When I first converted to Sunni Islam, I did not take the time to deeply ponder all of my reasons for doing so. Those around me had their own opinions on why I converted. My conversion was generally attributed to mental illness or an identity crisis. I spent so much time defending myself and arguing with people that looking at the situation critically wasn’t an option. But now that time has passed and I’m no longer engaged in such heated debates, I can reflect and be more honest with myself. In this entry and subsequent ones, I want to open up more about my state of mind pre-conversion and factors that influenced my decision.
Winter 2010 was when I began to think about converting to Islam. It was far from the first time I had done so. I was first exposed to Islam when I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X at eleven years old. His account of his journey to Mecca really impressed me and led me to study Islam. At the time I was a year into my Baptist indoctrination, and Islam seemed like it would be a breath of fresh air. I could not wrap my head around the doctrine of the Trinity, and the fact that Islam didn’t have this doctrine pleased me. The Five Pillars seemed so much more straightforward to me than what I was taught at church. But I knew my family well enough to know that choosing another faith was not an option, so I kept my views to myself.
Fast forward to April 2006. At the time I’d been married for a year. In terms of faith I was a nominal Christian, hadn’t religiously attended services for a good two years. I still believed in God, I still loved Jesus but was very ambivalent about the Church itself. I was working on my AA and a Cham girl that I’d taken a class with had befriended me. When I expressed my interest in Islam to her she lit up and brought me books to read. My husband noticed but didn’t say much. The Cham sister invited me to a lecture by Sheikh Khaled Yasin, which I attended. That night my husband and I discussed my possible conversion to Islam. To my surprise, he was not supportive of the idea. As the son of a Sunni Muslim, I didn’t expect him to be so opposed to it. I still remember his words that night:
“You really don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Islam is VERY different culturally, and it’s very Arab-centered. Even in Africa, Arab Muslims will treat African Muslims like shit, though they are supposed to be of the same faith. How do you think you’re going to be treated as a Black woman? You don’t want to get caught up with them, please trust me on this. I KNOW from experience. At least take more time to study it but also be around Muslims so you can see what they are like. You don’t really know Muslims like you think you do…”
I was quite taken aback at his comments. All of his friends were Christians and would occasionally make derogatory comments about Muslims. Every time my husband would push back, vociferously defending the faith of his father and never standing silent while Islam was slandered. If anything my husband seemed pro-Islam. When I asked him why he took this stance with his friends if he was so opposed to my converting, he replied that he simply disagreed with Christians and Muslims slandering each other. As a child of a mixed faith union, he was particularly sensitive to hostility between the faiths. He took suck attacks personally. “If I hear a Muslim insulting Christians, it’s as if they are talking about my Mom. If I hear Christians insulting Muslims, it’s as if they are insulting my Dad. So either way, I can’t let it slide.” My assumption of my husband’s stance on Islam ended up being quite off. He was simply anti-bigotry. Soon after that discussion we were consumed by marital problems and family crisis, so spiritual matters went to the backburner for me. After I finally converted in 2010, however, my ex-husbands advice that night would haunt me. When I faced hostility from Arab and Indo-Pak Muslims, when I became frustrated with the cultural imperialism in Islam, his words would echo through my mind. When I stopped practicing he never said ‘I told you so’. But it amazes me how on point his words were.