I was born in Iceland in 1976. My family belongs to the state church of Iceland, which is Evangelical Lutheran (Protestant). However, although religion was always present to a certain extent in my life it never played a very large role in my upbringing.
When I was very young I attended Sunday School regularly, I went to summer camps which were run by religiously affiliated organizations and my grandmother used to come to me and tuck me in before I went to sleep and say prayers with me. However, my family never attended church regularly and in everyday life religion was not an issue. In Iceland it is a tradition within the church that you go through “confirmation” around the age of fourteen.
By that time you are considered an adult and should affirm your faith and the baptism that your parents did for you at a very young age. When I had to make the decision whether to do this or not I remember thinking whether I should or not, whether I believed enough to do it sincerely or not.
My conclusion was that I believed in God and that was more than most others that go through the confirmation do and I felt that if I didn´t go through it I would be rejecting God, something that I could not imagine doing.
While preparing for the confirmation we had to attend classes with the priest and go to church regularly. I tried to continue going to church after these classes and the mandatory attendance to church ended but somehow it just didn´t feel right. Going to church “didn´t do anything for me”. So, for the next years I thought very little about religion and its effect on my life. I would often pray to God but that was about it. I did not go soul searching or research different religions, I was quite content with things the way they were. I mean, after all, I believed in God, wasn´t that enough?
Islam has very little presence in Iceland and I didn’t know very much about it growing up. In school I was never taught about other religions than Christianity along with a little bit about Judaism in relation to the history of Christianity. Growing up I remember Islam mostly as being referred to as Mohammadanism and Muslims as Mohammadanism, and even today people use these words more often than the words Islam and Muslims. I have even seen it several times in the major newspaper in the past month.
My knowledge of Islam was thus minimal and came mostly from what I had read and the media. Overall it was not a pretty picture, but despite reading all these horror stories such as not without my daughter and other similar books as well as the horror stories in the news, Alhamdulillah I did not become prejudiced against Islam and kept my mind open.
One of the major reasons for that is probably due to my correspondence with an Icelandic girl who was an exchange student in Indonesia while I was an exchange student in Venezuela. In her letters and after we returned home she told me stories of her life and experience in Indonesia, which was all very positive and showed me a different view of Islam and Muslims than the books I had read and the media portrayed. However, personally I didn´t really come into contact with Islam until I went to study in the United States in the fall of 1997.
I went to the United States on a one year Rotary scholarship program and in my University there was a guy from Egypt, who was a part of that same program. We became very close and through my relationship with him I became interested in Islam. He often used to tell me things about Islam and I’d watch him practice Islam. Little by little I became interested in Islam, I started asking questions and debate Islam with him and then I started to research on my own, first on the internet and then by reading books about Islam, including a translation of the Quran.
My research started for real last spring and continued over the summer while I was back home in Iceland and then in the fall when I went back to the US to finish my studies here on my own. For a long time the only person I had discussed and debated Islam with and asked questions about Islam was my friend from Egypt, but in December last year I stumbled upon a chat about Islam on the internet where I met some really wonderful Muslims that I chatted with and asked questions and they helped me a lot.
Talking to someone else, someone neutral was really important to me. When I first started researching Islam I was very excited and I was discovering so many wonderful things about Islam that I didn’t know about and in a way I just got hooked so to speak, I could not stop thinking about Islam and I just wanted to read more and more. But for a long time I was torn, there were many issues that I didn’t understand and many that I had a hard time accepting.
For a period of time I went through a phase where I tried to find anything negative about Islam, I guess to convince myself that I didn’t have to become a Muslim, because to be honest I was terrified and confused and it seemed much easier to just continue living my life the way I had been, than accept the truth and change my lifestyle.
I was really confused during this time. One moment I’d feel that Islam was the truth and all I wanted was to submit to Allah and become a Muslim, but the next moment I would find everything wrong with Islam, it was like in the cartoons, having an angel whispering into one ear and a devil whispering into the other. But finally I managed to stop listening to the “little devil” and see clearly that Islam is the truth and that all I wanted was to submit myself to God and live my life as a Muslim.
I was chatting with a Muslim sister that I had met at that first chat in December, when I decided that it was time to take my Shahadah. I had already made plans to go to a sister’s halaqa the next morning (we were chatting in the middle of the night) and I told her I was going to take my Shahadah then, but that I wished I could do it immediately. So she decided to see if that was possible and found three other Muslim sisters she knew online and we all met in a chat room and I ended up taking my shahada on the Internet.
Since becoming Muslim I have gone through both very happy times and difficult times. I am continuously struggling with learning more about Islam and how to be a good Muslim as well as trying to keep strong despite negative reactions from my family and friends.
All I know is that I made the right decision and I thank Allah for guiding me to the truth.