First, let me say how happy I am to be addressing you today. We were made for each other: I, a person who felt alienated from the community and values I was raised in, a person who craves acceptance from a new community. You, a community that constantly needs validation from token outsiders to maintain your fragile self-confidence. Allah (subhana’wa’ta’aala) has put us together for a reason.
It’s funny how life goes. If you would have told me 18 months ago that I would be writing this, today, as a Muslim (subhan’Allah)… I would have told you that you were crazy with a capital “C.” I am literally the last person you could have imagined would ever embrace Islam. You see… and I’m a little ashamed to admit this… but I did not have a very good opinion of Islam at all for most of my life. Because I came from…
Stereotypically Ignorant Beginnings
I grew up as a (some other religion that is not Islam). But it never made sense to me. Something was always missing. I would think, “What about this obvious contradiction in the religion of my parents? And this one? And that one?” I would ask everyone, begging to know the answers. But nobody had any. It seemed like they just wanted me to believe without thinking… to accept my religion blindly. But I just couldn’t do that. It didn’t feel right.
As I grew up, I drifted away from (my parents’ stupid religion). I read about other faiths, searching for answers. For a while, I even wondered if there was such a thing as God (astaghfirullah). But I never lost hope, I always felt in my heart that there was something out there. I just didn’t know where to find it. But for some reason, with all the different faiths and philosophies I studied, I never, ever was motivated to study Islam.
Maybe it was the constantly negative media attention given to Islam. Certainly, a number of my friends and family expressed Islamophobic views, which probably colored my thinking. Or perhaps, I just was not ready to hear the message of Allah, (subhana’wa’ta’aala).
Perhaps Allah (subhana’wa’ta’aala) was saving Islam for me, for a time when my heart was ready to accept it, subhan’Allah. Perhaps Allah (subhana’wa’ta’aala) had been unusually busy because of high call volume.
In any event, things changed when I met my…
Stereotypical Muslim Friend
I’ll never forget the day my life changed forever. After work one day, a few co-workers and I were planning on going out for a night of drinking.
“Azeem, won’t you come?” I said to my colleague. I did not know Azeem that well, but he was well-liked and respected by everyone. He didn’t hang out with us much after work normally, but we all would turn to him for advice whenever we had a problem at work, or even a personal problem. He would always know just what to say. To top it off, all the single women would talk about how handsome he was, though he never said more than a few polite words to them.
“Thank you,” said Azeem smiling. “But I am due at the mosque in 20 minutes, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world, not even for an evening with my dear co-workers.” I knew Azeem was being polite- he wouldn’t even drink coffee, much less a drop of alcohol. Then he surprised me.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Azeem. “You have been so kind to invite me to your outing. Why don’t you come with me to the mosque tonight? For a change of pace?”
I was so shocked, I didn’t even have time to think. Me? At a mosque? My family would have a fit! But to nobody’s surprise greater than my own, I found myself accepting Azeem’s invitation. “Yes, I’ll come,” I said, before the words even formed in my mind. And then, I was…
Welcomed With Open Arms!
When I got to the mosque, I told Azeem I would only be staying for 5 minutes. My initial excitement had turned to nervousness, and the “old me” really wanted to bolt for the familiarity of my friends and the neighborhood pub. Azeem just smiled and led me to meet the Imam.
Imam Shebly greeted me with the warmth of a thousand grandmothers, and had a smile that could light up ten football stadiums.
I began to think, “If Islam is what makes Azeem into the person that he is… if Islam is what is behind the warmth of this amazing wizard-like Imam I had just met… then maybe there is something to Islam after all.” If I were not so stubborn, I might have embraced Islam on the spot. But my pride made me stay quiet. (This is the part where I subtly link the virtues of humility and open-mindedness with accepting Islam, and the vices of pride and arrogance with rejecting it. It’s very clever, subhan’Allah).
Instead, I asked Imam Shebly my most stereotypically critical questions. I asked him everything I could about Islam. I held nothing back. We had that stereotypical conversation that all converts to Islam have, the one where we ask all the questions that those who are born Muslim are not supposed to ask. And he answered everything with patient, understanding platitudes.
I won’t recount the discussion too much, since the main factors in my willingness to accept what I was told without looking beneath the surface were my own deep need to feel accepted, and my subconscious man-crush on Azeem. But suffice it to say that slowly I was beginning to see that Islam was not the monstrous ideology that it is portrayed as in the press, but instead, it was a beautiful, peaceful religion. The most beautiful, most peaceful religion.
