My first realization about the Christian idea of salvation came after I was
baptized into a Southern Baptist church at a young age. I was taught in Sunday
School that "if you aren't baptized, then you are going to hell".
My own baptism had taken place because I wanted to please people. My mom had
come into my room one evening and I asked her about baptism. She encouraged me
to do it. So, the next Sunday, I decided to go to the front of the church.
a hymn at the end of the sermon, I walked forward to meet with the youth
minister. He had a smile on his face, greeted me, then sat beside me on a pew.
He asked a question, "Why do you want to do this?"... I paused, then
said, "because I love Jesus and I know that he loves me". After making
the statement, the members of the church came up and hugged me... anticipating
the ceremonial immersion in water just a few weeks later.
During my early years at church, even in the kindergarten class, I remember
being a vocal participant in the Sunday School lessons. Later, in my early
adolescent years I was a member of the young girls' group that gathered at the
church for weekly activities and went on annual retreats to a camp. During my
youth, I attended a camp with older members of the youth group. Though I hadn't
spent much time with them before, they recognized me as "the daughter of a
youth coordinator" or "the girl who plays piano at special occations
at church". One evening at this camp a man was speaking about his marriage.
He told the story about meeting his wife. He had grown up in the US where dating
was normal, but in the girl's culture, he could only be with her if they had a
guardian with them. Since he liked her, he decided to continue seeing her.
Another stipulation is that they could not touch each other until she had been
given a promise ring. Once he proposed to her, they were allowed to hold hands.
-This baffled me, yet held me in awe. It was beautiful to think that such
discovery of another person could be saved until a
commitment was made. Though I enjoyed the story, I never thought that the same
incident could occur again.
A few years later, my parents divorced and the role of religion changed in my
life. I had always seen my family through the eyes of a child - they were
perfect. My dad was a deacon in the church, well respected, and known by all. My
mom was active with youth groups. When my mom left, I took the role of caretaker
of my father and two brothers. We continued to go to church, but when visiting
my mom on weekends, the visits to churches became more infrequent. When at my
dad's home we would gather at night every night to read Corinthians 1:13 (which
talks about love/charity). My brothers, father, and I repeated this so often
that I memorized it. It was a source of support for my dad, though I could not
In a period of three consecutive years, my older brother, younger brother,
and I moved to my mom's house. At that point my mom no longer went to church, so
my brothers found church attendance less important. Having moved to my mother's
house during my junior year of high school, I was to discover new friends and a
different way of life. The first day of school I met a girl who was very
friendly. The second day of school, she invited me to her house for the weekend
- to meet her family and visit her church. I was automatically
"adopted" into her family as a "good kid" and "good
influence" for her. Also, I was surprisingly shocked at the congregation
that attended her church. Though I was a stranger, all of the women and men
greeted me with hugs and kisses and made me feel welcome.
After continually spending time with the family and attending church on the
weekends, they started talking to me about particular beliefs in their Church of
Christ. This group went by the New Testament (literal interpretation of Paul's
writings). They had no musical instruments in church services - only vocal
singing; there were no hired preachers, but elders who would bring sermons each
Sunday. Women were not allowed to speak in church. Christmas, Easter, and other
holidays were not celebrated, wine and unleavened bread were taken as communion
every Sunday, and baptism was seen as immediately necessary at the moment that
the sinner decided to become a believer. Though I was already considered a
Christian, members of this congregation believed that I was going to hell if I
didn't get baptized again - in their church, their way. This was the first major
blow to my belief system. Had I grown up in a church where everything had been
done wrong? Did I really have to be baptized again?
At one point I had a discussion about faith with my mom. I told her about my
confusion and just wanted somebody to clear things up for me. I became critical
of sermons at all churches because the preachers would just tell stories and not
focus on the Bible. I couldn't understand: if the Bible was so important, why
was it not read (solely) in the church service?
Though I thought about baptism every Sunday for almost two years, I could not
walk forward to be baptized. I would pray to God to push me forward if it were
the right thing to do - but it never happened.
The next year I went to college and became detached from all churches as a
freshman. Some Sundays I would visit churches with friends - only to feel
critical of the sermons. I tried to join the baptist student association, but
felt that things were wrong there, too. I had come to college thinking that I
would find something like the church of christ but it was not to be found. When
I would return home to my mom's house on occassional weekends, I would visit the
church to gain the immediate sense of community and welcoming.
