By Sister Khadijah Stoler
It was July 2011 and I had been going between two (2) churches for months: one was a strict, fundamentalist church in the neighborhood I just moved to a few months before; the other, a liberal, “cultural” Christian church in my old neighborhood, where I had gone to and been active in for years. The two churches had opposing views, and I couldn’t figure out which one was the “correct” view. So I prayed to God after church one day, asking him for guidance. “Which (church) should I go to? Please guide me to your true word…”
Later that same day, I arrived for a movie in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn an hour and a half too early. Next to the movie theater was an Islamic Center, and I wandered over to a table they had put out with books and tapes stacked on it, along with signs that read, “Ask me about Islam.” There was a heated debate taking place between the young Muslim man behind the table and a young Christian man over Jesus (peace be upon him). I was intrigued. Up until that moment, I didn’t know Muslims knew about – much less believed in- Jesus. I thought Islam was a polytheist religion like Hinduism, worshiping Gods named “Allah” and “Mohammad” (peace be upon him), the way Hindus worshiped “Vishnu” and “Krishna.” I picked up one of the books, The Qur’an: English translation. The Muslim man paused in his debate for a split second to tell me, “It’s free, please, take it.” and I began to read.
A couple of weeks later, a coworker walked into my office to turn in a form stating he was taking off time for Ramadan. “You’re a Muslim!” I screamed. It was a very unprofessional thing to do, but I had been reading my Qur’an and had a lot of questions. Luckily, he was excited to talk about Islam and share his knowledge with me, and referred me to other people who could answer my questions. That began what would turn out to be a huge movement of people – his friends, family, and other coworkers – who would help bring me to Islam.
On August 20th, 2011, after talking about Islam with numerous people day and night for weeks, I decided to turn off my cell phone. I was about to do something I knew my new Muslims friends would never approve of: a drinking binge. Even though I went to church and Bible study every week, my Christian beliefs didn’t prevent me from leading a self-destructive lifestyle. But that night, something strange happened. I was denied drinks by the bartender. I was told I was “too drunk” to be served. I couldn’t believe it; this NEVER happened to me before. “I think you’ve already had enough, Miss, it’s time you call it a night. Get home safe.” I was shocked and devastated.
I did go home, and for the next few days, the words of that bartender wouldn’t stop replaying in my mind. I thought about all the times I went out drinking and wandered home alone, completely intoxicated and vulnerable, at dangerous early morning hours. So many times I could have easily been killed- but I wasn’t.
As I sat in front of my computer on August 24th, 2011, I came to a conclusion that I was being sent a message: it was time for a change. I said in my heart and mind, “Allah, give me just one more year of partying, then I’ll take the Shahadah and never drink or do anything bad again…” About two hours later, I received a call from my coworker’s cousin who had become my “spiritual advisor” of sorts. “I want you to go to a mosque,” he said, “I have someone I want you to meet. She’s just like you: about your age, white, and a (former) Christian who converted to Islam. I want you to go and speak with her.”
I went to the mosque and met with the young lady. I spent the whole night talking with her, and ate and drank with the other girls and women there, breaking the Ramadan fast with them that night. I was also given a large bag filled with hijabs, books, and pamphlets, and was now more motivated than ever to continue fasting (which I had been attempting for the past few weeks) and learning about Islam.
I returned to mosque two days later. “Tonight is a special night” one of the women said, “the last Friday of Ramadan.” She told me a story about how sometime during the last ten days of Ramadan is a special night, when good deeds are multiplied. “Tonight is the night to take your Shahada, if you are going to do so.” I wasn’t planning on it. “Is there anything keeping you from taking the Shahada?” I was asked. I wasn’t going to tell them that I had intended to have one more year of partying before taking the Shahada, so I said “I have questions.” “Then you should speak with the Imam” one sister said. I felt a sense of dread.
I was led to a room with the Imam and his wife, who I had just met moments before. I asked several questions, and then the Imam told me, “If you have no more questions, let me know when you are ready to take the Shahada.” I believed it was Allah telling me that he didn’t want me waiting a year to make the change in my life; he wanted me to take the Shahada now. I left the room with his wife and met with my new friend, caught my breath, and nervously said “I’m ready”.
I went back into the room with the two women and holding my friend’s hand, took my Shahada. When I was done, I turned around to see that a crowd of women had formed just outside the door, and filled the whole basement of the mosque outside the room. There were more women rushing down the stairs to see the new Shahada. I was embraced by so many women at that moment — some of the older ones even had tears in their eyes as they kissed me and greeted me as their new Sister.
When I got home that night, I opened the refrigerator door to see a bottle of delicious wine. My heart sank as I poured it down the drain of my kitchen sink. I had made the promise to Allah that I would never drink again after I took my Shahada, and it was a promise I intended to keep.
As I am writing this, on October 16, 2011, it has been fifty-seven (57) days since I’ve had any alcohol. I still speak with my coworker and his cousin, and all my other new Muslim friends, and they all play a pivotal role in encouraging me to embrace Islam in its entirety. I have given up the party girl lifestyle and clothes for modest dress, wearing a hijab, and learning about Islam. I no longer have to pray to God to save me from the consequences of a self-destructive lifestyle; I just pray to Allah because I want to, and because I am so grateful He brought me here, this far in life, safely.