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Finding Islam: The Road Less Traveled

I recall the day perfectly. It was the first week of December 1992. I was a sophomore in college and had just wrapped up my mid-term exams. I was excited that Christmas vacation would start in a couple of days. I had just enough time to pack up my belongings for the winter break and wrap a few gifts that I had bought for my roommate.

As I put the last bow on the gifts, I just froze as a thought entered my head. And that thought was in the form of a question: If God is good, then how could He allow His only son Jesus to be crucified?

This single question opened the floodgates for me. It literally took my breath away. I had to lie down on my bed to just breathe and collect my thoughts, which I was afraid, were blasphemous. I went down a virtual checklist of just how much I knew about Christianity and asked myself whether or not I really believed what I knew. What I learned is that I did not know much about my religion, and what I did know I questioned.

As an infant, my parents baptized me a Christian. However, they were not very religious at all, and I can only remember attending church a handful of times in my life. The only time we even went to church was during the holidays. As a result, I always felt a deep void in my heart and I could not “feel” that God was in my life. I knew I had to take immediate action and “find” God.

The winter break ended just as soon as it came. I headed back to college to complete the final semester before summer vacation. I knew this was the opportunity I had to explore my faith.

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I set out on my quest the following Sunday. I attended a Catholic Mass at a church near my college. During the service, I did all I could to control my laughter. And the service was not supposed to be funny. I looked around me and everyone had serious looks on their faces and had their heads bowed.

To me, the sermon sounded ridiculous as if it were something a father would say to a naughty child that would scare him into behaving. It was ridiculous and, unlike me, the other parishioners were swallowing it hook, line, and sinker! Why wasn’t anyone asking questions or demanding the light of truth? I did not find God that day in church.

My Search Continued

Over the course of the next several months, I continued my quest by visiting the churches of every single denomination Christianity has to offer. I attended a Presbyterian Church for a couple of weeks. Then moved on to the Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and so on. But again I found the sermons unconvincing and was just not buying what the preachers were selling.

By this time, the void in my heart was all encompassing. I fell into a deep depression. I could not understand what was wrong with me. Was I an atheist? I did not think so since I did believe in a Higher Authority that created and ruled humankind. Was I in Satan’s clutches? Certainly, I must be since I laughed at my own religion. I could not find answers to any of my questions and fell into a blackness that made me question every aspect of my life.

Allah’s light would not shine on me until almost a year later. In 1993, I met a man who just happened to be a Muslim. His name was Abid. I knew a little about Islam from high school.

Surprisingly enough, we had learned about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in world history class. So, I could converse a little with Abid about Islam, and he taught me the basic principles of the Islamic belief.

I was very skeptical at first. All I had ever heard about Muslims was bad. The media regularly portrayed Muslims as being terrorists and oppressing women. I believed what I saw on TV.

At the same time, I was taking a class on “feminism,” and the book we used for the class had a huge chapter that explicitly stated that women in Islam were treated like dogs and not allowed to pray in the mosque because they are considered to be impure.

So, the first question I asked Abid was about how women are treated in Islam. His answer was that women are allowed to pray in mosques, but separate from the men because of piety and modesty issues for both of the sexes. He had captured my attention and made me rethink what I knew about Islam.

Unfortunately, Abid was called back to his own country, Kuwait, to tend to his sick father. So, I was pretty much left on my own to discover Islam. However, I did keep in contact with Abid over the phone. We had several furious debates about Christianity and Islam. And then he challenged me. He dared me to go out and find a copy of the holy Quran and read it. I had never backed down from a challenge before, and this was no different. I accepted the challenge, not knowing that it would change my life forever.

The challenge to find an English translation of the Quran was just that — a challenge. I was in a city with a church on just about every corner and a massive Christian bookstore downtown. There was nowhere to buy a copy of the Quran. I decided to search the college library.

typed the word “Quran” into the database and one single entry came back. And it was not even listed in the Theology section, which was really stunning. It was located in the Children’s Book Section, which was pretty telling to me. I trekked down to the basement where the kid’s books were located and found a dirty and ragged Quran between two fairytale books.

That Quran had seen better days. It was not worn from devoted reading or interest. It was worn from sheer neglect and covered in dust. Regardless, I dusted it off and proceeded to check it out much to the amazement of the librarian who leered at me as I signed my name. As if I had committed a sin in her presence! I shoved the Qur’an in my backpack and made my way back to my dorm.

