بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
As I previously stated, I became Muslim at the age of 22. But what reasons led to that life-changing event? I try to reflect on this fairly frequently to remember the mysterious ways in which our Lord works.
I guess it started with my childhood – what seemed to me a very average American upbringing. I was born into a mid to upper middle-class family in the suburbs of Pennsylvania – largely sheltered from many of the difficulties faced by billions around the world, and even in my own country. I was blessed to live in an area with a comparatively good public school, and so I received a decent education. It would seem, and it sure did to me at the time, that I was growing up in the American dream. However, at the same time, I noticed that there were some dark aspects to life.
Although my family considered itself Christian, it was secular, believing in science, with scripture seen more or less as tales of morals. We went to church most Sundays, but it was mainly seen as a custom, rather than sincere devotion. I really was not fond of it, especially as I had to wear unappealing and uncomfortable “dress” clothes and sit through a long and boring sermon. Other than the very limited sense of community that stemmed from the church, there was very little our lives were affected by religion, including lacking a spiritual understanding of the world.
As a child, I was interested in many things, including both ancient Egyptian and Greek mythology. Between having unanswered questions about life, living in a secular world focused largely on science and money, and viewing the religions of the ancients as myths, I started to doubt the truth of Christianity, and of religion in general, at a pretty young age, probably around 10-12 years old. I had pretty much made up my mind at that time that religion was basically a hoax and that neither God nor Jesus (peace be upon him) actually existed.
Also around the age of 12, I discovered that my mother, the dearest person in my life, had a relapse of breast cancer, which was progressively getting worse. She was constantly going to doctors, in and out of the hospital, and getting surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy and the resulting sickness. It was a difficult thing to witness as a young teen, but even then, I wasn’t actually able to comprehend what was happening, especially with the added strains of those awkward years.
Meanwhile, my relationship with my father had never been an overly close and loving one, but rather filled largely with fear and animosity. After a few years of my mother being sick and often in the hospital, we discovered that my father was having an affair with a woman from his workplace. This caused our relationship to become even more strenuous, especially as I felt very defensive of my beloved, sick mother.
At the age of 15, shortly after beginning my first year of high school, my mother passed away. Even though she had been increasingly sick for years, her death was largely unexpected for me. It wasn’t something I could imagine happening at such a young age; she was only 53, and I could only ever imagine a world in which I grew up, got married, and had kids, with her dying as an old grandmother – the “typical life”. At that moment when I found out she had died, my world essentially shattered. I desperately wanted to believe that I was in a dream and would wake up to find her alive and well, but I soon realized that death is a certain reality that comes at an uncertain time.
Very soon after my mother’s death, my father formally introduced his “new” girlfriend and frequently brought her to the house. This made dealing with my grief much more difficult and increased the tensions between me and my father. About half a year after my mother had died, my father remarried, and I refused to go to the wedding, bringing the tensions between us to a spear-point. A month later, on what would have been my mother’s birthday, my father and I had a heated dispute, and I was told to leave and not come back. I had just turned 16 a few months earlier.
All these very difficult, major life-changing events happening so close to each other at such a young age needless to say affected me greatly. With my already agnostic/atheistic tendencies, I became convinced at this time that religion was bogus and that there was no such thing as God, especially a generous and loving one; how could there be when the world is filled with such tragedy?
Freed from the constraints of religion, I began to critically think about what I had grown up believing, displacing ideas and ideologies, while focusing on my education, which was increasingly leaning towards an interest in foreign languages and cultures, with an aim of improving the world so that tragedy wouldn’t be so prevalent.
Insha Allah, in the next articles, I will move away from the topic of tragedy and difficulty as I move into the phase of my life dominated by searching for inspiration and truth, seeking a means of improving the world, and learning to cope with grief, difficult circumstances, and relationships, culminating in my conversion and the start of my journey along the path of Islam.