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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