I was born in the Ukraine in 1987, when the country was still a part of the Soviet Union. My family, who is Jewish, wasn’t very religious to begin with, since religion couldn’t be practiced openly under Soviet Rule, a government which encouraged Atheism. In 1991, my family left Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union and settled in an apartment in Brooklyn. Though still not very religious, they were God-fearing. Growing up, they would often tell me to “believe in God, but don’t be a fanatic.” Wanting me to lead a more religious life than they had, my parents sent me to attend a Yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish school for all boys. From a young age I was introduced to theology through scripture and went on to study Halachah and the Talmud, Jewish law and its clarification by scholars. Spending fourteen years, from Kindergarten through High School, in a religious environment, I had been ingrained with a certain set of beliefs. At home, my family still wasn’t very religious and so I lived in a sort of dichotomy. Going to an orthodox school and pretending to fully follow all the laws of Judaism on the one hand, and then going home and practicing the religion my family had taught me, to “believe in God, but don’t be a fanatic.”
After High School, I started attending college in Manhattan. As I quickly made friends, I discovered a world that was outside what I was used to. Not everyone was an Orthodox Jew and not everyone was male. More and more, it started to become difficult holding on to my religious beliefs. When all my friends went out to eat, I’d either have to pass, or I would tag along and just drink a soda while everyone else ate, since the food was never Kosher. After a while, I let myself slip. I figured, one non-Kosher meal can’t kill me. It quickly became a slippery slope, and while my belief in God remained constant, my fear of Him had waned. I found myself absorbed in the college party culture and kept justifying my actions by telling myself that I was still young and that everyone else was doing it, so it was ok for me too. It was towards the end of college, around my Senior year, when some of my Muslim friends told me to come by for an event at the MSA. Honestly, at first I wasn’t actually planning on attending in hopes of gaining knowledge, but figured that from my past experience with the MSA, at least they’ll have some great free food for the event. Though I did get that great food I was hoping for, I found something I wasn’t expecting, something that resonated inside of me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but soon I had started to understand what I was feeling. It was this feeling of emptiness. Like I lacked a certain purpose or drive to move forward. I had my career, sure and I wanted to one day raise a family, but to what end? What I found through Islam is that it gave me hope, it gave me direction, it gave me a reason to reflect on my actions and to know for what purpose I was doing them. It helped me to understand humility, what it means to live life for your creator, for Allah. The more events I attended at MSAs, at Masjids, learning about Islam at the M.E.C.C.A. center, the more people I spoke to, the more Islam made sense to me, the more it helped fill the spiritual void in my heart.
To understand and believe in one God was something that came relatively easy to me. It was a concept I was raised with and one I never completely lost sight of. To accept the Prophet Mohammed, Allah bless him and grant him peace, as his final messenger was where I truly struggled. I heard countless accounts about the Prophet’s life. I read books on the matter, attended events focused around relating the kind of life he led. Argument after argument was debunked the more I learned about the life of this great man. But still, something kept holding me back from taking the shahada. I kept asking myself what’s stopping me from taking the next step and finally becoming a Muslim. Was it the fear of repercussion from my family? From my friends? Did I not want to burden myself with all these obligations? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that a good brother and friend of mine was right – I was like a hamster on a wheel; constantly running, learning more and more about Islam but never actually getting anywhere. Talking to him, it struck me that the only person holding myself back was me. It was my own fears, my own hesitations that kept me from being a Muslim, no one else. The truth was in plain sight but I refused to readily accept it. It wasn’t until that moment that I had truly understood what everyone had been telling me. That it is up to us, as individuals, to seek the path of truth for ourselves. So, Alhamdulillah, I took the next step and my life has never been better. I feel that every day, from the first prayer when I wake up before dawn, to the last prayer before I lay my head down to sleep, I live my life with a purpose. I live my life to serve Allah and I couldn’t be happier with the blessings that He has bestowed upon me and the wonderful people who have been and continue to support me through my journey.