By: Carolyn Erazo
I’ll start by saying that I am the epitome of an all American girl. I was raised within a Christian family and it’s Christianity I was taught. I can clearly remember my years growing up wishing I wasn’t forced to go to church. I would attempt to purposely lose my Sunday shoes just hoping to be able to stay home. Ultimately shoes or not I had to go and I was never happy about it. I think back to my thoughts as I sat in Sunday school..and how I never quite believed what I was being taught. So many inconsistencies left me with no desire to find out what faith really was. How can you believe the unknown? Did things really happen like that or was the Bible… just another book of stories on my bookshelf.
Years later I attended a church retreat and it was there that I initially sought the desire to find that faith. My childhood was tough fitting in and being accepted was a luxury I never had. I wanted what most people take for granted and it was about time I accepted that I wasn’t going to get it. On the last day of the retreat I walked down a big hill to get to the beach and I sat watching the water. My heart was open I wanted so badly for God to reach down and touch me with his grace and glory. I wanted to fit in and be accepted…and I had come to believe He was the one that could do it. It was late October and sitting by the water was a little chilly but I continued to sit and in my mind I yelled for God to help me. I remember that’s the very first day I changed. I was no longer looking for faith I knew I wouldn’t find it. God had forgotten about me I clearly wasn’t as important as the others participating in the retreat. It was then that I noticed the warm tears streaming down my face. I gave up on God. If He forgot about me I was going to forget about Him.
As the years progressed I lived my life in that way having no beliefs and absolutely no faith. I sought answers for the trials and tribulations I was enduring. I found nothing and with each question I became more angry knowing the answers would never come.
It was late February four years ago that I attended a funeral and it was there that my heart reopened. I watched a mother speak after unexpectedly losing her son. I sat in the back of the funeral home and I just couldn’t take my eyes off her. Why and how does she love God so much as she speaks of her son with smiles instead of sorrow. She found joy in the fact that her son was with God and I couldn’t understand it. I looked at her almost envious of her faith and I said to myself I want what she has! That day I couldn’t keep that image from my mind. I knew what I had to do…if I wanted to yet again seek God’s love.
This is what consumed me for weeks until I decided I needed a journey of faith. I couldn’t just seek reasons…I needed to seek God and with that my questions might be answered. Of course I insisted to start my journey in Christianity it’s how I was raised and maybe now as an adult those inconsistencies wouldn’t be noticed. I sat at church every Sunday for weeks listening to every word spoken. Give me something to hold on to I thought. Just a little spark to allow my faith to burn within me. Still nothing and after months I knew I wouldn’t and couldn’t call it a journey if I didn’t broaden my search.
It was a Wednesday morning and I woke up very early to find a mosque I had searched for the night before. I began to drive there but couldn’t find it. I was so upset why was it so difficult to find even with an address. My emotions were everywhere. I was angry I hadn’t found it, I was sad because I really wanted to, and I was worried my useless venture was going to make me pointlessly late for work. I just had to give up. Maybe another day I thought. I began to cry out of frustration and the thought of being late so I called my boss and advised him of my circumstances. His response was actually amazing.
“Don’t worry my friend I’m almost at the office. I know that place well I’ll help you find it.”
And he did just that too. He somehow lead me right to it and I couldn’t of been happier.
My first thought was that I already knew I wasn’t Muslim. Those people are crazy was definitely my second. Look what they’ve done. Thousands of people died all because of their crazy beliefs. I actually didn’t understand my happiness to find the mosque. I guess just a place in my journey I had to investigate. I’d never be able to rule it out until I heard the craziness for myself. Before getting off the phone with my boss I jokingly said, “What if they throw me in the basement and sell me to a third world country?” My boss laughed at my ridiculous thoughts and I laughed with him and said I was kidding. But deep down my fear was sincere.
I approached the door and as I reached to open it, I feared what I would see. I was there and I wasn’t turning back. I had to rule this crazy Islamic religion off my list and figured it would take minutes to do so. A man approached me as I stood in the entrance way asking for the Imam. I was told he wasn’t there but would be and he would have him contact me. I jotted down my number and hurried out of there. I’ll be honest I wasn’t sure I’d get a call but also didn’t know if I wanted one either.
