"What am I doing down here?" I wonder, my nose and forehead pressed to the floor as I kneel in prayer. My knee-caps ache, my arm muscles strain as I try to keep the pressure off my forehead.
I listen to strange utterings of the person praying next to me. It's Arabic, and they understand what they are saying, even if I don't. So, I make up my own words, hoping God will be kind to me, a Muslim only twelve hours old.
"God, I converted to Islam because I believe in you, and because Islam makes sense to me." Did I really just say that? I quietly burst into tears.
What would my friends say if they saw me like this, kneeling, nose pressed to the floor? They'd laugh at me, "Have you lost your mind?" They'd ask, "You can't seriously tell me you are religious."
Religious... I was once a happy 'speculative atheist', how did I change into this whirlwind tour through my journey.
Where did it begin? Maybe it started when I first met practicing Muslims. That was in 1991, at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I was an open minded, tolerant, liberal woman, 24 years old. I saw Muslim women walking around the international center and felt sorry for them. I knew they were oppressed. When I asked them why they cover their hair, why they wore long sleeves in summer, my sorrow increased when they told me, that they wore the veil, and they dressed so, because God asked them to. Poor things. What about their treatment in Muslim countries? "That's culture," they would reply. I knew they were deluded, socialized, brainwashed from an early age into believing in this wicked way of treating women. But I noticed how happy they were, how friendly they were, how solid they were, how solid they seemed. I saw Muslim men walking around the International Center. There was even a man from Libya - the land of terrorists. I trembled when I saw them, lest they do something to me in the Name of God.
I remembered on television images of masses of rampaging Arab men burning effigies of President Bush, all in the Name of God. What a God they must have, I thought. Poor things that they even believed in God, I added, secure in the truth that God was an anthropomorphic projection of us weak human beings who needed a crutch. But I noticed how helpful these men were. I perceived an aura of calmness. What a belief they must have, I thought. But it puzzled me.
That was before the Gulf War broke out. What kind of God would persuade men to go to War, to kill innocent citizens of another country, to demonstrate against the US? I decided I'd better read the Holy book on whose behalf they claimed they were acting. I read a Penguin classic, surely a trustworthy book, and I couldn't finish it, I disliked it so much. Here was God destroying whole cities at a stroke. No wonder the women are oppressed, and these fanatics exist. But then I discovered feminists who believed in God, Christian women who were feminists, and Muslim women who did not condone a lot of what I thought integral to their religion.
I started to pray and call myself a 'post-Christian feminist believer'. I felt that lightness again; maybe God did exist. I carefully examined my life's events and I saw that coincidences and luck were God's blessings for me, and I'd never noticed, or said thanks. I am amazed God was so Kind and Persistent while I was disloyal. My ears and feet tingle pleasantly from the washing I have just given them; a washing which cleanses me and allows me to approach God in prayer. God, an Awesome Deity. I feel awe, wonder, and peace. Please show me the path.
"But surely you can see that the world is too complex, too beautiful, too harmonious to be an accident? To be the blind result of evolutionary forces? Don't you know that science is returning to a belief in God? Don't you know that science never contradicted Islam anyway?" I am exasperated with my imaginary jury. Haven't they researched these things? Maybe this was the most decisive path. I'd heard on the radio an interview with a physicist who was explaining how modern science had abandoned it's nineteenth century materialistic assumptions long ago, and was scientifically of the opinion that too many phenomenon occurred which made no sense without there being intelligence and design behind it all. Indeed, scientific experiments were not just a passive observation of physical phenomena, observation altered the way physical events proceeded, and it seemed therefore that intelligence was the most fundamental stuff of the universe. I read more, and more. I discovered that only the most die-hard anthropologists still believed in evolutionary theory, though no one was saying this very loudly for fear of losing their job.
My jigsaw was starting to fall apart. "OK, so you decided God existed. You were monotheist. But Christianity is monotheistic. It is your heritage. Why leave it?" Still these questioners are puzzled. But you must understand this is the earliest question of them all to answer. I smile. I learned how the Qur'an did not contradict science in the same way the Bible did. I wanted to read the Biblical stories literally, and discovered I could not. Scientific fact contradicted Biblical account. But scientific fact did not contradict Qur'anic account; science even sometimes explained a hitherto inexplicable Qur'anic verse. This was stunning. There was a verse about how the water from fresh water rivers which flowed into the sea did not mix with the sea water; verses describing conception accurately; verses referring to the orbits of the planets. Seventh century science knew none of this. How could Muhammed be so uniquely wise? My mind drew me towards the Qur'an, but I resisted. I started going to church again, only to find myself in tears in nearly every service.
