Ms. Kaci Starbuck

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My first realization about the Christian idea of salvation came after I was baptized into a Southern Baptist church at a young age. I was taught in Sunday School that "if you aren't baptized, then you are going to hell". My own baptism had taken place because I wanted  to  please  people.  My  mom  had  come  into  my  room  one evening and I asked her about baptism. She encouraged me to do it. So,  the  next  Sunday,  I  decided  to  go  to  the  front  of the  church. During a hymn at the end of the sermon, I walked forward to meet with the youth minister. He had a smile on his face, greeted me, then sat beside me on a pew. He asked a question, "Why do you want to do this?"... I paused, then said, "because I love Jesus and I know that he  loves  me".  After  making  the  statement,  the  members  of  the church  came  up  and  hugged  me...  anticipating  the  ceremonial immersion in water just a few weeks later.  

During my early years at church, even in the kindergarten class, I remember  being  a  vocal  participant  in  the  Sunday  School  lessons. Later, in my early adolescent years I was a member of the young girls' group that gathered at the church for weekly activities and went on annual retreats to a camp. During my youth, I attended a camp with older members of the youth group. Though I hadn't spent much time with them before, they recognized me as "the daughter of a youth coordinator"  or  "the  girl  who  plays  piano  at  special  occasions  at church".  One  evening  at  this  camp  a  man  was  speaking about  his marriage. He told the story about meeting his wife. He had grown up in the US where dating was normal, but in the girl's culture, he could only be with her if they had a guardian with them. Since he liked her, he  decided  to continue seeing her. Another stipulation is that they could not touch each other until she had been given a promise ring. Once  he  proposed  to  her,  they  were  allowed  to  hold hands.  -This baffled me, yet held me in awe. It was beautiful to think that such discovery of another person could be saved until a commitment was made.  Though  I  enjoyed  the  story,  I  never  thought  that  the  same incident could occur again.  

A few years later, my parents divorced and the role of religion changed in my life. I had always seen my family through the eyes of a child - they were perfect. My dad was a deacon in the church, well respected, and known by all. My mom was active with youth groups. When my mom left, I took the role of caretaker of my father and two brothers. We continued to go to church, but when visiting my mom on weekends, the visits to churches became more infrequent. When at  my  dad's  home  we  would  gather  at  night  every  night  to  read Corinthians  1:13  (which  talks  about  love/charity).  My  brothers, father,  and  I  repeated  this  so  often  that  I  memorized  it.  It  was  a source of support for my dad, though I could not understand why.  

In a period of three consecutive years, my older brother, younger brother, and I moved to my mom's house. At that point my mom no longer went to church, so my brothers found church attendance less important.  Having  moved  to  my  mother's  house  during  my  junior year of high school, I was to discover new friends and a different way of life. The first day of school I met a girl who was very friendly. The second day of school, she invited me to her house for the weekend - to  meet  her  family  and  visit  her  church.  I  was  automatically "adopted" into her family as a "good kid" and "good influence" for her.  Also,  I  was  surprisingly  shocked  at  the  congregation  that attended her church. Though I was a stranger, all of the women and men greeted me with hugs and kisses and made me feel welcome.  

After  continually  spending  time  with  the  family  and attending church on the weekends, they started talking to me about particular beliefs  in  their  Church  of  Christ.  This  group  went  by the  New Testament  (literal  interpretation  of  Paul's  writings).  They  had  no musical  instruments  in  church  services  -  only  vocal  singing;  there were no hired preachers, but elders who would bring sermons each Sunday.  Women  were  not  allowed  to  speak  in  church.  Christmas, Easter, and other holidays were not celebrated, wine and unleavened bread were taken as communion every Sunday, and baptism was seen as immediately necessary at the moment that the sinner decided to become  a  believer.  Though  I  was  already  considered  a Christian, members of this congregation believed that I was going to hell if I didn't get baptized again - in their church, their way. This was the first major blow to my belief system. Had I grown up in a church where  everything  had  been  done  wrong?  Did  I  really have  to  be baptized again?  

At one point I had a discussion about faith with my mom. I told her about my confusion and just wanted somebody to clear things up for  me.  I  became  critical  of  sermons  at  all  churches because  the preachers would just tell stories and not focus on the Bible. I couldn't understand:  if  the  Bible  was  so  important,  why  was  it  not  read (solely)  in  the  church  service?    Though  I  thought  about baptism every Sunday for almost two years, I could not walk forward to be baptized. I would pray to God to push me forward if it were the right thing to do - but it never happened.  The next year I went to college and  became  detached  from  all  churches  as  a  freshman. Some Sundays I would visit churches with friends - only to feel critical of the sermons. I tried to join the Baptist student association, but felt that things were wrong there, too. I had come to college thinking that I would find something like the church of Christ but it was not to be found. When I would return home to my mom's house on occasional weekends, I would visit the church to gain the immediate sense of community and welcoming.  