In my Sophomore year, I spent Sundays singing at the Wake Forest church in
the choir because I earned good money. Though I didn't support the church
beliefs, I endured the sermons to make money. In October of my sophomore year I
met a Muslim who lived in my dorm. He was a friendly guy who always seemed to be
pondering questions or carrying a deep thought. One evening I spent the entire
evening asking him philosophical questions about beliefs and religion. He talked
about his beliefs as a Shia' Ismaili Imami Muslim. Though his thoughts did not
fully represent this sect of Islam (since he was also confused and searching for
answers), his initial statements made me question my own beliefs: are we born
into a religion, therefore making it the right one? Day after day I would meet
with him and ask questions - wanting to get on the same level of communication
that we had reached at our initial meeting - but he would not longer answer the
questions or meet the spiritual needs that I had.
The following summer I worked at a bookstore and grabbed any books that I
could find about Islam. I introduced myself to another Muslim on campus and
started asking him questions about Islam. Instead of looking to him for answers,
I was directed to the Quran. Any time I would have general questions about
Islam, he would answer them. I went to the local mosque twice during that year
and was happy to feel a sense of community again.
After reading about Islam over the summer, I became more sensitive to
statements made about Muslims. While taking an introductory half-semester couse
on Islam, I would feel frustrated when the professor would make a comment the
was incorrect, but I didn't know how to correct him. Outside of my personal
studies and university class, I became an active worker and supporter of our
newly rising campus Islam Awareness Organization. As the only female member, I
would be identified to others as "the christian in the group". every
time a Muslim would say that, I would look at him with puzzlement - because I
thought that I was doing all that they had been doing - and that I was a Muslim,
I had stopped eating pork and became vegetarian, had never liked alcohol, and
had begun fasting for the month of Ramadhan. But, there still was a
At the end of that year (junior year) other changes were made. I decided to
start wearing my hair up - concealed from people. Once again, I thought of this
as something beautiful and had an idea that only my husband should be able to
see my hair. I hadn't even been told about hijab... since many of the sisters at
the mosque did not wear it.
That summer I was sitting at school browsing the internet and looking for
sites about Islam. I wanted to find e-mail addresses for Muslims, but couldn't
find a way. I eventually ventured onto a homepage that was a matrimonial link. I
read over some advertisements and tried to find some people within my age range
to write to about Islam. I prefaced my initial letters with "I am not
seeking marriage - I just want to learn about Islam". Within a few days I
had received replies from three Muslims- one from Pakistan/India who was
studying in the US, one from India but studying in the UK, and one living in the
UAE. Each brother was helpful in unique ways - but I started corresponding with
the one from the US the most because we were in the same time zone. I would send
questions to him and he would reply with thorough, logical answers. By this
point I knew that Islam was right - all people were equal regardless of color,
age, sex, race, etc; I had received answers to troublesome questions by going to
the Qur'an, I could feel a sense of community with Muslims, and I had a strong,
overwhelming need to declare the shahada at a mosque. No longer did I
have the "christian fear" of denouncing the claim of Jesus as God - I
believed that there was only one God and there should be no associations with
God. One Thursday night in July 1997 I talked with the brother over the phone. I
asked more questions and received many more pertinent, logical answers. I
decided that the next day I would go to the mosque.
I went to the mosque with the Muslim brother from Wake Forest and his
non-Muslim sister, but did not tell him my intentions. I mentioned that I wanted
to speak with the imam after the khutbah [religious directed talk]. The imam
delivered the khutbah, the Muslims prayed [which includes praising Allah,
recitation of the Quran, and a series of movements which includes bowing to
Allah] then he came over to talk with me. I asked him what was necessary to
become Muslim. He replied that there are basics to understand about Islam, plus
the shahada [there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah].
I told him that I had learned about Islam for more than a year and was ready to
become Muslim. I recited the kalimah... and became Muslim on July 12, 1996,
alhumdulillah [all praise due to Allah].
That was the first big step. Many doors opened after that - and have
continued to open by the grace of Allah. I first began to learn prayer, then
visited another masjid in Winston-Salem, and began wearing hijab two weeks
At my summer job, I had problems with wearing hijab. The bosses didn't like
it and "let me go" early for the summer. They didn't think that I
could "perform" my job of selling bookbags because the clothing would
limit me. But, I found the hijab very liberating. I met Muslims as they would
walk around the mall... everyday I met someone new, alhumdulillah.
As my senior year of college progressed, I took the lead of the Muslim
organization on campus because I found that the brothers were not very active.
Since I pushed the brothers to do things and constantly reminded them of events,
I received the name "mother Kaci".
the last half of my Senior year, I took elective courses: Islam, Christianity,
and Judaism. Each course was good because I was a minority representative in
each. Mashallah, it was nice to represent Islam and to tell people the truth
about Muslims and Allah.
