SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — My name is Kawkab, and I’m a convert to Islam for almost 24 years now.
Before I was Muslim, I was baptized Greek Orthodox, and I went to a Catholic high school, so I had a lot of different religious backgrounds.
I studied different religions. I searched for about seven years. I had a book of questions, and then when I met the Muslims and I started asking my questions, everything just started to make sense and for the first time I got my questions answered
Who is God?
What am I doing here?
What’s the purpose of life?
You know, things that were out there but nobody wanted to answer or said were mysteries. They couldn’t explain things to me in a way that made sense.
Catholic priests had talked to me about things, other pastors and people, nothing made sense. And their attitude, the way they dealt with me was not the same as that of the Muslims. It was remarkably different. So for me, it wasn’t just learning about Islam. It was learning about the people, about the culture, about how they treat one another. That made a huge impact on me...
The concept of God was very bizarre growing up. I didn’t understand how three could equal one. So when I heard about Islam and they told me about all the attributes of God, this was like eye-opening. It was like wow... I couldn’t believe it. So for me it was a matter of my mind and my heart accepting something, because my mind couldn’t accept all the other things that I had looked into, and I looked into a lot of other things.
I was working in a place with a friend and she had known about this. She moved into another location in her work, and I went to visit her and I met my future husband at that time. I met him and we were talking and he said: “I’m starting Ramadan next month,”
And I said “What’s Ramadan!”
He said “I’m a Muslim”
And he gave me like a few things and he said “You know, I’m learning my religion too” even that he was born and raised Muslim. He really started learning Islam when he was in California. So he had some friends come over, and they came down from Canada, and I brought my book of questions and they sat for four hours straight and I grilled them with question after question after question and they were really nice.
There were two things that attracted me: The first was the explanation about God that made sense to me. All the other things I had heard hadn’t. And the second thing they brought everything from Adam all the way to Prophet Muhammad together, that succession of Prophets made sense that God would give us one religion and we would be taught by people who would then teach their followers, and so that made sense. And the attributes of the prophets, they were special and chosen and all of those things kind of fill in the place. It was like the puzzle pieces finally came together. So I think it was really the basic belief of Islam, the belief in God and the belief in the prophets.
After the 4 hours of them sitting very politely and asking questions and I was like grilling them, they said “Do you have any more questions?”
So then I started learning about Islam, and within about 6 months I embraced Islam.
Excluded from the Family
When I became Muslim, it was a struggle for my family. At first, I didn’t tell them. I was working for my father and he asked me to do something which was simple to do.
And I told him “No, I’m not going to do that.”
And he said “I’m telling you, you are working for me, you need to do it.”
I said “I’m not going to do it.”
So he said “You became Muslim, didn’t you?”
I said “Yes, I did”
And he said “I’m calling your mother”
And so he called my mum and she was not embracing any religion. She was raised in foster homes and her bloodline was Jewish, but she never embraced anything. And so she told me
“Anjy, I’m telling you to do this now” She uttered my American name
And I said “No, I’m not going to do it”
So my dad was screaming and my mum was screaming and she came down to the work and it was an ugly scene. And then things got worse from there.
When I started wearing the scarf, my mum wouldn’t go out in public with me for more than 10 years, and any event for the family I couldn’t be invited to because I had to wear my scarf to go in public and my mum wouldn’t be there when I was there. So I was excluded from the family. My dad’s side of the family completely disowned me. My mother’s side of the family didn’t want to fight with my Mum, so they disowned me. My mother told me later it was as if I was saying the way she raised me was wrong. But I tried to explain to her that I found the truth myself, so it was a difficult thing for my mum to accept.
Something happened, and then I got divorced and then my mum realized what I think it hit home for her that I didn’t become Muslim for anyone except for myself. Even though I became a Muslim about a year and a half before I got married, when I got divorced, and my mum saw I was still raising my children in an Islamic environment and I was staying Muslim, and she realized this is who I am, and she came to terms with herself. She called me and she said I have been prejudiced against my own daughter. And she realized that, and she asked to wipe the whole slate clean and start it over. So it was her realization that she had done something to me, that I hadn’t changed anything other than my religion. I was still the same daughter. So I think that was something that she had to find within her own self. And she did it eventually...
