C. Huda Dodge

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Salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah
Since I have started reading and posting on this new sgroup a few months ago,
I have noticed a great interest in converts (reverts) to Islam: how are people introduced to it,
what attracts people to this faith,  how  their  life changes when they embrace Islam, etc.
I have received a lot of e-mail from people asking me these questions. In this  post,  I  hope insha'Allah to
address  how,  when  and  why  an American like myself came to embrace Islam. It's long, and I'm sorry for that,
but I don't think you can fully understand this process from a few paragraphs. I tried not to ramble on or get
off on tangents. At times the story is detailed, because I think it helps to truly understand how my path to
Islam developed. Of course, there's alot I left out (I'm  not  trying  to  tell  you  my  whole  life  story  -  just
the  pertinent stuff).

It's interesting for me to look back on my life and see how it all fits together - how
Allah planned this for me all along. When I think about  it,  I  can't  help  saying  `Subhannallah,'
and  thank  Allah  for bringing me to where I am today. At other times, I feel sad that I was not
born into Islam and [thereby] been a Muslim all my life. While I admire those who were, I at times
pity them because sometimes they don't really appreciate this blessing. Insha'Allah, reading this
can help you  understand  how  I,  at  least,  came  to  be  a  Muslim.  Whether  it gives you ideas
for da'wah, or just gives you some inspiration in your own faith, I hope it is worth your time to read it,
insha'Allah. It is my story, but I think a lot of others might see themselves in it.

I was born in San Francisco, California, and raised in a Bay Area suburb.  My  small  town  (San  Anselmo,  pop.
about  14,000 last  I checked)  was  a  mostly  white,  upper-middle-class,  Christian community.
It is a beautiful area - just north of San Francisco (across the Golden Gate Bridge), nestled in a
valley near the hillsides (Mount Tamalpais) and the Pacific Ocean. I knew all of my neighbors,
played baseball in the street, caught frogs in the creeks, rode horses in the hills, and climbed
trees in my front yard. My father is Presbyterian, and my mother is Catholic. My father was never
really active in any church, but my mother tried to raise us as Catholics. She took us to church sometimes,
but we didn't know what was going on. People stand up, sit down, kneel, sit again, stand up, and recite things
after the priest. Each pew had a booklet - a kind of `direction book' -and we had to follow along in order to
know what to do next (if we didn't fall asleep first). I was baptized in this church, and received my First
Communion  at  about  the  age  of  8  (I  have  pictures,  but  I don't remember it much). After that, we
only went about once a year.

I  lived  on  a  dead-end  street  of  about  15  houses.  My  grammar school was at the end of
the street (4 houses down), next to a small Presbyterian church. When I was about 10,
the people of this church invited  me  to  participate  in  their  children's  Christmas  play.
Every Sunday morning from then on, I walked down to church alone (no one  else  in  my  family  was
interested  in  coming).  The  whole congregation  was  only  about  30  older  people  (past  their  50's),
but they  were  nice  and  never  made  me  feel  out  of  place. There  were about 3 younger couples with
children younger than me. I became a very active member of this church down the street. When I was in 6th grade,
I started babysitting the younger kids during the service. By 9th grade,
I was helping the minister's wife teach Sunday school. In high school, I started a church youth group by
recruiting 4 of my friends to join me. It was a small group: me, my friends, and a young couple  with  kids,
but  we  liked  it  that  way.  The  big  Presbyterian Church in town had about 100 kids in their youth group
and took trips to Mexico, etc. But our group was content to get together to study the bible, talk about God,
and raise money for charities.

