Hayat Ann Collins Osman From devoted Christian to devoted Muslim Hayat Ann Collins Osman, USA (received 01/01/2001) I was raised in a religious Christian family. At that time, Americans were more religious than they are now—most families went to church every Sunday, for example. My parents were involved in the church community. We often had ministers (Protestant “priests”) in the house. My mother taught in Sunday school, and I helped her. I must have been more religious than other children, although I don’t remember being so. For one birthday, my aunt gave me a Bible, and my sister a doll. Another time, I asked my parents for a prayer book, and I read it daily for many years. When I was in junior high school (middle school), I attended a Bible study program for two years. Up to this point, I had read some parts of the Bible, but had not understood them very well. Now was my chance to learn. Unfortunately, we studied many passages in the Old and New Testament that I found inexplicable, even bizarre. For example, the Bible teaches an idea called Original Sin, which means that humans are all born sinful. I had a baby brother, and I knew that babies were not sinful. The Bible has very strange and disturbing stories about Prophet Abraham and Prophet David, for example. I couldn’t understand how prophets could behave the way the Bible says they did. There were many, many other things that puzzled me about the Bible, but I didn't ask questions. I was afraid to ask—I wanted to me known as a “good girl.” Al-hamdulillah, there was a boy who asked, and kept asking. The most critical matter was the notion of Trinity. I couldn’t get it. How could God have three parts, one of which was human? Having studied Greek and Roman mythology at school, I thought the idea of the Trinity and powerful human saints very similar to the Greek and Roman ideas of having different so-called “gods” that were in charge of different aspects of life. (Astaghfir-Ullah!) The boy who asked, asked many questions about Trinity, received many answers, and was never satisfied. Neither was I. Finally, our teacher, a University of Michigan Professor of Theology, told him to pray for faith. I prayed. When I was in high school, I secretly wanted to be a nun. I was drawn to the pattern of offering devotions at set times of day, of a life devoted entirely to God, and of dressing in a way that declared my religious lifestyle. An obstacle to this ambition, though, was that I wasn’t Catholic. I lived in a midwestern town where Catholics were a distinct, and unpopular minority! Furthermore, my protestant upbringing had instilled in me a distaste for religious statuary, and a healthy disbelief that dead saints had the ability to help me. In college, I continued to think and pray. Students often talk and argue about religion, and I heard many different ideas. Like Yusuf Islam, I studied the Eastern so-called religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism. No help there. I met a Muslim from Libya, who told me a little about Islam and the Holy Qur’an. He told me that Islam is the modern, most up-to-date form of revealed religion. Because I thought of Africa and the Middle East as backwards places, I couldn’t see Islam as modern. My family took this Libyan brother to a Christmas church service. The service was breathtakingly beautiful, but at the end, he asked, “Who made up this procedure? Who taught you when to stand and bow and kneel? Who taught you how to pray?” I told him about early Church history, but his question made me angry at first, and later made me think. Had the people who designed the worship service really been qualified to do so? How had they known the form that worship should take? Had they had divine instruction? I knew that I did not believe in many of the teachings of Christianity, but continued to attend church. When the congregation recited pieces I believed to be blasphemous, such as the Nicene Creed, I was silent—I didn’t recite them. I felt almost alien in church, almost a stranger. I knew that I did not believe in many of the teachings of Christianity, but continued to attend church. When the congregation recited pieces I believed to be blasphemous, such as the Nicene Creed, I was silent—I didn’t recite them. I felt almost alien in church, almost a stranger. Horror! Someone very close to me, having dire marital problems, went to a curate of our church for advice. Taking advantage of her pain and self-loathing, he took her to a motel and seduced her. Up to this point, I had not considered carefully the role of the clergy in Christian life. Now I had to. Most Christians believe that forgiveness comes through