By Diana Doss
Growing up in a “Middle Eastern” family gives me a slight advantage as a new Muslim.
The phrases commonly used by Muslims such as “in sha’Allah” or “alhumdulillah” were already a part of my everyday vocabulary, and I easily blend into any group of Arab Muslims.
The only thing that gives me away is my name and perhaps the fact that I excitedly pick up books having anything to do with Islam.
The transition from Christianity to Islam was relatively easy for me in terms of adopting Islamic values and adapting to Muslim culture, but the road to get here was difficult and lonely at times.
I was born in an Egyptian Christian household. My mother was raised in the Coptic Church, and my dad was Catholic.
I went to Christian school from kindergarten through high school, and was always finding myself in between Catholic, non-denominational and Coptic churches.
My parents wanted me to find a balance, or rather, a niche, within what seemed like contradicting versions of Christianity.
By my last year of high school, I felt disconnected from common themes within Christianity and after years of Bible classes, the confusion surrounding certain doctrines only increased, and so did the inability of religious leaders to explain them to me.
As I entered my first year in college, I drastically changed my views about religion.
Turned off by my previous experiences with religion, I began to believe that religion was for the ignorant, weak, closed-minded and uneducated.
I thought I would never find a religion that could reconcile tolerance with conviction, willpower with surrender, or education with adherence.
Organized religion scared me, but I knew in my heart I could never deny that I believed in God.
although I grew up in a Middle Eastern family, with Muslim family friends, I knew very little about Islam.
My first in-depth exposure to Islam came during my second year in college when I decided to take a class on Islam.
As a student of political science, I was already very interested in studying the politics, religion and gender relations in Middle Eastern countries; this class was just a way for me to further develop my knowledge of the subject.
As I began to read the books for the class, I realized that, contrary to how it is portrayed in the mainstream Western media, Islam is a very tolerant and practical religion. I also observed my Muslim friends and was amazed how Islam had uniquely manifested itself in their lives.
I took more classes on a variety of topics relating to Islam, such as Islam and women and politics within Muslim societies.
Each class allowed me to study a different aspect of Islam and taught me that Muslims aren’t homogenous.
Everything I feared about religion was unintentionally challenged by the spirit of Islam. Islam’s lack of centralization and religious authority, other than Allah, allows for a unique, irrepressible experience.
As an observer, I fell in love with Islam and the different ways its followers expressed their “Muslim-ness,” their submission to God.
Up to this point, however, I was an observer. I wanted to understand Islam from the outside first before I allowed myself in. Also, I was a little scared, even though Islam never seemed to have all the common trappings of organized religion.
By my senior year, my desire to experience Islam from the inside grew, and I began to pray and learn alongside other Muslims in religious settings instead of academic ones. Although it seemed to others that I had clearly identified myself with Islam, I waited until I was absolutely sure of what I was getting into before I took my shahadah.
It wasn’t until spring quarter of my senior year, almost three years after learning about the religion, that I took my shahadah with Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi at a small event for converts.
I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by friends, Muslim and non-Muslim, who supported me in my decision.
However, I kept my religion hidden from my parents because I was scared to tell them. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I told them I accepted Islam. They were very angry.
Despite trying to explain my decision to them and arranging a sit-down with my parents, a Coptic priest, an imam and myself, my efforts were fruitless.
At the time, I lived close to campus with a group of Muslim girls while I was finishing up my last units. I tried to maintain a relationship with my parents, but visits became tense and I was scared for my safety.
One of my Muslim friends’ mother, who had helped me learn about Islam, was very kind to me and opened up her home to me during that time.
That kind woman who taught me how to pray, invited me to join her family in their Eid celebration, and made sure I had somewhere to go when my family had made it clear they didn’t want me so long as I was Muslim, soon became my mother-in-law.
Although my family refuses to accept me as a Muslim, I am blessed to have a wonderful husband, in–laws and friends who have supported me and been there for me though the entire process.
I am happy to be a Muslim.