This article is a conversion story submitted by one of our Guest Contributors, Layla.
Before I converted to Islam, I had no interest in religion. Never in a million years would I have imagined myself to be a religious person. If someone told me that one day I would be a pious Muslim, I would have laughed. As a kid, my parents had us attend Sunday school at a Lutheran church every week and we would go to church on Christmas and other Christian holidays. The kids memorized the names of chapters in the Bible in Sunday school and everyone sang songs on Christmas. To be honest, nobody in my family enjoyed attending church, but I respect and appreciate that they tried to do what they thought was right and wanted us to believe in God. It’s not that we didn’t want to be religious people, it’s just that we never learned anything valuable in church... singing songs didn’t bring any of us closer to God. As I got older, we slowly stopped attending church except for on Christmas Eve, and eventually we just stopped going altogether. I attended my friend’s Catholic church when I was a little older, and seeing statues of saints being prayed to, people confessing their sins to a stranger in a booth to forgive them, and people eating wafers and drinking wine that was supposed to represent Christ’s flesh and blood was odd to me. I realized why my mother who was raised Catholic left the sect as soon as she moved out of her parents’ house. From this point on, I felt like religion was just not for me. Being raised in a predominantly Christian country, you are brought up thinking that Christianity is the only religion…. That if you believe in God, then you have to be a Christian. Whenever I heard the word “Islam”, it seemed so foreign to me, I assumed it was a cultural religion practiced in the Middle East and only people from that region believed in it. It turns out that that most Americans and other Westerners also believe that. Most Americans, including myself were never taught that Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions, along with Christianity and Judaism, which believe in the same God and most of the same prophets and messengers. When I got a bit older, I lived in New York City, surrounded by people from many different backgrounds and faiths… completely opposite of the suburb of Philadelphia that I grew up in.
Out of curiosity, I started learning about Islam and even Christianity, since I had never really known about what the faith actually taught despite being raised Christian. The main difference that stuck out to me between Islam and Christianity was that in Islam, you worship God alone, there is only one God. In my heart, I always knew that there was only one God. I did not think Jesus was God, or a third of God, like the Christian faith preaches. I learned that Islam taught that Jesus was actually a prophet, as he even says himself in the Bible, and not a God. And when I thought about it logically, I knew that a man who was killed could not be God, because God is not a human being, and he most definitely cannot die. The more I read about Islam, the more interested I became because it was so logical and free of contradictions. I was so amazed to learn that the Quran, Islam’s holy book revealed over 1400 years ago to a man who could not read or write, contained so much scientific knowledge about Earth, mankind, space, and more, that modern scientists have only been able to discover recently with modern technology, and that so many scientists worldwide have converted to Islam for just that reason. I remember getting chills (and I still do to this day) from the information in Islam I read that no human could have possibly known 1400 years ago. This was a clear sign to me that this information was sent by God. While I was in New York I was lucky enough to meet a Muslim whose father taught Islam, so he had a lot of knowledge about the religion.
He taught me so much about Islam and I was also able to get answers for all of the questions I had. I learned that Islam was the most peaceful religion I could have imagined, and that murder, terrorism, and suicide are harshly condemned and disallowed, contrary to what the media portrays. The more he taught me and the more I read about Islam, the more I realized that Islam was the truth. I don’t like to consider Islam a “religion”. To me, the word religion always meant a set of morals one chooses to follow because they agree with it. Even though Islam had the highest set of morals I had ever found, such as taking care of the needy, orphans, kindness and justice to women and animals (the list goes on and on), I would not have converted to Islam and changed my life to only have a high moral compass. If I converted to a religion, it had to be for one reason, that it was the absolute truth, backed up by science, proof, and logic. I was completely convinced that Islam was the truth. My thirst to know the truth about God, creation, and myself was quenched. It is very evident why Islam is the fastest growing religion in with the world with the highest number of converts, despite the media’s negative portrayal of it. Ever since I became a Muslim, I no longer feel a sense of emptiness in my life, I no longer wonder why I am here or what I’m supposed to do. If the whole world turned against me it doesn’t matter, God guided me to the truth, and I feel so grateful. Alhamdulilah.
