My Heart

Growing up, I was aware I didn’t know much about Islam, and the little I knew was based on what the media portrayed, but there were different incidents or memories I have of Allah placed on my journey that helped turn my heart to convert.

The earliest one I can recall was in high school when a popular history teacher would voice his religious views. He was young, influential at school, and informative on most things, but like everyone else not unbiased. He would always ensure there were no Muslim students in the classroom before addressing common misconstrued stereotypes regarding Islam that he held. He would like cherry pick from the Quran to uphold his views and use them to uplift Christianity. Despite the contradiction of some students in the classroom and the imbalance of power of being an influential teacher, the students who challenged him were silenced by his opposition and the information he believed to be true. He argued well. These experiences were always unsettling and uncomfortable. The students who had also initially contradicted him were religious Christians, so I thought it strange that if his views might be right why would he be challenged by students who were knowledgeable about religion and were devout Christians? I was also a minority young girl in a predominantly white high school in a predominantly white small town, so his privilege in being a white man and his ease to criticize and fuel the media’s image of hate wasn’t new or difficult to identify.

Another incident that motivated me to question the media’s portrayal of Islam was hearing about Malala’s story growing up, the young girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for publicly advocating for young girls to get an education in Pakistan, and the support of her Muslim father who was a teacher for young girls. If in fact, it were Islam that withheld girls from getting an education, why did Malala continue to wear her headscarf and criticize the extremism of the Taliban? Why was her Muslim father a teacher for young girls? Similar to her age, she would address Islam and women’s empowerment and not let the media exploit her story to condemn Islam. While there’s controversy regarding her Islamic views now, her opposition to continue wearing the headscarf and advocating for Islam at a young age despite Western propaganda was noteworthy and admirable to me.

Growing up in a Roman Catholic household, I was baptized, had my communion, and attended Sunday school, but I chose not to get confirmation, the third sacrament to initiate into the Catholic church. By then my older sister had questioned the religious views my parents held and challenged them not to force their children into a religion, so they respected my decision in not wanting to do my confirmation while I secretly identified myself as an atheist.

I believed religion was a driving force for racism, discrimination, colonization, etc., but began to understand that people’s actions and interpretation of religion did not mean a higher being did not exist, so I became agnostic and did not claim faith nor disbelief in God as I did not know or believe of any strong evidence of God’s existence at that point in my life.

This continued even after attending a Christian college for a short while where I learned more about the theology of religions like Christianity and Catholicism. I eventually chose to transfer to IUPUI where there was more opportunity in being a bigger school with a diverse student population. I delved more into Christianity for one year, but the modifications and translations of the Bible throughout history were a huge red flag for me regarding Christianity. I was also stubborn in finding faults within the religion. I believed there was some truth to Christianity, but my heart did not turn to it as I still had a lot of skepticism and confusion regarding it. It was also there I started learning more about white feminism and the war on Palestine and I met some of my Muslim friends, but the biggest turning point for me was when I worked at a summer camp.

It was there that I met my coworker who was a Muslim woman. Her character and personality strongly impacted me because they challenged many of the stereotypes I had regarding Muslim women. Educated, courageous, and strong-willed, she was awesome! Unlike other Muslims I encountered, she grew up in the United States. While she had Muslim parents, being born into Islam does not mean this person is without challenges here in the United States, especially for those with intersectional identities. Her persistence in wearing her headscarf but not demuring her personality, her presence, and her impact in all things was unlike what I thought Muslim women were like.

Meeting her urged me to question more about women in Islam, especially after a young boy had pulled a student’s hijab off. She had gathered the class and addressed the situation by explaining why the hijab is worn. It was shortly after the incident I reached out to one of my friends from Egypt who was a Muslim woman to learn more about Islam because I knew there was a lot I didn’t know, and I wanted to better understand the religion. She connected me to a converted woman which thinking back at it now I believe was very important in my journey. I might have been more skeptical of Islam if she hadn’t connected me to her because my friend was a born Muslim within a Muslim family and was married. My heart would have felt uncomfortable believing her 100% because of these reasons, so I’m grateful she reached out to a female convert to help me explore Islam and other faiths.

My friend was introduced to a former IUPUI student who shared with me an essay elaborating more on what rights women held in the three Abrahamic religions. She let me join halaqas held by a converted woman who grew up with a devout Jewish father. Throughout this time, my questions regarding Islam and other religions were addressed. The stereotypes regarding Muslim women I held were also dismantled as I better understood how Islam gave women rights from Muslim women. Learning of their conversion journeys was also interesting for me to hear, and I believed eased my fears in thinking about how I might navigate family, culture, and society if I were to convert.

There was certainly a lot I didn’t know. Throughout my learning journey, I was persistent in finding something wrong with Islam, but I was unsuccessful. It was at the early onset of the pandemic in the U.S. that the halaqas weren’t being held anymore that I addressed my fears and beliefs introspectively after I had spent almost a year of faith exploration. The validity of the Quran, the rights women hold, and the life of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, (Sunnah) were evidence to my heart that I should convert before it was too late. There were also a lot of unknowns of the pandemic, and I think the event motivated me to convert. I took my shahada on April 2020 on a Good Friday, a day Christians commemorate for the crucifixion of Jesus, to solidify my beliefs in Allah and his: angels, books, messengers, and decree. I had taken my shahada in my room alone.

I reached out to the people who were Muslim in my life to let them know I converted and to thank them for their help throughout my journey. It was then that one of them informed me that I needed to have a witness when I took my shahada, so I took my shahada virtually with my friend as a witness as it was still the pandemic.

As time went on, my other friends and family noticed my change in dress and habits. I did not go declaring myself as Muslim unless I was asked. Skepticism both from Muslims and non-Muslims is something I had to get comfortable with. I also grew more comfortable seeking and learning more about Islam not only from Muslim women, but there is still more I have yet to learn. As time goes on, I am convinced further that Islam is the true religion to follow. I’m grateful for the help I received and am receiving from others and Allah throughout my journey which is not over.

“O turner of hearts, keep my heart firm upon Your religion.”

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