I turned and looked around, I saw a rectangular patch of cultivated land in the distance to my right. It seemed that some very tall herbs were growing there. I saw another, smaller rectangle of purple irises. Beside them was a wooden house. The angel carried me around the house once, so that I could see that it was in the shape of a perfect square. The angel put me down, and we entered.
Inside were many adults and children, all of them quite happy. They left as we entered to give us privacy. We entered a small reception area where there were two couches and a small Japanese style table between them. There appeared an old woman with white hair tied up in a bun and a long black dress with a white lacy collar. She gestured that I should make myself comfortable and asked if I would like a drink. After I had settled, she began to speak to me, telling me things about my future (none of which I remember). She concluded by saying, "You have to make some changes in your life first." I felt very afraid of these words, for I wasn't sure whether I was strong enough. I turned to the angel and said, "I don't know if I can do it." Then it lifted me up and threw me in the air, where the dream ended.
Near the end of the school year, I was at a good-bye party for one of my foreign exchange friends. One girl's mother came to me. I knew the girl as a friend, but I had never seen the mother before. She told me, "When my daughter speaks about you, I get such a feeling of joy and happiness in my heart, and I feel a strong need to tell you that God has a plan for you."
Some time passed, and I was almost ready to graduate from high school. That was when I met some Muslims and had real in-depth contact with them. They did not practice their religion, but there was something I liked about their interactions with each other. There seemed to be a mutual feeling between them that was stronger than any I had seen between any people before. They also spoke Arabic with each other a lot of the time, and I wished to understand what they were saying. So I determined to find an Arabic class and surprise them.
The only classes I found that suited my schedule were given at a local mosque, so I went there. I never learned much Arabic, but the sisters in the mosque taught me about Islam. For every big, deep question I had, they provided me with very simple, logical, and profound answers. I felt within myself that Islam was a religion I could accept. So on my 19th birthday, I officially declared my Shahadah. After saying it, I leapt up with joy, my arms in the air. "Yes!" I am a Muslim now, praise God.
After becoming Muslim, I felt much more at peace with my spiritual foundation. My family was quite upset at first, but they never stopped speaking with me or reaching out to me with love. Some of them have come to understand a little more about Islam and have become more comfortable and accepting of my decision. All praise be to Allah.
Through its life-permeating system, Islam has affected the decisions I make in life. Islam is not just a "Sunday-feel-good affair." I don't doubt that some sincere Christians make the effort to practice their religion in their daily lives, but Islam has a much more comprehensive set of guidelines to follow. Everything I do comes with an awareness that I will be held accountable for my actions and that I need to constantly ask for Allah's forgiveness. Islam has given me the purpose in life that I had been seeking. It is one of the few things I am passionate about. Before Islam, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. One of my great wishes is that I can help another person become Muslim. That still has yet to happen.
Excerpted from: www.readingislam.com/
(How I Became Muslim)
I can remember running to my room getting on my knees and looking up to the sky saying in Spanish my prayer, “please God help me & my family make my Dad stop drinking and protect my mom,” I was eleven years old.
That would be my last prayer till I was seventeen. I was born in Georgetown, Washington. I am Hispanic American. My father is Nicaraguan and my mother is from Puerto Rico. I was raised in the Catholic Church but my father looked into many other religions. For two years, he turned us into Buddhists against our own will. I have a younger brother and sister. We all lived in fear of my father mostly because he was an alcoholic who used to beat all of us including my mother until I was thirteen. Ironically, anyone would assume the woman in a situation so harmful would pack her bags and bolt to the door. Instead he left us. I wouldn't see or hear from him again till I was fifteen. Pregnant with my first child by then, I had no God. How could God let me down? I never did anything wrong! I was angry, disappointed. I thought God loved me, but he left me when I needed him the most. The lesson begins…
My freshman year of high school I met a Palestinian girl who became my best friend. I hung out at her house a lot. I got to see how close her family was. They are mostly a traditional Muslim family. The mother didn't cover nor did my friend, but they prayed. Her parents didn't approve of me for several reasons. One, I wasn't Muslim. I was also a pregnant teenager and they had the fear that I would corrupt their only daughter. My friend stayed with me even when I had my baby. She was the one that said the adhan in my daughter's ear.
I wanted my daughter to be like her: good, kind and modest. I was amazed that a Muslim family living in America still had morals. I wanted my child to have a good life. With the disappearance of my father, my mom worked really hard to support us so she was never around and we got into a lot of trouble. I started drinking and smoking, inevitably using drugs. I partied all night. I couldn’t even get up to take care of my daughter. My reputation was trashed. I still regret everything. I had no life, jumping from one relationship to another (Allah forgive me).
I fell deeper into dunya (world) thinking that money, a car some stylish clothes would make me happier. Instead of living a life, I was living in a three-minute music video. Then came the nights when I would ask myself "how did I get here?" I kept telling myself that I didn't want Josaline going through this. How am I going to raise my little girl? All alone one night I cried, begging God to forgive me, asking him, "Please help me!" I knew deep in my heart I was wrong. Now the search begins…
I was invited to my best friends house to watch a movie "The book of signs". I became very curious about the Qur’an. This book knew things, before modern times like the stages of pregnancy. How Allah made the cow and mixed between the blood and the urine is milk that is beneficial. WOW! Not to mention the Qur’an was written a little over fourteen hundred years ago. I asked if I could go to the Sunday class for converts at the Mosque. I was told I would have to cover out of respect for the Mosque, but I chose not to. I went a couple times each time getting more scared. What would my family say? Becoming Muslim meant not drinking, no clubbing, nor eating pork. Hey! That's all we Puerto Ricans eat.
I'm eighteen, a single mom who hadn't even read the Qur’an. What am I going to say? I watched a thirty-minute movie and became Muslim. That's exactly what I did. I took my shahadah five months before my nineteenth birthday in April of 1996. I felt so relieved like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I swear the clouds that day looked like cotton, and the sky never looked so blue…"I'm Muslim!" It took me a while to actually leave everything. I felt like a hypocrite.
Eventually, another Muslim friend would teach me part of my prayer. Of course, the first year I struggled with myself, but also the persecution of others. I had a Muslim friend tell me not to be an extremist or I would ruin it for the rest of them. Unbelievable I think not. That was the least of my worries. My main concern was who is going to marry me? I don't wear hijab (headscarf) and I have a three-year-old daughter. No practicing Muslim man would want me. At least that's what I thought…
In April of 1997, a couple months after my brother took shahadah, we had this group of mutual friends of guys & girls in jahiliya (before Islam) majority of the group became Muslim. I had dated one of the guys when I was sixteen. We broke up but remained on and off for two years. He accepted Islam a year after I did. I couldn't believe it! He had a friend that I knew who also became Muslim, my brother had happened to work with his friend. One day my little brother came home to tell me someone is interested in marrying me. I thought it was my ex, but it was his best friend. I really wanted to marry my ex so I declined his offer, but told my brother my true intentions. The phone rang. My brother picked up and it was him calling to ask if I was interested in his friend. To make a long story short, I politely said no and we talked until dawn. Our talks would increase over a period of two weeks until our wedding day June 14, 1997. I met him at fifteen and married at nineteen.
We have three kids together and have been married for three in a half years. He was Christian, I was catholic and Allah brought us together as Muslims. Which takes me back to the little girl in the beginning. She was too young to understand fate and that everything happens for a reason. While she blamed the Most Merciful above all creation. She never knew how much He really loved her. Right now, for the first time in my life, everything makes so much sense. I'll never leave again (In sha Allah) now just help me return the favor. (In sha Allah) May Allah forgive us and have mercy on us for what we do knowingly and unknowingly. Ameen!
Excerpted from: www.readingislam.com/
(How I Found My Happiness)
In 1968 I was born and raised in Hannover, a big city in Germany as a Christian, a Protestant, just because my parents were Christians. All my life I believed in God but I have been never too religious. When I prayed I prayed to God, not to Jesus. I never went for prayer into the church because in my opinion it wasn’t necessary, you can do the same at home to be close to God.
At 22 I got married to a Catholic and I’ve got three wonderful children. I taught them that God is always close to them and He protects us with His Angels. But in my marriage I became unhappy, my husband changed himself and he never talked about his problems with me. So slowly my marriage became broken. At this time I felt that I was losing my life, just everything.
In 1998 we moved to Wernigerode, a small town in East Germany for business reasons and I still hoped to save my marriage. When my youngest child was old enough for the Kindergarten I re-started to work. One of my colleagues was a Muslim but not a believing one. I didn’t realize how he taught me some Islamic manners. One year later I started to change my life. I became able to accept things how they are, no matter if they have been good or not. I realized that everything is made by God. While that time I became stronger. After ten years my marriage was completely broken and I was scared to leave my husband, how could I survive as a mother with three children? But Allah’s ways are sometimes mysterious.
My new faith and my belief in Allah gave me the courage to change a lot of things in my life.
A couple of months later I got the answer. When I started with my first internet experiences I got to know someone on internet and he didn't tell me that he is a Muslim. He was like the key to my new life Alhamdulilah. We shared our pictures, his was on his homepage. On that site I found two great links: one of the 99 names of Allah (at this time I never heard about) and one of the Holy Qur'an.
I read the first chapter and was so impressed that I wanted to read more. So I was looking for the German translation. My Muslim brother in the future, Abdul Rahman, didn't know about this. I told him later that I was reading the Qur'an and he was so happy to hear it. After a few weeks we got to know that he left the USA to move to Macedonia (at this time the war over there started) but he promised me to keep in touch with me. Alhamdulilah he did, and every time I was so happy to hear about him in these bad times. It was the first time I was afraid about someone I've never met before and made a lot of du`aa’ for him and his family. I tried to improve my knowledge in Islam and in spite of our distance he gave me great advice to encourage me. My new faith and my belief in Allah gave me the courage to change a lot of things in my life. I left my husband and started a new life. It was a hard time for me but I felt how Allah was always close to me.
I will never forget the day when I had the strong wish to convert. My children found outside a kitten and we tried to save him. I prayed to Allah to let that little creature live. He gave him one week. I woke up at night and found our kitten dead. His body was still warm and I have been so sad. I asked Allah why He did it. After a sleepless night I realized in the morning that it had been God’s will. He gives and He takes life. That was the moment; I knew I had to convert as soon as possible. Allah gave me a sign. Unfortunately there wasn’t and still isn’t a Muslim community here.
To convert to Islam, I needed to go to Braunschweig, a town in the western part. I met some brothers and sisters and the Imam on the station, my train was late and I hadn’t much time to stay and to go to the masjid before I had to return to my town. So I said the Shadahah at the station and one sister told me before I would feel like newborn and she was right. Masha’ Allah. It’s difficult to get some more knowledge in Islam without an Ummah and to bring up my children in the Islamic way but I don’t give up.
When I told my family and my friends about my conversion, they were shocked and except for my Mom and my little brothers, they didn’t want to talk with me. I was so sad about that, but I couldn’t leave my faith for my family or anyone else. My brother Abdul Rahman told me it would take time until my relatives would understand and he was right. Still my Dad can’t understand why I so convinced about Islam and why I decided to wear a scarf. He said that I wasn’t born as a Muslim, it was not my culture. Insha’Allah one day he will understand too.
Islam is sometimes hard but I have never been happier before.
So when I converted to Islam in 2001 nobody told me how I had to dress or that I had to wear hijab from now. I changed my habits and my dress slowly and almost one year later I've got more and more the wish to wear hijab but unfortunately I couldn't. I was invited by some sisters for Eid-ul-fitr in Braunschweig. I took the chance and left for the first time my home with a hijab. Masha' Allah it was a wonderful feeling. I considered if I should continue but I didn't want any problems for my children as the only German Muslimah in town. I asked them and they agreed and a couple of days later, after a lot of du`aa’, I realized my wish with Allah’s help. It has been 2 years and I don't regret my decision. I can't imagine anymore leaving my home without a scarf. People are still looking at me because they are still not used to foreigners here (sometimes I'm being took for a Turk ) but when I have the chance to talk with some about Islam, especially about Muslim women, I do and I must say that I have only good experiences. I’m proud to be a Muslim, Masha’ Allah.
After all I must say that I don’t regret one moment that I became a Muslim. Islam is sometimes hard but I have never been happier before and I thank Allah that He sent me someone like an angel, Brother Abdul Rahman, because I found the right path for my life. May Allah reward all my brothers and sisters who helped me (and still do) through my way to Islam. Alhamdulilah.
Excerpted from: www.readingislam.com/
(Colombian Paola Finds Islam on the Internet)
My name is Saidah Paola Duque Correa. I am a Colombian girl born in Bucaramanga city, but I have mostly lived in Valledupar city. I am a bacteriologist, from Universidad de Santander - UDES- (Colombia).
Before embracing Islam, I was Catholic but non-practicing; and now I'm proud to be Muslim and I give thanks to Allah (swt) for this.
4 years ago, I began to know about Islam, alhamdolillah; but before that I wanted to know about Arabic culture, Arabic music, meet Arab people, etc. I liked Arabic calligraphy (and I still like it). Well, these are some of the things that I was interested in then.
But little by little, in between this looking and without thinking of it, I met with Islam. My first meeting with Islam was through the internet... One day in 2004; I left a message at an Islamic site, where I felt interested to know about Islam.
A few days later, I received an e-mail that said: "Are you interested to receive free Islamic books and in Spanish?" signed by Mostafa Mohye Mossad, from Egypt. When I read this e-mail, it was a great surprise to me, but at the same time I felt doubt from it, because it wasn't normal to me that people offer books and for free.
And also because I didn't know brother Mohye, but this email was the first contact between us. This doubt wasn't enough to stop the feeling about wanting to know more about Islam; and I did send my address to brother Mohye. And so after 2 months approximately, the books arrived at my home! I was so happy!
And from this moment, I began to share with brother Mohye this wonderful way in showing non-Muslims what Islam is really about, and to help brothers and sisters in Islam about their din.
And from this time until now I send to brother Mohye the addresses of both Muslims and non-Muslims interested in getting books about Islam, and he sends the books to them to whatever country they are in and in any language.
In July 2004, we began our dawa work with 4 persons: brother Mohye, sisters Maryam, Claudia and me. And now in 2008, alhamdolillah our dawa network group, is 30 Latinos/Latinas from Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Mexico, etc. alhamdolillah. And each day we meet people very interested to know about Islam.
Many Muslims and non-Muslims felt it strange that Saidah, that wasn't Muslim yet, share in this activity of dawa. Or that she defends Islam in front of people when they say something wrong about it, or about Muslims; and I explain to them the truth about Islam. But Allah (swt) was purifying my heart.
Anyway, thanks to these books I was learning more and each day and my love for Islam was growing, and I was looking learn more in the internet too, and also ask friends on the net about it. My first introduction to Islam was through the net...
Well, in the beginning when some friend asked me, I would answer: "I'm only learning, but I do not intend to convert," And that really was my feeling. But, after some time my thoughts about this subject changed, alhamdolillah...
This was when I began to understand that Islam is the truth, that it is the only way, the light, the correct way and the true din; but with all this in my mind and heart, many times when brother Mohye asked me: "Do you want to say the Shahadah now?", I would answer him: "Oohh, not yet, I need a little more time."
In 2007, some of my Muslim friends on the net knew I wasn't Muslim yet (I mean I hadn't said the Shahadah in front of any Muslim yet). But before this, I said the Shahadah in my heart, because I was sure about that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.
They told me: "Your heart is Muslim, you are Muslim, all that you do is because you are Muslim, but you don't know it yet, the only thing that you need to do is the Shahadah!! And they were saying the truth. Allah (swt) was showing me that Islam was filling my life and was beginning to make me feel closer to being Muslim.
At the end of Ramadan 2007, I went to Maicao-Colombia, with Aisha, my sister in Islam. We went because she wanted to say the Shahadah there and I went to be with her, without thinking that when I return to my city, I would return as a 'Muslim'.
In Maicao city, when I was going to the mosque, and the sisters were praying, I did prostrate and asked Allah to help me in my decision. If this was the way He wanted me to be following, I asked Him: "Please, give me the force I need to embrace Islam definitively; and it was only a few days, and I told Aisha and brother Mohammad Hamoud that my decision had been taken alhamdolillah, and they were happy for my sake.
We went to the mosque so I could say my Shahadah, and just a few minutes before, I did call my parents to tell them what I was intending to do, because it was a very important decision that would affect my life.
When I told them, my father, Milciades, answered me: "Bueno mija, felicitaciones! (what means): "Well daughter, congratulations!" With these words from my father I got happier and felt more blessed.
I noticed my mother, Luisa, was a little confused, but anyway she said: "Ok daughter, you know what you are doing." May Allah continue blessing them. I love them!
I said my Shahadah on the Internet, in front of 2 persons, brother Mohye and brother Ahmed, from Egypt.
My family and friends took my decision calmly....Well, sometimes they joke a bit about it, but alhamdolillah they accept it in a good way. My nephew, Omar David, 6 years old, likes to write the word Allah (swt) in Arabic calligraphy, and he likes Islamic songs too, he sometimes asks me to read him the Quran.
Well, my decision to embrace Islam, was a big feeling, so deep from my heart. It wasn't because someone forced me to, it was just that Allah (swt) showed me the way and gave me the light.
All the prophets came to teach us this, the only truth. Allah (swt) is one and unique, the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Forgiver, the Creator of all. And all the beautiful names and attributes belong to Him only.
Now we need as Muslims, to show people that Islam isn't what some TV channels broadcast unjustly. It is true that some Muslims do very bad things, but this is not from Islam, this is from the person himself. And we can't allow this image to continue in the mind of a lot of people, we must work for a change.
These days, I continue working with Mostafa Mohye, who is the manager of News Projects with new Muslims in Spain and Latin America, with the Conveying Islamic Message Center in Egypt.
The last thing that I want to say is thanks to Allah for showing me the way! Thanks to Allah because I am Muslim! Thanks to Allah!
Excerpted from: www.readingislam.com/
(Melbourne, Australia, October, 1998)
Often when people ask me ‘How did you come to Islam?’, I take a deep breath and try and tell them the ‘short version’. I don’t think that Islam is something that I came to suddenly, even though it felt like it at the time, but it was something that I was gradually guided towards through different experiences. Through writing this piece I hope that somebody may read it, identify with some things and may be prompted to learn more about the real Islam.
I was born in 1978 in Australia, was christened and raised ‘Christian’. As a child I used to look forward to attending church and going to Sunday School. Even though I can still remember looking forward to it, I can’t remember much about it. Maybe it was getting all dressed up in my best clothes, maybe seeing the other children, maybe the stories, or maybe it was just that I could look forward to my grandmothers’ famous Sunday lunch when I got home. My family wasn’t strict about religion at all - the bible was never read outside church from what I knew, grace was never said before eating. To put it simply I guess religion just wasn’t a major issue in our lives. I can remember attending church with my family sometimes, and as I got older I can remember getting annoyed when the other members of my family chose not to come. So for the last couple of years I attended church alone.
At the time that I attended primary school ‘Religious Education’ was a lesson that was given weekly. We learned of ‘true Christian values’ and received copies of the bible. While I wouldn’t admit it at the time, I also looked forward to those classes. It was something interesting to learn about, something that I believed had some sort of importance, just that I didn’t know what.
In my high school years I attended an all girls high school. We didn’t have any sort of religious classes there, and I guess to some degree I missed that because I starting reading the bible in my own time. At the time I was reading it for ‘interest sake’. I believed that God existed, but not in the form that was often described in church. As for the trinity, I hoped that maybe that was something I would come to understand as I grew older. There were many things that confused me, hence there seemed to be ‘religious’ times in my life where I would read the bible and do my best to follow it, then I would get confused and think that it was all too much for me to understand. I remember talking to a Christian girl in my math classes. I guess that gave me one reason to look forward to math. I would ask her about things that I didn’t understand, and whilst some explanations I could understand, others didn’t seem to be logical enough for me to trust in Christianity 100%.
