BISMILLAH HIR RAHMAN NIR RAHEEM
Slow and Steady by J’nelle C.
I have a big imagination. Always have. From my days as a young girl growing up in Queens, NY reading Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and other books with no pictures (I really wanted to be like Belle from Beauty and the Beast). I lived in the dreams in my head. My beautiful and unapologetically Caribbean family provided the warmth, love, and boisterous laughter that made my childhood a happy one. I was raised Christian (United Methodist), and when I wasn’t in school or at some extracurricular activity, I could be found in my church where I sang in the choirs from childhood until college, went to Girl Scouts, took dance lessons and confirmation classes, and of course, attended Sunday school and regular church services. My life was full. The people at my church loved (and continue to love) me. They taught me an intense sense of community and to have pride in my culture and my heritage. Despite the fact that I no longer worship Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior (I always had trouble wrapping my mind around that concept), I can never stop loving them. After all, if it had not been for them, I wouldn’t be a Muslim today.
In June of 2010, I spent some time traveling around Ecuador with a group of artists. For three weeks, we went from the hustle and bustle of Quito to the sandy beaches of Sua. Our travels took us to Posada de Tigua, a century old hacienda turned bed-and-breakfast in the highlands. All the dairy and vegetables are produced on site, and we all spent the day playing with giant dogs, milking cows, riding llamas and enjoying the delicious homemade food. That evening, some of us decided to take a stroll. Armed with two flashlights and someone’s iPhone light, we made our way past the pigs and alpacas, following the sound of a stream. After walking for what felt like an eternity, we took a break. I looked up and saw a full moon and a blanket of twinkling stars that felt close enough to touch. Remembering that we were on a mountain, I was amazed when I felt the clouds pass over us. I looked towards the stream and saw what I can only describe as a ‘moonbow’ – a moon rainbow. No colors, only the outline of something I’d only ever seen during the day. I stood there in awe and thought to myself “How could anyone think that God doesn’t exist?” It was the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had.
Before I knew the difference between deen (the divine path/religion) and dunya (earthly life), I would tell you that my life was wonderful. I had a master’s degree, a job in social justice, and was co-founder of an all women’s theatre company. It was fantastic. Amazing, even. What I wouldn’t and couldn’t say, though, was that I was wandering spiritually. I was searching for something, for truth. I went from church to church, finding nothing. Asking questions, looking for answers. Content with singing Christian hymns and gospel songs despite the curious feeling of not being sure that I believed in what I was singing. My relationship with Islam then was nothing more than a passing fancy. Before we were married, my husband, who converted 7 years ago, would tell me about Islam. I heard him, but I wasn’t really listening. I asked him questions and he would tell me what he knew but always encouraged me to seek more information (one of my favorite attributes of Islam – seeking knowledge and daleel, or proof of evidence). I like to research, and almost immediately looked into women’s rights in Islam and found a very different answer than what mainstream media tells us. But, it still took a whole year of patience and prayer for me to take the plunge. On December 30, 2012, at a mosque in Brooklyn, the teacher of the new Muslims class translated the adhan for me (words in parentheses represent the thoughts running through my mind during the translation):
Allah is greatest. (Yes.)
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except for Allah. (Absolutely.)
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. (I’m learning more about him, and he seemed amazing.)
Hurry to the prayer.
Hurry to success. (Wait, what? All this time I thought I was successful. I’ve recognized that there was more, but to be told how much more I have to strive for, five times a day? This is what I need.)
Allah is greatest.
There is none worthy of worship except for Allah.
After that, there was no reason for me to keep wandering. I took my shahada and have continued to learn and grow and, inshaAllah, I will succeed. In my four short months as a Muslim, I have been incredibly humbled. Often, I am at a loss for words. I’m a newborn-baby Muslimah, barely able to roll over, even though all I really want to do is run. In my extra-large imagination, I’m already giving lectures on the beauty of Islam and running my own Islamic theatre company for women! But, as they say, slow and steady wins the race, right?