On Christmas Day, 2010, I embraced Islam and became a Muslim. Why? Simply because I felt ready, as a result of a gradual process of growth and change that had been slowly transforming my life over the past year.
I moved to Abu Dhabi, UAE, in the spring of 2010, to teach English. My first time in the Gulf, I didn’t know what to expect but I wanted to understand the culture around me and the religion, which are a vital aspect of everyday life in this part of the world. Hence began my journey to learn about Middle Eastern culture and the people around me, reading books about Islam and the Quran. I had no intention of changing my own religion. I just wanted to understand Islam.
As I continued reading and delving , I realised that there was alot about Islam that I didn’t know or had misunderstood, and continued to search for answers to the myriad of questions I had about Muslim traditions and practices, stature and rights of women in Islam and so on.
Ramadan approached and I was marvelled by how beautifully the atmosphere transformed with everyone preparing for one of the most important times of the year for Muslims. The excitement grew around me and I decided to join and try fasting. The first day was the hardest but with each passing day, I was determined not to give up and managed to fast the entire month. I felt really good about it, like I was becoming more disciplined, and a better person.
I started to pray whenever I heard the beautiful sounds of the Adhaan, the call to prayer, reverberating throughout the city. I read the entire Quran, word for word. I changed my lifestyle and gave up clubs and alcohol drinking, channelling my energy toward a more positive purpose, a master’s degree in education. I spent my free time doing volunteer work and I formed a group of Muslim women friends.
I explored Islam on the Internet, signing up for Facebook groups like Hadith of the Day and Quran Surah of the Day. Every time I checked Facebook, I would read Hadith of the Day, captivated by the beauty of the words and the truth behind them. I started to identify more and more with Muslims, and I started to feel less and less like the person I used to be. It slowly started to dawn on me that maybe I was already Muslim inside and I just hadn’t said the Shahadah.
I shared my internal conflict regarding difference of beliefs and cultures and finding myself, with a friend who had recently embraced Islam. I went with her to women’s service at a local mosque and continued talking with friends and contemplating a new way of life.
On Christmas Eve, I had dinner with a Muslim American friend and the conversation we had then about Christianity and Islam, talking about the 5 pillars of Islam and what I believed in, was probably the turning point for me in accepting what my heart and soul were ready for.
On Christmas Day I read Surah Maryam and watched an online documentary about Prophet Isa AS. As I went about my day, I was overcome by a strong feeling that I was ready to accept Islam. I contacted my friend who was excited at my resolution and came over in the evening. He explained the process of accepting Islam, asking over and over if I was ready for something that would be a complete overhaul of my life. Suddenly I felt unsure and decided to sleep over it. As I got into bed, I felt again that I was ready and so I quickly prayed the Shahadah. A deep sense of relief came over me, and I went to sleep.
The next day I felt a little scared and unsure if I had done the right thing. I was overwhelmed by questions in my mind about how I would carry out the responsibilities of being a good Muslim, how would people I knew react at my decision to abandon the religion and culture of my family. I decided the best thing to do was to take things one day at a time, and start by only telling people who I knew would support me. I shared with my closest Muslim friends and was touched by their happiness and offers of help and encouragement. I felt a sense of peace and contentment. I knew I was doing what was meant for me and that Allah would bless my efforts. And I prepared to start the new year, on a straight, new path.