These  friends and I would sit together and talk about spiritual issues. We debated about questions
in our minds: what happens to the people who lived before Jesus came (go to heaven or hell); why do some
very righteous people automatically go to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus (we thought about Gandhi);
on the other hand, why do some pretty horrible people (like my friend's abusive father) get rewarded with heaven
just because they're Christian; why does a loving and merciful God require a blood sacrifice (Jesus) to forgive
people's sins; why are we guilty of Adam's original sin; why does the Word of God (Bible) disagree with scientific
facts; how can Jesus  be  God;  how  can  One  God  be  3  different  things;  etc.  We debated about these things,
but never came up with good answers. The church couldn't give us good answers either; they only told us to "have faith."

The  people  at  church  told  me  about  a  Presbyterian  summer camp in Northern California.
I went for the first time when I was 10. For the next 7 years, I went every summer. While I was
happy with the little church I went to, this is where I really felt in touch with God, without confusion.
It was here that I developed my very deep faith in God. We spent much of our time outdoors, playing games,
doing crafts, swimming, etc. It was fun, but every day we would also take time out to pray, study the bible,
sing spiritual songs, and have `quiet time.' It is this quiet time that really meant a lot to me, and of which
I  have  the  best  memories.  The rule was that you had to sit alone - anywhere on the camp's 200 beautiful acres.
I would often go to  a  meadow,  or  sit  on  a  bridge  overlooking  the  creek,  and  just THINK.
I looked around me, at the creek, the trees, the clouds, the bugs :) - listened to the water, the birds'
songs, the crickets' chirps. This place really let me feel at peace, and I admired and thanked God for
His  beautiful  creation.  At  the  end  of  each  summer,  when  I returned  back  home,  this  feeling
stayed with me. I loved to spend time outdoors, alone, to just think about God, life, and my place in it.
I developed my personal understanding of Jesus' role as a teacher and example, and left all the confusing
church teachings behind.

I believed (and still do) in the teaching "Love your neighbor as yourself," fully giving to others without
expecting anything in return, treating  others  as  you  would  like  to  be  treated.  I  strived  to
help everyone I could. When I was fourteen, I got my first job, at an ice cream store. When I got my
paycheck each month (it wasn't much), I sent the first $25 to a program called `Foster Parents Plan'
(they've changed  the  name  now). This was a charity that hooked up needy children  overseas  with
American  sponsors.  During  my 4  years  of high school, I was a sponsor for a young Egyptian boy named Sherif.
I  sent  him  part  of  my  paycheck  each  month,  and  we  exchanged letters.  (His  letters  were  in  Arabic,
and  looking  at  them  now,  it appears that he believed he was writing to an adult man, not a girl 5 years older
than him.) He was 9 years old, his father was dead, and his mother was ill and couldn't work. He had 2 younger
brothers and a sister my age. I remember getting a letter from him when I was 16 - he  was  excited  because
his  sister  had  gotten  engaged.  I  thought, "She's the same age as me, and she's getting engaged!!!"
It seemed so foreign to me. These were the first Muslims I had contact with.

Aside from this, I was also involved with other activities in high school. I tutored Central American students
at my school in English. In  a  group  called  "Students  for  Social  Responsibility,"  I  helped charities
for  Nicaraguan  school  children  and  Kenyan villagers.  We campaigned against nuclear arms (the biggest fear
we all had at that time was of a nuclear war). I invited exchange students from France into my home, and I
had pen pals from all over the world (France, Germany, Sweden, etc.). My junior year of high school,
we hosted a group called ‘Children of War’ - a group of young people from South Africa, Gaza Strip, Guatemala,
and other war-torn lands, who toured the country telling their stories and their wishes for peace.
Two of them stayed at my house - the group's chaperone from Nicaragua, and a young black South African man.
The summer after my junior year  of  high  school,  I  took  a  volunteer  job  in  San  Francisco
(the Tenderloin district), teaching English to refugee women. In my class were  Fatimah  and  Maysoon,
2  Chinese  Muslim  widows  from Vietnam. These were the next Muslims I met, although we couldn't talk much
(their English was too minimal). All they did was laugh.

