I first came to the Mecca Center in the summer of 2009. My relationship with Mecca has blossomed over time, however, to truly understand the unique place Mecca now occupies in my heart, I think it’s useful to provide you with some background information.
My journey to Islam started when I travelled to a NYC Masjid, with the Muslim woman I love, looking for a way to get married without having to convert. Being that I was raised as a liberal, Western American, I took issue with the notion that men could marry women of the book, but women were not afforded this same right. In my mind, this ruling was confirmation that Muslim women were oppressed, and exacerbated my preconceived notions of Islam. As I entered the Masjid with an already tainted perspective, a sister approached us and asked if we needed assistance. We explained to her that we wanted to get married, but I was not Muslim, and had no interest in converting. While she clearly intended to be helpful by explaining that conversion was a prerequisite to our marriage, her firm tone, use of multiple foreign Arabic words, and abstract references to the Quran and Hadith intimidated me. She preached about the importance of conversion and hastily suggested that I convert on the spot and set a marriage date with the Masjid.
As soon as she finished her explanation, I had flashbacks to my Catholic priests, ministers and teachers regurgitating religious doctrine that was only peripherally related to the question at hand. The familiar feelings of frustration turned to feelings of anger. Angry that I still did not get an answer to the question of why men could marry outside the religion, but women could not. Angry that I wasted my time speaking to someone who was not concerned with the depth of my personality. And angry at myself for even thinking that there was some pragmatic solution to this problem, when religion was factored into the equation.
As the anger bubbled inside of me, I decided the best course of action was to leave the Masjid before I lashed out at anyone. I thanked the sister, gathered my shoes and headed towards the exit. Just before I was able to push the doors open, two men stopped us and said they had been observing our discussion. They said that if I wanted to learn about Islam, ironically, I might be in the wrong place. As one of the gentlemen scoured his wallet for a business card, he explained that there was a place called the Mecca Center which specialized in Islamic Education and assisted converts with their transition into the religion. He added that they wouldn’t preach to me or force the religion in an overbearing manner, as he handed me the card which read Mecca Center: A House Full of Light. Still angry with the situation, I half-heartedly thanked the brothers, stuffed the card into my back pocket and left the Masjid with no intention of visiting the center.
As I tried to digest everything that had just happened, I looked into the eyes of the woman I wanted to marry and began to cry. Standing on the subway platform with tears flooding down my face, I felt entirely helpless with the situation. As curious on-lookers stared at my reddening eyes and puffy cheeks, the only thought running through my mind was, “Is this goodbye? If God is all merciful then why can’t he just let us be happy?”
That day was one of the more emotional days of my adult life as I dealt with dormant frustrations towards organized religion, uncertainty regarding my relationship status with the woman I loved, and my fear of not being accepted which is an issue I’ve been trying to overcome ever since the day I was adopted from South Korea. I remained in a lull for the entire week as the woman I loved continually asked me if I was interested in visiting this place called the Mecca Center. I shrugged her off for most of the week, until I finally cracked and officially declared that this was the FINAL visit to any Islamic institution for the rest of my life. . . Boy was I wrong.
My first impression of the center was drastically different from that of the Masjid. Upon entering, the two sisters got up and offered us their seats, provided us with food and beverages and asked questions about us as human beings not as Muslims v. non-Muslims. As my anxiety and skepticism dissipated with every sip of tea, I prepared to ask about the inequality between men and women when it came to marriage. Instead of avoiding the question or reciting foreign portions of the Quran in Arabic, one of the sisters looked me in the eyes and said, “I’m not sure what the logic is behind the rule. I can tell you from my personal experience that my Islam was solidified by the fact that I had a strong, religious father-figure to look to on a daily basis who would lead us in prayer and served as a role model.” As I reflected on her statement, I felt the sincerity of her response. Thinking back to my own experiences, having a strong, consistent father figure in my life helped shape the person I am today. We also discussed the fact that if we were to have children, trying to explain the difference of religion would be nearly impossible. The remainder of our conversation was pleasant and the sisters never imposed their Islam on me to the point where I felt uncomfortable. They left me with a sense of curiosity about the religion that has been instilled in me to this day.
In the months that followed, I visited the Mecca Center on a weekly basis for lessons on the Quran, the Sunnah and basic Arabic. The center provided me with a balanced, incremental curriculum to learn about Islam allowing me to determine when I was ready to convert. I took Shahada at the Center in September of 2010 after five months of studying and learning about the religion I was about to accept. While my initial interaction with Islam was appeared to be negative at first glance, Shaykh Tayyimah once said, “a calamity that brings you closer to Allah, is better than a blessing that makes you forget the remembrance of Allah.”
I am truly eternally indebted to the center for showing me the right path and teaching me to remember Allah (SWT). Thanks to Mecca, I experienced a paradigm shift where Allah (SWT) is now the focal point of my life. I am currently engaged to the woman I love and in’shallah everything will go smoothly for our wedding in the coming weeks. I wake up every morning hoping to please my lord and thanking him for the blessings he has bestowed on me. I can say without a doubt that one of those blessings is the Mecca Center. I hope that my story provides you with some insight into the importance of the center and the life changing effect it has on its students.