Part 1 of "Learning to Forgive Yourself" can be found here
I was very hurt and unfortunately this threw me into the “old me”. I was so let down by the fact that men in Egypt who were supposed to be “Muslims” were just as bad as American men who were supposed to be “Christian”. I fell back into sin, but Alhamdulilah, I ended up working at an Islamic School and met some wonderful sisters who started teaching me so much about Islam. About what was haram and halal, and what that even meant. I was learning but was once again looking for something to fill the hole that was smaller now, but still there.
I ended up used by another man who saw me as a “back up” to his first plan to leave the country using his first wife that he had supposedly divorced. His story started to unravel when I felt that something was wrong when I wasn’t going along for the ride like he’d hoped. So, another bad marriage and being less than a good Muslim, I found myself being the way I was before in the States. I really let Shaytan get the best of me. I believed his lies, that I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t deserve a husband or a family because of my past, being a “bad” mom, “bad” daughter, “bad” wife, etc.
Then a year ago I met, by chance, a fellow teacher at a school I was going to start working at. He had over heard me talking to a speaker they had about wanting so badly to learn Arabic, but I just didn’t seem to “get it” or to find anyone with the patience to teach me, and Alhamdulilah, he approached me. By this time I didn’t have any faith in the goodness of any Egyptian man, and figured he was just interested because I was foreign. I almost didn’t give him my email or phone number but I ended up doing so, just hoping for once I’d find someone who REALLY wanted to teach me, and nothing else.
A few weeks passed and I had only heard from him once, and let it slip from my mind. Then he contacted me via Skype and we talked about meeting. He asked me to come to his house, and I was like, ”OKAY….I’ll give him a chance but if he’s like any of these men, I’m out of there”. MashaAllah, from the moment I walked into the house, he was so shy and respectful. He left the door open as his dad had just left, and he called his aunt to come sit with us. She came from downstairs and was so sweet. She sat patiently while he assessed what I knew and discussed what he thought would be the best way to teach me. I started going every Saturday in the morning and found myself not leaving until after dark. I was so hungry for learning. He not only started teaching me Arabic, but would answer questions about Islam, with proofs. If he didn’t know the answer to a question, he’d ask a sheikh and research it to make sure it was correct and had proofs with the answer. I watched how he treated his mother and aunt and I found myself longing to be loved like this. I had fallen in love with these two wonderful women and this family and was so very blessed by them. They ended up inviting me to spend Ramadan meals with them, even every day if I wanted. I had been so depressed about Ramadan because it was the first time I’d be spending it alone, and had even toyed with the idea of visiting friends in Pakistan during this time. Alhamdulilah, I didn’t go.
I loved the feeling of “family” as I miss my Mom and my family so much sometimes, and I worried I’d lose them once I learned Arabic. Alhamdulillah I really struggled with Arabic (still haven’t learned it properly and can hardly speak it). Over time I started to understand that THIS was how a man was supposed to treat a woman. It’s hard to look for something you have never seen before, and I realized I had NEVER understood or met a man that acted this way. However he was much younger than me and I truly thought, “How can Allah be so cruel? To introduce me to this person, knowing I cannot marry him, and I KNOW how hard it is to find someone like this anywhere in the world, and especially in Egypt. Why would God do that?”
