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Sunday, 7 April 2013

National Geographic’s Hajj Introduces Sister Nura to Islam

This is my reversion story, in-sha-Allah. My journey to Islam was really a life experience.

Ever since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with South Asian culture.

And as a teenage and as a result of a book report at high school, I became totally obsessed with Laurence of Arabia, and he had a strange fascination with Islam, so I did that.

And then before that my brother had an extensive collection of National Geographic issues that some friends of our parents had given us.

There was a correspondent by the name of Thomas Abercrombie who was actually a revert, and in the 1960s he covered the Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makkah) for National Geographic. And I remember reading the article in late 1980s and I was looking at the pictures of all of these people circling the Kaaba and I remember thinking to myself with great emotion how much I wanted to be there. I didn’t know what it was.

I didn’t know what they were doing. I didn’t understand anything about it. But something in my heart told me that this is where I wanted to be. This is a good place to be.

But I didn’t understand that a person could become Muslim. I didn’t understand that Thomas Abercrombie hadn’t always been Muslim. I was only 12 or 13 at the time. So I thought becoming Muslim was like becoming Hindu. You couldn’t do it. You had to be born Hindu and that was it. I also thought that women couldn’t go in Hajj. I thought it was only for men because the pictures Thomas Abercrombie submitted were of the men only because he was kind of recording his Hajj. I didn’t understand it was because of the segregation of the genders, and that there were a lot of women too.

Also, growing up I was always very artistically-minded. I was always drawing and writing and things like that. And I remember starting writing Arabic words. I didn’t know what I was writing. I would draw the Saudi flag and write the words on it. I didn’t know then I was writing things like bismillah (In the name of Allah) and the shahadah (Muslim declaration of faith).

Anyways, life went on. I finished high school. I got married, went to college, went to work. I forgot all about my obsession with South Asia and with the Middle East. I was living in Austin Texas, and at the University of Texas there were loads and loads of Pakistanis and Indians. I started making friends with these Indians and Pakistanis and I finally met my first real life Muslim. I had grown up in rural areas so there were not a lot of Muslims and Arabs out there.

In trying to learn more about Pakistan, because I knew nothing at all about Pakistan and Pakistani people, so I wanted to learn about the country. I always wanted to know where my friends come from. In doing so I started hearing more about Islam because Pakistan’s official name is “The Islamic Republic of Pakistan”.

Also at the same time I started to notice that there was a difference between my Hindu and Muslim friends and I had really to make that comparison because I also had friends that were Indians, either Hindu or Muslims, and I noticed there was a difference even if they were not really good practicing Muslims, you know like Jumuah (The congregational worship performed on Fridays in place of the Midday worship) and Eid Muslims, there was still something peaceful to them. There was something different that my Hindu friends didn’t seem to have. I’m not saying my Hindu friends were not happy or nice or anything else, but there was something different I was noticing. And so that also made me want to find out more about Islam. I wanted to find out what was different.

So in the course of a conversation with my friends, I discovered that one could actually become Muslim. I was like “Wow” I was shocked really because at the same time I had become so disheartened with Christianity. I was really feeling spiritually lost and I had started looking into other religions. I was no longer attending church.

I was married at the time to my now ex-husband. He was not religious. He just did it because everybody else did it, you know, his parents were Lutheran, his grandparents were Lutherans, so on and so forth. So he was a bit worried about me because surely I was acting strange but he loved me to pursue my search.

I tried Buddhism and Shinto-ism. I was completely confused by the concepts of all these gods and goddesses and spirits and all these other things. Also it’s totally not done in English at all. I know some people would say Islam is also done in Arabic. Well no, yes we have Duaa, prayers and we recite the Quran in Arabic, but you can get a lot of English and you can get a lot of your original language where it seemed like Buddhism is all done in a language that nobody speaks anymore.

Anyways, I knew Hinduism was out of the question because like I said you have to be born into Hinduism and also it always kind of seemed like some sort of spiritual journey type like the life of Beetles and Hippies, if you are not an Indian, I’m talking about white western people.

Anyways I was really starting to feel like that there was no religion out there for me. Nothing seemed to fit what I needed. Nothing seemed to be saying what I was feeling in my heart. I yearned for religious structure and clarity. Christianity had lost me once I started questioning the whole three into one teaching, the trinity.

Finally with Islam I had found a religion that is teaching God is one, has no sons, nor is He begotten. Then I went online and I started chatting with loads of Muslims, stopped socializing with my non-Muslim friends. I stopped eating and drinking things that were haram. I even started buying my meat at a Halal market.

But I still had not made the shahadah. So I was still not Muslim. I was starting to live like a Muslim but I wasn’t a Muslim yet, because I wanted to learn as much as I could about Islam. I wanted to be sure what I am getting myself into. And I’ve obsessive compulsive disorder that just came in very handy here. I would stay all night studying and I would ask my friends questions, and I would take notes on everything. I would sleep maybe three or four hours and then I would get back right in again. I surfed all the information that I could but I had still not taken that final step.

And then one day a friend said to me: “You know what is the difference between you and me?” I said “No” He responded “You haven’t said the shahadah yet. That’s it. It’s the only difference.”

And then at the same time, somebody also had given me a link to a lecture that Hamza Yusuf did about all the people walking around this world who were Muslim but didn’t know it yet. That made me really think about it. Then the final blow came when another friend asked me “What’s going to happen if you die before you say the shahadah? Stop delaying it. Say it already”.

So finally, on August 31st. 2002 in Austin Texas in an original Dawah conference I said the shahadah: La illaha illa Allah, Mohamed Rassul Allah (There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is His messenger.) And then I got divorced from my Christian husband who had made it very clear that he would never become Muslim. He wasn’t a very good Christian but you know I guess he felt that being Christian was better than being Muslim. And I decided to move to Chicago so that I could be around more Muslims. And the rest as they say is history.

I just want to add that Islam truly is the natural religion. And for those of us whom Allah guides to Islam we discover that it was with us in our fitrah (our nature) all along. I was a Muslim and I didn’t even know it and I tell you that the term “Revert” is much better than the term “Convert”. I prefer the term revert because when I became Muslim I was doing nothing more than reverting back to who I was, to what I was, as a 6-year-old girl. I had the same beliefs about God then as I do today. It was just the time in between 6 to 26 that everything had gotten messed up. Alhamdulellah, Allah gave me the chance to get it all straight and back out.

1 comment:

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