An American Woman Discovers Islam
I started to ponder my purpose in this earth. Yes, I was a wife, a mother, and a daughter; however, the same thought, that there has to be a reason for my existence, would continually pass through my mind. My family had recently moved to the Dominican Republic and I felt abandoned. “Abandoned?” you might ask. “But you are married with children, how can you feel abandoned?” I was 21 years old and my parents were my inspiration for the person I was striving to become. They were my example.
I was asleep one morning when I got a frantic call from my mother-in-law screaming that “there was a plane crash, a plane crash in downtown Manhattan.” Confused, I said, “What, what are you talking about?” I turned on the television only to find out that the second tower of the World Trade Center had been hit by a second aircraft. I was shocked!
Who could have done this, who was capable of such atrocity? I was in disbelief from what I saw on the news. “Was this real?” I kept asking myself. “It was must be a movie — please, please tell me this was a movie.” I had just been in the World Trade Center the day before. I saw this as some proof that it wasn’t my time to die and I hadn’t completed my purpose in this life. I didn’t know what purpose, but it wasn’t yet my time. There was chaos in New York City that day. Little did I know this day, among other events in my life, would only be the beginning of drastic changes that were about to happen.
Soon after the attacks of September 11, I went to the Dominican Republic to visit my parents. I was about a month pregnant, and no soul, other than my mother-in-law, my husband, and I, knew about the pregnancy. How was I going to break the news to my parents? I had gotten pregnant with my first child out of wedlock and soon married to make things right. So here I was pregnant with my third baby, and I thought that I would at least be able to think things through while staying in the Caribbean.
I left on American Airlines flight 587. This was the first time I was in an airplane after the attacks on the World Trade Center. The security in the airport was intense, and people in the airplane kept praying, some even kept at it for the whole flight. I started to laugh within myself. If we’re going to die, well then it’s our fate. I kept thinking about my pregnancy. I didn’t want to be pregnant, it was unplanned. It would be tough having a third mouth to feed when I could barely support two children.
I was so confused. I spent time with my family trying to tell them about the baby. I couldn’t bear to tell them that their first-born daughter was yet again going to bring another major disappointment to them. Therefore, I decided that I would terminate the pregnancy and no one had to even know I was pregnant. Easy solution, I thought to myself. Except that I came from a strong Christian family and to even fathom having an abortion was a sin and taboo.
After my quick trip to the Caribbean, I went back to New York and finally called Planned Parenthood to set up the appointment to terminate the pregnancy. I asked them if I could take the abortion pill, and I was devastated to find out that I would have to go through a full abortion because my window for the abortion pill was one week past the time to end the pregnancy with a pill. I was so depressed; I thought to myself, “Oh, my God, they’re going to rip this baby out of my womb. What am I doing?” I really didn’t know if I could go through with it; as a result, I decided to pray to God, not by using the rosary or going to church, but for the first time I was going to pray directly to Him like a friend, someone who I felt had to help me. He was my last resort.
I cried while I continuously supplicated, “Oh God, please, I don’t know what to do, I want this baby, but my marriage is on the rocks and we don’t have money to bring another baby into the world. I will put my full trust in You my Lord, please, if it’s Your will for me to have this baby then I will accept that, and if it’s Your will to end the pregnancy, I will accept that too.” I emptied my sorrows onto a God, a God that I worshiped in my own way, not in the way I was taught to do. God, the One Who to me had no partners and no son, but Who was just a being that I knew had created me. I was at my wit’s end thinking about the pregnancy and just went through my usual daily routine.
A few days passed and I was watching television when a program was interrupted by a special report. I said, “Oh no, not another attack.” What happened next blew me away. I soon found out another plane had crashed, this time in Queens, New York where I am originally from. I was so worried and thought it must have been brought down by one of the terrorists yet again.
I was astonished when they mentioned the flight number and its destination. It was American Airlines flight 587; yes, the very same flight that I was on only a week ago, and it was headed to the Dominican Republic. I got chills up my spine. I was numb all over thinking that this could have been me on this flight at this time. I saw this as a message from God that He was trying to tell me something.
