Rafed English

The Witness of Muslim Neighbors and Acquaintances

Some of the young women met Muslims in this country who influenced them by their daily living and practice. They sensed in the Muslims personal strength that seemed to come from their beliefs. Sometimes the Muslims' witness was verbal as they responded to questions, but more often it was how they chose to live their lives.

I was fifteen years old when I first started to learn about Islam. A Saudi family moved in next door, and I was fascinated by their behavior, dress, language, and religion. The wife and I became very close, but it took four years for me to convert. They never pushed it on me; they simply answered my questions and showed me great kindness and hospitality. All throughout high school, though I was not a Muslim, I stayed away from negative elements. It came from my Saudi friends' influence. So when I converted, the only real things I changed were my clothing and leisure time activities such as concerts, movies, and sports.

Before becoming Muslim, I was an atheist and had withdrawn from the church; however, I wasn't closed toward long and in-depth discussions about God and this world. After several years of satisfying but "burnout" type working, I started traveling through South Central America and ended up in Texas. A Muslim community welcomed me to stay and sort out my total and utterly miserable confusion. By the will of Allah, I was guided toward becoming Muslim, saying the shahada, and wanting to be married. This then settled me into a new identity and a different life orientation but without totally losing the old "me." +My husband wasn't practicing his religion at the time I met him so he had no objections when I decided to go back to church and take the kids. The only thing he requested was that we eat no pork. Visitors from Egypt to my father's business let me see for the first time Islam in full practice. It was then that my husband began to think about putting it in his life more seriously.

Then my aunt married a Muslim, and I spent much time there asking questions about Islam. In 1990 I gave birth to my fourth child, and I was caught unaware in my belief. What I mean is I really didn't know I believed in Islam. But one night Allah made the truth to hit me, It felt like a rock, and I cried like my three-week-old daughter that night as I sat staring at my plaque of the Lord's Prayer.

I kept my belief a secret even from my husband for another two weeks. I told him on the phone one day when he called me from work. He immediately started asking me why. He told me it was very serious, that I shouldn't "hop on to it." One must be convinced and not compelled. He cut me short saying "We'll talk about it when I get home." He later told me after he hung up the phone, he cried and thanked God. He promised to try to begin a new life and practice Islam to the full extent. He told me that night, he whispered the call to prayer in our newborn's right ear and the readiness call in her left-something he had not done with our other children. +In 1983, through friends I met an Arab woman, and we became best friends. One day she asked if I could babysit her daughters, and I did. One night before the kids went to bed they told me their prayers and also wanted to teach me. The next day, she asked me if I considered Jesus the Son of God. I replied, "Really, I have no religion but tell me more about your religion, Islam." It took me two more years from then to say shahada.

I volunteered to help tutor Saudi women who were studying English as a second language. I found it odd that these women refused to have a man tutor them, but after checking out and reading several books on Islam from the public and school libraries, I began to understand these "mysterious" ladies in black. The women began to open up more and more and invited me into their homes and my knowledge of Islam unfolded, really respected the religion as I saw it practiced on a daily basis.

It was irn the spring of 1988 that I really began to practice. I contacted the local Islamic Association and joined a sister's Qur'an study group. There I met sisters who were and still are great role models and guiding forces for me yet today. The impact of devout and dedicated Muslims on the lives of these women supports the church growth principle that in Christianity most are converted to a church because of someone they know who influences their lives toward accepting Christ and the church. These women sensed that living as a Muslim fulfilled these people spiritually and they, too, wanted to feel very close to God by being a true Muslim. Learning About Islam in the College Setting Many of the women made contact with Islam for the first time in the college setting. It may have been through specific religion courses, books they read for general college classes, or Muslim students or friends they associated with on campus. Hearing about Islam greatly interested them.

 I was meeting with a group of international students ass part of a conversation group program to practice English. As I listened to a Palestinian man talk about his life, his family, his faith, it struck a nerve in me. The more I learned about Islam the more I became interested in it as a possibility for my own life.

The following term the group disbanded, but I registered for a class "Introduction to Islam." This class "'fought back all the concerns I had about Christianity. As I learned about Islam, all of my questions were answered. All of us are not punished for Adam's original sin. Adam asked God for forgiveness and our merciful and loving God forgave him. God doesn't require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must sincerely ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn't God; he was a prophet like all the other prophets. They all taught the same message: believe in the One true God, worship and submit to God alone, and live a righteous life according to the guidance he has sent. This answered all my questions about the Trinity and the nature of Jesus (all God, all human, or a combination?). God is a perfect and fair judge, who will reward or punish us based on our faith and righteousness. I found a teaching that put everything in its proper perspective, and appealed to my heart and intellect. It seemed natural. It wasn't confusing. I had been searching. I found a place to rest my faith.

