My Spiritual Life:
I have been enamoured with God since I was young. Like many children, I would stare into the clouds or stars and wonder who, what, where, why, and how was God. Trying to verify His presence, I would set up quasi-experiments to find proof. For instance, setting a glass on a table, and ask God to move it, to prove His existence. With no result, I would vary the object, time, and tried not watching (maybe God did not want me to see Him move it?) Another time, I tested different methods of prayer to see which ones "worked." Among many other things, I tried praying on my face, on my knees, standing up, lying down, closing my eyes, having good posture, straightening my fingers, begging Him, offering a sacrifice, i.e., "God if you help me get a bicycle, I will never eat ice cream again." After a while, I realized that, if God did, what I asked Him to do, to prove Himself to me, or if there was a prayer method, that guaranteed my desired result, then I would have been God, not He.
I was raised as a Christian, and as I grew up, I would go to different church denominations, and ask the ministers (Imam), how they knew, for sure, that God existed. Now, I would think, that, this would be, the question, they are asked most often, but as it turns out, they are almost never asked this question, and even more surprisingly, for the most part, they do not appear to like being asked this question. Eventually, I met a pastor (Imam) who was not afraid of this question, who, in fact, loved it, and who enjoyed and appreciated the genuine honesty of a searching soul. He was an intellectual - Rice University - Suma Cum Laude, but, more importantly, he was a highly spiritual individual. He answered every question I ever had, introduced me to many spiritual theories and principles, and helped me transform my prayer life from the childish behavior of asking God for everything as if my prayers were a holiday presents wish list, into the more mature meditative prayer and follower that listens for God's guidance and follows His direction. My life was blessed by having known both he and his wife.
I began teaching Sunday School to children when I was age sixteen. I love teaching children about God more than any other activity in the world, and believe that through God, this is my best talent. I have many funny stories about my experiences in teaching, however, if I go into it now, this already too lengthy page, will be even longer.
A year later, I was asked to begin Christian Leadership Training. It was a very valuable experience because, besides learning additional worthwhile spiritual principles, I learned what pastors are taught in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of the argument for Christianity. This gives me a uniquely strong basis for arguing Islam over Christianity.
The next year, I was asked to serve on a Healing Ministries Team to aid those going through physical, spiritual, or emotional difficulty. I felt very fortunate to serve in this capacity because I was surrounded by the best people, in the best church that I had ever attended. I was much younger and inexperienced than the rest of the group, and completely out of my league. Yet, I stayed with it, because they possessed a knowledge that I desired. I always wanted to know "what to say," and "what not to say," to those in dire circumstances. I decide that unless the rest of the team figured out that I was in over my head, I was not going to tell them. Once again, I felt my life had been undeservedly blessed by getting to hang out and learn from those I most admired. Sometimes though, since I was not even close to their advanced level, I would look around the room and start thinking of the song from "Sesame Street,"
"One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong. . . "
I also have many funny and interesting stories from working on this Healing Team, but again, it would make this much longer.
At some point, I began to consider my fellow team members - the people I thought the most spiritually elite and wise. Although they were superior to me in every way, I thought to myself that they were not where I would like to be when I reach their age. I perceived a distance from God in Christianity. I discussed this with my pastor, stating that I wanted to develop my relationship with God. He suggested I might try praying more often during the day, mentioning that Muslims pray five times daily which is suppose to aid in this matter. Of course he was not trying to peek my interest in Islam. Yet he did.
I had other difficulties with Christianity. The concept that heaven can only be obtained through having Jesus as your Savior, with good and bad deeds having no relevance in the scheme of things, was an idea that always defied common sense to me. Theoretically in Christianity, a person who sins all day, every day of his life, will go to heaven if he accepts Jesus as his Savior, one second before he dies. The man that does all good, every day of his life, who does not accept Jesus as his Savior in his lifetime, is sentenced to eternal hell. How much sense does that make? There are many additional problems with Christianity, but I will not go into them at this point.
I was also involved in Christian Student Ministries. I always preferred having Christian to non-Christian friends because we thought more alike. And, although, I had many nice Christian girlfriends, I also felt a lack of closeness with them, because of a difference in opinion as to what constituted Godly living, as far as, dating, alcohol, clubbing, etc. I was constantly asked if there was something wrong with me and made fun of when I turned down invitations to clubs, drinking, etc. It made me feel terrible inside.
One day, I met several Muslim sisters, and I felt an instant kinship, unlike any I had previously held. Like myself, they did not date, swear, drink, and the long list of other common vices. It was such a great feeling to meet others, with whom, I held so much agreement about so many matters. I was surprised to learn that there was any other person on the planet so similar to myself. I had no idea such a creature existed.