Up to this point I had met another man who I was attracted to, but then didn’t hear from during the whole of Ramadan after he informed me he’d never marry. As I saw my teacher more and more I realized that THESE characteristics, THESE traits, and THIS kind of Muslim man was what I wanted in my life. I finally found what it was that Allah wanted in a man for me. At the end of Ramadan that same man called me up and said he wanted to marry me, but I found I didn’t want to just “marry to get married” like I had before. I realized that was Shaytan again, using fear to lead me astray. Fear of living a life alone, fear of never getting married again, fear of dying in a foreign country and no one even caring that I was gone, etc, etc. I literally was given a choice, and I KNEW this went far beyond just another potential bad relationship. I knew that if I made the wrong choice, it may lead me down that path again that I didn’t really want to go down and this time I may not get another chance to do what was right by Allah. I remember sitting in my room and crying to Allah, and for the first time I SINCERELY meant it when I said that HE was enough for me. That now I understood what it really meant to be a good Muslim, and that meant LIVING life submitting to Allah, not just “believing” in Allah. And that I was okay with not marrying if that is what He wanted, and that I just didn’t want to lose this family as I loved them so much. The next day, my teacher proposed to me, and we married Islamically in October. In March, when he had the money, we married legally and I had put down for my Maher that I wanted to go on Umrah. Neither of my other two ex-husbands really gave me a Maher, never explained to me my rights as a woman of Islam, or of a wife. My husband did this before he ever thought about marrying me. He didn’t keep information from me, and made sure I knew what my rights were in Islam.
He took me last April on Umrah. I was surprised, touched and scared to death!!! I honestly did NOT want to go. I had asked for this as I thought he’d never be able to afford it and if he could, it would be years away. But since he’s a man of honor and he fears Allah and wants to please Him, he found a way. I finally broke down a few weeks before we were to leave and told him how I felt. I was scared to go there. Deep down I think I imagined I’d go to step foot in Mecca and I’d just fall down dead because I was so unworthy to go. All the things I’ve done in my past, before and after I accepted Islam came crashing down around my heart. The weight literally put my back out. I was stressed so badly that mostly I cried the week before we went. I truly felt I did not deserve to go. My husband explained to me that you go, because Allah has invited you. If it’s not your time, even if you’re the best of Muslims, even if you have all the money in the world, if Allah does not invite you, you won’t go. This made me cry even harder, silly I know, but HOW could Allah love me so much? Me, someone who sinned, upon sin, upon sin; someone who even at a young age knew what God wanted and rebelled and did the opposite instead?
So off we flew to Mecca; my husband, my mother in law and myself. It was beautiful, but still I didn’t feel that “peace” I had hoped for. We did Umrah and I was so panicked about being crushed by people, that I really didn’t “feel” God’s presence there. So I felt more guilt. Maybe Allah just didn’t want me there really. But then the night after Umrah, I dreamt my husband and I were circling the Kabba, and we were alone except for these beings behind us. And out of our backs came this whirling, writhing rope of energy or something I can’t really describe and these beings were collecting it and took it from us until nothing came out. I woke up and told my husband and after he came back from praying, he asked me again about it. Inshaa Allah he believed this was a dream from Allah letting me know our Umrah was accepted and our sins “cleansed” from us. Inshaa Allah. Still, I didn’t feel any deep sense of peace. I’d heard stories of people standing in awe at the Kabba and I felt there really must be something wrong with me.
