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I Am No Plaything

Janet's Journey to Islam

My mother was an officer in the United States Navy so we moved quite a few times growing up.

But I spent most of my childhood years in Pensacola, Florida, a town with a population of about 50,000 people.

Pensacola is most well-known for its US Naval base and its Brownsville Revival Church.

On Sunday nights, you could hear the church music from miles away. My parents instilled in me a love of learning and an inquisitive nature from an early age. They taught me to “think outside the box” and find truth inside myself. They never encouraged me to conform. They nurtured independent minds in both my brother and myself.

I will never forget the moment it occurred to me that I had the power within myself to discern the basic truth about my creation. I was in middle school. I had completed my assignment half an hour early and I was quietly occupying myself with my thoughts. That’s when I first discovered my natural religion.

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It came to me as I was staring at our classroom whiteboard, considering the significance of the myriad of information it contained. On this board, you could find the date, our homework assignments, the lesson, and you could even see the ghosts of yesterday’s whiteboard contents in the corners where the eraser hadn’t quite reached.

It suddenly struck me that my brain was like this whiteboard. The only difference was that, while the contents of our classroom whiteboard had been deliberately and carefully mapped out by its owner, my brain’s whiteboard had been indiscriminately written upon by every image, song, book, expression, lecture, and argument to which I had ever been exposed. I imagined that, if I could see it, it would be a chaotic, indecipherable mess. This disturbed me, but then I wondered: If the images, writings, and hidden messages could be erased, what would I find beneath?

I realized there must be, beneath all that I had soaked up, me. I recognized that under all that “information” would be my uncorrupted self. And on the tails of that hypothesis was the realization that if I could communicate with my inner nature, I could find what beliefs were natural to me.

Did I have a purpose or was I incidental?

I decided to invest all my efforts at bringing forth a mental image of my whiteboard. On the board, would be written everything I “knew” about religion. And in my mind, I would stand in front of that board wielding an eraser, ready to find the truth beneath.

First, I came upon the memorized biblical verses from Baptist daycare: “For God so loved the world…” – erased. Next came the mantras of Christian Science Sunday School, “There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter…” – erased. And then there was a discussion I had overheard between my aunt and my parents, “Energy can be neither created nor destroyed…” – erased.

I erased it all. All the sad-eyed images of Jesus, all the verses, all the lessons, the documentaries – everything – I vanquished them. And only a shining whiteboard remained.  

Mentally, I set down my eraser and I picked up a pen. I hesitated. What should I write? I started a sentence and stopped myself, suddenly very unsure. And then I asked myself the burning question that while I yearned to ask, I feared as well. I asked, “what if there is no such thing as God?” Immediately the answer ripped through my brain with almost terrifying force, shaking my whiteboard on its hinges, “Don’t say that!” My nature screamed at me, “God can hear you!”

That was it. From my very nature the answer was clear: I knew God could hear me. I was not incidental; I was created. I lifted my pen and wrote simply: “I was created by God.” This was my natural religion.

From then on, I carried my natural religion with me and protected it fiercely. I guarded it jealously from whatever theories, philosophies, or doctrines might indiscriminately attempt to etch themselves upon my precious whiteboard. I became skeptical of the things trusted adults might tell me.

I asked questions in Sunday school: How could God be human? How could God die? Why would God have a son? Why would God kill His son for my sins? Could God not simply forgive sin? Would you have me believe that I am more merciful than God? And the answers to these questions were either “Take it on faith,” or an obvious lie.

My skepticism became cynicism. I was angry that these adults, ostensibly wiser than me, seemed intent on corrupting my inner truth. I began to hate Christianity. But I did not hate the Bible. I read the Bible and I felt love for Jesus. I felt love for the prophets. So I clung to that love and to the knowledge that my creation was no accident. I clung to my natural religion.

It wasn’t until my first year of high school, that I learned what a Muslim was. My world-history teacher introduced us to Islam as part of our studies of the Arab world. Her lecture on Islamic theology was brief but shocking. She told us that there are one billion Muslims in the world. Muslims believe in One God. They believe Jesus was a prophet. It is an Abrahamic religion.  

I listened in awe. And she mentioned a person who I had never heard of: Muhammad. She described him as a brilliant political leader who claimed to have received a revelation from God, called “Quran”, while meditating in a cave. She described him accurately, but without love. The religion she portrayed sounded very foreign and masculine, but nonetheless it intrigued me. I resolved myself to read this revelation of Muhammad’s, this “Quran.”

From the day I bought it, my Quran was my favorite book. I didn’t treat it like my other books. This book demanded respect. The cover had been so lovingly designed with its leather binding and lovely gold engravings. Inside, the Arabic text nestled next to the English translation fascinated me. When I carried it with me, I wrapped it in a lovely hand stitched blanket I had owned since I was a baby. I didn’t want my school books rubbing against it and disturbing it.

I read the Quran patiently. In a way, I knew it was true before I read it. But the cynic in me held out, until I read one simple verse which hushed every doubt in me:

{Not for idle sport did I create the heavens and the earth and all that is between! If it had been My wish to take just a pastime, I should surely have taken it from the things nearest to Me, if I would do such a thing! Nay, I hurl the Truth against falsehood, and it knocks out its brain, and behold, falsehood does perish! Ah! Woe be to you for the false things you ascribe to Me.} (21:168)

My Mind Reeled

Allah hurls truth against falsehood and knocks out its brain.” I was not created idly. I am no plaything.

It all came together, my memory of my mental whiteboard shaking on its hinges and that violent cry, “God can hear you!” This verse explained it all. Allah hurls truth against falsehood and knocks out its brain.

This book was my natural religion. My natural religion was Islam.

Just about one year after I finished reading the Quran for the first time, at the age of 16, I took my Shahadah. My parents, may Allah bless them and guide them, accepted my conversion from the very first day. I explained to my mother what the words of my Shahadah meant. She was surprised and curious. Shortly after I began wearing a headscarf in public, my father received some tracts in the mail which slandered Islam and Prophet Muhammad. They were sent anonymously by someone who wished to “warn” him about the “evil” religion I had embraced.

I remember my father threw them away in distaste. And he bought a book about Islam written by a Muslim to study up on my new faith. My parents make me feel very blessed.

The simple truth of Islam gives a life simple truth and meaning. Making such a huge change in direction can give a person perspective on life, one that will influence every decision they make from that day forward.

Seven years since I took my Shahadah, I am now married with four children. Sometimes I look at my children in awe and try to imagine where I might be had my life followed a more conventional path. And frankly, it feels like I have been saved from something too terrible to imagine.

Islam encompasses everything I have, and more importantly everything I hope to be. I can only aspire to live up to all the blessings I have been given.

All praise only due to Allah. And all thanks to Him. And there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah.