CARSON CITY, Nevada – It was three years ago when the life of Laura Magee changed for good.
After 12 years in military intelligence, she joined a six-week chaplaincy course as she wanted to enter a new military career field as a chaplain assistant.
“I had learned little bits and pieces of it (Islam) through documentaries or my world religions class (in college),” she told AF.mil.
“But to me, in the past, I thought, well, all religions have a certain amount of truth to them and Islam was kind of an eastern religion that I really didn’t understand.”
During her training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, she discovered Islam and eventually introduced the religion to her husband, Mark Magee, when she returned home.
“I have never heard of that happening before,” Capt. Rafael Lantigua, a Muslim chaplain with the 502nd Air Base Wing at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.
Lantigua is a mentor for Laura who attended chaplain school the same time she was at the chaplain assistant’s course.
“I’ve heard of chaplain assistants coming out of school saying they have a broader understanding, more religiously competent, with more appreciation (of other religions), but when you are talking about changing faiths, having that transition take place — a life changing event such as that — I’ve never heard of that happening before.”
Lantigua, the son of a Catholic father and Southern Baptist mother, converted to Islam when he was a teenager.
During their training in 2014, he gave a short presentation on Islam. Afterward, Laura and other service members approached him for more information.
“I definitely see a rise in interest (in Islam) because the US military has been engaged with the Muslim world, if you will, the Middle East, at least in the American consciousness for decades,” Lantigua said.
“For people outside the military, they want to ask, but are too afraid to offend. In the military, they are more comfortable to engage with other military because we both wear the uniform.”
Lantigua gave Laura an English translation of the Qur’an and they met frequently during the course to discuss passages from the text.
“From the quality of the questions she was asking, I could tell she was having a rediscovery of her own personal beliefs,” he said.
Islam at Last
For the husband, the news that his wife was interested in Islam was a shock at first.
“At first she messaged me and told me, ‘Hey what do you think if I told you I was reading the Qur’an?’” said Mark, a master sergeant in the Nevada Air National Guard. “It was quite a shock.
“It was different when she got home and explained the whole thing and explained what it was and how she felt. … Her biggest thing was the worship of Jesus as God,” he said.
“That was the sticking point. She felt that people were worshipping Jesus as God, when it should be just God.”
Mark engaged the situation with an open mind and read the entire Qur’an twice.
“The things that are there, versus reading the Bible and the many contradictions between the Old and New Testament — the Qur’an is more constant all the way through,” he said.
Both Mark and Laura initially worried how their fellow Airmen in the Nevada ANG would react to their conversion.
“It’s been really positive,” Laura said.
“Amazingly positive, actually. When I get questions, the two I get most are: ‘How did you come to Islam?’ Not necessarily in a judgmental way, but a curious way. The other question I get is, ‘How are people treating you? Are you being treated OK?’ Because everyone is worried about Islamophobia and worried I’ll be treated in a bad way. There’s more of a fear of me being treated badly … it’s kind of touching.”
She was granted permission to wear her hijab at work while in her Air Force uniform, which was quickly endorsed by her chain of command, Magee said.
She also writes a blog on her conversion experience titled, “For the Love of Deen” (Deen is an Arabic word meaning “religion”).
“I want people to know about Islam,” she said.
“I want people to know it is not evil. I want people to know how the overwhelming population of Muslims are good people.”