Identity Crisis

My sincere apologies for my long silence – work, life, and everything else has kept me too busy to post anything. 

Nevertheless, one issue has been growing in my mind over the past few months and is beginning to take a toll on my mental well-being: my identity. 

Upon conversion, I was excited to be seen as a white American convert to Islam; I enjoyed being different and didn’t mind the curious stares.  However, as time has passed, the excitement is wearing off and I am now feeling almost desperate to be seen as ‘normal.’  It would be nice to ‘fly under the radar’ so to speak every once in a while, to fit in with SOMEONE at least.  Everywhere I go, I’m different.  Born Muslims stare at me with curiosity, and some approach me and talk to me about it, but the conversations rarely go beyond that; it seems that I’m viewed as some sort of exotic rarity that they want to pump enough information out of to be able to rush home and call their families to tell them about an American convert they met (sometimes they ask to take pictures with me so that they can show their families even)… while all the while failing to realize the seriousness of the impact my conversion has had on my life. 

Americans either stare coldly, smile kindly (or with sympathy rather), and a few (mostly women) compliment my scarf or my outfit.  And there are always some who treat me rudely, assume I don’t speak English, or believe I must be brainwashed or a complete idiot for accepting Islam.  Although the people around me from day to day are mostly polite, I find myself being held at arm’s length, despite my efforts to get to know them and move closer toward them.  

Of course, I can’t fail to mention the few true friends I have found online; kindred spirits who either share my experiences or simply are sincere and genuine enough to move beyond my appearance (most of them don’t even know what I look like anyway!).   

As a result, I find myself suspended between two worlds – the Muslim world, which seems to be something one must be born into, and the dominant culture in the American world, which seems to consciously or unconsciously reject all those who fall outside the white, Christian(ish) ideal.  I can’t really blame either one outright, however, as it’s basic psychology to be attracted and feel close to those who share similarities, and feel unsure or distrustful of those who are different.

And all the while, I have begun to struggle with my own concept of who I am as an individual as well.  I fit nowhere.  Due to my conservative Christian background, I find myself resonating more with Muslims from collective backgrounds, who value family and more traditional roles of the husband, wife, and children.  Yet my own family seems to have drifted more into individualism, living life for themselves, depending on only themselves, and thus not extending a helping hand when other family members need it most.  At the same time, I support the Islamic view of the roles of the husband, wife, and various family members (which is definitely not always the same as the cultural traditions most Muslims practice, and differs slightly from the traditional Christian ideals); I still value independence and minding my own business; I hate the nosiness and mindless (yet destructive) gossip that often accompanies collective cultures, and believe that people should be left to manage their own lives, make their own decisions, and find the right path for themselves without the intrusion or judgment from others. 

And I am so many other things as well.  I am a musician, an artist, an intellectual, an athlete, someone who is open-minded, compassionate, educated, moderate, skeptical (in that I ask questions and am unconvinced if something is not logical), hard-working, curious, and earnest.  I have a million different interests and enjoy learning about everything.  I have a great deal of knowledge about Christianity, and am knowledgeable about Islam as well.  Compared to my family, I’m a raging liberal.  Compared to most other highly educated Americans, I’m conservative – moderate. 

Yet…. none of that is evident when others only look at my scarf and the color of my skin – they simply make their judgment, and then brush me from their mind.  Of course, I remind myself that even if I didn’t wear the scarf, people would just look at my overall appearance and pass me off as X or Y and move on.  So, it’s not a question of a piece of cloth; I like wearing it and cherish its benefits greatly.  I just think it’s regrettable that it’s become an item highly marked with preconceptions and stereotypes.  Muslims and non-Muslim Americans alike see it and come to entirely different, and incorrect conclusions. 

And yet, what does it matter that others see me for who I truly am or not?  It doesn’t really… but I think it’s just the combination of being hugely misunderstood everywhere I turn AND struggling with my own concept of who I am.  I am many things, but am having great difficult to tie it all together in order to conceptualize myself as one, single individual.  I don’t expect others to fully understand me, but I suppose it’s not entirely fair to complain about it either since no one can get a clear picture of who I am until I first understand myself.

Ramadhan Kareem!

