I was raised as a Christian. I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter, and going to church on and off during certain periods of my life. There were times when I detested going to church because I thought it was BORING, and there were times when I went to church because I had a genuine curiosity about The Bible. My curiosity about The Bible wasn’t a sincere curiosity about the religion of Christianity or even about God. Now that I reflect, I was just interested in the stories of The Bible. I remember at around age 10, my family wasn’t attending church and I felt left out in school when other children would talk about the Bible stories they learned in Sunday school. I was fascinated by these stories and I wanted to be able to participate in the conversations too. I asked my mother if she would let me go to church with my friend and her family and my mom allowed me. I enjoyed that time because I felt included and part of a community. I attended that church for about two years and although I learned about stories from the Bible, I didn’t really comprehend the concept of God or develop a personal relationship with God.
As a teen I lost my interest in going to church and I lost my curiosity about The Bible. I still considered myself to be Christian, but didn’t put much thought into what that meant. During high school I was exposed to more people of other religions and although I was curious about different peculiarities about how they practiced their religion, I never questioned their beliefs. I never had deep thoughts or questions about religious belief systems or even about different concepts of God. When I would interact with people of other religions I was more curious about why they couldn’t eat certain things that I ate, why they couldn’t dress the way that I dressed or why they couldn’t participate in certain events like I did.
During this time in my life, although I was friends with Muslims, what I knew about their religion was very superficial. All of this changed when I met someone who had recently converted to Islam and our conversations provoked me to start questioning why I was a Christian and what that meant. We had conversations about who God is, who Jesus was, and the origins of Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. I never considered questioning my beliefs before this. I just accepted what I was taught my whole life and trusted that everything I was taught was factual.
At this point I was curious about Islam, but had no intentions of becoming Muslim. If anything, I was trying to learn more about Christianity so that I could prove to the Muslim convert who raised all of these questions that their understanding of Christianity was wrong. One of the first things that this person told me was that Christians believe that Jesus is God, whereas in Islam there is only one God, God is not a man, and God doesn’t have any offspring. I remember becoming defensive and saying I never believed that Jesus was God, nor was I taught that. Or was I? I wasn’t sure. That uncertainty I incited me to start going to Church again.
Going to church as an adult after not attending for years was a different experience. My perspective on life had changed. My interests had changed. My intentions had changed. My church going experience as a child was passive, however as an adult I went with purpose and with specific questions for which I was seeking answers. To my surprise, one of my most pressing questions was answered very quickly. Do Christians believe Jesus is God? I remember standing up during the hymn singing portion of the Sunday church service and seeing the answer boldly projected on the screen in the form of lyrics, “Jesus is Lord”. It couldn’t be any clearer or more direct than that. How had I not known this? How did this crucial tenant of Christianity escape me all of these years? What else was I ignorant to regarding Christian beliefs?
That moment was a pivotal moment in my life. It lead me down a path where I started to look at everything I was taught and being taught with a skepticism that I hadn’t had before. I felt like my blurry vision had been corrected, despite not knowing I had less than perfect vision to begin with. However, although I experienced this epiphany and gained this new perspective, I still wasn’t ready to become Muslim. My reluctance didn’t have much to do with doubts concerning Islam, I just feared making such a life altering decision. I was worried about how much becoming Muslim would change my life, and even more worried about how people would perceive me, including how my family would react to me converting. I spent months wrestling with this decision in my head. I tried to dedicate more time to learning more about Christianity and Islam. The more I learned about Christianity, the more confusing it was to me. If Jesus was God, who was he praying to? Who wrote The Bible? Why doesn’t Jesus refer to himself as God in The Bible? However, the more I learned about Islam, the more concepts about God, life, and the universe made sense to me.
Despite my greater understanding of Islam and my belief that it was true, I still struggled with my decision to “officially” become Muslim and take my Shahada. I took a book that had very little to do with teaching the beliefs of Islam to finally get me to accept in my heart that I in fact wanted to be Muslim. The Autobiography of Malcolm X greatly influenced my decision to take my Shahada. The way in which the book was written makes the reader feel like he or she is immersed in the narrative. You feel like you’re experiencing Malcolm’s life journey with him. With the influence of the teachings of The Nation of Islam (a religion that despite its name is inconsistent with the main tenant of Islam, Tawheed), Malcolm transforms into a man of upstanding morality and character, however these teachings encouraged racial division and racist beliefs about Caucasian people. Near the end of his life he discovers the true teachings of orthodox Islam (founded in the belief and worship of only ONE God) and because of this he forgoes his racist views. For some reason his transformation resonated with me. It amazed me how his belief and worship of God alone had such a profound impact on his life and how much he was willing to sacrifice to declare this belief. By the end of the book I had accepted that although we had very different journeys, Malcolm X and had come to the same conclusions about the purpose of life and our concept of God. Shortly after finishing The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I got in touch with the person who had initially introduced me to the teachings of Islam and revealed that after all the months of questions, research, and investigating, I was finally ready to become Muslim. I took my Shahada and I am grateful that God guided me to Islam.