My first realization about the Christian idea of salvation came after
I was baptized into a Southern Baptist church at a young age. I was
taught in Sunday School that "if you aren't baptized, then you are
going to hell".
My own baptism had taken place because I wanted to please people. My
mom had come into my room one evening and I asked her about baptism.
She encouraged me to do it. So, the next Sunday, I decided to go to
the front of the church. During a hymn at the end of the sermon, I
walked forward to meet with the youth minister. He had a smile on his
face, greeted me, then sat beside me on a pew. He asked a question,
"Why do you want to do this?"... I paused, then said, "because I love
Jesus and I know that he loves me". After making the statement, the
members of the church came up and hugged me... anticipating the
ceremonial immersion in water just a few weeks later.
During my early years at church, even in the kindergarten class, I
remember being a vocal participant in the Sunday School lessons.
Later, in my early adolescent years I was a member of the young girls'
group that gathered at the church for weekly activities and went on
annual retreats to a camp. During my youth, I attended a camp with
older members of the youth group. Though I hadn't spent much time with
them before, they recognized me as "the daughter of a youth
coordinator" or "the girl who plays piano at special occations at
church". One evening at this camp a man was speaking about his
marriage. He told the story about meeting his wife. He had grown up in
the US where dating was normal, but in the girl's culture, he could
only be with her if they had a guardian with them. Since he liked her,
he decided to continue seeing her. Another stipulation is that they
could not touch each other until she had been given a promise ring.
Once he proposed to her, they were allowed to hold hands. -This
baffled me, yet held me in awe. It was beautiful to think that such
discovery of another person could be saved until a commitment was
made. Though I enjoyed the story, I never thought that the same
incident could occur again.
A few years later, my parents divorced and the role of religion
changed in my life. I had always seen my family through the eyes of a
child - they were perfect. My dad was a deacon in the church, well
respected, and known by all. My mom was active with youth groups. When
my mom left, I took the role of caretaker of my father and two
brothers. We continued to go to church, but when visiting my mom on
weekends, the visits to churches became more infrequent. When at my
dad's home we would gather at night every night to read Corinthians
1:13 (which talks about love/charity). My brothers, father, and I
repeated this so often that I memorized it. It was a source of support
for my dad, though I could not understand why.
In a period of three consecutive years, my older brother, younger
brother, and I moved to my mom's house. At that point my mom no longer
went to church, so my brothers found church attendance less important.
Having moved to my mother's house during my junior year of high
school, I was to discover new friends and a different way of life. The
first day of school I met a girl who was very friendly. The second day
of school, she invited me to her house for the weekend - to meet her
family and visit her church. I was automatically "adopted" into her
family as a "good kid" and "good influence" for her. Also, I was
surprisingly shocked at the congregation that attended her church.
Though I was a stranger, all of the women and men greeted me with hugs
and kisses and made me feel welcome.
After continually spending time with the family and attending church
on the weekends, they started talking to me about particular beliefs
in their Church of Christ. This group went by the New Testament
(literal interpretation of Paul's writings). They had no musical
instruments in church services - only vocal singing; there were no
hired preachers, but elders who would bring sermons each Sunday. Women
were not allowed to speak in church. Christmas, Easter, and other
holidays were not celebrated, wine and unleavened bread were taken as
communion every Sunday, and baptism was seen as immediately necessary
at the moment that the sinner decided to become a believer. Though I
was already considered a Christian, members of this congregation
believed that I was going to hell if I didn't get baptized again - in
their church, their way. This was the first major blow to my belief
system. Had I grown up in a church where everything had been done
wrong? Did I really have to be baptized again?
At one point I had a discussion about faith with my mom. I told her
about my confusion and just wanted somebody to clear things up for me.
I became critical of sermons at all churches because the preachers
would just tell stories and not focus on the Bible. I couldn't
understand: if the Bible was so important, why was it not read
(solely) in the church service?
Though I thought about baptism every Sunday for almost two years, I
could not walk forward to be baptized. I would pray to God to push me
forward if it were the right thing to do - but it never happened.
The next year I went to college and became detached from all churches
as a freshman. Some Sundays I would visit churches with friends - only
to feel critical of the sermons. I tried to join the baptist student
association, but felt that things were wrong there, too. I had come to
college thinking that I would find something like the church of christ
but it was not to be found. When I would return home to my mom's house
on occassional weekends, I would visit the church to gain the
immediate sense of community and welcoming.
