Interviews with American Women (Part-2)

The extracts provided herein under are from the book, ‘Daughters of Another Path, by Carol Anway. It showcases, in brief, experiences of different American women, who, in their own peculiar ways and for their respective reasons, reached out to learn and understand Islam and its revealed text – the Qur’an – and which exercise, in turn, would change their lives forever. The first installment of these interviews were published in the December 2018 issue of Young Muslim Digest.

Many of the American female respondents (new converts) whose interview extracts are provided below 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 or resource which touched their hearts and souls:

New Muslim # 7:

“One day he said, ‘I can’t go anymore and I don’t want you to take our daughter either.’ We had a big fight and were going to split up until we decided that we would take a look at both religions. If I could explain Christianity satisfactorily, he would become a Christian. At the same time, I would take another look at Islam. (I had claimed Islam two years after we were married, but he wasn’t active and I lost interest quickly).

“I started asking a lot of questions from ministers, theologians, and seniors in the field to help me prove Christianity to my husband. I wanted it so badly, I cried to several of them to help me and most of them said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know’ or ‘I’ll write you,’ but I never heard from them. The harder I tried to prove Christianity to convert him, the more I moved toward Islam because of its logic, until I finally yielded to the belief in the oneness of Allah.

“One thing led to another until my husband and I became practicing Muslims. Islam, for me, gives peace of mind because I don’t have to understand the Trinity and how God is ‘three in one’ or that God died on the cross. For me Islam supplies the answers.”

New Muslim # 8:

“I called myself agnostic when I went to college. I thought I believed in God and didn’t want to do anything about it. After a few years, I was ready to go back to being ‘religious’ again. In the meantime, I met a man from Lebanon who would later become my husband. He and I both started learning more about Islam and about six months later I converted. We were married six months after that.

“The hardest part was changing my ideas about Jesus. It took a long time to be able to say that Jesus isn’t the Son of God without it feeling like blasphemy. But I realized that the beliefs are really close in some ways. Mary was a virgin and Jesus is a great prophet. The difference is in the divinity of Jesus.”

New Muslim # 9:

“I never knew anything about Islam except that ‘Muhammad was a killer and Islam was spread by the sword.’ I was going out with my husband prior to marriage (he was not a practicing Muslim at that time), but when we got married and he finally told his family, his father’s stipulation was that I was to be Muslim. I told him I could not change my religion for a man because I have always been close with God but never had a direct path to walk. Then I started talking about what I really believed. I promised God that I would look into Islam, and I asked God to guide me.

“Over the course of several months, I started talking to my husband’s friend who had embraced Islam and was a humble practicing Muslim. I asked him many questions. I kept away from my husband about this topic because I wanted to be as objective as possible. My hardest hurdle was getting over the fiery images of what we would look like burning up in hell from my Sunday school books and training. I had been told so many times that if l did not believe Jesus had died for my sins and was my personal saviour, I would go to hell forever. But Allah (swt) showed me the way.

“I was reading many books about Islam, and everything I read was exactly how I felt inside me. All the answers were there. I may not have understood everything, but what I did made sense. I embraced Islam and shared my first Ramadan with my husband of six months who was now practicing his beliefs.”

The idea that Jesus is considered God by Christians was something that hadn’t become a reality to some of the women. Muslims were, therefore, able to refute this belief by affirming that putting anything or anyone on the same level as God is a great sin. This point is probably the most dividing belief between Christians and Muslims. For Christians it would be a great sin to deny Jesus as part of the Trinity; for Muslims the greatest sin would be to place Jesus (whom they consider as a revered and great prophet) on the level of God.

New Muslim # 10:

“I asked my friend to attend Mass with me. He said he didn’t attend church, that he was a Muslim. ‘What’s a Muslim?’ I asked, totally unaware that my life was going to change forever as soon as he began his answer. At first, I listened intently but after he got to the part which denied Jesus being the Son of God, even denied his sacrifice for us on the cross, I excused myself from this friend and kicked myself for wasting so much time that now I had missed Mass and would have to go to confession.

“We talked again later about his beliefs. We seemed more and more alike in our belief: heaven and hell, angels, our duty to our fellow man, holy scriptures. It was just the ‘Jesus thing’ that kept us on opposite ends of the spectrum. I also noticed another complication; despite everything, I was falling in love with him.

