After 9/11 I had more questions about Islam, but I thought that people who converted to Islam were misguided. When I was 51 I went back to college to finally finish my bachelor’s degree. To satisfy a requirement, I decided to take a course in Islamic history.
I was born and raised in the Christian tradition and when I was 21 I accepted Jesus as God and the sacrifice for my sins. In those days (1973) that was known as becoming a “born-again” Christian.
It meant that you might have been born into the Church but you had finally decided for yourself that you wanted to be a Christian. Most “born-again” Christians (they were also called “Jesus freaks”) were very vocal about their faith and aggressive about witnessing to others. I was usually more private about how I felt about God: I would tell you what I believed if you asked, but I wouldn’t bring it up first. Even so, I became very active in the church.
I was a youth counselor, participated in prayer groups, taught Bible Studies and attended church every Sunday. I even married a minister! When that marriage ended after ten years, I spent many years outside of the church, but I never stopped identifying as a Christian. God was very important to me and I believed in Him completely. I knew almost nothing about Islam and never in my wildest dreams thought that I might be interested in it for myself.
After 9/11 I had more questions about Islam, but I thought that people who converted to Islam were misguided. When I was 51 I went back to college to finally finish my bachelor’s degree. To satisfy a requirement, I decided to take a course in Islamic history. The professor was an expert in Islamic studies and she taught the subject objectively. I was impressed by the richness of the culture and the integrity of the faith itself. But I never consciously thought, “I’d like to convert to Islam.”
After I graduated I got a job at a company that prepares foreign doctors for medical licensing in the U.S. and many of our students were Muslims from Libya. I just assumed that they would be anti-American and unfriendly, but nothing could be further from the truth. As I got to know them better, I gained a new respect for their faith. They spoke often of Islam and what it meant to them and I could tell that it was a huge influence on their behavior. One day, out of the blue, one of them asked me, “Do you think you would ever become a Muslim?” My immediate and emphatic answer was< “No!” When he asked me why not, I said it was because the cultural differences were too great.
I “knew” I could never make the adjustment. Plus, I couldn’t imagine telling my husband and children that I had decided to convert to Islam. But the seed had been planted. I started asking questions and reading books about Islam. I even started to teach myself Arabic. One of the doctors offered to teach me Arabic (for free!) and during our lessons, we would talk about our religions more than we did Arabic.
I also started to meet with another doctor, a woman who wanted help with her English. There, too, we spent most of our time together asking about Islam. When Ramadan rolled around I was invited to an iftar (breaking fast) dinner. That was the first time I ever saw Muslims praying. I envied them their devoutness. And I began to want the same thing for myself. One night I had a dream that I went to a bazaar and was trying on “Muslim” clothing. When I put on the clothes, a strong feeling of peace came over me. I continued to wear the clothes as I walked around the bazaar even though I hadn’t paid for them. Then my ex-husband (the minister) started chasing me and I hid from him.
I remember having some special dream, and when I woke up I instantly knew that the dream meant that I wanted to become a Muslim, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay the price. A few days later I sat my husband down and told him that I was thinking of becoming a Muslim. I expected him to say, “No way” but instead he told me that he was totally supportive. He even started researching what it would mean for me if I converted to Islam and was the first one who brought up the Hijab. If I decided to wear it, he said, he would be fine with it.
I was ecstatic! I immediately called one of my Muslim friends and told her that the way was clear for me to convert. All I had to do is to say my Shahada (testimonial of faith). She convinced me to say it at the masjid (mosque) on the last day of Ramadan. It was crazy that day and I had to hurriedly say the Shahada in front of the Imam of the mosque before prayers started. I was rushed upstairs to the women’s prayer room and thrown into the prayers without having any idea what I was doing. After the prayers the Imam announced my conversion and suggested that the women welcome me to Islam. I was totally overwhelmed by the response I got that day.
I was glad that I had followed through with what I believed in, but at the same time I kept asking myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ That was on September 20th, 2009 so I’m coming up on my second Ramadan as a Muslim. I won’t lie: there have been times when I’ve wondered if I did the right thing. And yet something in me has always assured me that I did. I was confused at first about the fact that God led me to embrace Christianity if He meant all along for me to become a Muslim. But one of my friends told me that it must have been God’s plan for me to go through Christianity to Islam.
Now I see it as a natural progression. I’ve been surprised at how much my being a Christian first has strengthened my commitment to Islam. Not only are there lots of points of agreement, I’ve also been able to see the things that make Islam seem like a fulfillment of what Jesus taught rather than a digression.
I think American converts are in a unique position as Muslims. Most of us will never completely master the traditions that are second nature to born Muslims. (Let alone the language.) But I believe that Allah will bring us into the fold and use us to bridge the gap between the Western world and the Islamic one. One reason why I know that Islam is right for me is that I am no longer private about my faith.
I’m still not aggressive about witnessing to others, but I wear the Hijab (Islamic headscarf) and proudly identify myself as a Muslim. Sometimes I think that I’ll never become a “real” Muslim but then I remember the first Surah of the Qur’an, the beloved Fatiha, or The Opening. Every time I say those words, even in Arabic, I am filled with the peace I first felt in my dreams almost two years ago.
Submitted by anonymous Guest of The Muslim Tribune.
Posted on May 30, 2011