Bearing Witness! How a White Girl Embraced Islam
Of all the choices in life, why would a young woman living in one of the most affluent countries in the world chose Islam? Is she crazy?
Well, it is complicated. And, yes, I am little crazy.
But Islam was not the cause or a symptom, rather, the therapy. Besides, we are all crazy. I find that those who don’t own their crazy are indeed the craziest.
When people ask me why I converted to Islam, it’s kind of like asking someone in passing what brought about the Opium Wars? When I try to give a condensed version, I get the kind of response that says “Hey, whoa!” This is too heavy a topic for a passing conversation (do they think it will be a light and breezy story? IDK).
No, there was no “miracle” or near death experience that prompted the decision. There was no man promising me love, riches, and life-long happiness if I would just convert. There wasn’t even a parting of the Gulf of Mexico – BP would take care of that years later.
My conversion came about through years of thinking, arguing, denying, defying, and searching.
Many, many decades ago, I was born to a virgin … just joking, I was born to a highly educated, agnostic, Viet Nam vet with a drinking problem and a deeply religious, sarcastic, yet patient Catholic woman.
Oh, the tales I could tell about being raised in a house with a violent drunk and a tenacious martyr. It was as though heaven and hell waged war nightly in my home, which made me very tired. I am still tired. Seriously, I need a nap.
The parents fought over many things. One topic of contention was what type of education their six children would receive. They came to a compromise. For grammar school, we (the children) would be afforded a Catholic education, so that we may learn the mass and all the sacraments, etc. (mom’s choice). Then, for high school, we (the afore mentioned children) would learn the ways of the world in public school (dad’s choice).
In Catholic school, I identified with those people who doubted Noah. This scared the crap out of my seven year-old-self. I made a deeply sincere request to The Creator at this point. I asked God that if he should send any more prophets that He would guide me to believe in them. This will be important later on.
In public school, I encountered people from many spectrums of life. No Muslims that I knew of,
however. All this exposure made me question what made my way of life, culture, and religion so correct and proper?
As I was traveling down this line of questioning, I eventually came to the Jesus question.
I distinctly remember wondering about the true nature of Jesus. I was about 15 years old and I was kneeling in a pew after mass – probably a punishment for teasing one of my many sisters or saying a curse word like “heck” – mom didn’t play. And all of the sudden the thought popped in my mind. What if Jesus is not God? What if it is a lie? What if my life is based on a lie? – doubt, something I would learn to embrace.
The answer came in the form of manipulation (i.e. if you don’t believe, you will go to hell for eternity, etc.) Just believe: don’t worry your pretty, little head with thinking too much. Hilarious!
This was like telling a wood pecker not to peck at wood or a beaver not to build a damn dam. I am neurotic. All I do is think. No matter how useless the thought, I think/worry, and worry/think, and think/worry some more for good measure. Then, I think about thinking about it again and again.
College came, and with it more space to question. Having been manipulated into silencing my intellect, it was difficult for me to give up my indoctrination. However, my college roommate and I discussed many existential topics and religion made the roster often. She being Baptist, and I Catholic, it all began with the innocent comparison of the two sects of Christianity.
Then, it dangerously evolved into a debate of such things as why had the Bible been changed so many times?
We’d opened Pandora’s box and all the repressed questions came pouring out: Did innovators in Christianity base their belief in Jesus on the original Bible or a Greek translated, 18th edition? And if it was many editions and translations later, what was editorialized and/or lost in translation?
What had been added or taken out? You know, the typical 18 year-old-girl, sleep-over topics of discussion interspersed with pillow fights.
My dear roommate, who also never let me nap – often tap dancing on my bed as I tried to get some shut eye – brought to my attention that something like four hundred years after Jesus lived, Christian leaders decided that Jesus Christ was both human and divine.
We naturally wondered how could people come to the decision about Jesus four hundred years after his death. From Prophet to God in an evolving religion.
This eventually evolved into the great debate 1999: Was Christianity mixed with Greco-Roman beliefs because of the time and place of its advent? Was Jesus being sacrificed for ‘all of our sins’ just an extension of the belief in pagan sacrifices?
Another suspiciously Greco-Roman belief that was on the debate roster for that year: Jesus and God as son and father: Zeus and Hercules, anyone?
My roommate was more advanced in her thinking than I. She would often ask me, “Is the search for knowledge so dangerous? Can it hurt to really search for the truth? Can it hurt to use our own intellect to find out what is fact and what is fiction?”
And my rebellious nature replied, “No, I would rather err on the side of thinking too much.” Why do I have the ability to think, if I shouldn’t use it on such a fundamental aspect of life?
I believed in God, I just didn’t know what the correct path to Him was. I alternated between ignoring the question, flipping the question off, and seeking answers.
Now that I think about it, I had turned my culture into my new religion. A culture in which getting drunk, having fun, acquiring a lot of stuff, and striving for physical beauty were the most important things. If you could be the prettiest girl with the most expensive shoes in the tailgating crowd, you’d made it.