the “Holy Communion” service, and that the service must be conducted by an ordained priest or minister. No minister, no absolution. I went to church again, and sat and looked at the ministers in front. They were no better than the congregation—some of them were worse. How could it be true that the agency of a man, of any human being, was necessary for communion with God? Why couldn’t I deal with God directly, and receive His absolution directly? Soon after this, I found a translation of the meaning of the Qur’an in a bookstore, bought it, and started to read it. I read it, off and on, for eight years. During this time, I continued to investigate other religions. I grew increasingly aware of and afraid of my sins. How could I know whether God would forgive me? I no longer believed that the Christian model, the Christian way of being forgiven, would work. My sins weighed heavily on me, and I didn’t know how to escape the burden of them. I longed for forgiveness. I read in the Qur’an, “…nearest among them in love to the Believers you will find those who say, ‘We are Christian': Because amongst them are Men devoted to learning, and men who have renounced the world and are not arrogant. And when they listen to the revelation received by the Messenger, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognize the truth. They pray, ‘Our Lord! We believe. Write us down among the witnesses. What cause can we have not to believe in Allah and the truth which has come to us, seeing that we long for our Lord to admit us to the company of the righteous?” --The Holy Qur’an Chapter 5, the Table verses 82-84. I saw Muslims praying on the TV news, and wanted to learn how. I found a book (by a non-Muslim) that described it, and I tried to do it myself. (I knew nothing of Taharah -- ritural purity -- and did not pray correctly.) I prayed in my own strange, desperate way, secretly and alone, for several years. I memorized some parts of the Qur'an in English, not knowing that Muslims memorize the Qur'an in Arabic. Finally, after eight years of reading the Qur’an, I found this verse:: “This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor for you, and chosen Islam as your religion.” --The Holy Qur’an Chapter 5, the Table verse 3. I wept for joy, because I knew that, way back in time, before the creation of the Earth, Allah had written this Qur’an for me. Allah had known that Anne Collins, in Cheektowaga, NY, USA, would read this verse of the Qur’an in May 1986, and be saved. Now, I knew that there were many things I had to learn, for example, how to offer the formal Muslim prayer. The problem was that I didn’t know any Muslims. Muslims are much more visible in the US now than they were then. I didn’t know where to find them. I found the phone number of the Islamic Society in the phone book, and dialed it, but when a man answered, I panicked and hung up. What was I going to say? How would they answer me? Would they be suspicious? Why would they want me, when they had each other and their Islam? In the next couple of months, I called the mosque a number of times, and each time panicked and hung up. Finally, I did the cowardly thing: I wrote a letter asking for information. The kindly, patient brother at the mosque phoned me, and then started sending me pamphlets about Islam. I told him I wanted to be Muslim, but he told me, “Wait until you are sure.” It upset me that he told me to wait, but I knew he was right, that I had to be sure because, once I had accepted Islam, nothing would ever be the same again. I became obsessed with Islam. I thought about it, day and night. On several occasions, I drove to the mosque (at that time, it was in an old converted house) and circled it many times, hoping to see a Muslim, wondering what it was like inside. Finally, one day in early November 1986, as I was working in the kitchen, I suddenly knew, knew that I was Muslim. Still a coward, I sent the mosque another letter. It said, “I believe in Allah, the One True God, I believe that Muhammad was his Messenger, and I want to be counted among the witnesses.” The brother called me on the phone the next day, and I said my shahadah* on the phone to him. He told me then that Allah had forgiven all my sins at that moment, and that I was as pure as a newborn baby. I felt the burden of sin slip off my shoulders, and wept for joy. I slept little that night, weeping, and repeating Allah’s name. Forgiveness had been granted. Alhamdulillah. *The statement a person makes when accepting Islam (and many times a day thereafter: I testify that there is no deity other than Allah, and
I testify that Muhammad (s.a.w.) was a messenger of Allah.
