I grew up in Southern California, the younger of two children, and my parents never taught us to believe in any particular faith or dogma. Consequently, I lived my life as I felt comfortable and never had a personal struggle with faith or a need to search for any spiritual fulfillment. Until Islam found me.
The first time I heard about Islam, I was in college working for my university’s campus newspaper.
The first time I heard about Islam, I was in college working for my university’s campus newspaper. I was covering an event for the Muslim Student Association, a month long Fast-A-Thon during Ramadan where non-Muslims were invited to fast as many days as they could and break their fasts with the Muslim students on campus. For every day that a non-Muslim agreed to fast, a local Muslim business or organization would donate a certain amount of money that the MSA would collect and give in charity.
I went about my usual process of interviewing various members of the MSA, as well as some of the non-Muslim participants. For the newspaper, it was just one of countless simple stories of yet another campus club event. But for me, it turned out to be an open door into a world that I had never known before. After my first couple of interviews, I knew that the real story was not the Fast-A-Thon. The real story was Islam, and I was determined to learn more.
After the article was published, I decided to try fasting with the MSA. I had never fasted before in my life, but I was passionate about helping the less fortunate so I gave it a try. Although the first couple of days were difficult, fasting became easier over time and before I knew it, I fasted nearly 20 days of Ramadan. Every day that I fasted, I joined the MSA for their evening iftar (dinner), during which they would break their fast, pray, and listen to a short lecture about Islam. I made it a point to show up a few minutes early so I could watch and listen to everything. It was so foreign to me, yet so intriguing at the same time. I had so many follow-up questions from my initial interviews that I used this time to hunt for answers from any Muslim who was willing to answer me. “Why are you fasting again?” “What’s this Qur’an? And who wrote it?” “Who is Prophet Muhammad?” “And why are you always praying?” “And who is this Allah you keep mentioning every time you speak?”
During the iftars, I learned about other MSA events on campus like daily prayers, Friday Jummah (congregational) prayers, and a weekly class about the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The class was geared towards Muslim students but I attended it anyway. It was during those classes when Allah first put a real love for Islam in my heart. I was so compelled by what I learned that I would often tear up and spend my nights awake going over everything in my head. I knew from what I learned in that class that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was genuine and true. And I figured if he was true, then Allah must be true. And if Allah was true, then I had a lot more learning to do.
As time passed, I continued to frequent the Muslim events on campus. I sat in the back of the rows while they prayed, I attended their classes and meetings, and I took notes during the Jummah sermons. I sat with Muslim sisters and asked more about the religion. My desire to learn was overwhelming.
A few months later, a sister to whom I would regularly ask questions openly challenged my motives. She asked me: “What are you waiting for? You know Allah, and you know the Prophet Muhammad, and you know that Islam is true. You say you want to learn more before you accept the religion but you’re never going to learn everything. Scholars spend their entire lives learning about Islam and they still never learn everything. What if you die today on your way home? You don’t want to die knowing who Allah is but refusing to surrender to Him.”
It took me a few days to fully digest her words, but they hit a place in my heart that I couldn’t ignore. They made me realize that during my entire life of only living for myself, I was missing out on a greater purpose: to live for that which is outside of ourselves, something that exceeds our personal realities — to live to worship Allah. The following week I approached that same sister and asked her to lead me in my Shahada (the testimony of faith), and I repeated, “Ash-hadu an la ilaha illa Allah, wa ash-hadu anna Muhammad ar-Rasool Allah.” Alhamdulilah.
That was in 2006. It was my fourth year of college and I was 22 years old. Since then, I’ve faced many challenges with friends, family, co-workers, and peers. But Alhamdulilah, with every challenge that Allah has sent my way, He has also sent more faith to fill my heart and to keep me firm upon Islam.