By Andrea Karshan
According to the Pew Research Center, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. There are 1.6 billion Muslims globally, which is 23% of the world’s population. Islam is the 2nd largest religion in the world. In America, .9% of U.S. adults identify as Muslims. Prosyletizing is encouraged in Islam.
These are the feelings of six Muslim converts about Islam, their conversions and others who are converting to Islam.
What led you to convert to Islam?
Aram-Converted October, 2016-“It has been a journey, for sure. I have been disillusioned with Christianity for some time and was struggling with the concept of the Trinity. Also, seeing the hate and hypocrisy being spewed by Christians during this election cycle has been the nail in the proverbial coffin for my Christian faith. As I began to explore Islam, and genuinely listen to what Muslims around me were saying and doing, I saw a group who were more accepting, more loving, and dare I say, more Christ-like than I had ever experienced. There is also the simplicity of Islam which I found very appealing. The Shahada sums it up nicely. We worship God and nothing else. Easy peasy.”
Bruce– Converted February, 2005-“The simple theology of God being one is what initially opened my eyes to Islam. However, being of Greek ancestry and heavily involved in the Greek community, I was also indoctrinated into believing that the Ottomans (who were Muslim) had enslaved my ancestors for centuries. That made me think twice before converting. I knew that Christianity was something I was wasn’t interest in and that if I ever followed it, it was due to cultural reasons and nothing more. I think what gave me a final push was after a heavy night of partying, feeling empty, and realizing that this lifestyle goes against my internal nature that Islam had a solution to these inner conflicts. This event caused me to start to better acquaint myself with Islam and try to meet Muslims who can show me the ropes. One cool thing I encountered is while my non-Muslim peers were out late getting plastered, my Muslim peers were out late staying active and playing soccer after dark. This difference I witnessed between my Muslim peers and non-Muslim peers impressed me.”
Heidi– Converted Summer, 2014-“My journey to Islam has been a long time in the making. My first experience with Muslims was an Egyptian girl I met at community college. We became friends because she worked in the community college I did my school work in. She invited me over to her house for Eid al-Fitr. I was intrigued by how her family lived, so I began doing research on my own. Her family was very welcoming and seemed very connected in a positive way because of their faith. After this, I took my first world religions class the following semester. That’s when I became familiar with all world religions, even Islam. The most fascinating aspect of Islam at that time was learning that Muhammad closed the book of Abrahamic prophets, which had a profound effect on me. Following that semester, I became friends with my world religions professor, who took me to an interfaith conference for Muslims and Christians. That night of the conference the topic discussed was jihad, which helped me become more familiar with “controversial” topics of the faith. In between all of these events that helped me learn about Islam, I was extensively watching YouTube videos about other people who have converted to Islam. This happened back in 2009, so Nicole Queen was one of the first YouTubers I discovered who converted to Islam. What made her interesting to me was her life before Islam, which was similar to mine. She was a celebrity photographer at a nightclub, and I was a cocktail waitress at a casino, a job that consisted of wearing revealing clothing and working in a party environment. Watching Nicole’s conversion story was a life defining the moment when the idea of actually converting to Islam was planted in my heart. In the years that followed, I transferred to a four-year university in my area, where I majored in comparative world religions. This lead to a study abroad trip to India through college, and a trip to Southeast Asia by myself. At this point in my life, I was doing fact checking before I made my decision to say the Shahada. I’ll be honest; my shahada experience was not one that was life changing and put me on a spiritual high. I actually took it through Skype with a sister that I met through another mutual sister. She lived in Virginia, and I lived in Pennsylvania. I was alone in my apartment, with my phone, reciting the Shahada.”
Sine-Converted Winter, 2012-“I was seeing a guy in the country where I lived, and it got serious. At one point he then said that he would only marry a Muslim. My initial reaction was no. This happened during Ramadan. He had had some bad experiences (losing friends in an accident, disappointing people close to him), he was getting a bit off the rails and felt he had to be proper practicing Muslim while dismissing his friends – I did not understand why he was behaving like that and decided to learn more about Islam. In the course of reading about it, and especially after reading the Qur’an I realized that it fitted exactly my worldview.”
Monique-Converted August, 2015-“A lifelong search for faith and lots of intense studying, a long journey of faith that took me being completely broken down and truly submitting myself to God saying I’ll do whatever you say just guide me. I had a turning point where I said how can I please God not how can God please me. That moment guided to Islam.”
Meysam-Converted 2002, left Islam, then converted to Islam again in 2013-“The simplicity of the faith (which I’ve come to learn is just as complex as, Christianity.) I remember reading the Qur’an for the first time in 1999 and thinking “this is from God.” I come from a mainline Protestant/Unitarian family where religion is much more about being part of the community than any particular spiritual belief.”