I took the Shahadah on September 20, 1991. If you had told me 5 years prior
that I would embrace Islam, I never would have believed you. In retrospect,
Allah's guidance was so subtle yet consistent, that now I see my whole life as
leading up to that moment. It is difficult to encapsulate the exact factors that
brought me to Islam because it was a journey, a process, that lasted three
years. Those three years were both exhilarating and exhausting. My perceptions
of myself and the world changed dramatically. Some beliefs were validated;
others, shattered. At times I feared I would lose myself; at other times I knew
that this path was my destiny and embraced it. Throughout those years, a series
of aspects of Islam intrigued me. Slowly and gradually, my studies led me
towards the day when I took the declaration of faith, the shahadah.
Prior to my introduction to Islam, I knew that I yearned for more spiritual
fulfillment in my life. But, as yet, nothing had seemed acceptable or accessible
to me. I had been brought up essentially a secular humanist. Morals were
emphasized, but never attributed to any spiritual or divine being. The
predominant religion of our country, Christianity, seemed to burden a person
with too much guilt. I was not really familiar with any other religions. I wish
I could say that, sensing my spiritual void, I embarked on a spiritual quest and
studied various religions in depth. However, I was too comfortable with my life
for that. I come from a loving and supportive family. I had many interesting and
supportive friends. I thoroughly enjoyed my university studies and I was
successful at the university. Instead, it was the "chance" meeting of
various Muslims that instigated my study of Islam.
Sharif was one of the first Muslims who intrigued me. He was an elderly man
who worked in a tutorial program for affirmative action that I had just entered.
He explained that while his job brought little monetary reward, the pleasure he
gained from teaching students brought him all the reward he needed. He spoke
softly and genuinely. His demeanor more than his words caught me, and I thought,
"I hope I have his peace of spirit when I reach his age." That was in
As I met more Muslims, I was struck not only by their inner peace, but by the
strength of their faith. These gentle souls contrasted with the violent, sexist
image I had of Islam. Then I met Imran, a Muslim friend of my brother's who I
soon realized was the type of man I would like to marry. He was intelligent,
sincere, independent, and at peace with himself. When we both agreed that there
was potential for marriage, I began my serious studies of Islam. Initially, I
had no intention of becoming Muslim; I only desired to understand his religion
because he had made it clear that he would want to raise his children as
Muslims. My response was: "If they will turn out as sincere, peaceful and
kind as he is, then I have no problem with it. But I do feel obligated to
understand Islam better first."
In retrospect, I realize that I was attracted to these peaceful souls because
I sensed my own lack of inner peace and conviction. There was an inner void that
was not completely satisfied with academic success or human relationships.
However, at that point I would never have stated that I was attracted to Islam
for myself. Rather, I viewed it as an intellectual pursuit. This perception was
compatible with my controlled, academic lifestyle.
Since I called myself a feminist, my early reading centered around women in
Islam. I thought Islam oppressed women. In my Womens Studies courses I had read
about Muslim women who were not allowed to leave their homes and were forced to
cover their heads. Of course I saw hijab as an oppressive tool imposed by men
rather than as an expression of self-respect and dignity. What I discovered in
my readings surprised me. Islam not only does not oppress women, but actually
liberates them, having given them rights in the 6th century that we have only
gained in this century in this country: the right to own property and wealth and
to maintain that in her name after marriage; the right to vote; and the right to
This realization was not easy in coming....I resisted it every step of the
way. But there were always answers to my questions. Why is there polygamy? It is
only allowed if the man can treat all four equally and even then it is
discouraged. However, it does allow for those times in history when there are
more women than men, especially in times of war, so that some women are not
deprived of having a relationship and children. Furthermore, it is far superior
to the mistress relationship so prevalent here since the woman has a legal right
to support should she have a child. This was only one of many questions, the
answers to which eventually proved to me that women in Islam are given full
rights as individuals in society.
However, these discoveries did not allay all my fears. The following year was
one of intense emotional turmoil. Having finished up my courses for my masters
in Latin American Studies in the spring of 1989, I decided to take a year to
substitute teach. This enabled me to spend a lot of time studying Islam. Many
things I was reading about Islam made sense. However, they didn't fit into my
perception of the world. I had always perceived of religion as a crutch. But
could it be that it was the truth? Didn't religions cause much of the oppression
and wars in the world? How then could I be considering marrying a man who
followed one of the world's major religions? Every week I was hit with a fresh
story on the news, the radio or the newspaper about the oppression of Muslim
women. Could I, a feminist, really be considering marrying into that society?
Eyebrows were raised. People talked about me in worried tones behind my back. In
a matter of months, my secure world of 24 years was turned upside down. I no
longer felt that I knew what was right or wrong. What was black and white, was
now all gray.
But something kept me going. And it was more than my desire to marry Imran.
At any moment I could have walked away from my studies of Islam and been
accepted back into a circle of feminist, socialist friends and into the loving
arms of my family. While these people never deserted me, they haunted me with
their influence. I worried about what they would say or think, particularly
since I had always judged myself through the eyes of others. So I secluded
myself. I talked only with my family and friends that I knew wouldn't judge me.