6- Fouad Haddad (Lebanon)
Fouad Haddad (Lebanon) Written on the 19th of Ramadan 1417 (28 January 1997) I was born and raised in a typical middle-class Lebanese Catholic family in Beirut, Lebanon. Two years into the war I was forced to leave, and completed high school in England. Then I went to Columbia College in New York. After my BA I went back to Lebanon and taught at my old school. Two years later I left Lebanon again, this time of my own free will, although it was a more wrenching separation than the first. I left behind my war-torn country and made for my new land of opportunities. I was demoralized, and spiritually at a complete impass. With my uncle's support I went back to graduate studies at Columbia. This is the brief story of my conversion to Islam while there. While in Lebanon I had come to realize that I was a nominal Christian who did not really live according to what he knew were the norms of his faith. I decided than whenever the chance came I would try my best to live according to my idea of Christian standards for one year, no matter the cost. I took this challenge while at Columbia. A graduate student's life is blessed with the leisure necessary for spiritual and intellectual exploration. In the process I read and meditated abundantly, and I prayed earnestly for dear guidance. My time was shared literally between the church and the library, and I gradually got rid of all that stood in the way of my experiment, especially social attachments or activities that threatened to steal my time and concentration. I only left campus to visit my mother every now and then. Certain meetings and experiences had set me on the road of inquiry about Islam. During a scholarship year spent in Paris I had bought a complete set of tapes of the holy Qur'an. Back in New York I listened to its recitation for the first time, as I read simultaneously the translation, drinking in its awesome beauty. I paid particular attention to the passages that concerned Christians. I felt an inviting familiarity to it because undoubtedly the One I addressed in my prayers was the same One that spoke this speech, even as I squirmed at some of the "verses of threat". After some time I knew that this was my path, since I had become convinced of the heavenly origin of the Qur'an. I was reading many books at the same time. Two of them were Martin Lings' "Life of Muhammad" and Fariduddin Attar's "Book of Secrets" (Persian "Asrar-Nama", in French translation). I found extremely inspiring Lings' account of Shaykh Ahmad `Alawi's life in his book "A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century." I did not finish the latter before I became a Muslim; but I am jumping ahead. At any rate, it now seemed my previous experience of religion had been like learning the alphabet in comparison, even my early morning and late night Bible readings and my past studies in the original Latin of Saint Augustine, who had once towered in my life as a spiritual giant. I began to long almost physically for a kind of prayer closer to the Islamic way, which to me held promises of great spiritual fulfillment, although I had grown completely dependent on certain spiritual habits -- particularly communion and prayer -- and could hardly do without them. And yet I had unmistakable signs pointing me in a further direction. One of them I considered almost a slap in the face in its frankness: when I told my local priest about the attraction I felt towards Islam he responded as he should, but then closed his talk with the words: allahu akbar. "Allahu akbar"? An Italian-American priest?! I went to two New York mosques but the imams there wanted to talk about the Bible or about the Middle East conflict, I suppose to make polite conversation with me. I realized they did not necessarily see what drove me to them and yet I did not find an avenue where I would pluck up the courage to declare my intention. Then I would go home and tell myself: Another day has passed, and you are still not Muslim. Finally I went to the Muslim student group at Columbia and announced my intention, and declared the two shahada: The Arabic formula that consists in saying "I bear witness that there is no god but Allah" -- the Arabic name for God -- "and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Prophet." They taught me ablution and salat (prayer), and I gained a dear friend among them. Those days are marked in my life with letters of light. Another close friend of mine played a role in this conversion. This devout American Christian friend had entered Islam years before me. At the time I felt in my silly pride that it was wrong for an American to enter into the religion of the Arabs and for me, an Arab, to stand like a mule in complete ignorance of it. It had a great effect on me from both sides: the cultural one and the spiritual, because he was -- is -- an honest and upright person whose major move meant a great deal to me. I had also come to realize that my early education in Lebanon had carefully ****tered me from Islam, even though I lived in a mixed neighborhood in the middle of Beirut. I went to my father's and grandfather's Jesuit school. The following incident is proof that there is no turning away of Allah's gift when He decides to give it. One year, when I was 12, a strange religious education teacher gave us as an assignment the task of learning the Fatiha -- the first chapter of the Qur'an -- by heart. I went home and did, and it stayed with me all my life. After parents complained he was fired -- "we do not send our children to a Christian school in order for them to learn the religion of Muslims" -- but the seed had been sown, right there in the staunch Christian heartland, inside its prize school. Now here I was in the United States, knocking at the door of the religion of the Prophet, peace be upon him! Days after I took shahada I met my teacher and the light on my path, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani of Tripoli, after which I met his own teacher, Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani of Cyprus. May Allah bless and grant them long life. Through them, after some years, my mother also took shahada and I hope and pray every day that my two brothers and stepfather will soon follow in Allah's immense generosity. Allah's blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, his Companions, and all Prophets.
