I regularly went to church on Sundays –not just one church, but many different Christian churches that held a variety of Christian beliefs – and listening to Fathers, Preachers, Ministers, Papas (you name it), preach and talk about God. But I still felt something was missing, a void. I’d leave with many unanswered questions, and sometimes felt confused and even contradicted. I remember thinking God is not a contradiction, and God is not a thing we can see or touch. God is God, and that is it!
Years later, after much back and forth, I noticed that my Muslim co-workers were fasting during Ramadan. Naturally, I became curious and intrigued. I asked as many questions as I could possibly ask, and made sure I didn’t eat anything in front of them while they were fasting so I wouldn’t dare tempt them through their trial. My co-workers noticed how much respect I had for them, so they gave me reading materials and books about Islam. I eagerly took them and read them… and to my amazement, I followed everything I learned from these books as if a window was opened and my mind and soul were being fed through it.
Another year had passed since all of that curiosity took place, and Ramadan was about to be upon us once again. Only this time, I was determined to keep fast too. I fasted for the entire month and realized that through prayer and fasting I could focus on Allah. Islam is understood through practice. Every day we are alive is a constant practice and remembrance! Without these, we lose track and focus.
After the passing of Eid, I realized that I didn’t want to let go of what I had experienced. I drew closer to meet new Muslims and surround myself with what matters in Islam, which is remembrance and community. I continued the daily prayers and was excited to find meaning to my existence.
Ten months after my very first Ramadan, I was invited to attend a wedding in Karachi, Pakistan. This was my first time to attend a traditional Muslim wedding, and my first time to travel to a Muslim country! I was ready to learn and experience more of what Allah had planned for me. Immediately upon my arrival at the airport in Karachi, I saw a different world with different perspectives and values. Women were treated differently, and only with respect. Elders and parents were treated with utmost respect, with sons and daughters responding to parents in soft, quiet tones.
After a few days of continuous reading of the Holy Quran, I came across Surah Maryam, my favorite surah! I was then ready to take my Shahadah and I declared my faith in the one God, Allah. The bride’s sister, Adbida, an Islamic scholar, introduced me to a great scholar of Pakistan who is known throughout Pakistan and the Middle East. I was honored to be surrounded by him and his scholarly family. These people were unlike people I had seen before. I will always remember seeing their faces full of purity and eyes as clear as water. Their hearts and minds seemed as though they were in constant prayer and remembrance of Allah.
Once I returned to New York, I was determined to wear the hijab. I have a religious right to wear this beautiful cloth to protect me from all wrongs. Again, Allah has willed this for me and I have embraced it proudly.
As a new Muslim, my family noticed how much I have changed. My respect for them has grown and my own values have changed. Once my family noticed that I was a better and happier person, they grew happier for me and their concerns ceased. As for my second family who helped me along my journey, they will always be in my heart wherever they are.