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 Women Tell of Coverting to Islam

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PostSubject: Women Tell of Coverting to Islam   Mon Jul 11, 2011 2:48 pm

<blockquote>

Women Tell of Coverting to Islam
Read true life stories of ten (10) women and their experiences

KathyJenny's TestimonyC. Huda DodgeMaryam JameelahAfrah AlshaibaniHelenaD. BeattyKaci StarbuckKarima Slack RaziErin/Sumaya Fannoun
</blockquote>



<blockquote>


Kathy

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.
</blockquote>



<blockquote>
Jenny's Testimony
Melbourne, Australia
October, 1998

Often when people ask me ‘How did you come to
Islam?’, I take a deep breath and try and tell them the ‘short version’.
I don’t think that Islam is something that I came to suddenly, even
though it felt like it at the time, but it was something that I was
gradually guided towards through different experiences. Through writing
this piece I hope that somebody may read it, identify with some things
and may be prompted to learn more about the real Islam.

I was born in 1978 in Australia, was
christened and raised ‘Christian’. As a child I used to look forward to
attending church and going to Sunday School. Even though I can still
remember looking forward to it, I can’t remember much about it. Maybe it
was getting all dressed up in my best clothes, maybe seeing the other
children, maybe the stories, or maybe it was just that I could look
forward to my grandmothers’ famous Sunday lunch when I got home. My
family wasn’t strict about religion at all - the bible was never read
outside church from what I knew, grace was never said before eating. To
put it simply I guess religion just wasn’t a major issue in our lives. I
can remember attending church with my family sometimes, and as I got
older I can remember getting annoyed when the other members of my family
chose not to come. So for the last couple of years I attended church
alone.

At the time that I attended primary school
‘Religious Education’ was a lesson that was given weekly. We learned of
‘true Christian values’ and received copies of the bible. While I
wouldn’t admit it at the time, I also looked forward to those classes.
It was something interesting to learn about, something that I believed
had some sort of importance, just that I didn’t know what.

In my high school years I attended an all
girls high school. We didn’t have any sort of religious classes there,
and I guess to some degree I missed that because I starting reading the
bible in my own time. At the time I was reading it for ‘interest sake’.
I believed that God existed, but not in the form that was often
described in church. As for the trinity, I hoped that maybe that was
something I would come to understand as I grew older. There were many
things that confused me, hence there seemed to be ‘religious’ times in
my life where I would read the bible and do my best to follow it, then I
would get confused and think that it was all too much for me to
understand. I remember talking to a Christian girl in my math classes. I
guess that gave me one reason to look forward to math. I would ask her
about things that I didn’t understand, and whilst some explanations I
could understand, others didn’t seem to be logical enough for me to
trust in Christianity 100%.

I can’t say that I have ever been comfortable
living with a lot of aspects of the Australian culture. I didn't
understand for example drinking alcohol or having multiple boyfriends. I
always felt that there was a lot of pressure and sometimes cried at the
thought of ‘growing up’ because of what ‘growing up’ meant in this
culture. My family traveled overseas fairly often and I always thought
that through 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,
Jenny
</blockquote>






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 Smile - 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 Smile, 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
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