In my Sophomore year, I spent Sundays singing at the Wake Forest
church in the choir because I earned good money. Though I didn't
support the church beliefs, I endured the sermons to make money. In
October of my sophomore year I met a Muslim who lived in my dorm. He
was a friendly guy who always seemed to be pondering questions or
carrying a deep thought. One evening I spent the entire evening asking
him philosophical questions about beliefs and religion. He talked
about his beliefs as a Shia' Ismaili Imami Muslim. Though his thoughts
did not fully represent this sect of Islam (since he was also confused
and searching for answers), his initial statements made me question my
own beliefs: are we born into a religion, therefore making it the
right one? Day after day I would meet with him and ask questions -
wanting to get on the same level of communication that we had reached
at our initial meeting - but he would not longer answer the questions
or meet the spiritual needs that I had.
The following summer I worked at a bookstore and grabbed any books
that I could find about Islam. I introduced myself to another Muslim
on campus and started asking him questions about Islam. Instead of
looking to him for answers, I was directed to the Quran. Any time I
would have general questions about Islam, he would answer them. I went
to the local mosque twice during that year and was happy to feel a
sense of community again.
After reading about Islam over the summer, I became more sensitive to
statements made about Muslims. While taking an introductory half-
semester couse on Islam, I would feel frustrated when the professor
would make a comment the was incorrect, but I didn't know how to
correct him. Outside of my personal studies and university class, I
became an active worker and supporter of our newly rising campus Islam
Awareness Organization. As the only female member, I would be
identified to others as "the christian in the group". every time a
Muslim would say that, I would look at him with puzzlement - because I
thought that I was doing all that they had been doing - and that I was
a Muslim, too.
I had stopped eating pork and became vegetarian, had never liked
alcohol, and had begun fasting for the month of Ramadhan. But, there
still was a difference...
At the end of that year (junior year) other changes were made. I
decided to start wearing my hair up - concealed from people. Once
again, I thought of this as something beautiful and had an idea that
only my husband should be able to see my hair. I hadn't even been told
about hijab... since many of the sisters at the mosque did not wear
That summer I was sitting at school browsing the internet and looking
for sites about Islam. I wanted to find e-mail addresses for Muslims,
but couldn't find a way. I eventually ventured onto a homepage that
was a matrimonial link. I read over some advertisements and tried to
find some people within my age range to write to about Islam. I
prefaced my initial letters with "I am not seeking marriage - I just
want to learn about Islam". Within a few days I had received replies
from three Muslims- one from Pakistan/India who was studying in the
US, one from India but studying in the UK, and one living in the UAE.
Each brother was helpful in unique ways - but I started corresponding
with the one from the US the most because we were in the same time
zone. I would send questions to him and he would reply with thorough,
logical answers. By this point I knew that Islam was right - all
people were equal regardless of color, age, sex, race, etc; I had
received answers to troublesome questions by going to the Qur'an, I
could feel a sense of community with Muslims, and I had a strong,
overwhelming need to declare the shahada at a mosque. No longer did I
have the "christian fear" of denouncing the claim of Jesus as God - I
believed that there was only one God and there should be no
associations with God. One Thursday night in July 1997 I talked with
the brother over the phone. I asked more questions and received many
more pertinent, logical answers. I decided that the next day I would
go to the mosque.
I went to the mosque with the Muslim brother from Wake Forest and his
non-Muslim sister, but did not tell him my intentions. I mentioned
that I wanted to speak with the imam after the khutbah [religious
directed talk]. The imam delivered the khutbah, the Muslims prayed
[which includes praising Allah, recitation of the Quran, and a series
of movements which includes bowing to Allah] then he came over to talk
with me. I asked him what was necessary to become Muslim. He replied
that there are basics to understand about Islam, plus the shahada
[there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah]. I
told him that I had learned about Islam for more than a year and was
ready to become Muslim. I recited the kalimah... and became Muslim on
July 12, 1996, alhumdulillah [all praise due to Allah].
That was the first big step. Many doors opened after that - and have
continued to open by the grace of Allah. I first began to learn
prayer, then visited another masjid in Winston-Salem, and began
wearing hijab two weeks later.
At my summer job, I had problems with wearing hijab. The bosses didn't
like it and "let me go" early for the summer. They didn't think that I
could "perform" my job of selling bookbags because the clothing would
limit me. But, I found the hijab very liberating. I met Muslims as
they would walk around the mall... everyday I met someone new,
As my senior year of college progressed, I took the lead of the Muslim
organization on campus because I found that the brothers were not very
active. Since I pushed the brothers to do things and constantly
reminded them of events, I received the name "mother Kaci".
During the last half of my Senior year, I took elective courses:
Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Each course was good because I was a
minority representative in each. Mashallah, it was nice to represent
Islam and to tell people the truth about Muslims and Allah.