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Ready? Then Why Do You Feel Scared?

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By A'ishah Cook


I was raised Protestant, in the United Church, and by the time I had reached high school I was questioning things in the religion that I didn't understand. I tried other denominations, hoping to get some clarity on a few issues: Jesus being God or the son of God, a baby being born into sin, and Eve being blamed for all the evils of the world. But I never received answers to my satisfaction.




By the time I reached university I still believed in God and I still prayed, but I no longer belonged to any church.




In my third year I met a friend who had studied Islam. Not that I knew what Islam was at the time, but he had on his answering machine "as-salamu `alaykum, peace be upon you." I remember trying to repeat it back, completely unable to, but I loved the idea of greeting people by saying "peace be upon you."




The look of serenity that these women seemed to reflect was amazing.

For a few years after hearing "as-salamu `alaykum," I would periodically go to the library to read up on Islam. I would try to read anything that even mentioned Islam. At one point I became very confused because I started to read things from the Nation of Islam, not realizing it was different from Islam.




I remember asking my friend if I could join the Nation of Islam, and he said no and laughed, since I'm white. I was so upset about this since everything I had read talked about the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that existed within all ethnicities once you were Muslim. Eventually this issue was straightened out for me.




The one book that I really remember was of people going for Hajj. I remember thinking how beautiful the women looked, even though this concept of covering up was completely foreign to me and seemed rather silly. I would go all the way downtown just to look at the pictures in this book. I didn't understand what this Hajj was, but the look of serenity that these women seemed to reflect was amazing.


Finally, four years after hearing "as-salamu `alaykum," I decided I wanted to convert. I wanted to be a part of a religion that accepted anybody from anywhere as a brother or sister under the one banner of Islam. I didn't know a single Muslim at this point, I hadn't read the Qur'an yet, didn't know about hijab (in retrospect probably a good thing), but I did know it answered my questions that Christianity wasn't able too.




Now I had to figure out what to do. I had heard of an old friend who had returned to Islam, but who no longer lived in the same city. When we reconnected she introduced me to family of hers that lived in my city. They embraced me and helped give me guidance. To this day, almost 12 years later, they still treat me like family. I then went to visit my friend and her husband, and took my Shahadah with them.




I read a lot during this visit and heard a lot. Much of it was very confusing and overwhelming. I was all of a sudden expected to change completely, I wasn't ready for this, and I needed to go at my own place. There was so much I needed to learn, to understand why I was supposed to do this or that and the significance in it. And more importantly, I had to truly believe in why I was to do something before I would commit to it.


Back home I met some Muslims who accepted me the way I was. They never pressured me, but helped me when I was ready to learn more. One day we saw a video on the signs before Judgment Day. All I kept thinking was, if I'm so ready, why do I feel so scared?


So, six months after saying my Shahadah, I decided to try to wear hijab. The first day I wore it, I went to the mall with these friends. What better place for a test run? I actually felt very liberated and at peace — even though I had to keep rushing to the wash room to check it.




I started off wearing it on the weekends when I went out, then during the week evenings. I worked for my parents, who wouldn't allow me to wear it at work, but thankfully they retired about 8 months later and I haven't looked back since then.




The first year of being Muslim was quite a struggle. Trying to pray five times a day wasn't the easiest thing in the beginning. I didn't eat pork, nor did I drink, so diet wasn't a problem.


My first Ramadan was interesting. I realized very quickly that I had to work my way up to a full day, which I managed before the end of the month. Trying to find clothing that covered my almost 5'10" frame was very difficult; thankfully I learned to sew very quickly.




My family thought I was going through a phase, or at least I'm sure they hoped I was. But otherwise they were tolerant of the changes they started to see. Not to say there weren't stressful, tearful times with some of the comments made, but they never tried to prevent me in my change, which was evolving rather quickly.




Many of my friends I could no longer maintain a friendship with, nor did I want to. Our lives were just leading down very different paths and it became exhausting trying to explain why I couldn't do this or had to do that.




Even within the Muslim community it was stressful. Everyone wanted to meet me, the Canadian girl who converted without being married to a Muslim, but I still had no close friends, nor did I feel that I could relate to others. I was beginning to wonder if there were any other Muslims out there that were like me.




Finally, after just over a year of being Muslim, I got invited to join a small, close-knit halaqah with three other gals. All of us were of different background, but we were all North American raised and we all connected.


This halaqah became the foundation for my Islamic knowledge. Every week we met for a few hours. We always had work to present, books to read, notes to take, things to learn. We also had a lot of fun.




This halaqah not only gave me the roots and confidence I needed, but it also developed a strong sense of sisterhood among us. They were truly my family. We stayed together for years, until I got married and moved away.




Almost five years after converting I was ready to get married. I knew my obligations as a Muslim woman, my rights and my duties as a future wife, and my husband's duties to me, so marriage was the next step.




I was introduced to my future husband and within a few months we married. Al-hamdu lillah, I have been Muslim for almost 12 years and have been blessed to spend seven of them with my husband.




Once someone asked me how long I had been Muslim. When I said almost 12 years, she responded with "wow you must know everything." Obviously, I started to laugh. This journey is never ending, there is always something to learn, and each time I read the Qur'an I discover something new.




There are days that I struggle more than others, but surrounding myself with good Muslims is essential. One thing I know for sure is that Allah is always there for me to turn to.

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