Abid had given me strict instructions for cleanliness before touching the Quran, which seemed really strange to me.

The Bible, in my home, was left on the coffee table to gather dust and get an occasional lick from our dog. It was not revered as the Quran is. His instructions were that I should perform an act called wudu’ (ablution), which consisted of washing different parts of the body.

For some reason, my mind was not wrapping around this idea. I kept telling him that I did not know how to perform “voodoo.” Clearly, we were not on the same page! So, he told me to just take a shower before touching the Quran.

After finishing my shower and dressing, I sat down at my desk with the Quran in hand. For some reason, I did not open it at page one but rather I opened it up somewhere in the center. And this is the very first ayah (verse of Quran) that I read:

{We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents; in pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth.}  (46:15)

I was stunned. What a wonderful thing to read. I flipped through the pages, and everything I read brought a smile to my face. After reading a lot more over the course of several days, I was absolutely flabbergasted with my findings. Moses and Noah were in the Quran, and so were Jesus and his mother Mary! And the Quran gave a lot more detail, in regards to historical events, than the Bible did.

As I read and read, I felt my heart soaring. I felt I was on the right path to finding Allah and knowing Him. However, my quest was interrupted due to problems with my family, finishing my studies and the fact that Abid, my only teacher, was remaining in his country for an unspecified time. The feeling of loss and hopelessness once again overwhelmed me. So, I put my interest in Islam on the back-burner.

It was only the sheer grace of Allah that led me back to Islam in 1995. I had continued to keep in contact with Abid during his stay in his country. One day he asked me to marry him over the phone and I agreed even though I was still Christian. I was committed to learning more about Islam but had no way of knowing if I would be able to accept this new religion.

After our marriage, we moved to Kuwait, which is where his family was based. I took the Shahadah in 1996. The tears of thankfulness to Allah overwhelmed me as I stood in the mosque surrounded by Muslim sisters. I could not stop crying. I felt that Allah had plucked me out of a life of disbelief, that He saved me from a meaningless existence and a life of reckless abandon.

However, the story does not end there. I was now a Muslim, but I had very limited knowledge of Islam. No one in my newfound family spoke enough English to teach me how to pray and the Islamic books in English were scarce. I was a Muslim, but I was unable to practice my beliefs. It was very discouraging.

Everyone kept telling me that it was OK and I would not be held accountable for not knowing how to pray or fast. But, while that is true, Muslims are supposed to strive for knowledge and seek it out. My problem was that I did not know where to look. I felt my Islam slipping away again, but Allah, in His infinite wisdom, pulled me back again for the third time!

It was exactly 4 a.m. in the morning during the summer of 1999. I was pacing my apartment because I just felt restless. The phone rang, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I knew something was wrong. It was my sister calling from Connecticut. The news was bad. Not only had my grandmother died, but she had been brutally strangled to death by a handyman who had known her for over 15 years.

I was shattered. My grandmother was the most important person to me. I did not know how to cope. Over the next few days, I just cried myself sick. All the while I had my eyes fixated on the English translation of the Quran that I had on top of my cupboard. I had never opened it once since the sisters gave it to me when I took the Shahadah at the mosque.

I felt like a failure as a Muslim because of the language barrier and because of not knowing how to pray, so I even ignored the Quran in my own language. But something was different. All the days I spent crying in my room because of the loss of my grandmother, I felt like the Quran was beckoning me to read it. I was drawn to it.

So, after two solid weeks of mourning, I began reading the Quran once again. But this time I would not leave it sitting around unused, rather I read the entire Quran from cover to cover over the course of a few months.

Armed with the knowledge of the Quran, I sought out ways to perfect my Islam. I finally bought a computer, got hooked up to the Internet, and found a plethora of Islamic knowledge at my fingertips. A sister in Saudi Arabia taught me how to pray via e-mail. And whenever I had a question, I would visit an Islamic forum to find the answer.

It has been almost 11 years since I converted to Islam. The student has now become the teacher. I am a writer. I write about Islam in various newspapers and magazines in different countries. I can only wonder if my articles are being clipped and saved in a book that will help teach others about Islam. In sha’ Allah they are as I come full circle.

About Sumayyah Meehan
Sumayyah Meehan reverted to Islam over 23 years ago. She is a Waynesburg University graduate with a BA in Criminal Justice. Sumayyah is a journalist, marketer and freelance graphic designer. She is also a single-mother residing in North Carolina with her children.