A Muslim Convert's Letter to Her Mother

Dear Mom: This letter is probably going to upset you, though that is not my intention. I am writing this because we do not have the best track record for having emotionally loaded conversations in person. I know it is not your intention to upset me either, but when your knee-jerk response is to consider much of what I say “absurd” if it does not fit in with your worldview, it makes it very difficult for me to talk to you.


First, I want you to understand why that is. I am not a very open person, with you, or with my friends. I don’t share most of what I’m feeling with anyone, and when I do, it is very important to me. When I DO speak to you about my philosophies on life, on religion, on death, on politics, you’re getting about 5% of the whole picture. And what you’re getting is probably something so big I can’t keep it inside if I’m sharing it. Most of what I talk about is random things that are unimportant to me, really. And if I AM talking to you about something important, you’re hearing something that I probably am trusting you above anyone else I know, which is why it hurts so much when you outright reject my thoughts and opinions without considering them. Most of the experiences I’ve had, good or bad, you have no idea about. So you may not be seeing the back-story, you’re probably thinking I’ve got all these weird views but you’re not seeing what’s behind them. I would hope you have enough faith in me as a human being and as your daughter to know that I have my reasons for everything I believe in and do, and although I may not come to the same conclusions that you would, that doesn’t mean I’m an illogical or irrational person.


I was Christian up until high school. Jesus Freak, even. As you know, I was far more religious than you or dad, I listened only to Christian music, I had a devotional journal, I read the entire Bible multiple times, I wanted to be a missionary. It was a very important part of my life. However, learning about theology and world religions in school led me to disagree with most of what is central to any Christian church. I do not believe that Jesus is the son of God, or in the holy trinity. I know you disagree, you believe that only Catholics believe in the trinity, however, I assure you that any mainstream Christian church believes in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost. Same thing, different names. With the exception of maybe the Unitarian Universalists, Christian churches are trinitarian. The church we attended when I was a kid most certainly was a trinitarian church. I DID get a lot out of theology class though and I don’t regret it at all. I was taught in Catholic school that all religions have a seed of truth and that all are paths to God, and to respect all religions. Which I do, and which has served me well.


I digress. Not believing in Christianity, but seeking something I could believe in, I started studying all kinds of religions. I’m sure you remember me buying books on Druids and Wiccans, Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism in high school. I wrote a report for my theology class on neo-paganism, actually. I think I got an A on it. In any event, none of those religions made a lot of sense to me, but I enjoyed reading about them. I’ve always liked learning new things even if I don’t end up agreeing with them, if only for knowledge’s sake. I considered myself agnostic for all of college and my time in Korea. When I started at grad school, I was just back from Korea, having spent almost two years living independently, and quite hedonistically. No, I was not partying and being insane, although it seems you have the perception that I was. I mean that in the sense that I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and didn’t have to answer to anybody. Which was nice, but a very selfish way to live. It was not very fulfilling.


In grad school, however, I made new friends. I know that you don’t know them well, and I know that you may not believe me, but I swear that I have never met more moral people before in my life. More so than anyone in high school including teachers and nuns, more so than any friend I’ve ever had, and it is because of their faith. It’s at the center of everything they do, God is not an afterthought for them, not someone you turn to in times of need and go to church twice a year for, but the center of their reality. This is something I found tremendously impressive. You know my personality, I have a very strong moral compass, I know you find it to be illogical and hypocritical, but I do not. My actions and beliefs make sense to me based on my personal sense of morality. I consider having a faith but half-a**ing it to be dishonest, I could not practice a religion I did not believe in entirely, I could not go to church twice a year and pray in rough times and still consider myself in good conscience a religious person. I am not hating on those who do those things, their lives are up to them, but for me, I would feel dishonest and unscrupulous if I were to do so. My Muslim friends are not dishonest people, they are not fakers, they are not picking and choosing. They’re also not preachy and out to convert, they live their faith through their actions. Everything my friend does is because she’s Muslim and at the end of every day she sits down and reflects on her actions and whether or not they reflected the teachings of the Qur’an. It’s very impressive.


Being somewhat in awe of my friends and the way they lived their lives, I started to research Islam during the summer of 2011. I bought several books on it, including the Holy Qur’an. I read a lot about Islam and found everything I read to be really logical, more so than any other religion I’d studied. However, most of what I was reading was historical in nature and fairly surface level. Shortly thereafter, an event in my personal life took place which caused me to turn inward and reject the idea of their being a creator. I do not want to discuss this event with you, again, I am a very private person and what I share with you is only a small part of what goes on in my life. As for the event, I am fine, I’m over it, please don’t ask me about it, I will not discuss it. I do not want to have to lie to you, ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.


Not being in the best state of mind, but wanting to believe something (I have always been very drawn to religion, as a kid, as a teenager, as an adult, but like I said, I will only commit to something I believe in 100% and feel comfortable making the center of my life), I pursued studying Buddhism. A religion without a creator-God. It was at this point I believe I told you, in the context of a conversation about God, that I did not believe in a creator-God. This was the only time I’ve ever referred to myself as an atheist, as far as I can remember, and I have a pretty good memory. We were sitting in a restaurant having this conversation. Buddhism appealed to me because it seemed to be about looking inward, and at that time, I didn’t want to deal with anyone else. I just wanted to be alone. At no point did I consider myself Buddhist, but I sought out a lot of information about Buddhism. I bought books, I interlibrary-loaned part of the Pali Canon, I spoke to Buddhists. However, like Christianity, Buddhism sounded great at the surface level, but the more I learned about it the less I agreed with it. There is actually a whole cosmology within Buddhism, something I hadn’t expected from a religion without a God, but I found the metaphysical aspects of the religion lacking.


