Ever since I converted I’ve gotten lots of sincere questions regarding my journey and beliefs. I’d like to take the time to address the story of my conversion here. Soon to follow will be a post answering other questions about this inshallah. Feel free to comment with your questions so that I can include them in my Q&A post inshallah. Thank you.
Many people wonder how a devout Christian could “deny Christ” and become, of all things, a Muslim. I understand that it is surprising and perhaps confusing to some people. It is a bit difficult to explain. I mean, coming into or losing faith isn’t a choice. It is a choice to try to maintain faith, but for some people – myself included – no matter how hard we try, it just doesn’t work. Faith can die, and in my case it died a slow, agonizing death that nearly tore me apart.
A bit of background may be useful here. I was raised as an Evangelical Pentecostal and later moved to an Evangelical Baptist church. I took part in countless exorcisms, both as the exorcisor and the exorcised. I had a strong belief in the supernatural. I was a staunch conservative; politically, socially, and spiritually. Every morning I prayed and read my Bible for an hour. In the car and at home I listened to Christian music. I went to church several times a week and as I reached my teens I became involved in volunteering in the church in various areas. I read countless devotional books and other Christian commentaries, and had a good grasp of Christian theology. So, as you can see I was a very committed, and I’d even say enthusiastic, Christian.
Any time doubts came up, I shoved them down because I believed wholeheartedly in James 1:5-8 and similar passages commanding Christians to not doubt and to accept Christian doctrine without second guessing it. I was afraid to entertain doubts or to ask tough questions, because the answers might lead me away from what was familiar and comfortable. I soon learned that the most effective tactic was to not let myself be alone with my questions. Almost unconsciously, I kept myself ridiculously busy with church activities. Partly I wanted to bury my other sorrows, but I also was desperate to not let myself listen to that little voice inside that was whispering doubt. One day though, I began to listen to my heart (that sounds so cheesy, I know), and I decided to wear a head covering and modest clothes in accordance with 1Corinthians 11. Somehow I couldn’t hold myself back from listening to my intuition about what was right. Shortly I was expelled from my church. All my activities were taken away. There was no noise left to to drown out my doubts. I was left alone to face up to them.
At the time all this was unfolding, I was dating a Christian (not the man I married). I was a novice at love and didn’t know that a woman should never limit herself for a man. So, even though my heart was by this point being powerfully drawn quite specifically to Islam, I was too afraid of losing that man. Around this time I bought my first Quran and created some anonymous and alias online profiles to talk with Muslims and learn more about the religion. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing this. When I first opened the Quran, I read the first chapter. For those who don’t know, it is a very short chapter. We Muslims pray that chapter every day. I didn’t know that then, however. But nonetheless I was struck by its beauty and instinctively prayed it. I was in love. I remember thinking very distinctly that it was everything I’d ever wanted to pray. It was perfect. I began praying it frequently.
Sadly, as I realized that I’d have to choose between my relationship with that man and listening to my heart, I stopped it all. I cut off contact with almost everyone I’d been chatting with. I shoved my Quran in a drawer and deleted my anonymous online profiles. Then came the church crisis and shortly after that, that man and I broke up. To be fair, this wasn’t that guy’s fault. I chose to ignore my instincts. I chose to not even give him a chance to accept me and my doubts – or not. It was enough for me to be afraid that it wouldn’t work out if I were to become Muslim. Alhamdulillah, Allah in His infinite wisdom knew that I’d never grow if I stayed with that person, and ended up putting me with the amazing man that I now have the pleasure of being married to.
As my relationship with my now-husband took off, I got so caught up in it that for the most part I forgot about my doubts. I had found something new to drown out my whispery inner voice. I do however recall brief moments, flashes really, of that old nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. My then-boyfriend (now my husband) and I used to read the Bible together every night in Portugal. I couldn’t escape my feelings when the Bible began to disturb me so much that reading it or hearing it read to me gave me actual panic attacks. So I stopped reading the Bible so often. When I returned to the US, I got busy again. But I kept praying every night with my husband. So much of my faith was fear-based. We prayed every night because I was convinced that if we didn’t, God would punish us by making our marriage fail! Things settled down with our visa situation and my mental health left me unable to study or work. I was also finally an adult, and didn’t have to sneak around online anymore. So my freedom gave me peace, quiet, time, and room to explore.
