Irish American teacher’s Journey to Islam

“I was teaching hundreds of children about Catholicism. That’s why I find it such a miracle that I converted to Islam.”!

Interviewer:

Continuing our journey of discovery of Islam in America has brought us to New Brunswick, New Jersey, to one of the halal restaurants here,alhamdulellah, which we find here in America, and with one of our sisters in Islam, sister Cheryl Dacey.

Assalamu`alaikum.

Sister Cheryl:

Walaikum Assalam.

Interviewer:

Welcome to the program.

So please just give us a little background about yourself. And tell the viewers how you became Muslim?

Sister Cheryl:

Well, I was born into an Irish Catholic family, and I went to Catholic school from first grade to college, got married, have four children that are grown now and divorced, and through my employment I met some Muslims.

Interviewer:

And where was that employment?

Sister Cheryl:

Actually it was in a company I was working for in New Jersey, and the Muslims I met were working with us in New York and we met in a company project. And what I noticed over the years getting to know them is how respectful they were to my mother and to me, the behavior of the men I found to be much better.

Interviewer:

But before you met these Muslim gentlemen, did you have any ideas or pre-conceived notions about Islam?

Sister Cheryl:

I didn’t realize that we have the same prophets and that much of the information that we have been taught is actually the same

When they said we believe in the same God, I thought they were crazy because I said “No, of course we don’t believe in the same God”. I thought it was totally a foreign type of religion from what I believed in. I didn’t realize that we have the same prophets and that much of the information that we have been taught is actually the same as what Muslims were taught. So I really didn’t know much about Islam.

Honestly, regarding the fighting that goes on all over the world, I don’t find myself to be a prejudiced person, but it gives you cause to say “Well, there are Muslims fighting Christians all over the world.” So at that time I was probably being a good Christian a little bit more on the Christian side of the fence, not understanding the plight of the Muslims.

Interviewer:

And so how did you start going in the path of accepting Islam yourself?

Sister Cheryl:

Well, initially the first time that I got quite a bit of literature, which I read, and when I got to the point that Jesus wasn’t God that was it: I could believe everything else.

Interviewer:

OK, but when you said you believed that was it. Did you think before that point in your life you already were looking for something that was in accordance to what you believed about Jesus?

Sister Cheryl:

I believed very strongly in what I believed. I was a Sunday School teacher. I was teaching hundreds of children about Catholicism. That’s why I find it such a miracle that I converted to Islam! People argued to get their children into my Sunday School class!

So what they said was that the same God and the same message came down over and over again to the different prophets. And they put Islam, Christianity and Judaism in a sort of timeline frame as the same God but different prophets. And I thought of looking at it that way and I believed many of the same components, like Mary is the virgin mother of Jesus, but just Jesus in not God.

So it was very hard to not believe that, because I believed my whole life. And what happened I think is truly a miracle. I couldn’t sleep, and I have been given a book by a Sheikh from the Masjid (mosque) who came from Syria, he was just visiting. And the book was entitled “Miracles of the Quran” and I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I had it for two years but I never read it.

One day I just picked up the book and I read it. And once I read it I got this really fighting feeling that “Oh my Gosh, now I know it’s the truth”. I had no choice. And I knew that it was going to be so hard because it’s not really that easy to change your religion. You have to consider your family, how they are going to take it, and it’s very frightening.

Interviewer:

So how did your family take it? How did the children you taught in the Sunday School, how did all the people who knew you as a Sunday School teacher, how did they take it when you accepted Islam?

Sister Cheryl:

Well, a lot of them moved away from me. My mother had a little bit of a hard time every time I tried to tell her she would escape the discussion. She knew, but she was afraid to discuss it. And that was about 3 and half years ago, and today she is happy about it. She said “I’m glad you found a beautiful religion.” I haven’t been able to convince her to be a Muslim yet.

My brothers and sisters took it differently. Some of them accepted it better than others, but nobody gave me a hard time. My children who are now 22, 24 and my boy is 16, they were really positive about it! They were really open and interested to learn more. So I find, overall, the immediate family responded very positively. The people who didn’t know me so well, not so positively.

Interviewer:

Alright, now talking about Da`wah to women, can you tell me a little bit about your activity as far as giving Da`wah to women about Islam?

Sister Cheryl:

the best example I think is by attraction rather than promotion, when they see good Muslims, and they see them behaving well

I started a program at the Islamic society of Central Jersey called “Muslim by Choice” program. We have a website and I started this program because I as a convert in the Masjid was someone isolated. As loving and wonderful Muslims are, they are a little bit protective too. So when you have no Muslim family, it has to be the Muslim sisters and a brother in the Masjid, but initially it’s hard to be accepted there.

So I wanted to know how to pray. I wanted to learn Arabic. But when I called the Masjid, nobody responded to me. So I started this program so that we could offer such services. We have sisters Quranic Arabic classes for reading Quran. We have anAqeeda (creed) class. We have an assistance halaqa that meets. We work very close actually with WhyIslam Da`wah booth.

And the best example I think is by attraction rather than promotion, when they see good Muslims, and they see them behaving well, that’s how I was initially attracted, somebody behaves well and believes in God and prays, is a good person and honest, they want to learn a little bit more.

Interviewer:

Yes, and so as in terms of people accepting Islam do you find that a lot of women who are becoming Muslim these days even in spite of the kind of climate we are in and the negative media coverage?

Sister Cheryl:

I do think there are more people open to Islam but the way you approach them is very important

 

 

Alhamdulellah, we had a 15-year old girl who tookShahadah. She came to our sisters’ halaqah. Her mom has taken Shahadah 8 months before. And there was no pressure on her but she heard something she really liked about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) called Muslims followers questions and she felt inspired. And at a time when we worry about our children in this country, we worry about drinking, drugs, and all these things, here’s a 15-year old reading Islamic literature and saying I want to be a Muslim, alhamdulellah. So I do think there are more people open to Islam but the way you approach them is very important.

Interviewer:

So, you say that in spite of the negative image being portrayed in the media about Islam, many women are still accepting Islam?

Sister Cheryl:

Yes, especially among the Hispanic community here, and here in New Brunswick there is a high Hispanic population. The number of Hispanic Muslims is really climbing. What I think happened sometimes too is focus here in the negativity and they are smarter than that and they say that can’t be right that can’t be true, what they are saying about Muslims can’t be right and this made them go and investigate it.

And when they do investigate, and even sometimes they read a very negative article about not wanting to see pictures of women in Hijab on newspapers, so we wrote back and we invited them to an Open House. We have Open Houses at the masjid where we have somebody coming to give a lecture about Islam, very basic information about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and other activities going on at the masjid, and we give them dinner and copies of Quran. Those that come with an open mind stay much longer than they intended to, and so that is all we can do, open the door and show them what we have and hopefully they would come back.

So I think sometimes in media, if you watch certain television stations here like Fox News, you know, notorious for putting all the negativity in front of the people, and it’s hard for them not to believe that because I used to believe very strongly about total freedom of speech and everything we saw on television was the truth. And then when I met Muslims and I started watching Arabic television and then I started watching the BBC, and I started watching channels from other places in the world, I realized that they don’t tell us the truth all the time.

So in some ways, I’m not saying we are not responsible for finding out the truth, but in some ways many Americans have a negative opinion of Muslims the same way many Muslims have a negative opinion of Americans. I was raised in a very conservative family where things like virginity and family and morals and obeying God and going to church these things were instilled in my family. But many folks from overseas don’t see that. They see only the girls with the short skirts and the misbehavior and the boys’ misbehaving and so they kind of having this pictures of us as well. So it’s a matter of communication.

 

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