I have always, since developing an ability to think deeply, believed in the existence of a single Creator, on whom everything that exists is dependent. Though my parents are Buddhist, from the age of 13, to this Creator, I have steadfastly prayed and yielded guidance from every day that I can remember. Yet, being schooled within a Christian environment, I naturally identified myself as a Christian.
Sadly, my knowledge of Islam was minimal. I perceived it as a bizarre religion, limited to only a few underdeveloped nations, most of which were in the Middle East, and which endorsed an astoundingly suppressive lifestyle, particularly for women. Muslim women, I presumed, were considered inferior - a passive domestic slave, bashed often and forced to compete among four for her husband's affections, which he could withhold from them all if he wanted to. The majority of these ideas I developed from hearsay, interactions with others I assumed knew what they were talking about and a few documentaries on Iran and Saudi Arabia I watched on television.
As I entered university nearly three years ago, I came into contact with quite a number of Muslim students from various backgrounds. Strangely enough, even to myself, I was drawn to them and developed a curious inclination to learn and understand more about their religion. I observed how content they seemed and was very impressed by their openness and warmth towards myself and each other, but more importantly with their pride in belonging to a religion which holds many negative connotations.
I gradually became fascinated with Islam, and through a process of education, developed a greater respect for it than even my beloved Christianity. I was stunned at how wrong my previous conception had been and became particularly overwhelmed at the tremendous entitlements, equality and acknowledgment Islam provided for women. I realised the reality of the Islamic lifestyle and the truth concerning that feeble American innovation termed "Islamic fundamentalism".
Is it said that any person who possesses the faulty of reason and an open mind should recognise logic and truth when he/she encounters it, and so it was in my case.
More and more, literature, signs and evidence were revealed to me, and more and more, my intellect was stimulated and my heart, warmed. I wanted to know everything about Islam and felt already a sense of brotherhood with and belonging among its followers.
What impressed me the most was how practical Islam is - how it encompasses a rule and a lesson for almost every facet of living. And by the sheer grace of God, I at last understood the faults of Christian theology and of the concepts I had previously accepted unquestioningly.
At midday, on August 4th, 1994, before over 20 witnesses, I recited the shahadah and became an official Muslim.
I shall never forget the bliss of that day and how much my life has turned around in only a year's time.
I have often been asked what it is like to be a revert and of the difficulties I must endure. Though I do not wish to dwell on this topic, as pity is not my priority, I shall give some examples of what I have been through.
The period up till the end of Ramadhan was, by far, the hardest to get through. Family disputes took place almost daily; I was showered with verbal abuse, ridicule and threats. On many occasions, my room was physically torn apart, books mysteriously disappeared and slanderous phone messages were sent to my friends and their parents.
There have been times I have been locked out of home and forced to abstain from dinner as pork was deliberately served. Even to this day, all my mail is opened before I have the chance to do so myself. Apart from my housing and meals, I must provide for myself financially. My readings, as my conversations over the phone are done in privacy. My writings and my visits to mosques or other Islamic venues must always be concealed. I am similarly not able to visit friends very often as I may be "brain-washed" even more.
I cannot perform my prayers until I am sure no one is around. Nor can I express my excitement and celebration during Ramadhan. I cannot share the joy at knowing yet another sister has put on Hijab, nor can I discuss the lesson I have learned this day or the speech given by an Islamic scholar/scientist. Moreover, I must continually defend the Muslims and the Islam portrayed on the media, and fight against the stereotypes my parents stubbornly maintain.
To see their expressions of disgust at myself is almost unbearable. I am now insecure as to my parents affections and constantly worry of how much I am hurting them. Through the entire month of Ramadhan, my mother spoke to me not once. I had to hear her say time and time again at how I had betrayed the family. My pleading with her otherwise was to no avail. I am told over and over again that what I have done is unforgivable and if any of our relations or already few friends knew, my parents would surely be outcasts.
However, I do not claim to have a miserable life. I am more content and at peace now than I ever have been. My purpose in relating all of this is to try to display the opportunities that many of you have which are so often taken for granted, so little taken advantage of, but so precious to many reverts like myself.
To reflect on these hardships alone would imply I have gained nothing by becoming a Muslim other than pain. On the contrary, Islam has given me already so many vast rewards, I shiver to think of how much more wonderful the gifts of Paradise would be.
At the time of my reversion, although I had accepted Islam as being true, I had no idea of the vast internal changes it would incur upon me. Even I am astounded at how much I devour knowledge, how Islam is in my thoughts every waking moment, how compelling I feel my responsibility is to the Ummah and how much more of a Muslim I became every month.
It is as if as one's life in Islam progresses, it spreads to encompass and govern every cellular and spiritual dimension in oneself.
Abu Huraira (r.a.a.) narrated that: Allah's Messenger (s.a.w) once said: "Allah said: '... and My slave keeps coming closer to Me... then I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grasps, and his legs with which he walks...' "[Sahih Al-Bukhari]. This is precisely my experience.
Remarkably, from one religion, I have gained a profound insight into the operations of human behaviour and sociology, as as well as geophysics and astronomy. As I mature, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that again and again, it is Islam that has already answered the social and economic dilemmas of our time.
Over the past year, I have developed quite an extensive breadth of Islamic knowledge and have studied ayats of the Holy Qur'an in much finer detail. Not once have I come across anything which would make me doubt the authenticity of the Qur'an and the relevance of Islam for contemporary society, for even one minute.
This has been the only religion I have ever been completely sure of and am more sure of each day that I serve.
Furthermore, I have established my identity, I am more confident of myself; a stronger woman and person of colour, I am more aware of my existence and more secure in my battles.
If I have achieved anything through this article, my hope is that it is that I have depicted the greatness and mercy of our Glorious Sovereign, who makes all things possible. Allah (s.w.t.) says: "He guides there with whom He pleases" [S.393, V.23]. Truly, I have been blessed to be one of those who have personally received the light and whose heart has been ordained to accept it.