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What can I say, Allah (swt) called me to Islam. It seemed to happen so fast, only 28 days passed since I opened my heart to Islam and when I said Shahadah, the happiest day of my life. I grew up in a Catholic family, not just Catholic in name, but practicing also.
I went to a Catholic grade school, went to church on a consistent basis, and said my prayers every night. My mother always hoped for me to become a nun, that was her dream before she met my dad, and I was the youngest of four girls. I thought I was a good Catholic too. I believed. I prayed. But I didn’t agree with everything in my religion, which to me seemed ok, it was enough to believe in God, but I also believe in divorce, I don’t agree with the church hierarchy, and I don’t like the fact that there is a priest between God and me. But I was brought up Catholic and that was the way it was always going to be.
I lived in Russia for two years teaching English. When I was there I went to a Catholic service twice. It was four hours long and they told me I needed to go to confession before I could take communion. These were believers, that wasn’t for me. I got no spiritual fulfilment from the Russian Orthodox Church even though the icons are beautiful. When I came back after two years of not going to church I thought my faith was renewed. The first time I went I actually listened to the Gospel. I continued to go and even found a church when I moved out to DC. I always said I was part German, Polish, Irish and Belgian, but one hundred percent Catholic!
Then I met Mounir. This changed my life in many ways, some good, mostly bad, now that I look back I understand that I had to go through all of this to get to the Truth. Mounir is from Morocco. On our first date he told me about the five pillars of Islam while drinking an Amstel light. I didn’t think anything of the Amstel light, but I thought telling me about the five pillars of Islam on a first date is strange. In order to understand my Muslim boyfriend I wanted to understand Islam. I bought a book, and at the same time I bought a book about Catholicism, I wanted to get closer to my faith too.
I didn’t get into Islam right away, but I started asking a lot of questions. I spent five weeks in Russia that summer. When I came home I discovered that Mounir didn’t miss me as much as I missed him. The break up was devastating to me, so much that I didn’t even realize what I was really going through at the time. My only consolation was drinking and partying. I still went to church during this time, but I couldn’t find the spirituality I needed to get me through this without losing all my self-respect. Meanwhile, I studied Islam a little more, but to me it was purely academic. I decided to declare it as my minor in graduate school and started studying Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia. But I thought the more I study Islam, the more I need to study Catholicism.
Come spring semester I signed up for the class Conflict Resolution in Islamic Studies with Professor Abdul Aziz Said. One day he gave us a copy of the Noble Qur’an. I couldn’t believe it! I was so excited that I had a copy of the Qur’an. I had never read the Bible. I took it home but didn’t start reading it right away. I started talking with a Moroccan at work. He started to tell me certain Surahs to read and then he said that once you start digging into Islam you can’t stop. I just laughed and assured him that I was very secure in my Catholic beliefs. In order to make myself believe that I started to research Catholicism. It was short lived though.
One day all of this changed. I was doing some tabling at the university to get some support for our human rights group. Another girl from the organization, Mandy, came with me. I knew her, but not that well. As we sat there for two hours I discovered that she was a Muslim, she converted from Catholicism. When she told me this, I started to feel like maybe it was ok, the feelings that I was having, I’m not alone. After that I started reading the Qur’an. It was beautiful. Two weeks later I went to the mosque with her for Friday prayer. I’ll never forget her tying the scarf on my head for the first time and teaching me how to say ‘salaam aleykom.’ I felt an incredible sense of unity with the women there. I kept reading the Qur’an, it is so logical, it fills in the gaps that Christianity had, it answered the questions. I knew I couldn’t give up drinking and partying. I read about Muslim women on the Internet and discovered the Muslim dress and got scared! That wasn’t for me, I couldn’t give up my shorts and skirts.
Mandy left and went to New York for six weeks. I stopped drinking, kind of as an experiment, also because I was tired of making mistakes when I was intoxicated. It wasn’t hard at all. It came easy, I didn’t miss drinking, I didn’t miss feeling intoxicated, I felt great. Not only that, but things I thought were impossible at first started to make sense, like dressing modestly, praying five times a day; it became fulfilling. I realized the more you sacrifice, the closer you are to the Creator. Before I thought it was enough just to believe, but now I understand that in order to be close to God I need to live my life the way He intended.