 

Ramadhan kareem to all of you who begin fasting today, Thursday, or Friday! (there are numerous start dates as per one’s particular school of thought and geographic location).  I pray God will make it easy for you and will make this a time of spiritual purification and renewal. 

In the spirit of Ramadhan, I’ve decided to list my goals that I’d like to work toward this month. 

-Read the entire Quran this month

This seems to be a common practice among Muslims, and is aided by the fact that the Quran is divided up into 30 sections already (by the wisdom of God, subhanAllah).  I decided I would put myself to the challenge and see if I could do it too.  I’ve decided to use my lunch break to go down to the prayer room (yes, there actually IS one at my university, and it just so happens to be located in my very building, alhamdilulah!) and spend the hour reading Quran, reading some supplications, and then finishing it off with the afternoon prayer before heading back upstairs. 

-Give action-based charity

Regretfully I’m completely broke and will be for the majority of the month, so my plans of giving charity have been completely ruined, but I have decided instead to give charity through my actions.  I may not be able to give money, but I can give my time, abilities, and manpower.  As such, I’ll try to help others whenever the opportunity crosses my path.  And of course, I can always smile (as the Prophet (saws) said, “A smile is charity”)! 

-Continue to work on having good akhlaq (manners) with everyone around me

Making continued effort to be kind and patient with those around me, be willing to help and go the extra mile even when the other person is not being considerate.  I also want to exert extra effort to be very patient with my students in particular, as sometimes they do their best to push buttons and frustrate to no end! 

-Challenge myself instead of trying to simply survive

I want to take the added strain of fasting and use it as a way to challenge myself.  Having a busy schedule and pushing myself through a strenuous workout every day is nothing compared to what many of the early Muslims endured.  Fatimah tu-Zahra (the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, saws), her husband Imam Ali and their children Hasan and Hussein (as) once went three days straight of not breaking their fast, as each night when they sat down to eat the meal, beggars came to the door to ask for food.  Instead of turning them away, they gave them their food instead.  And they lived in the hot desert with no AC – and then didn’t eat or drink for three full days!  So certainly if they could do that, I can surely manage this.  I don’t want to simply try to ‘get through’ the month by surviving the minimal requirements, but instead use it as a challenge to work harder and be actively engaged (as opposed to simply being reactive and passive).   

-Focus on living more in the present and not solely in the future

The main rationale as to why I’ve begun the series on cultural concepts of time is because of something I’ve recently discovered about myself: that I am incredibly future-driven, to the extent that I fail to often even notice or enjoy the present.  Typically, I’m not actively engaged or ‘present’ in the present time; I’m usually thinking about what I need to do next or making plans for what’s ahead, or tailoring my current activity to suit the future.  Of course, doing all this is important for success in life, but I do it to the extent that I often completely neglect the present time and rarely feel content or satisfied as a result.  SO – my goal is to really focus on the present moment and live each second to the fullest, and enjoy the blessings of what God has given me that surround me at any given moment.  I need to really remind myself that I need to fully live what I’ve been given (the present), and not neglect it for the sake of the unknown, uncertain future, which I may never even see! 

Well… I could think of more, and I may likely develop more as time goes on, but I’ll leave it at that for now.  I think this is quite a lot to focus on as it is!     

After Conversion: End of the Story?

After one has found the right path and has officially declared the shahadah and determination to follow the straight path, is that the end of the story?  Is life all rainbows and butterflies from there on out?  Often we are intrigued and thrilled by the stories of those who have converted to Islam, what did they believe beforehand?  What made them interested in Islam?  But we sometimes forget that after being guided, these individuals are now living in a very hostile world, with trials and hardships that often far outweigh the difficulties faced before they were Muslim.  It’s easy to tell the revert, “MashAllah, congratulations on your conversion, may God bless you,” and then walk away and go back to your Muslim family and community that surrounds you, protects you, and shields you from the inhumanity of the rest of the world (as it should).  Yet the revert is left still alone, isolated, and standing against a torrent of disapproval and hostility.

Thankfully, some have wondered what happened after I converted – what about my family, what about my friends, what has my life been like as a new Muslim?  Instead of filling up the comment section on several of my posts in response to all the inquiries, writing an actual post on it seems like a much more efficient solution!