And I read.
It was no longer an interested, disinterested study of Islam. It was a
struggle for my own identity. Up to that time I had produced many successful
term papers. I knew how to research and to support a thesis. But my character
had never been at stake. For the first time, I realized that I had always
written to please others. Now, I was studying for my own spirit. It was scary.
Although I knew my friends and family loved me, they couldn't give me the
answers. I no longer wanted to lean on their support. Imran was always there to
answer my questions. While I admired his patience and his faith that all would
turn out for the best, I didn't want to lean too heavily on him out of my own
fear that I might just be doing this for a man and not for myself. I felt I had
nothing and no one to lean on. Alone, frightened and filled with self-doubt, I
continued to read.
After I had satisfied my curiosity about women in Islam and been surprised by
the results, I began to read about the life of the Prophet Muhammad and to read
the Qu'ran itself. As I read about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), I began to
question my initial belief that he was merely an exceptional leader. His honesty
prior to any revelations, his kindness, his sagacity, his insights into his
present as well as the future--all made me question my initial premise. His
persistence in adversity and, later, his humility in the face of astounding
success seemed to belie human nature. Even at the height of his success when he
could have enjoyed tremendous wealth, he refused to have more than his poorest
companions in Islam.
Slowly I was getting deeper and deeper into the Qu'ran. I asked, "Could
a human being be capable of such a subtle, far-reaching book?" Furthermore,
there are parts that are meant to guide the Prophet himself, as well as
reprimand him. I wondered if the Prophet would have reprimanded himself.
As I slowly made my way through the Qu'ran, it became less and less an
intellectual activity, and more and more a personal struggle. There were days
when I would reject every word--find a way to condemn it, not allow it to be
true. But then I would suddenly happen upon a phrase that spoke directly to me.
This first happened when I was beginning to experience a lot of inner turmoil
and doubt and I read some verses towards the end of the second chapter:
"Allah does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to
bear" (2:286). Although I would not have stated that I believed in Allah at
that time, when I read these words it was as if a burden was lifted from my
I continued to have many fears as I studied Islam. Would I still be close to
my family if I became a Muslim? Would I end up in an oppressive marriage? Would
I still be "open-minded?" I believed secular humanism to be the most
open-minded approach to life. Slowly I began to realize that secular humanism is
as much an ideology, a dogma, as Islam. I realized that everyone had their
ideology and I must consciously choose mine. I realized that I had to have trust
in my own intellect and make my own decisions--that I should not be swayed by
the negative reactions of my "open-minded," "progressive"
friends. During this time, as I started keeping more to myself, I was becoming
intellectually freer than any time in my life.
Two and a half years later, I had finished the Qu'ran, been delighted by its
descriptions of nature and often reassured by its wisdom. I had learned about
the extraordinary life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); I had been satisfied by the
realization that Islam understands that men and women are different but equal;
and I discovered that Islam gave true equality not only to men and women, but to
all races and social classes, judging only by one's level of piety. And I had
gained confidence in myself and my own decisions. It was then that I came to the
final, critical question: Do I believe in one God? This is the basis of being a
Muslim. Having satisfied my curiosity about the rules and historical emergence
of Islam, I finally came to this critical question, the essence of being Muslim.
It was as if I had gone backwards: starting with the details before I finally
reached the spiritual question. I had to wade through the technicalities and
satisfy my academic side before I could finally address the spiritual question.
Did I.... Could I place my trust in a greater being? Could I relinquish my
secular humanist approach to life?
Twice I decided to take the shahadah and then changed my mind the next day.
One afternoon, I even knelt down and touched my forehead to the floor, as I had
often seen Muslims do, and asked for guidance. I felt such peace in that
position. Perhaps in that moment I was a Muslim a heart, but when I stood up, my
mind was not ready to officially take the shahadah.
After that moment a few more weeks passed. I began my new job: teaching high
school. The days began to pass very quickly, a flurry of teaching, discipline
and papers to correct. As my days began to pass so fast, it struck me that I did
not want to pass from this world without having declared my faith in Allah.
Intellectually, I understood that the evidence present in the Prophet Muhammad's
(PBUH) life and in the Qu'ran was too compelling to deny. And, at that moment, I
was also ready in my heart for Islam. I had spent my life longing for a truth in
which heart would be compatible with mind, action with thought, intellect with
emotion. I found that reality in Islam. With that reality came true
self-confidence and intellectual freedom. A few days after I took the shahadah ,
I wrote in my journal that finally I have found in Islam the validation of my
inner thoughts and intuition. By acknowledging and accepting Allah, I have found
the door to spiritual and intellectual freedom.
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