Path To Islam
[This document originally appeared in a Usenet newsgroup back
in 1992 roughly -ed.]
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 hope 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
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
penpals 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
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
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
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 my 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, insha'Allah.
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.
Alhamdillillahi rabi al'amin.
Your 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
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