How I Came to Islam: Kaighla’s Story (Part 2)

How I Came to Islam: Kaighla’s Story (Part 2)

Written by Kaighla Um Dayo

Part 1 here

It was early August, 2009.

I was homeless with my young son, living in a motel. But rather than focusing on finding jobs, I spent all my days and many of my nights alone with my son in my motel room, watching video after video on YouTube of people who had chosen to embrace Islam, many against violent odds.

available on Amazon

I had already read ‘The Idiots Guide to Understanding Islam’ written by a convert to Islam called Yahiya Emerick and found myself surprised that many of my own deepest beliefs were held to be true in Islam, as well.

Finally, after weeks of this, I decided to call the local mosque because I wanted to speak with someone in person who had embraced Islam. Unfortunately, in many of the mosques in America, even today, there is no one on staff to answer the phone, and if there is, they don’t often speak fluent English.

So, when I called and asked if I could speak with someone who was a convert to Islam, the message was mixed up and though they took my number, I was sure no one would call me back, ever.

So imagine my surprise when I received a phone call later that same evening from a woman who said she was a Puerto Rican/Italian convert to Islam and would love to answer any questions I had. We arranged to meet at her home the following day. I made an excuse to use my friend’s car, and my son and I went to her house.

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How I Came to Islam: Kaighla’s Story (Part 1)

How I Came to Islam: Kaighla’s Story (Part 1)

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 whphoto-1443140570159-279cf334cf24en 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. Read more

How I Came to Islam: Stephanie’s Story

How I Came to Islam: Stephanie’s Story

Written by Stephanie Siam

For most converts, the day they become Muslim is like a new birthday. It’s a date that sits foremost in their minds, rolls off their tongues like the alphabet from a kindergartner’s. They may forget their anniversary, ATM PINs or even their private safe combinations, but the date of their conversion is ever-present.

Not me. I don’t remember the most important date in my spiritual history. I know the month (March), and I’m pretty certain of the year (through deduction and certainty of other things going on around that time that I do remember) — 2005. But I have no idea what day I became a Muslim.

Pick a Day
Pick a Day

I do, however, know where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with. The answers, respectively: Mobile, Alabama; walking around my neighborhood; a former friend. But, honestly, not much of that matters. At least not to me.

When I’m quizzed on the details of my conversion, the first assumption people usually make is:

Oh, you’re a convert? You became Muslim for your husband, didn’t you?

Actually, no. I did not. My husband and I were still a year and a half away from meeting each other when I converted. Read more

2-1/2 Cents of a Convert’s Life

2-1/2 Cents of a Convert’s Life

Written by Brother John Matthew

The following is a story that some Muslims consider controversial. That’s good. Controversy among intellectuals stimulates discussion; which encourages progress.

The time is the 1980s. Smartphones didn’t exist and computer monitors still came in monochrome. The place is the Big new york in the 80sApple. It’s summertime hot; in an area filled with old cookie cutter brownstones, project housing and single family homes; a fantastic menagerie of people, places and income separated by parks and patches of commerce; all wrapped up in a well designed layer of concrete under the vast skyline.

African American, Latino, Oriental, Middle-Eastern and White all rolled up into one super ecosystem of human diversity; that is the beauty of places like New York. People from all over the world live side by side with very little problem considering the millions that live here. I was in my late teens; a whole 125 pounds of lean bone like muscle soaking wet; a homegrown American and as apple pie as one can be. On this particular summer day my life would change forever.

I made my way by foot past various 1950s style brick housing over to my relatives’ apartment which was about 5 blocks from my house. As I was hanging out in front of the complex this young girl caught my eye. Like any normal teenage boy, I did everything I could to get her attention.

From the logical, to the absurd and though she was very reluctant at first, I slowly was able to scratch the surface and I was blessed to get to know more about her. The more I came to know her, the more I fell deeply in love. She was a very religious, intelligent, enormously kind, thoughtful young lady from a part of the world I had barely read about in the news.

During our communication I learned more and more about Islam, (becoming more intrigued and closer to Allah than I ever was) and the people of her land. She worked very hard to educate me on Islam and her culture. We worked very, very hard to convince our families to acknowledge our desire to move forward together.

We tried to do the right thing, though our relationship caused both sides great pain. I cannot write to you that we are star_crossed_lovers__by_francesholly-d3ha8l0together today. Not all great love stories have happy endings. The cultural differences and other highly complex social factors that even now require deep study; were ultimately too much for the two of us to overcome; thus is the will of Allah. After several years of struggle our relationship was no more.