Muslim Friends

I converted to Islam 2 years and 3 months ago.  I was so excited and bursting at the seams to have found such phenomenal truth and wisdom – to be guided and on the straight path to God, at last.  I wanted to meet every single Muslim in the area and was exuberant to share my story and make new friends.  Yet, over time I was faced with the reality that Muslims are human after all, and while Islam is perfect, Muslims are far from it.   Many of the Muslims around me (which weren’t many to start with) were more concerned and preoccupied with their culture rather than their religion, so my attempts at friendship failed miserably.  I finally gave up smiling at the Muslim women I passed outside or on campus, as usually they ignored me or glared at me (as an aside, yesterday when I was out running, I passed by a Muslim woman who looked up and smiled at me – I was so surprised I almost tripped over myself – and gave her a big smile in return.  That totally made my day!).  I went to a mosque in the area a few times, but was mostly stared at.  I felt awkward and uncomfortable to be alone despite sitting in a room full of chattering women (who also didn’t seem too interested in the lecture either…).   I was in a different mosque, and the woman next to me leaned over and asked if I was Lebanese.  I replied that I wasn’t, but I was a convert.  That didn’t seem to interest her, and she went back to chatting with the woman next to her.  Last year I met a few Muslim women who were also working for the community college I was teaching for, and while we exchanged information, neither of them seemed interested in communicating beyond that initial contact (despite my attempts to contact them).

Alternatively, I have met some Muslims online who are very sincere and genuine, and I am grateful for their friendship and support, despite never having seen each other in real life!  Nevertheless, as a result of two years of disappointment, I’ve since given up trying to befriend Muslims in real life.

Family

As I mentioned in my initial post regarding my conversion story, my family is conservative, Evangelical Christian, and are very anti-Islam (on both sides)!  There’s an atheist on my dad’s side and a Buddhist on my mom’s side, and both of them are seen as the black sheep, and much time and effort is spent praying for them and lecturing them when they are around.  I’ve told myself that I should take comfort in the fact that neither of them were disowned, but then again, neither of those paths are as heavily stigmatized and hated as Islam.  My family views Islam specifically as being from Satan himself (astaghfirAllah), and the most dangerous.

My dad’s father is a lay minister (he filled in as a ‘sub’ for churches without pastors and does guest speaking as well), and loves to listen to Billy Graham, John Hagee, Pat Robertson, and of course, Fox News.  My dad once put me on the chopping block when he told my grandpa that I had some Muslim friends, to which my grandpa responded by saying, “Well you’d better get rid of them fast.  They’re dangerous!”  I asked him why, and the entire room fell silent.  He sputtered and fumed and couldn’t understand why I was so senseless to not know why.  I decided to drop it – don’t want the entire room to explode against me, and definitely didn’t want to reveal myself.

My mom’s father was a Pentacostal preacher for most of his life, and both he and my grandmother firmly believe that if you aren’t Pentacostal, you’re going to hell (Baptists especially since they believe in the ‘blasphemous’ concept of “once saved always saved”!).  Most certainly they see Islam as a dark evil.

My parents religiously watch Fox News – my dad’s favorite show is Bill O’Reilly, of course.  They are also firm supporters of George Bush and believe he could do no evil (despite the glaring truth that tells us otherwise).  Once (when I was still a Christian), I brought up the possibility of 9/11 being perpetrated by Bush himself, due to the overwhelming evidence, and my dad was incredibly offended and angry (as if I had just uttered blasphemy), and said that Bush could never, ever do something like that – he was a ‘Christian’ after all!  Last time I checked, the only infallible person in Christianity was Jesus (as), so I’m not sure how Bush gained that status!

My parents are also very pro-Israel, anti-Iran, anti-Palestine, anti-Lebanon & Syria, very Republican, and now proud members of the Tea Party.  They believe that I am already brainwashed due to having gone to a “liberal, socialist” university for graduate school, and often dismiss anything I have to say about politics or society in general.  Despite having more education than they do (in my immediate family – my extended family has some doctors and PhDs), my education is dismissed as useless, liberal ideology and not anything worthwhile.

