I converted (or reverted) to Islam in May of 2014. I had been studying about Islam for quite some time before I finally took the plunge, and took my shahada (the declaration of belief/a pillar of Islam).
I grew up post-9/11. In school, we learned a lot about what happened on September 11, 2001. I was in just 2nd grade at the time, living in a small town mostly comprised of white-America. I don’t remember seeing people of color until much later in my education, but also maybe I wasn’t paying attention. I want to also point out that my mother is British and my father is American. So growing up, I was always considered “different” just because my mom was from just outside of London. When I was in 2nd grade, and my mom took me from school to go visit our family in London, my teacher gave me a project to work on whilst abroad. One of the tasks: how to say different words in England. She had given me a list of words like kitchen, dog, and other simple words a second grader would be interested in. It seemed she forgot that in England, they speak English. Most of our words are the same.
Media really portrayed the Middle East as this dangerous, foreign, tribal land. Growing up I assumed that everywhere in that region was always fighting. It wasn’t until high school I started realizing the Middle East is actually quite normal.
When I was 13 years old, I knew only one Muslim girl in my town, and she didn’t go to my school. I remember in MySpace days being so interested in this religion because of what the media told us daily. I asked this girl a few questions, but she probably thought I was weird. My memory is blurry to this time, other than one thing that stands out: on my MySpace one day I wrote the word “Muslim.” I didn’t understand that to be Muslim you had to actually do stuff. Many people in America identify as Christian but know nothing about Christianity. I thought Islam was the same. I probably also at this time just wanted to be different. After all, one of my best friends was Jewish, and I just wanted to believe in something.
I never really identified myself as a Christian growing up. My mother did, and her husband did, but my father never talked about religion much. I think both of my parents and their spouses just saw being a good person as good enough. I always believed in a higher power, but thought of myself as more agnostic.
I decided in high school I was going to graduate and go to university to study Arabic. My goal was to graduate and be fluent, and then get a job in the CIA or some other federal agency. I applied specifically at this time to DePaul University, in Chicago, for their Arabic major program. DePaul was painfully expensive, and luckily I didn’t get myself into $100,000 worth of debt. Instead, I decided to study Arabic and International Studies at West Virginia University, where I would later find out had a huge population of Arabs from all over the Middle East, North Africans, and Persians as well. I met and mingled with anyone who would be my friend. I became incredibly lucky to meet all of these people, and most of them answered my questions without hesitation. I was so obsessed with the Middle East/North Africa, I just wanted to understand the people better, and to me at that time, I figured the best way was through religion. Plus I loved the Islam they showed me so I had to know more.
My first Arabic teacher was a woman from Saudi Arabia, who would invite us to the mosque for extra credit so we could meet Arabs and practice Arabic. I fell in love with that space, and spent much of my time reading, watching videos, and talking with Muslims and learning as much as I could about Islam. I will never forget the people who encouraged me and taught me so much information; especially the imam of Morgantown at the time Sohail, and the current imam, Kip (another revert who reverted maybe 1 or 2 years before I did).
The muslim community in Morgantown during my university years was a tough one. I took my shahada, and felt so much love and support. But as time went on, the community definitely became a bit difficult. But, that’s another story.
My love for Islam stemmed from me from the age of 13 until 20 when I finally got the courage to become Muslim. Alhamdullilah now I am the happiest I have ever been. I have done ummrah, done ummrah during Ramadan, fasted, prayed, and become a better person, inshallah, than I was before. Islam teaches us to show love and respect all people. Islam was and is the polar opposite of what the media told me growing up.
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming Muslim or learning about Islam, I strongly encourage you to reach out to them. It is the responsibility of MSAs and Muslim communities to show support, even if the convert is doing something you do not agree with or understand. Most born Muslims will never know what that person is going through. I am saying this because this happened to me. Alhamdulillah my religion was and is strong and I did not leave. But I was also know that I was not doing things wrong alhamdulillah, and was judged by the community a great deal, and never once was advised privately about my actions. Sometimes I felt incredibly alone because I felt no one understood me or cared about me. But alhamdillah, now I know I became stronger because of this time.