Updated: Aug 23, 2020
Growing up in Central Florida, in a city of predominately white Christians, I knew nothing about Muslims, nor about Islam. My parents were Christian, though our spiritual practice was limited to occasional church services, typically on holidays. Unfortunately, my dysfunctional upbringing led to me questioning not only Christianity, but God's very existence, from childhood through young adulthood.
In high school, at just 17 years old, I met a young Syrian-American immigrant who was admittedly the first person of Arab decent I had ever met. Despite being raised in a Muslim-majority country, he knew very little about Islam, having grown up in a family quite like my own, where religion was never a focus. We married merely 5 months after graduating high school, and in the coming years, I began attending church services at several different churches, hoping to rekindle some type of connection with God, but always walking away disappointed. Eventually, I realized that the basic tenants of the Christian faith – the trinity – were not in alignment with what I personally believed God to be, so I resigned myself to a belief in God, without confining myself to any single religion.
Around this same time, my husband befriended two young men from Egypt who eventually became like family to us. We seldom discussed religion, but when we did, it was always respectful and enlightening. It was during our talks over tea that I learned about some of the scientific miracles found in the Quran, which impressed me, and I greatly admired their commitment to their daily prayers, which they performed no matter where we were.
Eventually, as I prepared for my first visit to Syria to meet my husband’s family, I felt it necessary to learn about Islam and Muslims beforehand. I focused not only on learning the pillars of Islam, but the purpose behind them. Why would God demand people pray 5 times a day? Or fast all day for a month? Or cover their hair? I read everything with an unbiased, open mind, and even began reading material against Islam, to ensure I was not getting a one-sided, biased view. The more I learned, the more my appetite for more information seemed to grow. Ironically, I'd oftentimes share this new-found knowledge with my husband, and he became equally as interested in learning more.
The single most powerful thing that drew me to Islam was the concept of God’s oneness, as detailed in the beginning of chapter 112 of the Holy Quran:
"He, God, is One."
I was also drawn to the concept of the Quran and hadith being given to us as a “user manual” for mankind. I had oftentimes wondered why God would create us and then leave us to decide for ourselves, individually, what is considered right and wrong. Every single complex item that is created, be it a car or computer, is accompanied by a detailed user manual detailing its capabilities, limitations, troubleshooting, and so much more. How could humans, the most complex creation of all, be left without this basic necessity?
Eventually, my English translation of the Quran was so full of notes that I decided it was time I got answers to what I was certain were questions that no one could answer. A local sheik graciously spent 5 hours with me, answering every single one of my questions, not with an opinion he or others had formed, but with clear proof from the Quran or hadith.
The very next day, I made my conversion official by declaring my shahada. I gave up all forms of smoking and drinking that same day, and soon thereafter, I shared my conversion with my family, who knew that I had made this decision only after careful research and consideration. My hijab was a bit more difficult for many to accept, since it is such an obvious statement & the center of so much controversy, but over the years, it became clear to everyone that my faith and hijab was my most prized part of my identity.
It has been over a decade, and despite the ending of my 14-year marriage, I am as firm of a believer today as I was the day I made my shahada. Parenthood and divorce have proven to be a very challenging test for my iman, but by the grace of Allah, I have managed to rekindle my connection with Allah, and recommit myself to my daily practice of Islam. I strive to raise my children to love Allah and His messenger, and to develop an unwavering connection with the Quran.
To say my conversion to Islam was the best thing to happen to me in my life is an understatement, and I have never regretted my decision, nor desired a different path. I pray every day that God continues setting my heart firm on the path of Islam & enables me to bring into the world more love, peace, and harmony while inspiring others to do the same.