Stories Of New Muslims

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  • Stories Of New Muslims

  • 2. C. Huda
    Dodge  "My Path to Islam"

    Salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah


    Since I have started reading and posting on this
    newsgroup a few months ago, I have noticed a great interest in converts
    (reverts) to Islam: how are people introduced to it, what attracts people to
    this faith, how their life changes when they embrace Islam, etc. I have
    received a lot of e-mail from people asking me these questions. In this post, I
    insha'Allah to
    address how, when and why an American like myself came to embrace Islam. It's
    long, and I'm sorry for that, but I don't think you can fully understand this
    process from a few paragraphs. I tried not to ramble on or get off on tangents.
    At times the story is detailed, because I think it helps to truly understand
    how my path to Islam developed. Of course, there's a lot I left out (I'm not
    trying to tell you my whole life story - just the pertinent stuff).

    It's interesting for me
    to look back on my life and see how it all fits together - how Allah planned
    this for me all along. When I think about it, I can't help saying `
    Subhannallah,' and thank Allah for
    bringing me to where I am today. At other times, I feel sad that I was not born
    into Islam and [thereby] been a Muslim all my life. While I admire those who
    were, I at times pity them because sometimes they don't really appreciate this
    blessing. Insha'Allah, reading this can help you understand how I, at
    least, came to be a Muslim. Whether it gives you ideas for
    da'wah, or just gives you some inspiration in
    your own faith, I hope it is worth your time to read it,
    insha'Allah. It is my story, but I think
    a lot of others might see themselves in it.

    I was born in San
    Francisco, California, and raised in a Bay Area suburb. My small town (San
    Anselmo, pop. about 14,000 last I checked) was a mostly white,
    upper-middle-class, Christian community. It is a beautiful area - just north of
    San Francisco (across the Golden Gate Bridge), nestled in a valley near the
    hillsides (Mount Tamalpais) and the Pacific Ocean. I knew all of my neighbors,
    played baseball in the street, caught frogs in the creeks, rode horses in the
    hills, and climbed trees in my front yard. My father is Presbyterian, and my
    mother is Catholic. My father was never really active in any church, but my
    mother tried to raise us as Catholics. She took us to church sometimes, but we
    didn't know what was going on. People stand up, sit down, kneel, sit again,
    stand up, and recite things after the priest. Each pew had a booklet - a kind
    of `direction book' -and we had to follow along in order to know what to do
    next (if we didn't fall asleep first). I was baptized in this church, and
    received my First Communion at about the age of 8 (I have pictures, but I don't
    remember it much). After that, we only went about once a year.

    I lived on a dead-end
    street of about 15 houses. My grammar school was at the end of the street (4
    houses down), next to a small Presbyterian church. When I was about 10, the
    people of this church invited me to participate in their children's Christmas
    play. Every Sunday morning from then on, I walked down to church alone (no one
    else in my family was interested in coming). The whole congregation was only
    about 30 older people (past their 50's), but they were nice and never made me
    feel out of place. There were about 3 younger couples with children younger
    than me. I became a very active member of this church down the street. When I
    was in 6th grade, I started babysitting the younger kids during the service. By
    9th grade, I was helping the minister's wife teach Sunday school. In high
    school, I started a church youth group by recruiting 4 of my friends to join
    me. It was a small group: me, my friends, and a young couple with kids, but we
    liked it that way. The big Presbyterian Church in town had about 100 kids in
    their youth group and took trips to Mexico, etc. But our group was content to
    get together to study the bible, talk about God, and raise money for charities.

    These friends and I
    would sit together and talk about spiritual issues. We debated about questions
    in our minds: what happens to the people who lived before Jesus came (go to
    heaven or hell); why do some very righteous people automatically go to hell
    just because they don't believe in Jesus (we thought about Gandhi); on the
    other hand, why do some pretty horrible people (like my friend's abusive
    father) get rewarded with heaven just because they're Christian; why does a
    loving and merciful God require a blood sacrifice (Jesus) to forgive people's
    sins; why are we guilty of Adam's original sin; why does the Word of God
    (Bible) disagree with scientific facts; how can Jesus be God; how can One God
    be 3 different things; etc. We debated about these things, but never came up
    with good answers. The church couldn't give us good answers either; they only
    told us to "have faith."