I can’t say that I have ever been comfortable living with a lot of aspects of the Australian culture. I didn't understand for example drinking alcohol or having multiple boyfriends. I always felt that there was a lot of pressure and sometimes cried at the thought of ‘growing up’ because of what ‘growing up’ meant in this culture. My family traveled overseas fairly often and I always thought that through traveling I might be able to find a country where I could lead a comfortable life and not feel pressured like I did. After spending 3 weeks in Japan on a student exchange I decided that I wanted to go again for a long-term exchange. In my final year of high school I was accepted to attend a high school in Japan for the following year.
Before I left Australia to spend the year overseas I was going through one of my ‘religious stages’. I often tried to hide these stages from my parents. For some reason I thought that they would laugh at me reading the bible. The night before I flew to Japan my suitcase was packed however I stayed up until my parents had gone to sleep so I could get the bible and pack it too. I didn’t want my parents to know I was taking it.
My year in Japan didn’t end up the most enjoyable experience in my life by any means. I encountered problem after problem. At the time it was difficult. I was 17 years old when I went there and I think that I learned a lot of valuable lessons in that year. One of which was ‘things aren’t always what they seem’. At one stage I felt as though I had lost everything - my Japanese school friends (friends had always been very important to me, even in Australia), my Japanese families, then I received a phone call saying that I was to be sent home to Australia a couple of months early. I had ‘lost everything’ - including the dream that I had held so close for so many years. The night that I received that phone call I got out my bible. I thought that maybe I could find some comfort in it, and I knew that no matter what, God knew the truth about everything that everybody does and that no amount of gossip and lies could change that. I had always believed that hard times were never given to us to ‘stop us’, but to help us grow. With that in mind, I was determined to stay in Japan for the whole year and somehow try and stop the ridiculous rumours. Alhamdulillah I was able to do that.
From that year I came to understand that not only is every culture different, but they both have good points and bad points. I came to understand that it wasn’t a culture that I was searching for.. but something else.
I attended an all girls Buddhist school in Japan. We had a gathering each week where we prayed, sang songs and listened to the principal give us lengthy talks. At first I wasn’t comfortable attending these gatherings. I was given a copy of the song book along with the beads that you put over your hands when you pray. I tried to get out of going to them at the start, but then decided that I didn’t have to place the same meaning to things as others did. When I prayed, I prayed to the same God that I had always prayed to - the One and Only God. I can’t say that I really understand Buddhism. Whenever I tried to find out more I met with dead ends. I even asked a Japanese man who taught English. He had often been to America and he said that in Japan he was Buddhist, and in American he was Christian. There were some things about Buddhism that I found interesting, but it wasn’t something that I could consider a religion.
In a lot of ways I picked what I liked out of religions and spiritual philosophies and formed what I considered to be my ‘Jenny Religion’. I collected philosophical quote after quote in high school, read into things such as the Celestine Prophecy and Angels when I returned to Australia, and still held onto the Christian beliefs that made sense to me. I felt like I was continually searching for the truth.
When I returned to Australia from Japan I had grown closer to a girl that I went to high school with. She was always somebody who I considered to be a good friend, but wasn’t in ‘my group of friends’ whom I sat with in class or for lunch. Some of the people in that group I haven’t heard from and haven’t seen since I returned. I realized that this other girl and I had a lot more in common than I had first thought. Maybe this was because I had changed a lot in Japan, or maybe it was because I had learned that being ‘socially acceptable’ and popular wasn’t important because the people that are making those judgments are not always morally correct. I didn’t really care who was my friend and who wasn’t anymore, but I did care that I was true to myself and refused to change to suit other people. I felt like I had found who I really was by losing everything that I had previously considered important.
The girl that I had grown closer to was Muslim, not that I thought of it at the time. One night we sat in McDonalds, taking advantage of their ‘free refill coffee’ offer and talked about religion, mainly in what way we believed in God. She was the one asking the questions mostly, about how I thought God to ‘be’. I enjoyed the discussion and felt somehow that I might be making some sense to her with my ‘Jenny Religion’. When we got home she got out the 40 Hadith Qudsi and read them for herself. She read some of them to me which of course got me interested. I asked to borrow the books from her so I could sit and read them all too, which I did. Reading the books in some ways was frightening. To me, examples of Islam could be found in TV news reports and in books such as ‘Princess’ and ‘Not without my daughter’. Surely, I thought, the Hadith were just a good part of it, but the bad part was there too.
From there I moved back to my university for the start of semester and couldn’t really get the books from my friend anymore so I started looking on the Internet. I had already ‘met’ some Muslims on the IRC but I considered them my friends too and that they wouldn’t tell me the ‘truth’ about Islam. I thought that they would only tell me the good parts. I did ask them some questions though and Masha’Allah they were a great help. I still remember asking a Muslim guy whether he believed in angels. Angels were a part of my ‘Jenny Religion’ and I certainly didn’t believe that a Muslim guy would admit to believing in the existence of Angels!! My limited and ignorant understanding of a Muslim male was one who beat his wife, killed female babies and was a terrorist in his spare time. This sort of person couldn’t possibly believe in angels I thought.. of course I was shocked when he said ‘Of course I believe in angels’. From then I was interested to know what else Muslims believed in.
I often think that I initially continued reading about Islam through the Internet to prove it wrong. I was always looking for that ‘bad part’. Everybody couldn’t have such a bad view of Islam if there was no reason for them to. I had always found a bad or an illogical part to every religion that I had read into.. so why would Islam be different? I remember finding an Islamic chat site for the first time and expected to see suppressed females just reading what the males were saying. I expected them not to have an opinion, I expected the ‘typical Muslim girl’ that I had always felt sorry for. To my shock I saw girls happily chatting, with opinions that they were allowed to express. Muslim girls that were somehow more liberated than I felt.
My learning about Islam through the Internet continued through chatting to lots of people and printing out homepage after homepage. The more I learned the more scared I was. I didn’t tell any of my friends that I was reading about Islam, not even my best-friend. At first it was because I didn’t want them telling me only the ‘good parts’, and then even when I came to realize that I wasn’t going to find any of the bad parts, I didn’t want them to get their hopes up about me reverting to Islam. I wanted this ‘decision’ to be one that I made on my own - without pressure.
This ‘decision’ that I refer to wasn’t really a decision at all. I am often asked ‘What made you decide to become Muslim?’, but when something as clear and logical as Islam is put in front of you, there is no choice. This is not to say that it made the decision to say Shahadah any easier. There were many things that stopped me at first. Firstly I didn’t think that I knew enough about Islam... but then it didn’t matter because I knew that I would never find anything that was illogical or ‘bad’. I came to realize that saying Shahadah is not the final step, but the first. Insha-Allah throughout my life I will continue to learn. The other thing that made me hesitant, was turning the meaning of the word ‘Islam’ from all the bad things that I had linked with it. I always thought that I couldn’t possibly be Muslim!! To then learn that my ‘Jenny Religion’ and beliefs for example of God being One, was actually Islam was hard at first. Islam brought everything together, everything made sense. To me, finding Islam was like one big bus ride - I had stopped and had a look at all of the stops along the way, taken a bit from all of them, and continued on with the journey. When I found Islam I knew it was the ‘last stop’ of my long ride.
In October of 1997, my best friend came with me for me to say my Shahadah at an Islamic Centre in Melbourne (Jeffcott st). I was still scared at the time, but after one of the sisters going through the articles of faith, and me putting a mental tick next to each of them, I knew that there was nothing left to do but to say it with my mouth. I still cry when I think of the moment that I said ‘Yes.. I’ll do it’. I finally dropped the mental wall that had been stopping me. I was to repeat in Arabic after the sister. With her first word I cried. It is a feeling that I can’t explain. My friend was sitting beside but a little behind me, I didn’t realize it then but she was already crying. I felt so much power around me and in the words, but I myself felt so weak.
Sometimes I think my family wonder if this is a phase I am going through.. just like my other phases. I was even vegetarian until mum told me what was for dinner that night - a roast. There is still so much for me to learn, but one thing that I would like people to understand is that I know Alhamdulillah that Islam is a blessing for mankind. The more you learn, Insha-Allah, the more beauty you will see in Islam.
Your sister in Islam, Jenny
Excerpted from: http://www.islamtomorrow.com/converts/
C. HUDA DODGE
(My Path To Islam)
Salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah.
Since I have started reading and posting on this newsgroup a few months ago, I have noticed a great interest in converts (reverts) to Islam: how are people introduced to it, what attracts people to this faith, how their life changes when they embrace Islam, etc. I have received a lot of e-mail from people asking me these questions. In this post, I hope insha'Allah to address how, when and why an American like myself came to embrace Islam.
It's long, and I'm sorry for that, but I don't think you can fully understand this process from a few paragraphs. I tried not to ramble on or get off on tangents. At times the story is detailed, because I think it helps to truly understand how my path to Islam developed. Of course, there's a lot I left out (I'm not trying to tell you my whole life story - just the pertinent stuff).
It's interesting for me to look back on my life and see how it all fits together - how Allah planned this for me all along. When I think about it, I can't help saying `Subhannallah,' and thank Allah for bringing me to where I am today. At other times, I feel sad that I was not born into Islam and [thereby] been a Muslim all my life. While I admire those who were, I at times pity them because sometimes they don't really appreciate this blessing.
Insha'Allah, reading this can help you understand how I, at least, came to be a Muslim. Whether it gives you ideas for da'wah, or just gives you some inspiration in your own faith, I hope it is worth your time to read it, insha'Allah. It is my story, but I think a lot of others might see themselves in it.
I was born in San Francisco, California, and raised in a Bay Area suburb. My small town (San Anselmo, pop. about 14,000 last I checked) was a mostly white, upper-middle-class, Christian community. It is a beautiful area - just north of San Francisco (across the Golden Gate Bridge), nestled in a valley near the hillsides (Mount Tamalpais) and the Pacific Ocean. I knew all of my neighbors, played baseball in the street, caught frogs in the creeks, rode horses in the hills, and climbed trees in my front yard.
My father is Presbyterian, and my mother is Catholic. My father was never really active in any church, but my mother tried to raise us as Catholics. She took us to church sometimes, but we didn't know what was going on. People stand up, sit down, kneel, sit again, stand up, and recite things after the priest. Each pew had a booklet - a kind of `direction book' -and we had to follow along in order to know what to do next (if we didn't fall asleep first). I was baptized in this church, and received my First Communion at about the age of 8 (I have pictures, but I don't remember it much). After that, we only went about once a year.
I lived on a dead-end street of about 15 houses. My grammar school was at the end of the street (4 houses down), next to a small Presbyterian church. When I was about 10, the people of this church invited me to participate in their children's Christmas play. Every Sunday morning from then on, I walked down to church alone (no one else in my family was interested in coming). The whole congregation was only about 30 older people (past their 50's), but they were nice and never made me feel out of place. There were about 3 younger couples with children younger than me.
I became a very active member of this church down the street. When I was in 6th grade, I started babysitting the younger kids during the service. By 9th grade, I was helping the minister's wife teach Sunday school. In high school, I started a church youth group by recruiting 4 of my friends to join me. It was a small group: me, my friends, and a young couple with kids, but we liked it that way. The big Presbyterian church in town had about 100 kids in their youth group and took trips to Mexico, etc. But our group was content to get together to study the bible, talk about God, and raise money for charities.
These friends and I would sit together and talk about spiritual issues. We debated about questions in our minds: what happens to the people who lived before Jesus came (go to heaven or hell); why do some very righteous people automatically go to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus (we thought about Gandhi); on the other hand, why do some pretty horrible people (like my friend's abusive father) get rewarded with heaven just because they're Christian; why does a loving and merciful God require a blood sacrifice (Jesus) to forgive people's sins; why are we guilty of Adam's original sin; why does the Word of God (Bible) disagree with scientific facts; how can Jesus be God; how can One God be 3 different things; etc. We debated about these things, but never came up with good answers. The church couldn't give us good answers either; they only told us to "have faith."
The people at church told me about a Presbyterian summer camp in Northern California. I went for the first time when I was 10. For the next 7 years, I went every summer. While I was happy with the little church I went to, this is where I really felt in touch with God, without confusion. It was here that I developed my very deep faith in God. We spent much of our time outdoors, playing games, doing crafts, swimming, etc. It was fun, but every day we would also take time out to pray, study the bible, sing spiritual songs, and have `quiet time.' It is this quiet time that really meant a lot to me, and of which I have the best memories. The rule was that you had to sit alone - anywhere on the camp's 200 beautiful acres. I would often go to a meadow, or sit on a bridge overlooking the creek, and just THINK. I looked around me, at the creek, the trees, the clouds, the bugs :) - listened to the water, the birds' songs, the crickets' chirps. This place really let me feel at peace, and I admired and thanked God for His beautiful creation. At the end of each summer, when I returned back home, this feeling stayed with me. I loved to spend time outdoors, alone, to just think about God, life, and my place in it. I developed my personal understanding of Jesus' role as a teacher and example, and left all the confusing church teachings behind.
I believed (and still do) in the teaching "Love your neighbor as yourself," fully giving to others without expecting anything in return, treating others as you would like to be treated. I strived to help everyone I could. When I was fourteen, I got my first job, at an ice cream store. When I got my paycheck each month (it wasn't much), I sent the first $25 to a program called `Foster Parents Plan' (they've changed the name now). This was a charity that hooked up needy children overseas with American sponsors. During my 4 years of high school, I was a sponsor for a young Egyptian boy named Sherif. I sent him part of my paycheck each month, and we exchanged letters. (His letters were in Arabic, and looking at them now, it appears that he believed he was writing to an adult man, not a girl 5 years older than him.) He was 9 years old, his father was dead, and his mother was ill and couldn't work. He had 2 younger brothers and a sister my age. I remember getting a letter from him when I was 16 - he was excited because his sister had gotten engaged. I thought, "She's the same age as me, and she's getting engaged!!!" It seemed so foreign to me. These were the first Muslims I had contact with.
Aside from this, I was also involved with other activities in high school. I tutored Central American students at my school in English. In a group called "Students for Social Responsibility," I helped charities for Nicaraguan school children and Kenyan villagers. We campaigned against nuclear arms (the biggest fear we all had at that time was of a nuclear war).
I invited exchange students from France into my home, and I had penpals from all over the world (France, Germany, Sweden, etc.). My junior year of high school, we hosted a group called `Children of War' - a group of young people from South Africa, Gaza Strip, Guatemala, and other war-torn lands, who toured the country telling their stories and their wishes for peace. Two of them stayed at my house - the group's chaperone from Nicaragua, and a young black South African man. The summer after my junior year of high school, I took a volunteer job in San Francisco (the Tenderloin district), teaching English to refugee women. In my class were Fatimah and Maysoon, 2 Chinese Muslim widows from Vietnam. These were the next Muslims I met, although we couldn't talk much (their English was too minimal). All they did was laugh.
All of these experiences put me in touch with the outside world, and led me to value people of all kinds. Throughout my youth and high school, I had developed two very deep interests: faith in God, and interacting with people from other countries. When I left home to attend college in Portland, Oregon, I brought these interests with me.
At Lewis & Clark College, I started out as a Foreign Language (French & Spanish) major, with a thought to one day work with refugee populations, or teach English as a Second Language. When I arrived at school, I moved into a dorm room with two others - a girl from California (who grew up only 10 minutes from where I did), and a 29-year-old Japanese woman (exchange student). I was 17.
I didn't know anyone else at school, so I tried to get involved in activities to meet people. In line with my interests, I chose to get involved with 2 groups: Campus Crusade for Christ (obviously, a Christian group), and Conversation Groups (where they match Americans up with a group of international students to practice English).
I met with the Campus Crusade students during my first term of school. A few of the people that I met were very nice, pure-hearted people, but the majority were very ostentatious. We got together every week to listen to "personal testimonies," sing songs, etc. Every week we visited a different church in the Portland area. Most of the churches were unlike anything I'd ever been exposed to before. One final visit to a church in the Southeast area freaked me out so much that I quit going to the Crusade meetings. At this church, there was a rock band with electric guitars, and people were waving their hands in the air (above their heads, with their eyes closed) and singing "hallelujah." I had never seen anything like it! I see things like this now on TV, but coming from a very small Presbyterian church, I was disturbed. Others in Campus Crusade loved this church, and they continued to go. The atmosphere seemed so far removed from the worship of God, and I didn't feel comfortable returning.
I always felt closest to God when I was in a quiet setting and/or outdoors. I started taking walks around campus (Lewis & Clark College has a beautiful campus!), sitting on benches, looking at the view of Mount Hood, watching the trees change colors. One day I wandered into the campus chapel - a small, round building nestled in the trees. It was beautifully simple. The pews formed a circle around the center of the room, and a huge pipe organ hung from the ceiling in the middle. No altar, no crosses, no statues - nothing. Just some simple wood benches and a pipe organ. During the rest of the year, I spent a lot of time in this building, listening to the organist practice, or just sitting alone in the quiet to think. I felt more comfortable and close to God there than at any church I had ever been to.
During this time, I was also meeting with a group of international students as part of the Conversation Group program. We had 5 people in our group: me, a Japanese man and woman, an Italian man and a Palestinian man. We met twice a week over lunch, to practice English conversation skills. We talked about our families, our studies, our childhoods, cultural differences, etc. As I listened to the Palestinian man (Faris) talk about his life, his family, his faith, etc., it struck a nerve in me. I remembered Sherif, Fatima and Maysoon, the only other Muslims I had ever known. Previously, I had seen their beliefs and way of life as foreign, something that was alien to my culture. I never bothered to learn about their faith because of this cultural barrier. But the more I learned about Islam, the more I became interested in it as a possibility for my own life.
During my second term of school, the conversation group disbanded and the international students transferred to other schools. The discussions we had, however, stayed at the front of my thoughts. The following term, I registered for a class in the religious studies department: Introduction to Islam. This class brought back all of the concerns that I had about Christianity. As I learned about Islam, all of my questions were answered. All of us are not punished for Adam's original sin. Adam asked God for forgiveness and our Merciful and Loving God forgave him. God doesn't require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must sincerely ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn't God, he was a prophet, like all of the other prophets, who all taught the same message: Believe in the One true God; worship and submit to Him alone; and live a righteous life according to the guidance He has sent. This answered all of my questions about the trinity and the nature of Jesus (all God, all human, or a combination). God is a Perfect and Fair Judge, who will reward or punish us based on our faith and righteousness. I found a teaching that put everything in its proper perspective, and appealed to my heart and my intellect. It seemed natural. It wasn't confusing. I had been searching, and I had found a place to rest my faith.
That summer, I returned home to the Bay Area and continued my studies of Islam. I checked books out of the library and talked with my friends. They were as deeply spiritual as I was, and had also been searching (most of them were looking into eastern religions, Buddhism in particular). They understood my search, and were happy I could find something to believe in. They raised questions, though, about how Islam would affect my life: as a woman, as a liberal Californian :), with my family, etc. I continued to study, pray and soul-search to see how comfortable I really was with it. I sought out Islamic centers in my area, but the closest one was in San Francisco, and I never got there to visit (no car, and bus schedules didn't fit with my work schedule). So I continued to search on my own. When it came up in conversation, I talked to my family about it. I remember one time in particular, when we were all watching a public television program about the Eskimos. They said that the Eskimos have over 200 words for `snow,' because snow is such a big part of their life. Later that night, we were talking about how different languages have many words for things that are important to them. My father commented about all the different words Americans use for `money' (money, dough, bread, etc.). I commented, "You know, the Muslims have 99 names for God - I guess that's what is important to them."
