She was searching for what turned
out to be already a major part of who she is: Islam.
By Molly Carlson
I remember it so
well. I remember the exact moment when my entire life
changed, and I realized that I was no longer thinking
"if I became Muslim", but that I had at some point
begun thinking "when I become Muslim." It was no
longer optional for me. It had become inevitable.
When it hit me,
the realization was like cold water over my head. It
was like that moment when you realize you had
forgotten something important at home and your stomach
flops and you can't breathe.
At that moment,
I realized that I was no longer the American girl I
wanted to convince myself I was, and that I had not
been that girl for a long time. I remember the sun on
the snow. I remember the road in front of me. I
remember forgetting, for a second, where I was driving
to. And I remember being scared, unequivocally and
realization, this conversion of self, had been decades
in coming. When people say — when the religion says —
that we are born Muslims by the will of God, I do not
doubt it. I certainly was and I knew I was, although
exactly what I was, I didn't know at that time.
Still I knew
what I was not. I was not a Catholic Christian no
matter how many Hail Mary's I prayed, or crosses I
wore, or Church services my mother brought me to. I
studied and I prayed and I searched for the final
answer to the questions that plagued me, while all the
time the little voice in my heart gnawed at the
strings of my soul.
There was a
series of events throughout my life, legends, memories
of my own, and dreams that made no sense in the moment
I dreamed them, but have become clearer in reference
to all that I know now.
My first brief
introduction to Islam came in the form of a book
called King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry, which
chronicles the story of a small Moroccan stable boy
and his special foal. I was an avid reader at a young
Even though I
don't recall how old I was at the time, I do remember
vividly the part about him fasting in the month of
Ramadan. I kind of consider this to be the original
awakening of my heart to what I really was, but
without any other serious exposure to Islam in the
years after reading that book, I lost it all again.
Some time later,
assuming I was around the age of eight when I read
King of the Wind, when I was around the age of twelve
I was plagued by mysterious dreams that I didn't quite
understand of things that I didn't know anything
about. They weren't scary, they were more of the
sub-conscious reflections of the yearning I had
In the one I
remember most vividly I was standing inside a
perfectly square, wood-paneled room with patterned
carpet laying in one direction. There were burning
lanterns to light the room.
Off to my left
side there was a carved wooden screen behind which was
another room, a room I knew in this dream to be the
room that women used. I also knew that a woman like I
was not allowed to be in the room I was standing in.
Not only was I
standing in this forbidden room, the room for men, but
I was also standing there with nothing covering my
twelve-year-old Christian girl, the concept of
separate rooms for men and women and the concept of
covering your head was something I quite literally had
never been told about nor exposed to. Yet in this
dream I knew what I was doing wrong, what I needed to
do right, and there was no question in my heart as to
I felt the love
and concern of the merciful God watching me stand in
the room and I felt like I had let my Creator down.
This sense of shame and sadness are what stand out to
me the most vivid of the dream, although I could draw
the room and the carved panel. I remember them so
I also remember
the old-fashioned dress I was wearing. Even though
in the dream I did not go into it, I even remember
what the women's section looked like. I consider this
dream to be the reason I feel so strongly about
wearing hijab, I feel like God was making me ready for
the things I would need to do just one decade later.
There were other
dreams, fleeting glimpses of things like Sunnah beards
that made no sense at the time. It was a decade
later, maybe five months or so before I converted,
that my last dream came. This was not so much as
dream as it was an unbidden vision.
I had just ended
a phone conversation with a Muslim acquaintance of
mine in which he had teased me about converting. I
was adamant that while I respected Islam, I did not
believe it and I was fighting hard to keep myself in
denial. I was so scared that I didn't want to
acknowledge what I already was. But God had a
The moment after
I ended the call, I lay back on my bed, closed my
eyes, and was instantly lifted into another level.
Before me stood a woman covered in black from head to
toe, and on her face was what looked like a ninja
mask: a veil that covered the lower half of her face,
but was connected to the top by a thin strip that ran
up her nose and between her eyes.
I was fascinated
and terrified by her. I drew closer to look, and in
that moment I realized that it was me behind the veil
and that I was looking back at myself with an
I-told-you-so look in my eyes, as if I were simply
looking in a mirror.
I recoiled in
horror, jumped almost straight out of my bed, and
threw my phone across the room. I was terrified, I
was shocked, and inside a little part of me knew that
this was the beginning of the end of all I was
comfortable with. I knew I had seen a glimpse of my
Carlson, Ex-Christian, USA (part 1 of 2)
explorations into Islam began right after September
11, 2001. I was in my first semester of college and I
was 18 years old.
