I was raised in a religious Christian family.
At that time, Americans were more religious than they are now—most families went to church every Sunday, for example.
My parents were involved in the church community. We often had ministers (Protestant priests) in the house. My mother taught in Sunday school, and I helped her.
I must have been more religious than other children, although I don’t remember being so. For one birthday, my aunt gave me a Bible, and my sister a doll. Another time, I asked my parents for a prayer book, and I read it daily for many years.
When I was in junior high school (middle school), I attended a Bible study program for two years. Up to this point, I had read some parts of the Bible, but had not understood them very well. Now was my chance to learn. Unfortunately, we studied many passages in the Old and New Testaments that I found inexplicable, even bizarre.
For example, the Bible teaches an idea called Original Sin, which means that humans are all born sinful. I had a baby brother, and I knew that babies were not sinful.
The Bible has very strange and disturbing stories about Prophet Abraham and Prophet David, for example. I couldn’t understand how prophets could behave the way the Bible says they did.
There were many, many other things that puzzled me about the Bible, but I didn’t ask questions. I was afraid to ask—I wanted to me known as a “good girl.” Al-Hamdulillah, there was a boy who asked, and kept asking.
The most critical matter was the notion of Trinity. I couldn’t get it. How could God have three parts, one of which was human?
Having studied Greek and Roman mythology at school, I thought the idea of the Trinity and powerful human saints very similar to the Greek and Roman ideas of having different so-called “gods” that were in charge of different aspects of life.
The boy who asked, asked many questions about Trinity, received many answers, and was never satisfied. Neither was I. Finally, our teacher, a University of Michigan Professor of Theology, told him to pray for faith. I prayed.
When I was in high school, I secretly wanted to be a nun. I was drawn to the pattern of offering devotions at set times of day, of a life devoted entirely to God, and of dressing in a way that declared my religious lifestyle. An obstacle to this ambition, though, was that I wasn’t Catholic.
I lived in a Midwestern town where Catholics were a distinct and unpopular minority! Furthermore, my protestant upbringing had instilled in me distaste for religious statuary, and a healthy disbelief that dead saints had the ability to help me.
In college, I continued to think and pray. Students often talk and argue about religion, and I heard many different ideas. Like Yusuf Islam, I studied the Eastern so-called religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism. No help there.
I met a Muslim from Libya, who told me a little about Islam and the Quran. He told me that Islam is the modern, most up-to-date form of revealed religion. Because I thought of Africa and the Middle East as backwards places, I couldn’t see Islam as modern.
My family took this Libyan brother to a Christmas church service. The service was breathtakingly beautiful, but at the end, he asked:
“Who made up this procedure? And who taught you how to pray?”
I told him about early Church history, but his question made me angry at first, and later made me think.
Had the people who designed the worship service really been qualified to do so? How had they known the form that worship should take? Had they had divine instruction?
I went to church again, and sat and looked at the ministers in front. They were no better than the congregation—some of them were worse. How could it be true that the agency of a man, of any human being, was necessary for communion with God? Why couldn’t I deal with God directly, and receive His absolution directly?
Soon after this, I found a translation of the meaning of the Quran in a bookstore, bought it, and started to read it. I read it, off and on, for eight years. During this time, I continued to investigate other religions.
I grew increasingly aware of and afraid of my sins. How could I know whether God would forgive me? I no longer believed that the Christian model, the Christian way of being forgiven, would work. My sins weighed heavily on me, and I didn’t know how to escape the burden of them. I longed for forgiveness.
I read in the Quran what means:
Nearest among them in love to the Believers you will find those who say, ‘We are Christian’: Because amongst them are Men devoted to learning, and men who have renounced the world and are not arrogant.
And when they listen to the revelation received by the Messenger, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognize the truth. They pray, ‘Our Lord! We believe. Write us down among the witnesses… (5:84)
I began to hope that Islam held the answer. How could I find out for sure?
I saw Muslims praying on the TV news, and knew that they had a special way of praying. And I found a book (by a non-Muslim) that described it, and I tried to do it myself (I knew nothing of ablution, and did not pray correctly). I prayed that way, secretly and alone, for several years.
Finally, about eight years after first buying my Quran, I read:
This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor for you, and chosen Islam as your religion. (5:3)
I wept for joy, because I knew that, way back in time, before the creation of the Earth, God had written this Quran for me.
I became obsessed with Islam. And I thought about it, day and night. On several occasions, I drove to the mosque (at that time, it was in an old converted house) and circled it many times, hoping to see a Muslim, wondering what it was like inside.
Finally, one day in early November 1986, as I was working in the kitchen, I suddenly knew, knew that I was Muslim. Still a coward, I sent the mosque a letter. It said, “I believe in Allah, the One True God, I believe that Muhammad was His Messenger, and I want to be counted among the witnesses.”
The brother called me on the phone the next day, and I said my Shahadah (Testimony of Faith) on the phone to him. He told me then that Allah had forgiven all my sins at that moment, and that I was as pure as a newborn baby.
I felt the burden of sin slip off my shoulders, and wept for joy. And I slept little that night, weeping, and repeating God’s name. Forgiveness had been granted. Alhamdulillah.