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Interview: From Islamophobe to Muslim (part 1)

PART 1: THE VOICE

Assalaamu alaikum, brother, welcome to the Ummah.

Thank you so much sister, wa alaykum asalaam.

Everyone has a story that is remarkable in its own way. Our lives are like fingerprints with ridges and whorls that no one else has or will have experienced like we have. I’ve come across many conversion and “born again” stories that are all amazing, but yours is particularly extraordinary. Before we get to that however, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

It is an honor and a pleasure to be here and thank you for your interest and kindness.

[pullquote]I don’t have voices talking in my head but I know when God wants to talk to you and I felt that so much when I heard it. The hairs on the back of my head stood up.[/pullquote]Well, to be brief, I grew up in the United States in New Jersey and Virginia. Was raised a Baptist Christian (in Virginia it was an evangelical version). In my mid-20’s I had a revolution in my mind of sorts; I started to believe that Christianity was not the only way and I had some problems with doctrine. The 10 years I worked at the Critical Care Unit of a hospital changed my life. I was into “New Age Spiritualism” and dabbled in Buddhism and studied other religions. I never thought to look into Islam. I was the most anti-Muslim kind of person you could imagine. I thought the Prophet (pbuh) was an “Attila the Hun” kind of man. We in the West, particularly in America, grow up being taught in the news, churches (some), movies, television, and books that Muslims hate Christians, Jews, Americans, and so on.

Were there many Muslims where you lived?

In New Jersey I wasn’t really exposed to Muslims. They kind of kept to themselves and didn’t bother anyone, but you knew that they were around and everyone got along ok. When I moved to central Virginia it was a different story. I had not seen a Muslim in almost the first 10 years I lived here. Islam was always talked about in a bad way: “Muslims wanted to convert us by the sword,” that sort of thing. I really never talked to a Muslim face to face until I was around 27 years old. I did not hate Muslim people per say, but I still thought Islam was nuts.

What changed your mind? Do you remember the first thing that made you think that Islam might not be so bad after all?

Well we would have to jump ahead until I was 43 years old. I had just started going back to church right about then for the first time in 25 years. The first good thing I saw about Islam was a documentary about Libya after Gaddafi. There was a scene where about 100 Muslims walked to the mosque while signing a beautiful song together. It looked like the whole community was involved. It got me to think “Why can’t we have something like that in Christianity?”

Afterwards, I began talking to my distant cousins whom I met through Facebook who had moved to Egypt. We had talked for some time but we never talked about Islam in any way and they never tried to preach to me. I noticed they would put Quranic verses up and I would look at them and found them interesting, but it did not change my mind about Islam very much.

It wasn’t until one day I decided on a whim to read the Quran online (just out of curiosity) that things changed. I wasn’t expecting to get anything out of it. I just wanted to read it for like 10 minutes and try to better understand my distant cousins and why they would do such a crazy thing like convert to Islam… they seemed like such nice people [laughs].

The first night I read the Quran changed my existence forever.

Can you tell us about that night? What was your religious standing then?

Sure thing. At that point (before reading the Quran) I was in my own standing without a name. I was going back to church as I mentioned; I was having a bit of nostalgia for my upbringing. When my step father and mom met I was 7 years old and through them both I became a Christian. They are still Godly today – as Godly as one can get.

[pullquote]The first night I read the Quran changed my existence forever.[/pullquote]There were some things of Christian doctrine I did not agree with. For example, the belief that only Christians go to heaven and that hell was forever troubled me. I’m a history buff and I know about how the Roman Empire influenced Christian doctrine and the problems different Christian sects had with each other. I just couldn’t swallow many things that most Christians in my area believed in. I believed in Jesus but to have to believe he had to make a bloody sacrifice just so I could go to heaven just didn’t seem right to me, especially in the last dozen years. I totally believed that people of other faiths may get their reward, for how could it be right that a Christian who gets drunk all the time, smashes beer cans on his head, and raises hell gets into heaven because he believes in this doctrine, but my righteous cousins who identify themselves as Muslim don’t? I hated Islam then, don’t get me wrong, but I refused to believe that my cousins or anyone else of any faith have to go to hell because they have a different path to God. I already believed this for a dozen years prior to reading the Quran. So if I had to label what I was, I would say “New Age Spiritualist with a Christian streak.” I also had something of a mystical outlook on God.

Now, what happened that night was remarkable. I was reading the Quran and I was reading it slowly – I never read slowly. It seemed like each verse drew me in. I was getting more and more interested in what I was reading. I would re-read, go back, and re-read again. It must have taken me 3 hours to read the first 2-3 Surahs.

All night long, God moved me to read it. I read about God, charity, mercy, tolerance, defending oneself, Jesus (a.s.), Moses (a.s.), philosophy, about how it’s important to submit to God and put your trust in Him. The verse 2:62 [1] just blew me away when I read it, how Jews and Christians will get their heavenly reward. I was floored! I was always told Islam was anti Jewish and Christian. There are some differences between the sects and the Quran does talk about it, but the tolerance and the subject matter of helping others had a striking difference from what I was taught. It wasn’t just the words, it was the force behind the words. I remember on many occasions just pausing and wondering what in the world was happening.

It was after a few hours into reading it when I heard a voice within me say “You asked me, you wanted to get to know God more, so here I am.”

