I’ll Go to Hell, But I’m Cool with That! An American sister’s Journey to Islam
Coming from a small town in Indiana, my life experiences were limited.
After graduating from high school, I got married as many small town girls do, and began working and having a family.
It wasn’t long until restlessness set in and I longed to do more. Top of my list was going to university.
Divorced with two little girls in tow, I began a life’s journey that I couldn’t have even imagined.
As an older student and a mother going to university, I naturally fit in with a group of graduate students, which necessarily means a majority of foreign students. It was in this group that I had fascinating contacts with a world beyond the corn fields and creeks I had known all of my life.
People from the Arab world, Europe, Asia, and Africa were living encyclopedia pages that satisfied my curiosity about the way people live in other places. I felt at last I had found a group that would keep my interest, raise my spirits, and inform me about things I didn’t know and in the end some things I didn’t want to know.
A bunch of us from the university decided to go to “The Feast of the Hunter’s Moon Festival.” It was an annual Native American event. It was at this event that my life would take a turn.
I met a young man named Muhammad who was from Egypt. What a fascinating place; I thought he must be a fascinating person. In an effort to strike up a conversation, I offered him one of the delicious BBQ pork chops that were being sold as we walked around the festival taking in the sights and sounds.
He refused, and said he didn’t eat pork, which immediately made me think he was a Jew.
Small towns in the Midwest do not usually offer a variety of ethnicities or religions, so it was actually the first time to hear the words “I am a Muslim.”
Jokingly, and most likely in an offensive manner, I asked what that was and if he worshipped a cow or something like that. He laughed and began to tell me about Islam. We were married by the following December.
Although Islam was interesting, it looked way too complex and difficult. At the very least, it was certainly something that would not go down well with my devout Catholic family.
I was the only girl of seven and the youngest one at that. As a rebel, I had somewhat alienated my family and wasn’t about to make matters worse. Besides, my husband didn’t ask me to become Muslim. He didn’t pressure me at all. He actually encouraged me to go to church so that my daughters would not be Godless.
Before we married, my husband and I had agreed that if we had any children together they would be Muslim. Throughout the first year of our marriage, I observed his prayer, fasting, and behavior. I spent time with my husband’s friends and their wives and even a revert Muslim student.
The Arabs as a whole love children and always wanted my girls to go everywhere with us. I didn’t need to arrange baby sitters as they always planned activities that were clean and family-oriented.
Prophet Muhammad seemed like an arbitrary person unconnected in anyway to my previous faith.
They answered my unending questions to the best of their ability but I just wasn’t accepting the idea of Islam at this point.
One day, a friend of my husband asked me point blank: “When you die where are you going to go, Ann?” I paused, and reflected upon that statement for a few moments. I knew the answer. I had stopped going to church after my divorce and I knew God existed, that was never an issue. I knew I had abandoned Him and I knew there was a consequence for that decision.
I looked at him and said: “I am going to Hell.” He was shocked that I would just feel that way and not do anything about it. The words coming out of my mouth shocked me even more. It was the first time I looked this ugly thought in the eye.
With this echoing in the back of my mind, I stumbled across some information about Islam that also became another mile marker along the road. The Prophet Muhammad seemed like an arbitrary person unconnected in anyway to my previous faith.
When I realized that he was a descendant of Prophet Ibrahim Abraham I took notice. “What!” I asked amazed, “He is the descendant of Ishmael the son that Abraham had left in the desert! The water that came from the ground under Ishmael’s heel is next to the Ka’bah in Makkah to this day and it is called Zam Zam! His mom Hagar is the one who had paced back and forth looking for water!”
This whole event from beginning to end had puzzled me from the first time that I had heard the story as a little girl. How could a good and kind man, the Prophet Abraham, abandon a woman and her child to certain death in the desert? How could he call himself a man of God? Was that it? Were we to never know their fate?
I don’t do things half-way. If I believe in something, then I must believe in the whole of it.
I had always wondered about this but closed it up inside; accepting the idea as you do when you are young. It had always seemed an unfinished story and when the connection had finally been made, I was shocked.
Surely there was something to this logic-based religion, it wasn’t from nowhere. It continued the story and brought the message to a conclusion. It made sense.
I continued my study of Islam. I read books though not the Quran (Yusuf Ali was the only translation, at that time, and it wasn’t available to me) and asked questions. I was looking at Islam at a time when the materials available were so limited. You could actually own all the books written about Islam in English. Jamal Badawi was the scholar of that day. He was the one that the Muslim Student Organization arranged to speak at our University.
I was overwhelmed with dread at this point because I knew Islam was the truth and I knew what becoming a Muslim would mean to my image in my small hometown and to my family. I don’t do things half-way. If I believe in something, then I must believe in the whole of it.
I felt a kind of panicked feeling because I didn’t want to have to change my life so radically. I didn’t want to be so different. I froze in a kind of limbo where I knew what needed to be done but I didn’t have the guts to do it.
Shortly after that, I was shown some extra-ordinary forgiveness for something. Forgiveness was given to me in the hopes that that person would be shown forgiveness from Allah. The whole episode was so touching. It was the catalyst for my conversion.
It was a Sunday and I told my husband to arrange for my Shahadah on the following Friday. Within a year of our marriage, I had reverted to Islam. On that day I began to pray and on that day I wore hijab. That was twenty three years ago.
A lot of trials and tribulations have ensued but none as difficult as the custody battles that took place over my two little girls in those early days of our conversion. By the grace of Allah we won those battles alhamdullilah (thankful praise be to Allah) and they are now Muslim mothers in their own right.
I have lived in Egypt with my seven children and now grandchildren for more than twenty years now alhamdullilah.