Genesis 11:5

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. Genesis 11:5

The Most Beautiful Month

This time last year, my mom refused to appear with me publicly. She hated my hijab. She still says that, but now we go out together, and she knows well that I will never remove it. Last Ramadan I sublet a small room in New York that had a window but no air conditioning. It was in a shared flat that had a roach-infested kitchen. I was incredibly uncomfortable with the living arrangement, and lost a lot of water sweating due to the high temperatures in the city and in my room. I was also working full-time, teaching. By the end of the month I was completely exhausted. I had no other option, however, as my mom would not allow me to fast Ramadan at home.

All thanks and praise be to Allah the Lord of the Worlds. Alhamdulillahil Rabil Aalamin. This year I enjoyed the most pleasant Ramadan of my life - the third time is a charm. I truly thank Allah for making it easier for me. My mom agreed to allow me to fast at home, and I was privileged to not have to work. I listened to the entire Quran and read the English translation, I watched encouraging and informative bits and pieces about Ramadan, and I began memorizing another Surah of Quran. I incorporated the duas from The Accepted Whispers into my daily worship. I prayed Taraweeh prayers every night, either at home or at the local mosque. I enjoyed meeting sisters from the local Muslim community, including other American converts to Islam. I fasted Ramadan with a much deeper understanding of what I was doing, what I should do, and why.

Reading through the Quran this month, I was especially struck by Allah's power as the sovereign Creator and Owner of everything that exists:

Surah Al Hadid (The Iron) 57
How beautiful is all that Allah has created; how plentiful are the signs of Allah's power and existence among creation! Truly creation is a sign to all of us from Allah.

I was also surprised this Ramadan to become more aware of my growing distaste for television and 'idle talk', in general. I noticed it repeatedly throughout the month - many pass time entertaining themselves with topics that consist of crude or shallow subject matter, that harms themselves and others more than it benefits. A mind that frequently remembers Allah considers every moment an opportunity to increase her knowledge about Islam, memorization of Quran, and to put forward actions that will benefit her in this life, or more importantly, in the next. In such scenarios I felt restless, at least internally, eager to use my limited time productively. How quickly time passes, and what a short life we have to seek and earn the best of the Hereafter.

Most of all, this Ramadan I was amazed by the grace of Allah, the mercy of Allah, the forgiveness of Allah. Throughout the month I encounter countless Ayat from the Quran and Hadith that convey the mercy and forgiveness that Allah offers us. 

When I woke to my alarm before four every morning I remembered that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that "Allah sends His blessings and praise upon those who eat the meal before dawn (sahoor), and the angels also ask Allah to bless and forgive them." The many times when I was with folks who were not fasting, I took comfort in the reminder that "Verily, the angels send prayers upon the fasting person when others eat in his presence until they are finished.” In the last ten days we ask Allah for forgiveness:

I was not perfect this Ramadan. Did I give the month my best? Did I pray as much as I could? Did I force myself to stay awake and lose sleep often enough? I hope it was my best, but I could always do more. I lost my patience with my mom on occasion, which is the most shameful of all. I tried to increase charity and kindness, prayer and dua, remembrance of Allah and avoiding sin. But in retrospect, I am disappointed that I did not do more, and push myself harder. I am at the mercy of Allah, and truly begged for forgiveness this month.

I ask Allah to allow us all to live to see the next Ramadan Amin.

Converts to Islam Tell their Stories

Living in a Muslim country, the Muslim tends to take the ease with which Islam can be practised for granted. I mean, five times a day the call to prayer resounds beautifully throughout the entire country. One becomes accustomed to seeing beautiful mosques in every city. No one looks at me strangely for wearing an abaya, or hijab, as they would at home. No one harasses or insults me because I am Muslim. And generally speaking, the vast majority my attempts to practice Islam sincerely.

Masjid in Tabuk, Saudia Arabia before Salaat Al-Magrib
Weeks ago when I returned home to visit the US, I felt sad to exchange my abaya with my winter coat, and to remove the niqab. Certainly a variety of clothes from countless cultures can prove compliant with the Islamic dress code, but to exchange clothes you are comfortable wearing outside of your country, for fear that you will face discrimination, is frustrating. Furthermore, at home family members and family friends are not shy to sharply criticise my religion. For several hours one night I was bombarded with a number of accusations and misconceptions regarding my faith. Sadly, before a Muslim can discuss the beauty of their religion, they are forced to provide clarifications and explanations regarding the misportrayal of Islam by the media and sadly, misinformed Muslims.

