My name is
Justin Peyton and I am a 29-year-old African American
from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I grew up in a
loving, two-parent, middle-class household with three
Growing up, my
family and I identified ourselves as Christians, but
we were never members of a church, nor did we attend
Sunday services or other activities. The extent of
religious expression in our home was celebrating
both of my parents set definitive boundaries for good
conduct and character to which I was expected to
adhere. Given the state of marriage and family in
American society today, I am grateful to God for this
In addition, my
parents' interest in the histories and cultures of
other regions of the world created an environment of
general tolerance, respect, and admiration for people
whose customs and beliefs were different from my own.
Both of these factors would greatly contribute to my
future acceptance of Islam.
If I had to
identify one single event as the starting point for my
journey to Islam, it would have to be the tragic
events of 9/11. After months of seeing very
unflattering media coverage about Islam and Muslims,
it occurred to me that the negative portrait being
painted did not coincide with the experiences I had
with Muslim classmates, neighbors and others, growing
up in Philadelphia.
It also occurred
to me that despite knowing Muslims, I had never
actually bothered to take the time to learn about
So, with the
open-mindedness instilled in me by my parents, I
decided to research some facts about Islam in order to
reconcile the apparent disparity between my personal
experiences and media coverage.
Being a college
student at the time, the first place I went for
information is the Internet, and I eventually settled
on one particular website that was geared primarily
Over the course
of several months, I progressed from reading
introductory articles on the basic belief and
practices of Muslims, to more in-depth topical pieces
on belief in God, His prophets, His books, Judgment
Day, and so on, as well as reading about practices
like prayer, fasting, hajj, and so on.
The site also
had articles on the place of family, marriage in
Islam, as well as conversion stories like this one.
Spurred to learn
more, I went to a local bookstore, purchased a copy
of the Quran, and began to read. I could spend pages
listing which information struck me most and why, but
suffice it to say that everything that I read made
intrinsic sense to me.
After a few more
months I decided that reading and learning about Islam
on my own was not enough, so I searched to find any
I contacted the
closest mosque, which was about 45 miles away, spoke
to their president, and arranged a time to visit and
discuss Islam with local Muslims.
On the appointed
day, I showed up and spent a great deal of time
talking to a very helpful brother. Unbeknownst to me,
the information he shared permeated my heart.
During my second
visit, in late summer of 2002, it dawned on me that I
believed that Islam was the truth, so right then and
there, I took my Testimony of Faith and spent the
whole weekend at the mosque learning what was
necessary for me to perform the ritual prayers on my
own when I returned to school.
was wonderful, and had I stayed in the vicinity, I am
sure that I would have received a lot of support
adjusting to my life as a new Muslim. But that was
not to be.
Prior to the
events of 9/11, I had developed an interest in the
military, and continued discussions with local armed
forces recruiters, concurrent with the exploration of
Islam that would lead to my conversion.
Within two month
of accepting Islam I also signed papers to join the
Marine Corps, and that winter, after graduation, I was
off to boot camp.
Looking back on
that part of my life, I am grateful for the skills I
gained and experiences I had during the course of my
service. But in retrospect, the timing between these
two events was less than ideal.
I found that as
a new Muslim, the nature of military life was not
conducive to helping me find my bearings in this
religion. For instance, the pace and schedule of
entry-level training made it extremely difficult, if
not impossible, for me to fulfill basic tenants like
praying the prayers in their allotted time or fasting
leaving training, I was located in an area of the
U.S. with no Muslim community, which prevented me
from developing my faith. It wasn't until some three
years into my service that I met another practicing
Muslim service member who would be able to teach me
both about Islam and how to navigate military life as
a Muslim. May God reward him for his efforts.
my military service in the summer of 2007, I moved
back to Philadelphia, became an active member of a
local mosque, and was blessed with the ability to
obtain a job at the local chapter of the Council on
American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a non-profit civil
rights and advocacy organization for Muslims.
The two years I
spent as a part of the Philadelphia Muslim community
and an employee of CAIR-PA was a tremendous learning
experience that really spurred my development and
whetted my appetite for more.
And that leads
me to where I am now, an Islamic chaplaincy student at
Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, pursuing its
combined Masters of Arts in Islamic studies,
Christian-Muslim relations and Graduate Certificate in