Assalamualaykum Wa Rahmatullah Wa Barakatuh
My name is Jacob and I am an American, having grown up in the southern plains state of Oklahoma. I had a very long road to Islam.
I always believed in God from the time I was a child. My father had died when I was a toddler and my mother had no religious values to teach my older siblings and myself. My half-sister moved away early on, and so it was just my brother and I. We tried going to church as often as we could with whomever we could, but I grew disenchanted with the Gospel protestant way of worship common in the “Bible Belt”.
The first time I ever knew there were real people who believed in God but were not Christians was in High School. A very nice young lady who I knew who had inspired me to not be so rigid in my thinking was having a conversation with me one day when she exclaimed “Praise be to Allah!”
I was shocked. She was so cool, to me and many others (she had a large circle of friends) and she said THAT? I was a practicing agnostic at the time. I believed in God, but I wasn’t sure about religion. I was so taken aback that I had to excuse myself from the conversation. Even later, I couldn’t wrap my head around a non-Christian concept of God. I was always taught in Sunday school that other views earned you a ticket to Perdition.
Shortly after High School I had a failed attempt at joining the military–an early discharge during basic training. I found myself homeless as I returned “home”. I was angry with God, blaming Him for making me suffer needlessly. It was a few years after I was back on my feet before I delved into the study of religion.
I had met some Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and Charismatic Protestants, and was fascinated by what they all had to say. Each had a genuine faith. Each gave me intelligent answers to my questions.
I made friends with some people my age who attended a Charismatic Protestant church. After a year of attending the church, I joined the worship choir, and tried to involve myself more. A year and a half later, I enrolled in Bible College in another city. I was still searching, not completely certain that Protestantism was the way to God.
My life in Bible College was short lived. After four months, I decided it was not for me. I withdrew from classes and went back to just working and wondering about God. I spent much of my free time in the public library, and it was there that I found the English translation of the Qur’an. I was reading the updated Catechism of the Catholic Church at the same time, but I did take mental notes of a few things.
Because I was so well versed in Catholicism, the local Diocese Bishop allowed me to skip formal RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and be Baptized and Confirmed in the Church. I began asking questions, trying to understand the Trinitarian concept, and how God could die for three days. Nothing I was told made sense. I still didn’t have all the answers, but I was enamored with Catholic ritual and liturgy. It was beautiful. I joined the choir, as I had before. I tried to be content and happy, but after a while, I knew I never would be if I couldn’t have the answers to my questions.
So I left the Catholic Church, and Christianity in general, behind. I was not in a good place spiritually, and that was affecting me mentally. I began wondering if any religion had the truth within. I began studying Judaism in depth, as well as Buddhism and Hinduism. I was still thinking about what I had read in the Qur’an, but deep down, I was afraid to truly study Islam because of American Islamophobia. I saw the treatment non-Christians received in the southern US after Sept 11, 2001, and I wasn’t in any hurry to join in on the receiving end.
I moved across the country in 2005 to the West Coast. Away from home and family for the first time, I had studied Judaism exclusively for nearly seven years. Then one day, I wondered to myself, what am I afraid of, really? I began surfing website after website, looking for anything Islamic–practices, beliefs, anything. I bought an English translation of the Qur’an at the bookstore. Finally, I felt like my questions had answers.
There is only One God. We are created to worship Him alone. Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Noah, David, and Muhammad (may the Peace of Allah be on them all) all preached the same message about the same God.
It took me nearly four years, but I made my Shahadah on 14 April 2013. I am more joyful than ever. I love telling people I’m a Muslim. My grandmother and I have had some interesting discussion about Heaven and Hell. Some people are accepting, some are intolerant. That, unfortunately, is humanity. But I pray that Allah opens eyes and hearts.