In fact, my family, both immediate and extended, treat me as an 6 year old child who has no common sense or clue about life in general.  Even my brothers treat me in this way, usually dismissing what I have to say or ridiculing me, ganging up against me, laughing at me and questioning my intelligence.  As such, I grew up to think that my brothers and father were very smart and I was not.  I believed that men in general were smarter than me, and I unconsciously deferred and ‘bowed down’ to any male around me.  The males in my family also treat my mom in the same way, never taking her seriously and ridiculing her and questioning her intelligence on everything.  My mom is quite expert at manipulation though (even with me, as I have just recently discovered, after all this time), and while it’s a destructive, unhealthy pattern, it works and she gets what she needs.   I’ve always thought that the first person I tell about my conversion would be my mom, but now I realize that that would foolish because she would only use that against me whenever it suited her.  My family has the mentality of ‘everyone for themselves’, and will sacrifice someone else for the purpose of saving their own skin.

My family is also very argumentative, negative, critical, and judgmental.  I’ve always hated conflict (although there for a few years during puberty I did take on my dad and challenge him about everything to the extent that he thought I should become a lawyer!).  My family will argue endlessly and NEVER let anything go, so I learned long ago that it just isn’t worth it.  I prefer relationships to be smooth and harmonious, not tumultuous and hostile, so I eventually got in the habit of just letting everything go.  Someone would do something to me or make a hurtful comment, and I would just let it go.  Again and again and again… to the point now where they just treat me like a stupid child since they know they can get away with it as I won’t stand up to them or challenge them.

Recently, all that has changed, however.  After converting, I gained new confidence in myself (perhaps this should be a different post entirely, but I began to accept myself as a female, and realized that having feminine characteristics isn’t an awful thing, but is a strength), and I began to gain knowledge about the truth of the world around me.  I was more certain of my opinions and now had a great deal of fact to back it up, and began to stand up for my opinions.  Still, they would all start attacking me, so I would eventually give up and change the subject.

In recent months however, I’ve been trying to force myself to see it through to the end, despite the discomfort that it causes.  In fact, without going into the details, my mom and I are no longer on speaking terms (her choice, not mine), and my dad got involved (thanks to misinformation and manipulation from my mom) so we’ve had some intense arguments.  Even one of my brothers and I got into a fight because of the lies my mom told him, but fortunately I was able to set the record straight and he and I are actually on better terms right now than we have been in years.  And none of this going on now has anything to do with my conversion!!

I’ve realized that the only hope I have of being able to tell my family about my conversion without being completely annihilated is to change my relationship with them by getting them to respect me and take me seriously.  If I can achieve that, THEN I can tell them of my conversion and only then will they be forced to take it seriously.  If I tell them now, they’ll ridicule me, accuse me of being brainwashed, and my dad might even drive all the way down to where I live now with a U-Haul and try to force me to move in with them so they can take care of their senile, mentally retarded daughter!  I can only imagine family events – all the focus would be on me and it would be rife with exhaustingly endless arguments and attacks.  No one would listen to anything I have to say or even care what reasons I have for believing the way I do.

No, the only solution is to first change my relationship with them, and secondly, keep trying to change their perception of Islam.  If I can somehow get them to see Islam as at least just another world religion that is hugely misrepresented in the media and has many similarities to Christianity, then I may be able to put myself on the same level as my atheist and Buddhist relatives.  If my family continues to see Islam as evil and as the force on the side of the anti-Christ that Jesus (as) and the Christians will fight against after Jesus returns, then there is no hope for any sort of honest dialogue, discussion, or acceptance.

Friends

Very few of my friends know of my conversion as well.  Some reasons for this are merely circumstantial; I converted during my last year of graduate school (a different school and city from where I did my undergrad), and began covering my hair when I started an internship in another city.  I did see my classmates occasionally for classes during that time, and the reactions were mixed.  A few thought I had cancer, one of them did express her sincere support for my choice, and the rest of them either ignored me completely or began to just greet me politely when they saw me but stopped inviting me to hang out with them.  I was surprised actually, since I was in a counseling pyschology program and the emphasis in every class was valuing diversity and accepting and supporting people from all walks of life… but apparently this is mere rhetoric and not applied in practice.