It fell victim to cultural bias. It is until this very day; one of the most difficult periods of my life, full of wonder, joy, sadness, hope and despair. Out of it all, I learned more about her welcoming and generous part of the world, more about love and more about introspection than probably 99% of young persons at the time.

Most of all I became closer to Islam and in fact during our time together I took Shahadah with an area Imam;  I became what is traditionally known as a convert.

I am conveying my story to  you so that you will know that the advice that is to follow comes from an authentic source. A source that has lived the life from which the advice originates through the will of Allah, with the best of intentions to help you if you should require and desire it. Read it well and take it to heart. Insha’Allah  it will benefit you.

“In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”

  1. Allah’s guidance is unending; without exhaustion, without limit.

    Allah’s’ lessons can take a lifetime to play out in your mind. It is incumbent upon you as a Muslim to continue to learn from your experiences and use them to grow as a gentle, tolerant human being practicing the faith of Islam. Just as a Doctor practices medicine or an Attorney practices law; do not forget that one “practices” Islam because there is always room for learning and improvement.

  2. Allah’s gifts are not to go unopened.

    If you are a person in a mixed Muslim relationship; Muslim in love with a non-Muslim or a  non-Muslim in love with a Muslim; Allah has brought you together for a reason. Allah is all merciful and kind. Use your gift of love to become closer to Allah and your love for each other will grow strong; helping you to fend off doubters. Seek out a well versed, experienced Imam and talk to him about your situation. Ask for guidance. Do not and your love will not.

  3. Allah places great indescribable value on women.

    Anyone that thinks otherwise is not an educated Muslim.  I was personally introduced to Islam through the love of a women. I can think of no higher an indication than that.

  4. You must use your faith to help others.

    At some point in time during my experience as a youth, if someone, anyone would have stepped in and took care of our young souls, through the teaching and love of culturally unbiased Islam, I can’t help but think that we would have been able to overcome our challenges. Allah provides us with the tools in Islam, but we must use them well and help those less educated and experienced. Seek guidance from others.   

  5. Do not use Islam or your culture as an excuse to push people away or to reject others.

    If you think you are better than someone because you are Muslim with a different culture and they are not the same as you; you are arrogant and prejudice. You are ungrateful that Allah has chosen you and not them. Being grateful is to recognize your gift and to make attempts to gift it to others. Use the teachings of culturally unbiased Islam as a platform for communicating it’s beauty and benefits to others who will listen. If your enemy approaches you with arms down, stay alert but use that opportunity to build love and trust and soon that enemy will be your enemy no more. That is real victory.

Insha’Allah this text will help you as you navigate the wonders of this life.

–  Brother John Matthew

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Footprints in the Sand: On Converting to Islam and Family

Footprints in the Sand: On Converting to Islam and Family

Written by Stephanie Siam

When I reverted to Islam in March 2005, I have to admit I was afraid. Okay, perhaps nervous is a better choice of word, as I wasn’t scared or frightened. And I know I’m not alone in admitting this feeling, especially with female converts. The process of transitioning into Islam from a previous faith/belief system (because face it, even if you don’t believe in God, you believe there is no God) is daunting:

What will my friends think? How will I be received by the public? Does this mean I have to start dressing like an Arab or East Asian-er? Do I have to start my life over from the beginning, rethinking every choice I’ve ever made?

While all of those are valid concerns, and ones that I did contemplate at some point in time post-reversion, they weren’t what I was afraid of. My fear came from telling my father.

Not my family. Not my Mother.

My Father.

f and d on the beach

Now, before you start thinking my dad is this overbearing and close-minded totalitarian who lives for controlling others’ lives, he’s NOT. In fact, he’s the polar opposite. He’s one of the most open-minded individuals I’ve ever known in my life. And if there is a perfect antonym for overbearing, that describes him, too. I mean, for Heaven’s sake, the man used to sit and logically discuss with me the reasons I should pick up my toys when I was 3 years old. If there’s anything my dad is not, it’s overbearing and close-minded.

So, why was I scared of telling my dad I had become Muslim?

My father has a strong head on his shoulders (don’t confuse strong with stubborn). His choice of worship was not made based on how he was brought up (Nazarene). He didn’t look to his parents to tell him how he should worship God or practice his religion (Christianity). Instead, he went to a Christian college, studied the history and lineage of the Bible and Christianity, and majored in Bible Studies. His goal: to become a preacher.

