By Princess Glover
Growing up, Islam was something I was barely– if at all– aware of. It was an obscure concept that I knew existed somewhere in another country, where the people and customs were completely alien to me and so far removed from my frame of reference. My ignorance was a product of my mostly typical American upbringing. I say ‘mostly’ because even though I come from a strong southern Baptist background, by the time I was 7, I’d spent the majority of my formative years traveling around Western Europe. I was what most people would call a “military brat,” a somewhat crude term of endearment for those who were subjected to the nomadic lifestyle of a parent (in my case, my stepfather) in the United States military. Even so, life on the base and living in a place where most people spoke English, wasn’t too much of a culture shock for me at the time. By the middle of my 2nd grade year, we settled in San Bernardino, California where I would live for the next 17 years. It was during this time that my mother and stepfather divorced and some semblance of religion became part of our lives.
While abroad, I can’t ever remember going to church or participating in anything remotely religious other than Christmas, which the majority of western Europeans celebrated without question. It wasn’t until we returned to the States that my mother took it upon herself to make sure we were in church at least a few Sundays out of the month. Going to church could only be described as drudgery: a compulsory ritual that didn’t contain much meaning to me, except for the fact that we were Christians and that was what Christians did on Sundays. What I did know about my religion was that Jesus was supposedly God’s son and he died for our sins. Anything beyond that seemed like conjecture, as I was never too keen on the details of my faith and what was expected of me as a Christian. There were never any clear guidelines to how I was supposed to act, except that which fell within the basic rubric of social etiquette, like saying “please” and “thank you”, respecting your parents, and being kind to others, etc. As I got older, there were intermittent trips to bible study with the neighbors–an environment of entertainment and levity that served more as a social gathering, than a place to gain deep spiritual knowledge.
Going to church and identifying myself as a Christian was becoming less and less important as I began to identify more with what society deemed acceptable. By the time I was in college, I was worldy in every sense, taking my cues from magazines, music and television. Being religious was irrelevant, yet I still believed in a Creator and that there was an existence beyond what was evident. I even prayed most nights before bed, a habit I had a hard time shedding. In fact, it was the only thing that I did in which I felt a sense of spiritual connectedness to God, and allowed me to feel just a little bit grounded even though I was immersed in a culture of chaos. Islam still hadn’t been on my radar, except in the form of men in suits and bowties selling bean pies and hawking strange-looking newspapers in malls. I knew these people to be members of The Nation of Islam, which seemed more like a cult than a religion to me. I can hardly remember ever seeing actual Muslims, let alone paying them any attention. There would be rare moments when I would see a woman covered from head to toe in a swath of fabric, and all I could think of was how hot she must have been given the harsh southern California climate. Even after the events of September 11th, at the risk of sounding completely out of touch with world events, I was still mostly unaware of the political furor surrounding Muslims and Islam. Maybe it was because the day it happened also happened to be my first day of college and moving into my new dorm while experiencing adult freedom for the first time seemed much more important than any bombing. As the years went by, my outlook on life became more and more secular, even though I still believed that there was a force out there that had a hand in the what took place in our lives, if only on a cosmic level. In 2009, I moved to New York City to pursue a career in the fashion industry. A month later I would get a job that would change the course of my life completely.
About a month after I began my life in New York as a stylist and sales associate in a high-end retail shop, I would meet my future husband. I was immediately drawn to this tall, brown-skinned man who seemed reserved, yet possessed an easy-going gregariousness that radiated from his large, brown eyes. I wanted to know him and fortunately for me, he wanted to know me too. Coming from California, I had a much more relaxed approach to life, which was something we both had in common. I found out that he was of Latino descent, his parents both immigrants from Central and South America and that he was, surprisingly, a Muslim. He’d converted 6 years earlier after marrying his first wife, whom he’d recently divorced. At the time he wasn’t practicing, but he strongly believed in the teachings of Islam and that it was the one true faith. It wasn’t something we discussed too frequently as we began to develop a closer relationship. We became inseparable and soon I found myself coming to the conclusion that I would one day marry this man. Then one year, as Ramadan was just around the corner, he made up his mind to fast during the Holy month, as he hadn’t for quite some time. He was in a place where he felt he needed to reconnect spiritually with the faith he had accepted years before, and was now making the effort to commit to what was expected of him from God. During Ramadan, I watched him fast from sunrise to sunset and even took to making him his pre-dawn meal a few times. I was moved by his perseverance and his sheer willingness to give up certain habits that weren’t conducive to Islam. At the same time, we’d listen to the Qu’ran, and he began to tell me more and more about what it meant to be a Muslim. It never once crossed my mind that I would actually accept the faith myself, but nonetheless, I was open to learning. I’d read books, watched documentaries on the history of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and met other people who were also Muslim, people who I found to be extremely warm, friendly and open-minded.
Then as Ramadan was drawing near its final days, he asked me if I would consider accepting Islam. It was a scary question at first, only because even though I wasn’t a practicing Christian, it was the only faith I knew and was somehow a piece of my identity. To consider leaving it behind was like having a rug swept up from underneath me. However given the small amount of knowledge I’d accumulated over the past twenty-something days, I saw no other reason why I could not accept Islam as my faith. Everything just seemed to make sense. Not only that, but the fact that I still could not wrap my head around the idea of the Holy Trinity and worshipping Jesus alongside the Creator, and that Islam shatters that notion completely, was enough to make me say “La ilaha il-Allah, Muhammad ar-rasulillah”. To this day I can’t thank Allah enough for leading me down this path, for my wonderful husband whom I love so much, and for giving me the motivation to learn as much as I can about Islam. I’m one happy slave.