Over the winter, I got into an argument with you where you said I couldn’t possibly not believe in God. If you recall, I did not refute you, I said I do not believe in Jesus as God. You said I was an atheist. I didn’t confirm or deny it. I had said that I was an atheist once, when I was in a bad place, when I was considering Buddhism, and you’ve latched onto that. During that argument with you this winter, I admitted to myself for the first time in a long time that I did believe there is one God, but I also knew that I did not believe that God was Jesus. Which lead me to Islam.


I asked my friends for more in depth information about their faith, they recommended several books. I studied them intently, looking to find the flaw, the part I didn’t agree with, like I had with Buddhism, neo-pagan religions, Hinduism, Catholicism, Christianity, Taoism, and all the other religions I’d ever read up on. I sought out other books, historical books, books about the life of the Prophet, books about the philosophies of Sunni and S’hia sects, Sufis, all kinds of material. From the library, from the book store, on my Kindle. I got into another argument with you where you claimed I didn’t know anything about modern-day Islam and only knew about the past, so I read about modern Islamic countries too. And I went back to the Qur’an, I bought a translation with commentary, I read about the historical context that it was written it. I also read a little bit about S’haria law (which is not a legal code in the way that law exists in the West, I don’t think, but I need to learn more about it because it’s really interesting). The history of Islam is not perfect, just like no one human being is perfect either. There has been violence, as there’s been in every major religion. To me, that doesn’t take anything away from the tenets of the faith any more than the crusades take away from Christianity.


You may think I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’ve done a lot of reading, I’ve read from a wide variety of sources, many critical. I was not searching for information to persuade me that Islam was right, I was looking for the chink in the armor, for the flaw that every other religion seemed to have. I obviously have a lot to learn, I could study Islam for a hundred years and probably only know a small fraction of what there is to know, but I haven’t found one chink in the armor yet. Everything I have read about Islam thus far I have agreed with. It is a religion that answers every metaphysical and philosophical question I’ve ever had, it is a religion as moral as any other, and I do not believe it can be faulted for the acts of extremist followers. Just as I do not judge Christianity based on the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, the Westboro Baptist Church, or those who bomb abortion clinics and gun down doctors who provide abortions.


I feel like you think I have all these weird beliefs just to spite you, or just to be weird, or just to be a special snowflake, but I don’t. I have beliefs that fit in with my personal code of ethics, I believe in things 100% or I don’t bother. When I believe in something, I’m very passionate about it. Be it political stances, asexuality, or religion, I’m all or nothing. I don’t follow whims, though I’m sure you think I do, I research like crazy, I know what I’m talking about, and I don’t jump into things without thinking long and hard. You don’t see the research process, you don’t see the soul-searching, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t going on. Much of what I hide from you I DO hide because I don’t want to have arguments. I may not be the best at articulating my rationale to you, especially, because I do so desperately care what you think of me and it hurts that you don’t try to see where I’m coming from. When I’m emotional I’m not the most coherent, and I can see how you might doubt my conclusions based on my flaky and emotional defense. If you would like to calmly discuss my reasons for converting to Islam, I’d be happy to explain to you why I find it more logically consistent and moral than any other religion I’ve studied, but I understand if you’d rather not have that conversation.


This afternoon you said you suspected I was “transforming” myself into a Muslim and accused me of avoiding the topic when I didn’t give you a straight answer. I don’t like confrontation, but I’m telling you now. Yes, I do consider myself Muslim. For about a month and a half now. I wear hijab when I’m not in the house, but I do spare you from a lot. I haven’t made a big deal about not eating meat that isn’t halal, I haven’t put on hijab in front of you, except for that one time right before going to Chicago. Every day when I leave for school, I put it on in the basement and pray neither of you come downstairs. I take it off when I’m driving down the driveway. What you have seen me wear is a bandanna, not a hijab. It is quite a pain in the butt to pin a hijab on in the car without a large mirror, but I do it to spare you. I whisper when I’m praying so you don’t have to hear it. I won’t fast for Ramadan while I’m living in your house, because I know it might upset you. It is not a desire to be different or to shun your beliefs, it is in part BECAUSE of you, because you said you hoped I did believe in something. It does not mean I’m a different person, or I’m going “off the deep end,” I do not sympathize with terrorists, I do not harbor un-American beliefs, I do not believe that Christians are “infidels” or that everyone should worship God the same way that I do. I am not going to start wearing a burka, I just cover my hair and wear modest clothes. As I have said before, Allah is the Arabic word for God, Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions, and if I say Allah I am speaking of the same God worshiped by Jews and Christians.


You may think I am intentionally making life difficult for myself, you have accused me of having a “martyr complex” before because I do not always choose the easiest path, or the path that makes the most sense to you.That is not my intention, I realize that a lot of people have misconceptions about Islam and that being a Muslim is not the easiest thing to be in the US at this point in time, but for me, to believe in something and not to follow through on it would be dishonest and wasteful. We only have one life, any one of us could die at any moment. I could get hit by a bus crossing the road tomorrow, or a tree could fall on the house, who knows. I believe in Islam’s conception of the meaning of life, of why we’re on earth, and to believe in it without outwardly practicing the religion would be unethical.


To close this letter, I want to say that I’ve made a conscious effort not to pick fights with you and to make peace in this house. I have not succeeded entirely, but when I have held my tongue rather than argue, when I have walked away from a potential fight, or gone out of my way to be nice, it has been because I am remembering the words of the Prophet Muhammad. From the sayings of the Prophet, as recorded by Bukhari:

A man came to Muhammad and said, “O Messenger of God! Who is entitled to be treated with the most kindness?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man said. “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man further said, “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man asked for the fourth time, “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your father.”

I hope you can accept that. Because of Islam, I’m trying to be a better daughter, a less selfish person. I do love you and care about what you think of me, but I also believe what I believe.

-Your daughter