When he became a member of the Church of Christ denomination, he did so knowing full-well that it represented the beliefs he personally held based on his extensive studying. To him, it was correct.

Now there I was, his 23-year-old daughter, midway through my graduate school program, and I’d converted to Islam. And I had to tell my Father. The same father who responded to my 16-year-old self’s idea of becoming Baptist with, “I’ve failed as a father!”

So, one day while my parents were in town for a wedding, my father and I drove over to the beach at Gulf Shores. We had lunch, talked about religion a little bit, and mostly discussed general life topics. (My father is also a severe introvert, like me, and idle conversation is not a forte of his.)

After lunch, we walked out on the beach. I’d planned my delivery. I asked him what it was exactly that he believed about life and death. He started out with the history of religion (he always starts with the history behind the pertinent question), and then he transitioned into his personal beliefs. Once he finished, I offered my part. I told him nobody had ever really asked me what I believe. It was always just assumed because I was part of a certain family or church that I shared the same beliefs. But, obviously, I didn’t.

Then came the time to deliver my blow. I told him I was thinking about becoming Muslim. (I couldn’t own up to it full-force yet; I needed time to let the idea sink in for him.) Surprisingly, he didn’t stop walking. He didn’t yell (not surprisingly). He just said one thing, and his response has stayed with me every day since. It has had my back when people were against me. It has given me conviction along my chosen path. And those words were:

As your father, it is my job to let you know that I think you’re wrong. But you’re an adult. And if you chose to believe something just because I told you so, that would be just as wrong.

It was all I needed. I didn’t need an “I support you” or a “That’s wonderful”. And I know he still doesn’t like my choice. And I know there have been many tears shed on his side on my behalf.  But I also think both he and my mom have come to conclusion that after nearly a decade, a husband and a child, I’m not going through a phase.

And as each day goes by, I never lose hope that one day my family will join me in truly understanding the history, relevance and authority of our beautiful Islam, insha’Allah. Until that day comes, I will continue to enjoy the avid discussion my father and I have about our beliefs, and I will rest easy knowing that despite our differences, we still respect each others’ beliefs … and rights to have them.

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Not Brainwashed: Converts Speak for Themselves

Written by Theresa Corbin

Never ever again will I judge a person’s freedom and liberties by the length of their skirt -Yvonne Ridley famous British journalist who converted to Islam.

Recently, news stories about the deceased Boston Bombing suspect’s wife, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, abound. Reports speculate about her life and her choice to become Muslim.

The media, to its credit have run some article’s from the Muslim women’s perspective, but by and large they are portraying Katherine, and women like her, as having been forced to convert to Islam.

not-brainwashed

Many news outlets are trying to portray Katherine as some sort of weak woman who fell into the hands of an overpowering force and was brainwashed straight out of Christianity and in the headscarf, Islam, and the arms of a terrorist. Absolutely ignoring the possibility that Katherine may have converted after much soul searching and reflection done of her own free will.

“She was a very sweet woman, but I think kind of brainwashed by him,” reported the Associated Press, quoting Anne Kilzer, a Belmont, Mass., woman who said she knew Katherine and her 3-year-old daughter.

As a wife, I cannot imagine what Katherine is going through. As an American woman who converted to Islam, I am very familiar with the stereotype that is pushed upon women who choose Islam.

When a woman in the West converts to Islam, it is always assumed that she has been coerced. Why else would she leave her life full of every imaginable freedom, right? She must have converted for a man, she must have been brainwashed, or she must have been at gunpoint.

It is insulting. It is a roundabout way of saying that women who convert to Islam are weak minded.

This is not the case by a long shot. Women who convert to Islam are typically outspoken, well educated, free thinkers, and are brave enough to deviate from the path society has set for them.

When I converted to Islam, the sister who was giving me shahada (the statement of faith) asked me why I was converting. She asked me twice if I was doing it for any person or felt forced to do it in anyway. “Because”, she said, “if you say that you believe and someone made you say it, your faith would not be accepted from you. Allah (SWT) knows what is in your heart.”

Brainwash [BRANE wosh] verb- to make someone adopt radically different beliefs by using forcible pressure.

How can someone be brainwashed and sincere? How is it that in Islam your faith will not be accepted from you unless you are sincere? Sincerity cannot be coerced. It is like saying you were forced to fall in love, it just doesn’t work that way.

And where is the follow up to the brainwashing? In order to sustain a state of “brainwashing” you also must isolate the subject from the outside world. You don’t see this with Muslim converts.