This wasn’t the first time in less than a month when I had come close to death. I thought to myself, “God is trying to tell me something.” A week after that supplication, I started to have cramps. These cramps were different from the usual first trimester cramping. I brushed it off like it wasn’t a big deal. As the weekend continued, the cramping got more severe and then I started to bleed. I was so frightened. Was I having a miscarriage?
I hurried to the hospital and they put me on strict bed rest. I went home that evening, stayed in bed, and the cramping got better. Once asleep, there was this shocking pain and with this pain I felt that something came out. I didn’t know what to do; I went to the bathroom only to discover that I had miscarried. I was devastated. I never saw anything like this. I lost my baby when I was two-months pregnant. I went back to the hospital, and they confirmed that I had had a miscarriage and they were sorry for my loss.
The next day, October 15, 2001, was the day of my abortion appointment. I had the miscarriage just a day before this appointment. They called me from Planned Parenthood and asked me why I had missed the appointment. I told them that I had a miscarriage a day before. It was so surreal, was it a miracle from God, did God answer my prayer, and what did He have in store for me? I felt that God was telling me that my life was going to change. How was it about to change? I had no idea, but I did know that I couldn’t stay married any longer to someone who didn’t want to work and had no ambitions in life. So I made a conscious decision to get a degree and to take steps to divorce my husband.
I saw how badly Muslims were being treated in New York. The aggression played out so soon after the September 11 attacks, every other day there was a report on the news about a hate crime against Muslims. It was horrible; I would literally see people walking on the opposite side of sidewalks if they even thought someone was a Muslim. Muslim businesses were empty and people refused to buy from them. People would yell out horrible things to them in the street, “Go to your country, Terrorist, Taliban!” Why were people saying these things to innocent people? I agree the people who attacked the World Trade Center were horrible people, but why blame people who didn’t have anything to do with the attacks. It felt like a witch hunt. I was curious about what these people really stood for, and my interest grew larger everyday.
I soon enrolled in college and when I met Muslims, I would anxiously ask them about Islam. “Why do you wear a scarf? What do you believe in? Who is this Muhammad whom you always talk about?” Some had answers, but on the most part people didn’t know how to answer me. Most of the Muslim girls I did knew didn’t wear the scarf and would say that wearing it was a choice and that they were not that knowledgeable about Islam.
I felt that no one was able to give me answers, so I turned to the Internet for answers. There I found out about Islam. I couldn’t believe that God (Allah) had sent another prophet after Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him). I knew God couldn’t have put me and everyone on this earth without answers to our many questions, such as, “Why we are here? Why do people say God is three, when in fact it only confirmed what I personally had believed in since I was 14 years old, that God was one and had no partners?” I was seeking the truth to my questions and Islam answered all of them. This amazing Prophet, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), was the final prophet, the final one God had sent to reveal His final message to us. His favor upon us was completed.
Then I decided to do more research on this Muhammad; was he a real person, did he actually exist? To my surprise, he was a real person, and not only was he our messenger, but his entire life had been documented. I was stunned: This was my religion, I thought, the faith I had been searching for for many years, and it’s called Islam. I attended my first Ramadan prayers during the fall of 2002.
The mosque was full of people. It wasn’t like a diocese in which generally one kind of race or nationality attends a specific church. At the mosque there were people of all different colors of the rainbow. They were all so friendly and kept saying “as-salamu `alaykum.” At the time I didn’t know what that meant, but I would just nod in embarrassment.
Then came the time to perform the salah (prayer); this was my first time ever to pray like the Muslims. I had no idea what they were doing, but a friend of mine at the time just told me to “do what they do.” So that’s exactly what I did. I would mumble what I thought they were saying and perform the prostrations without knowing the significance or reason for it. I did enjoy it. I was amazed that all the Muslims face the Ka`bah in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, at the same time for every prayer, no matter what part of the world they come from. We didn’t have this in Christianity, not at all. The Muslims had an unspoken code that unified them to Allah the Most High.