Although the conversation was incredibly challenging, as I was one Muslim revert among three adamant Orthodox Christians, I had the opportunity to express how happy I am to be Muslim, and that I consider being Muslim to be a gift. The next morning I woke up with a sense of pure happiness for being Muslim. The Messenger (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said “Whoever says ‘I am pleased with Allah as my Lord, Islam as my religion and Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) as my Prophet’ paradise becomes compulsory for them."

Masjid in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia after Salat Al-Magrib
Recently, we had an informal debate in our office over which is a more compelling reason for nonMuslims to become convinced of Islam: Islamic literature or the living example Muslims. Personally, I began my investigation of Islam with Muslim people. I thought, if I want to know more about Islam, I should first get to know Muslims. Sure, I met some folks who are nominally Muslim, but not really practising. But I continued to seek out and associate with Muslims who are convinced of their faith and practise sincerely. I believe that it was their impressive behaviour that inspired me to eventually read the Quran and other literature in order to learn more about Islam. SubhanAllah, can you imagine how stunned (and pleasantly surprised) I was to recognise the exemplary behaviour of my Muslim friends in the words of the Quran?! As I first read the Quran, it occurred to me that my Muslim friends were not simply "nice people", but that their kindness and generosity aligned directly with the commands of Allah.

Many reverts to Islam, myself included, consider the positive example of Muslims an essential catalyst for their interest in the religion. Therefore, Muslims cannot refer nonMuslims to Islamic literature in order to absolve themselves of their responsibility to demonstrate Islam properly, politely, and sincerely to people of all faiths, including other Muslims. I assure you that nonMuslims are watching, even when you think they aren't. As a nonMuslim, I put every kind and unkind gesture I witnessed in my local Muslim community on trial; at that stage I held Islam accountable for the good and the bad. I thank Allah for all of the extremely polite, generous, and nonjudgmental Muslims who inspired and nurtured my ever-growing love for Islam. In the article "Not 'brainwashed'': American women who converted to Islam speak out", one American convert to Islam states that "The more you can do to educate people about Islam, not by preaching, but by actions, the better."

To be honest, before I became Muslim, I was not very interested in or influenced by the stories of reverts to Islam. In fact, I felt that their stories put pressure on me to make a decision quickly, while I wanted to conduct my research and make my decision at a slow and rational pace. I did not want to become Muslim just because other people had done it; I wanted to make my own decision. 

Nevertheless, knowing that you are not the only one to have researched Islam and become convinced, however, can be helpful for some. At the same time, I understand that others who have even the slightest interest in Islam just may not find these stories to be inspiring until after they have made their own conclusions about the religion. Truly, everyone approaches the topic for different reasons and in different ways. This post is meant to be a resource for anyone, Muslim or nonMuslim, who wishes to benefit from the stories of converts to Islam.