We ended up traveling to Al Madinah and there was something different about this place. I felt excitement for the first time. I felt like a child looking out the bus windows into the dark, watching for the lights of the city to shine from around a corner. And then there we were. The day after we got there we went inside the Prophets’ Masjid to pray. My mother in law had not come with us, and my husband wanted to try to pray on Rawdah. So in I went praying Allah would make it easy for me. As I searched for a spot to pray, I saw a woman with the kindest face look at me and smile softly. I motioned if I could stand next to her and she nodded. My back was still bothering me and the floor was too hard to kneel down so I stood doing my two Rakkah. When I finished I noticed she had turned her prayer rug sideways for me to use with her. I asked her if she spoke English and Alhamdulillah she did. She was from the UK and was there with her son. We spoke for a few minutes before the prayer, and I shared with her my doubts of coming. She told me that she had felt the same way the first time she came, and even felt the same this time, but wanted her son to come. It was a great relief to me that I wasn’t the only one feeling unworthy of this honor. After the prayer she gave me instructions on where to go to find Rawdah and what to do. We exchanged emails for Facebook and said our Salaams. I followed her instructions and ended up in a group of Pakistani woman. The women in niqabs that worked there pointed me to this group when I asked about the English section. I never did hear anyone speaking English, but sat quietly and talked to one of my best friends here in Egypt about what was happening on my phone. We got ushered from one area to another until we got to the entrance. Alhamdulillah my new friend had told me that they can get crazy and they will run and push and shove, so let them. She advised I stay behind, and be patient and it would be okay. I found myself inside, with no idea what to do. So I found a quiet spot on the carpet and prayed to Allah, pouring out my heart to Him and asking for forgiveness…AGAIN. And then I tried to go forward. I didn’t really know what to do. I assumed the big square structure covered in Arabic and gold was where our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was laying. I ended up crushed between the barrier and a ton of women. I found one sister who worked there and asked if she spoke English. She did, alhamdulillah, and she guided me out of the crush and explained things to me. She was so patient and kind. She explained to me that as women we aren’t to visit graves, but we are here to worship Allah. Also that between where the Prophet lay, peace and blessings be upon him, and where he preached inside the Masjid, is part of Paradise. She told me about the companions that lay with him, in Aisha’s room, and that they were surrounded by four separate walls with space between each. She also explained that I can pray for the prophet anywhere in the world and that there are angels who specifically collect these prayers or questions one might have for him, and brings them to him. Allahu Akhbar!! So she had me wait in a quiet area as the next throng of women rushed in and had told me to wait a bit then go more towards the middle and pray. I did. I just found myself praying, and I couldn’t tell you what I prayed for, but I know that when I stepped off that green carpet I felt like I stepped back from somewhere else.
I had never really felt much connection with the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, as I had grown up knowing more about Isa and Ibrahim and Musa(peace and blessing be upon them). But now, Alhamdulillah, I feel like I know him better. And I am so grateful that he believed in Allah when most did not. If not for Allah choosing him, I may not have been saved. Alhamdulillah. And even though now, I know I cannot go on punishing myself for my past and that Allah has so much Mercy and Grace that He may forgive me, inshaa Allah, and may allow me entrance into paradise, I am still struggling. But I am learning to forgive myself and see me for the good Muslim I am now, who I to try to be and that I’m improving on day by day.
So no matter in what ways you think you’ve failed Allah, yourself, your spouse, your family or anyone, tell Shaytan to shut up! Cry to Allah for His protection and remember that there is NOTHING too big for Allah, since Allah created and allows EVERYTHING that happens, for His reasons. I work hard to remember this when I feel down about myself or my family makes comments about my past. I am not who I was…I am who I am now. And Allah loves me! Alhamdu lillah.
Asalaam Aleikum Warahmatullah Wabarakatu. First I’d like to let you know that I am by no means a scholar. I am a revert who, just like many of you, is learning new things every day. I pray that Allah keeps my words and intentions pure and that He blesses them so they can help someone else.
I am an American revert. I was called by Allah since childhood, but didn’t learn about Islam until after 9/11. I received my first Qur’an, which was in Arabic with English transliteration, in 2002. I had grown up Christian but always felt there was “more to it all”. Things I learned in church just didn’t make sense to me. I never found the peace that everyone always proclaimed to receive after accepting Jesus (Isa), peace and blessings be upon him, into my heart. So as a child, I remember raising my hand in church when asked who accepted Christ, peace and blessings be upon him, into their hearts every week because I thought maybe I was doing something wrong, and that was why I didn’t feel this so called “peace” in my heart.
I always had this emptiness inside me. I remember crying and crying to the neighbors’ horse about all my woes and issues. How no one really loved me. I felt like an alien and knew deep down there must have been something wrong with me because I didn’t fit in, I wasn’t “popular”, in fact I got teased a lot in school. I am overly sensitive and this didn’t seem to help me much. My poor mom was always worrying why I was crying this day or that.