In  my  Sophomore  year,  I  spent  Sundays  singing  at  the Wake Forest church in the choir because I earned good money. Though I didn't  support  the  church  beliefs,  I  endured  the  sermons  to  make money. In October of my sophomore year I met a Muslim who lived in  my  dorm.  He  was  a  friendly  guy  who  always  seemed to  be pondering questions or carrying a deep thought. One evening I spent the entire evening asking him philosophical questions about beliefs and  religion.  He  talked  about  his  beliefs  as  a  Shia' Ismaili  Imami Muslim.  Though  his  thoughts  did  not  fully  represent  this  sect  of Islam  (since  he  was  also  confused  and  searching  for answers),  his initial statements made me question my own beliefs: are we born into a religion, therefore making it the right one? Day after day I would meet with him and ask questions - wanting to get on the same level of communication that we had reached at our initial meeting - but he would  not  longer  answer  the questions or meet the spiritual needs that  I  had.  The  following  summer  I  worked  at  a  bookstore  and grabbed any books that I could find about Islam. I introduced myself to  another  Muslim  on  campus  and  started  asking  him  questions about Islam. Instead of looking to him for answers, I was directed to the Quran. Any time I would have general questions about Islam, he would  answer  them.  I  went  to  the  local  mosque  twice  during  that year and was happy to feel a sense of community again.  

After  reading  about  Islam  over  the  summer,  I  became  more sensitive  to  statements  made  about  Muslims.  While  taking  an introductory  half-semester  course  on  Islam,  I  would feel frustrated when the professor would make a comment that was incorrect, but I didn't know how to correct him. Outside of my personal studies and university  class,  I  became  an  active  worker  and  supporter  of  our newly  rising  campus  Islam  Awareness  Organization.  As the  only female member, I would be identified to others as "the Christian in the group". Every time a Muslim would say that, I would look at him with puzzlement - because I thought that I was doing all that they had been doing - and that I was a Muslim, too. I had stopped eating pork and became vegetarian, had never liked alcohol, and had begun fasting for the month of Ramadhan. But, there still was a difference...  

At the end of that year (junior year) other changes were made. I decided to start wearing my hair up - concealed from people. Once again, I thought of this as something beautiful and had an idea that only my husband should be able to see my hair. I hadn't even been told about Hijab... since many of the sisters at the mosque did not wear it. That summer I was sitting at school browsing the internet and looking for sites about Islam. I wanted to find e-mail addresses for Muslims, but couldn't find a way. I eventually ventured onto a homepage  that  was  a  matrimonial  link.  I  read  over  some advertisements and tried to find some people within my age range to write  to  about  Islam.  I  prefaced  my  initial  letters with  "I  am  not seeking marriage - I just want to learn about Islam". Within a few days  I  had  received  replies  from  three  Muslims-  one from Pakistan/India  who  was  studying  in  the  US,  one  from India  but studying in the UK, and one living in the UAE. Each brother was helpful  in  unique  ways  -  but  I  started  corresponding  with  the  one from  the  US  the  most  because  we  were  in  the  same  time  zone.  I would  send  questions  to  him  and  he  would  reply  with  thorough, logical answers. By this point I knew that Islam was right - all people were  equal  regardless  of  color,  age,  sex,  race,  etc; I  had  received answers  to  troublesome  questions  by  going  to  the  Qur'an,  I  could feel  a  sense  of  community  with  Muslims,  and  I  had  a  strong, overwhelming need to declare the shahada at a mosque. No longer did I have the "Christian fear" of denouncing the claim of Jesus as God - I believed that there was only one God and there should be no associations with God. One Thursday night in July 1997 I talked with the  brother  over  the  phone.  I  asked  more  questions  and  received many more pertinent, logical answers. I decided that the next day I would go to the mosque.  

I  went  to  the  mosque  with  the  Muslim  brother  from  Wake Forest and his non-Muslim sister, but did not tell him my intentions. I mentioned that I wanted to speak with the imam after the khutbah[religious  directed  talk].  The  imam  delivered  the khutbah,  the Muslims  prayed  [which  includes  praising  Allah,  recitation  of  the Quran, and a series of movements which includes bowing to Allah] then he came over to talk with me. I asked him what was necessary to  become  Muslim.  He  replied  that  there  are  basics  to  understand about  Islam,  plus  the shahada[there  is  no  god  but  Allah  and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah]. I told him that I had learned about Islam for more than a year and was ready to become Muslim. I recited  the kalimah...  and  became  Muslim  on  July  12,  1996, alhumdulillah [all  praise  due  to  Allah].  That  was  the  first  big  step. Many doors opened after that - and have continued to open by the grace  of  Allah.  I  first  began  to  learn  prayer,  then visited  another masjid in Winston-Salem, and began wearing Hijab two weeks later.  

At  my  summer  job,  I  had  problems  with  wearing Hijab.  The bosses didn't like it and "let me go" early for the summer. They didn't think that I could "perform" my job of selling bookbags because the clothing would limit me. But, I found the Hijab very liberating. I met Muslims  as  they  would  walk  around  the  mall...  everyday I  met someone new, alhumdulillah. As my senior year of college progressed, I  took  the  lead  of  the  Muslim  organization  on  campus because  I found  that  the  brothers  were  not  very  active.  Since I  pushed  the brothers  to  do  things  and  constantly  reminded  them of  events,  I received the name "mother Kaci".  

During the last half of my Senior year, I took elective courses: Islam,  Christianity,  and  Judaism.  Each  course  was  good  because  I was  a  minority  representative  in  each. Mashallah,  it  was  nice  to represent Islam and to tell people the truth about Muslims and Allah. 


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