Stop being nervous. If this is the way you want to live your life, it’s up to everybody else to deal with it
So till this day, I just have my younger sister, we are in contact, we see each other often. And with my parents everything is great now. It has been quite a few rough years, but it’s really good now. And they accept that I’m the way I’m and I’m happy with my life. So we go out in public and we do everything normally as we used to do before. But they were really rough ten years.
So when I made a decision to become Muslim, I had learned it before. I knew how my life was going to change and I had prepared myself for that. If I’m going to become Muslim, I’m going to practice so I have to understand what do I have to do: What’s praying, what’s fasting, how do I live my life, so for me the changes were my choice, and since they were my choice that was easier.
Dealing with people’s reactions to me that was a shock. I had learned about prejudice at school, nobody ever said anything to me about that I was different in any way. If I was with Mexican people I looked Mexican, with Italians I looked Italian, and with Greeks I looked Greek. I always fit in. But when I started wearing my scarf I felt prejudiced the first time, and I think that was the hardest thing for me. Learning how to pray was exciting. Learning all the things about Islam I loved that learning. But the hard part was people and their reaction to me...
There are a lot of things that I do just like everybody else. Most of the things that I do are just like everybody else. But it is something that people don’t understand like you exercise? You work out? You take walks? These are normal things that everybody does but because they are different, they think all the things you do are different.
Reactions to Hijab
I had some very bad experiences when I started wearing my scarf. The first time I started wearing it around people I would never see again. So I went to a store to buy something, and I usually pull the change out of my purse because it’s tight to look for the coins. It’s a habit I have done since I was a little. I put the coins in my hand and I went to pay, and the woman said “T-h-a-t’s a q-u-a-r-t-e-r” in a very slow way and I thought “Oh my God, she thinks I don’t understand.” So it was just a shock, so I don’t know till now if I just left without the item or what, but she shocked me so much that I went and cried in the car and thought “Oh my God, she thinks I’m stupid.” So that was my first real traumatic experience.
And then I started wearing it around people that were acquaintances, I didn’t really care about what they thought, and that was a little bit easier. And then I started wearing it to work, and actually a non-Muslim friend of mine came with me to work the day I wore it first time and she stopped me as we were going in and she said “Stop being nervous. If this is the way you want to live your life, it’s up to everybody else to deal with it. So if you feel comfortable, they are going to feel comfortable.” And that was the best piece of advice I’ve ever got.
I've had people who wanted to throw things at me, curse me, tell me I’m a terrorist, call me a sand-nigger, very bad things. I’ve had people throw cokes at me while I’m walking in the parking lot with my children when they were young, and people telling me to go back to my country, and I told them “I’m American”. So yes, with people, it’s ignorance, and you learn to deal with it. And now it doesn’t face me at all now.
I just realized that there are people who don’t understand things. And when they don’t understand things, they fear them. And so I learned to deal with that better. And as I learned to deal with it better, I didn’t take their feelings on, and that made it easier for me. I didn’t cry as much. I didn’t think how I’m going to make people understand they are not like that.
Now, when I go to a job interview, you can see a person size you up, they look at you from head to toe and they say “Oh, Oh.” And there are other people who are very kind and they don’t look at it and they treat you like any other person. But there are other types of people in the world and you just learn to deal with them.
I had a recent experience where I was called back for my resume. They liked it. I spoke with a gentleman who was very pleased with my background, and when I went to meet him he brought me into another room to meet with apparently a supervisor, who was a woman higher than him, and she conducted the interview with him there. And she literally looked at me from head to toe, and I could tell in her eye she made a one-second decision about me. She didn’t like what she saw. I’m there. I’m covered. I’m wearing a skirt. It’s too long for today’s “fashion”. She made a snap judgment. And every question whenever I said something she said as if I was offending her as if I had no answer for why my career is where it is today, and the questions were so bad that I have never had such a bad interview like that.
Once somebody gets to know you, it’s much easier because they can look past the scarf and see that it’s the way you dress. Some people dress one way and some people dress the other way. But if they don’t give you the opportunity to speak, to hear what you articulate, to look at your resume and see your education and you experience, they just look at you and make their decision about you.—www.shafaqna.com