There’s a well-known statistic from Dr Ba-Yunus that states 75% of converts to Islam leave within the first 5 years. There’s some skepticism around how that statistic came about, or how accurate it is ~10 years later, in addition to the fact that the original video footage containing the statistic has been erased from the internet…
…but regardless, I made it. Today marks the 5th year since I said Shahada (the testimony of faith) at Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in front of ~200 people after a Friday night lecture with Imam Almasmari.
So, I’m going to tell you THE story. It’s been a roller coaster, full of large events and seemingly insignificant moments that, in retrospect, played a larger role than I’d ever dreamed they could have.
I was raised Catholic. I’m not talking Christmas/Easter Catholic, I’m talking a you-do-not-miss-Sunday-Mass-unless-you’re-dying, extra weekday Masses, Latin Masses, multiple-choir-singing, monthly Confession, nightly family prayers kind of Catholic. There were a lot of times you could visibly SEE peoples’ connection with God, especially when they were taking those 10 minutes of quiet before Mass to have a private conversation.
I’m not going to lie, I was jealous of that. I wanted it, and couldn’t find it. Then began my journey…
When I was studying for Confirmation in 7th and 8th grade, we dove deeper into concepts and teachings of the Church, memorized a lot of standard prayers, and moved to become “adults” and take on Catholicism in our own right. I continued to find myself having a hard time reconciling myself with various teachings – transubstantiation, sacrament of Confession, and the Trinity being three of them.
I began to be lightly interested in learning about other religions, and by the time high school came around I was beginning to read about them. I was homeschooled, but dual enrolled at the community college for certain classes. I asked my mom to learn Arabic, mostly because I was stubborn and wanted something “different”, but they only offered 101 and my mom wanted me to take a language with 101 and 102 in order to graduate. My (non-Muslim) boyfriend at the time started me reading about Taoism, and eventually brought up the Qur’an. There were many discussions about comparative religion, but mostly brain-based discussions and not heart-based discussions.
When I went off to college, I was a first-semester freshman taking a religion class titled “Religion, Racism, and Discrimination in America”. It sounded interesting, and it fit with the general education requirements. This class lit a fire. I decided to add Religion as a minor AND we read Malcolm X.
About a month into the semester, I was introduced to a group of people by the guy who lived across the hall from me in the dorms: a bunch of Saudis and Egyptians to play soccer with. The first time I walked into the gym and heard them all speaking in Arabic, my friend and I the only Americans, I called my mom and said, “man…I really wish I had taken that Arabic class…”
Over the remaining months of the semester, I slowly started talking to the Saudis. At this point, I knew next to nothing. One of them came to visit my family over Christmas break and my mom made sloppy joes. I couldn’t remember for the LIFE of me if Muslims didn’t eat pork or beef. I remember sitting there wondering if I should ask, but I never did.
The next semester was much different. I started seeing the Saudis in the library. A few of them would take me to eat (either in a restaurant or at home) after soccer. Some of us would get lunch together on campus. We played soccer and ate, the beginning of all good friendships.
At this point, I was starting to Google Islam, and had registered to take Islam 101 at the university. Enter into my life, Professor Talat Halman. This man eventually became my senior project advisor, and a trusted source of information and soundboarding as I continued on my journey.
A whirlwind of reading books, taking classes involving Islam (Islam 101, Mysticism, Politics of Islam, Politics of the Middle East, World Religions, etc…), watching YouTube, and engaging my new friends in many hours-long discussions ensued. I found myself getting all the questions I ever had answered, finding more questions, and then getting those answered as well.
During the summer, I went to visit my college town and stayed for a week during Ramadan. I fasted those days, but not the whole month. I went on a trip to Spain with the university church for World Youth Day, 2011. This was basically my point of no return. I WANTED to be Catholic, because it was easier. I knew what I had to do, I knew the words and the rituals, my whole family is Catholic. I went in with the intention to discover that spirituality, that connection that I had seen reverberating from other people…and I didn’t find it.
I returned from Spain on the same day fall semester classes started. It was back to the whirlwind of classes, soccer, eating with friends, reading on the side and watching lectures. I was taking another class with Talat Halman, and was doing an extra project so that I could count it as an Honors credit for the Honors Program.
In Honors 101, the class that incoming freshman Honors students take, we were assigned to create and experience a Personal Development Plan, which included exploring 10 aspects of life that fit into different categories. Some examples would be: wearing makeup for a month if you don’t wear makeup, buying condoms if you’ve never done that before, going vegetarian or vegan for a week, visiting different places of worship, etc…Phame Camarena, the director of the Honors Program, fully backed the idea and allowed me to use more of his students as guinea pigs (aka giving them a different opportunity for their PDP).
My extra project? Hijab Week. You can find articles about year 1 and year 2. I asked a number of incoming freshman women to wear hijab for a week, and take a survey collecting their ideas on the restrictiveness, practicality, their parents’ opinions, etc…on hijab and those who wear it. I, of course, wore the hijab that whole week as well. I wrote a five page paper detailing the history of hijab and the results of the 25 pre and post surveys. This later turned into my Senior Project.
One of these evenings, I was with my Saudi friends studying and drinking tea. One of them showed me a song by Maher Zain called Insha’Allah, or God-willing. The song gave me chills. The verses are hard-hitting, and the main line of the chorus is, “insha’Allah, you’ll find the way…”. It played in my head constantly for weeks.
By the time the summer came, I was pretty sure I knew my decision. I had learned how to pray, I had learned 3 chapters of the Qur’an, and I knew the basic 5 Pillars of Islam and 6 Articles of Faith. I began attending New Muslim classes at Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills. The instructor varies between teaching off of a hadith (teaching/saying of the Prophet Mohammad) and/or verses of the Qur’an. I not only liked what I heard, but it also felt right.
One Friday, I was at IAGD in Rochester Hills and a visiting scholar was giving the Khutbah (sermon). I don’t know who it was, but he said something that reverberated with me: “What is this internal bickering? If you would have asked the Prophet Mohammad what he was, he would have simply replied, ‘I’m Muslim’. Would he have said, ‘I’m Sunni’ or ‘I’m Shia’? No, he would have said, ‘I’m Muslim’. There was no Sunni, no Shia, no Hanbali, no Shafi… there was just Muslim.”
I emailed Imam Almasmari at Muslim Unity Center and told him that it’s time. I wanted to say my Shahada. He said come next week, and I did. I was so nervous, I don’t do public speaking well. I was going to be saying words in a different language through a microphone in front of a lot of people. What if I changed my mind? What if I said something slightly wrong that it came out offensive? What was my family going to say? Would my Saudi friends be happy, or would they treat me differently once they knew? What if…
On June 16, 2012, I said my Shahada in front of around 200 people after a Friday night lecture, and I felt peace.