Monday, July 19, 2010


My Conversion to Islam

 Most people do not have the best impression of American converts to Islam. When the subject comes to mind, maybe they think of John Walker Lynn who joined the terrorist group Al Qaeda, or the people who convert to Islam while serving out their prison sentence. Whatever their impression may be, it's most likely not a very positive one. I am going to tell you my story of how I came to embrace the most misunderstood religion in the world, Islam.

    I was born in Richmond, Virginia on August 25th, 1993. My mother was raised Presbyterian, but now is not necessarily practicing, and my father used to be Catholic, but later in his life adopted the ideas of Deism, essentially. I myself was raised Lutheran. My parents took me to church just about every Sunday morning until I was around seven years old or so. I later began going to another Lutheran church with a friend from across the street at age 10, and I continued to go to that church until the age of 13.

    I had always strongly believed there was a God, but it wasn't till middle school that I actually began to have a personal relationship with God. When the hard times came and I was in tears, I somehow felt as if God was helping me get through it, and I was definitely grateful to Him.

    After middle school ended, I stopped going to church almost altogether. I was displeased with the many of the people at the church I was going to, and the fact many people would go to church and gossip about other members. I didn't feel a part of the Christian community at all. I also began to doubt various Christian teachings, whether I realized it fully, or not. I had a huge issue with believing in the Trinity, or specifically the belief that Jesus is actually God or one with God. During this time I also came to know that the Bible had been changed over the years. This fact made me no longer trust the Bible as the word of God.

    I started looking into many different religions from all over the world. I was especially interested in the Buddhist religion because it just seemed so peaceful and full of great wisdom, but I did not like the fact that it was an atheistic religion. I also looked into the Eastern Orthodox Church as well and Orthodox Judaism. I felt strongly discouraged into looking more into Orthodox Judaism though, because well, I'm not Jewish at all. I looked into Islam a bit, but definitely not seriously at all.

    In 9th grade, I began going to a private school. It was at that school that I met my now best friend Hilly. With lots of long hours talking afterschool, we found that we had so much in common with each other. It almost seemed as if we viewed the world around us in the same pair of eyes. Our morals were astonishingly similar. We both were disillusioned with society and also what we viewed as lack of moral restraint in the world.

    Only later did I find out that Hilly was intensely interested in the religion of Islam and seriously considering the option of converting to the religion. One day he had made a comment that made me think a bit. He told me I had a very Islamic view of the world. I was intrigued by this since I had definitely never associated with anything Islamic. To be honest, I found myself a bit scared of the religion. Islam was something I associated with violence and the oppression of women. When I thought of the religion, I thought of the World Trade Center tumbling down on September 11th, and burqa-clad women living under the Taliban rule I saw on the television.

    Not too long afterwards, Hilly lent me one of his copies of the English translation of the Holy Qur'an and a short book of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (also known as Hadith in Arabic.) When I read these I was simply amazed. I found myself agreeing with much of what the Prophet Muhammad taught. He taught to worship one genderless, formless God with no partners, always be kind to others no matter what, give to the poor and needy, and perform all of the five daily prayers at their prescribed times. Islam encompassed everything I wanted and needed in a religion: complete monotheism and structure. I started to see a side of Islam that I never even knew existed.

    Of course, I still had lots and lots of questions about Islam. What baffled me was how a person who proclaims themselves Muslim could do such horrible things. Were any of these practices actually Islamic or were they trying to use religion to justify their answers when the justification simply wasn't there? Hilly and I would have long talks about many controversial things Islam was commonly associated with in the media. We discussed things like forced marriage and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation.) After chatting with Hilly for so long and having all of my questions answered, I realized these were cultural practices, and not a part of the religion of Islam. I realized that you have to separate the actions of a follower of a religion, and the actual principles of the religion.

    Only shortly after this, I decided to finally become Muslim. I texted my only Muslim friend Sal and told him about this. To my surprise, his mother was the one who ended up replying instead. She was so excited about my decision. Sal's mother was actually raised Catholic, but later in life became Muslim. She had gone through the same spiritual journey I had, which made me feel a bit more comfortable.

    On February 1st, 2009, Sal's mother took me to the local masjid (mosque) to say the Shahadah (declaration of faith) in front of everyone. I was so nervous at first that I was shaking! I had never been inside a mosque before and honestly didn't know what to expect. Finally, I got to declare my faith in front of everyone. Afterwards, tons of little girls in hijab (Islamic head scarf) came up to me and congratulated me with a big hug. They were from all over the world, places like Bosnia, Afghanistan, Jordan, and Sudan. By the end of it, all my nervousness was gone

    Maybe two weeks or so after I became Muslim, I started to wear the hijab. My mother hated this so much. She said I looked like foreigner in it, not anyone related to her, and that she wanted everyone to see my beautiful strawberry blonde hair and be seen as the Scots-Irish girl I am, not an Arab, or whatever people assumed. My father also strongly disapproved of it and resented to fact that to him I didn't look "Amerkan" enough. Of course, I didn't understand that since America is a melting pot of different cultures and everyone looks different. There really is no "American" look.

    Some of the lifestyle changes were relatively hard for me to get completely used to. It took me about two months or so to finally learn all the prayers. Not only that, I had to get used to praying at least five times a day. Many little things in Islam though weren't difficult for me at all, like not eating pork. Staying away from all intoxicants also wasn't any problem for me either, since it was something I never did anyways because of my own personal beliefs.

    Wearing hijab was a relatively easy thing for me to do. I had always been quite conservative dress-wise, so I felt comfortable in my loose clothes. I simply liked the privacy. I didn't think anyone had the right to see my body anyways if I didn't want them to. I also liked the fact that guys tended to stay away from. I definitely wasn't looking for a romantic relationship either.

    What I hated a lot about wearing the hijab though was that random people would often stare shamelessly at me, sometimes they were simply curios stares, and others were not so nice. After awhile though, I finally got used to it and hardly took notice. Why should I anyways? They obviously have no sort of manners and I could care less what they think about me.

    Other experiences with hijab were very positive. Some people in my class would go up to me and ask me numerous questions about Islam, which I didn't mind at all. I wanted them to know what Islam really is, not what the media tells them it is. I wanted them to know that you have to separate the actions of a follower of a certain religion and the actual principles of the religion. I wanted them to just understand that many so-called "Islamic" practices are actually just cultural ones. After answering so many questions, I could frequently tell the person felt a bit better about the religion. I would receive the "ohhh, okay" response a lot.

    Another thing about being an obvious Muslim is that I would automatically make a few new friends. Many Muslims, and especially the hijabis (women who wear hijab), are often so happy to see another Muslim. There's a bond that's automatically there because of it. Walking down the street, shopping, etc and just going about my daily life I would often hear the Muslim greeting "Assalamu alaikum", which in English means "peace be upon you", thrown at me. I would then look around the see another Muslimah smiling widely at me.