You know, at first it was a bumpy ride. I told my wife, you realize we’re going to be losing a lot of friends, on one side of the fence. But if you were a practicing Muslim and right after 9/11 to white American who wants to become Muslim would you trust them?
My name is Pam Valentine. I converted to Islam for almost seventeen years ago.
I’m Gary Valentine. I grew up in upstate New York as a Christian and converted to Islam approximately a month after 9/11.
I grew up in upstate New York. We didn’t grow up in the same towns but I ended up in the same town as him after my divorce. I met him and we hit it off.
How it Started
It was 1984 I looked out the kitchen window and it wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness, it was a short black man with a kufi, I learned later what it was calling.
He introduced himself as my new neighbor and he said he’s Muslim and if I was interested in the religion. He gave me a copy of the Quran and some other associated reading material… And that started a journey that lasted approximately almost twenty years.
It’s a big step initially because it’s not so much the religion, it’s just the culture that you pretty much adopt that you dropped into the Muslim community because most of them are immigrants. We’re both American and it was the culture shock.
Well, we started learning about Islam before 9/11 so we weren’t biased in any way. He started reading the Quran, I mean he worked full-time and we were building a house and you know he’d come home from work strap on a hammer.
I worked for four hours building a house and then before we went to bed, he would read the Quran.
When 9/11 happened, we knew that it wasn’t the religion. So we decided we’ve got to make a decision here.
It’s mandatory on all Muslims to make Hajj, if they can afford it and it’s not a hardship.
We could afford; it wasn’t a hardship. Some other people were going and so we all got together in 2005 and made our hajj.
You know, growing up in the 60s and 70s, we were at a Woodstock Watkins Glen, summer jam 70… there were a lot of people there.
I think Woodstock was four hundred fifty thousand, half a million, Watkins Glen was like six hundred and fifty thousand.
He wasn’t in Woodstock, I was at Woodstock, I didn’t know him yet.
“And you kept your clothes on”.
My family members, I think, were following their Christian values because, you know, they want what’s best for their children but they also want the children to make their own decision.