What was the hardest part of your conversion?
Aram-“Arabic, OMG! I speak some Spanish, and a little French, but Arabic is some next level stuff! Everything else is pretty easy!”
Bruce-“Telling family. It took me several years to finally open up to them. I found that the best way to do it was to tell them in the form of a letter.I wrote details about my theological views, how Islam parallels to those views, and I addressed all sorts of misconceptions about Islam and allowed them a few days to themselves to digest and make sense of things before talking to them again. My dad was the first to open up to me, and we were good, my mother would not talk to me for many weeks after that.”
Heidi-“The hardest part of converting to Islam is that converts are exposed to a lot of different stimuli that they did not experience being another religion growing up. I was raised Lutheran. My parents were not religious, nor were we regular church goers. Growing up I went to Sunday school sometimes, and I was forced get confirmation so that I could get married in the church, of course. However, when you become a Muslim, you have to pray five times a day. I knew no Arabic, and I was too nervous to go to a mosque by myself and ask for help. All of my Muslim friends I made and talked to on a regular basis were not close to where I lived. I have decided to live in secret in regards to telling my family, so they do not know anything yet. I believed telling them wouldn’t be as problematic as I used to think when I first converted. Another really difficult aspect of my life was the fact that I was still a cocktail waitress, which was my means to support myself. I received a lot of pressure from the Muslim community to look for other work. At the time, this was all I had to keep my head above water. I felt like a hypocrite Muslim. So, in short, those are the two main parts of the religion that were difficult for me when I converted. Learning how to pray in Arabic, and feeling pressure to change almost overnight.”
Sine-“The reaction of my friends and family as Islam is very alien to them.The reaction of Muslims as I don’t conform to the traditional Sunni Muslim – I am much more progressive and Quranist, dismissing most hadith.”
Monique-“My family, it took me awhile to tell them, but I have a good mother who is now supportive.”
Meysam-“Not feeling connected to a community; which is why I left the first time around, after a journey through progressive Christianity, I came back to Islam and was blessed to find community. I have since relocated and lost the community; still looking for it.”
What was hardest for you to give up or adjust to doing as a Muslim?
Aram-“Two things. Not drinking alcohol, I love wine and figuring out when to pray. There’s no wiggle room on the alcohol thing, and I’m doing my best figuring out when to pray, and fitting that in with work and family.”
Bruce-“The toughest thing for me to give up to this day is one of my few guilty pleasures being cigars. I have gone through great length to quit smoking as a whole, but cigars are the one thing I find myself occasionally turning to. Not sure why, but I guess we all have our weaknesses to something.The toughest adjustment is to this day is something I can’t accept, and that is a small number of individuals within the Muslim community lacking a certain level of etiquette or having a villager mentality from back at home. Being of Greek ancestry it was something frustrating for me to deal with in my community growing up, so seeing some parallels from within the Muslim community is just as frustrating. In fact, I find it more frustrating when it’s from Muslims as I feel Muslims should know better and should be trying harder to be the better people since we don’t have a good reputation. One example I can think of at this moment is when I was getting married, my wife, and I were clear on our wedding invitations for people not to bring their children, the only people who did not respect our wishes happened to be Muslims, and this made me look bad to all of my family members who didn’t bring their children. When my nephews and nieces who were more deserving to attend my wedding found out that some random distant family friend’s kids on my in-law’s side attended my wedding they were quite hurt and to this day won’t let it go. Many of the same guests also brought useless things as gifts, which looked like something they were re-gifting from a time long ago when they were getting married or didn’t bring a gift at all.”
Heidi-“The biggest adjustment is taking on a new identity. When you are non-Muslim, you have absolute freedom as to how you live your life. You don’t think twice about ordering a pepperoni pizza, and you also don’t put as much thought into the clothes you wear, like how long your sleeves are, are these pants too tight, etc. When you grow up non-Muslim, you have already formed your sense of self throughout your entire life, just like born Muslims have. When you convert to Islam, your entire slate of sins has been erased and now you’re a new person. What is my new identity as a Muslim? That was difficult for me to figure out. For me, this process didn’t happen overnight. The way I look at it, Islam wasn’t created within one day, or even one year. Knowing that gives me comfort to slowly transform at the pace I am most comfortable with. In short, feeling lonely from a lack of a support system in your new journey is what’s most difficult. Your non-Muslim friends will most likely not understand you, so it’s hard.”
Sine-“Dressing more modestly – but mainly because we live in a tropical, hot country. I do not wear a hijab, or an abaya.”