At the end of the summer, I returned to Lewis & Clark. The first thing I did was contact the mosque in southwest Portland. I asked for the name of a woman I could talk to, and they gave me the number of a Muslim American sister. That week, I visited her at home. After talking for a while, she realized that I was already a believer. I told her I was just looking for some women who could help guide me in the practicalities of what it meant to be a Muslim. For example, how to pray. I had read it in books, but I couldn't figure out how to do it just from books. I made attempts, and prayed in English, but I knew I wasn't doing it right. The sister invited me that night to an aqiqa (dinner after the birth of a new baby). She picked me up that night and we went. I felt so comfortable with the Muslim sisters there, and they were very friendly to me that night. I said my shahaada, witnessed by a few sisters. They taught me how to pray. They talked to me about their own faith (many of them were also American). I left that night feeling like I had just started a new life.
I was still living in a campus dorm, and was pretty isolated from the Muslim community. I had to take 2 buses to get to the area where the mosque was (and where most of the women lived). I quickly lost touch with the women I met, and was left to pursue my faith on my own at school. I made a few attempts to go to the mosque, but was confused by the meeting times. Sometimes I'd show up to borrow some books from the library, and the whole building would be full of men. Another time I decided to go to my first Jumah prayer, and I couldn't go in for the same reason. Later, I was told that women only meet at a certain time (Saturday afternoon), and that I couldn't go at other times. I was discouraged and confused, but I continued to have faith and learn on my own.
Six months after my shahaada, I observed my first Ramadan. I had been contemplating the issue of hijab, but was too scared to take that step before. I had already begun to dress more modestly, and usually wore a scarf over my shoulders (when I visited the sister, she told me "all you have to do is move that scarf from your shoulders to your head, and you'll be Islamically dressed."). At first I didn't feel ready to wear hijab, because I didn't feel strong enough in my faith. I understood the reason for it, agreed with it, and admired the women who did wear it. They looked so pious and noble. But I knew that if I wore it, people would ask me a lot of questions, and I didn't feel ready or strong enough to deal with that.
This changed as Ramadan approached, and on the first day of Ramadan, I woke up and went to class in hijab. Alhamdillah, I haven't taken it off since. Something about Ramadan helped me to feel strong, and proud to be a Muslim. I felt ready to answer anybody's questions.
However, I also felt isolated and lonely during that first Ramadan. No one from the Muslim community even called me. I was on a meal plan at school, so I had to arrange to get special meals (the dining hall wasn't open during the hours I could eat). The school agreed to give me my meals in bag lunches. So every night as sundown approached, I'd walk across the street to the kitchen, go in the back to the huge refrigerators, and take my 2 bag lunches (one for fitoor, one for suhoor). I'd bring the bags back to my dorm room and eat alone. They always had the same thing: yoghurt, a piece of fruit, cookies, and either a tuna or egg salad sandwich. The same thing, for both meals, for the whole month. I was lonely, but at the same time I had never felt more at peace with myself.
When I embraced Islam, I told my family. They were not surprised. They kind of saw it coming, from my actions and what I said when I was home that summer. They accepted my decision, and knew that I was sincere. Even before, my family always accepted my activities and my deep faith, even if they didn't share it. They were not as open-minded, however, when I started to wear hijab. They worried that I was cutting myself off from society, that I would be discriminated against, that it would discourage me from reaching my goals, and they were embarrassed to be seen with me. They thought it was too radical. They didn't mind if I had a different faith, but they didn't like it to affect my life in an outward way.
They were more upset when I decided to get married. During this time, I had gotten back in touch with Faris, the Muslim Palestinian brother of my conversation group, the one who first prompted my interest in Islam. He was still in the Portland area, attending the community college. We started meeting again, over lunch, in the library, at his brother's house, etc. We were married the following summer (after my sophomore year, a year after my shahaada). My family freaked out. They weren't quite yet over my hijab, and they felt like I had thrown something else at them. They argued that I was too young, and worried that I would abandon my goals, drop out of school, become a young mother, and destroy my life. They liked my husband, but didn't trust him at first (they were thinking `green card scam'). My family and I fought over this for several months, and I feared that our relationship would never be repaired.
That was 3 years ago, and a lot has changed. Faris and I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, home of Oregon State University. We live in a very strong and close-knit Muslim community. I graduated magna cum laude last year, with a degree in child development. I have had several jobs, from secretary to preschool teacher, with no problems about my hijab. I'm active in the community, and still do volunteer work. My husband, insha'Allah, will finish his Electrical Engineering degree this year. We visit my family a couple of times a year. I met Faris' parents for the first time this summer, and we get along great. I'm slowly but surely adding Arabic to the list of languages I speak.
My family has seen all of this, and has recognized that I didn't destroy my life. They see that Islam has brought me happiness, not pain and sorrow. They are proud of my accomplishments, and can see that I am truly happy and at peace. Our relationship is back to normal, and they are looking forward to our visit next month, insha'Allah.
Looking back on all of this, I feel truly grateful that Allah has guided me to where I am today. I truly feel blessed. It seems that all of the pieces of my life fit together in a pattern - a path to Islam.
Alhamdillillahi rabi al'amin.
Your sister in faith, C. Huda Dodge
"Say: Allah's guidance is the only guidance, and we have been directed to submit ourselves to the Lord of the Worlds..." (Al-Anam 6:71)
Excerpted from: http://www.islamtomorrow.com/converts/
(Formerly Margaret Marcus)
Q: Would you kindly tell us how your interest in Islam began?
A: I was Margaret (Peggy) Marcus. As a small child I possessed a keen interest in music and was particularly fond of the classical operas and symphonies considered high culture in the West. Music was my favorite subject in school in which I always earned the highest grades. By sheer chance, I happened to hear Arabic music over the radio which so much pleased me that I was determined to hear more. I would not leave my parents in peace until my father finally took me to the Syrian section in New York City where I bought a stack of Arabic recordings. My parents, relatives and neighbors thought Arabic and its music dreadfully weird and so distressing to their ears that whenever I put on my recordings, they demanded that I close all the doors and windows in my room lest they be disturbed! After I embraced Islam in 1961, I used to sit enthralled by the hour at the mosque in New York, listening to tape-recordings of Tilawat chanted by the celebrated Egyptian Qari, Abdul Basit. But on Jumha Salat (Friday Prayers), the Imam did not play the tapes. We had a special guest that day. A short, very thin and poorly-dressed black youth, who introduced himself to us as a student from Zanzibar, recited Surah ar-Rahman. I never heard such glorious Tilawat even from Abdul Basit! He possessed such a voice of gold; surely Hazrat Bilal must have sounded much like him!
I traced the beginning of my interest in Islam to the age of ten. While attending a reformed Jewish Sunday school, I became fascinated with the historical relationship between the Jews and the Arabs. From my Jewish textbooks, I learned that Abraham was the father of the Arabs as well as the Jews. I read how centuries later when, in medieval Europe, Christian persecution made their lives intolerable, the Jews were welcomed in Muslim Spain and that it was the magnanimity of this same Arabic Islamic civilization which stimulated Hebrew culture to reach its highest peak of achievement.
Totally unaware of the true nature of Zionism, I naively thought that the Jews were returning to Palestine to strengthen their close ties of kinship in religion and culture with their Semitic cousins. Together I believed that the Jews and the Arabs would cooperate to attain another Golden Age of culture in the Middle East.
Despite my fascination with the study of Jewish history, I was extremely unhappy at the Sunday school. At this time I identified myself strongly with the Jewish people in Europe, then suffering a horrible fate under the Nazis and I was shocked that none of my fellow classmates nor their parents took their religion seriously. During the services at the synagogue, the children used to read comic strips hidden in their prayer books and laugh to scorn at the rituals. The children were so noisy and disorderly that the teachers could not discipline them and found it very difficult to conduct the classes.
At home the atmosphere for religious observance was scarcely more congenial. My elder sister detested the Sunday school so much that my mother literally had to drag her out of bed in the mornings and it never went without the struggle of tears and hot words. Finally my parents were exhausted and let her quit. On the Jewish High Holy Days instead of attending synagogue and fasting on Yom Kippur, my sister and I were taken out of school to attend family picnics and parties in fine restaurants. When my sister and I convinced our parents how miserable we both were at the Sunday school they joined an agnostic, humanist organization known as the Ethical Culture Movement.
The Ethical Culture Movement was founded late in the 19th century by Felix Alder. While studying for rabbinate, Felix Alder grew convinced that devotion to ethical values as relative and man-made, regarding any supernaturalism or theology as irrelevant, constituted the only religion fit for the modern world. I attended the Ethical Culture Sunday School each week from the age of eleven until I graduated at fifteen. Here I grew into complete accord with the ideas of the movement and regarded all traditional, organized religions with scorn.
When I was eighteen years old I became a member of the local Zionist youth movement known as the Mizrachi Hatzair. But when I found out what the nature of Zionism was, which made the hostility between Jews and Arabs irreconcilable, I left several months later in disgust. When I was twenty and a student at New York University, one of my elective courses was entitled Judaism in Islam. My professor, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Katsh, the head of the department of Hebrew Studies there, spared no efforts to convince his students--all Jews, many of whom aspired to become rabbis--that Islam was derived from Judaism. Our textbook, written by him, took each verse from the Quran, painstakingly tracing it to its allegedly Jewish source. Although his real aim was to prove to his students the superiority of Judaism over Islam, he convinced me diametrically of the opposite.
I soon discovered that Zionism was merely a combination of the racist, tribalistic aspects of Judaism. Modern secular nationalistic Zionism was further discredited in my eyes when I learned that few, if any, of the leaders of Zionism were observant Jews and that perhaps nowhere is Orthodox, traditional Judaism regarded with such intense contempt as in Israel. When I found nearly all important Jewish leaders in America supporters for Zionism, who felt not the slightest twinge of conscience because of the terrible injustice inflicted upon the Palestinian Arabs, I could no longer consider myself a Jew at heart.
One morning in November 1954, Professor Katsh, during his lecture, argued with irrefutable logic that the monotheism taught by Moses (peace be upon him) and the Divine Laws revealed to him were indispensable as the basis for all higher ethical values. If morals were purely man-made, as the Ethical Culture and other agnostic and atheistic philosophies taught, then they could be changed at will, according to mere whim, convenience or circumstance. The result would be utter chaos leading to individual and collective ruin. Belief in the Hereafter, as the Rabbis in the Talmud taught, argued Professor Katsh, was not mere wishful thinking but a moral necessity. Only those, he said, who firmly believed that each of us will be summoned by God on Judgement Day to render a complete account of our life on earth and rewarded or punished accordingly, will possess the self-discipline to sacrifice transitory pleasure and endure hardships and sacrifice to attain lasting good.
It was in Professor Katsh's class that I met Zenita, the most unusual and fascinating girl I have ever met. The first time I entered Professor Katsh's class, as I looked around the room for an empty desk in which to sit, I spied two empty seats, on the arm of one, three big beautifully bound volumes of Yusuf Ali's English translation and commentary of the Holy Quran. I sat down right there, burning with curiosity to find out to whom these volumes belonged. Just before Rabbi Katsh's lecture was to begin, a tall, very slim girl with pale complexion framed by thick auburn hair, sat next to me. Her appearance was so distinctive, I thought she must be a foreign student from Turkey, Syria or some other Near Eastern country. Most of the other students were young men wearing the black cap of Orthodox Jewry, who wanted to become rabbis. We two were the only girls in the class. As we were leaving the library late that afternoon, she introduced herself to me. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family, her parents had migrated to America from Russia only a few years prior to the October Revolution in 1917 to escape persecution. I noted that my new friend spoke English with the precise care of a foreigner. She confirmed these speculations, telling me that since her family and their friends speak only Yiddish among themselves, she did not learn any English until after attending public school. She told me that her name was Zenita Liebermann but recently, in an attempt to Americanize themselves, her parents had changed their name from "Liebermann" to "Lane." Besides being thoroughly instructed in Hebrew by her father while growing up and also in school, she said she was now spending all her spare time studying Arabic. However, with no previous warning, Zenita dropped out of class and although I continued to attend all of his lectures to the conclusion of the course, Zenita never returned. Months passed and I had almost forgotten about Zenita when suddenly she called and begged me to meet her at the Metropolitan Museum and go with her to look at the special exhibition of exquisite Arabic calligraphy and ancient illuminated manuscripts of the Quran. During our tour of the museum, Zenita told me how she had embraced Islam with two of her Palestinian friends as witnesses.
I inquired, "Why did you decide to become a Muslim?" She then told me that she had left Professor Katsh's class when she fell ill with a severe kidney infection. Her condition was so critical, she told me, her mother and father had not expected her to survive. "One afternoon while burning with fever, I reached for my Holy Quran on the table beside my bed and began to read and while I recited the verses, it touched me so deeply that I began to weep and then I knew I would recover. As soon as I was strong enough to leave my bed, I summoned two of my Muslim friends and took the oath of the "Shahadah" or Confession of Faith."
Zenita and I would eat our meals in Syrian restaurants where I acquired a keen taste for this tasty cooking. When we had money to spend, we would order Couscous, roast lamb with rice or a whole soup plate of delicious little meatballs swimming in gravy scooped up with loaves of unleavened Arabic bread. And when we had little to spend, we would eat lentils and rice, Arabic style, or the Egyptian national dish of black broad beans with plenty of garlic and onions called "Ful".
While Professor Katsh was lecturing thus, I was comparing in my mind what I had read in the Old Testament and the Talmud with what was taught in the Quran and Hadith and finding Judaism so defective, I was converted to Islam.
Q: Were you scared that you might not be accepted by the Muslims?
A: My increasing sympathy for Islam and Islamic ideals enraged the other Jews I knew, who regarded me as having betrayed them in the worst possible way. They used to tell me that such a reputation could only result from shame of my ancestral heritage and an intense hatred for my people. They warned me that even if I tried to become a Muslim, I would never be accepted. These fears proved totally unfounded as I have never been stigmatized by any Muslim because of my Jewish origin. As soon as I became a Muslim myself, I was welcomed most enthusiastically by all the Muslims as one of them.
I did not embrace Islam out of hatred for my ancestral heritage or my people. It was not a desire so much to reject as to fulfill. To me, it meant a transition from parochial to a dynamic and revolutionary faith.
Q: Did your family object to your studying Islam?
A: Although I wanted to become a Muslim as far back as 1954, my family managed to argue me out of it. I was warned that Islam would complicate my life because it is not, like Judaism and Christianity, part of the American scene. I was told that Islam would alienate me from my family and isolate me from the community. At that time my faith was not sufficiently strong to withstand these pressures. Partly as the result of this inner turmoil, I became so ill that I had to discontinue college long before it was time for me to graduate. For the next two years I remained at home under private medical care, steadily growing worse. In desperation from 1957 - 1959 my parents confined me both to private and public hospitals where I vowed that if ever I recovered sufficiently to be discharged, I would embrace Islam.
After I was allowed to return home, I investigated all the opportunities for meeting Muslims in New York City. It was my good fortune to meet some of the finest men and women anyone could ever hope to meet. I also began to write articles for Muslim magazines.
Q: What was the attitude of your parents and friends after you became Muslim?
A: When I embraced Islam, my parents, relatives and their friends regarded me almost as a fanatic, because I could think and talk of nothing else. To them, religion is a purely private concern which at the most perhaps could be cultivated like an amateur hobby among other hobbies. But as soon as I read the Holy Quran, I knew that Islam was no hobby but life itself!
Q: In what ways did the Holy Quran have an impact on your life?
A: One evening I was feeling particularly exhausted and sleepless, Mother came into my room and said she was about to go to the Larchmont Public Library and asked me if there was any book that I wanted? I asked her to look and see if the library had a copy of an English translation of the Holy Quran. Just think, years of passionate interest in the Arabs and reading every book in the library about them I could lay my hands on but until now, I never thought to see what was in the Holy Quran! Mother returned with a copy for me. I was so eager, I literally grabbed it from her hands and read it the whole night. There I also found all the familiar Bible stories of my childhood.
In my eight years of primary school, four years of secondary school and one year of college, I learned about English grammar and composition, French, Spanish, Latin and Greek in current use, Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra, European and American history, elementary science, Biology, music and art--but I had never learned anything about God! Can you imagine I was so ignorant of God that I wrote to my pen-friend, a Pakistani lawyer, and confessed to him the reason why I was an atheist was because I couldn't believe that God was really an old man with a long white beard who sat up on His throne in Heaven. When he asked me where I had learned this outrageous thing, I told him of the reproductions from the Sistine Chapel I had seen in "Life" Magazine of Michelangelo's "Creation" and "Original Sin." I described all the representations of God as an old man with a long white beard and the numerous crucifixions of Christ I had seen with Paula at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But in the Holy Quran, I read:
"Allah! There is no god but He,-the Living, The Self-subsisting, Supporter of all. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is thee can intercede in His presence except as He permiteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory)." (Al-Baqarah 2:255)
"But the Unbelievers,-their deeds are like a mirage in sandy deserts, which the man parched with thirst mistakes for water; until when he comes up to it, he finds Allah there, and Allah will pay him his account: and Allah is swift in taking account (39) Or (the unbelievers' state) is like the depths of darkness in a vast deep ocean, overwhelmed with billow topped by billow, topped by (dark) clouds: depth of darkness, one above another: if a man stretches out his hand, he can hardly see it! for any to whom Allah giveth not light, there is no light!" (An-Noor 24: 39-40)
My first thought when reading the Holy Quran - this is the only true religion - absolutely sincere, honest, not allowing cheap compromises or hypocrisy.
In 1959, I spent much of my leisure time reading books about Islam in the New York Public Library. It was there I discovered four bulky volumes of an English translation of Mishkat ul- Masabih. It was then that I learned that a proper and detailed understanding of the Holy Quran is not possible without some knowledge of the relevant Hadith. For how can the holy text correctly be interpreted except by the Prophet to whom it was revealed?
Once I had studied the Mishkat, I began to accept the Holy Quran as Divine revelation. What persuaded me that the Quran must be from God and not composed by Muhammad (PBUH) was its satisfying and convincing answers to all the most important questions of life which I could not find elsewhere.
As a child, I was so mortally afraid of death, particularly the thought of my own death, that after nightmares about it, sometimes I would awaken my parents crying in the middle of the night. When I asked them why I had to die and what would happen to me after death, all they could say was that I had to accept the inevitable; but that was a long way off and because medical science was constantly advancing, perhaps I would live to be a hundred years old! My parents, family, and all our friends rejected as superstition any thought of the Hereafter, regarding Judgment Day, reward in Paradise or punishment in Hell as outmoded concepts of by-gone ages. In vain I searched all the chapters of the Old Testament for any clear and unambiguous concept of the Hereafter. The prophets, patriarchs and sages of the Bible all receive their rewards or punishments in this world. Typical is the story of Job (Hazrat Ayub). God destroyed all his loved-ones, his possessions, and afflicted him with a loathsome disease in order to test his faith. Job plaintively laments to God why He should make a righteous man suffer. At the end of the story, God restores all his earthly losses but nothing is even mentioned about any possible consequences in the Hereafter.
