Ex-Christian: How Jesus Lead Her to Islam
Description: How Jesus lead her to Islam.
By Eaman Fahmy (Reading Islam)
Kathryn is a young woman who embraced Islam in June 2008. What questions led her to Islam? How does she describe her emotions upon saying the Shahadah (the testimony of faith)? What was her first Ramadan like? Recently she sat down to share with us the story of her journey to Islam.
Reading Islam (RI): Thank you for taking the time today to share your story with us. First off, could you please give us a general idea about your background: where did you grow up, what sort of upbringing did you have, and as you were growing up what role did religion play in your life?
K: I was born and raised in London, Ontario in a Christian family. My parents were both teachers in the Catholic school board and we have always been a very close family.
My parents are moderately religious, in that we would attend church on Sundays and celebrate the Christian holidays. However, I found that in Christianity, it is almost a once a week commitment on Sundays, although some people attend church more frequently and get more involved in community events.
I attended all Christian schools and began university at Brescia University College, an all girls’ Christian school and an affiliate of the University of Western Ontario. My parents have always been very open to discussion, and although I was raised Catholic, they encouraged me to have friends of diverse backgrounds and to ask questions pertaining to life and to faith.
RI: What brought you to start researching and learning about Islam?
K: It all started for me when I was in high school, when I was probably sixteen or seventeen and I really wanted to know the truth. I didn’t want to be part of a certain religion just because I was born into it.
I remember, being raised Christian, a lot of times we would have the priest come to our high school and we would do Confession. I would say, “I really don’t understand this whole Trinity concept. Can you explain it to me?” And they would say, “Just have faith.” They didn’t have the answers.
RI: That’s pretty young to be thinking like that, you were only sixteen at that time, right?
K: Yes, it is young, but in Christian schools we do religion courses, all through elementary school, all through high school. It was at that age when I took a world religions course.
I was really interested to know what the truth was. I wanted to learn how other people were raised, and learn about other religions. So I was researching main religions, like Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
I was researching a bit about Islam, but I found I really wasn’t getting the full picture. I don’t know, maybe it was the age or the people teaching it to me.
When I got to university, I did some courses at the seminary at the University of Western Ontario to understand Catholic theology and take more in-depth courses. I did a Christianity and marriage course as well.
Once again I found the same thing. I was left with a lot of professors trying to do analogies with the Trinity. They would say, “Your father and mother love each other, and when they have a child, it is like three in one. It is the parents combined into one, but it is still three separate identities.”
So there were a lot of analogies given to explain how Jesus could be God and the Son of God and his own person. I think a lot of Christians just accept that’s just what Christianity is.
I had learned through some friends at that point that the doctrine of the Trinity was decided after Jesus had died and that was interesting to me as well. The whole foundation of Christianity was decided by men, Jesus never said, “I am the Son of God,” in a literal sense, for he called others the sons and daughters of God as well. Nor did he ever say, “I am God.”
In fact, as I was reading from the Gospels I found that in the first Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is not referred to as the Son of God, but rather as the Son of Man. I found that the later the Gospels were written after Jesus’ death, the more the term “Son of God” was used. It has been alluded to that this was for political reasons to further the Trinity argument.
Also, I found that when Jesus prayed, he cried out to God. If Jesus is crying out to God for mercy, then how can he be God? It just didn’t make sense to me.
RI: So this was studying when you were in university. What about studying on a personal level? How did that come about?
K: After I finished at Western, I moved to Montreal, and I met a lot of Muslims from all different backgrounds, European, African, Caribbean, and that really opened my eyes to the diversity of Islam. I started researching it because I went to school with a lot of Muslims and became friends with them. I wanted to understand their background more.
Of course as I started reading, I found a lot of extreme examples on the internet, and I would say, “I don’t want to be a part of this religion,” and “do you know this is what your religion stands for?” And it was actually my father who told me to just keep reading, that there are misconceptions with everything. So I just kept searching.
I actually joined an international website for “Muslimahs”, for women who had either converted or had been born Muslim. It was a great place to ask questions. Maybe they were doing a school project, or had a friend who had converted and had questions.
It was also a great place to meet people as well from all over the world. So that’s how I started learning.
RI: What was it that you wanted to know? What type of questions were you asking?
K: I think many of the questions were regarding what Islam has in common with Christianity, and what is different. A lot of people wanted to know Jesus’ status in Islam. Do Muslims believe in Jesus? Is Muhammad like God in Islam?
A lot of people think in Islam, Muhammad is worshipped, when really he is a prophet, just like all the other prophets. So there were a lot of questions about this. Also, a lot of people had misconceptions that needed to be cleared up about polygamy in Islam, as well as issues that have been raised since Sept 11th.
RI: So you studied Islam in university, and continued to study on a private level. What happened between then and when you took Shahadah? What made you take that step?
K: I was researching everything when I was living in Montreal. Then I moved back to London, and found I really missed the network I had established with Muslims. My parents were actually a bit surprised because they thought I would adjust to moving back home, and not pursue my interest in Islam as seriously.