I immediately remembered the childhood song I was thinking about a week or two prior to this. I had been praying in my backyard, looking at the full moon in the style of my Cherokee ancestors, and asked God how to get to know him better. I even sang an old childhood song while looking at the moon, praying, “I want to know you Lord much more than I do.”

After a few hours without knowing anything I knew I was reading the word of God.

Subhan’Allah, this reminds me of the story of Abraham, when he looked to the moon asking to know who his Lord is.
What happened after you felt that voice within you? Did you continue to read the Quran?

I forgot about that story of Abraham, thank you for reminding me. Well, after I heard that voice, I felt like I couldn’t have made it up. I don’t have voices talking in my head but I know when God wants to talk to you and I felt that so much when I heard it. The hairs on the back of my head stood up.

Not only did my walls come crashing down, my tolerance level went up. Before this, I didn’t think much of Islam and, sad to say, people from the Middle East in general. I’m not proud at all for saying this, and I feel kind of dumb admitting it. I thought they could still get a piece of God, but I thought they were going about it in a weird way. I also fell into believing all of the media stereotypes and propaganda I had always heard.

But that night changed everything. It was a night of reading, praying, laughing, and crying. I spent several hours outside on the patio on that warm summer night, reading until the sun came up.

When I woke up things seemed to look different for me. It would be yet another week before I said the Shahadah, but I knew there was a “Sea Change” in my life. This was no ordinary book. I knew God was directing me into this. I spent most of the day reading the Quran from my laptop and trying to hide from my relatives who would come by, as I did not want anyone to know what I was doing. I spent the mid afternoon until the wee hours of the morning reading the Quran.

The next step was something I was not looking forward to. I was going to read about Mohammed (pbuh). I did not want to, as I thought it was going to ruin my experience. You see, though I read much of history and was something of a historian, I never read about Mohammed other than what was propaganda. I thought “Okay, I will read about his life and the balloon will burst and I’ll have wasted two days and will never read Quran again.”

What makes this experience so incredible was that a few weeks before, I was talking with a friend about Islam (we both hated it then) when I called Mohammed (pbuh) a pedophile. Now it seems too bad to even type it.

I experienced an unexpected joy, however. Everything I read about him – all the negative things – were simply not true. I discovered that he was a tolerant man; a man who didn’t look for war but war and treachery came to him. He allowed Christians and Jews freedom of worship. He changed tribal customs where women weren’t given any rights to a constitution of equality and justice. I was blown away that I was reading about this on many non-Muslim sources. It was like a veil had been lifted.

After that, I started reading things from people who lived with him. It was like nothing that I had ever heard before. 

You mentioned that you took your shahada a week later. What made you decide to embrace Islam at last?

I knew after reading about the Prophet’s life and reading the Quran I wanted to become a Muslim. At the same time, I was scared because this was a huge leap for me. I mean I never in my life would have thought I would be taking such a leap (what would my family and friends think?!). We all know how Islam is negatively portrayed in this country most of the time. I thought to myself, “My God, am I serious about this? Can’t I just read Quran and admire it from a distance?”

I had no one to talk to about this other than my cousin. I told her I wanted to convert but I didn’t really know how. I didn’t feel worthy. Her advice was pure gold; she told me that Islam was about striving to be your best, that it was about intentions and trying, not about being perfect. It was simply about trying to do better, each week and each month. I will be forever in her debt for the advice she offered me. It gave me the final push I needed to become Muslim. It fell perfectly into place, and filled that emptiness in my life where I felt like I should be serving God.

Next thing I knew I was saying the shahada with her and felt like I was on top of the world!

 Alhamdulilah! Indeed, Allah guides those who seek His guidance. What happened after that high? Did it last, or did your morale start to sink after a few days?

Indeed I was at an extreme high. In between my 1st Quran reading and Shahada, my stepfather had a major heart surgery and came close to leaving this world. Each day I would be there with my family all day and I would take my laptop with me to the hospital and read Quran more (I did not get a hard copy of the Quran until 5 months later when I came out of the “Muslim closet” with my family and friends).

During that week, there was a day I did not make the hour-long drive to the hospital and for the first time I felt down with the blues. I had nobody to talk to about Islam or ask more questions. This was about a week before I started talking to Muslims online or joined any convert support groups.

I felt down and lonely because I didn’t have anyone to talk to at the time due to the fact that there were no Muslims in my area (the closest Masjid was 55km away) and I had no one else I could talk to. I prayed to God on my way home and said, “God, if I am doing anything wrong, if all this is a mistake, please tell me now because soon there will be no turning back.” I can’t imagine being more sincere in my prayer than I was. I figured I would get an answer in days, weeks, or months. I wasn’t sure what I was thinking that day because I was lonely, confused, and for first time, I was thinking there might be a small chance that I was in over my head.

I was still learning how to say my prayers and those at least were enjoyable but something didn’t feel right. It was the loneliness of having no one to talk to about this for the last couple of days that was finally catching up with me.

What happened after that? Were your prayers answered?

What I am about to say has made some people happy and others uncomfortable. I haven’t told many people this, but I feel like it’s important to say it now, because it might help someone reading this to change their mind about Islam…

Part 2 of this gripping interview will be published on Sunday 8th February 2015…

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