“It wasn’t Islam that was the issue. It was Christianity. I was a ‘doubting Thomas’ in every way and the guilt was overwhelming. I began to seek all kinds of advice to rid me of this demon of doubt. Then, three events took place in the space of a week that caused me to decide to leave Christianity altogether.

“First, I went to a nun that I trusted deeply and poured my heart out. She responded with compassion, but she handed me a Qur’an as I left. I was very confused. Then, I went to my religion teacher, who was a lay person. As we talked, I grew more confused and finally said, ‘’Look, I just want you to tell me that, undoubtedly and with full conviction, Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ He didn’t look at me when he said, ‘I can’t tell you that.’ Now I was angry too. What was wrong with these people that they refused to give me the answers I was looking for?

“Finally, I turned to God. At least I was sure that He was still there for me. And He would help me. I prayed that He would open my mind and my heart and show me the answer I was looking for. I used a method I had used many times before. I would pray everything in my heart, then open the Bible to a random page and find my answer. I opened my Bible to the trial of Jesus in front of Pontius Pilate. Pilate was trying to get Jesus to say something by which he could be convicted, in order to relieve his own guilt for having him sentenced to death to fulfill the wishes of the people. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the Son of God?’ and Jesus answered, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, ‘It is you who have said it.’ Suddenly, I felt at peace.”

New Muslim # 11:

“When I was eighteen, I went to a local two-year Christian college. It was there that I first came in contact with Muslims. There were a lot of them there, and I was fascinated with the idea of another group of people I knew nothing about – some people from the ‘Holy Land.’ I took a course called ‘The World’s Living Religions’ and learned a little about Islam. I met my husband-to-be there when I was nineteen years old. I married him after four months.

“We moved far away to go to a university. There I met an American Muslim woman who wore hijab. She gave me books and pamphlets about Islam. I read some of them and watched some debates between Muslims and Christians about the divinity of Jesus and the authenticity of the Bible.

“It was then that I heard clearly for the first time that the Christians (including the Catholics) thought that Jesus was God and that the Bible had been changed by men and mostly made by men’s words, not God’s. I was shocked. I knew then that I was not one of ‘them’ anymore.

“The close identity of Islam with the prophets, with the emphasis on Allah as the same God the Christians and Jews worship, with the acceptance of Jesus as a great prophet and teacher, with the tracing of their roots to Abraham – all these make a familiar setting into which Prophet Muhammad came to bring the final word, to set right with direct revelation God’s word of ‘the way’ to the people.”

This familiarity may have been part of the easy transition for some of the American-born women when Muslim beliefs were explained.

New Muslim # 12:

“After meeting my husband we shared our religious beliefs, which were similar. I began exploring my religious feeling after he asked me about my beliefs of Jesus being God, and he explained about prophethood and Muhammad (saws). I agreed with these Islamic interpretations. I began studying from interest about Islam.

“Six months after we had married I began doing the prayers. After another six months, I participated in the fast during Ramadan. I found, at this point, that Islam defined my belief. I could no longer deny my belief in Islam just to prevent hurting people’s feelings.”

New Muslim # 13:

“When I met the man who would become my husband and learned that he was Muslim, I was scared and asked all the questions that caused my fear. I also took a course in college called ‘Islam and Social Change’ and learned even more about Islam. As I learned more and more in the course, the more questions I had and the more afraid I became. This fear, however, was different than the fear of the unknown; this fear was a fear of self­-discovery. I found that, all along, I shared the beliefs taught through Islam but never had a name for it. This course, the Qur’an, and my husband helped me realize that, for a number of years, I had been living a Muslim life without knowing it. (It wasn’t until I learned the Five Pillars of Islam that I began completely practicing as a Muslim).

“So, when people ask how long I have been a Muslim, I can’t tell them, but I can think that it has been eleven years. If they ask me when I converted, I can tell them in I992. As a matter of fact, my husband knew before I did that I was Muslim, but let me come to that realization on my own.”

And so began the faith journey for these women that would affect those around them-the families in which they were raised, their friends, their colleagues at work or school. Most of all, it would change the direction and flow of their own lives, not just in a religious sense but in every facet of their existence.