It has been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. My journey to Islam was a bit more circuitous but in the end, it led me to the waiting mercy of Allah.
I first heard about Islam back in 1999 while working for a Finnish software house. I was searching the Net and entered a chat room. While here I met an Egyptian woman that was curious about wireless technology.
We continued to meet and chat via the Internet and discuss the different aspects of wireless solutions and the future of the technology. Throughout our conversations, I asked more and more about Islam and why does she believe what she believes. Through it all, she was very patient and understanding of my questions and was very good at explaining things to me about Islam and the differences between Islam and Christianity.
My religious upbringing was fostered by my mother, a devout Christian that has a deep sense of spirituality and belief in God. In some ways, I could say that seeing her faith throughout my upbringing has left my heart open in the search for the true meaning of life. Allah has blessed me with a mother, who in many ways lives a life of Islam through her daily Christian actions of compassion, and understanding of those around her.
My burgeoning interest in Islam coupled with an already instilled belief in God was perhaps the opening that I needed on my journey. Prior to my reversion, I could have been considered a “Christian-lite”.
Basically, I was a Christian in name only. While I did believe in God, I had not submitted Him as the maker and creator of my destiny. I felt that this was something I was better off handling rather than letting God decide my fate. Being raised in the West and subjected to the influences with which we are constantly bombarded, did not help the situation either. In a word, you could say that I was living by my own set of rules.
Over the course of about a year, a business relationship developed and I was introduced to several other Muslim gentlemen and we arranged that I would travel down to Cairo. It just so happened that my trip coincided with the holy month of Ramadan.
While in Cairo my hosts were celebrating Ramadan and so were all of the individuals that we were meeting with. I was intrigued that everyone was fasting and “suddenly disappearing”, to return about 15 minutes later. To be part of the crowd I decided that I would also begin to observe the days of fasting as a sign of solidarity with my hosts. I left Cairo a few weeks later wondering about the ritual with which I had just participated.
I later returned to Cairo for business and was paired with someone in the marketing section of one of the largest ISP’s in Cairo to talk about how to integrate wireless solutions into the market down in Cairo. We were preparing for Cairo Telecom, a large IT trade fair that required many sleepless days and nights of preparation.
My host, Ms. Noha, and I were together night and day working on the presentation that we would deliver. I noticed that at certain times of the day, she would simply excuse herself and suddenly return about 15 minutes later.
After a few days of interruptions, I confronted her as to what was so important that she had to stop in the middle of our preparations. Shyly, and after several minutes of question avoidance, she admitted that she was going to do her daily prayers and that she was performing them at their prescribed times.
My feelings of annoyance quickly faded away and were replaced with feelings of awe and respect. I too wanted to have this feeling of the importance of God in my life. Slowly I began to ask more and more questions about Islam and what it is like to be a Muslim. Noha never pushed but used a gentle hand to guide me in the direction where I could find the information that I needed to learn more. I left Egypt at the end of Cairo Telecomp confused but with a desire and burning in my heart, not to mention a suitcase full of books to quench my thirst to learn more.
A quick four-day trip brought me back to Cairo towards the end of March 2001. My first stop was to my virtual Islam teacher, to ask her more questions about the things that I had read. The time passed faster than what seemed expected on this trip as there was not enough time in the day to work and to talk about Islam. One important thing that I also realized is that I had fallen in love.
My heart was completely with the warm and friendly people that I had grown to care for and to feel as good friends. It was as if Allah was opening my heart to another side of humanity that I had not known before. Being from the West, one can easily become jaded and not trust or accept the basic acts of kindness that seem to be pervasive in the Middle East. I felt that my heart had found a home.
Six long months passed by before I would step foot on Egyptian soil once again. In the previous months, the company that I worked for filed for bankruptcy and the thought of getting back down to Cairo seemed farther and farther away, but I was determined to continue my reading and learning and questioning.
Finally, on a warm summer night, while surfing the Internet a feeling or an epiphany came over me. I felt that I was wanted no longer to hold on to the things of my past or to live my life the way that it was. Some people talk about seeing a light, or hearing a voice, or something of this nature and I would be the first to say that it sounds very theatrical but I too felt something more than just a whisper but a push or an opening of my heart. I wanted to scream, to shout, to cry, to dance, to run, to laugh all at the same time.
I had a complete flood of emotions that to this day, I cannot explain, nor do I really need to. Some things are better enjoyed rather than analyzed. I sent an email to Noha, to tell her what I felt and to ask her what I should do. She was gentle and kind and understood me completely. She told me to relax, to settle down and to gather my feelings. From this day forward, I decided that I had to return to Egypt, to my people, to my home, to find what was calling me there.
My chance to return came while working as a consultant for a telecommunications consulting firm. I was to consult for a top Egyptian company in the marketing section. I enjoyed the work with Hatem, with whom I had a business relationship that was cultivated a several months earlier through my other Egyptian friends, Hany and Hisham, and I was very happy to work for a friendly face. I departed for Egypt at the end of August with the hopes of completing my journey, with the hopes of answering the call that I could not explain.
I started working the next day at the offices where I met some really nice people who immediately made me feel at home. On this day, I met two people that would be instrumental in helping me to make the steps that would point me down the road, Mohamad, and Sherief. Upon hearing that I wanted to know more about Islam and to possibly convert, Muhammad invited me to a men’s group where they talked about the Quran and the blessed prophet.
After the end of the meeting, we all prayed the evening prayer, Isha. This was my first time to actually participate in a group prayer and to hear the Al Fatihah. It was so moving and solemn. I could not help but cry as the words from Allah moved my heart. The next day, I related the story to Hatem and Sherief and they were very supportive. I continued to read and ask questions and felt that my trek was drawing to a close.
September 11th was the catalyst that began to bring things to a close or to fruition. After the attack, all of my workmates came to me and offered their condolences and to say that this is not Islam but something very terrible and please do not think that Muslims are bad people. I could feel the pain and sadness expressed by many. Measured by the climate followed the attacks, people in the West would not believe that Muslims really felt that way. I felt that these words of comfort spoke for many Muslims around the world. As the next few weeks drew on, it was clear that maybe the Middle East was not a safe place for an American, as sentiment against American policy, not Americans, were running rather high.
I began to feel rushed and that I would not convert at all, and this was the reason in the first place to come to Cairo. Hundreds convert all over the world every day but for me, it had to take place in an Islamic Arab country. Pure symbolism but important symbolism nonetheless. Sensing my frustration, Noha introduced me again to a business acquaintance, Sameh (my dear brother). Sameh gave me a crash course in Wudu, how to pray, how to behave, what to do and what to give up forever. On October 2, 2001, Sameh picked me up to go for a ride, and we ended up at Al-Azhar famous Mosque, and there I made my declaration that there is no God except Allah and Muhammad is His messenger. There was not a dry eye in the place. It was quite an experience for all involved.
I look forward to the day when all those who helped me on my journey to Islam and myself will celebrate together in paradise.
Last but not least, I would like to thank my mother for her understanding of my decision to embrace Islam. Your faith in God has been a source of inspiration for me throughout my entire life. Your unwavering reverence for God is a shining example for those who ask “where have all the faithful gone.” They could look to you for guidance. Thank you for helping me to be the man that I am and the man that I am striving to become.
May Allah show you mother the straight path of Islam as an extension of what you are now and a further fulfillment of the purposes and wisdom of your goodness.
Wa Allahu Akbar.
Courtesy onislam.net with slight editorial modifications.