I don’t often see my friends from undergrad, as I moved to a different city for grad school and they are all spread out everywhere; many of them are married and are starting families.  I saw one of them once though, after converting.  She had been to Egypt on a trip and seemed very interested in the culture and religion, and since she is also from a different country, I thought she would be more accepting.  So, I decided to tell her about my conversion.  Well… she seemed unsure about it and was concerned about what my family would think, especially since she knew me as being a very religious Christian.  After she left that day, I never heard from her again.

Another friend from high school told me a while back that he had converted to Catholicism, and was describing the difficulty he had with his parents, who are astutely Pentacostal.  I thought perhaps he would understand, since he had gone through a similar experience, so I told him that I also had changed my beliefs, and am pretty sure my parents would be very opposed to it.  I refrained from any detail though, as I wanted to see his reaction.  He seemed unresponsive, so I didn’t push it further – and yet again, I never heard from him again.

The vast majority of my friends from childhood through graduate school are very conservative Christians, so I know that I would face a very hostile onslaught of condemnation if I decided to declare myself as a Muslim to them all.  So… I decided it’s not worth it and have let it go.  I don’t see many of them very often anyway, from having moved so much (I’ve moved at least 14 times, to various cities and different states) and have lost touch with people over the years.  In fact, I have just moved again to an entirely different state to take a new job, so telling prior friends just isn’t much of a necessity.

I did make one friend recently who is not Muslim nor American, and I have been grateful for her acceptance and for seeing beyond my scarf and liking me for who I really am.  But, I’ve just moved and she’s too far away for frequent visiting now.

I don’t know anyone at all in my new city, although I’ve felt encouraged that my colleagues at my new job seem to be very genuinely nice and friendly.  I’m not that picky really, I gave up on the impossible task of finding Muslim friends, and am just looking for decent friends in GENERAL.  But… in the meantime, as I have nothing to do on the weekends, I can continue to research Islam and read and learn about other aspects of life, and of course – post on my blog. 🙂

So, in sum… life has not been easy since converting, but I realize that I am passing through a very important time and am learning necessary skills to make my life better in the future, inshAllah.  Only God knows what the future will hold, and I’m optimistic that no matter what trials and hardships I face, God will protect me and care for me.  I will gladly endure any difficulty for the sake of God and for the precious gift of guidance to the right path.  Nothing in this world is worth that.  The Quran tells us that this life is just a test and trial, and our real life begins afterward.  When we keep everything in perspective, the intensity and turmoil subsides and obstacles begin to look more trivial and inconsequential.

My Conversion Story

I’ve been asked on several occasions to share my story of how I came to Islam, and each time I struggle with exactly how to tell it, what to include, and where to start.  There are so many things that have influenced me and taken me toward Islam that it would be impossible to mention all of them.  So, I’ll try to give you the basic version of it here without it being too long and overwhelming.

Some background

I grew up in a conservative Christian home with two happily married parents – my dad worked and my mom stayed at home with my brothers and I to home school us through the large part of my K-12 experience.  We were dual-enrolled much of the time, meaning we would go in to public school for sports and music (and art sometimes), so we still had the opportunity to interact with other kids.  We belonged to the Pentacostal side of Christianity (although I never really understood the whole speaking in tongues thing; it was all a little weird and fake to me), and moved our way over to Southern Baptist when I was in high school.  I began attending a Christian church (yes, this is actually the name of another denomination of Christianity) in college, and felt pretty happy with the emphasis on reason and intellect rather than solely emotions.

Questions

One of my main goals when I first started college was to become a missionary to other countries, but very quickly hit a pretty big roadblock when I began to get involved with international ministries on campus and developing friendships with people from other countries.  I just could not fathom how a fair and just God could send all these people, and all their ancestors, straight to hell for not believing in Jesus (as).  One day they die, and they find themselves in a horrible place for simply not believing in someone they’d never heard of?  This bothered me immensely, and I realized that I needed to find the answer to this question before I set off to another country to try to convince people to believe in my religion when I wasn’t even entirely sure of it myself.