They go on to study at universities; work as teachers, scientists, military personnel, journalists and so on; they do charity work; they are politically active and motivated to be productive members of society.

With headlines like the following, journalists are scrambling to find a reason for so many people entering Islam in the West:

CNN WORLD NEWS: Islam is the fastest-growing religion

Why European women are turning to Islam 

Washington-Report: The Nation’s Fastest Growing Religion 

We convert because we find truth and beauty in Islam. We convert because we find freedom from objectified in Islam. We convert because we don’t let the media tell us what to think. We convert because Islam speaks to our nature. We convert for a million reasons.

We are truth seekers. We are logical, thinking human beings. We are a group of women who are strong enough to face giving up all that we know and have in order to become closer to God. We are a group of women who have faced bigotry daily from loved ones and strangers alike.

We are a group of women who despite how we are portrayed in the media, we hold our heads up high because we know who we really are. We will not be explained away as feeble minded or weak. We can speak for ourselves. And we will:

Fatima, a Canadian who converted to Islam says:

[…] I experienced the absolute power of prayer as I watched on TV for the first time in Tahrir square, Muslims pray.

This was my first call to prayer, I felt a blindness in my life had been cured. Shortly after this a good friend of 3 years I had met on Facebook, who lives in Cairo, Egypt showed me via Skype the Masjid outside his window just as Fajr [pre-dawn] call to prayer sounded.

I bowed my head and in my heart felt this to be the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. This was my second call to prayer, I felt a deafness I had in my life had been cured. I then purchased a Qur’an [the holy book] opened to Al-Fatiha [the first chapter of the Quran] and first few pages of Al-Baqarah [the second chapter], I knew I was about to find out what I always prayed for, the meaning of life, serenity, and peace of mind. I spent a year and half on a very special journey (that continues by the minute) soul searching leading me to begin studying Islam […]

fatima-aw

I received an email inviting me to attend Iftar [the meal that breaks a Muslim’s fast] on 2 Ramadan 1433 H […] This was the opportunity I had been waiting. I had not went to a Mosque since I heard my first call, there was a voice that kept telling me to wait, I would know the perfect time. It was this night I declared, As-Shahadah [the testament of faith].

Immediately upon entering the parking lot of the Masjid and a Sister greeting me at the door I felt a light shine and my spirit jump and was fully awakened realizing I was always a Muslim by heart but did not know until Allah Subana Wa Ta’ala [God] decided it was my time to live and to be given a right to life with dignity through the Muslim way of Life shown to us through the perfected life of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi Wasallam).”

Western women who convert to Islam have chosen a different path that takes commitment, courage of conviction, and strength of character in today’s world. Never assume a women is brainwashed simply because she is choosing her own path. 

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Memories from the Dorm: A Conversion Story

What follows is my old roommate’s response to I Bear Witness: How I Came to Islam Parts 1 and 2.

Written by Gracie Lawrence (the roommate)

You know it has been at least 16 years since we had those talks, and reading about it reminded me how I am still trying to “figure it all out”.

I remember it was a time of a lot of questioning, we were free from both conservative Christians AND Muslims – where we could just THINK and we had the time to do it.

Dorm Room conversations

I don’t recall thinking that it was strange to think those things- but I use to have the bad habit of thinking everyone must be the way I am (got screwed over a lot for it, lol).

I remember during that time your mother had passed away. That impacted me a lot. I think I remember that more than the details of our talks exactly (I was a bit of a chatterbox, I think you once referred to me as a puppy and you were the cat. And a lot of times you just needed some peace and to be left alone- and I didn’t understand that).

I know one thing I struggled with as I became Muslim was wondering if I could make that cultural leap/ sacrifice and I would take a few steps forwards, and then a few steps back- then I just dove in and became extreme- then balanced out, made more mistakes, etc.

Ultimately, I became Muslims to become a better Christian- I think you remember us speaking about that. I think even from a cultural viewpoint we both saw something lacking, even lonely in our modern North American existence and I saw Islam as the natural progression to fill that gap.

Nowadays, I see Christians and Jews as very close to me. Christians and Jews are easy to understand us, as we have the same background- are just like siblings that bicker.

Anyway, one things that is great about Islam, even if people are reluctant to believe in anything divine, is that it makes for a great play-book on earth i.e. you are much less likely to F-up your life than if left to your own whims or faulty logic. You are more likely to win the game if you are given the instructions of how to play. Ya know? I think that for something like this to exist- is, by itself, pretty awesome.

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