    The people at church
    told me about a Presbyterian summer camp in Northern California. I went for the
    first time when I was 10. For the next 7 years, I went every summer. While I
    was happy with the little church I went to, this is where I really felt in
    touch with God, without confusion. It was here that I developed my very deep
    faith in God. We spent much of our time outdoors, playing games, doing crafts,
    swimming, etc. It was fun, but every day we would also take time out to pray,
    study the bible, sing spiritual songs, and have `quiet time.' It is this quiet
    time that really meant a lot to me, and of which I have the best memories. The
    rule was that you had to sit alone - anywhere on the camp's 200 beautiful
    acres. I would often go to a meadow, or sit on a bridge overlooking the creek,
    and just THINK. I looked around me, at the creek, the trees, the clouds, the
    bugs :) - listened to the water, the birds' songs, the crickets' chirps. This
    place really let me feel at peace, and I admired and thanked God for His
    beautiful creation. At the end of each summer, when I returned back home, this
    feeling stayed with me. I loved to spend time outdoors, alone, to just think
    about God, life, and my place in it. I developed my personal understanding of
    Jesus' role as a teacher and example, and left all the confusing church
    teachings behind.

    I believed (and still
    do) in the teaching "Love your neighbor as yourself," fully giving to
    others without expecting anything in return, treating others as you would like
    to be treated. I strived to help everyone I could. When I was fourteen, I got
    my first job, at an ice cream store. When I got my paycheck each month (it
    wasn't much), I sent the first $25 to a program called `Foster Parents Plan'
    (they've changed the name now). This was a charity that hooked up needy
    children overseas with American sponsors. During my 4 years of high school, I
    was a sponsor for a young Egyptian boy named Sherif. I sent him part of my
    paycheck each month, and we exchanged letters. (His letters were in Arabic, and
    looking at them now, it appears that he believed he was writing to an adult
    man, not a girl 5 years older than him.) He was 9 years old, his father was
    dead, and his mother was ill and couldn't work. He had 2 younger brothers and a
    sister my age. I remember getting a letter from him when I was 16 - he was
    excited because his sister had gotten engaged. I thought, "She's the same
    age as me, and she's getting engaged!!!" It seemed so foreign to me. These
    were the first Muslims I had contact with.

    Aside from this, I was
    also involved with other activities in high school. I tutored Central American
    students at my school in English. In a group called "Students for Social
    Responsibility," I helped charities for Nicaraguan school children and
    Kenyan villagers. We campaigned against nuclear arms (the biggest fear we all
    had at that time was of a nuclear war). I invited exchange students from France
    into my home, and I had pen pals from all over the world (France, Germany,
    Sweden, etc.). My junior year of high school, we hosted a group called
    ‘Children of War’ - a group of young people from South Africa, Gaza Strip,
    Guatemala, and other war-torn lands, who toured the country telling their
    stories and their wishes for peace. Two of them stayed at my house - the
    group's chaperone from Nicaragua, and a young black South African man. The
    summer after my junior year of high school, I took a volunteer job in San
    Francisco (the Tenderloin district), teaching English to refugee women. In my
    class were Fatimah and Maysoon, 2 Chinese Muslim widows from Vietnam. These
    were the next Muslims I met, although we couldn't talk much (their English was
    too minimal). All they did was laugh.

    All of these
    experiences put me in touch with the outside world, and led me to value people
    of all kinds. Throughout my youth and high school, I had developed two very
    deep interests: faith in God, and interacting with people from other countries.
    When I left home to attend college in Portland, Oregon, I brought these
    interests with me. At Lewis & Clark College, I started out as a Foreign
    Language (French & Spanish) major, with a thought to one day work with
    refugee populations, or teach English as a Second Language. When I arrived at
    school, I moved into a dorm room with two others - a girl from California (who
    grew up only 10 minutes from where I did), and a 29-year-old Japanese woman
    (exchange student). I was 17. I didn't know anyone else at school, so I tried
    to get involved in activities to meet people. In line with my interests, I
    chose to get involved with 2 groups: Campus Crusade for Christ (obviously, a
    Christian group), and Conversation Groups (where they match Americans up with a
    group of international students to practice English).

    I met with the Campus
    Crusade students during my first term of school. A few of the people that I met
    were very nice, pure-hearted people, but the majority were very ostentatious.
    We got together every week to listen to "personal testimonies," sing
    songs, etc. Every week we visited a different church in the Portland area. Most
    of the churches were unlike anything I'd ever been exposed to before. One final
    visit to a church in the Southeast area freaked me out so much that I quit
    going to the Crusade meetings. At this church, there was a rock band with
    electric guitars, and people were waving their hands in the air (above their
    heads, with their eyes closed) and singing "hallelujah." I had never
    seen anything like it! I see things like this now on TV, but coming from a very
    small Presbyterian church, I was disturbed. Others in Campus Crusade loved this
    church, and they continued to go. The atmosphere seemed so far removed from the
    worship of God, and I didn't feel comfortable returning.