I wore a scarf that day in respect for the Muslims. I didn’t know how the women put the scarf on, so I bought a two-piece scarf that I just slid on. I felt so wonderful and warm inside when I wore the scarf. I could walk the streets without men looking at me as a sexual object. I did get stares, but that didn’t bother me at all. After that day in the mosque, I made a conscious decision to wear hijab all the time. People kept emphasizing to me that I didn’t have to wear hijab because I wasn’t Muslim. I would just comment that it was my decision and that it was none of their business.
When I wore hijab, there was this feeling of security and warmth in my heart and soul, and I had the feeling that I was pleasing my Lord. I didn’t care about the stares or the negative remarks. I felt in my heart that I wasn’t doing enough to worship Allah. I started fasting during some days of Ramadan. Then I started to ponder how I would tell this to my family. I had told my father that I was reading about a religion that comes from the East; all he told me was that “it’s good to gain knowledge about different cultures and religions.” I think that one flew by his head by a long shot.
When my mother arrived from the Dominican Republic, I was seriously considering declaring my Shahadah (testimony of faith). I just didn’t know how I would tell all of my family, especially my mom, considering she was so critical of me. I was already wearing hijab, so I didn’t feel good taking it off just to please her; my duty was to Allah before my parents. As a result, I decided to pass my decision by my younger sister, Catherine.
Catherine and I are 5 years apart, but I thought I should tell her first to see what the response of my parents might be. I called her and said, “Hey, Catherine, I did something.” She wasn’t shocked, as I usually did things that were out of the norm. She asked me, “What did you do this time, Jennifer?” I bluntly told her that I was considering becoming a Muslim and that I already wore the headscarf. She went ballistic in laughter.
She told me that now I had definitely done it and that my parents would kill me figuratively, and that she couldn’t believe that I was one of those terrorists. She quickly followed with “You’re my sister and I love you no matter what religion you become” but our parents would probably have an attack of some sort. The funniest thing, though, was when I told my younger sister, I could only expect some form of sibling rivalry. She soon remarked, “Don’t tell mom and dad without me being there so I can see you go down with a laugh.” I knew she was joking, and to my surprise I couldn’t believe how mature she had become during that year.
As you can expect, I told my parents and my dad took it well. I guess most men would if it meant that their daughter would be covering up her body. My mother, on the other hand, was furious and shocked. She kept trying to convince me that I was wrong and that Islam wasn’t the right religion. The thing that bothered her the most was that I was wearing hijab. It took them about two weeks to calm down with the whole idea that I was changing my religion. They soon accepted me after that; however my mom kept persisting that this was only a phase and that I would come to my senses. One week later, I had made my decision to declare my Shahadah.
I woke up on the first Friday of January with the feeling that this was the day, this was the day I was going to say my Shahadah. I was going to make my declaration that “There is no true god (deity) but God (Allah) and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God.” I took a shower, jumped on the train, and went to the mosque to make my declaration. I met the sheikh and told him I wanted to make my Shahadah that day. He looked at me with a smirk and said, “Are you sure, is this what you really want to do?” I was so excited I told him, “Yes, yes, this is my decision.” So that day all my fellow brothers and sisters in Islam joined with me to witness my reversion to Islam. All and all I felt normal that day, so many people congratulated me on my reversion and told me if I needed anything they would help me. I felt so lucky; here I was with a new family, a nation of people from all different parts of the world.
On Friday night I went to sleep for the first night as a Muslim. I remembered later that night around Fajr time I had the most beautiful dream, a blessed vision. I was in a valley full of beautiful green grass and gorgeous hills, like nothing I had ever seen in this life, and I was walking towards a man. The person came towards me also, he was dressed in a white galabia. His face was like light; he didn’t have a human face; it was bright like the sun. I felt so warm and safe. He held my hand and we walked together to a big round rock which he sat on. I sat on the grass. He then told me, “Welcome to Islam.”
When I woke up, I had this wonderful feeling in my heart. I thought this was the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). He came to welcome me to Islam. I later found out that it wasn’t Prophet Muhammad, but it was one of Allah’s angels who had welcomed me into the fold of Islam. It was an angel because angels don’t have human faces, and they are usually blurred. I felt so special from that day forward. An angel, an angel of Allah, came to greet me to Allah’s religion — my religion, the faith that I so eagerly craved from a young age, Islam — the one true religion.
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