All of these experiences put me in touch with the outside world, and led me to value people of all kinds.
Throughout my youth and high school, I had developed two very deep interests: faith in God, and interacting
with people from other countries. When I left home to attend college in Portland, Oregon, I brought these
interests with me. At Lewis & Clark College, I started out as a Foreign Language (French  &  Spanish)  major,
with  a  thought  to  one  day work  with refugee populations, or teach English as a Second Language.
When I arrived at school, I moved into a dorm room with two others - a girl from California
(who grew up only 10 minutes from where I did), and  a  29-year-old Japanese woman (exchange student). I was 17.
I didn't  know  anyone  else  at  school,  so  I  tried  to  get  involved  in activities  to  meet  people.
In  line  with  my  interests,  I  chose  to  get involved  with  2  groups:  Campus  Crusade  for  Christ
(obviously,  a Christian  group),  and  Conversation  Groups  (where  they  match Americans  up  with  a
group  of  international  students  to  practice English).

I met with the Campus Crusade students during my first term of school. A few of the people that
I met were very nice, pure-hearted people,  but  the  majority  were  very  ostentatious.
We  got  together every week to listen to "personal testimonies," sing songs, etc.
Every week we visited a different church in the Portland area. Most of the churches were unlike
anything I'd ever been exposed to before. One final visit to a church in the Southeast area freaked
me out so much that I quit going to the Crusade meetings. At this church, there was a rock band with
electric guitars, and people were waving their hands in  the  air  (above  their  heads,  with  their
eyes  closed)  and  singing "hallelujah." I had never seen anything like it! I see things like this now
on TV, but coming from a very small Presbyterian church, I was disturbed.  Others  in  Campus  Crusade
loved  this  church, and  they continued to go. The atmosphere seemed so far removed from the worship of God,
and I didn't feel comfortable returning.

I always felt closest to God when I was in a quiet setting and/or outdoors.  I  started  taking  walks  around
campus  (Lewis &  Clark College has a beautiful campus!), sitting on benches, looking at the view of Mount Hood,
watching the trees change colors. One day I wandered into the campus chapel - a small, round building nestled
in the trees. It was beautifully simple. The pews formed a circle around the center of the room, and a huge
pipe organ hung from the ceiling in the middle. No altar, no crosses, no statues - nothing. Just some simple
wood benches and a pipe organ. During the rest of the year, I spent a lot of time in this building, listening
to the organist practice, or just sitting alone in the quiet to think. I felt more comfortable and close to
God there than at any church I had ever been to.

During  this  time,  I  was  also  meeting  with  a  group  of international  students  as part of the Conversation Group
program. We had 5 people in our group: me, a Japanese man and woman, an Italian man and a Palestinian man.
We met twice a week over lunch, to practice English conversation skills. We talked about our families, our
studies, our childhoods, cultural differences, etc. As I listened to the  Palestinian  man  (Faris)  talk
about  his  life,  his family,  his  faith, etc.,  it  struck  a  nerve  in  me.  I  remembered  Sherif,
Fatima  and Maysoon,  the  only  other  Muslims  I  had  ever  known.  Previously,  I had seen their beliefs
and way of life as foreign, something that was alien  to  my  culture.  I  never  bothered  to  learn  about
their  faith because of this cultural barrier. But the more I learned about Islam, the more I became interested
in it as a possibility for my own life.

During  my  second  term  of  school,  the  conversation  group disbanded and the international students transferred
to other schools. The discussions we had, however, stayed at the front of my thoughts. The  following  term,
I  registered  for  a  class  in  the religious studies department: Introduction to Islam. This class brought
back all of the concerns that I had about Christianity. As I learned about Islam, all of  my  questions  were
answered.  All  of  us  are  not  punished  for Adam's  original  sin.  Adam  asked  God  for  forgiveness and
our Merciful and Loving God forgave him. God doesn't require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must sincerely
ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn't God, he was a prophet, like all of the other prophets,
who all taught the same message: Believe in the One  true  God;  worship  and  submit  to  Him  alone;
and  live  a righteous life according to the guidance He has sent. This answered all of my questions about
the trinity and the nature of Jesus (all God, all human, or a combination). God is a Perfect and Fair Judge,
who will  reward  or  punish  us  based  on  our  faith  and  righteousness.  I found a teaching that put
everything in its proper perspective, and appealed to my heart and my intellect. It seemed natural. It wasn't
confusing. I had been searching, and I had found a place to rest my faith.

