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, and 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 families 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, member 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 Sunday's 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 Qur'aan. 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 Ramadan. But, there still was a difference...
At the end of that year (JR 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'aan, 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".
One Thursday night in July 1997 I talked with the brother
over the phone. I asked moe 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 Qur'aan,
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
book bags 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.