Monica (Ecuador/USA) Assalamu Aleykum! I was born in a Catholic family in Ecuador. My family was never very religious. I mean, they didn't go to church or things like that, except for my grandma whom I loved very much. However, they sent me to a Catholic high school. There, I learned about the religion and I also learned about the spiritual side of life. Years later, I had the opportunity to go to a college in the U.S. Over there, there were a good number of muslims studying. I didn't know anything at all about Islam at first. Sometimes I saw them performing prayers. I had never seen a prayer like that. I thought it was very peaceful, and they seemed to have so much faith while doing it. This is the first thing that attracted me to Islam. Actually, it wasn't until I was about to come back home, when I was finishing school, that I decided to learn more about this religion. I always liked to learn about other beliefs and cultures. But this was time that I especially felt unsatisfied about Catholicism. Then, I tried to contact some people at the masjid. Finally, they led me to a sister who was teaching classes for converts at the mosque. I started attending these classes, and after a few months I decided that Islam was the religion for me. Islam, in contrast to Catholicism, seemed very pure. I mean, like it had very little influence from people. It seemed perfect. It was hard to find anything I could disagree with. Its hard for me to express the difference I felt between these two religions...I also feel that with Islam I'm sort of more guided, either by the Quran or the hadiths. Whereas, when I was Catholic, it was kind of like I had to figure out what to do in certain situation. People might think that Islam is strict, but I think thats the way its meant to be. I mean, I feel in this way God tells us very clearly what he expects. And you don't have to just wonder in the world looking for the truth, or the real happiness, or things like that. Islam hasn't been easy, I have to admit. For those coming from other religions, and for muslims too, I'd like to say that its very important to respect others, and to learn to listen to them. One of the problems with Islam has been that muslims have been so closed to other people, that they cant get to know us or the religion. I also think that muslims should be more open to converts, and more respectful to them. I myself felt sometimes rejected by both groups, the muslims and my old catholic friends. I've met other converts, and often they seem like they have more faith than a muslim-born person. So, I think they deserve some credit for that. It's very unfair to treat them as if they were not real muslims. Well, thats about it. I hope Im not missing anything. Of course there are many things Id like to say. But its getting too long.