Before leaving, the man I spoke with said, “His name is Abdul Lateef”. Now all I could think about was him calling. Did I really want to talk to someone so different from me. How would he understand me and how will I understand him?
It was less than two hours later and I couldn’t believe that he called.
Those fears where immediately abolished when the man on the other end of the phone spoke as I had. I instantly knew: who better to explain this disturbing inhumane religion? I expected nothing but to solidify, in his words, that it was exactly what I had always heard it to be. I just wanted to remove it from the list. He immediately invited me to come and meet with him that night. I expected fifteen minutes and I’d either be running out worried it was a terrorist organization or my initial fear of the being locked in the basement. My thoughts were racing and I didn’t know how to stop them.
I walked in and stood in the entrance way. I immediately reached out my hand to shake his as I introduced myself. He quickly apologized and explained to me the reasons for it. I remember that clearly, I guess it literally was the first thing that impressed me. I got to tell you though. I wanted to kill my boss for not telling me about that. He invited me to sit and ask him all the questions I had. I started with the fact that I was on a religious journey and that I was seeking enough truth to make me believe. I started to explain my reasoning for failing to see Christianity as truth which lead me to explain my examples of the inconsistencies that I couldn’t over look. Abdul didn’t speak much he let the questions just pour from mind to my mouth. With each question he answered quick and to the point yet as each one was answered I began to notice they just seemed right. My questions were finally being answered. How can this man know so much and why do I believe him. As weird as it was I couldn’t answer my own question. He gave me in such a short time reason to believe. Almost two hours had past and I was still bombarding him for more answers. I wanted to be sure that I took what I needed from the conversation to be able to cross Islam right off my list. As I got up and headed to the door he said “Thank you sister for allowing me to be apart of your journey. I hope when you leave here you’ll either know why you are or why you aren’t Muslim.”
I thought about those words all night, actually for over a week. Those words were profound and relentlessly consumed my thoughts. I needed to know more. I had more inconsistencies that I sought answers for. Three more days passed and oddly enough he called me. It was like he knew I was seeking more answers and he spent over an hour giving me just that. So now I had some questions. But this time they were to myself. Why did I wait to so long to seek a journey of faith and why didn’t I start here.
Over the next couple of months I continued reading everything I could get my hands on, I just had to know more. This religion made sense, nothing in what I had already learned made me doubt the truth within it. These horrible Muslims weren’t horrible at all. In fact they were better than us. I now had a better understanding of who they were and what they weren’t. Islam wasn’t bad, though some Muslims are. After learning a lot I knew no Muslim would ever do what we claimed they had done. There’s just no way the rules written in the Qur’an would allow that. Real Muslims couldn’t possibly have caused the 911 terrorist attack that rocked the United States. The price would have been too high, in this life and more importantly the one after.
My desire to convert was overpowering me. But I couldn’t. How would I explain it? No one would understand. The opinions around me lead me to believe I didn’t fit the profile. Yet again I didn’t fit in. The problem was I couldn’t fight fate and or my faith. I found it and I wasn’t letting it go. I needed to believe and Islam poured the truth giving me exactly what I asked for. God finally touched me. My heart and mind were open but still I couldn’t convert. I immediately found a hundred reasons for why I couldn’t. Ramadan was one of them and definitely approaching and I feared that obligation. Women have a hard enough time dieting I would never be able to fast. I distinctly remember what Abdul told me as I voiced my fears “sister Ramadan shouldn’t scare you it should please you to do it for God”. A few weeks later he said, “I guarantee you will want to convert before Ramadan ends”. I dismissed it knowing I just couldn’t see myself doing it. My family would be outraged.
Two weeks into Ramadan I couldn’t believe that I had been doing so well. It was something I never thought possible but yet I was half way through it. Something within me knew that it was God allowing it and His comforting presence gave me peace within myself to accomplish the impossible. I was half way through my day at work when I just knew. Tonight’s the night. I called Abdul and told him how important it was for me to take my shahada (statement of faith to become Muslim). He laughed a little and said he knew it would be before the ending of Ramadan. He was right.
