Rafed English

Learning About Islam in an Islamic Country

Some of the women actually visited Muslim countries and were profoundly affected by the people and their practice of Islam. They observed the lifestyles and the norms as lived out in an Islamic-based culture. When I was eighteen I married my boyfriend because he was going to Vietnam. I decided to enlist in the Medical Corps. Around that time I was studying Judaism [although a Christian at the time], mainly because they did not believe in the Jesus as Savior thing. But I found out I did accept Jesus as a prophet and the Jews did not! I also accepted the virgin birth, which was another no-no, but everything else about their beliefs was okay with me-much different than the arguments I had with pastors and priests before, so I sort of considered myself a Jew-non-Jew type person.

I was a trained combat nurse and was present during the last days before Saigon fell in Vietnam. (Yes! A bona fide Vietnam veteran with a bronze star and 2 purple hearts!) In 1978 I was sent to Saudi Arabia because the United Nations needed trained personnel to conduct a relief campaign for immunization and care of the cholera epidemic sweeping through south Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen regions. Many children were dying as well as old people. When I could, I watched the Bedouins pray several times a day and the only word I could make out was "Allah," but the devotion of those people impressed me.

I took a tour of the Middle East in early 1980 with my husband. In Cairo my "light bulb" went from dim to bright as I continued my study of Islam. My marriage was in the process of ending and when the divorce came, I had a nervous breakdown because my family and my husband's [family] were trying to "deprogram" me from this dangerous, religious "cult" I had become fascinated with. I buckled under and simply cracked from the confusion.

After intense therapy, 1 moved south to return to college and finish my half-completed bachelor's degree. There I met many Muslim students who wondered at my knowledge of their religion. Six months later I was reading the Qur'an full-time and took my shahada during Ramadan in 1989. +My conversion started when I took a religion class at Purdue University, This first introduction to Islam struck my mind and made more sense (and later, total sense) than other religions I studied. Then I decided to join a study summer tour to Egypt to visit a Muslim. country firsthand, to see the mosques, to talk: with the people. This opened my mind tremendously. From that point on, Islam was the only way for me to go. When I got back from Egypt, I went to the local mosque, and the sisters helped me begin my path of knowledge and life. In November 1993 I converted and have found peace in my life. Before converting I was not religious. I was drinking and being "wild." Islam taught me that this life is the judgment for the after-life and pleasing Allah (SWT) is most important.

I studied Islam as part of my college major in African and Middle Eastern Studies. . . I did not believe anyone could truly practice Islam in the present age.

I traveled to West Africa as a volunteer and stayed 3 months. In that time, I met true Muslims. When they heard the call to prayer, they ran to the mosque. If someone had extra money beyond his basic needs, he gave it to someone less fortunate. The name of Allah was always on their tongues. The more I was with them, the more I wanted to embrace Islam.

I became very sick and had to be evacuated to a hospital in the capital. I had no one to comfort me-all my friends were far away. All I could do was pray. I prayed almost constantly for three days. I remembered the conversion story of Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens); he was drowning and promised God he would devote his life to God if God spared his life. I did the same. Within two days, I was back in the village with my Muslim friends, but I still resisted converting.

I was miserable when I returned to the U.S. I could no longer function in a society so far removed from what I wanted. I met many American and Arab Muslims who encouraged me ever so gently to let go and submit to Allah. I became so exhausted from trying to resist the pull of Islam that finally on January 21, 1989, I converted. These women seemed to have a fascination with what they observed in the Islamic countries. They were moved by what they saw and felt, and they responded by becoming part of that which was introduced to them.

Adapted from: "Daughters Of Another Path (Experience of American Women Choosing Islam)" by: "Carol L. Anway"

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