Monique-“The decision to wear hijab scared me because I didn’t know if people will hurt my child or me, but over time I grew the strength to do it for the sake of God and not minding what others thought of me. I have had many small steps of change, little at a time, but it can be summed up as obeying God instead of obeying culture. Once I grew confident in my choices, I have found people to be more tolerant and willing to talk to me instead of judging me because I smile at them with my head high. ”
Meysam-“Bacon, and the five daily prayers; except for my daily prayers, I am otherwise an extremely disorganized person who dislikes rules and authority. I guess if it comes from God, I don’t second-guess that authority.”
What is the most rewarding thing about your conversion? What is your favorite thing about Islam?
Aram-“The new relationships that I’ve built with my brothers, and the peace that I’ve experienced since converting.
Being a Muslim is dope! I am a part of an awesome community of believers of all races and colors that are making a difference in the world, and having fun doing it!”
Bruce-“I feel safe. Quran 2:286 mentions, “God does not burden a soul with more than it can bare.” There are two main understandings behind this verse where the first meaning is that if God puts you through something he will get your out of it, while the second meaning can be re-translated differently to being more along the lines of, “God will not judge a soul outside of their circumstances.” Knowing such a simply stated verse like this helps me feel secure both in this life and for what may come in hereafter.
It’s tough to narrow it down to any specific thing, but I think the journey that has come with being Muslims is my favorite thing. Many surprising and wonderful things have come my way as a result of being Muslim. There have been some tough moments as well, which through the will of God and the guidelines of Islam I was able to come out. Overall though my journey has been incredible and I look forward to the many things to come God willing. I truly feel blessed.”
Heidi-“The most rewarding part of my conversation is honestly meeting one of my best Muslim friends that I met through the sister I converted with. I did not have a connection with the sister I converted with, so she passed me onto her friend, hoping that she could maybe help me better than she did. I don’t think she had any idea I would talk to this sister every day and become best friends with her two years later. We talk through Whatsapp every single day. Occasionally we will have a phone conversation. If it wasn’t for her being supportive and not judging me, I can’t say I would have stayed in the faith.
My favorite part of being Muslim is knowing that there is an answer to every question that I have regarding my faith. If you go on YouTube alone, there are many scholars that are dedicated to doing lectures. If I ever want to understand something, all I have to do is tune into one of the Islamic channels I follow.”
Sine-“Thinking about life, the world and everything in general in the light of the Quran. I used to be academic and loved analyzing/interpreting things, applying theories. The Quran gives me a chance to explore and understand life, the world, and humans.”
Monique-“My connection to God of course! My faith Alhamdulillah.
True purpose and meaning to life.”
Meysam-“Meeting people, I would never otherwise have heard of if I spend my life in some super liberal version of Christianity or Unitarianism.
A sense of identity, and belonging to something important that has the power to transform the world in a positive way. ”
What advice would you give others converting to Islam?
Aram-“Do your own thing, and search things out for yourself. At the end of the day, you’ve got to get in a space where you can filter out all of the vacuous dialogue about what people say Islam is or isn’t about, and look at it for yourself.”
Bruce-“My advice is: Take your time. Islam is primarily a self-surrender to God, and to God alone. Become aware and acquainted with that understanding that God is one. Start off with focusing more on the “Do’s” of the faith (such as prayer and fasting), and then gradually work on eliminating the “Don’ts”. Keep away from negative company, stay level headed, and don’t let some rough moments discourage you from being on the right path and doing the right thing.”
Heidi-“I would tell anyone converting to Islam to make sure that their Shahada is memorable and special, however, they may define what that means to them. For me, sitting alone in my apartment just wasn’t ideal, for me. Someone else may have done it that way, and it would not have made a difference to them. If I could do it all over again, I would have taken it at Masjid. Another piece of advice I would give them is to ask for help with prayer if they have no prior knowledge on how to pray when they convert. That was very difficult for me. In our prayers, we do a series of movements called rakats. There are also certain surahs we have to recite in this process. It was very confusing to me until I taught myself how to do it. Honestly, it really stressed me out. It’s the number one thing we will be questioned on when we die, so it’s important a revert has a very patient and knowledgeable friend to help them.”
Sine-“Be careful that you do it for yourself, not for others.”
Monique-“Take it one step at a time, one day at a time. Don’t try to rush or you will overwhelm yourself. One step at a time, focus on aqeedah, not legislation. Study Islamic history and take time as much as you can to delve into Islamic Studies. Always ask which verse or which hadith did you get this from and investigate, knowledge is crucial.”
Meysam-“Communicate with your loved ones before doing it; not to let them dissuade you, but to make them feel a part of your life. Do your own reading, and don’t believe whatever another person says is the proper way to practice Islam. ”
Editor’s Note: Views expressed in this article reflect the views of those interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views of the owner of this website.