    I always felt closest
    to God when I was in a quiet setting and/or outdoors. I started taking walks
    around campus (Lewis & Clark College has a beautiful campus!), sitting on
    benches, looking at the view of Mount Hood, watching the trees change colors.
    One day I wandered into the campus chapel - a small, round building nestled in
    the trees. It was beautifully simple. The pews formed a circle around the
    center of the room, and a huge pipe organ hung from the ceiling in the middle.
    No altar, no crosses, no statues - nothing. Just some simple wood benches and a
    pipe organ. During the rest of the year, I spent a lot of time in this
    building, listening to the organist practice, or just sitting alone in the
    quiet to think. I felt more comfortable and close to God there than at any
    church I had ever been to.

    During this time, I was
    also meeting with a group of international students as part of the Conversation
    Group program. We had 5 people in our group: me, a Japanese man and woman, an
    Italian man and a Palestinian man. We met twice a week over lunch, to practice
    English conversation skills. We talked about our families, our studies, our
    childhoods, cultural differences, etc. As I listened to the Palestinian man
    (Faris) talk about his life, his family, his faith, etc., it struck a nerve in
    me. I remembered Sherif, Fatima and Maysoon, the only other Muslims I had ever
    known. Previously, I had seen their beliefs and way of life as foreign,
    something that was alien to my culture. I never bothered to learn about their
    faith because of this cultural barrier. But the more I learned about Islam, the
    more I became interested in it as a possibility for my own life.

    During my second term
    of school, the conversation group disbanded and the international students
    transferred to other schools. The discussions we had, however, stayed at the
    front of my thoughts. The following term, I registered for a class in the
    religious studies department: Introduction to Islam. This class brought back
    all of the concerns that I had about Christianity. As I learned about Islam,
    all of my questions were answered. All of us are not punished for Adam's
    original sin. Adam asked God for forgiveness and our Merciful and Loving God
    forgave him. God doesn't require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must
    sincerely ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn't God, he was a
    prophet, like all of the other prophets, who all taught the same message:
    Believe in the One true God; worship and submit to Him alone; and live a
    righteous life according to the guidance He has sent. This answered all of my
    questions about the trinity and the nature of Jesus (all God, all human, or a
    combination). God is a Perfect and Fair Judge, who will reward or punish us
    based on our faith and righteousness. I found a teaching that put everything in
    its proper perspective, and appealed to my heart and my intellect. It seemed
    natural. It wasn't confusing. I had been searching, and I had found a place to
    rest my faith.

    That summer, I returned
    home to the Bay Area and continued my studies of Islam. I checked books out of
    the library and talked with my friends. They were as deeply spiritual as I was,
    and had also been searching (most of them were looking into eastern religions,
    Buddhism in particular). They understood my search, and were happy I could find
    something to believe in. They raised questions, though, about how Islam would
    affect my life: as a woman, as a liberal Californian :), with my family, etc. I
    continued to study, pray and soul-search to see how comfortable I really was
    with it. I sought out Islamic centers in my area, but the closest one was in
    San Francisco, and I never got there to visit (no car, and bus schedules didn't
    fit with my work schedule). So I continued to search on my own. When it came up
    in conversation, I talked to my family about it. I remember one time in
    particular, when we were all watching a public television program about the
    Eskimos. They said that the Eskimos have over 200 words for `snow,' because
    snow is such a big part of their life. Later that night, we were talking about
    how different languages have many words for things that are important to them.
    My father commented about all the different words Americans use for `money'
    (money, dough, bread, etc.). I commented, "You know, the Muslims have 99
    names for God - I guess that's what is important to them."

    At the end of the
    summer, I returned to Lewis & Clark. The first thing I did was contact the
    mosque in southwest Portland. I asked for the name of a woman I could talk to,
    and they gave me the number of a Muslim American sister. That week, I visited
    her at home. After talking for a while, she realized that I was already a
    believer. I told her I was just looking for some women who could help guide me
    in the practicalities of what it meant to be a Muslim. For example, how to
    pray. I had read it in books, but I couldn't figure out how to do it just from
    books. I made attempts, and prayed in English, but I knew I wasn't doing it
    right. The sister invited me that night to an
    aqiqa (dinner after the birth of a new baby). She picked me up that night and
    we went. I felt so comfortable with the Muslim sisters there, and they were
    very friendly to me that night. I said my
    shahaada, witnessed by a few sisters. They taught me how to pray. They talked to
    me about their own faith (many of them were also American). I left that night
    feeling like I had just started a new life.

