Women Tell of Coverting to Islam
Read true life stories of ten (10) women and their experiences
C. Huda Dodge
Karima Slack Razi
Twelve hours old
"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 practising 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, socialised/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 mostsense. 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 tranquillity 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. Maybe 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.
Jenny's Testimony Melbourne, Australia
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 travelling 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 realised 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 judgements 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 ofcourse 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.. ofcourse I was shocked when he said ‘Ofcourse 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 realise 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 realise 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 realise 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,
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..." Qur'an 6:71
Maryam Jameelah (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 reveled 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 by 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)." (Quran S.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. 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!" (Quran S.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
Afrah Alshaibani 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:
- When I originally began my search for the truth all those years ago, I made a few wrong assumptions. First, I assumed that the truth is with Christianity only. It never occurred to me at that time to look outside Christianity. Second, I assumed that the Bible was the true Word of God. These were bad assumptions because they prohibited me from looking at things objectively. When I began my earnest study of Islam, I had to start at the very beginning, with no preconceived ideas. I was not a Christian looking at Islam; I looked at both Islam and Christianity (and many other religions) from the point of view of an outsider. My advice to you is to be a critical thinker and a critical reader.
- Another mistake that many people make when talking about Islam is that they pick out a certain teaching and judge the whole of Islam on that one point. For example, many people say that Islam is prejudiced towards women because Islamic laws of inheritance award the male twice as much as the female. What they fail to learn, however, is that males have financial responsibilities in Islam that females do not have. It is like putting a puzzle together: until you have all the pieces in the right places, you cannot make a statement about the picture, you cannot look at one little piece of the puzzle and judge the whole picture.
- Many people said that the only reason I converted was because of my husband. It is true that I studied Islam because he asked me to - but I accepted Islam because it is the truth. My husband and I are currently separated and plan to divorce in June, insha' Allah. My faith in Islam has never been stronger than it is now. I look forward to finding a practicing Muslim husband, insha' Allah, and growing in my faith and practice. Being a good Muslim is my number one priority.
May Allah lead all of us closer to the truth.
Helena 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.
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 respectme 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. Alhumdooleluh 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 toIslam feels like coming home.
Kaci Starbuck 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 occations 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 occassional 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 not 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 couse 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.
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 Womens 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" (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.
Erin/Sumaya Fannoun April 12, 1998.
Bismillah Arahman Araheem
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 peoples' 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.