I worked with a
girl from Saudi Arabia. I tutored a Pakistani girl
with a face veil, and I was friends with a guy from
Palestine. All Muslims, of a varying degree, and all
people I had never really questioned before, regarding
The girl I
tutored, since then, became one of my closest friends
on earth, and I would talk about her culture all the
time. However, after 9/11, I began to question her
more deeply about Islam and its beliefs.
My reasoning was
that I knew these Muslim people, and none of them were
terrorists, none of them were extremists. And I felt
sorry that because of their religious affiliation,
they were the targets of immense amounts of hatred;
especially in the initial months after the attacks.
I wanted to know
more in order to counsel my family and friends against
hatred, and I wanted to know more because when you
don't understand something you fear it.
I even went to
the length of borrowing an abaya, hijab, and niqab
from my Pakistani friend and wore them to both school
and work to know exactly how differently I would be
treated in these clothes than I was treated as a
normal American girl on any other day.
was extreme. It was harsh, and in some instances,
even brought me to tears. My respect for my friend
grew, and has not wavered at all in these years
since. She was, and still is, my hero.
She and another
very close friend of mine — a man who is a convert
himself and grew up in somewhat similar circumstances
to my own — were two of my biggest influences.
I would sit for
hours upon hours with my convert friend talking about
Islam — why he converted, and how he converted, and
all of the information he had to give to me, he gave
He had asked the
same questions I was asking and he knew their
answers. If it were not for him, I would not be the
Muslim I am today. My understanding of Islam grew
steadily at a snail's pace over the next three and a
Islam, but I had never gotten to the point of actually
thinking that I myself would become Muslim. And in
the end, it would be the hardest decision of my life.
Here I enter
into a point of my story that I sometimes tell and
sometimes do not. It matters in the grand scheme of
how I became Muslim, but when it comes to the bare
bones of why I converted, it matters not at all.
However, since I want to be honest with you, my
readers, I feel that it is important to tell.
The very first
question I get from other Muslims when they see my
hijab is: "Are you Muslim?" And then 99% of the time
the second question right after it is: "Are you
married to a Muslim man?" The meaning being that I
married a man who was Muslim and converted later under
To this I always
say no, but to say that a man had nothing to do with
it would be a lie. The final step towards my
conversion was to become involved with a Muslim man.
For his privacy, and out of respect for him, I will
not talk much about it, but I feel it must be
This is because
people who look at a woman or a man who has converted
while either married or involved with a Muslim person,
think that they did it for their significant others.
I want to be a standing example that no, this is not
always automatically how it is.
If I had
converted for him, I would have married him when he
came to me with a proposal, but I did not, and that
was the second hardest decision of my life. He was
not my destination, he was the door through which I
needed to step. It was through him that I met some of
the people who are the most important in my life, both
as a person and as a Muslim.
The Osman family
took me in without a second word. They didn't even
reproach my boyfriend for bringing me to them, and I
respect them for that and many other things. I
remember the first night I met them, how "at home" I
felt within their family, and how much a part of them
I already was.
I think that the
father knew, that God put the knowledge in his heart,
that I was someone they needed to embrace. I can tell
you, beloved readers, with 100% conviction that had I
never known the Osman family, I would have never
become the Muslim woman I am today, and that I would
possibly never have embraced Islam.
Bhai-ji and his
family were and are my greatest heroes, my greatest
loves, my greatest influences, and my greatest
teachers. To them I owe everything.
after meeting them, sometime in early March 2005, and
not long after that moment while driving in which I
realized who I had become, I took Shahadah in their
living room surrounded by people who loved me more
than I will ever understand.
inside of me the moment after I swore to the truest
belief I have ever had: "I testify that there is no
God but God, and I testify that Muhammad is the
Messenger of God," is a feeling I will never be able
to describe in words.
It felt as if I
were glowing so brightly from the inside that I would
explode into tiny bits of light. I felt the hand of
God inside me taking away my sins and making me new.
The supreme happiness of that moment will live in me
forever because I glimpsed paradise in that eternal
I remember the
moment I knew that everything had changed. I remember
the moment in which everything did change. Throughout
my life I was always the person that I am now, by the
will of God, it just took me 22 years to get to where
I could realize it.
Since that day,
since that decision, I have never looked back. I have
never regretted what I did because I have found more
meaning and more pleasure in my life this past year
and half, than I did in the 22 years leading up to it.
I would never be
anyone other than who I am now. And that, my friends,
is the true conversion of my soul.