As a teenager I knew “right from wrong” but I still had this feeling of emptiness. So I turned to others to try to fill that void. Rebellion, ignorance, confusion and a longing for “real love” is a dangerous combination for a young teenage girl. My mom had told me that “sex is something you do with someone you love”. She meant of course in marriage, as that is all she had known in her generation, but not a good thing to say to someone looking for love and believing that others tell you the truth just because you’re truthful. Teenage girls tend to “fall in love” at a drop of the hat, and I ended up pregnant at the age of 16.
My parents of course were upset, my mom embarrassed and hurt, feeling she had failed me somehow. But in reality I had failed myself. And it didn’t stop there. I kept looking for love in “all the wrong places” and ended up getting hurt, hurting myself, hurting my family, my children and my faith. I’d try so hard to be a “good Christian” but would fail and then fall into the “I don’t deserve Gods love” way of thinking and I’d get good and lost again.
All this time I still had this longing; this feeling that there was more to God than what they taught in church. I loved God…truly. I wanted to be so good for Him but always seemed to fail. And many times my friends and family would make “light” of my mistakes and deep down that just made me feel even more worthless and unworthy of anything “good” or of Gods love.
I almost died after giving birth to my first daughter. I became very depressed after having her and a year later I was in a car accident that I “know” I should have died in. There are so many times I’ve thought, “I should have died just then”, but I didn’t. So I got it in my head that I didn’t die because even God didn’t want me. Alhamdulillah that I was wrong.
I won’t go into every sordid sin, but if it’s a sin, big or small, I think I’ve done them all. I also delved into other religions trying to find the solution to my emptiness. Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American beliefs and even Wicca (witchcraft) and ended back with Christianity, but still this aching void was always there.
During this time, I had moved many times. I decided the best thing for my 3 children, at the time, was to NOT have me in their life. I had done such a good job of ruining my own life, I worried I’d just ruin theirs as well. So I gave them to their dad and moved away. I ended up in one failed, haram relationship after another. This really made my self esteem which was already so low, go even lower. If no one wanted me in their life for long, how could God want me? This went on for a few years with me moving over 12 times across the country and then back.
This is the second and last series in our Convert Perspectives Collection. Interviewees: Francesca and Chib
QUESTION #1: WERE YOU RAISED IN A RELIGIONS HOME PRIOR TO REVERTING TO ISLAM?
Francesca: I was raised in a Catholic household before I converted to Islam, although I didn't really practice Catholicism myself.
Chib: Salaam and hello everyone. I was raised in a Catholic home. My parents are Hispanic and Catholicism is the religion which many Hispanics tend to follow. I, however never really felt any connection to it. I attended Sunday school and did my first Communion but afterwards I didn't feel comfortable following a religion which did not seem to fit who I was as a person. So I left the Catholic Church when I was only 11.
QUESTION #2: WHAT INITIALLY DREW YOU TO ISLAM?
Francesca: My friend from school went to Saudi for Umrah(pilgrimage to hajj that is taken outside of the month of dhul hijja), and when he came back he showed me pictures of Mecca. I remember looking at them and feeling like someone had taking my breath away, SubhanAllah. Everything was just so beautiful, and I wanted to know more. My friend began telling me a few things about the pilgrimage and what it involves and he then sent me a link of the Adhan. When I listened to it, I started to tear up and I felt like something touched my heart. I'd never admired something so much before, and it felt weird. I began to research a little bit about Islam after this independently, and began to find myself agreeing with what it taught and discovered the true beauty of Islam. Within a short period of time, I'd already believed that Islam provided me with a connection with God that I had never experienced before. I was very scared though at what other people would think, so I kept my thoughts to myself. However, after a conversation with my friend, he started to ask me how I felt about Islam, and when he asked me if I believed that Allah is one and that Prophet Muhammed(PBUH) was his final messenger, and at that moment I realised that there was nothing holding me back so I decided to take my Shahadah, Alhamdulilah.