8- Kaci Starbuck
Kaci Starbuck My first realization about the Christian idea of salvation came after I was baptized into a Southern Baptist church at a young age. I was taught in Sunday School that "if you aren't baptized, then you are going to hell". My own baptism had taken place because I wanted to please people. My mom had come into my room one evening and I asked her about baptism. She encouraged me to do it. So, the next Sunday, I decided to go to the front of the church. During a hymn at the end of the sermon, I walked forward to meet with the youth minister. He had a smile on his face, greeted me, then sat beside me on a pew. He asked a question, "Why do you want to do this?"... I paused, then said, "because I love Jesus and I know that he loves me". After making the statement, the members of the church came up and hugged me... anticipating the ceremonial immersion in water just a few weeks later. During my early years at church, even in the kindergarten class, I remember being a vocal participant in the Sunday School lessons. Later, in my early adolescent years I was a member of the young girls' group that gathered at the church for weekly activities and went on annual retreats to a camp. During my youth, I attended a camp with older members of the youth group. Though I hadn't spent much time with them before, they recognized me as "the daughter of a youth coordinator" or "the girl who plays piano at special occations at church". One evening at this camp a man was speaking about his marriage. He told the story about meeting his wife. He had grown up in the US where dating was normal, but in the girl's culture, he could only be with her if they had a guardian with them. Since he liked her, he decided to continue seeing her. Another stipulation is that they could not touch each other until she had been given a promise ring. Once he proposed to her, they were allowed to hold hands. -This baffled me, yet held me in awe. It was beautiful to think that such discovery of another person could be saved until a commitment was made. Though I enjoyed the story, I never thought that the same incident could occur again. A few years later, my parents divorced and the role of religion changed in my life. I had always seen my family through the eyes of a child - they were perfect. My dad was a deacon in the church, well respected, and known by all. My mom was active with youth groups. When my mom left, I took the role of caretaker of my father and two brothers. We continued to go to church, but when visiting my mom on weekends, the visits to churches became more infrequent. When at my dad's home we would gather at night every night to read Corinthians 1:13 (which talks about love/charity). My brothers, father, and I repeated this so often that I memorized it. It was a source of support for my dad, though I could not understand why. In a period of three consecutive years, my older brother, younger brother, and I moved to my mom's house. At that point my mom no longer went to church, so my brothers found church attendance less important. Having moved to my mother's house during my junior year of high school, I was to discover new friends and a different way of life. The first day of school I met a girl who was very friendly. The second day of school, she invited me to her house for the weekend - to meet her family and visit her church. I was automatically "adopted" into her family as a "good kid" and "good influence" for her. Also, I was surprisingly shocked at the congregation that attended her church. Though I was a stranger, all of the women and men greeted me with hugs and kisses and made me feel welcome. After continually spending time with the family and attending church on the weekends, they started talking to me about particular beliefs in their Church of Christ. This group went by the New Testament (literal interpretation of Paul's writings). They had no musical instruments in church services - only vocal singing; there were no hired preachers, but elders who would bring sermons each Sunday. Women were not allowed to speak in church. Christmas, Easter, and other holidays were not celebrated, wine and unleavened bread were taken as communion every Sunday, and baptism was seen as immediately necessary at the moment that the sinner decided to become a believer. Though I was already considered a Christian, members of this congregation believed that I was going to hell if I didn't get baptized again - in their church, their way. This was the first major blow to my belief system. Had I grown up in a church where everything had been done wrong? Did I really have to be baptized again? At one point I had a discussion about faith with my mom. I told her about my confusion and just wanted somebody to clear things up for me. I became critical of sermons at all churches because the preachers would just tell stories and not focus on the Bible. I couldn't understand: if the Bible was so important, why was it not read (solely) in the church service? Though I thought about baptism every Sunday for almost two years, I could not walk forward to be baptized. I would pray to God to push me forward if it were the right thing to do - but it never happened. The next year I went to college and became detached from all churches as a freshman. Some Sundays I would visit churches with friends - only to feel critical of the sermons. I tried to join the baptist student association, but felt that things were wrong there, too. I had come to college thinking that I would find something like the church of christ but it was not to be found. When I would return home to my mom's house on occassional weekends, I would visit the church to gain the immediate sense of community and welcoming. In my Sophomore year, I spent Sundays singing at the Wake Forest church in the choir because I earned good money. Though I didn't support the church beliefs, I