At this point in my life, I feel quite happy hearing such inspiring stories from reverts around the world. According to the reader's interest, please follow the links below to closely review the accounts of the following reverts to Islam:
  • Greek-British singer-songwriter Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, reverted to Islam in 1977.
  • Timothy Winter, a British revert to Islam, is now the Islamic chaplain at the University of Cambridge and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, and is also known as Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad.
  • Famous French singer Mélanie Georgiades reverted to Islam in 2012 at 32 years old. 
  • I first met British revert Lauren Booth, acclaimed journalist and Tony Blair's sister-in-law, in London at Al Quds Day 2011. She attests to the impact that sincere, practising Muslims in London and Palestine in particular, had on her remarkable "Journey to Islam". The following photo of young Palestinian Faris Odeh standing before an Israeli tank with a stone in his hand stopped her life in its tracks in October 2000. Interestingly, Lauren Booth said Shahada (the Muslim's profession of faith) even before she read the Quran.
  • Next, feminist British journalist Yvonne Ridley was captured by Taliban in 2001, and subsequently became Muslim, as a result of the incredible respect and treatment she received during her imprisonment. She was released when she promised her captors that she would read the Quran upon returning to England. To hear her tell the story in detail, watch In the hand of the Taliban.
  • One young German-born formerly Greek Orthodox lady called Jenna speaks about her decision to become Muslim.
  • Another inspiring Greek woman speaks sincerely on the STAR channel about her reversion to Islam and decision to wear hijab, despite the criticism she faces in Greek culture.
  • Former Playboy model Jimmy par born explains her decision to convert to Islam. 
  • In April 2012 a Canadian University professor converted to Islam while working as a teacher in Saudi Arabia.
  • In this video, two old friends reunite and find that since they've seen each other, both have become Muslim.
  • Indian Sunita Williams is a US Naval office and NASA astronaut. She became Muslim after journeying to the moon in 2011.
  • American Dr. Lawrence Brown describes his sincere exploration of all major world religions and his final decision to become Muslim in How I Came to Islam.
  • Harvard Bible Scholar and pyschotherapist Dr. Jerald Derks was first exposed to Islam in the United States when he and his wife began conducting research on the Arabian horse. He was incredibly impressed by the example of Muslims around him, who were "living morally in the context of a moral vacuum." His wife Debra, who was raised in the Mennonite church, simultaneously developed an interest in Islam. Although Dr. Derks discretely practised Islam for a long period of time, he hesitated to publicly declare his devotion to Islam, for fear of accepting his new identity as a Muslim. He says that it is "easier to change one's religious beliefs than to change one's identity." It is possible to contact Dr. Jerald and Debra Derks, who both became Muslim in 1993, directly through their website.


Last month, February 2013, I was given the great privilege to visit Mecca for Umrah (lesser pilgrimage). The following video (below) highlights the photos, videos, and audio recordings I was able to capture during my visit to the holy city and Al Masjid, Al Haraam (The Holy Mosque). 

After arriving late Wednesday evening, we set our alarms for 3:00am. When entering the Holy Mosque for the first time, two dear friends of mine were on each side of me. We walked inside hand in hand while the suspense of seeing the Ka’aba was building. It was beautiful; enormous but not intimidating, majestic yet strangely familiar. By 4:00am we were in front of the Ka'aba in Masjid Al Haraam (the Sacred Mosque) beginning Tawaf (circumambulation of the Ka'aba 7 times). At approximately 5:30am, we were praying Fajr (dawn) prayer in a congregation of millions. [The place was bursting at the seams- First, the King had welcomed all Muslims to perform Umrah - during the next 6 months, pilgrims will not be required to acquire a visa in order to enter the country for Umrah. Second, this is the weekend of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and some Muslims (incorrectly) consider it a more auspicious time to visit Mecca.]

Next, we began Sa'i, which involves walking back and forth between two mountains: As-Safa and Al-Marwah 7 times. All pilgrims performing Hajj and Umrah must perform this ritual, reenacting the example of the wife of the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) Hagar, who walked hastily back and forth between the two mountains 7 times when she was searching desperately for food and water for her infant son Ismael. The opening of the well of ZamZam was the answer to her prayers - water sprung forth for her, and in Masjid Al-Haram millions drink from the same well everyday. It's the cleanest, smoothest water I've ever tasted. Finally, once we completed Sa'i, we sat down on the floor that was covered with short pieces of hair, like a barber shop or salon that needs sweeping. The last ritual of Umrah is to cut a finger-tip length of hair (for women) or shave the head (for men - some men also just cut their hair enough so that it is noticeable). What I've experienced this month is what millions around the world could only dream of.

On Friday before congregational prayer, it took an hour just to exit the mosque. Everywhere we turned there were masses of people – pilgrims even laid prayer rugs in the stairwells, as the entire place was absolutely overflowing with people. We had to hold each others hands to not lose each other. Everyday we saw groups of men carrying the caskets of men, women, and children from cities near and far all the way to the Ka’aba. 
I was overwhelmed seeing how earnestly millions upon millions of pilgrims are circumambulate the Ka’aba in worship and in prayer night and day. I had never before witnessed a monument that unifies nearly 1.5 billion people across numerous languages, cultures, ethnicities, ages, and economic classes. The prayer area was diverse, resonating with the beauty of worshippers of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Everywhere I turned, going upstairs, downstairs, around, forwards, backwards, and even exiting the mosque, there were more and more people. 
There was no entertainment - no concert, no amusement park, no performer. The Holy Mosque is simply crowded by worshippers, the elderly, adults, youth, and children alike, eager to pray and ask Allah for forgiveness.