Although I did find the Hereafter mentioned in the New Testament, compared with that of the Holy Quran, it is vague and ambiguous. I found no answer to the question of death in Orthodox Judaism, for the Talmud preaches that even the worst life is better than death. My parents' philosophy was that one must avoid contemplating the thought of death and just enjoy as best one can, the pleasures life has to offer at the moment. According to them, the purpose of life is enjoyment and pleasure achieved through self-expression of one's talents, the love of family, the congenial company of friends combined with the comfortable living and indulgence in the variety of amusements that affluent America makes available in such abundance. They deliberately cultivated this superficial approach to life as if it were the guarantee for their continued happiness and good-fortune. Through bitter experience I discovered that self-indulgence leads only to misery and that nothing great or even worthwhile is ever accomplished without struggle through adversity and self-sacrifice. From my earliest childhood, I have always wanted to accomplish important and significant things. Above all else, before my death I wanted the assurance that I have not wasted life in sinful deeds or worthless pursuits. All my life I have been intensely serious-minded. I have always detested the frivolity which is the dominant characteristic of contemporary culture. My father once disturbed me with his unsettling conviction that there is nothing of permanent value and because everything in this modern age accept the present trends inevitable and adjust ourselves to them. I, however, was thirsty to attain something that would endure forever. It was from the Holy Quran where I learned that this aspiration was possible. No good deed for the sake of seeking the pleasure of God is ever wasted or lost. Even if the person concerned never achieves any worldly recognition, his reward is certain in the Hereafter. Conversely, the Quran tells us that those who are guided by no moral considerations other than expediency or social conformity and crave the freedom to do as they please, no matter how much worldly success and prosperity they attain or how keenly they are able to relish the short span of their earthly life, will be doomed as the losers on Judgement Day. Islam teaches us that in order to devote our exclusive attention to fulfilling our duties to God and to our fellow-beings, we must abandon all vain and useless activities which distract us from this end. These teachings of the Holy Quran, made even more explicit by Hadith, were thoroughly compatible with my temperament.
Q: What is your opinion of the Arabs after you became a Muslim?
A: As the years passed, the realization gradually dawned upon me that it was not the Arabs who made Islam great but rather Islam had made the Arabs great. Were it not for the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Arabs would be an obscure people today. And were it not for the Holy Quran, the Arabic language would be equally insignificant, if not extinct.
Q: Did you see any similarities between Judaism and Islam?
A: The kinship between Judaism and Islam is even stronger than Islam and Christianity. Both Judaism and Islam share in common the same uncompromising monotheism, the crucial importance of strict obedience to Divine Law as proof of our submission to and love of the Creator, the rejection of the priesthood, celibacy and monasticism and the striking similarity of the Hebrew and Arabic language.
In Judaism, religion is so confused with nationalism, one can scarcely distinguish between the two. The name "Judaism" is derived from Judah-a tribe. A Jew is a member of the tribe of Judah. Even the name of this religion connotes no universal spiritual message. A Jew is not a Jew by virtue of his belief in the unity of God, but merely because he happened to be born of Jewish parentage. Should he become an outspoken atheist, he is no less "Jewish" in the eyes of his fellow Jews.
Such a thorough corruption with nationalism has spiritually impoverished this religion in all its aspects. God is not the God of all mankind but the God of Israel. The scriptures are not God's revelation to the entire human race but primarily a Jewish history book. David and Solomon (peace be upon them) are not full-fledged prophets of God but merely Jewish kings. With the single exception of Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement), the holidays and festivals celebrated by Jews, such as Hanukkah, Purim and Pesach, are of far greater national than religious significance.
Q: Have you ever had the opportunity to talk about Islam to the other Jews?
A: There is one particular incident which really stands out in my mind when I had the opportunity to discuss Islam with a Jewish gentleman. Dr. Shoreibah, of the Islamic Center in New York, introduced me to a very special guest. After one Jumha Salat, I went into his office to ask him some questions about Islam but before I could even greet him with "Assalamu Alaikum", I was completely astonished and surprised to see seated before him an ultra-orthodox Chassidic Jew, complete with earlocks, broad-brimmed black hat, long black silken caftan and a full flowing beard. Under his arm was a copy of the Yiddish newspaper, "The Daily Forward". He told us that his name was Samuel Kostelwitz and that he worked in New York City as a diamond cutter. Most of his family, he said, lived in the Chassidic community of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but he also had many relatives and friends in Israel. Born in a small Rumanian town, he had fled from the Nazi terror with his parents to America just prior to the outbreak of the second world-war. I asked him what had brought him to the mosque? He told us that he had been stricken with intolerable grief ever since his mother died 5 years ago. He had tried to find solace and consolation for his grief in the synagogue but could not when he discovered that many of the Jews, even in the ultra-orthodox community of Williamsburg, were shameless hypocrites. His recent trip to Israel had left him more bitterly disillusioned than ever. He was shocked by the irreligiousness he found in Israel and he told us that nearly all the young sabras or native-born Israelis are militant atheists. When he saw large herds of swine on one of the kibbutzim (collective farms) he visited, he could only exclaim in horror: "Pigs in a Jewish state! I never thought that was possible until I came here! Then when I witnessed the brutal treatment meted out to innocent Arabs in Israel, I know then that there is no difference between the Israelis and the Nazis. Never, never in the name of God, could I justify such terrible crimes!"
Then he turned to Dr. Shoreibah and told him that he wanted to become a Muslim but before he took the irrevocable steps to formal conversion, he needed to have more knowledge about Islam. He said that he had purchased from Orientalia Bookshop, some books on Arabic grammar and was trying to teach himself Arabic. He apologized to us for his broken English: Yiddish was his native tongue and Hebrew, his second language. Among themselves, his family and friends spoke only Yiddish. Since his reading knowledge of English was extremely poor, he had no access to good Islamic literature. However, with the aid of an English dictionary, he painfully read "Introduction to Islam" by Muhammad Hamidullah of Paris and praised this as the best book he had ever read. In the presence of Dr. Shoreibah, I spent another hour with Mr. Kostelwitz, comparing the Bible stories of the patriarchs and prophets with their counterparts in the Holy Quran. I pointed out the inconsistencies and interpolations of the Bible, illustrating my point with Noah's alleged drunkenness, accusing David of adultery and Solomon of idolatry (Allah Forbid) and how the Holy Quran raises all these patriarchs to the status of genuine prophets of God and absolves them from all these crimes. I also pointed out why it was Ismail and not Isaac who God commanded Abraham to offer as sacrifice.
In the Bible, God tells Abraham: "Take thine son, thine only son whom thou lovest and offer him up to Me as burnt offering." Now Ismail was born 13 years before Isaac but the Jewish biblical commentators explain that away be belittling Ismail's mother, Hagar, as only a concubine and not Abraham's real wife so they say Isaac was the only legitimate son. Islamic traditions, however, raise Hagar to the status of a full-fledged wife equal in every respect to Sarah. Mr. Kostelwitz expressed his deepest gratitude to me for spending so much time, explaining those truths to him. To express this gratitude, he insisted on inviting Dr. Shoreibah and me to lunch at the Kosher Jewish delicatessen where he always goes to eat his lunch. Mr. Kostelwitz told us that he wished more than anything else to embrace Islam but he feared he could not withstand the persecution he would have to face from his family and friends. I told him to pray to God for help and strength and he promised that he would. When he left us, I felt privileged to have spoken with such a gentle and kind person.
Q: What Impact did Islam have on your life ?
A: In Islam, my quest for absolute values was satisfied. In Islam I found all that was true, good and beautiful and that which gives meaning and direction to human life (and death); while in other religions, the Truth is deformed, distorted, restricted and fragmentary. If any one chooses to ask me how I came to know this, I can only reply my personal life experience was sufficient to convince me. My adherence to the Islamic faith is thus a calm, cool but very intense conviction. I have, I believe, always been a Muslim at heart by temperament, even before I knew there was such a thing as Islam. My conversion was mainly a formality, involving no radical change in my heart at all but rather only making official what I had been thinking and yearning for many years.
Taken from The Islamic Bulletin, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186
Excerpted from: http://www.islamtomorrow.com/converts/
(May 2, 1996)
Ever since I can remember, my family attended a non-denominational conservative Christian church (Church of Christ). I grew up in the church, taught bible school and sang in the choir. As a young teenager I began asking questions (as I think everyone does at one point in their lives): Why was I a member of the Church of Christ and not say Lutheran, Catholic or Methodist? If various churches are teaching conflicting doctrine, how do we know which one is right? Are they all right? Do `all paths lead to God' as I had heard some say? Others say that as long as you are a good person it doesn't matter what you believe - is that true?
After some soul searching I decided that I did believe that there was an ultimate truth and in an attempt to find that truth I began a comparison study of various churches. I decided that I believed in the Bible and would join the church that best followed the Bible. After a lengthy study, I decided to stay with the Church of Christ, satisfied that its doctrines were biblically sound (unaware at this stage that there could be various interpretations of the Bible).
I spent a year at Michigan Christian College, a small college affiliated with the Churches of Christ, but was not challenged academically and so transferred to Western Michigan University. Having applied late for student housing, I was placed in the international dorm. Although my roommate was American, I felt surrounded by strange people from strange places. It was in fact my first real experience with cultural diversity and it scared me (having been raised in a white, middle class, Christian community). I wanted to change dorms but there wasn't anything available. I did really like my roommate and decided to stick out the semester.
My roommate became very involved in the dorm activities and got to know most everyone in the dorm. I however performed with the marching band and spent most of my time with band people. Marching season soon ended and finding myself with time on my hands, I joined my roommate on her adventures around the dorm. It turned out to be a wonderful, fascinating experience! There were a large number of Arab men living in the dorm. They were charming, handsome, and a lot of fun to be around. My roommate started dating one of them and we ended up spending most of our time with the Arabs. I guess I knew they were Muslims (although very few of them were practicing). We never really discussed religion, we were just having fun.
The year passed and I had started seeing one of the Arabs. Again, we were just enjoying each other's company and never discussed our religious differences. Neither of us were practicing at this time so it never really became an issue for us. I did, deep down, feel guilty for not attending church, but I pushed it in the back of my mind. I was having too much fun.
Another year passed and I was home for summer vacation when my roommate called me with some very distressing news: she'd become a Muslim!! I was horrified. She didn't tell me why she converted, just that she had spent a lot of time talking with her boyfriend's brother and it all made sense to her. After we hung up, I immediately wrote her a long letter explaining that she was ruining her life and to just give Christianity one more chance. That same summer my boyfriend transferred to Azusa Pacific University in California. We decided to get married and move to California together. Again, since neither one were practicing, religion was not discussed.
Secretly I started reading books on Islam. However I read books that were written by non-Muslims. One of the books I read was Islam Revealed by Anis Sorosh. I felt guilty about my friend's conversion. I felt that if I had been a better Christian, she would have turned to the church rather than Islam. Islam was a man-made religion, I believed, and filled with contradictions. After reading Sorosh's book, I thought I could convert my friend and my husband to Christianity.
At APU, my husband was required to take a few religion courses. One day he came home from class and said: "The more I learn about Christianity, the stronger my belief in Islam becomes." At about this same time he started showing signs of wanting to practice his religion again. Our problems began. We started talking about religion and arguing about our different beliefs. He told me I should learn about Islam and I told him I already knew everything I needed to know. I got out Sorosh's book and told him I could never believe in Islam. My husband is not a scholar by any stretch of the imagination, yet he had an answer for everything I showed him in Sorosh's book. I was impressed by his knowledge. He told me that if I really wanted to learn about Islam it must be through Islamic sources. He bought a few books for me from an Islamic bookstore and I started taking classes at a local mosque. What a difference the Islam I learned about from Muslim sources from the Islam I learned about from non-Muslims!
It was so difficult though when I actually decided to convert. My pride stood in the way for awhile. How could I admit to my husband and my friend that they were right all along? I felt humiliated, embarrassed. Soon though, I could deny the truth no longer, swallowed my pride, and alhamdulilah, embraced Islam - the best decision I ever made.
A few things I want to say to the non-Muslim reader:
May Allah lead all of us closer to the truth.
Excerpted from: http://www.islamtomorrow.com/converts/
Growing up in a supposedly Christian, but in fact non-religious family, I never heard the name of God being uttered, I never saw anyone pray and I learned early on that the only reason for doing things was to benefit yourself. We celebrated Christmas, Easter, Mid-summer and All Saints Day and even though I never knew why, I never questioned it. It was part of being Swedish. As a Christian (protestant) you can go through something called confirmation when you are about 15 years of age. This is meant to be a class to take to learn about your religion and then confirm your belief. I wanted to do this to learn about Christianity so I was signed up for this 3-week camp which was a combined golf-and confirmation camp. In the mornings we had classes with a senile priest and our thoughts wandered off to the upcoming game of golf. I didn't learn anything.
I went through high-school with a breeze. I felt that nothing could harm me. My grades were the best possible and my self confidence was at the top. Religion never came to my mind. I was doing just fine. Everyone I knew that was "religious" had found "the light" after being either depressed or very sick and they said that they needed Jesus in their life to be able to live on. I felt that I could do anything that I put my mind to and that religion only was an excuse to hide from reality.
In college, I started thinking about the meaning of life. I had a hard time accepting any religion because of all the wars and problems relating to them. I made up my own philosophy. I was convinced that some form of power created everything but I couldn't say that it was God. God for me was the Christian image of an old man with a long white beard and I knew that an old man could not have created the universe! I believed in a life after death because I just couldn't believe that justice wouldn't be served. I also believed that everything happens for a reason. Due to my background and schooling I was fooled to believe in Darwin's theory, since it is taught as a fact. The more I thought about the meaning of life, the more depressed I became, and I felt that this life is like a prison. I lost most of my appetite for life.
I knew a lot about Buddhism and Hinduism since I was interested in these things in school. We learned in detail about their way of thinking and worship. I didn't know anything about Islam. I remember my high-school text book in Religion showing how Muslims pray. It was like a cartoon strip to show the movements but I didn't learn about the belief. I was fed all the propaganda through mass media and I was convinced that all Muslim men oppressed their wives and hit their children. They were all violent and didn't hesitate to kill.
In my last year of college I had a big passion for science and I was ready to hit the working scene. An international career or at least some international experience was needed to improve my English and get an advantage over fellow job hunters. I ended up in Boston and was faced with four Muslims. At that point I didn't know who Muhammad was and I didn't know that Allah was the same god as "God". I started asking questions and reading books, but most importantly, I started socializing with Muslims. I never had any friends from another country before (let alone another religion). All the people that I knew were Swedish. The Muslims that I met were wonderful people. They accepted me right away and they never forced anything on me. They were more generous to me than my own family. Islam seemed to be a good system of life and I acknowledged the structure and stability it provided but I was not convinced it was for me.
One of my problems was that science contradicted religion (at least from what I knew about Christianity). I read the book "The Bible, The Quran and Science" by Maurice Bucaille and all of my scientific questions were answered! Here was a religion that was in line with modern science. I felt excited but it was still not in my heart.
I had a period of brain storming when I was thinking over all the new things I learnt. I felt my heart softening and I tried to imagine a life as a Muslim. I saw a humble life full of honesty, generosity, stability, peace, respect and kindness. Most of all I saw a life with a MEANING. I knew I had to let go of my ego and humble myself before something much more powerful than myself.
Twice, I was asked the question "What is stopping you from becoming Muslim?". The first time I panicked and my brain was blocked. The second time I thought for awhile to come up with any excuse. There was none so I said the shahada, Al-Hamdulillah.
Excerpted from: http://www.islamtomorrow.com/converts/
(My Journey to Islam)
My name is Diana Beatty, some call me Masooma Amtullah but most do not. I am almost 23 and converted nearly 3 years ago now. I am a college student studying physics and training to become a teacher. I am a native of Colorado, USA. My father and brother are electricians. I have only one sibling, my brother, who is 27 and is married with two young children. He lives just two houses down from my parents. my mother is a legal secretary for the county attorney's office. No one in my family before me has gone to college. My father is an alcoholic and smokes a lot and his habits make the household very stressful and unhappy at times because he tends to be very selfish and angry. He is like a living dead man. My mother is bitter about him often and lives in a loveless marriage, I think. But to most appearances they are an ideal family. They keep dogs at the house, and that along with the alcohol makes visiting difficult but I try to go when I can. My mother says I never go home enough, that is in part because she has few friends as my father prefers it that way. The family has been through a lot over the years and at least we have come to a point where we do not abandon each other even though things are not ideal. I have no children of my own yet and do not plan to right away but eventually.
When I came to college I met a Muslim for the first time. Only after meeting some Muslims did I slowly come to realize how ignorant I was about Islam and Muslims; a lot of what I had learned growing up was quite erroneous, but for the most part I just never heard anything at all about it. I became curious about the religion because the good manners of the Muslims I met appealed to me, as well as the sincerity and worship aspect of the Muslim prayer. The idea of a religion which guided us in every aspect of life was something I had been looking for.
I was raised Christian and at the time of meeting the Muslims was quite religious and studying the bible seriously. But the questions the bible left unanswered for me, the Quran answered. At first I did not like to read Quran because of what it said about Jesus not being Son of God and mention about wars that echoed in my mind what I had heard about Muslim terrorism and violence. But the Muslims I knew, I took them as my example of what a Muslim is like and saw that the stereotype I had been raised with just didn't fit. I wondered how I knew bible was right and Quran was wrong, especially when so much was similar between them, they seemed to originate from the same source. I could not believe my bible study teacher when he said Quran was from Satan and made similar to be a better deception. Nor could I believe that these Muslims who were in general far more religious and worshipping of God than the Christians would go to hell for sure, as I was taught.
As I continued my study, I was able to read the bible in a new light and see contradictions and even errors and scientific fallacies that before I had dismissed as due to my failure to understand the Word of God. But these errors and contradictions were absent in Quran. And what Quran said about God and our purpose and all these things I found more logical and easier to understand, and I knew that I believed God would provide us with a religion that we could understand and that was fair. It was a difficult time but over a period of several months I studied the two religions and Islam won out, I became convinced that it was the true religion that Allah had sent for us and so I reverted. At that time I still was not sure about everything, I still was not sure about hijab in particular, and I did not know anything like how to pray etc. but in time I started to learn.
It was very difficult to conclude that everyone I had ever known, my teachers, my parents, my grandparents, my friends, my preachers, were all wrong. It was hard to decide to go against my family and do something I knew they would hate and would not understand. I was terrified to make the wrong choice, but Christianity teaches if you do not believe Jesus (pbuh) died for your sins then you go to hell (at least so the religious leaders told me), so I was afraid of being misled. I was afraid that my peers and coworkers and bosses would react negatively and even that I might be disowned from my family.
My family did hate the choice but did not disown me. Our relationships was forever changed. Whenever I talk to my mother she complains about my Islamic dress, that seems to bother them more than anything, and she will send Christian religious literature to me, etc. When I first put on hijab she cried for literally a week and was so hurt, she wrote me a letter saying it was a slap in the face and I was abandoning how they raised me and trying to be an Arab. They convinced themselves that I was doing it only for my Muslim husband (I ended up marrying a Muslim man) and so they didn't like him and wished for our relationship to end. I was told by family members that I was going to hell. It was not hard to give up the nonhalal food, the alcohol, to start praying, to wear hijab (after some initial difficulty), the only thing that was really hard was hurting my family and being constantly pushed by them.
In this process, I did lose a few who just could not handle the change but most of my friends did not really mind. Nor did I have any problem obtaining multiple jobs of my choice in hijab. I am generally not discriminated against at all on the college campus, although you do have to get used to stares and a more formal relationship with coworkers. I find most respect me a great deal for doing what I believe. It is only my family who has a great difficulty, because it is THEIR daughter. Well, and men never know what to think when I decline to shake their hand.
