A Conversion Story By Vanessa Turner

In the time leading up to my conversion, I spent a great deal of time combing my memory of Islam’s presence throughout my life: there were friends, studying Islamic Art and Architecture, the life of Malcolm X.  The unity of Muslims at Hajj or prostrating at prayer was so iconic. The oneness of the group experience had always touched me, affected me. I was, and still am drawn, to taking part of that moment in religious worship. Witnessing prayer was the spiritual connection I had been looking for. When I see Muslims in prayer or hear the adhan, I am drawn to it with magnetic force. I am compelled.

My mother is the descendent of Eastern European Jews and my father is a Black American. He was Methodist, but relegated my religious education to my Mother, so I attended Hebrew school till the age of 12. I had never felt a spiritual connection and as I grew older felt less and less affinity for the religion and began searching for other
spiritual outlets. When asked what my faith was, I responded that I was spiritual but was not a member of any particular religion, which made me sad. I have always believed in God. Was raised to know and believe that there is a higher spiritual power that presides over all things. That there is God in everything. Though classified as a Jew because my Mother’s Jewish, it is not a faith or an ethnic group I have ever felt a member of.

Meeting my husband was an important moment on my road towards Islam. A few friends and family had reservations about my husband because of his faith, because he was different. I always responded by saying, “Were it not for him being a Muslim, he would not be the man I would want to marry.” His faith in Allah is what made him
the man that he is.

The first time I entered a mosque was the day I married my husband. He had proposed the night before and on the chance I said yes he had booked an appointment at the mosque for the agid (Islamic Marriage Contract) the next day. That Friday in August is when my conversion story begins. I began taking greater steps towards Islam when my Mother’s colleague had informed me about the M.E.C.C.A Center. After attending a Sisters Circle I had even more confidence that I was on the right path. The welcoming embrace and sincerity of intention of the women there was heartwarming.

There was no judgement, only love and encouragement. The Sisters’ Circle became a great opportunity to establish a community and affirm myself as Muslim woman. In January, I enthusiastically registered for the New Muslims Program. During the first or second week of class, our teacher mentioned the significance of the number 33 in Islam. For example, in dhikr 33 times, Subhanallah is repeated 33 times, Alhamdulillah is repeated 33 times as is Lailahailallah. That next week I was to turn 33 years
old and new that was when I was to take my shahadah.

The day of my shahadah, I entered a mosque for the second time in my life. We went to the mosque at 96th Street for jumu’ah prayer. I remember when the mosque was being built. It’s construction had been news for awhile, but eventually the sensation of it’s
existence faded as other civic concerns pushed it from the limelight. On the way there, I tried to remember what to say,  but my nerves and excitement made me forget. I entered the mosque and joined the women upstairs. Eager to become part of the furniture and not draw attention to myself, I found a place along the wall and kept my head down. The Imam’s speech talked about the presence of God in all that we see and do, from a bird in flight, to the warmth of the sun, and goodwill amongst men. While he spoke, I was reminded about the hand of God and how it had led me to that very moment. When prayer was done, I went downstairs to take my shahada. After being in the comforting company of women I was unsettled by the presence of men below.

Carefully navigating the floor to get to the front where the Imam was standing was difficult and nerve-racking. As we got closer, there was a large group of men hovering in
front watching people take their shahada. My husband struggled to get me through the crowd when a brother with a strong voice said, “Brothers, let the sister through.” The seas parted and we were able to get to the front. A young woman had just taken her shahada and there was a chorus of people saying “Masha’Allah” and “Mabrouk.” When my husband introduced me to the Imam, he thought the list of people taking their shahada was through and was surprised that there was yet someone else.

I came to the front stage and stood with him. In front of me was a sea of men with cellphones pointed at me. I was so overwhelmed. To keep calm, I looked only at the Imam and my husband, who also took out his phone. To my relief, the Imam instructed me on what to say. So I repeated after him: Ash-shadu anna Laa elaha illa lah. Ash-shadu anna Muhammadar Rasoolulah. Amin. It was done. I had finally fulfilled my destiny and become a Muslim.

Like the woman before me, I too was showered with blessings and congratulations. As I retreated to the woman’s balcony the stairs were lined with women waiting to welcome me into Islam with their warm embrace and well wishes. The icing on the cake was the unexpected delight in seeing women from the M.E.C.C.A center there.

After my husband and I left the mosque, he turned and asked me, “So, how do you feel?”

And I replied,
“Good.”

Again he inquired, “Do you
feel different?”

I said, “No, not really
because I’m where I’m supposed to be.”