endured the sermons to make money. In October of my sophomore year I met a Muslim who lived in my dorm. He was a friendly guy who always seemed to be pondering questions or carrying a deep thought. One evening I spent the entire evening asking him philosophical questions about beliefs and religion. He talked about his beliefs as a Shia' Ismaili Imami Muslim. Though his thoughts did not fully represent this sect of Islam (since he was also confused and searching for answers), his initial statements made me question my own beliefs: are we born into a religion, therefore making it the right one? Day after day I would meet with him and ask questions - wanting to get on the same level of communication that we had reached at our initial meeting - but he would not longer answer the questions or meet the spiritual needs that I had. The following summer I worked at a bookstore and grabbed any books that I could find about Islam. I introduced myself to another Muslim on campus and started asking him questions about Islam. Instead of looking to him for answers, I was directed to the Quran. Any time I would have general questions about Islam, he would answer them. I went to the local mosque twice during that year and was happy to feel a sense of community again. After reading about Islam over the summer, I became more sensitive to statements made about Muslims. While taking an introductory half-semester couse on Islam, I would feel frustrated when the professor would make a comment the was incorrect, but I didn't know how to correct him. Outside of my personal studies and university class, I became an active worker and supporter of our newly rising campus Islam Awareness Organization. As the only female member, I would be identified to others as "the christian in the group". every time a Muslim would say that, I would look at him with puzzlement - because I thought that I was doing all that they had been doing - and that I was a Muslim, too. I had stopped eating pork and became vegetarian, had never liked alcohol, and had begun fasting for the month of Ramadhan. But, there still was a difference... At the end of that year (junior year) other changes were made. I decided to start wearing my hair up - concealed from people. Once again, I thought of this as something beautiful and had an idea that only my husband should be able to see my hair. I hadn't even been told about hijab... since many of the sisters at the mosque did not wear it. That summer I was sitting at school browsing the internet and looking for sites about Islam. I wanted to find e-mail addresses for Muslims, but couldn't find a way. I eventually ventured onto a homepage that was a matrimonial link. I read over some advertisements and tried to find some people within my age range to write to about Islam. I prefaced my initial letters with "I am not seeking marriage - I just want to learn about Islam". Within a few days I had received replies from three Muslims- one from Pakistan/India who was studying in the US, one from India but studying in the UK, and one living in the UAE. Each brother was helpful in unique ways - but I started corresponding with the one from the US the most because we were in the same time zone. I would send questions to him and he would reply with thorough, logical answers. By this point I knew that Islam was right - all people were equal regardless of color, age, sex, race, etc; I had received answers to troublesome questions by going to the Qur'an, I could feel a sense of community with Muslims, and I had a strong, overwhelming need to declare the shahada at a mosque. No longer did I have the "christian fear" of denouncing the claim of Jesus as God - I believed that there was only one God and there should be no associations with God. One Thursday night in July 1997 I talked with the brother over the phone. I asked more questions and received many more pertinent, logical answers. I decided that the next day I would go to the mosque. I went to the mosque with the Muslim brother from Wake Forest and his non-Muslim sister, but did not tell him my intentions. I mentioned that I wanted to speak with the imam after the khutbah [religious directed talk]. The imam delivered the khutbah, the Muslims prayed [which includes praising Allah, recitation of the Quran, and a series of movements which includes bowing to Allah] then he came over to talk with me. I asked him what was necessary to become Muslim. He replied that there are basics to understand about Islam, plus the shahada [there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah]. I told him that I had learned about Islam for more than a year and was ready to become Muslim. I recited the kalimah... and became Muslim on July 12, 1996, alhumdulillah [all praise due to Allah]. That was the first big step. Many doors opened after that - and have continued to open by the grace of Allah. I first began to learn prayer, then visited another masjid in Winston-Salem, and began wearing hijab two weeks later. .... At my summer job, I had problems with wearing hijab. The bosses didn't like it and "let me go" early for the summer. They didn't think that I could "perform" my job of selling bookbags because the clothing would limit me. But, I found the hijab very liberating. I met Muslims as they would walk around the mall... everyday I met someone new, alhumdulillah. As my senior year of college progressed, I took the lead of the Muslim organization on campus because I found that the brothers were not very active. Since I pushed the brothers to do things and constantly reminded them of events, I received the name "mother Kaci". During the last half of my Senior year, I took elective courses: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Each course was good because I was a minority representative in each. Mashallah, it was nice to represent Islam and to tell people the truth about Muslims and Allah.