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embracingislam.peperonity.net

24. C. Huda Dodge

[This document originally appeared in a Usenet newsgroup back in 1992 roughly -ed.]
Salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah.
Since I have started reading and posting on this newsgroup a few months ago, I have noticed a great interest in converts (reverts) to Islam: how are people introduced to it, what attracts people to this faith, how their life changes when they embrace Islam, etc. I have received a lot of e-mail from people asking me these questions. In this post, I hope insha'Allah to address how, when and why an American like myself came to embrace Islam.
It's long, and I'm sorry for that, but I don't think you can fully understand this process from a few paragraphs. I tried not to ramble on or get off on tangents. At times the story is detailed, because I think it helps to truly understand how my path to Islam developed. Of course, there's a lot I left out (I'm not trying to tell you my whole life story - just the pertinent stuff).
It's interesting for me to look back on my life and see how it all fits together - how Allah planned this for me all along. When I think about it, I can't help saying `Subhannallah,' and thank Allah for bringing me to where I am today. At other times, I feel sad that I was not born into Islam and [thereby] been a Muslim all my life. While I admire those who were, I at times pity them because sometimes they don't really appreciate this blessing.
Insha'Allah, reading this can help you understand how I, at least, came to be a Muslim. Whether it gives you ideas for da'wah, or just gives you some inspiration in your own faith, I hope it is worth your time to read it, insha'Allah. It is my story, but I think a lot of others might see themselves in it.
I was born in San Francisco, California, and raised in a Bay Area suburb. My small town (San Anselmo, pop. about 14,000 last I checked) was a mostly white, upper-middle-class, Christian community. It is a beautiful area - just north of San Francisco (across the Golden Gate Bridge), nestled in a valley near the hillsides (Mount Tamalpais) and the Pacific Ocean. I knew all of my neighbors, played baseball in the street, caught frogs in the creeks, rode horses in the hills, and climbed trees in my front yard.
My father is Presbyterian, and my mother is Catholic. My father was never really active in any church, but my mother tried to raise us as Catholics. She took us to church sometimes, but we didn't know what was going on. People stand up, sit down, kneel, sit again, stand up, and recite things after the priest. Each pew had a booklet - a kind of `direction book' -and we had to follow along in order to know what to do next (if we didn't fall asleep first). I was baptized in this church, and received my First Communion at about the age of 8 (I have pictures, but I don't remember it much). After that, we only went about once a year.
I lived on a dead-end street of about 15 houses. My grammar school was at the end of the street (4 houses down), next to a small Presbyterian church. When I was about 10, the people of this church invited me to participate in their children's Christmas play. Every Sunday morning from then on, I walked down to church alone (no one else in my family was interested in coming). The whole congregation was only about 30 older people (past their 50's), but they were nice and never made me feel out of place. There were about 3 younger couples with children younger than me.
I became a very active member of this church down the street. When I was in 6th grade, I started babysitting the younger kids during the service. By 9th grade, I was helping the minister's wife teach Sunday school. In high school, I started a church youth group by recruiting 4 of my friends to join me. It was a small group: me, my friends, and a young couple with kids, but we liked it that way. The big Presbyterian church in town had about 100 kids in their youth group and took trips to Mexico, etc. But our group was content to get together to study the bible, talk about God, and raise money for charities.
These friends and I would sit together and talk about spiritual issues. We debated about questions in our minds: what happens to the people who lived before Jesus came (go to heaven or hell); why do some very righteous people automatically go to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus (we thought about Gandhi); on the other hand, why do some pretty horrible people (like my friend's abusive father) get rewarded with heaven just because they're Christian; why does a loving and merciful God require a blood sacrifice (Jesus) to forgive people's sins; why are we guilty of Adam's original sin; why does the Word of God (Bible) disagree with scientific facts; how can Jesus be God; how can One God be 3 different things; etc. We debated about these things, but never came up with good answers. The church couldn't give us good answers either; they only told us to "have faith."
The people at church told me about a Presbyterian summer camp in Northern California. I went for the first time when I was 10. For the next 7 years, I went every summer. While I was happy with the little church I went to, this is where I really felt in touch with God, without confusion. It was here that I developed my very deep faith in God. We spent much of our time outdoors, playing games, doing crafts, swimming, etc. It was fun, but every day we would also take time out to pray, study the bible, sing spiritual songs, and have `quiet time.' It is this quiet time that really meant a lot to me, and of which I have the best memories. The rule was that you had to sit alone - anywhere on the camp's 200 beautiful acres. I would often go to a meadow, or sit on a bridge overlooking the creek, and just THINK. I looked around me, at the creek, the trees, the clouds, the bugs :) - listened to the water, the birds' songs, the crickets' chirps. This place really let me feel at peace, and I admired and thanked God for His beautiful creation. At the end of each summer, when I returned back home, this feeling stayed with me. I loved to spend time outdoors, alone, to just think about God, life, and my place in it. I developed my personal understanding of Jesus' role as a teacher and example, and left all the confusing church teachings behind.