It is difficult to describe to someone who has never felt it how Islam can change and improve one's life. But Islam changed me totally. I now have no doubt about our purpose in this world and that I am following the right path, I have a certainty I never knew before, and a peace that goes with it. God's plan makes much more sense to me and I feel I have an idea where I belong. Plus, through Islam, it is rarely an ambiguous question if something is right or wrong, unlike my Christian friends who often doubt if they are doing the right thing. I finally have a hold on the things that really matter and am not lost anymore. I didn't even really know I was lost before, but when I found Islam and looked back it was so clear to me that I had been searching for years. Alhumdoolillah I was guided. Islam also improved my life as a woman in that I find good Muslim men treat women with so much more respect than is found in American society that I am raised in. I feel special to be a woman, before I was always a little uncomfortable as a woman because I felt my life would be easier if I had been a man because as a woman I found myself faced with incredible responsibility of working full time and raising a family and cooking and cleaning and never fitting in fully to any of those roles. As a Muslim woman I feel freer to look at myself and choose the path which truly suits my nature and have others accept that, and I feel like a woman and it feels good; like coming home. Reverting to Islam feels like coming home.
Excerpted from: http://www.islamtomorrow.com/converts/
My first realization about the Christian idea of salvation came after I was baptized into a Southern Baptist church at a young age. I was taught in Sunday School that "if you aren't baptized, then you are going to hell".
My own baptism had taken place because I wanted to please people. My mom had come into my room one evening and I asked her about baptism. She encouraged me to do it. So, the next Sunday, I decided to go to the front of the church. During a hymn at the end of the sermon, I walked forward to meet with the youth minister. He had a smile on his face, greeted me, then sat beside me on a pew. He asked a question, "Why do you want to do this?"... I paused, then said, "because I love Jesus and I know that he loves me". After making the statement, the members of the church came up and hugged me... anticipating the ceremonial immersion in water just a few weeks later.
During my early years at church, even in the kindergarten class, I remember being a vocal participant in the Sunday School lessons. Later, in my early adolescent years I was a member of the young girls' group that gathered at the church for weekly activities and went on annual retreats to a camp. During my youth, I attended a camp with older members of the youth group. Though I hadn't spent much time with them before, they recognized me as "the daughter of a youth coordinator" or "the girl who plays piano at special occasions at church". One evening at this camp a man was speaking about his marriage. He told the story about meeting his wife. He had grown up in the US where dating was normal, but in the girl's culture, he could only be with her if they had a guardian with them. Since he liked her, he decided to continue seeing her. Another stipulation is that they could not touch each other until she had been given a promise ring. Once he proposed to her, they were allowed to hold hands. -This baffled me, yet held me in awe. It was beautiful to think that such discovery of another person could be saved until a commitment was made. Though I enjoyed the story, I never thought that the same incident could occur again.
A few years later, my parents divorced and the role of religion changed in my life. I had always seen my family through the eyes of a child - they were perfect. My dad was a deacon in the church, well respected, and known by all. My mom was active with youth groups. When my mom left, I took the role of caretaker of my father and two brothers. We continued to go to church, but when visiting my mom on weekends, the visits to churches became more infrequent. When at my dad's home we would gather at night every night to read Corinthians 1:13 (which talks about love/charity). My brothers, father, and I repeated this so often that I memorized it. It was a source of support for my dad, though I could not understand why.
In a period of three consecutive years, my older brother, younger brother, and I moved to my mom's house. At that point my mom no longer went to church, so my brothers found church attendance less important. Having moved to my mother's house during my junior year of high school, I was to discover new friends and a different way of life. The first day of school I met a girl who was very friendly. The second day of school, she invited me to her house for the weekend - to meet her family and visit her church. I was automatically "adopted" into her family as a "good kid" and "good influence" for her. Also, I was surprisingly shocked at the congregation that attended her church. Though I was a stranger, all of the women and men greeted me with hugs and kisses and made me feel welcome.
After continually spending time with the family and attending church on the weekends, they started talking to me about particular beliefs in their Church of Christ. This group went by the New Testament (literal interpretation of Paul's writings). They had no musical instruments in church services - only vocal singing; there were no hired preachers, but elders who would bring sermons each Sunday. Women were not allowed to speak in church. Christmas, Easter, and other holidays were not celebrated, wine and unleavened bread were taken as communion every Sunday, and baptism was seen as immediately necessary at the moment that the sinner decided to become a believer. Though I was already considered a Christian, members of this congregation believed that I was going to hell if I didn't get baptized again - in their church, their way. This was the first major blow to my belief system. Had I grown up in a church where everything had been done wrong? Did I really have to be baptized again?
At one point I had a discussion about faith with my mom. I told her about my confusion and just wanted somebody to clear things up for me. I became critical of sermons at all churches because the preachers would just tell stories and not focus on the Bible. I couldn't understand: if the Bible was so important, why was it not read (solely) in the church service?
Though I thought about baptism every Sunday for almost two years, I could not walk forward to be baptized. I would pray to God to push me forward if it were the right thing to do - but it never happened.
The next year I went to college and became detached from all churches as a freshman. Some Sundays I would visit churches with friends - only to feel critical of the sermons. I tried to join the baptist student association, but felt that things were wrong there, too. I had come to college thinking that I would find something like the church of christ but it was not to be found. When I would return home to my mom's house on occasional weekends, I would visit the church to gain the immediate sense of community and welcoming.
In my Sophomore year, I spent Sundays singing at the Wake Forest church in the choir because I earned good money. Though I didn't support the church beliefs, I endured the sermons to make money. In October of my sophomore year I met a Muslim who lived in my dorm. He was a friendly guy who always seemed to be pondering questions or carrying a deep thought. One evening I spent the entire evening asking him philosophical questions about beliefs and religion. He talked about his beliefs as a Shia' Ismaili Imami Muslim. Though his thoughts did not fully represent this sect of Islam (since he was also confused and searching for answers), his initial statements made me question my own beliefs: are we born into a religion, therefore making it the right one? Day after day I would meet with him and ask questions - wanting to get on the same level of communication that we had reached at our initial meeting - but he would no longer answer the questions or meet the spiritual needs that I had.
The following summer I worked at a bookstore and grabbed any books that I could find about Islam. I introduced myself to another Muslim on campus and started asking him questions about Islam. Instead of looking to him for answers, I was directed to the Quran. Any time I would have general questions about Islam, he would answer them. I went to the local mosque twice during that year and was happy to feel a sense of community again.
After reading about Islam over the summer, I became more sensitive to statements made about Muslims. While taking an introductory half-semester course on Islam, I would feel frustrated when the professor would make a comment the was incorrect, but I didn't know how to correct him. Outside of my personal studies and university class, I became an active worker and supporter of our newly rising campus Islam Awareness Organization. As the only female member, I would be identified to others as "the christian in the group". Every time a Muslim would say that, I would look at him with puzzlement - because I thought that I was doing all that they had been doing - and that I was a Muslim, too.
I had stopped eating pork and became vegetarian, had never liked alcohol, and had begun fasting for the month of Ramadhan. But, there still was a difference...
At the end of that year (junior year) other changes were made. I decided to start wearing my hair up - concealed from people. Once again, I thought of this as something beautiful and had an idea that only my husband should be able to see my hair. I hadn't even been told about hijab... since many of the sisters at the mosque did not wear it.
That summer I was sitting at school browsing the internet and looking for sites about Islam. I wanted to find e-mail addresses for Muslims, but couldn't find a way. I eventually ventured onto a homepage that was a matrimonial link. I read over some advertisements and tried to find some people within my age range to write to about Islam. I prefaced my initial letters with "I am not seeking marriage - I just want to learn about Islam". Within a few days I had received replies from three Muslims- one from Pakistan/India who was studying in the US, one from India but studying in the UK, and one living in the UAE. Each brother was helpful in unique ways - but I started corresponding with the one from the US the most because we were in the same time zone. I would send questions to him and he would reply with thorough, logical answers. By this point I knew that Islam was right - all people were equal regardless of color, age, sex, race, etc; I had received answers to troublesome questions by going to the Qur'an, I could feel a sense of community with Muslims, and I had a strong, overwhelming need to declare the shahada at a mosque.
No longer did I have the "christian fear" of denouncing the claim of Jesus as God - I believed that there was only one God and there should be no associations with God. One Thursday night in July 1997 I talked with the brother over the phone. I asked more questions and received many more pertinent, logical answers. I decided that the next day I would go to the mosque.
I went to the mosque with the Muslim brother from Wake Forest and his non-Muslim sister, but did not tell him my intentions. I mentioned that I wanted to speak with the imam after the khutbah [religious directed talk]. The imam delivered the khutbah, the Muslims prayed [which includes praising Allah, recitation of the Quran, and a series of movements which includes bowing to Allah] then he came over to talk with me. I asked him what was necessary to become Muslim. He replied that there are basics to understand about Islam, plus the shahada [there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah]. I told him that I had learned about Islam for more than a year and was ready to become Muslim. I recited the kalimah... and became Muslim on July 12, 1996, alhumdulillah [all praise due to Allah].
That was the first big step. Many doors opened after that - and have continued to open by the grace of Allah. I first began to learn prayer, then visited another masjid in Winston-Salem, and began wearing hijab two weeks later.....
At my summer job, I had problems with wearing hijab. The bosses didn't like it and "let me go" early for the summer. They didn't think that I could "perform" my job of selling bookbags because the clothing would limit me. But, I found the hijab very liberating. I met Muslims as they would walk around the mall... everyday I met someone new, alhumdulillah.
As my senior year of college progressed, I took the lead of the Muslim organization on campus because I found that the brothers were not very active. Since I pushed the brothers to do things and constantly reminded them of events, I received the name "mother Kaci".
During the last half of my Senior year, I took elective courses: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Each course was good because I was a minority representative in each. Mashallah, it was nice to represent Islam and to tell people the truth about Muslims and Allah.
Excerpted from: http://www.islamtomorrow.com/converts/
KARIMA SLACK RAZI
I took the Shahadah on September 20, 1991. If you had told me 5 years prior that I would embrace Islam, I never would have believed you. In retrospect, Allah's guidance was so subtle yet consistent, that now I see my whole life as leading up to that moment. It is difficult to encapsulate the exact factors that brought me to Islam because it was a journey, a process, that lasted three years. Those three years were both exhilarating and exhausting. My perceptions of myself and the world changed dramatically. Some beliefs were validated; others, shattered. At times I feared I would lose myself; at other times I knew that this path was my destiny and embraced it. Throughout those years, a series of aspects of Islam intrigued me. Slowly and gradually, my studies led me towards the day when I took the declaration of faith, the shahadah.
Prior to my introduction to Islam, I knew that I yearned for more spiritual fulfillment in my life. But, as yet, nothing had seemed acceptable or accessible to me. I had been brought up essentially a secular humanist. Morals were emphasized, but never attributed to any spiritual or divine being. The predominant religion of our country, Christianity, seemed to burden a person with too much guilt. I was not really familiar with any other religions. I wish I could say that, sensing my spiritual void, I embarked on a spiritual quest and studied various religions in depth. However, I was too comfortable with my life for that. I come from a loving and supportive family.
I had many interesting and supportive friends. I thoroughly enjoyed my university studies and I was successful at the university. Instead, it was the "chance" meeting of various Muslims that instigated my study of Islam.
Sharif was one of the first Muslims who intrigued me. He was an elderly man who worked in a tutorial program for affirmative action that I had just entered. He explained that while his job brought little monetary reward, the pleasure he gained from teaching students brought him all the reward he needed. He spoke softly and genuinely. His demeanor more than his words caught me, and I thought, "I hope I have his peace of spirit when I reach his age." That was in 1987.
As I met more Muslims, I was struck not only by their inner peace, but by the strength of their faith. These gentle souls contrasted with the violent, sexist image I had of Islam. Then I met Imran, a Muslim friend of my brother's who I soon realized was the type of man I would like to marry. He was intelligent, sincere, independent, and at peace with himself. When we both agreed that there was potential for marriage, I began my serious studies of Islam. Initially, I had no intention of becoming Muslim; I only desired to understand his religion because he had made it clear that he would want to raise his children as Muslims. My response was: "If they will turn out as sincere, peaceful and kind as he is, then I have no problem with it. But I do feel obligated to understand Islam better first."
In retrospect, I realize that I was attracted to these peaceful souls because I sensed my own lack of inner peace and conviction. There was an inner void that was not completely satisfied with academic success or human relationships. However, at that point I would never have stated that I was attracted to Islam for myself. Rather, I viewed it as an intellectual pursuit. This perception was compatible with my controlled, academic lifestyle.
Since I called myself a feminist, my early reading centered around women in Islam. I thought Islam oppressed women. In my Women’s Studies courses I had read about Muslim women who were not allowed to leave their homes and were forced to cover their heads. Of course I saw hijab as an oppressive tool imposed by men rather than as an expression of self-respect and dignity. What I discovered in my readings surprised me. Islam not only does not oppress women, but actually liberates them, having given them rights in the 6th century that we have only gained in this century in this country: the right to own property and wealth and to maintain that in her name after marriage; the right to vote; and the right to divorce.
This realization was not easy in coming....I resisted it every step of the way. But there were always answers to my questions. Why is there polygamy? It is only allowed if the man can treat all four equally and even then it is discouraged. However, it does allow for those times in history when there are more women than men, especially in times of war, so that some women are not deprived of having a relationship and children. Furthermore, it is far superior to the mistress relationship so prevalent here since the woman has a legal right to support should she have a child. This was only one of many questions, the answers to which eventually proved to me that women in Islam are given full rights as individuals in society.
However, these discoveries did not allay all my fears. The following year was one of intense emotional turmoil. Having finished up my courses for my masters in Latin American Studies in the spring of 1989, I decided to take a year to substitute teach. This enabled me to spend a lot of time studying Islam. Many things I was reading about Islam made sense. However, they didn't fit into my perception of the world. I had always perceived of religion as a crutch. But could it be that it was the truth? Didn't religions cause much of the oppression and wars in the world? How then could I be considering marrying a man who followed one of the world's major religions? Every week I was hit with a fresh story on the news, the radio or the newspaper about the oppression of Muslim women. Could I, a feminist, really be considering marrying into that society? Eyebrows were raised. People talked about me in worried tones behind my back. In a matter of months, my secure world of 24 years was turned upside down. I no longer felt that I knew what was right or wrong. What was black and white, was now all gray.
But something kept me going. And it was more than my desire to marry Imran. At any moment I could have walked away from my studies of Islam and been accepted back into a circle of feminist, socialist friends and into the loving arms of my family. While these people never deserted me, they haunted me with their influence. I worried about what they would say or think, particularly since I had always judged myself through the eyes of others. So I secluded myself. I talked only with my family and friends that I knew wouldn't judge me. And I read.
It was no longer an interested, disinterested study of Islam. It was a struggle for my own identity. Up to that time I had produced many successful term papers. I knew how to research and to support a thesis. But my character had never been at stake. For the first time, I realized that I had always written to please others. Now, I was studying for my own spirit. It was scary. Although I knew my friends and family loved me, they couldn't give me the answers. I no longer wanted to lean on their support. Imran was always there to answer my questions. While I admired his patience and his faith that all would turn out for the best, I didn't want to lean too heavily on him out of my own fear that I might just be doing this for a man and not for myself. I felt I had nothing and no one to lean on. Alone, frightened and filled with self-doubt, I continued to read.
After I had satisfied my curiosity about women in Islam and been surprised by the results, I began to read about the life of the Prophet Muhammad and to read the Qu'ran itself. As I read about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), I began to question my initial belief that he was merely an exceptional leader. His honesty prior to any revelations, his kindness, his sagacity, his insights into his present as well as the future--all made me question my initial premise. His persistence in adversity and, later, his humility in the face of astounding success seemed to belie human nature. Even at the height of his success when he could have enjoyed tremendous wealth, he refused to have more than his poorest companions in Islam.
Slowly I was getting deeper and deeper into the Qu'ran. I asked, "Could a human being be capable of such a subtle, far-reaching book?" Furthermore, there are parts that are meant to guide the Prophet himself, as well as reprimand him. I wondered if the Prophet would have reprimanded himself.
As I slowly made my way through the Qu'ran, it became less and less an intellectual activity, and more and more a personal struggle. There were days when I would reject every word--find a way to condemn it, not allow it to be true. But then I would suddenly happen upon a phrase that spoke directly to me. This first happened when I was beginning to experience a lot of inner turmoil and doubt and I read some verses towards the end of the second chapter: "Allah does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear…." (Al-Baqarah 2:286). Although I would not have stated that I believed in Allah at that time, when I read these words it was as if a burden was lifted from my heart.
I continued to have many fears as I studied Islam. Would I still be close to my family if I became a Muslim? Would I end up in an oppressive marriage? Would I still be "open-minded?" I believed secular humanism to be the most open-minded approach to life. Slowly I began to realize that secular humanism is as much an ideology, a dogma, as Islam. I realized that everyone had their ideology and I must consciously choose mine. I realized that I had to have trust in my own intellect and make my own decisions--that I should not be swayed by the negative reactions of my "open-minded," "progressive" friends. During this time, as I started keeping more to myself, I was becoming intellectually freer than any time in my life.
Two and a half years later, I had finished the Qu'ran, been delighted by its descriptions of nature and often reassured by its wisdom. I had learned about the extraordinary life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); I had been satisfied by the realization that Islam understands that men and women are different but equal; and I discovered that Islam gave true equality not only to men and women, but to all races and social classes, judging only by one's level of piety. And I had gained confidence in myself and my own decisions. It was then that I came to the final, critical question: Do I believe in one God? This is the basis of being a Muslim. Having satisfied my curiosity about the rules and historical emergence of Islam, I finally came to this critical question, the essence of being Muslim. It was as if I had gone backwards: starting with the details before I finally reached the spiritual question. I had to wade through the technicalities and satisfy my academic side before I could finally address the spiritual question. Did I.... Could I place my trust in a greater being? Could I relinquish my secular humanist approach to life?
Twice I decided to take the shahadah and then changed my mind the next day. One afternoon, I even knelt down and touched my forehead to the floor, as I had often seen Muslims do, and asked for guidance. I felt such peace in that position. Perhaps in that moment I was a Muslim a heart, but when I stood up, my mind was not ready to officially take the shahadah.
After that moment a few more weeks passed. I began my new job: teaching high school. The days began to pass very quickly, a flurry of teaching, discipline and papers to correct. As my days began to pass so fast, it struck me that I did not want to pass from this world without having declared my faith in Allah. Intellectually, I understood that the evidence present in the Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) life and in the Qu'ran was too compelling to deny. And, at that moment, I was also ready in my heart for Islam. I had spent my life longing for a truth in which heart would be compatible with mind, action with thought, intellect with emotion. I found that reality in Islam. With that reality came true self-confidence and intellectual freedom. A few days after I took the shahadah, I wrote in my journal that finally I have found in Islam the validation of my inner thoughts and intuition. By acknowledging and accepting Allah, I have found the door to spiritual and intellectual freedom.
