I’ve thought about how I might go about putting this into words so many times. I’m never sure where to start. It always feels so odd to even contemplate how I got from where I started to where I am now. Trying to put it into words without writing a novel feels difficult, but there are so many important events in my life that lead me to this point. To leave any detail out would be to leave the story unfinished.
So let’s start where every story does: the beginning. I was baptised catholic when I was a baby. My mother was born into a catholic family, and my dad converted to marry her in the church (he is a believer, don’t get me wrong), not having been brought up with any formal religion as a child. As a young child, we went to catholic church most Sundays. I remember going to my first confession and feeling as though I had done something very good. Like I head somehow cleansed my soul. I was in an all girls Christian club called Gems, similar to Girl Guides but run through a local Christian Reform church. I also did my communion around the age of 7 or 8. Religion was part of my life in that we were somewhat regular at church and I believed in God, but it wasn’t a constant fixture at home. We didn’t say grace or read the bible regularly. I do remember being taught the Lord’s Prayer and reciting it at night before bed. I think my parents genuinely tried to instill strong faith within me but, perhaps because my dad had grown up without religion, they weren’t really sure how.
As I grew up, I started protesting going to church. The priest was quite old and the service was very ritualistic. There was no interesting dialogue, no stories with references to the bible, nothing that pertained to every day life; certainly for a young girl with an inquisitive mind. My sister and I both begged to stay home every Sunday and, eventually, my parents relented. I was only around 11 or 12 years old when I stopped attending church.
When I was 15 years old I started dating a boy my age. One day we were talking about religion and he asked me a simple question that changed the course of my life.
“Do you believe in God?”
“Yes”, I said
“Why?”, he asked
I realized at that point that the only answer I could give him was “because I was told to”. I was always taught to believe, but not understand. My faith had been built on a very fragile foundation and it took one simple question to have the whole thing come crumbling down. As years passed, I became more firm in my belief that there was no God, no eternal life, and no real consequences for our actions outside of what happens here on earth. I was very vocal about atheism and could not understand how otherwise intelligent people could believe in the existence of a God.
I don’t believe I was ever mean or rude to believers, as I never directly challenged anyone’s faith (although if you knew me then and found me to be rude, please accept my apologies). I was envious of the fact that other people had a belief that brought them comfort through difficult times. I even had that discussion with several of my atheist friends. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, and to be comforted in the face of a loved one’s death or the knowledge that I too will one day die (as we all someday will).
In an effort to understand and to educate myself, I attended a Baptist church a few times, and started reading the bible. I thought that maybe exposing myself to a different denomination of Christianity might answer some of the questions that I had. I spoke to Christians about their beliefs, and how and why they believed. My questions were always met with the same answer: “just have faith”. If anything, the experiment left me with more questions. Why were they all able to accept everything at face value? Why were they able to put aside the questions and “just have faith”? Why couldn’t I just believe. The only real bit of knowledge I gained during that time is that faith cannot be forced. It’s either going to make sense to you or it’s not. And for me, nothing really clicked.
Fast forward to my 29th year revolving around the sun. I started working with newcomers to Canada, most of whom were Muslim. I was fascinated by these new people. Their culture, the way they dress, their language, the food – it was thrilling to my inquisitive brain. I saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow as a person. I wanted to learn about their religion, but only for curiosity’s sake. I never for a second imagined that I would ever adopt it for my own.
As I started spending more time with the Muslim families, I started to notice what lovely qualities so many of them possessed. Despite having come to Canada with practically nothing, they were so willing to give and share. I could not enter a Muslim household without being stuffed so full of delicious food that I was on the verge of bursting. The women were kind, caring, and generous. They cracked jokes and they laughed. They tried to teach me some Arabic. These people were so very different from the “Muslims” we see in the media. I had always known that, as a people, they could not be as bad as the world would have us think, but the difference was striking. They were some of the kindest and most genuine people I had ever met.
During this journey I met a man who was also working with the newcomers. As we came to know each other and become friends, we talked about religion on several occasions. He grew up in a Muslim country, but only really became devout in his teenage years (the story behind that little switch is quite cute actually, but best saved for another time). His religion was something that was very important to him and he wanted me to believe in God because he saw me as someone who was good and kind and wanted me to be “saved”. At first I was actually quite insulted. “I’m a good person”, I thought. “Surely there is nothing for me to be ‘saved’ from”. I figured that even if there was a God and such a thing as heaven, that God would forgive me for my disbelief and admit me to heaven upon my death. The more he brought it up, the more I resisted. I told him that so many people before him had tried to teach me about God and religion and they all failed to make me believe. I assured him that he would fail too. “Just le me try”, he said. “Let me teach you”. I finally accepted that challenge, but I was defiant. I just knew that he would fail and I was prepared to say “I told you so!” at the end.
Little by little he began to teach me about Islam. He would paraphrase the Quran for me in English, give me videos to watch, and explain hadith to me. When I asked him questions he would either give me a logical answer or be truthful when he didn’t know and find me a resource that could explain it to me. The more information I took in, the more curious I became. I would spend hours reading or watching videos. I was like a person who was dying of thirst and was being given her first few sips of water. For the first time ever I had found a religion that actually made sense. I didn’t have to sacrifice my love of science and all things logical for a belief.
Around 7 months after starting to work with the Muslim families, I travelled to a mosque around 3 hours from my home to take the shahada. That was just over a year ago.
Things have certainly changed for me since then, and they have not always been easy. Sometimes I am still shocked that I came from where I was to where I am now. I feel worlds apart from where I used to be. I know how shocking it was for everyone around me. Some were not able to handle the transition and said very foul things about me. All were curious. Some, the important ones, have been accepting. Honestly, I feel like only now is the dust really beginning to settle and we are all just going about our normal lives. In shaa Allah (God willing) it will only get easier with time.
If you’ve stumbled on this blog because you are a Muslim revert (convert), or because you are simply curious about Islam, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you. If you came to my blog because you hate Islam and Muslims, please stay. Read. Learn. Before you act out of hate and fear, just be a fly on the wall.