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Affected by the Muslims Around Me

It was a hot and humid night in August of 1991, and I decided to look up every reference to Christianity that I could find in the Quran. After two years of informally studying Islam, I knew that this had to be the “Truth” and the straight path to God. Still, something was holding me back from making a final decision to convert, and I was sure that I would find the resolution to my anxiety in the Quran.

Alhamdulillah (all praise be to Allah), I did! I read Surat Al-Ma’idah, verses 82-85 and I became convinced that within my true essence was a natural yearning to be a Muslim. In reality, I had been a Muslim since the day I was born.

I was in the middle of completing my Master’s degree in history and had already finished my B.S. in Education. I knew that my life would drastically change forever with my new choice. Over a period of four years, I had met some very good Muslim sisters and brothers who patiently and intelligently helped me along my path to Truth.

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I had never completely accepted the idea of Christianity to be the only way to God. I don’t know why. Previously, I asked a priest to explain the concept of trinity, and when he couldn’t, I started to have my doubts. The same priest condescendingly advised me to simply believe it as a matter of faith. In other words, Christianity does not have to make sense. I am expected to flatly accept its concepts as a matter of faith, otherwise I was not being a good Christian.

The idea that religion does not have to make sense bothered me a lot. I could not understand why God would give me a brain with which to think and reflect, and then expect me not to use it when it comes to worshipping Him! I became curious about other religions, and while spending one year in Japan I delved into Buddhism. I soon rejected this religion because I was not comfortable with bowing before statues of Buddha. I decided to stick with the religion that I was raised on and with which I was most comfortable.

At that point, I knew almost nothing about Islam; I thought it was something only Arabs practiced. Looking back, it is hard to believe that a student of history could subscribe to such false notions – it just proves the point that many Western history textbooks are unjustly biased against Islam. Alhamdulillah, today I have noticed a lot of positive changes in the way Islam is presented in Western textbooks.

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One of the most influential aspects in my conversion was the brothers and sisters whom I met who not only practiced their faith with dignity and enthusiasm but were also kind and tolerant of me as a non-Muslim. I met many such Muslims at the university I attended.

There was a Malaysian sister, wearing her hijab and long dignified flowing clothes, who would walk respectfully across the room to her seat in my class. There was a brother who regularly came into the university bookstore where I worked. I noticed that he dressed very modestly and always looked so clean. After I became Muslim, I realized why – he made ritual ablutions five times a day!

There was also a brother who sat next to me on a domestic flight and who showed me great respect and kindly reassured me when we encountered some heavy turbulence. He was a pilot himself, and when he noticed my anxiety as the plane took a deep plunge in the turbulence, he started to talk to me about how he was a pilot for an international carrier and that everything would be just fine. He then proceeded to explain in some detail the workings of the aircraft we were on. The logic of it all was very reassuring.

Ultimately, I realized all of these people were Muslims, and they came from different parts of the world. I admired the way they carried themselves and the fact that they were proud that they were Muslim. Nevertheless, they were always considerate and kind to me as a non-Muslim.

About one year before I would actually convert, I became more interested in Islam. On a bulletin board at the church that I attended, I noticed a flyer about a Christian – Muslim dialogue session. The flyer listed some basic information about Islam. Of particular interest to me was the mention that there are currently one billion Muslims in the world. It suddenly dawned on me that because there are clearly not one billion Arabs, Islam must be a religion for everyone! I thought there must be at least some truth to this religion if so many people practice it.

I did not attend the Christian – Muslim dialogue, but I did go to the library and check out an English meaning of the Quran. I read it in three days and was enthralled. My overall impression was that Islam is a way of life and is based on a balance between justice and mercy. I decided I had to find out more about this religion.

There happen to be a branch of the MSA (Muslim Student Association) where I attended university, and I got a lot of informational pamphlets from them. I also became friends with some Muslims and asked innumerable questions until it got to the point where I had to make a final decision about converting. None of my Muslim friends pushed me to convert. In fact in retrospect, I am amazed at how patient they were with my questions.

After my conversion I was extremely grateful to Allah Almighty for this guidance. It is hard to explain: I felt at times like I was walking on air. I was so eager to learn the Prayer and to wear the hijab (headscarf) even though I knew people would stare or make rude comments. I definitely went through difficult trials with my family and almost all of my friends rejected me as a Muslim, but alhamdulillah, Allah gave me better friends!

I think the best way to describe my gratitude to Allah for this most valuable gift of faith is to say that my worst and most difficult days as a Muslim have been so much better than the best days I ever experienced as a non-Muslim!