That summer, I returned home to the Bay Area and continued my studies of Islam. I checked books out of the library
and talked with my friends. They were as deeply spiritual as I was, and had also been  searching
(most  of  them  were  looking  into  eastern  religions, Buddhism  in  particular).
They  understood  my  search,  and  were happy  I could find something to believe in. They raised questions,
though,  about  how  Islam  would  affect  my  life:  as  a  woman,  as  a liberal Californian :), with my family, etc.
I continued to study, pray and soul-search to see how comfortable I really was with it. I sought out  Islamic
centers  in  my  area,  but  the  closest  one  was  in  San Francisco, and I never got there to visit (no car,
and bus schedules didn't fit with my work schedule). So I continued to search on my own. When it came up in conversation,
I talked to my family about it. I  remember  one  time  in  particular,  when  we  were  all watching  a public  television
program  about  the  Eskimos.  They  said  that  the Eskimos have over 200 words for `snow,' because snow is such a big part
of  their  life.  Later  that  night,  we  were  talking  about  how different languages have many words for things that
are important to them. My father commented about all the different words Americans use  for  `money'  (money,  dough,
bread,  etc.).  I  commented,  "You know, the Muslims have 99 names for God - I guess that's what is important to them."

At the end of the summer, I returned to Lewis & Clark. The first thing I did was contact the mosque in southwest Portland.
I asked for  the  name  of  a  woman  I  could  talk  to,  and  they  gave  me  the number  of  a
Muslim  American  sister.  That  week,  I  visited  her  at home.  After  talking  for  a  while,
she  realized  that I  was  already  a believer. I told her I was just looking for some women who could help
guide me in the practicalities of what it meant to be a Muslim. For  example,  how  to  pray.  I  had  read  it
in  books,  but  I  couldn't figure out how to do it just from books. I made attempts, and prayed in English, but
I knew I wasn't doing it right. The sister invited me that  night  to  an aqiqa(dinner  after  the  birth  of
a  new  baby).  She picked me up that night and we went. I felt so comfortable with the Muslim sisters there,
and they were very friendly to me that night. I said my shahaada, witnessed by a few sisters. They taught me how
to pray. They talked to me about their own faith (many of them were also American). I left that night feeling
like I had just started a new life.

I was still living in a campus dorm, and was pretty isolated from the Muslim community. I had to take 2
buses to get to the area where the mosque was (and where most of the women lived). I quickly lost touch
with the women I met, and was left to pursue my faith on my own at school. I made a few attempts to go to
the mosque, but was confused by the meeting times. Sometimes I'd show up to borrow some books from the library,
and the whole building would be full of men. Another time I decided to go to my first Jumah prayer, and I couldn'
t go in for the same reason. Later, I was told that women only meet at a certain time (Saturday afternoon), and that
I couldn't go at other times. I was discouraged and confused, but I continued to have faith and learn on my own.

Six months after my shahaada, I observed my first Ramadan. I had  been  contemplating  the  issue  of Hijab,
but  was  too  scared  to take that step before. I had already begun to dress more modestly, and usually wore
a scarf over my shoulders (when I visited the sister, she  told  me  "all  you  have  to  do  is  move  that
scarf  from  your shoulders to your head, and you'll be Islamically dressed."). At first I didn't feel ready
to wear Hijab, because I didn't feel strong enough in my faith. I understood the reason for it, agreed with it,
and admired the women who did wear it. They looked so pious and noble. But I knew that if I wore it,
people would ask me a lot of questions, and I didn't feel ready or strong enough to deal with that.
This changed as Ramadan approached, and on the first day of Ramadan, I woke up and went to class in Hijab.
Alhamdillah, I haven't taken it off since. Something about Ramadan helped me to feel strong, and proud to
be a Muslim. I felt ready to answer anybody's questions.