    I was still living in a
    campus dorm, and was pretty isolated from the Muslim community. I had to take 2
    buses to get to the area where the mosque was (and where most of the women
    lived). I quickly lost touch with the women I met, and was left to pursue my
    faith on my own at school. I made a few attempts to go to the mosque, but was
    confused by the meeting times. Sometimes I'd show up to borrow some books from
    the library, and the whole building would be full of men. Another time I
    decided to go to my first
    Jumah prayer, and I couldn't go in for the same reason. Later, I was told
    that women only meet at a certain time (Saturday afternoon), and that I
    couldn't go at other times. I was discouraged and confused, but I continued to
    have faith and learn on my own.

    Six months after my shahaada, I observed my first Ramadan. I had been
    contemplating the issue of
    Hijab, but was too scared to take that step before. I had already begun to
    dress more modestly, and usually wore a scarf over my shoulders (when I visited
    the sister, she told me "all you have to do is move that scarf from your
    shoulders to your head, and you'll be Islamically dressed."). At first I
    didn't feel ready to wear
    Hijab, because I didn't feel strong enough in my faith. I understood the
    reason for it, agreed with it, and admired the women who did wear it. They
    looked so pious and noble. But I knew that if I wore it, people would ask me a
    lot of questions, and I didn't feel ready or strong enough to deal with that.
    This changed as Ramadan approached, and on the first day of Ramadan, I woke up
    and went to class in
    Hijab. Alhamdillah, I
    haven't taken it off since. Something about Ramadan helped me to feel strong,
    and proud to be a Muslim. I felt ready to answer anybody's questions.

    However, I also felt
    isolated and lonely during that first Ramadan. No one from the Muslim community
    even called me. I was on a meal plan at school, so I had to arrange to get
    special meals (the dining hall wasn't open during the hours I could eat). The
    school agreed to give me my meals in bag lunches. So every night as sundown
    approached, I'd walk across the street to the kitchen, go in the back to the
    huge refrigerators, and take my 2 bag lunches (one for
    fitoor, one for suhoor). I'd bring the bags back to my dorm room and eat alone. They always
    had the same thing: yoghurt, a piece of fruit, cookies, and either a tuna or
    egg salad sandwich. The same thing, for both meals, for the whole month. I was
    lonely, but at the same time I had never felt more at peace with myself.

    When I embraced Islam,
    I told my family. They were not surprised. They kind of saw it coming, from my
    actions and what I said when I was home that summer. They accepted my decision,
    and knew that I was sincere. Even before, my family always accepted my
    activities and my deep faith, even if they didn't share it. They were not as
    open-minded, however, when I started to wear
    Hijab. They worried that I was cutting myself off from society that I would
    be discriminated against, that it would discourage me from reaching my goals,
    and they were embarrassed to be seen with me. They thought it was too radical.
    They didn't mind if I had a different faith, but they didn't like it to affect
    my life in an outward way. They were more upset when I decided to get married.
    During this time, I had gotten back in touch with Faris, the Muslim Palestinian
    brother of my conversation group, the one who first prompted my interest in
    Islam. He was still in the Portland area, attending the community college. We
    started meeting again, over lunch, in the library, at his brother's house, etc.
    We were married the following summer (after my sophomore year, a year after my
    shahaada). My family freaked out. They weren't
    quite yet over my
    Hijab, and they felt like I had thrown something else at them. They argued
    that I was too young, and worried that I would abandon my goals, drop out of
    school, become a young mother, and destroy my life. They liked my husband, but
    didn't trust him at first (they were thinking `green card scam'). My family and
    I fought over this for several months, and I feared that our relationship would
    never be repaired.

    That was 3 years ago,
    and a lot has changed. Faris and I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, home of Oregon
    State University. We live in a very strong and close-knit Muslim community. I
    graduated magna cum laude last year, with a degree in child development. I have
    had several jobs, from secretary to preschool teacher, with no problems about
    Hijab. I'm active in the
    community, and still do volunteer work. My husband,
    insha'Allah, will finish his Electrical Engineering degree this year. We visit my
    family a couple of times a year. I met Faris' parents for the first time this
    summer, and we get along great. I'm slowly but surely adding Arabic to the list
    of languages I speak. My family has seen all of this, and has recognized that I
    didn't destroy my life. They see that Islam has brought me happiness, not pain
    and sorrow. They are proud of my accomplishments, and can see that I am truly
    happy and at peace. Our relationship is back to normal, and they are looking
    forward to our visit next month,


    Looking back on all of
    this, I feel truly grateful that Allah has guided me to where I am today. I
    truly feel blessed. It seems that all of the pieces of my life fit together in
    a pattern - a path to Islam.

    rabi al'amin.

    sister in faith,

       C. Huda Dodge

    Allah's guidance is the only guidance, and we have been directed to submit
    ourselves to the Lord of the Worlds.." Qur'an (6:71)


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