Excerpted from: http://www.islamtomorrow.com/converts/
(April 12, 1998)
My intention in writing my story is that for Allah's sake, I may help someone who is searching for the Truth, to realize that they have found it in Al Islam. I began writing this on Easter Sunday, kind of appropriate, I think. I have been Muslim now for seven years, Alhamdu Lillah (all praise is for Allah, [God]). I first learned of Islam while attending University, from a Muslim friend of mine. I had managed to get out of a very good, college-prep high school believing that the Qur'an was a Jewish book, and that Muslims were idol worshipping pagans. I was not interested in learning about a new religion. I held the ethnocentric view that if since the US was "#1", we must have the best of everything, including religion. I knew that Christianity wasn't perfect, but believed that it was the best that there was. I had long held the opinion that although the Bible contained the word of God, it also contained the word of the common man, who wrote it down. As Allah would have it, every time I had picked up the Bible in my life, I had come across some really strange and actually dirty passages. I could not understand why the Prophets of God would do such abominable things when there are plenty of average people who live their whole lives without thinking of doing such disgusting and immoral things, such as those attributed to Prophets David, Solomon, and Lot, (peace be upon them all) just to name a few. I remember hearing in Church that since these Prophets commit such sins, how could the common people be any better than them? And so, it was said, Jesus had to be sacrificed for our sins, because we just couldn't help ourselves, as the "flesh is weak".
So, I wrestled with the notion of the trinity, trying to understand how my God was not one, but three. One who created the earth, one whose blood was spilled for our sins, and then there was the question of the Holy Ghost, yet all one and the same!? When I would pray to God, I had a certain image in my mind of a wise old man in flowing robe, up in the clouds. When I would pray to Jesus, I pictured a young white man with long golden hair, beard and blue eyes. As for the Holy Spirit, well, I could only conjure up a misty creature whose purpose I wasn't sure of. It really didn't feel as though I was praying to one God. I found though that when I was really in a tight spot, I would automatically call directly on God. I knew inherently, that going straight to God, was the best bet.
When I began to research and study Islam, I didn't have a problem with praying to God directly, it seemed the natural thing to do. However, I feared forsaking Jesus, and spent a lot of time contemplating the subject. I began to study the Christian history, searching for the truth. The more I looked into it, the more I saw the parallel between the deification and sacrifice of Jesus, and the stories of Greek mythology that I had learned in junior high, where a god and a human woman would produce a child which would be a demigod, possessing some attributes of a god. I learned of how important it had been to "St. Paul", to have this religion accepted by the Greeks to whom he preached, and how some of the disciples had disagreed with his methods. It seemed very probable that this could have been a more appealing form of worship to the Greeks than the strict monotheism of the Old Testament. And only Allah knows.
I began to have certain difficulties with Christian thought while still in high school. Two things bothered me very much. The first was the direct contradiction between material in the Old and New Testaments. I had always thought of the Ten Commandments as very straight forward, simple rules that God obviously wanted us to follow. Yet, worshipping Christ, was breaking the first commandment completely and totally, by associating a partner with God. I could not understand why an omniscient God would change His mind, so to speak. Then there is the question of repentance. In the Old Testament, people are told to repent for their sins; but in the New Testament, it is no longer necessary, as Christ was sacrificed for the sins of the people. "Paul did not call upon his hearers to repent of particular sins, but rather announced God's victory over all sin in the cross of Christ. The radical nature of God's power is affirmed in Paul's insistence that in the death of Christ God has rectified the ungodly (see Romans 4:5). Human beings are not called upon to do good works in order that God may rectify them."
So what incentive did we even have to be good, when being bad could be a lot of fun? Society has answered by redefining good and bad. Any childcare expert will tell you that children must learn that their actions have consequences, and they encourage parents to allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Yet in Christianity, there are no consequences, so people have begun to act like spoiled children. Demanding the right to do as they please, demanding God's and people’s unconditional love and acceptance of even vile behavior. It is no wonder that our prisons are over-flowing, and that parents are at a loss to control their children. That is not to say that in Islam we believe that we get to heaven based on our deeds, on the contrary, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told us that we will only enter paradise through God's Mercy, as evidenced in the following hadith.
The Prophet said, "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and receive good news because one's good deeds will not make him enter Paradise." They asked, "Even you, O Allah's Apostle?" He said, "Even I, unless and until Allah bestows His pardon and Mercy on me."
So in actuality, I did not even know who God was. If Jesus was not a separate god, but really part of God, then who was he sacrificed to? And who was he praying to in the Garden of Gethsemane? If he was separate in nature from God, then you have left the realm of monotheism, which is also in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Old Testament. It was so confusing, that I preferred not to think of it, and had begun to thoroughly resent the fact that I could not understand my own religion. That point was brought home when I began to discuss religion with my future husband at college. He asked me to explain the Trinity to him. After several failed attempts at getting him to understand it, I threw my hands up in frustration, and claimed that I couldn't explain it well because, "I am not a scholar!" To which he calmly replied, "Do you have to be a scholar to understand the basis of your religion?" Ouch!, that really hurt; but the truth hurts sometimes. By that point, I had tired of the mental acrobatics required to contemplate who I was actually worshipping. I grudgingly listened while he told me of the Oneness of God, and that He had not changed his mind, but completed his message to mankind through the Prophet Muhammad, Allah's peace and blessings be upon him. I had to admit, it made sense. God had sent prophets in succession to mankind for centuries, because they obviously kept going astray, and needed guidance. Even at that point, I told him that he could tell me about his religion, just for my general information. "But don't try to convert me", I told him, "because you'll never do it!" "No", he said, "I just want you to understand where I'm coming from and it is my duty as a Muslim to tell you." And of course, he didn't convert me; but rather, Allah guided me to His Truth. Alhamdu Lillah.
At about the same time, a friend of mine gave me a "translation" of the Qur'an in English that she found at a book store. She had no way of knowing that this book was actually written by an Iraqi Jew for the purpose of driving people away from Islam, not for helping them to understand it. It was very confusing. I circled and marked all the passages that I wanted to ask my Muslim friend about and when he returned from his trip abroad, I accosted him with my questions, book in hand. He could not tell from the translation that it was supposed to be the Qur'an, and patiently informed me of the true meaning of the verses and the conditions under which they were revealed. He found a good translation of the meaning of the Qur'an for me to read, which I did. I still remember sitting alone, reading it, looking for errors, and questioning.
The more I read, the more I became convinced that this book could only have one source, God. I was reading about God's mercy and His willingness to forgive any sin, except the sin of associating partners with Him; and I began to weep. I cried from the depth of my soul. I cried for my past ignorance and in joy of finally finding the truth. I knew that I was forever changed. I was amazed at the scientific knowledge in the Qur'an, which is not taken from the Bible as some would have you believe. I was getting my degree in microbiology at that time, and was particularly impressed with the description of the embryological process, and so much more. Once I was sure that this book was truly from God, I decided that I had to accept Islam as my religion. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
I learned that the first and most important step of becoming Muslim is to believe in "La illaha il Allah, wa Muhammad arasool Allah", meaning that there is no god worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. After I understood that Jesus was sent as a prophet, to show the Jews that they were going astray, and bring them back to the path of God, I had no trouble with the concept of worshipping God alone. But I did not know who Muhammad was, and didn't understand what it really meant to follow him. May Allah bless all those people who have helped me to understand and appreciate the life of the Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him), throughout these last seven years. I learned that Allah sent him as an example to mankind. An example to be followed and imitated by all of us in our daily lives. He was in his behaviors, the Qur'an exemplified. May Allah guide us all to live as he taught us.
Excerpted from: http://www.islamtomorrow.com/converts/
"What am I doing down here? I wonder, my nose and forehead pressed to the floor as I kneel in prayer. My knee-caps ache, my arm muscles strain as I try to keep the pressure off my forehead. I listen to strange utterings of the person praying next to me. It's Arabic, and they understand what they are saying, even if I don't. So, I make up my own words, hoping God will be kind to me, a Muslim only twelve hours old. OK. God, I converted to Islam because I believe in you, and because Islam makes sense to me. "Did I really just say that?" I catch myself, bursting into tears. "What would my friends say if they saw me like this, kneeling, nose pressed to the floor?...They'd laugh at me. Have you lost your mind? They'd ask. You can't seriously tell me you are religious." Religious... I was once a happy 'speculative atheist', how did I turn into the past and attempt a whirlwind tour through my journey.
But where did it begin? Maybe it started when I first met practicing Muslims. This was in 1991, at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I was an open minded, tolerant, liberal woman. 24 years old. I saw Muslim women walking around the international centre and felt sorry for them. I knew they were oppressed. My sorrow increased when I asked them why they cover their hair, why they wore long sleeves in summer, why they were so ill-treated in Muslim countries, and they told me that they wore the veil, and they dressed so, because God asked them to. Poor things. What about their treatment in Muslim countries? That's culture, they would reply. I knew they were deluded, socialized/brainwashed from an early age, into believing this wicked way of treating women. But I noticed how happy they were, how friendly they were, how solid they were, how solid they seemed.
I saw Muslim men walking around the international centre. There was even a man from Libya - the land of terrorists. I trembled when I saw them, lest they do something to me in the name of God. I remembered on television images of masses of rampaging Arab men burning effigies of President Bush, all in the name of God. What a God they must have, I thought. Poor things that they even believed in God, I added, secure in the truth that God was an anthropomorphic projection of us weak human beings. But I noticed how helpful these men were. I perceived an aura of calmness.
What a belief they must have, I thought. But it puzzled me. I had read the Koran, and hadn't detected anything special about it. That was before, when the Gulf War broke out. What kind of God would persuade men to go War, to kill innocent citizens of another country, to rape women, to demonstrate against the US? I decided I'd better read the Holy book on whose behalf they claimed they were acting. I read a Penguin classic, surely a trustworthy book, and I couldn't finish it, I disliked it so much. Here was a paradise described with virgin women in it for the righteous (what was a righteous woman to do with a virgin woman in Paradise?) ; here was God destroying whole cities at a stroke. No wonder the women are oppressed, and these fanatics storm around burning the US flag, I thought. But the Muslims I put this to seemed bewildered. Their Qu'an didn't say things in that way. Perhaps I had a bad translation? Suddenly the praying person I am following stands up. I too stand up, my feet catching on the long skirt I wear; I almost trip. I sniff, trying to stop the tears. I must focus on praying to God. Dear God, I am here because I believe in you, and because during my research of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, Islam made the most sense. Bending over, my hands at my knees, I try hard to reassure myself. God. Please help me to be a good Muslim. "A Muslim! Kathy, how could you - a white western women who is educated - convert to a religion which makes its women second class citizens!" But Kingston's Muslims became my friends, I protest. They welcomed me into their community warmly, without question. I forgot that they were oppressed and terrorists. This seems like the start of my journey. But I was still an atheist. Or was I? I had looked into the starry night, and contemplated the universe. The diamond stars strewn across the dark sky twinkled mysterious messages to me. I felt hooked up to something bigger than myself. Was it a collective human consciousness? Peace and tranquility flowed to me from the stars. Could I wrench myself from this feeling and declare there is no higher being? No higher consciousness?
Haven't you ever doubted the existence of God? I would ask my believing Christian and Muslim friends. No, they replied. No? No? This puzzled me. Was God that obvious? How come I couldn't see God. It seemed too much a stretch of my imagination. A being out there, affecting the way I lived. How could God listen to billions of people praying, and deal with each second of that person's life? It's impossible. May be a First Cause, but one who intervened? And what about the persistence of injustice in the world? Children dying in war. A just, good God couldn't allow that. God couldn't exist. Besides, we evolved, so that disposed of a First Cause anyway. We kneel down again, and here I am, sniffing, looking sideways at my fingers on the green prayer mat. I like my prayer mat. It has a velvety touch to it, and some of my favourite colours: a purple mosque on a green background. There is a path leading to a black entrance of the mosque and it beckons me. The entrance to the mosque seems to contain the truth, it is elusive, but it is there. I am happy to be beckoned to this entrance.
When I was much younger I had a complete jigsaw picture of the world. It fell apart sometime during the third or fourth year of my undergraduate study. In Kingston I had reminded myself that I had once been a regular churchgoer, somewhat embarrassed, since I knew that religious people were slushy/mushy, quaint, boring, old fashioned people. Yet God had seemed self-evident to me then. The universe made no sense without a Creator Being who was also omnipotent. Leaving church I had always had a feeling of lightness and happiness. I felt the loss of that feeling. Could it be that I had once had a connection to God which was now gone? Maybe this was the start of my journey? I tried to pray again, but found it extraordinarily difficult. Christians told me that people who didn't believe in Lord Jesus Christ were doomed. What about people who never heard of Jesus? Or people who follow their own religion? And society historically claimed women were inferior because Christianity told us it was Eve's punishment; women were barred from studying, voting, owning land. God was an awful man with a long white beard. I couldn't talk to him. I couldn't follow Christianity, therefore God couldn't exist. But then I discovered feminists who believed in God, Christian women who were feminists, and Muslim women who did not condone a lot of what I thought integral to their religion. I started to pray and call myself a 'post-Christian feminist believer.' I felt that lightness again; maybe God did exist. I carefully examined my life's events and I saw that coincidences and luck were a God's blessings for me, and I'd never noticed, or said thanks. I am amazed God was so kind and persistent while I was disloyal.
My ears and feet tingle pleasantly from the washing I have just given them; a washing which cleanses me and allows me to approach God in prayer. God. An awesome deity. I feel awe, wonder and peace. Please show me the path. "But surely you can see that the world is too complex, too beautiful, too harmonious to be an accident? To be the blind result of evolutionary forces? Don't you know that science is returning to a belief in God? Don't you know that science never contradicted Islam anyway?" I am exasperated with my imaginary jury. Haven't they researched these things?
Maybe this was the most decisive path. I'd heard on the radio an interview with a physicist who was explaining how modern science had abandoned it's nineteenth century materialistic assumptions long ago, and was scientifically of the opinion that too many phenomenon occurred which made no sense without there being intelligence and design behind it all. Indeed, scientific experiments were not just a passive observation of physical phenomena, observation altered the way physical events proceeded, and it seemed therefore that intelligence was the most fundamental stuff of the universe. I read more, and more. I discovered that only the most die-hard anthrologists still believed in evolution theory, though no one was saying this very loudly for fear of losing their job. My jigsaw was starting to fall apart.
"OK, so you decided God existed. You were monotheist. But Christianity is monotheistic. It is your heritage. Why leave it?" Still these questioners are puzzled. But you must understand this is the earliest question of them all to answer. I smile. I learned how the Qu'ran did not contradict science in the same way the Bible did. I wanted to read the Biblical stories literally, and discovered I could not. Scientific fact contradicted Biblical account. But scientific fact did not contradict Qur'anic account, science even sometimes explained a hitherto inexplicable Qur'anic verse. This was stunning. There was a verse about how the water from fresh water rivers which flowed into the sea did not mix with the sea water; verses describing conception accurately; verses referring to the orbits of the planets. Seventh century science knew none of this. How could Muhammed be so uniquely wise? My mind drew me towards the Qu'ran, but I resisted.
I started going to church again, only to find myself in tears in nearly every service. Christianity continued to be difficult for me. So much didn't make sense: the Trinity; the idea that Jesus was God incarnate; the worship of Mary, the Saints, or Jesus, rather than GOD. The priests told me to leave reason behind when contemplating God. The Trinity did not make sense, and nor was it supposed to. I delved deeper. After all, how could I leave my culture, my heritage, my family? No one would understand, and I'd be alone. I tried to be a good Christian. I learned more. I discovered that Easter was instituted a couple of hundreds of years after Jesus' death, that Jesus never called himself God incarnate, and more often said he was the Son of Man; that the doctrine of the Trinity was established some 300 odd years after Christ had died; that the Nicene Creed which I had faithfully recited every week, focusing on each word, was written by MEN and at a political meeting to confirm minority position that Jesus was the Son of God, and the majority viewpoint that Jesus was God's messenger was expunged forever. I was so angry! Why hadn't the Church taught me these things. Well I knew why. People would understand that they could worship God elsewhere, and that there, worship would actually make sense to them. I would only worship one God, not three, not Jesus, not the Saints, not Mary. Could Muhammed really be a messenger, could the Qu'ran be God's word? I kept reading the Qu'ran. It told me that Eve was not only to blame for the 'fall' ; that Jesus was a Messenger; that unbelievers would laugh at me for being a believer; that people would question the authenticity of Muhammed's claim to revelation, but if they tried to write something as wise, consistent and rational they would fail. This seemed true. Islam asked me to use my intelligence to contemplate God, it encouraged me to seek knowledge, it told me that who believed in one God (Jews/ Christians/ Muslims/ whoever) would get rewards, it seemed a very encompassing religion.
We stand again and still standing, bend down again to a resting position with our hands on our knees. What else can I say to God? I can't think of enough to say, the prayer seems so long. I puff slightly, still sniffling, since with all the standing I am somewhat out of breath. "So you seriously think that I would willingly enter a religion which turned me into a second class citizen? I demand of my questioners. You know that there is a lot of abuse of women in Islamic countries, just as in the West, but this is not true of Islam. And don't bring the veil thing up. Don't you know that women wear hijab because God asks them to? Because they trust in God's word." Still. How will I have the courage to wear hijab? I probably won't. People will stare at me, I'll be obvious; I'd rather hide away in the crowd when I'm out. What will my friends say when they see me in that?? OH! God! Help. I had stalled at the edge of change for many a long month, my dilemma growing daily. What should I do? Leave my old life and start a new one? But I couldn't possibly go out in public in hijab. People would stare at me. I stood at the forked path which God helped me reach. I had new knowledge which rested comfortably with my intellect. Follow the conviction, or stay in the old way? How could I stay when I had a different outlook on life? How could I change when the step seemed too big for me? I would rehearse the conversation sentence: There is no God worthy of worship but God and Muhammed is his prophet. Simple words, I believe in them, so convert. I cannot, I resisted. I circled endlessly day after day. God stood on one of the paths of the fork, tapping his foot. Come on Kathy. I've brought you here, but you must cross alone. I stayed stationary, transfixed like a kangaroo trapped in a car lights late at night. Then one night, I suppose, God, gave me a final yank. I was passing a mosque with my husband. I had a feeling in me that was so strong I could hardly bear it. If you don't convert now, you never will, my inner voice told me. I knew it was true. OK, I'll do it. If they let me in the mosque I'll do it. But there was no one there. I said the shahaada under the trees outside the mosque. I waited. I waited for the thunderclap, the immediate feeling of relief, the lifting of my burden. But it didn't come. I felt exactly the same.
Now we are kneeling again, the world looks so different from down here. Even famous football players prostrate like this, I remember, glancing sideways at the tassels of my hijab which fall onto the prayer mat; we are sitting up straight, my prayer leader is muttering something still, waving his right hand's forefinger around in the air. I look down at my mat again. The green, purple and black of my prayer mat look reassuringly the same. The blackness of the Mosque's entrance entreats me: 'I am here, just as relax and you will find me.' My tears have dried on my face and my skin feels tight. "What am I doing here?" Dear God. I am here because I believe in you, because I believe in the compelling and majestic words of the Qu'ran, and because I believe in the Prophethood of your Messenger Muhammed. I know in my heart my decision is the right one. Please give me the courage to carry on with this new self and new life, that I may serve you well with a strong faith. I smile and stand up, folding my prayer mat into half, and lay it on the sofa ready for my next encounter with its velvety green certainty. Now the burden begins to lift.
Experiences and How I Find that Islam does not Oppress Women”
I came from a purely Hindu family where we were always taught to regard ourselves (i.e. women) as beings who were eventually to be married off and have children and serve the husband-- whether he was kind or not. Other than this I found that there were a lot of things which really oppressed women, such as:
If a woman was widowed, she would always have to wear a white sari (costume), eat vegetarian meals, cut her hair short, and never re-marry.
The bride always had to pay the dowry (bridal money) to the husband's family. And the husband could ask for anything, irrespective of whether the bride would have difficulty giving it.
Not only that, if after marriage she was not able to pay the full dowry she would be both emotionally and physically tortured, and could end up being a victim of "kitchen death" where the husband, or both the mother-in-law and the husband try to set fire to the wife while she is cooking or is in the kitchen, and try to make it look like an accidental death. More and more of these instances are taking place. The daughter of a friend of my own father's had the same fate last year!