Time progressed and while in graduate school, I developed a friendship with a girl who graduated from seminary, who was studying in the same graduate program as I.  We began discussing the concept of the deity of Jesus, and neither of us could find any logical explanation for it, nor could we find any concrete support for it Biblically.  She herself, having gone through Bible school, had given up and became agnostic (along with several other of her classmates!).  I resigned myself to the fact that perhaps these questions could never be solved – I would continue to believe in God and follow Christianity because it was the best religion out there.  And as many Christians say, I’d rather be wrong and believe in God than be wrong and not believe in God!  In my mind, Christianity was the only viable religion through which I could believe in God.

An encounter with Islam

Upon graduating from graduate school, I began teaching at a university language program.  I walked in to class and immediately saw that the majority of my class was Arab.  I had never really met an Arab before and knew nothing about their culture or religion.  I was surprised to find that they were very social, outgoing, polite, and well-mannered.  From what I had seen on TV, I thought they would all be angry and suspicious of me!  I decided I needed to learn more about my students, so I began to read online about the culture and religion.  One of the first things I learned that shocked me immensely was the fact that Islam considers itself an extension of the monotheistic religions of Judaism and Christianity, and accepts all the prophets, including Jesus (as), culminating in Prophet Muhammad (saws).  I was surprised that Muslims were so closely tied to Christians religiously, as I had thought they worshiped Prophet Muhammad like Christians worshipped Jesus.

Since the majority of my students were very friendly, I decided to ask them some questions about their religion.  Some had no idea; others were more knowledgeable.  One in particular (a friend of a student) began to even debate with me about Christianity, which always left me shocked and infuriated because I had always considered myself to be very knowledgeable about my faith, yet I couldn’t give him one logical answer that didn’t involve Christian jargon or concepts that had no alternate explanation.  I tried to get him to discuss some of the issues I had with Islam, but he easily explained those in such a logical fashion that I was left stuttering and had nothing else to say since he made perfect sense.

Getting Serious

Finally, I decided to take matters seriously and began pouring over a huge Bible concordance, along with a hefty book entitled “Hard Sayings of the Bible,”  written by renowned Biblical scholars.  I thought surely if I understand the difficult aspects of Christianity, I could convince him that my faith was right, and he might even convert!

So I began my journey.  Some of the issues were explainable, such as the differences in numbers and dates and even names among the Old Testament books – a scribe made a simple error.  That doesn’t mean the meaning is compromised though… did it?  But as I read, the issues grew more numerous, the contradictions more obvious, and the inconsistency of the portrayal of God more difficult to ignore.  As a fairly educated individual, if I read something like this for a class, in no way would I pass over any of this without ripping it apart for numerous logical inconsistencies and a lack to prove conclusions with solid evidence.  Finally, I reached the breaking point when I came to the explanation of when God told the Israelites to destroy the occupants of the land of Canaan – to kill every man, woman, and child – everything that breathes.  The explanation?  God knew these children would grow up to be evil so He wanted them to be killed too.  Wait.  I thought children weren’t responsible for their sins until they reached a certain age.  And more important, how could God create innocent life with the knowledge that He would order their destruction without giving them a chance to know the truth and choose their path on their own?  Where was their free will?  They were punished for being born in the wrong land?  How was that their fault?

I wept as I read the explanation.  So cold, so callous… yet more than that, is this the God I serve?  An unmerciful, unjust, unfair God?  Is it?  I laid awake in bed that night, crying and pleading with God to make it right somehow.  Help me to understand.  After some time, I slowly began to realize that I had two choices if I wanted to continue to believe in God – which I absolutely did.  1. The Bible is correct and God is an unjust and unmerciful God, or 2. The Bible is incorrect and God may actually be just and merciful.  With all the other blatant inconsistencies in the Bible, along with my earlier doubts about the deity of Jesus, I chose option 2.