I believed (and still do) in the teaching "Love your neighbor as yourself," fully giving to others without expecting anything in return, treating others as you would like to be treated. I strived to help everyone I could. When I was fourteen, I got my first job, at an ice cream store. When I got my paycheck each month (it wasn't much), I sent the first $25 to a program called `Foster Parents Plan' (they've changed the name now). This was a charity that hooked up needy children overseas with American sponsors. During my 4 years of high school, I was a sponsor for a young Egyptian boy named Sherif. I sent him part of my paycheck each month, and we exchanged letters. (His letters were in Arabic, and looking at them now, it appears that he believed he was writing to an adult man, not a girl 5 years older than him.) He was 9 years old, his father was dead, and his mother was ill and couldn't work. He had 2 younger brothers and a sister my age. I remember getting a letter from him when I was 16 - he was excited because his sister had gotten engaged. I thought, "She's the same age as me, and she's getting engaged!!!" It seemed so foreign to me. These were the first Muslims I had contact with.
Aside from this, I was also involved with other activities in high school. I tutored Central American students at my school in English. In a group called "Students for Social Responsibility," I helped charities for Nicaraguan school children and Kenyan villagers. We campaigned against nuclear arms (the biggest fear we all had at that time was of a nuclear war).
I invited exchange students from France into my home, and I had penpals from all over the world (France, Germany, Sweden, etc.). My junior year of high school, we hosted a group called `Children of War' - a group of young people from South Africa, Gaza Strip, Guatemala, and other war-torn lands, who toured the country telling their stories and their wishes for peace. Two of them stayed at my house - the group's chaperone from Nicaragua, and a young black South African man. The summer after my junior year of high school, I took a volunteer job in San Francisco (the Tenderloin district), teaching English to refugee women. In my class were Fatimah and Maysoon, 2 Chinese Muslim widows from Vietnam. These were the next Muslims I met, although we couldn't talk much (their English was too minimal). All they did was laugh.
All of these experiences put me in touch with the outside world, and led me to value people of all kinds. Throughout my youth and high school, I had developed two very deep interests: faith in God, and interacting with people from other countries. When I left home to attend college in Portland, Oregon, I brought these interests with me.
At Lewis & Clark College, I started out as a Foreign Language (French & Spanish) major, with a thought to one day work with refugee populations, or teach English as a Second Language. When I arrived at school, I moved into a dorm room with two others - a girl from California (who grew up only 10 minutes from where I did), and a 29-year-old Japanese woman (exchange student). I was 17.
I didn't know anyone else at school, so I tried to get involved in activities to meet people. In line with my interests, I chose to get involved with 2 groups: Campus Crusade for Christ (obviously, a Christian group), and Conversation Groups (where they match Americans up with a group of international students to practice English).
I met with the Campus Crusade students during my first term of school. A few of the people that I met were very nice, pure-hearted people, but the majority were very ostentatious. We got together every week to listen to "personal testimonies," sing songs, etc. Every week we visited a different church in the Portland area. Most of the churches were unlike anything I'd ever been exposed to before. One final visit to a church in the Southeast area freaked me out so much that I quit going to the Crusade meetings. At this church, there was a rock band with electric guitars, and people were waving their hands in the air (above their heads, with their eyes closed) and singing "hallelujah." I had never seen anything like it! I see things like this now on TV, but coming from a very small Presbyterian church, I was disturbed. Others in Campus Crusade loved this church, and they continued to go. The atmosphere seemed so far removed from the worship of God, and I didn't feel comfortable returning.
I always felt closest to God when I was in a quiet setting and/or outdoors. I started taking walks around campus (Lewis & Clark College has a beautiful campus!), sitting on benches, looking at the view of Mount Hood, watching the trees change colors. One day I wandered into the campus chapel - a small, round building nestled in the trees. It was beautifully simple. The pews formed a circle around the center of the room, and a huge pipe organ hung from the ceiling in the middle. No altar, no crosses, no statues - nothing. Just some simple wood benches and a pipe organ. During the rest of the year, I spent a lot of time in this building, listening to the organist practice, or just sitting alone in the quiet to think. I felt more comfortable and close to ...
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