Chib: What initially drew me to Islam to begin with was always the fact that there was one God to pray to. Also that the Qur'an has not ever been rewritten. The more research I started to do the more I fell in love with Islam. How it intertwined with science and gave explanations as well as how it explained how the Qur'an is the real word of Allah SWT by giving examples scientifically as well as mathematically and logically. Also how women are viewed as the highest things in this world. That was what sealed the deal for me.
QUESTION #3: WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO CONVERT?
Francesca: See response to #2
Chib: I decided to convert because I knew this was what I was looking for. My whole life has always been a long search for something to make me feel whole. I never understood what I was trying to find so I decided to fill it with other things like relationships, parties, drinking, smoking you name it. After a while I fell into some hardships and decided to start searching for religion again. I tried to become Christian but it didn't feel right to me. I remember looking at this Youtube video that was titled “Don't Be Sad Allah SWT Knows Why”. After watching that video I just couldn't believe that everything I had been so confused about was answered in this video and right then and there I knew that Islam was for me. I felt it in my heart.
QUESTION #4:HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU FROM LEARNING ABOUT ISLAM TO ACTUALLY CONVERTING? WHY WAS IT A QUICK OR PROLONGED DECISION?
Francesca: My interest in Islam always lingered in the back of my mind but I never really took it seriously. It was just something I was aware of. Once I began to think about what Islam meant and whether I wanted to be a Muslim, it wasn't long before I converted.
Chib: It took me around 4-5 months before I actually decided to take my Shahada, I knew after finding Islam that I wanted to convert. However I wanted to make sure I took my time and did my research before I made that commitment to Allah SWT. I always told myself that Allah SWT would tell me when the time was right and on January 6th 2014 I woke up and it was the coldest day in Chicago -35 degrees and I knew today was the day.
QUESTION #5:WHAT WERE THE REACTIONS OF YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY UPON YOUR CONVERSION?
Francesca: My parents do not know that I am Muslim, I did try to tell them when I originally converted. They already knew that I was interested in Islam, as I would talk about it to my mum. My mum seemed very calm about it and would be interested to. I thought it meant that when I would tell her about my interest of being a Muslim, she would have been okay with it but I was wrong. The first thing I decided to do was give up pork, so I told my mum that I no longer wanted to eat it anymore because I wanted to take my interests in Islam seriously. My mum got very angry with me. And over the next couple of weeks, my parents and I argued constantly. Eventually, it ended up in a lot of tears from both sides. I remember my parents saying things like "Aren't you proud of us" "Do you love Islam more than us", and it broke my heart because I didn't know what to say. My parents are very ignorant about Islam and make assumptions so they weren't happy and it caused a huge amount of stress. They said a lot of hurtful things about Islam, and our relationship isn't the same anymore, but it just made me want to stick by the decision I had already made to be a Muslim. My friends however, are really supportive and are happy for me.
Chib: After converting I decided to only let 2 of my closest friends know, they were very supportive and provided me with so many sources about Islam to make sure this was what I wanted. They even took me to the masjid to take my Shahada. However not all my friends were as supportive. I lost a lot of friends after they had found out about my conversion. I even stopped talking to one of my closest girl friend because she just wasn't the type of person I wanted to surround myself with anymore. I would say a good percentage of my friends were surprised because I never looked like the type to be Muslim. But they were so happy for me because most of my friends were Muslim. As for my family they were a little uncertain on how to take the news. I had to hide it from my parents for a bit because I wasn't sure how they would react. After I told my mom she told me she was happy for me that I found something to believe in. As for my father he doesn't really discuss it with me.
Welcome to our "Convert/Revert" section. This section of Striving For Clarity is dedicated to articles and stories geared towards those who chose to enter Islam later in life. If you would like to contribute to this section, visit our Guest Contributor page.