Ms. Karima Slack Razi

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I  took the Shahadah on September 20, 1991. If you had told me 5 years  prior  that  I  would  embrace  Islam,  I  never  would have believed  you.  In  retrospect,  Allah's  guidance  was  so subtle  yet consistent,  that  now  I  see  my  whole  life  as  leading up  to  that moment. It is difficult to encapsulate the exact factors that brought me  to  Islam  because  it  was  a  journey,  a  process,  that lasted  three years. Those three years were both exhilarating and exhausting. My perceptions  of  myself  and  the  world  changed  dramatically.  Some beliefs  were  validated;  others,  shattered.  At  times I  feared  I would lose myself; at other times I knew that this path was my destiny and embraced  it.  Throughout  those  years,  a  series  of  aspects  of  Islam intrigued  me.  Slowly  and  gradually,  my studies led me towards the day when I took the declaration of faith, the shahadah.

Prior  to  my  introduction  to  Islam,  I  knew  that  I  yearned  for more spiritual fulfilment in my life. But, as yet, nothing had seemed acceptable or accessible to me. I had been brought up essentially a secular  humanist.  Morals  were  emphasized,  but  never  attributed to any  spiritual  or  divine  being.  The  predominant  religion  of  our country,  Christianity,  seemed  to  burden  a  person  with too  much guilt. I was not really familiar with any other religions. I wish I could say that, sensing my spiritual void, I embarked on a spiritual quest and  studied  various  religions  in  depth.  However,  I  was  too comfortable  with  my  life  for  that.  I  come  from  a  loving  and supportive family. I had many interesting and supportive friends. I thoroughly enjoyed my university studies and I was successful at the university. Instead, it was the "chance" meeting of various Muslims that instigated my study of Islam.

Sharif was one of the first Muslims who intrigued me. He was an elderly man who worked in a tutorial program for aff irmative action that I had just entered. He explained that while his job brought little monetary  reward,  the  pleasure  he  gained  from  teaching  students brought him all the reward he needed. He spoke softly and genuinely. His  demeanor  more  than  his  words  caught  me,  and  I  thought,  "I hope I have his peace of spirit when I reach his age." That was in 1987.

As  I  met  more  Muslims,  I  was  struck  not  only  by  their inner peace,  but  by  the  strength  of  their  faith.  These  gentle  souls contrasted with the violent, sexist image I had of Islam. Then I met Imran, a Muslim friend of my brother's who I soon realized was the type  of  man  I  would  like  to  marry.  He  was  intelligent,  sincere, independent, and at peace with himself. When we both agreed that there was potential for marriage, I began my serious studies of Islam. Initially, I had no intention of becoming Muslim; I only desired to understand his religion because he had made it clear that he would want to raise his children as Muslims. My response was: "If they will turn  out  as  sincere,  peaceful  and  kind  as  he  is,  then I  have  no problem with it. But I do feel obligated to understand Islam better first."

In retrospect, I realize that I was attracted to these peaceful souls because I sensed my own lack of inner peace and conviction. There was  an  inner  void  that  was  not  completely  satisfied with academic success or human relationships. However, at that point I would never have stated that I was attracted to Islam for myself. Rather, I viewed it as an intellectual pursuit. This perception was compatible with my controlled,  academic  lifestyle.  Since  I  called  myself  a  feminist,  my early  reading  centered  around  women  in  Islam.  I  thought  Islam oppressed women. In my Women’s Studies courses I had read about Muslim women who were not allowed to leave their homes and were forced to cover their heads. Of course I saw Hijab as an oppressive tool imposed by men rather than as an expression of self-respect and dignity.  What  I  discovered  in  my  readings surprised me. Islam not only  does  not  oppress  women,  but  actually  liberates  them,  having given them rights in the 6th century that we have only gained in this century in this country: the right to own property and wealth and to maintain that in her name after marriage; the right to vote; and the right to divorce.

This realization was not easy in coming....I resisted it every step of the way. But there were always answers to my questions. Why is there polygamy? It is only allowed if the man can treat all four equally and  even  then  it  is  discouraged.  However,  it  does  allow  for  those times in history when there are more women than men, especially in times  of  war,  so  that  some  women  are  not  deprived  of  having  a relationship  and  children.  Furthermore,  it  is  far  superior  to  the mistress relationship so prevalent here since the woman has a legal right to support should she have a child. This was only one of many questions, the answers to which eventually proved to me that women in Islam are given full rights as individuals in society.

However,  these  discoveries  did  not  allay  all  my  fears.  The following year was one of intense emotional turmoil. Having finished up  my  courses  for  my  masters  in  Latin  American  Studies in  the spring  of  1989,  I  decided  to  take  a  year  to  substitute  teach.  This enabled me to spend a lot of time studying Islam. Many things I was reading  about  Islam  made  sense.  However,  they  didn't fit  into  my perception  of  the  world.  I  had  always  perceived  of religion  as  a crutch. But could it be that it was the truth? Didn't religions cause much of the oppression and wars in the world? How then could I be considering marrying a man who followed one of the world's major religions? Every week I was hit with a fresh story on the news, the radio  or  the  newspaper  about  the  oppression  of  Muslim women. Could I, a feminist, really be considering marrying into that society? Eyebrows  were  raised.  People  talked  about  me  in  worried  tones behind my back. In a matter of months, my secure world of 24 years was turned upside down. I no longer felt that I knew what was right or wrong. What was black and white was now all grey.