Now, for someone who was born with the personality of a sarcastic, cranky, old man, I had a hard time fitting my square disposition into this octagonally-shaped culture. I loathed being the center of attention, but strove for it because my culture dictated it was only proper for a young woman.
To be the best worshiper at the altar of culture, I never wanted to miss a party, but wished I could just yell at all those kids and tell them to turn their racket down. I looked for answers in the holy books of Vogue and InStyle, but really wished I wouldn’t be considered a freak if I talked about Anna Karenina, the question of Palestine, or the objectification of women.
My roommate was in hot pursuit of truth and spent much of her time studying other religions and talking to people of different faiths, allowing me to tag along from time to time. After much thought and deliberation, she converted to Islam.
I cannot say how she came to this decision. By this point, my mother had passed away, and I was busy with my grief and self-pity.
I had become a capital A-hole, challenging my newly Muslim roommate’s every move. I had all the cultural perceptions of Islam that can be expected. I don’t even know from where I picked them up. I knew nothing of the religion besides it being something that was backwards and tried to take women’s rights away. And I knew I was not down with that.
Our dorm room discussion became episode after episode of When Corbins (that’s me) Attack. I accosted her when she decided to wear hijab. “Why do you wear that?” I asked as snide as I could be.
And she answered calmly and simply. “So, that I can be recognized as a believing woman. So that I can say who sees what of my body and am not a victim of the male gaze.” I not only heard what she said, I saw it in action. I didn’t feel more liberate with less clothing. I felt like picked apart and judged, and more often than not I felt like prey.
I longed for the respect that I saw my newly Muslim friend and other Muslim women receive from men as they wore their long and loose clothing. The thought of being in control over who would see me was very appealing.
“Yeah, but women are like second class citizens in your faith,” I spat on another occasion, trying to distance myself from my growing affection for Islam.
She explained that during a time when the Western world treated women like property, Islam taught that men and women were twin half of one soul. Islam brought more honor to the mother than the father. It made the woman’s consent to marriage mandatory, a practice that would have been laughed at in the Western world at the time.
Islam gave women the right to own property and businesses. And if a woman were to marry, she would not have to share her wealth with her husband. Islam gave women the right to inherit, unheard of in its day. She listed right after right that women in Islam held nearly 1250 years before women’s lib became a thing.
And these were just a fraction of the conversations we shared about Islam as a way of life. I continued to search. At some point, I thought about Judaism. It was the original monotheism. Since I wanted to get back to the original religion, this seemed logical to me.
When I voiced my Jewish aspirations to my roommate (who by now was no longer living with me. So, I guess we can just call her my friend), we talked at length about the prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
A throw back to the days of our dorm room Jesus problem. She explained to me the Islamic belief in all the prophets of Judaism , Christianity, and then the last prophet who came with the same message as all the rest – Muhammad ﷺ. A message that had to be sent over and over to mankind because people kept changing it.
Prophet after prophet came until the last Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came with the same message to guide mankind back to the truth one last time. “And to this day his sayings can be verified in chains of narration and the Qur’an has not been changed by man.” She said.
When I heard, I believed. I had asked God when I was a seven year old in Catholic school and learning about Prophet Noah عليه السلام if He should send any more prophets that He would guide me to believe in them – Remember? I said that this will be important later on 😉 glad you were paying attention – I believe that God granted me this mercy, because it was not until this conversation that it all clicked.
I became less angry about my friend’s new religion and began to listen about all the things she was learning as a Muslim. My next question was “What does it mean to be a Muslim?” I met other Muslim women and questioned them about their faith and read for myself.
What I found out was that in belief I was already a Muslim. I believed in the oneness of God. I believed in the prophets up to and including Muhammad ﷺ. I believed in the angels, and Divine will, the Day of Judgement, the Holy Books, and all that jazz.
But – and this is a BIG but – I was scared to abandon my culture (in much the same way I was scared to stop worshiping Jesus). I was afraid of receiving the same ridicule I had dished out to my friend.
Islam made sense and even spoke to my nature. But I rebelled and the more I refused Islam and chose my culture over it the more miserable I became. I would find myself weeping for no other reason than the increasing emptiness I felt as I continued to reject Islam and replace it with culture. My health began to fail. I lost my scholarship at school. My personal safety was compromised. I even became homeless.
I defied until I couldn’t go on. I finally admitted, like the most homophobic person who finally comes out of the closet, that I was a Muslim. I finally said the words “I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and messenger” on the first day of Ramadan 2001.
And what I have learned since has taught me that I never had to give up my American culture entirely. I learned that fearing ridicule from people will only make you a joke. And I learned that there is an amazing peace that comes with being obedient to no one but the One God, the One who created you and designed you to do just that.
By: @islamwich (MW Guest)