I ordered a copy of the Quran at that point. I had read the general meaning of Islam and I wanted to read the actual sources now. I also ordered a book of hadiths as well. I said to my dad when I started reading the Quran that this is not written by a man. There is no way. You feel like God is speaking to you.
You feel like there is truth written in the Bible as well, but you feel it is not written by God directly, whereas the Quran you really feel the truth. I told him how I couldn’t believe how similar it is to Christianity.
We are led to believe that it is so different, but there are the same revelations, there is great respect for Jesus, there are the same prophets. For me that was the biggest thing, distinguishing what the media is telling us what Islam is, and what Islam really is. I found for me it was really peaceful.
Aside from reading the Quran, hadiths, and books on the Prophet, I found it very useful to read about science in the Quran. I was able to see that this book from God revealed facts that scientists discovered much later. I think that Islam appeals to people on an emotional and logical level. Islam truly encourages us to think and gain knowledge.
I started to teach myself the prayers and I kept reading. I started going to lectures as well. I contacted the mosque to see if they had any sort of program for people interested in Islam.
The first time I went to the mosque, I just felt I wanted to be there. I showed up at night, and I went down in the basement and there was actually a tajweed (rules of Quranic recitation) class for women. I remember when I walked down I just started crying. I felt this huge energy there, energy that I never felt in a church before.
So I just kept learning, I kept going to lectures.
I went to Friday prayers once, and continued meeting other Muslims. And along the way I was changing my habits.
RI: Your parents were okay with this as it developed?
K: Yes, I think the big thing with me is that I took my time with it. They were really good with everything. I would answer their questions and explain the whole process as I was going through it. I think my Mom had the hardest time with it just because she was raised a strict Catholic.
She was very worried that I wouldn’t be as close with the family and I would be “different” from the family and leave the celebrations and traditions I grew up with. So that was mainly her concern, but with time, and I have reiterated to her that in Islam, the family is so important, and so is respecting your parents.
I really made sure to answer their questions and to stay close to them, so alhamdulillah everything is good now.
RI: So tell me about the day that you embraced Islam.
K: When I converted I was actually going to a weekly session of lectures at the Islamic Centre, and I didn’t even plan on converting that day. When I went, there happened to be other people there that I knew.
It was completely packed. Everyone was there. They were doing a presentation on Umrah from the year before, so there were a lot of youths that were there speaking about their experiences and how their lives had changed since.
Dr Munir El-Kassem was doing the lectures, and normally he begins his lectures immediately, but at that particular time he asked if anyone had any specific questions before he started, and one of the brothers asked a question and he answered and said, “You know, I really don’t feel that was a question. Who really has a question here?”
And I put up my hand and said, “Can I do Shahadah?” And right after I said it, I thought, “Oh my God, did I just say that!” I didn’t even plan it.
It was even like out of body for me. It was completely quiet and I think Dr. Munir was surprised also. I had been wearing hijab while going to the lectures just out of respect for Islam. He asked if I could come up and tell everyone how I came to Islam.
When I said the Shahadah I was shaking, I was emotional. I felt an openness in my heart, a complete lightness, as if doors were opening in your heart. I almost wish I had done it sooner. I’m glad it took me time, but it just felt so right.
RI: This would have been your first Ramadan that just passed. How was it on a physical level, and how was it spiritually?
K:It was very challenging. I had actually tried it the year before I converted. This time I found it easier. Maybe I had help from Allah because I had converted. But definitely it was challenging because I didn’t grow up with it.
Also because I am still living at home, it was challenging waking up on my own in the morning, having iftar on my own at night. I’m also the only Muslim at work. But I found the community to be very close and found doing Tarawih Prayer very helpful as well. I really miss it now that it is gone. You feel the energy during Ramadan, but it’s definitely a challenge.
RI: And what about spiritually?
K: It showed me that you can develop a certain level of discipline and patience during Ramadan and you realize that you are stronger than you think when you’re tested. And it also gives you strength for the rest of the year.
RI: In what way did embracing Islam change your life the most?
K: Islam has changed my life the most by giving me a sense of purpose and direction. It is a very clear, concise religion that lets us know why we are here and how we are to behave.
It forces Muslims to always ask themselves if they are in line with what God would want and to be consistently thinking in an ethical manner. For example, we are guided with how to give charity, treat animals and interact with the less fortunate.
Islam also values family and proper conduct. I have tried to be even more aware of how I interact with my immediate family to represent the religion correctly. This also is applicable to my behavior at work and in social interactions.
My daily life has been affected, as I no longer drink alcohol or eat pork and I perform the five daily prayers.
RI: What is it that you would most like to tell non-Muslims about Islam?
K: I think the biggest thing is more what we have in common, than what is different. What is portrayed in the media is most definitely not Islam. When you see violence against civilians or other Muslims, this is not what Islam represents.
Islam focuses on the worship of one God, and this goes back to the teachings and practices of Abraham. There is great respect for Jesus and for all of the prophets, and it’s really a very tolerant and peaceful religion.