I didn’t use that room for a while though. I persisted, trying to believe. Finally, one night it came to a head when I was reading the Bible. I came across Deuteronomy 22. It is a very disturbing chapter. It wasn’t the first time I had read it, but this time the usual lines about the “Old Covenant” and “we’re no longer under the Law” didn’t fly. I had always been told that the Old Testament rules didn’t apply to us anymore because of Jesus’ supposed sacrifice on the cross. Previously that was enough to unravel the knot in my stomach that those verses always caused. But this time one thought got stuck in my head that I couldn’t do away with. “Everyone agrees that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) did come from God and was meant to be followed at one time. How could a loving God send down such a horrible text? Either the Bible is true and divinely inspired, or God is love. These two things can’t both be true.” Once I had found the courage to question, I soon found so many other parts of the Bible – including in the New Testament – that had always bothered me but that I’d been afraid to question. 1Corinthians 11, James 1, most of the Old Testament, the contradictions in the gospel accounts, among others.
I couldn’t ignore these doubts anymore. Over the course of a year my husband and I discussed these things at length. I tried to pray and then finally just quit. We turned to his spiritual advisors for counsel. Alas, their cut-and-dried answers weren’t working for me anymore. I began to research in earnest my old love, Islam. I finished reading the Quran and then started over and read through it again. I read so much. I joined Facebook groups and met Islamic leaders and knowledgeable Muslims online who were able to explain Islam to me in a whole new way. Every doctrine made sense. The emphasis on compassion, mercy, and grace, the idea of retribution or reward for our deeds, the ancient rituals, the fact that the Quran was so beautiful and yet had never been revised, and so many other things made me realize instinctively that Islam was true. My husband was beautifully supportive, although at first it was a bit of a challenge for him.
During that year I began changing my lifestyle slowly but surely. I cut out pork and alcohol, I began wearing hijab properly, I began praying once a day with the intention of working up to the full five daily prayers, and I observed Ramadan by reading the Quran daily and researching even more. (I did not fast because of my health issues.) Finally, last August in the wee hours of the morning on the third, I said my shahada (the formal Islamic declaration of faith) in skype with two witnesses.
Afterwards I cried so hard. It was scary! I’d already changed so much, and I knew more change was coming. I was afraid my husband wouldn’t support me. But he became ever more supportive, and I slipped into the routines of Muslim life like a hand into a tailored glove. Over time many questions have come up for me. I have learned my lesson though! I don’t shove my doubts and questions down anymore. I ask my support network questions and then follow-up questions to their answers. I do, however, continue to be satisfied with the answers that the Quran, the Sunnah (prophetic tradition), and those who interpret them, have to offer.
Quran 2:23 challenges disbelieving readers to produce a single Arabic chapter equal in beauty and truth to a chapter of the Quran. That speaks volumes. I for one don’t believe that anyone could possibly do so. Certainly no one has. I could go on and on about the scientific miracles of the Quran, the way it resounds with my soul, the way it draws me in like metal to a magnet, and the infinite layers of truth and wisdom it contains. But that is for another blog post! I will say that every time I open my Quran I am awestruck again with its beauty and wisdom. I read it with insatiable thirst. I’m thankful beyond measure for it and for the beautiful religion that I’ve found.
In closing, allow me to give a small piece of advice. Here it is: never ignore your intuition. Never! No matter what, listen to your intuition. Don’t ignore your doubts or questions. Don’t pretend that things are okay when they’re not. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way.
Assalaamu alaikum (peace be upon you) friends [💜]
You may read more about Abigail's journey on her blog, The Journey of an American Muslim Convert at https://genuinegemswriting.wordpress.com/.
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