As I approached the mosque I felt so nervous I wondered how was I ever going to be able to do it. I had just learned that day you have to recite the shahada in Arabic. I got through it although not sure the words I said were accurate, either way I was Muslim. I declared that there is no god but God and that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the messenger of God. I did it. I made my choice and was barely out of the parking lot before I cried. The feeling within me was indescribable. But now how do I explain this? I guess I didn’t realize the full extent of what my decision would bring. I had resistance in every direction and at times it was simply unbearable. I couldn’t figure out how my religion impacted anyone, leaving everyone with a bad taste in their mouth.
My happiness for my new found faith was increasingly becoming a problem for most people I knew and the ridicule would enrage me. I found myself in defense mode all the time refusing to allow anyone to stereotype Muslims around me. The worst part came when they took notice of the rules I was abiding by: no pork (Ridiculous!), fasting (Seriously? What for?). Yet with each question I had an answer and it also made me want to learn more, I wanted to always have an educated response to anything thrown at me.
June 2015 made 3 years since I converted and I find myself sometimes asking “Did I really need to convert or was I always Muslim?”. Born into a Christian family does not make you Christian and I’m living proof of that. I have seen many changes, obvious changes, within myself. I think I finally got it. I understand now why this journey of faith was a necessity. A person can’t live without beliefs and faith. It’s impossible. I was able to let go of the anger of years of unanswered questions and prayers. What has becoming a Muslim done for me? The answer is simple and can be summed up with one word: acceptance. God’s acceptance.
We will never know why God puts us through trials. But what we do know is that it’s purposeful. God gave us an instruction manual for life. He gave those instructions to live a life that will inevitably lead us to our deserved place in either Heaven or Hell. What’s wrong with people who question such religious guidance? Is it so bad that no one should follow? What I’ve learned so far is that many who object to “the rules” are really against its the Religion itself. I’m not sure why people discriminate against a religion as opposed to individuals. Why are we so against each other when ultimately we’re the same? God created us all. We are equal yet share different beliefs. Is it rational to hate Islam because of the actions of some Muslims? If that’s the mind set then why not blame all Christians because of some terrible man who used bombs and took many lives? Within the denominations of Christianity lets look at the Catholics, should all of them be considered child molesters? Its apparent all the religions have bad people but that doesn’t mean they are all bad. I failed to find truth in Christianity. My choice was easy because truth is exactly what I found. And it is my sole reason for becoming a Muslim. Ultimately it’s an individual choice and in my opinion there was only one way to go.
I initially sought to write a letter to find its way into the right persons hands. I just have this overwhelming need to try and fight this war of the misrepresentation and discrimination against Islam.
I am a mother of a United States Marine. I am the mother of a son willing and prepared to fight for his country. But are we willing to do that? We all are so consumed fighting each other over misunderstandings of religion. We don’t need to fight against Islam we need to fight for it with truth and clarity so that people can see it for what it truly is and not a distortion based on ignorant, discriminatory opinions.
I have worked very hard over the course of the last three years even with resistance hitting me from every direction to teach my children about what I am and why. I am Muslim. My children are not but its the responsibility of myself to educate and provide them with guidance. I can’t force them just like no one had forced me. But my intentions are there and that’s my job. It’s also our job people people of faith. Yet real education requires a commitment to truth and not discrimination. I’m not looking to change the word as my voice is not loud enough to allow every one to hear me. I’m also not looking to have every person abandon their own religious beliefs because as a Muslim I know that all religions should be respected. What I am looking for is simply to bring awareness to the poor unfortunate souls that can’t distinguish the truth from the lies they’ve been told.
Many have said that this awareness crusade I’m on will be fruitless. They say its a crusade many have fought unsuccessfully. I say so why stop trying even with the possibility of failing again and again. If we can change one person’s heart wouldn’t that make a difference? To diminish one person’s distorted view by offering truth? Changes happen one person at a time and we have that capability to make those changes a reality.
I want to make a difference by standing up for what I believe in. One woman can do it. She just has to be willing and prepared to keep at it for the sake of God. Segregation was also a crusade fought for decades unsuccessfully but one woman changed that with standing and refusing to accept what was. So should we just accept defeat with out a continuous fight? My answer is no. I have history proving one person can make a difference and now that one person could be me or you.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of MuslimVillage.com.