Five minutes turned into five hours, but the Imam patiently answered all my questions, with Azeem encouraging me; they paused only twice for 5 minutes to complete their prayers. At the end of the night, Imam Shebly gave me a present: a beautiful copy of the Holy Qur’an. “Read just a little,” he said. “Even if it’s one page, just read.” I nodded and went home. But then I had…
Stereotypical Second Thoughts
As amazing as that night was, the experience was almost too powerful for me to go back right away. I was not yet ready for Islam. I busied myself with dunya things, even went back to the pub a few times with my friends. But it wasn’t the same. The drinks tasted bitter. I could not get that meeting with Azeem and Imam Shebly out of my mind.
Still, I couldn’t go back to the mosque. What would it mean, if I did go back? What was I expecting? Was I just going to become Muslim? Weren’t all Muslims terrorists? What would my family say? What would my friends say? It was as if everything I ever knew was turning out to be wrong. And yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about Islam. That’s when I had my moment of…
Amazing Quranic Clairvoyance!
I looked at the Qur’an that the Imam had given me. I had not opened it in months. I was too scared. But now, I had no choice. I had to find out if Islam was for me. I pulled it from my bookshelf, and opened it…
And on the page that I opened to… At the exact spot that my right index finger rested… I read the exact perfect verse that I felt I needed to hear at that exact moment!
Which verse was it? I don’t even remember! Does it even matter? How many times have you heard this story? You know how it goes! It was some verse that was kind of mystical and vague. but yet could be interpreted as being somewhat relevant to life by a person who was actively searching for meaning- like me!
And it never gets old! Never! It’s so amazing and heartwarming, and I’m just so euphoric about my conversion that the only polite response is to either triumphantly yell “Takbir!” or whisper “Subhan’Allah” in proud wonderment.
You know that’s true.
And you know what’s coming next…
From this moment, I threw myself into Islam with stereotypical zeal. I studied every day, with Azeem as my guide, and the Imam as my Arabic and Qur’an teacher.
Finally, after four months, I was ready. I was ready to embrace Islam. Ready to go from being all weird and tentative about Islam, to being creepily obsessed with it.
That night, right there in the mosque, just a few moments after I had revealed to Azeem that my heart was ready to accept the Message of the Noble Prophet, may peace be upon him, I said the shahadah. And I never felt so good.
This is pretty much the end of my story. You knew how it was going to end. The ending was never really in question, but as a Muslim, you love hearing this story no matter how many times it’s told, because it validates your own commitment to the beautiful, divine mental prison that Allah, subhana’wa’ta’aala, has commanded us all to live in.
So there you go, consider this story of mine a gift, from me to you. But before I go, let me leave you with this message of unity and discipline…
Unity and Discipline
The entire world is against Muslims right now. Everyone is conspiring against us. But even so, Islam continues to be the fastest growing religion, anecdotally speaking.
Every day in mosques all around the world, people like me are learning about Islam and embracing it. And the straw men who hate Islam can’t stop it, and that’s why their hate is getting so much stronger. That’s why they are trying even harder to put Islam down.
Yet the world desperately wants to hear the message of Islam. The people that say they hate Islam are the ones who need to hear it the most.
Imagine if all 1.7 billion Muslims in the world united and worked as one? What a difference we could make? How we could change the world? What an ominous thought! Of course, I am just a convert- no, excuse me, a revert, as Azeem always reminds me! I am just a revert, and I am only beginning to learn about the deen, so I am full of stereotypical humility. But Islam makes me feel strong, and Islam makes me confident. So I will end on a note of defiance, and predict a great future for Islam and Muslims, and a bad future for anyone who opposes Islam.
Be honest… how motivated are you right now? I just told you my story, about how I used to think differently than you do… but then realized I was being stupid… and now I think like you do. That’s pure motivation for you!
And on top of it, I constructed this entire essay in such a manipulative way that anyone who takes issue with it automatically becomes one of the people who is “against Islam,” which provides even further motivation for people whose entire identity and sense of being is invested in Islam.
So basically, if you’re reading this, you’re either part of my target audience of fellow Muslims… or you’re fuel for the fire that motivates us. It’s ingenious. And that’s why there are so many stereotypical accounts of “reversions” to Islam that follow this exact formula.