In addition to all this, men in Hinduism are treated literally as among the gods. In one of the religious Hindu celebration, unmarried girls pray for and worship an idol representing a particular god (Shira) so that they may have husbands like him. Even my own mother had asked me to do this. This made me see that the Hindu religion which is based on superstitions and things that have no manifest proof, but were merely traditions which oppressed women, could not be right.
Subsequently, when I came to England to study, I thought that at least this is a country which gives equal rights to men and women, and does not oppress them. We all have the freedom to do as we like, I thought. Well, as I started to meet people and make new friends, learn about this new society, and go to all the places my friends went to, in order to "socialize" (bars, dance halls, ...etc.), I realized that this "equality" was not so true in practice as it was in theory.
Outwardly, women were seen to be given equal rights in education, work, and so forth, but in reality women were still oppressed in a different, more subtle way. When I went with my friends to those places they hung out at, I found everybody interested to talk to me and I thought that was normal. But it was only later that I realized how naive I was, and recognized what these people were really looking for. I soon began to feel uncomfortable, as if I was not myself: I had to dress in a certain way so that people would like me, and had to talk in a certain way to please them. I soon found that I was feeling more and more uncomfortable, less and less myself, yet I could not get out. Everybody was saying they were enjoying themselves, but I don't call this enjoying.
I think women in this way of life are oppressed; they have to dress in a certain way in order to please and appear more appealing, and also talk in a certain way so people like them. During this time I had not thought about Islam, even though I had some Muslim acquaintances. But I felt I really had to do something, to find something that I would be happy and secure with, and would feel respected with. Something to believe in that is the right belief, because everybody has a belief that they live according to. If having fun by getting off with other people is someone's belief, they do this. If making money is someone's belief, they do everything to achieve this. If they believe drinking is one way to enjoy life then they do it. But I feel all this leads to nowhere; no one is truly satisfied, and the respect women are looking for is diminishing in this way.
In these days of so called "society of equal rights", you are expected to have a boyfriend (or you're weird!) and to not be a virgin. So this is a form of oppression even though some women do not realize it.
When I came to Islam, it was obvious that I had finally found permanent security. A religion, a belief that was so complete and clear in every aspect of life. Many people have a misconception that Islam is an oppressive religion, where women are covered from head to toe, and are not allowed any freedom or rights. In fact, women in Islam are given more rights, and have been for the past 1400 years, compared to the only-recently rights given to non-Muslim women in some western and some other societies. But there are, even now, societies where women are still oppressed, as I mentioned earlier in relation to Hindu women.
Muslim women have the right to inheritance. They have the right to run their own trade and business. They have the full right to ownership, property, disposal over their wealth to which the husband has no right. They have the right to education, a right to refuse marriage as long as this refusal is according to reasonable and justifiable grounds. The Quran itself, which is the word of Allah, contains many verses commanding men to be kind to their wives and stressing the rights of women. Islam gives the right set of rules, because they are NOT made by men, but made by Allah; hence it is a perfect religion.
Quite often Muslim women are asked why they are covered from head to toe, and are told that this is oppression--it is not. In Islam, marriage is an important part of life, the making of the society. Therefore, a woman should not go around showing herself to everybody, only for her husband. Even the man is not allowed to show certain parts of his body to none but his wife. In addition, Allah has commanded Muslim women to cover themselves for their modesty:
"O prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) over their bodies (when outdoors). That is most convenient that they could be known as such (i.e. decent and chaste) and not molested…." (Al-Ahzab 33:59)
If we look around at any other society, we find that in the majority of cases women are attacked and molested because of how they are dressed. Another point I'd like to comment on is that the rules and regulation laid down in Islam by Allah (God) do not apply just to women but to men also. There is no intermingling and free-running between men and women for the benefit of both. Whatever Allah commands is right, wholesome, pure and beneficial to mankind; there is no doubt about that. A verse in the Quran explains this concept clearly:
"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and protect their private parts (i.e. from indecency, illegal sexual acts); that will make for greater purity for them. And Allah is well aware of what they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and protect their private parts (from indecency, illegal sexual intercourse); and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments...." (An-Nur 24:31)
When I put on my hijaab (veil), I was really happy to do it. In fact, I really want to do it. When I put on the hijaab, I felt a great sense of satisfaction and happiness. Satisfied that I had obeyed Allah’s command. And happy with the good and blessings that come with it. I have felt secure and protected. In fact people respect me more for it. I could really see the difference in behavior towards me.
Finally, I'd like to say that I had accepted Islam not blindly, or under any compulsion. In the Quran itself there is a verse which says "there is no compulsion in religion…" (Al-Baqarah 2:256). I accepted Islam with conviction. I have seen, been there, done that, and seen both sides of the story. I know and have experienced what the other side is like, and I know that I have done the right thing. Islam does not oppress women, but rather Islam liberates them and gives them the respect they deserve. Islam is the religion Allah has chosen for the whole of mankind. Those who accept it, are truly liberated from the chains and shackles of mankind whose ruling and legislating necessitates nothing but the oppression of one group by another and the exploitation and oppression of one sex by the other. This is not the case of Islam which truly liberated women and gave them an individuality not given by any other authority.
(Sister Noor has been a Muslim for over a year and a half and is currently in her second year of undergraduate study in the Department of Biology)
(Swedish Woman Submits to Allah)
The first time I ever thought about having Islam as my religion was at the age of 15. Reading a story in my high school religion book about a Swedish woman who converted made me think: How would it be if I became a Muslim? How would it change my life?
This woman was wearing a scarf on her head, and she was working as a secretary. Because of my lack of knowledge about Islam, this shocked me extremely. How can she work with that thing on her head? Who will ever hire a woman like that?
My conclusion was that I would never become Muslim because it would stand out and would lessen my chances of getting the dream job. I guess this thinking depended largely on the way I was raised. My parents are honest and hard-working people, but they do not see the need for religion. They see that the meaning of life is actually inside life itself, and after it when we all become dust, there is nothing more to it.
Nevertheless, I guess my mother respected the traditions and morals of our Protestant Christian church, so she sent me at an early age to a children’s group, and later at the age of 14, I was asked if I would like to go to confirmation classes.
I agreed. I thought that it was best to do it. Who knew, maybe I would change my mind later and regret that I did not go, and then I would be outside of the church. Also, it was fun to go to these classes. We painted, sang songs, played theatre, and went to a camp. There was not a lot of serious people among us - most came only because of tradition, and to get gifts, jewelry and money from relatives on that great day when the classes finally finished and there was a ceremony in the church.
From this time, I remember having strong doubts about Christianity. I read the Bible but it did not give me what I needed. I knew there was something I was looking for, but I did not know what. I learned about astrology and tried meditation and so on, but all this made me feel even more confused.
I started to keep a “spiritual journal”. It was a small book, which I filled with different material, religious and non-religious. I would collect biblical verses, poems, Hindu chants, songs, and anything that had meaning to me.
I started secondary school at the age of 16. Living in a small suburb outside of the city, I was required to transfer to a school inside the big town. I chose the one which was supposed to have the highest status. I could not imagine that there would be so many foreign people.
Immediately after I started, I felt I was not happy. I wanted to change my major, so I transferred from Media to Languages and came to a new class where I knew no one. The first people who spoke kindly to me and became my friends were an African girl, and an Iraqi girl who was wearing a scarf. It was so exotic to me! All my life I had been surrounded by people of my own background, and now I got a taste of other cultures and life styles.
I was so fascinated by the Iraqi girl that I started to hang around a lot with her and also became friends with her friends. I became famous as the Swedish person who had no Swedish friends. It was more of a cool thing to me - I felt I needed to distance myself from the normal crowd.
The Muslims of my school sometimes had active discussions about Islam and that impressed me very much. I thought, how can it be that this religion is such an active part of their lives? It is not like Christianity, it is alive not dead! And it has an impact on everything in their lives.
One day when I went with my father to a second hand market, I looked for some books and found an old translation of the Qur’an in the Swedish language. I decided to buy it for historical purposes, and to gain a greater understanding of my friends’ religion.
By now, I started to add Islamic items to my journal. I was writing the opening Surat Al-Fatiha, and its translation. I also memorized it. I had no motive behind doing so, I was just interested in it.
With little time, I was totally absorbed in the Quran. I felt like I had found a real treasure. There was something drawing me to it - something not logical, especially since this translation which I had, was written by an Orientalist and contained a number of serious faults. The worst thing of all was that the author pointed to supposed faults in the order in which the verses came. He said that it was evident that some verses should change place. Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah) that I learned the truth by asking my friend.
I went to my Iraqi friend, and told her that I was interested in Islam. She became very shocked and felt a need to sit down or else she would pass out! After the shock settled, she decided to take me to an Islamic organization and there I got some books, pamphlets and the phone number of another Swedish woman who had become Muslim.
I was afraid of what my family would say, and indeed my mother became outraged when I told her that I wanted to become a Muslim. The whole family searched my room and threw away my Islamic books. They said that Islam was like a cult and that I was brainwashed.
But this did not stop me. In the month of July 2001, I declared my shahada (testimony of faith) openly. I had called the Swedish woman who's phone number I had been given, and she arranged Islamic lessons in her home. I went to her villa, which had a garden, and we prayed the zhuhr (forenoon) prayer there in the open air. For me this was a symbolical act, because in my society it is something not appreciated to show acts of worship openly. I felt so free and could care less about what other people would think.
It was with a loud and proud voice by which I said the words which undoubtedly has had the strongest impact on my entire life:
Ashhadu an laa ilaaha illa Allah, wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasool Allah
I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship save Allah; And I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.
No other single sentence has influenced me as this one has.
Excerpted from: http://www.islamonline.net/
(An Icelander’s Journey to Light)
I was born Anna Linda Traustadottir to Icelandic/Danish parents in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1966 and baptized into the Lutheran Church. My family moved to Vancouver, Canada and then to New York City when I was young. I finished high school at 16. In 1988, I got my B.A. from McGill University, Montréal, Canada. Since then I have been traveling around the world, studying and working. Denmark has been my base since 1990.
In 1997, while studying Arabic in Cairo, one of my English girlfriends, a born-again Christian bought me a portable Bible, with both the Old and New Testaments. I was extremely pleased because I had decided that I needed to know what the Bible was and what was in it. And I felt that I could hardly call myself Christian without consciously studying the Bible.
In 1998, whilst studying at Damascus University, I read the whole Bible, from cover to cover, taking notes as I went along. Once I had completed it, I realized that there were too many inconsistencies, too many things I didn’t agree with. Like the Old Testament’s portrayal of God and women, not to mention all the things that Paul wrote in the New Testament. And when I read about the holy men, the Prophets, like Noah, Lot, David, etc., I found that I didn’t respect them. I love and admire Moses (from the Old Testament) and Jesus (from the New Testament).
Having already read the Torah, I tried getting a complete Jewish Talmud, to no avail. I’d always heard that Jews (except for Reformed) do not recognize someone who converted to Judaism. Also, many, though not all, Jews are Zionist (those who support Israel). And I am terribly anti-Zionist and anti-Israel, and so, by default, pro-Palestinian. I also wanted a religion that would accept a convert. I dabbled with Buddhism but decided this was not for me, as Buddhists don’t believe in God. And I strongly believe in God, always have. Buddhism is still interesting as an alternative way of life. My mum and I used to discuss Hinduism and so I was very interested in it, but there are just too many Hindu gods for me. Therefore Hinduism was out of the question. That, and the fact that you cannot convert to Hinduism.
When I had my son, Andrés Omar, in October 2001, I was asked whether he would be baptized, and even then I refused. I felt that innocent children would surely be welcome in Heaven, baptized or not. Anyway, how could I introduce him into the Christian religion when I myself did not call myself a believing Christian, though I was born and raised as a Protestant? I didn’t believe in the Trinity, in Mary as the “mother” of God, in Jesus as the “son” of God, in Jesus dying to cleanse us of our sins, in Jesus crying out in Aramaic on the cross: “Eli, Eli, lama sabakh-tha-ni?” I mean why would Jesus cry out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” when Jesus knew he was sent on a mission by God as a prophet of God?
I grew up being one of the most anti-Muslim, anti-Islam people you could ever meet. This is true: I was. I had also been anti-Arab before moving to Cairo to study Arabic (I thought Arabic calligraphy was beautiful). I’d grown up in the States, raised on American movies, which always portrayed Arabs as fundamentalists, radicals, women-oppressors, religious fanatics, terrorists, never normal, average people. The large majority of people who are anti-Arab have never been to any Arab country. The reality there is very different.
When I read the Qur’an, I thought it was beautiful, so scientific, so compassionate, so feminist!
In 1999, I went back to Damascus to work at an embassy. There in 2000, I met an engineer named Mohannad. We married soon after we met. To be honest when I married Mohannad, I married him because I loved him, even though he was Muslim. Over time, I realized I loved him because he was Muslim. A good Muslim. I had met many Muslims here in Denmark and in the Middle East, and just like in my life, I’ve met some nice and not-so-nice Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. I thought all those Muslims I’d met were representing Islam. And whenever I asked Muslims questions about Islam, one thing struck me: Nearly everyone claimed to be an expert in Islam, even those who gave me, I later found out, false information. It would have been more prudent just to say: I don’t know/I’m not sure. Yet I never judged Christianity or any other religion by its followers. Strangely though, I judged Islam by every Arab I meet, even though (1) not all Arabs are Muslim. Some are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Druze, Coptic, Alawite, etc. And (2) most Muslims aren’t Arab. Muslims can be Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Macedonian, Malay, Russian, Thai, African, Bosnian, American, Swedish, etc., and of course, Arab. I had been raised not to be prejudiced, but I was. It took me a long time to realize this.
It’s only after countless hours of discussion, and at times arguments (!), with my husband that I came to be open-minded enough to realize that I didn’t have the full picture.
During Ramadan, November 2002, I asked Mohannad whether he would help me read the Qur’an in Arabic. He had little time, but I was determined to read the Qur’an in Arabic with the help of a good translation. When I read the Qur’an, Islam’s holiest book, I thought it was beautiful, so scientific, so compassionate, so feminist! Nearly all the books I’d ever read about Islam, all written by non-Muslims, showed Islam in a negative light. Those people who wrote against Islam sometimes gave partial quotes from the Qur’an, leaving out the rest of the verse, or they would translate the verses incorrectly, on purpose or by mistake. I knew enough Arabic to know that what I was reading was unlike anything I’d ever read.
I studied further and realized that the Arabic scientific revolution followed the arrival of Islam.
So much science, so much knowledge that has been only recently discovered. I mean the Prophet Mohammad mentions: black holes, space travel, DNA and genetic science, evolution (transformation and mutation), geology, oceanography, embryonic development, aquatic origins of life... WOW! I had always heard that the Qur’an was basically just a watered-down version of the Bible, but none of this was in the Bible! I wondered how someone over 1400 years ago could have written anything like this! Some of these ideas were only discovered this century. Then I thought, well, Arab scientists, astronomers, mathematicians, cartographers were so advanced for that time, maybe some of them got together and wrote a book, loosely based on the Torah and the Gospels. But then I studied it further and realized that the Arabic scientific revolution followed the arrival of Islam. Then I read that Muslims believe that the Qur’an was given to Mohammad through the Angel Gabriel, and is the continuation of God’s word. Muslims believe that parts of the Torah and parts of the Gospels, that speak of Jesus’ life, are inspired by God, or “Allah” as God is called in Arabic. Not just Muslims, but Christian and Jewish Arabs also call God “Allah.” Muslims revere Abraham, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, and Noah, in fact, all of the Biblical Prophets. It is also mentioned that there are other prophets that came to other nations to help them become better people. It’s said that Buddha was one of these prophets, but that he along with Jesus, never meant for people to believe he was superior to God, just that he was a messenger of God. They also believe that the Prophet Mohammad is the last prophet, until Jesus returns to Earth.
It says in the Qur’an that Allah can put a veil over our eyes and a stone over our hearts so that we can neither see nor feel the message of the Qur’an. Only when Allah is ready for us to know it, do we understand. On 12 December 2002, I had an incredible dream that started me thinking and contemplating religion more deeply. Dreams are very important in Iceland and dream interpretation is practically a science! I never thought I needed a religion. Religion fascinated me, but I had believed I was doing fine just believing in God, taking bits from different religions until I got my own cocktail: “Anna’s Mix.”
In January 2003, I started looking at the Internet, just doing searches like: “Islam,” “Qur’an,” “Muslim,” etc. In March, whilst in Reykjavik, I got the opportunity to speak with one of my best Icelandic girlfriends, a Muslim, and she recommended a really good English translation (the Abdullah Yusuf Ali version), to go along with the original Arabic. In April, I received it and started using it as a supplement.
He feared that people would think he was forcing me to become Muslim.
In May 2003, my Icelandic Muslim friend returned the visit and stayed two weeks with us. We started talking about the Qur’an. I told her that I wanted to translate it into Icelandic. She told me it was her dream too. We agreed we would do it together. We used our time together well, discussing Christianity, Judaism and Islam all day, every day. She had questioned her Lutheran faith, considered Judaism, visited Israel (“Occupied Palestine” as far as I am concerned) twice, and only on her second visit, started to consider the other side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. She got interested in Islam. She had earlier gone a similar path as I, coming to the same conclusions. Back in 1995, when she told me she’d become Muslim, I behaved badly: I was extremely negative. Shame on me for being unsupportive!
Now I found myself seeing myself Muslim. I told my husband about my revelations, and he questioned me at length. He asked me to wait with changing my religion. He told me that becoming Muslim would make my life more difficult, that people who didn’t know Islam would treat me differently, that at this time, in the year 2003, and in this world we live in, people would ridicule me. He said I might lose contact with my family and my friends if I took on the Muslim faith. He feared that people that didn’t know me so well or that I hadn’t seen in a long time, or ever met him, would think he was forcing me to become Muslim. I told him if that were true, we could not have got married, for when we married, I was Christian, and had remained Christian up until then. Also, I argued, people who have known me at all know I am a strong-minded, true feminist/humanist, that I am opinionated, but not narrow-minded, and that no one can control me... My parents have tried for years to no avail!
When I read the Qur’an, I feel it in my stomach, deep in my gut, that this is right for me.
I decided then and there that if friends and family didn’t want any contact with me because I decided to become Muslim, so be it! My religion is mine and I am proud of my research into Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. It has taken me years and countless hours of reading and soul-searching to get to this point. My belief in God is something I have always taken seriously and I have never been ashamed to declare this faith, even when others ridicule me for believing in something they say we cannot see. I argue, look around you, how can you not believe in a supreme being that created everything around us. And for those of you that view Islam as some kind of cult, it isn’t. It’s one of the biggest religions in the world, if not the largest: One in four people on this planet is now Muslim, and it’s the fastest growing religion.
So finally, on 4 June 2003, I decided to officially become Muslim so that I could go on Hajj to Mecca. I had been searching for answers for a long time, since my childhood, and by the mid-1990’s, I was buying books on different faiths. Deep inside, I imagined I would find the answers for me. I remember the first time I heard the “Azan” (the Muslim call for prayer, when a fellow says “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) from a minaret at a mosque). It was a bright, sunny, February Sunday in Cairo in 1997, so church bells were also ringing, but when I heard the call for prayer, tears streamed down my face, without my realizing it. I wasn’t Muslim, but it moved me. One of my oldest and dearest friends, a Catholic, was in Beirut a while ago, staying at a hotel and woke up to the call for prayer at 4.30 during her first night in Lebanon. She thought it was so moving that she also cried.