From darkness to light

Even though I had decided the Bible could not be God’s word, I still felt very unsettled and uprooted from everything I had based my entire life around.  I recall telling my Muslim friend once that he was so lucky to have such a solid, logical base to support his beliefs.  I felt I had nothing.  I felt so empty.  I believed in God but I knew nothing else.  It became a very dark time for me; I slept little and my mind was always occupied with reading more about the Bible and trying to educate myself as much as possible – I wanted to be really sure.  I delved into the issues surrounding the compilation of the New Testament (politics, power, and control!), and the coffin lid was officially nailed shut when I learned with a shock that Paul’s version of Christianity was copied and pasted directly from the prominent religion of Tarsus at that time – the religion of Mithra!  That was when I decided I was no longer a Christian.  I had joined the ranks of my seminary friend.

Around this time, my Muslim friend randomly brought me a Quran with commentary.  I had asked him for one several months earlier, but he hadn’t seemed too interested and had apparently forgotten.  But, by God’s perfect timing, he suddenly remembered and brought it me – just as I had lost all hope in my own religion.  I remember when he gave it to me; I was excited to finally get the real truth on Islam, from Islamic scholars themselves – but I also wondered if I had time to get into all the inconsistencies of yet another religion.  If Christianity was this exhausting and the explanations obscure and based primarily on conjecture and not fact or evidence, I imagined other religions would be much worse.

That night, as I got into bed to read before sleeping, I looked between the Bible concordance and the Quran, trying to decide which one to read.  I opted for the Quran, thinking I needed a change.  I opened it, and began reading the first chapter, the Fatiha.  From the very first line, the very first sentence, the very first verse, I felt the strength of the words.  The power of the words.  The pure, simple logic.  It was as if the Author were speaking directly to me, to someone who has the same doubts and questions as I had.  The commentary also went into great detail about many of the issues I had been dealing with in Christianity, and even brought up a few I hadn’t even thought of yet!  I couldn’t put it down, and found myself reading far longer than I had planned.

That night, for the first night in months, I slept all the way through the night, without waking fitfully, without feeling fearful (I had been feeling so afraid at night that I had started leaving the light on… I had actually been seeing lights and strange movements in my room which scared the living crap out of me).  That night I needed no light.  I slept with the Quran and my Bible next to me.

And so I continued reading, and learning.  I visited websites (such as al-islam.org), and tried to learn what Muslim scholars had to say about the religion.  It made so much sense.  I also greatly admired the honorable and respectful treatment women were given, all the rights and great care afforded to their protection.  It was so refreshing to the point that when I saw my female Muslim students in class, I would have tears in my eyes because I was so awed at how they respected themselves, and how the men around them respected them.  In all honesty, I was convinced that Islam was the right path from that very first night.  But, I wanted to be sure.  I could still barely even think the word “Islam” without a negative reaction, so I wanted to explore everything before making a final decision.  And, after about a month more of reading, listening to lectures, asking questions, and praying, I made my decision.

The decision

I wanted to tell my Muslim friend about my decision, since he, after all, was the impetus for all of this.  He began a debate with me about something in Christianity, and didn’t even notice when I agreed with him.  He finally stopped and thought I was being sarcastic, and seemed unsure of continuing.  I tried my best to convince him I agreed with him, but he still seemed dubious.  I finally went further and told him that well…. actually I’m not a Christian anymore…. it just doesn’t make sense to me.  He was dumbfounded.  And I continued, “and I’m about 85-90% convinced that Islam is the right path.”  He was in even more shock, and certainly didn’t believe me immediately.  He began asking me a lot of questions to determine my sincerity, which I found interesting since Christians would simply start rejoicing and start pushing them to get baptized – no questions asked!

Finally, in May 2008, I said my shahada.  My conversion was not like what many Christians say they experience – upon accepting Jesus as God and Savior, they always say they feel overwhelming joy and happiness – a great rush of emotion.  When I realized fully that Islam was the right path, I didn’t feel a huge rush of emotions.  Instead, I felt clean. I felt pure.  I felt that the turmoil inside was finally quiet and at rest.  I felt that my logic and belief in God were finally in accordance with one another – both supported the other.  I felt so relieved.  In fact, I felt like I had come home.

The beginning of a new story

My story doesn’t end there of course; I still had much to learn, and many challenges and trials ahead of me, which I hope to share here as well.  I’ll save it for a new post though since I fear this one is far too long!  I hope no one is asleep yet. 🙂