Since this was the second time Muslims had been brought to my attention, I decided that I should at least investigate Islam, so I called a Mosque and went to it for direction. I was given a copy of the Quran and so I started to read. Slowly my focus began to shift from Christianity to Islam. At first I stopped teaching the "Christ as Savior" part in my Sunday School lessons, and opted for morality lessons each week. However, soon I was not able to look the children in the eyes when I taught because I felt I was a hypocrite to them and their parents, who were expecting me to be a Christian role model.
Next, during my prayer, I felt that God was guiding me to stop teaching Sunday School, and go to different churches on Sundays and study church growth. For instance, when two churches are located on the same street, why does one have 50 members, and one have 5000 members. At the time it made no sense to me to do this, but I felt strongly urged by God to do this, and I had learned that if you are sure God is guiding you in a certain direction, and you are positive it is God and not your own instinct or desire, than you had better do it if you want to have the best life. I have ignored His guidance in the past and failed too many times. (More funny stories there for another time.)
I did not discuss Islam with anybody because I felt I was betraying all my Christian family and friends, and I did not even discuss it with my Muslim girlfriends because I did not want my decision to have any pressure applied. Slowly, without my actually realizing it, I began to shift my beliefs from Christianity and towards Islam. It was not a quick or easy transformation because my whole foundation of life was Christian based, yet, it, nonetheless, transformed.
One day, a Muslim friend at school had asked me what I enjoyed doing when I was not at school. I told her that my very favorite activity was teaching Sunday School. She asked me where I taught, and I told her, I was not teaching anywhere. She asked, if that was my favorite thing to do, why I was not doing it? It was at this point, that I realized, that had changed, without my even realizing it had been taking place. I knew I would never go back to teaching Sunday School, because I was no longer Christian, but instead, maybe, possibly, Muslim. My beliefs were now solidly Islamic. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to admit to, I guess I was some how hoping that I would eventually turn back to Christianity so that my life would be easier, but it had not. So I slowly replied to her, that I did not believe in Christianity any more, stunned and sad at this realization. It was very hard to utter those words. She asked why, so I explained that I had been reading the Quran and believed in its contents, as opposed to those contained in the Bible. She asked, "So, are you Muslim?" I said, "I do not actually know what defines someone as a Muslim." She asked me a number of questions about my beliefs, and then told me that I was a Muslim, and that I only needed to convert. I asked how a person converts, so she said you just need to repeat these words after me, and so I did. So, I experienced the death of my Christianity, and the birth of my Islam in a few minutes time. Needless to say, this moment is etched into my brain permanently, InshaAllah.
I was so excited, but I had to be positive, that, what I thought had happened, actually did happen. I did not want to make a wishy-washy decision about this conversion, i.e., be Muslim one day, and Christian the next, Muslim the day after, and back to Christianity, so I made appointments with four Imams to find out exactly what it meant to be Muslim, concluding with the same realization that I was Muslim.
In the following month, I was overwhelmed with the sense that I was home. I felt that what I had been looking for all my life had been found, and for the first time I was home where I belonged. Often, I feel as though I was always a Muslim, but Allah decided that I best served His interest by being born into a Christian environment, as it places me in a position to serve Him from a much different angle than the born and raised Muslim. There are many things I have to learn from my Muslim brothers and sisters, yet there are many areas where Muslims can learn from those raised as Christian. InshaAllah, I hope I never forget the day that I converted, because once I did, the world suddenly looked different as if everything was suddenly in color. I know that sounds so silly, but that is the only way I know to describe the change I experienced. Things looked different, smelled different, sounded different, etc. I really cannot put it into words.
In the subsequent months, I started an Islamic Student Alliance at my University, and along with others started a Mosque and Islamic weekend school in the place where I lived.
Things are excellent, however, I have encountered a number of difficulties. I quickly found out that being a single American converted female in the community is often not met with joy. Although many Muslims welcomed me, I have come to realize there is an inherent hatred among many Muslims for Americans, and especially for single, white, female Americans. I encountered resentment from the type of person who enjoy referring to American women as cheap - to put it politely. Next, I encountered brothers who made unwanted advances, thinking I suppose, since I am American, they could be free in their manners. When I asked them to leave me alone, they decided to became an instant enemy. I am not going to tell you what they did, because it will only harm Islam. However, it was significant to say the least.
My familial response to my conversion:
The rude response however was difficult to understand, and very troubling for my family. Their impression of Muslims had been the same as 95% of Americans, that they are crazy terrorists. However, when my family met my girlfriends, they changed their opinion to a positive one. Then, when mean-spirited brothers did their best to make my life difficult, they reversed their opinion. They did this rightly so. I have not written here some of the bizarre behavior that occurred because I do not think it will serve any benefit to Islam. Suffice to say, if anyone else had been in their shoes, they would agree with them.
