Affected by a Righteous Neighbor
The Testimony of Umm Huda
Courtesy of The National Geographic Society ©Al-hamdu lillah (all praise be to Allah), I came from the darkness to the light, as they say, at the age of 19 when I became a Muslim. How I decided to be a Muslim and the long road that I traveled is a subject that I am often asked about, so in sha’ Allah (God willing), I will try to explain it here, and my hope is that my story will be one of inspiration for others.
I grew up as the typical American girl, born and raised in the United States in a middle-class family, which was composed of my parents and one younger sister. My father was in the military, so we moved around quite a bit, but eventually we settled in Virginia, and this was where I grew up primarily.
My family had a Christian background, but my parents, both of whom worked full time, did not have the time to take us often to church. Religion was confined mostly to holidays or whenever we would visit our grandparents. I vividly remember attending Sunday school as a small child; I remember being taught about Jesus and various other Christian virtues. However, when I became a teenager, these principles and ideas began to seem foreign to me, and I didn’t acknowledge them or implement them in my daily life at all.
My first introduction to Islam was in the ninth grade when my world history class went to Washington DC and toured the Islamic center there. It was a gorgeous spring day, all of us were wearing shorts and T-shirts, of course, and I remember being stopped at the entrance of the mosque. The woman told us, “You cannot enter Allah’s house dressed like this.” I remember that we all laughed, especially the boys, because a moment later the woman returned with long white skirts and scarves and insisted that we wear them into the mosque. How strange, I remember thinking to myself, what’s the big deal? We were given a brief talk by someone who couldn’t speak English very well; needless to say it didn’t leave a great impression, but as a carefree teenager at the time, religion was the furthest thing from my mind.
Approximately a year and a half later, a new family moved in next door to my house. One night shortly after they moved in, I was walking my dog. When Umm Ali, my new neighbor, noticed that I was walking towards the house next to hers, she immediately approached me. She insisted in a very kind way that I come and eat dinner with them. Now it was summer time, very hot and humid, and before me stood this woman covered from head to toe, a complete stranger, and suddenly she was insisting that I come and eat with her. At first I completely refused, but she stood her ground and eventually convinced me. When I asked her why was she so persistent she replied, “Islam teaches us to be respectful and kind to our neighbors. You are my neighbor now and I must extend to you this courtesy.”
I was quite shocked by this, but somehow it put me at ease. I felt that there was a real sense of sincerity in this gentle woman. From that evening on, Umm Ali and I became the best of friends. It was a new experience for both of us: she had never had a close friend who wasn’t Muslim, and I had never had a Muslim friend, so we enjoyed our differences and respected them. She had a great sense of humor and we used to laugh a lot. I adored her children and used to care for them as if they were my own nieces.
From time to time, we would discuss religion, but it was never in a forceful way. I used to ask her about her prayers and about her dress. During Ramadan, she invited me every night for iftar (the meal that breaks the fast), though I wasn’t fasting. Much of her da`wah (inviting to Islam) to me was through her actions, not her words. I began to respect and adore her so much as a person, woman, wife, and mother. It was very obvious to me that she was at peace with herself. At the time, I was still quite young, but I felt something starting to stir. It was more than a curiosity or affection; I was starting, even though I didn’t know it quite yet, to really take Islam seriously.
Much of the da`wah (preaching) that she made to me was through her actions, not her words...
Once I started studying in the university, I began to really think seriously about my life, its direction and purpose. What was my main objective in life? Why was I on this planet, to do what, to serve whom? I reflected upon my Christian roots, but they seemed so alien to me at that point. So I started to search.
I looked at Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism-so many “isms,” but I found a flaw in every one of them. Umm Ali was still with me at this time. She knew that I was troubled and needed guidance, but, as was always her loving way, she didn’t force me in anything. She was there for me, to listen to my frustrations and fears, always kind and always caring.
It was a time of great turmoil, and then one night I had a dream. In the dream I was surrounded by darkness from all sides, and in the distance I could see a great light, and under that light was my dear friend, and she was calling me, but I could not go to her. When I woke up, I was startled by this dream: What did it mean? After many long nights, I realized the meaning: the darkness was my life as I was living it and the light was Islam. It was then that I decided to take the Shahadah (public declaration of faith). I went first to Umm Ali and shortly after that to the mosque to make it official.
People often wonder why an American woman, born and educated in the United States, would ever accept Islam. Islam is so often maligned in the media, especially when it comes to issues dealing with women. So many people are confused when they know that I chose to accept Islam. No one forced me-it was my choice. Islam offered me what no other religion could: peace of mind and pure contentment. I knew and understood finally what my purpose in life was.
Islam answered every question I had because it does not have any “gray” areas. Everything is open and clear and therefore it makes a person feel truly comfortable. Islam offered me, as a woman, true freedom. Yes, freedom! Freedom because it is Islam that elevates women, giving them every kind of right: social, political, economical, etc. These are true rights prescribed by Allah that no individual or government can take from me. I feel totally empowered as a Muslim woman and I thank Allah everyday for guiding me to the straight path.
Another issue I am often asked about is my family’s reaction to my conversion. Over the years I have heard and seen it all in terms of this particular point. Overall, I have been quite fortunate. At first I think no one took me seriously. Because I was so young (only 19!), my family seemed to think that I was going through a phase, and that when I tired of it, I would return to “normal.”
I also made the mistake of keeping my conversion a secret from my family, so when they found out from a third party, that made it all the worse for them and me. There were many “animated” discussions, especially between my mother and myself, but thankfully they never turned their backs on me or disowned me in any way. I married the following year and moved out of my parent’s home, and it was then, I believe, that they finally realized I was totally serious (as my husband was, of course, a Muslim) and that this was my life’s decision.
Since my conversion to Islam, my life has taken a drastic change for the better. I no longer feel frustrated or confused. I know what the meaning of life is and my purpose here in this world. I used to waste my time always going out, going to the beach, spending long hours in the cinema or at concerts. I never used to do anything for Allah or for His pleasure, only for myself. Now I see how frivolous that all was.
My main goal now is to serve Allah Almighty, whereas before my goal was to serve myself and my selfish needs. I am now 31-a bit older and much wiser. I married nine months after I became a Muslim, and I now have two lovely daughters. My life now is complete, and since that great night I decided to be a Muslim, I have never looked back. The road was long and it was not always easy, but my faith and trust in Allah Almighty has always sustained me.