But something kept me going. And it was more than my desire to marry Imran. At any moment I could have walked away from my studies  of  Islam  and  been  accepted  back  into  a  circle  of  feminist, socialist friends and into the loving arms of my family. While these people  never  deserted  me,  they  haunted  me  with their influence. I worried about what they would say or think, particularly since I had always  judged  myself  through  the  eyes  of  others.  So  I secluded myself. I talked only with my family and friends that I knew wouldn't judge me. And I read.

It  was  no  longer  an  interested,  disinterested  study of  Islam.  It was a struggle for my own identity. Up to that time I had produced many successful term papers. I knew how to research and to support a thesis. But my character had never been at stake. For the first time, I  realized  that  I  had  always  written  to  please  others.  Now,  I  was studying for my own spirit. It was scary. Although I knew my friends and family loved me, they couldn't give me the answers. I no longer wanted to lean on their support. Imran was always there to answer my  questions.  While  I  admired  his  patience  and  his  faith  that  all would turn out for the best, I didn't want to lean too heavily on him out of my own fear that I might just be doing this for a man and not for  myself.  I  felt  I  had  nothing  and  no  one  to  lean on.  Alone, frightened and filled with self-doubt, I continued to read.
 
After  I  had  satisfied  my  curiosity  about  women  in  Islam  and been surprised by the results, I began to read about the life of the Prophet Muhammad and to read the Qu'ran itself. As I read about the  Prophet  Muhammad  (PBUH),  I  began  to  question  my  initial belief that he was merely an exceptional leader. His honesty prior to any revelations, his kindness, his sagacity, his insights into his present as well as the future--all made me question my initial premise. His persistence  in  adversity  and,  later,  his  humility  in the  face  of astounding success seemed to belie human nature. Even at the height of his success when he could have enjoyed tremendous wealth, he refused to have more than his poorest companions in Islam.

Slowly I was getting deeper and deeper into the Qu'ran. I asked, "Could  a  human  being  be  capable  of  such  a  subtle,  far-reaching book?"  Furthermore,  there  are  parts  that  are  meant  to  guide  the Prophet himself, as well as reprimand him. I wondered if the Prophet would have reprimanded himself. As I slowly made my way through the Qu'ran, it became less and less an intellectual activity, and more and more a personal struggle. There were days when I would reject every word--find a way to condemn it, not allow it to be true. But then I would suddenly happen upon a phrase that spoke directly to me. This first happened when I was beginning to experience a lot of inner turmoil and doubt and I read some verses towards the end of the second chapter: "Allah does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear" (2:286). Although I would not have stated that I believed in Allah at that time, when I read these words it was as if a burden was lifted from my heart.

I continued to have many fears as I studied Islam. Would I still be close to my family if I became a Muslim? Would I end up in an oppressive  marriage?  Would  I  still  be  "open-minded?" I  believed secular  humanism  to  be  the  most  open-minded  approach to  life. Slowly  I  began  to  realize  that  secular  humanism  is  as much  an ideology,  a  dogma,  as  Islam.  I  realized  that  everyone  had  their ideology and I must consciously choose mine. I realized that I had to have  trust  in  my own intellect and make my own decisions--that I should  not  be  swayed  by  the  negative  reactions  of  my "open-minded," "progressive" friends. During this time, as I started keeping more to myself, I was becoming intellectually freer than any time in my life.

Two  and  a  half  years  later,  I  had  finished  the  Qu'ran,  been delighted  by  its  descriptions  of  nature  and  often  reassured  by  its wisdom.  I  had  learned  about  the  extraordinary  life  of  Prophet Muhammad  (PBUH);  I  had  been  satisfied  by  the  realization  that Islam understands that men and women are different but equal; and I discovered that Islam gave true equality not only to men and women, but to all races and social classes, judging only by one's level of piety.  

And I had gained confidence in myself and my own decisions. It was then that I came to the final, critical question: Do I believe in one God? This is the basis of being a Muslim. Having satisfied my curiosity about the rules and historical emergence of Islam, I finally came to this critical question, the essence of being Muslim. It was as if  I  had  gone  backwards:  starting  with  the  details before  I  finally reached  the  spiritual  question.  I  had  to  wade  through  the technicalities  and  satisfy  my  academic  side  before I  could  finally address  the spiritual question. Did I.... Could I place my trust in a greater being? Could I relinquish my secular humanist approach to life?

Twice I decided to take the shahadah and then changed my mind the  next  day.  One  afternoon,  I  even  knelt  down  and touched  my forehead to the floor, as I had often seen Muslims do, and asked for guidance. I felt such peace in that position. Perhaps in that moment I was a Muslim a heart, but when I stood up, my mind was not ready to officially take the shahadah.

After that moment a few more weeks passed. I began my new job:  teaching  high  school.  The  days  began  to  pass  very  quickly,  a flurry of teaching, discipline and papers to correct. As my days began to  pass  so  fast,  it  struck  me  that I did not want to pass from this world  without  having  declared  my  faith  in  Allah.  Intellectually,  I understood  that  the  evidence  present  in  the  Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) life and in the Qu'ran was too compelling to deny. And, at that moment, I was also ready in my heart for Islam. I had spent my life  longing  for  a  truth  in  which  heart  would  be  compatible  with mind, action with thought, intellect with emotion. I found that reality in Islam. With that reality came true self-confidence and intellectual freedom. A few days after I took the shahadah , I wrote in my journal that finally I have found in Islam the validation of my inner thoughts and intuition. By acknowledging and accepting Allah, I have found the door to spiritual and intellectual freedom.

Mrs. Lara - Discovering Islam


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