Christianity continued to be difficult for me. So much didn't make sense: the Trinity; the idea that Jesus was God incarnate; the worship of Mary, the Saints, or Jesus, rather than GOD. The priests told me to leave reason behind when contemplating God. The Trinity did not make sense, nor was it supposed to. I delved deeper. After all, how could I leave my culture, my heritage, my family? No one would understand, and I'd be alone. I tried to be a good Christian. I learned more. I discovered that Easter was instituted a couple of hundreds of years after Jesus' death, that Jesus never called himself God incarnate, and more often said he was the Son of Man; that the doctrine of the Trinity was established some 300 odd years after Christ had died; that the Nicene Creed which I had faithfully recited every week, focusing; on each word, was written by MEN and at a political meeting to confirm the minority position that Jesus was the Son of God, and the majority viewpoint that Jesus was God's Messenger was expunged forever. I was so angry! Why hadn't the Church taught me these things? Well, I knew why. People would understand that they could worship God elsewhere, and that there, worship would actually make sense to them. I would only worship one God, not three, not Jesus, not the Saints, not Mary. Could Muhammed really be a messenger, could the Qur'an be God's Word? I kept reading the Qur'an. It told me that Eve was not only to blame for the 'fall' ; that Jesus was a Messenger; that unbelievers would laugh at me for being a believer; that people would question the authenticity of Muhammed's claim to revelation, but if they tried to write something as wise, consistent and rational they would fail. This seemed true.
Islam asked me to use my intelligence to contemplate God. It encouraged me to seek knowledge, it told me that those who believed in one God (Jews/ Christians/ Muslims/ whomever) would get rewards; it seemed a very encompassing religion.
We stand again and still standing, bend down again to a resting position with our hands on our knees. What else can I say to God? I can't think of enough to say, the prayer seems so long. I puff slightly, still sniffling, since with all the standing I am somewhat out of breath. "So you seriously think that I would willingly enter a religion which turned me into a second class citizen? I demand of my questioners. You know that there is a lot of abuse of women in Islamic countries, just as in the West, but this is not true of Islam. And don't bring the veil thing up.
"Don't you know that women wear hijab because God asks them to? Because they trust in God's word." Still. How will I have the courage to wear hijab? I probably won't. People will stare at me, I'll be obvious; I'd rather hide away in the crowd when I'm out. What will my friends say when they see me in that?? OH! God! Help. I had stalled at the edge of change for many a long month, my dilemma growing daily. What should I do? Leave my old life and start a new one? But I couldn't possibly go out in public in hijab. People would stare at me. I stood at the forked path which God helped me reach. I had new knowledge which rested comfortably with my intellect. Follow the conviction, or stay in the old way? How could I stay when I had a different outlook on life? How could I change when the step seemed too big for me? I would rehearse the conversation sentence: There is no God worthy of worship but God and Muhammed (pbuh) is his Prophet. Simple words, I believe in them, so convert. I cannot, I resisted. I circled endlessly day after day. God stood on one of the paths of the fork. Come on Kathy. I've brought you here, but you must cross alone. I stayed stationary, transfixed like a kangaroo trapped in a car lights late at night.
Then one night, I suppose, God, gave me a final yank. I was passing a mosque with my husband. I had a feeling in me that was so strong I could hardly bear it. If you don't convert now, you never will, my inner voice told me. I knew it was true. OK, I'll do it. If they let me in the mosque I'll do it. But there was no one there. I said the shahaada under the trees outside the mosque. I waited. I waited for the thunderclap, the immediate feeling of relief, the lifting of my burden. But it didn't come. I felt exactly the same.
Now we are kneeling again, the world looks so different from down here. Even famous football players prostrate like this, I remember, glancing sideways at the tassels of my hijab which fall onto the prayer mat; we are sitting up straight, my prayer leader is muttering something still, waving his right hand's forefinger around in the air. I look down at my mat again. The green, purple, and black of my prayer mat look reassuringly the same. The blackness of the Mosque's entrance entreats me: 'I am here, just relax and you will find me.' My tears have dried on my face and my skin feels tight. "What am I doing here?" Dear God. I am here because I believe in you, because I believe in the compelling and majestic words of the Qur'an, and because I believe in the Prophethood of your Messenger Muhammed (pbuh).
I know in my heart my decision is the right one. Please give me the courage to carry on with this new self and new life, that I may serve you well with a strong faith. I smile and stand up, folding my prayer mat into half, and lay it on the sofa ready for my next encounter with its velvety green. Now the burden begins to lift.
The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186
|Note from the Editor|
|Letters to the Editor|
|Islamic World News|
|Islam in History|
|How I Embraced Islam|
|Do You Need Insurance?|
|The Deal of|
|Letter from Shaytan|
|Duaa by the |
Prophet in Taif
|Judgement Day Airlines|
|On Death & Dying|
|Islamic Will & Testament|
|Women in Islam|
|Rapp Artist Embracing Islam|
|Wisdom of the Prophet|
|Stories of the Sahabah|
|Islamic Diet & Manners|
|Qur'an & Science|