When I read the Qur’an, I feel it in my stomach, deep in my gut, that this is right for me. The inspirational beauty of the Qur’an makes me sometimes cry. It’s an all-encompassing way of life. No other religious book ever moved me to tears.
The Qur’an is simply put the most complex book I’ve ever read. The more you read it, the more you both understand and at the same time, question. The Qur’an is meant to inspire you to learn more. Every time you read it, you peel off different layers of understanding. I am not an expert; I never will be. Even if I read from it every day for the rest of my life, I will still learn something new. It’s full of mysteries. I still also supplement my Qur’anic studies with Biblical studies like the “Gospel of Barnabas,”
“The Torah,” etc.
I’ve also since got some new Muslim girlfriends over the Internet. Whilst searching the net, I came across an Icelandic Muslim site: www.islam.is, and I contacted the writer. We started a correspondence. Around New Year’s 2004, I sent her a report I wrote entitled “Islam in Iceland 2003,” which I am submitting to the Saudi Government, she suggested we three work on the translation of the Qur’an from Arabic to Icelandic (K?raninn), as she also speaks Arabic. So it seems that we will be three Icelandic Muslim women working on translating the Arabic Qur’an. For those of you looking for a good English version, I’ve heard the Muhammad Asad translation is also very direct, but I myself have yet to get hold of it.
I did however buy an incredible amount of reading material in Kuala Lumpur last summer. It’s a new Muslim’s mecca for books. I really stocked up! My husband, son and I stayed a month in Malaysia. What an incredible place! Of Islamic areas, I had only been to the Arab Middle-East and here was a whole new Islamic world in South-East Asia! The experience was wonderful to say the least. I had always been fond of Islamic art and architecture, and all of Malaysia is both an indoor and outdoor museum! Under the former Muslim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Islam had a revival. He wants to unite all the Islamic countries, not just in a so-called Islamic Union, but he also wants one currency, a gold dinar. What a visionary! Islam needs more men and women like him!
I always try to be positive, so I think it’s a very exciting time, the 21st century! If someone like me can become Muslim, there’s hope for anybody! The friends that I have discussed religion with recently know that I have become Muslim, and without fail, they have been extremely supportive. I was a bit surprised that they were not shocked. They said they knew one day I’d find my niche (I’d been searching so long), and they were happy for me. Some even call me by my new Muslim name: Noor, which means light. I also still use Anna Linda, because it’s the name my parents gave me and it represents part of the person I was for 36 years. Noor is just the continuation of me!
So ends my story: “Journey to Light,” a journey which is, in fact, just beginning!
Excerpted from: http://www.islamonline.net/
(I Felt Home at Last)
My name is Ayesha Islam. I was born in Poland, but raised up in Denmark and Sweden . So, due to moving around I consider myself international not belonging to any particular place but Allah and another world…
My journey to Islam is a long story that perhaps began in 1995 in Sweden, where I met Muslims from Lebanon. Although they were not religious nor did they teach me anything about Islam, they had an effect on me that made me always want to be around Muslims.
For some reason I always felt I could be myself with Muslims while I felt like a stranger among my own people… Nevertheless I tried to adjust to my people's way of living, although it was never me to wear tight clothes, makeup, go clubbing and things like that, because ever since I was a little girl I just wanted to get married, have children and live a happy simple life.
However, at the age of 18, I had a strong urge to be a psychologist, and this urge led me to the USA for a third time in 2001 where I studied mental health and human service/criminal psychology, until I one sunny day met an old man with a beard and long white dress in the middle of Manhattan, America's Avenue around 42nd street.
I was on my way to the Swedish Church, which is like a quiet coffee shop/library, and therefore I used to like studying there. Usually, I would walk up 5th Avenue to 48th Street where the Swedish Church is located but on June 19, 2005 I decided to check out what the noise from America's Avenue was all about.
There I found an international parade and as I saw some Muslim sisters with head cover, I went over to tell them that I was interested in Islam. Which I was, as I had for some time started reading the Quran, which some Yemeni Muslim had given me.
I had also started buying Islamic books and wearing the head cover in the subway. A Moroccan Muslim gave me the movie 'The Message' which also affected me. I had already tried fasting during Ramadan in hope of acquiring discipline and peace of mind.
Another Moroccan Muslim explained to me what to say as entrance into Islam.
Now I can tell people that once you enter the door of Islam, you do not want to exit it because of the beautiful ideology and way of life that you discover inside the house of Islam.
However, as it sounded scary at that moment before I entered Islam, I kept the Moroccan Muslim's words in mind; that whenever I was ready I should let her know and she would take me to the mosque.
I really needed a drastic identity change because I also did research on the name Layla as to prepare myself for my 30th birthday; the day I decided to accept Islam and become Muslim.
All throughout this time, between the first Ramadan and my Shahadah, I fasted without praying; and on June 19, 2005, I heard a voice from within saying: "I think I need to pray five times a day."
In the subway toward Manhattan on that same day, June 19, 2005 I was observing a human being covered up all in black from head to toe. I was asking myself why this person seemed so frightening and I could not come up with any other answer other than that it was something unknown to me.
Perhaps, I was thinking that she seemed powerful. I do not exactly remember what I was thinking while observing the sister in black niqab, nevertheless she must have had an effect on me.
As soon as I told the sisters at the international feast about my interest in Islam, they introduced me to this old man with beard and white long dress. He happened to be an Imam, Muslim leader of prayers in a Mosque in New Jersey.
First, he sat down with me next to the sisters but as there was too much noise, we sat in a little park instead, where it was a little more quiet and easier to talk.
I do not remember much of what he said except when he started feeding some birds and said:
"These birds didn't know that they would be fed at this moment on this day by me but it was already written and planned by God who feeds the human beings the same way He feeds the birds: Not one day passes by in which birds leave their home in the early morning with empty stomach and do not return full and satisfied."
Then I explained to him what I had recently read in the Swedish newspaper regarding the government wishing to take away the church visit on the last day of school because foreigners did not like the idea of visiting the church.
I expressed my deep concern about this, how wrong it is to take away a religious ceremony just to please some people who do not wish to share it. He listened and I felt I could have an intellectual discussion with him.
Then he started to walk back to the sisters and I was eager to hurry to the church to study as I do not like losing time for my studies. However, in a mysterious way the old man with beard and white long dress got me to follow him back to the sisters while he spoke about one God and let me know that my mother must be a good person since I am good.
Back with the sisters he got me to say the words that my Moroccan friend had explained to me but they were still new, strange and difficult to say. Then somebody took a picture of me and I got a white head cover.
I did not like that some stranger took a picture of me, and so I ran away without my white head cover. Halfway to the church, I remembered my first gift, so I returned just to pick up my white head cover.
On my way to the church for the third time I called my Moroccan friend and told him what happened. Inside the church I could not stop looking at the white head cover and thinking how I would have courage and strength to wear this head cover.
I called some more Muslim friends to let them know of the news and they all were surprised, happy and told me to take it easy or I would get exhausted.
Basically, I just became a Muslim one day when the old man in white dress pulled me out of the dark black hole and as I cannot stand fakeness I had to know my new identity and so my research on Islam started.
The words below I wrote one day when looking at some red and peach roses, before I embraced Islam:
Appreciate the moment… youth is beautiful because it's alive… life is a journey and death is part of the journey not the destination. Nothing stays the same… everything changes but death is beautiful as well. It's a matter of attitude.
It is ironical how my friends and family are eager to listen to my failures in life, love problems and complaints; but once I talk about something that makes sense like psychology and especially Islam, then they run away and refuse to listen. No, they don't have to listen, but it is interesting to observe the difference and what they choose to listen to.
It is funny how they cannot see that I am still the same person in the sense that just like I was an open book before Islam when I lived in a dark cave, before an old man with grey beard and long white dress came to my rescue…Yes he rescued me by pulling me out of the dark black hole I was in, that is my feeling of Shahadah.
As I have always loved to share what I experience, I still love to share what I experience and now it's Islam and because it tastes so good I just must tell people about it –- what great food for the soul it is –- just like we all share a good restaurant or book with our friends and family.
My emails with my friends who were very close to me like family have become very short because I feel they are moving away perhaps afraid to taste this delicious food. In other words, they don't trust my ability to make choices which they didn't do before Islam and not now.
My mother mostly cares about what other people think, that I look ugly and that I have gone too far. If I stay quiet, hiding in my room, she still loves to talk about Islam not that it makes sense, but all the time tells me about how many people hate Muslims. My family is ashamed of me and forgets to feel how it would feel like if I was ashamed of their dress code.
When my mother sees something good in Islam, she says that Christianity says the same, so it's nothing new, but all the time it's like this: If a non-Muslim does something bad it's ok but if a Muslim does it, it's a big deal.
My life has changed in the sense that I view it as a test rather than a game so I take it more seriously. Witnessing the oneness of God and Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the last messenger, washes away all lies that have been built up in my mind.
So, now I can see life much more clearly, understand human nature better, accept female and male nature as it is, accept myself as a human being with that imperfection.
It's now ok to make mistakes, yet Islam teaches us to find a balance between imperfection and striving for perfection without being stressed and sad in realizing ones imperfection or seeing it as impossible to reach perfection.
Covering up the body the Creator of everything gave me, helps me to remember my purpose in life and most of all to behave and be modest. It will for sure help me more than create problems for me at work, because not only does covering up help me show what I go for in action not with my looks, thus forcing me to do my best, but it also reminds me of the Islamic rules of how to treat people with kindness and respect.
Being reminded of Islam helps me to set limits and say no if somebody would cross the line and disrespect me at home, work or in the street. All my life I had a difficulty saying "No", but now I must say "No" to any harassment or disrespect. With that, Islam supports my real self, helps me to find myself, be myself, respect myself and others.
But most of all, Islam makes me feel welcome to earth, to life for the first time.
I used to not feel really welcomed to earth as I was kind of a mistake considering the fact that I was born out of marriage and not planned by my parents and with that never had a biological father that I could call daddy.
But, now I know that I was not a mistake because to Allah (God) our Creator of everything there are no mistakes thus everything happens for a reason and to say that He did a mistake in giving me non–Muslim parents, no daddy, being born out of marriage is to say that God the Almighty, All-knowing and All-powerful is imperfect.
Islam really helps me to believe that something good comes out of the bad, that there are actually no bad events in life, it's just our limited knowledge of the future plan written by Allah that makes us think something is bad. Islam helps me to believe in myself as it supports my strong morality.
I always knew that the good people will win so it feels good that Islam also believes the same as I believed before Islam and still believe.
Islam has also taught me to bear personal responsibility for my actions and with that stop blaming others or myself.
Yes, walking with black clothes all covered up brings attention, but I prefer this attention over dirty lustful looks, evil eye from women and men. I can for the first time walk freely and stay focused on my goals and dreams without being distracted by people looking at my beauty or ugliness, whatever they think….Thus, when being dressed up nicely to catch attention and gain some kind of confidence it's hard to stay focused on more important matters.
I am free as a bird ready to fly high all the way up to the sky with my black dress with 'wings' on my prayer mat ready to continue my education and become a Muslim psychologist, work with head cover and be homeless if so is needed.
I wish so–called born Muslims could be more understanding of what my family and other new Muslim's families are going through. Perhaps it would be a good idea to arrange a party or gathering, just invite them by letter to some non–religious event where they can meet thus meeting other people who have been going through the same, is great therapy.
Also as I have always cared about what people think, asking for their opinion and support, now I don't care what people think anymore because Islam makes me strong.
I can now choose to be focused on my education or get married as well as I can choose to live a simple life as a housewife or be a career woman, as Islam supports free will and does not look down on housewives as the West does.
I do not know why my family tells me about all the people who hate Muslims, because when I am out in society I do not feel any hatred at all. Either they think everybody hates religion and Muslims like they do or I simply do not let it affect me.
It does not bother me what people think anymore. I am not going to undress and walk half naked down the street just to please people's eyes. Besides, my black dress has little to do with faith and religion; so even if I was not a Muslim I would still cover up because I have found great values and benefits in this black protection because that is what it is and that is the purpose of putting clothes on: to protect oneself from danger such as cold or hot weather as well as being viewed as a sexual object.
Now, when I am looking for a husband I think about the quality of mind he has and force him to either like or dislike my mind. If he likes my mind and I like his mind, then of course the next step is marriage. This process in finding a life partner protects me from mixing up lust with love which many people do these days and therefore end up either in divorce or a relationship with lots of arguments.
What a great thing to not let anybody oppress me for my beliefs. I also have learned to appreciate and respect differences, because now that I know how painful it is to not be respected for one's beliefs, one's true self, almost forced to be like one's family, I will not try to convince anybody or force anybody to taste my food, the light of Islam that gives strength to deal with life.
Excerpted from: http://www.islamonline.net/
Could I Deal with God Directly?
By Hayat Anne Collins Osman
I was raised in a religious Christian family. At that time, Americans were more religious than they are now—most families went to church every Sunday, for example. My parents were involved in the church community. We often had ministers (Protestant “priests”) in the house. My mother taught in Sunday school, and I helped her.
I must have been more religious than other children, although I don’t remember being so. For one birthday, my aunt gave me a Bible, and my sister a doll. Another time, I asked my parents for a prayer book, and I read it daily for many years.
When I was in junior high school (middle school), I attended a Bible study program for two years. Up to this point, I had read some parts of the Bible, but had not understood them very well. Now was my chance to learn. Unfortunately, we studied many passages in the Old and New Testaments that I found inexplicable, even bizarre.
For example, the Bible teaches an idea called Original Sin, which means that humans are all born sinful. I had a baby brother, and I knew that babies were not sinful.
The Bible has very strange and disturbing stories about Prophet Abraham and Prophet David, for example. I couldn’t understand how Prophets could behave the way the Bible says they did.
There were many, many other things that puzzled me about the Bible, but I didn't ask questions. I was afraid to ask—I wanted to me known as a “good girl.”
Al-Hamdulillah, there was a boy who asked, and kept asking. The most critical matter was the notion of Trinity. I couldn’t get it. How could God have three parts, one of which was human? Having studied Greek and Roman mythology at school, I thought the idea of the Trinity and powerful human saints very similar to the Greek and Roman ideas of having different so-called “gods” that were in charge of different aspects of life (Astaghfir-Ullah!). The boy who asked, asked many questions about Trinity, received many answers, and was never satisfied. Neither was I. Finally, our teacher, a University of Michigan Professor of Theology, told him to pray for faith. I prayed.
When I was in high school, I secretly wanted to be a nun. I was drawn to the pattern of offering devotions at set times of day, of a life devoted entirely to God, and of dressing in a way that declared my religious lifestyle. An obstacle to this ambition, though, was that I wasn’t Catholic. I lived in a Midwestern town where Catholics were a distinct and unpopular minority! Furthermore, my protestant upbringing had instilled in me distaste for religious statuary, and a healthy disbelief that dead saints had the ability to help me.
In college, I continued to think and pray. Students often talk and argue about religion, and I heard many different ideas. Like Yusuf Islam, I studied the Eastern so-called religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism. No help there.
I met a Muslim from Libya, who told me a little about Islam and the Holy Qur’an. He told me that Islam is the modern, most up-to-date form of revealed religion. Because I thought of Africa and the Middle East as backwards places, I couldn’t see Islam as modern.
My family took this Libyan brother to a Christmas church service. The service was breathtakingly beautiful, but at the end, he asked, “Who made up this procedure? Who taught you when to stand and bow and kneel? Who taught you how to pray?” I told him about early Church history, but his question made me angry at first, and later made me think.
Had the people who designed the worship service really been qualified to do so? How had they known the form that worship should take? Had they had divine instruction?
I knew that I did not believe in many of the teachings of Christianity, but continued to attend church. When the congregation recited pieces I believed to be blasphemous, such as the Nicene Creed, I was silent—I didn’t recite them. I felt almost alien in church, almost a stranger.
A shocker! Someone very close to me, having dire marital problems, went to a curate of our church for advice. Taking advantage of her pain and self-loathing, he took her to a motel and seduced her.
Up to this point, I had not considered carefully the role of the clergy in Christian life. Now I had to. Most Christians believe that forgiveness comes through the “Holy Communion” service, and that an ordained priest or minister must conduct the service. No minister, no absolution.
I went to church again, and sat and looked at the ministers in front. They were no better than the congregation—some of them were worse. How could it be true that the agency of a man, of any human being, was necessary for communion with God? Why couldn’t I deal with God directly, and receive His absolution directly?
Soon after this, I found a translation of the meaning of the Qur’an in a bookstore, bought it, and started to read it. I read it, off and on, for eight years. During this time, I continued to investigate other religions.
I grew increasingly aware of and afraid of my sins. How could I know whether God would forgive me? I no longer believed that the Christian model, the Christian way of being forgiven, would work. My sins weighed heavily on me, and I didn’t know how to escape the burden of them. I longed for forgiveness. I read in the Qur’an,
“…Nearest among them in love to the Believers you will find those who say, ‘We are Christian’: Because amongst them are Men devoted to learning, and men who have renounced the world and are not arrogant.
“And when they listen to the revelation received by the Messenger, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognize the truth. They pray, ‘Our Lord! We believe. Write us down among the witnesses.
[And what (reason) have we that we should not believe in Allah and in the truth that has come to us, while we earnestly desire that our Lord should cause us to enter with the good people?] (Al-Ma’idah 5:84)
I began to hope
that Islam held the answer. How could I find out for sure?
Finally, about eight years after first buying my Qur’an, I read:
[This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor for you, and chosen Islam as your religion.] (Al-Ma’idah 5:3)
I wept for joy, because I knew that, way back in time, before the creation of the Earth, Allah had written this Qur’an for me. Allah had known that Anne Collins, in Cheektowaga, NY, USA, would read this verse of the Qur’an in May 1986, and be saved.
Now, I knew that there were many things I had to learn, for example, how to pray properly, which the Qur’an does not describe in detail. The problem was that I didn’t know any Muslims.
Muslims are much more visible in the US now than they were then. I didn’t know where to find them. I found the phone number of the Islamic Society in the phone book, and dialed it, but when a man answered, I panicked and hung up. What was I going to say? How would they answer me? Would they be suspicious? Why would they want me, when they had each other and their Islam?
In the next couple of months, I called the mosque a number of times, and each time panicked and hung up. Finally, I did the cowardly thing: I wrote a letter asking for information. The kindly, patient brother at the mosque phoned me, and then started sending me pamphlets about Islam. I told him I wanted to be Muslim, but he told me, “Wait until your are sure.” It upset me that he told me to wait, but I knew he was right, that I had to be sure because, once I had accepted Islam, nothing would ever be the same again.
I became obsessed with Islam. I thought about it, day and night. On several occasions, I drove to the mosque (at that time, it was in an old converted house) and circled it many times, hoping to see a Muslim, wondering what it was like inside.
Finally, one day in early November 1986, as I was working in the kitchen, I suddenly knew, knew that I was Muslim. Still a coward, I sent the mosque a letter. It said, “I believe in Allah, the One True God, I believe that Muhammad was his Messenger, and I want to be counted among the witnesses.”
The brother called me on the phone the next day, and I said my shahadah* on the phone to him. He told me then that Allah had forgiven all my sins at that moment, and that I was as pure as a newborn baby.
I felt the burden of sin slip off my shoulders, and wept for joy. I slept little that night, weeping, and repeating Allah’s name. Forgiveness had been granted. Alhamdulillah.
*The statement a person makes when accepting Islam (and many times a day thereafter: I testify that there is no deity other than Allah, and I testify that Muhammad (SAAWS) was a Messenger of Allah.Excerpted with slight modifications from: www.islamtomorrow.com/