I was in college taking psychology and sociology but felt a need to turn back to religion even though I didn't agree with Christianity a whole lot, especially the way it had been presented to me before in life. After shopping around at all the different religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, I enrolled in the religious studies class in college and took literature of the Old Testament. One of the things that came up was going back to look at the roots of Christianity. It seemed that Christianity was okay then, but it got changed to the point to where women were not really accepted, as well as other changes. Reading through the texts, I came across things that the pastors in our church had never talked about. It really shook me, and it made me begin to question the Bible.

My husband gave me a Qur'an as a wedding gift, and it just sat on the shelf during the time I was taking the religion classes. After that we went to Syria to visit the family. I couldn't speak the language so I had a lot of time on my hands. So I read the whole thing, and while reading it I was looking for things that seemed incorrect or were problems to me. I came across things in the English translation that bothered me, like "Lightly beat your wife." So I would say to my husband, "How can you believe this stuff?" Then he would say, "No, in Arabic that's not the way it really is," and would explain from the original. 1 went through the whole thing and couldn't find anything inaccurate. And I thought, "Well, this is better than anything else I've seen." I converted in 1988.

I was Roman Catholic. I studied African-American studies as part of my work toward a degree in social sciences. After reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I felt compelled to understand the power behind Brother Malcolm's transformation after making hall, when he returned to the U.S. and said that racism is not a part of Islam. As I began to study, I felt certain that lightning would strike me down 'for studying another religion. I studied casually for three months, intensely for the next three months, then made shahada to Allah before I first stepped into a masjid for the first time on May 29, 1993. On May 30, 1993, I made shahada in front of witnesses in the masjid.

The change was not a choice for me; it was going home. It gave me answers to questions I'd had and questions I didn't have. I love Islam. I love the concept of ummah. Alhamdulillah, that Allah has seen me fit to test. Searching to Fill the Spiritual Void

Many of the respondents were searching for something in the spiritual area to fill the void in their lives. It was through this openness that many began to receive the pull toward Islam. This need is reflected in most of the descriptions the women give of their conversion experience.. They may have come to the conversion point from a variety of situations, but most were receptive because of the need within themselves and the gentle persuasion of the Muslim person Of resource which touched their hearts and souls. +I married someone who was not a Christian and we both were non-practicing in anything religious. I still thought of myself as a Christian. "What else is there," I thought. I still held my belief of God and his creation of the earth, but wasn't sure of the other beliefs I was taught growing up.

The year after my divorce in 1990 I started thinking about what I needed, about what I believed. Early in 1991 I started checking books out of the library and reading about Islam, more because I was curious about it than anything. I slowly read books on it, but also lived my life as I had been living it. It wasn't until the fall of 1992 that I decided I had to do something about it-either get serious about studying it or forget about it. I found several American Muslim sisters in Manhattan, twenty miles from where I lived in a very small town. I studied with them and learned the practical aspects of what I had read for the past year and a half. T took my shahada in December 1992. +My struggle began many years ago with my search for self-identity. Growing up in America as a black presented meaningful challenges to me during the 1960s and 1970s. After rallying around certain racial issues and feeling the pressures of early integration in Mississippi and Texas, I began to question my "role" in life as a black woman.

I was a successful professional, but my personal life was a mess. Bad marriage, poor relationship with parents and siblings, discontented with church and God-these all led me to question who I was and why and what I could do to improve relationships with these people and the world in general.

I began to seek out answers by researching black history. I was amazed to find out that most African people came from Islamic states. I later met some Sunni Muslims who shared very impressive information about heaven and hell that touched my Sufi heart. I was teaching speech and drama at a Catholic high school in Washington, D.C. at the time. I became Muslim in 1974. I was asked to resign at the end of the year because several students also converted to Islam. Islam cooled me out. It helped me to find God without all of the hangups and guilt I felt as a Christian. I've always loved God, and knowing that I could talk directly to Allah was a welcoming treat.

I  was first introduced to Islam at the age of fourteen, but because of family conflicts I was not able to learn or practice. After leaving home to go to college, I had the freedom to pursue the religion. The biggest change I had to make (besides the obvious ones of dress, diet, etc.) was to put some distance between myself and my family and former friends. I did this as a protection for myself that would allow me to grow stronger in my religion without distractions. I had little sense of loss because I filled the void with newfound Muslim friends, and later, my husband.

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

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