When people learn that I left Christianity for Islam, the first thing they ask is “why.”
Before college, I had a narrow view of Islam. I thought certain aspects of the religion were admirable and I thought that the devotion that Muslims had for God couldn’t be found anywhere else. What other religion fasts for a whole month and bows down to God 5 times a day in prayer? It was the prayer that got my attention. I remember asking a Pastor once, how come Christians don’t bow down in prayer like Muslims? We’re worshiping the Almighty; He deserves nothing less than prostration. Those positives aside, I still thought Islam was a violent and barbaric religion that oppressed women. That’s all I had been exposed to until I started college. The hijab was the most obvious form of oppression to me.
When I started college, I decided to minor in Religion since it played such a big part in my life. It was in the first Religion class that I took as a freshman that I got a more accurate picture of Islam. It was obvious how much respect my professor had for Islam even though he wasn’t Muslim. On some levels, I think he wanted to be Muslim. He told us he prayed with Muslims and that he would love to do Hajj. He used to bring in tapes of the azan for the class to hear.
It was in that class, also, that I also got a more accurate view of Christianity. After learning more about the history of the religion and things like the Nicean creed, it was then that I realized how much I took for granted to be true. For example the Bible as it is today and a lot of things Christians believe are a result of the council of Nicea. This council got together to decide what would be included and excluded from the Bible and what all Christians would believe. Things like the trinity came out of this council because before then there were many sects who didn’t believe in the trinity and who didn’t believe that Jesus was God in the flesh. These sects were persecuted by the united church and eventually they were wiped out.
One of the major things that kept me from converting to Islam was because I felt I’d be betraying Jesus. I have a lot of love and respect for Jesus and I felt a conversion would be betrayal. At one point I still believed he was the son of God because the Bible said so. In the Old Testament, Prophet David was also called the son of God and Prophet Ezekiel was called the son of man, another name that Jesus was called. I chose to ignore that, however, and “just have faith.” I told myself that it wasn’t up to me to understand and as long as I led a good life and had a relationship with God it was okay.
So I respected Islam, but I couldn’t accept it because I didn’t know much about Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alaiyhi wa salam) and I was happy as a Christian anyway. I felt what I was doing was right. When the Fall semester of 2003 started, I got a new roommate, who turned out to be Muslim. I knew Ramadan would be coming up soon, so I told my roommate and Muslim friends that I would fast with them just to see what it’s like. Jesus fasted and I used to fast on my own because of that. I thought why not fast for Ramadan. So a few weeks before it started, I started looking up Ramadan online to learn about it and to learn what would break the fast. I found this websitewith FAQ’s of Islam and it addressed things like hijab and polygamy, which had been major barriers of why I wouldn’t convert to Islam. I didn’t understand the reason for these things but this website explained it. Before I knew it, I had spent the whole afternoon on this website and Islam just started making sense.
At that point, I didn’t know what to do. I was so confused. I just started praying to God. I told Him if He wanted me to become Muslim, I would; all I ever wanted was to please Him and do His will. I asked God for a sign of His will, but at that point He remained silent. I started learning more and more about Islam, but I still didn’t think I would convert so I didn’t tell anyone. I wanted to stay Christian because it would be so easy. I knew I’d go through a lot if I wanted to be Muslim.
One night I had a dream about my roommate. The next day I was telling her and she said, “I had one about you too!” Then she told me she dreamt I was Muslim and I went to Jumu’ah with her and we made wudu and prayed together. It was even weirder because she hardly ever went to Jumu’ah and she didn’t even know that I was asking God for signs. I took that to be the sign that I had been asking for so I redoubled my efforts of learning about Islam.
When Ramadan came, I fasted. I spoke to the Islamic cleric at my school, as well a few knowledgeable brothers and sisters. At that point I started believing but I didn’t think I could convert because of my parents and because of how life changing it would be. So I was religion- less. I no longer believed in Christianity but I hadn’t embraced Islam yet. I was so confused and I wished that I hadn’t started learning so much to begin with. I met with Imam Shamsi Ali from the Islamic Cultural Center of NY (aka the 96th street masjid) and he helped me tremendously and patiently answered all of my questions. I also spoke to the Pastor of my church and went to Bible Studies groups to be sure that Islam was what I believed. There were too many holes in Christianity and Islam just made too much sense for me to ignore it.
I believed in Islam and I knew what I had to do, but I just couldn’t do it. I lived as a Muslim: I prayed, I only ate halal, but I couldn’t make it official. I was scared of what my parents would do and I was scared to completely change my life. I started having dreams and nightmares. In one dream, I was with a Christian friend at an Islamic event and a stranger came up to me and said, “Once you find your faith, you’ll never abandon it.” In the nightmares that would frequently haunt me, things would happen like I’d be about to die or the world would be about to end and right before it happened, I’d try to take my shahada, but it would be too late. Later when I became Muslim, I learned the story of Firaun and how he tried to become Muslim but it was too late, and all I could think was SubhanAllah.
I asked for signs and I believe I got them so I called Imam Shamsi. He had just come back from Hajj and I told him I was ready. I decided to just take the plunge come what may. I knew that if what I was doing was right then Allah would help me. So one Saturday, I drove home from college, went to the Masjid, became Muslim, and drove back to college. Only my Muslim friends and my younger brother and my cousin knew that I converted. I still kept it a secret from my parents. I was financially dependent on my parents and I thought they would disown me if I became Muslim. When I first started thinking about converting, I had been dropping hints to them and I talked about Islam a lot just to get them used to the idea but they thought I was kidding around.
My parents thought it was just a phase and that I was being rebellious. Those first few months were not easy. At school I was so happy to be a Muslim but at home I felt stupid. Eventually somehow they got used to me being Muslim. They don’t like it, but they accept it, but they don’t stop me from practicing. Their reaction could’ve been much worse, but Allah made things easy for me. When I wanted to start wearing hijab, my mom was adamantly against it because it would be such a public declaration of my new faith and my abandonment of her faith. I think she also was embarrassed and worried about what her friends and neighbors would think in the post 9/11 climate. Whenever my mom gets really mad because we want to do something, she tells us to talk my father about it so he can say no. When I told him I wanted to wear hijab, my mom and I both expected him to say no. My mom was speechless when he said, “If she wants to wear it, let her wear it.” Sometimes parents let their kids do things so they can get it out of their system. If that was his plan, it backfired because six plus years later, I’ve never taken my hijab off.
I’ve never once regretted my decision to become Muslim. My parents actually make an effort to try to understand Islam and they ask questions about it. We only cook halal meat in my house and if there are strange men in the house, my family warns me so I can cover. Every day I thank Allah for picking me and for guiding me to the straight path. He made things so easy for me and he still does. I thank Him for all the brothers and sisters who helped me along the way and still continue to help me. May Allah have mercy on us and keep us rightly guided, ameen.