Two weeks after my first visit to the mosque I had a Friday off of work, something that never happens. I decided to go to Friday prayer by myself. I don’t know what force took me there, but I went. There was Sohair from Egypt. She was so excited to see me back. She showed me how to perform ablution and how to pray. After prayer we went down for lunch and she introduced me to Hayat. I’ll never forget that conversation. She asked me why I was there and what was holding me back. I started crying, I couldn’t hold it in, and I didn’t even know why I was crying. She took my hand and said, “It’s ok, Allah calls whom he wants.” Those words changed my life.
I went home after that and was in a cloud for the rest of the day. I started praying that day. It was March 2, 2001. I was helping my friend move and as we were driving it just hit me that Allah (swt) had called ME. The feeling of peace from that moment on was so incredible. I continued to go to Friday prayer, this time at AU. The first day I walked out of the prayer room and Yasmin, the president of the MSA, was standing there waiting for me. She was so excited that I was there and started asking me questions. I knew that I believed in the Oneness of God and Mohammed his Prophet (pbuh), but I didn’t know what to do with this belief – I was CATHOLIC!
I went to talk to a priest, he was very nice, but didn’t know much about Islam. He told me that Catholics respect Muslims because they are people of the book. I left feeling good because I hadn’t wavered in my belief, after all, I was quoting from the Qur’an to a priest. But the biggest test was telling my mother.
I called her on a Sunday night. I was so scared. I was trying to convince myself that it would be easier just to stay Catholic than to have to tell my mother about this. But I knew that I had found the Truth and there was no turning back now. I knew it would be hard for her, but I was so happy to have found the Way and so filled with peace I didn’t understand how someone could NOT be happy for me and embrace Islam themselves. She was shocked, to say the least, but I don’t blame her at all, she didn’t know anything about Islam and was brought up to believe that Christianity was the only way. After a long conversation she agreed to get a copy of “their book” as she called it, so it was a step in the right direction. That whole week I was dreading what would happen. I was so worried that she was going to tell me I wasn’t her daughter anymore. A week later, it seemed a lot longer, I called her back. I was very reassured that she still loved me and wasn’t going to disown me. She said that she had to talk to a devout Catholic who teaches world religions at a college in our hometown. At first I panicked, but then I was reassured that it would be ok. I believe that Islam is the Straight Path and Allah (swt) would make my mom understand.
Two days later I got an email from Mom saying that Brian had emailed her and told her that Islam was not a pagan religion, but deeply rooted in Judaism and Christianity. At that moment I felt ready to declare my faith. I was planning on doing it April 6, but then the open prayer date got pushed back to April 13. I knew that I couldn’t wait that long but I wanted all of my friends to be there. I was at Jumah prayer at AU and afterwards Yasmin told me that I could talk to the Imam about the life of the Prophet (pbuh) if I wanted. We started talking. I asked him questions and then he started to ask me questions. After two hours he told me that I was ready and very strong in my faith. He didn’t pressure me to say Shahadah, but told me that we don’t know what could happen tomorrow. I still said that I wanted to wait because of my friends. We continued to talk and then I said that I was ready. Right at that moment Yasmin walked in, the timing could have only been Allah (swt). I’ll never forget that moment, repeating the words after the imam, it was the most beautiful moment of my life. Yasmin and I were crying and then the imam started crying, I can’t describe how much that touched me. The peace that came over my body and soul was more than words can say. My heart is so full, Insha Allah it will always be this way. I said Shahadah again two weeks later in front of my friends. The actual words did not move me as much that time, but afterward I felt like I was even more ready to accept a life of Islam, the way Allah wants. When I pray I feel so close to Him.
As I pray every day I pray that Allah (swt) will guide me and keep me on the Straight Path, and I’ll do my part to follow Him in every way. My goal is to educate people about Islam and to wipe away the damage that the US media and US foreign policy have created. I realize that I am very lucky to have the support from my friends and family that I have, not all converts have this. Islam is so beautiful, so loving, it accepts everybody, every religion. Insha Allah I can help people to see the beauty of Islam the way that I do.