by Barbara F.
My first interaction with Muslims was in 1989 when I started working for an insurance company and the 20 agents were all Muslim men. I heard words like Ramadan and Jumuah and saw the men praying in the office. What compelled someone to give up one’s daily needs and desires for a whole month? To make praying the priority in one’s daily life? As a Christian, I was quite curious what they felt because I went to church just once a week. It would take me the next 15 years for my reversion to take place. I had a Muslim friend who I would have discussions with and defend Christianity because that’s all I knew for forty years. Until I understood that Allah is Supreme and Majestic to have begotten a son, I couldn’t move onto my next level. It was a progressive journey towards taking my shahada. I started dressing very conservative and stopped eating pork. My family told me I was giving up my Italian and Polish heritage if I didn’t eat the sausage and kielbasa!
I was always asking my friend to find me a teacher, a class, or school for me to learn more about Islam. I decided it was my responsibility to learn. I found the courage, went online, made a couple of phone calls and was invited to a class about the Quran in a mosque in Staten Island. The scholar would take each word in Arabic and explain and connect it to other verses in the Quran. Ma’sha’Allah, the Quran is truly Allah’s final message! I asked a lot of questions of Muslim sisters and my teacher, Dr. Agwa. I wanted to make sure there were no doubts, no questions left unanswered. After a month, I felt uncomfortable because all the sisters were wearing hijab in class. I decided out of respect for Allah, my teacher and the brothers, to buy a hijab and wore it in class. The teacher did not recognize me and welcomed me to the tafsir class. He said when I came to the first class and asked me to wear a scarf, I probably would have walked out. But there is no compulsion in Islam and Allah guided me on my own to wear hijab!
On August 21, 2004 I declared my shahada in front of 200 brothers and sisters. I declared it first in Arabic and then in English. After a month, my parents found out when I walked out of my apartment with my scarf on for class. They were visibly shaken and upset. I told them I was an adult and this was my decision. I was not forced or felt oppressed and I was happy.
I have found peace in Islam. Now I know what is really important: how to live this life to be accepted in al-Jannah, insha’Allah. My first Ramadan I donned the hijab other than for class and have kept it on since. Again, Allah has given me guidance and courage to do this. Being of European descent and Caucasian, I have never experienced prejudice until now. I have had coffee thrown at me, found dirty diapers in my mailbox, found a dead rat on my stairs, I have been called swami from a co-worker, and had a stranger in Manhattan come up to me and shout, “Why don’t you make up your mind? Are you an American or a Palestinian?”
My family does not understand but I try to explain Islam every chance I can. They have not shunned me like I have heard some families do. I pray that Allah will guide my family to Islam. My co-workers see me praying at work and I do not go out drinking on Friday nights with them anymore. I spend my time differently now. I am learning Arabic at the M.E.C.C.A center, memorizing Quran, attending Islamic lectures, taking tafsir classes, everything to deepen the strong iman I already have. Insha’Allah, I am planning to make Hajj this year.
The most important thing for me is to have support and contact with other good, practicing Muslims, which I have found at M.E.C.C.A. With family and co-workers that are non-believers, this is extremely critical. The Shaytan cannot effectively do his whispering knowing that I am steadfast in the true religion. I don’t care about the stares, the jokes, the questions, the lonely iftars and Eids. The question asked most of me: “Where am I from?” I was born in Brooklyn, New York and I reverted to Islam! Alhamdulillah! Is my answer!