My future Islamic plans:
Everyone has a different role in Islam, i.e., some are scholars, teachers, aids, Imams, etc. All are good and all are necessary. I will say with certainty, I will not be a scholar or a person that endeavors to find every rule in existence to follow in Islam. From my prospective, I will simply do my prayers, follow basic tenets, and endeavored to, "Do unto to others as I would have them do unto me."
In the future I would like to work in the administrative area of Islam. This is an area where Islam is struggling. I have learned a lot about how to make a religious entity successful from my previous study and of churches. I am also very interested in working within children's education, as my love is here. In addition, I would like to work with assimilating other converted sisters. I do not want other sisters to have to go through the hardship I did to stay a Muslim. I did not understand why people would ask me if a guy had converted me to Islam, because that was such an illogical notion. Now I realize why this is usually the case. It is very very hard for a converted sister to stay in the community, unless some kind family in the community practically adopts her as their family. Allah does something so good in converting an American sister who is searching for the Right path, and pettiness or inexperience or ignorance often destroys it. A support program is necessary for the converted sisters.
Presently a woman who is writing a book about the conversion experience of ten sisters, asked me for my story. I have been writing the details, and as of yet I have decided that it will not favorably benefit Islam. My experience is much more colorful and difficult than I have mention here, however the juicy details are irrelevant to this forum and not beneficial to anyone concerned.
Looking to God for Guidance:
Some religious people get angry when I say that God guides me, and claim it is impossible. First of all, the Quran begins by stating that we should go to God for guidance. Secondly, just because they (the angry person) have never had this experience, does not mean it does not exist. It does happen, and I will be happy to try to explain how to get started, as far as I understand it.
1. First of all, remember, that God knows every iota of our intentions. So, we must begin with utterly pure intentions. You cannot want God's guidance for some reason or power, ego, etc. It must be for wholly unselfish reasons. God recognizes the impure heart, no matter how successfully someone might try to disguise it among the general public.
2. You must let go of all the things that you try and control in your life and recognize that God is in control. I think so often God is trying to guide us towards what he wants us to do, however, we are too busy, trying to make things go the way that we want, that we are not able to hear Him. A good way to let go of our control, so that we can hear God, is to visualize a barge floating down a river in front of you. Imagine placing everything you have in your life on that barge as it floats away from you, to God. Image you have no say or input as to what happens to these things, situations, people, etc., and honestly saying to God that you fully accept and embrace whatever it is He decides to do with all of the things in our life. Even if it is the opposite of what you desire - that is a very hard part. Imagine if He decides that everything is best for you, if it is the opposite, of what you are trying to achieve. This is where you have to truly trust God one hundred percent.
3. Next, you must be still and recognize God and all of His attributes.
4. Next, you must be silent and still and just "be" with God.
5. You must not expect anything to happen, because it is the grace of God when He guides you. However, if you do this daily, my experience is eventually something happens. Sometimes it happens during the prayer, but other times it occurs while you are in the ordinary situations.
6. The thing that happens is that you will sense a strong direction of guidance. You have to learn to distinguish between your own ideas and Gods. The way that I usually know that it is God, is that His guidance is usually the opposite of what I want to do. For instance, since I am not a good person, there are certain people that I do not like, and would not mind if they disappeared from this earth. Sometimes, I will sense God telling me to go to them and comfort them. It is a struggle because sometimes my only desire is to go up and kick them. I remember once I sensed God asking me to pray blessings for my least favorite person on the planet. I could not believe it. I was arguing with God saying, "come on God? Blessings? Can I just pray that he gets in a car accident and suffers pain and becomes very sorry for being so evil." (I told you that I am bad, didn't I?) Anyway, needless to say, He did not find that acceptable, so I pray the way He requested. When I have a strong sense that I need to do something good that I do not want to do, and this action falls in line with all the teachings of Allah, it is usually God's guidance.
7. The way that I confirm that it was God's guidance is that something significant and Godly happens as a result. For instance, the day I prayed blessings for my least favorite person, he made a dramatic turn around in his behavior toward me from that time forward.
8. Again, the key, is all in the honesty of intention. Your intention must be to behave in a pious way, serve Allah and His purposes with no desire for personal gain. Again, I have many interesting stories about this, but I want to limit the length of this.
Finally, I would like to ask for prayers from my brothers and sisters in Islam. I have found the transition to Islam difficult and I have encountered a world of problems trying to do Islamic work in the community. I would sincerely prefer a prayer more than a gift of $1,000,000. So to anyone that sacrifices their valuable time and remembers me in their prayers, I will be eternally grateful and appreciate.