Stories Of New Muslims


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  • Stories Of New Muslims



  • Ms. Kaci Starbuck

     

     

    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 occasions 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 occasional 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 course on Islam, I would
    feel frustrated when the professor would make a comment that 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 it. 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,
    alhumdulillah. 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.

     

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