Written by Kaighla Um Dayo
I was raised in a generally non-religious but very typical mid-western home.
My parents drank and partied, usually in moderation. If you asked them what their religion was, they would have responded “Christian”, but quickly followed up with some crap about being “a good person, loving God, but not interested in all that church stuff or the rules or whatever“. Unlike my family, I had a very keen interest in God from a young age, and messed around in all the major world religions by the time I was 23 and embraced Islam.
I became a very practicing Evangelical Christian when I was 15 years old, much to the chagrin of my family. Everyone called me a ‘Bible thumper’, meaning I was always justifying my arguments with Bible verses or advising people to behave in Biblically-sound ways. This made me less-than-popular in high school.
By the time I got around to college, I had found my calling: Missions. I wanted to travel the world for Jesus, showing people his love by helping them in practical things in life. My bible college in Illinois called this field “Bi-vocational Missions”. I was in my element and growing.
That was until the actual first day of class when I learned what the Bible actually teaches, along with the agreed upon tenets of the faith, one of which being that people are born with a sinful nature, inclined toward sin, and doomed for hell fire until and unless they decide to accept Jesus as God and worship Him. They like to toss in a clause about an ‘age of accountability,’ but that is nowhere to be found in the Bible, actually.
I also had a major issue with the concept of the trinity: if God is three-in-one, why does killing one part of God not kill all of Him? And why can only one part of God exist in the same place at a time (like when Jesus told his people that the Holy Spirit could not come upon them unless he left).
This teaching and many others caused a new feeling to stir in me: what I had been practicing was a watered-down, ‘Murican version of a centuries’ old religion, and mine looked nothing like the original.
Fast forward to the summer of 2007 and I am working at a Quaker Christian camp in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. My boss has called me into his office again, as he often does, to berate me for not accepting his authority in my life, not on the basis that he is…my boss…but that he is a man, and “all men have authority in the lives of all women.”
Needless to say, by the end of the that summer when my long-awaited missionary journey to India was about to begin, my faith was all but gone. But go I did, and I was changed forever by the experience. And by the time I left, I had lost all my faith, embraced my new-found un-knowing-ness, gotten married, gotten pregnant, shaved my head, and dropped out of Bible college.
I had two words for God: ˆ”See Ya.” My thinking was something like this: If Christianity is the only way I can be near to God, I am not interested. God can go His way and I will go mine, because I cannot accept this religion as a sound foundation for my life.
I got my own apartment, gave birth to my son, divorced my husband who was still in India, and went back to college, this time to a small private community college. I took classes in sociology and economics, but my favorite class was World Religions. It was in that class I got the chance to experience investigating Taoism, Buddhism, and Islam.
I made my final paper based on a social experiment I did of wearing hijab for a week, just to see if people really would treat me different than were I uncovered. To my great surprise and pleasure, they did, but it was better than before. Men were respectful and kept their distance, women treated me with kindness and acted surprised and warmed up to me when they heard me speaking my mid-western twang. Life without God was good, but the yearning was still there.
And then, in January of 2009, I shattered my left leg in an accident and was forced to lay in bed, essentially, for 6 months. Let me tell you: that accident is my greatest joy now, and every time I walk somewhere and the pain in my leg is unbearable, all these years later, I thank God, because it was those months of being forced to ponder on the meaning of life and my role in it that lead me eventually to Islam.
By later that year, I had learned to walk again, basically, and moved to Chicago and found myself a dream job. I was living with my baby boy in the basement of a beautiful home in a rich suburb, and things were going great. Then one day, I was fired from my job over a vast misunderstanding, and my landlord kicked me and my baby out when she heard the news.
I had nowhere to go, nowhere to turn, so I called an old friend who begrudgingly agreed to put me and my son in a nice motel room until I could get my life together enough to be stable. And what happened next was nothing less than a miracle.
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