However,  I  also  felt  isolated  and  lonely  during  that first Ramadan.  No  one  from  the  Muslim
community  even  called me.  I was on a meal plan at school, so I had to arrange to get special meals
(the dining hall wasn't open during the hours I could eat). The school agreed  to  give  me  my  meals
in  bag  lunches.  So  every night  as sundown approached, I'd walk across the street to the kitchen,
go in the back to the huge refrigerators, and take my 2 bag lunches (one for fitoor, one for suhoor).
I'd bring the bags back to my dorm room and eat alone. They always had the same thing: yoghurt, a piece of fruit,
cookies,  and  either  a  tuna  or  egg  salad  sandwich.  The  same thing, for both meals, for the whole month.
I was lonely, but at the same time I had never felt more at peace with myself.

When  I  embraced  Islam,  I  told  my  family.  They  were not surprised. They kind of saw it coming, from my
actions and what I said when I was home that summer. They accepted my decision, and knew that I
was sincere. Even before, my family always accepted my activities and my deep faith, even if they didn't share it.
They were not as open-minded, however, when I started to wearHijab. They worried that I was cutting myself
off from society that I would be discriminated against, that it would discourage me from reaching my goals,
and they were embarrassed to be seen with me. They thought it was too radical. They didn't mind if I had a
different faith, but they didn't like it to affect my life in an outward way. They were more upset when I
decided to get married. During this time, I had gotten back  in  touch  with  Faris,  the  Muslim  Palestinian
brother  of  my conversation group, the one who first prompted my interest in Islam. He was still in the Portland
area, attending the community college. We started meeting again, over lunch, in the library, at his brother's house,
etc.  We  were  married  the  following  summer  (after  my sophomore year, a year after my shahaada).
My family freaked out. They weren't quite yet over my Hijab, and they felt like I had thrown something  else
at  them.  They  argued  that  I  was  too  young,  and worried that I would abandon my goals, drop out of school,
become a  young  mother,  and  destroy  my  life.  They  liked  my  husband,  but didn't trust him at first
(they were thinking `green card scam'). My family and I fought over this for several months, and I feared
that our relationship would never be repaired.

That was 3 years ago, and a lot has changed. Faris and I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, home of Oregon State
University. We live in a very  strong  and  close-knit  Muslim  community.  I  graduated  magna cum laude
last year, with a degree in child development. I have had several jobs, from secretary to preschool teacher,
with no problems about my Hijab. I'm active in the community, and still do volunteerwork. My husband, insha'Allah,
will finish his Electrical Engineering degree this year. We visit my family a couple of times a year. I met Faris'
parents for the first time this summer, and we get along great. I'm slowly but surely adding Arabic to the list of
languages I speak. My  family  has  seen  all  of  this,  and  has  recognized that  I  didn't destroy my life.
They see that Islam has brought me happiness, not pain and sorrow. They are proud of my accomplishments,
and can see that I am truly happy and at peace. Our relationship is back to normal,  and  they  are
looking  forward  to  our  visit  next  month, insha'Allah.

Looking back on all of this, I feel truly grateful that Allah has guided me to where I am today.
I truly feel blessed. It seems that all of the pieces of my life fit together in a pattern - a path to Islam.

Alhamdillillahi rabi al'amin.
Your sister in faith,
C. Huda Dodge ".
Say:  Allah's  guidance  is  the  only  guidance,  and  we have  been directed  to  submit
ourselves  to  the  Lord  of  the  Worlds.."  Qur'an (6:71)



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