Confessions of a convert to Islam

By Alison Lake This essay is the first in a series about religious conversion. If you’d like to submit your … Continued

By Alison Lake

This essay is the first in a series about religious conversion. If you’d like to submit your story of religious conversion, email [email protected]

I. THE CONVERSION STORY

Three years ago, I embraced the concepts of Islam and made some large changes in my life. This year, a month before Ramadan, I returned from a trip to Morocco, emboldened to take the next steps in my faith practice.

My childhood household was secular but since the age of four I felt close to God. In my lifelong search for a spiritual home, Christianity was my first frame of reference among religions. My parents sensed my interest and kindly took me to Episcopal services in my pre-teen years. As an adult, I enveloped myself in Catholicism because I was attracted to its traditions. I spent many years studying Catholic doctrine and The New American Bible. I taught French at a Catholic middle school and sought to make faith a daily part of my life.

Yet as I taught students the French version of the Lord’s Prayer, I felt frustrated both by the lack of spiritual direction in Catholic schools and by prominent examples of corrupt leadership in the Church. As much as I respected Jesus and Mary and what they represent for believers, I struggled to know where to direct my prayers. To God? To the Holy Spirit? To Jesus? To the altar where the priest stood or beyond the church? It was all very confusing, as I wanted only to pray to God, and was uncertain what I believed in the Bible.

At church, I experienced a sensory and intellectual overload as I looked at multiple statues, stained glass images, and the Crucifix, and contemplated the promise that crackers and wine would turn into body and blood. The Biblical narrative’s multiple authors and eras also inspired doubt — not about the existence of God or Christian values, but about the legitimacy of Jesus as a Son of God and Savior. I love and respect Christians even if we disagree on this central concept, but these ingredients combined to lead me on a different faith path.

The final element that drove me away from the Church was the experience of writing my book Colonial Rosary: The Spanish and Indian Missions of California. I saw how religious and political leaders corrupted faith and justified mistreatment in Spain’s imprisonment of California’s Indian populations. Disillusioned, I continued to read the Bible and pray at home, still clutching my rosary for comfort and seeking a home for my belief in God.

While living in northern Virginia, I made friends from Morocco and Sudan and learned that Mary and Jesus were also prominent in the Quran. In fact, Muslims seemed to know as much as Christians about the history of their prophets, who except for Mohammed, were the same prophets in the Torah and Bible, starting with Abraham. Impressed by Muslim knowledge and respect for Jesus and Mary, I learned that Abraham was the father of all three religions, and that we were descended from common roots.

I admired how my Muslim friends were warm and hospitable to people of all faiths. They spoke reverently of God in daily conversation, and with admiration for the Prophet Muhammad, who is considered the ultimate positive example for all people, but not a savior or God on earth. Of course, the individuals I met were not all perfect, nor did they necessarily follow all five pillars of the faith, but their love for God and Muhammad was evident. In the Quran, I discovered clear, direct language acknowledging a line of prophets and one God. No Trinity or intermediaries on earth — only God. There were clear recommendations for how to live one’s life. Quranic language is poetic and meant to be read again and again.

Well before formally converting, I knew I wanted to be Muslim. I felt Muslim, and enjoyed spending time with Muslims. I began to avoid alcohol and eat halal (permitted) foods, changed my dating habits, and become more aware of how I dressed. As I continued to read, I became more aware of how our actions affect other people, and our futures. For example, Islam is centrally focused on community awareness and charity, so much that the entire month of Ramadan is devoted to good deeds and awareness of the feeling of hunger.

The word Islam means “submission.” That is all: submitting to God and admitting your humility. I love the Islamic phrase insha’Allah, or “God willing.” It admits that we (humans) cannot control everything. We don’t know God’s plan for us and should be humble to that and follow what we do know from Him. With that in mind, living my life according to what I believe is a little easier.

Alison Lake is a staff writer at The Washington Post and former editor of Islamic publications for a D.C.-area think tank.

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  • MGT2

    Alison, I would be interested to know what your views are about salvation, sin and the death of Christ.

  • Review

    It is good to be muslim. And it is good to repent., you know.

  • mikeghouse

    Alison, Many a converts call themselves “reverts” meaning they should have been a Muslim in the first place. I get a chuckle out of it, because in a humorous way, I am “Revert”, although I do not choose the term. As I was born and raised as a Muslim, but chose to be a Atheist Pluralist for nearly thirty years of my life and had nothing to do with Islam and ran from it each time I read the dished out version of translations of Quraan. But in the last 15 years, continuing my life as a Pluralist, I found Islam to be as beautiful faith as all other faiths. Now I have embarked on the mission to share my findings with the intent of mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill. I relate with the Atheists and particularly understand the belligerence and hate from the tiny percent of right wingers, much of it emanates from our own texts, thoughtlessly published as though they are part of the Islamic teachings.As a Pluralist and a Revert Muslim, my goal is to share the reasons for the conflicts and understanding those myths by both Muslims and non-Muslims.Let me make a declaration that got me in trouble, but it is the right thing to do.My faith is dear to me, as your is dear to me, my faith works for me in making me a better human, as your faith does the same to you. And I am humbled to state that My faith Islam, is not superior to any faith, nor any faith is superior to the other. The claim of superiority is sheer arrogance and generates immediate conflict. The purpose of all religions on the other hand is to inculcate humility, a bridge builder of communities that brings about sustainable harmony among people to co-exist. Religiosity (spirituality) and Arrogance are inversely proportional to each other; at times they could be mutually exclusive. That is the new frontier in the development of Pluralism and pluralistic societies, and am pleased to take that step along with many a reluctant others. Would I qualify as a convert?Mike Ghouse

  • cakehydrant

    Nicely written in terms of it prose and respectful tone. Makes me more interested in Islam.

  • mikeghouse

    Oops, I meant to say, “My faith is dear to me as yours is dear to you,” and NOT, “My faith is dear to me, as your is dear to me,”Mike Ghouse

  • Justice786

    Thank you, Allson. My wife too converted to Islam since over 30 years ago while she was serving in the US Navy. She was born into a Christian family, became a born again Christian who knows the Bible backward and forward, and went through five baptisms. As she studied and pored over the Bible, she began to see more and more contradictions and started to have doubts. She then went on her own quest studing many other faith based communities before she met some Muslims who, by their behavior and conduct, stirred her interest in Islam–which she had never studied. After reading the Qur’an and comparing the description of Allah in the Qur’an with that of God in the Bible, she embraced Islam. Her faith in Allah and her identity as a Muslim are unshakeable. She has been and is my wonderful wife and companion, and our strong common linkage is our faith in Allah as Muslims. Walaikoum salaam from your brother in Islam.

  • edonko

    to MGT2

  • edonko

    All good that I have said is from God’s mercy and if I have made mistake I appologize, it is from my own shortcommings.

  • wordhope

    Alison, I would be interested to know if you are sure now of going to heaven. With thanks.

  • ThomasBaum

    edonko You wrote, “Jesus has not died, God has taken him up to him and would never forsake any of his prophets/messangers. He will come back towards the end of time to face antichrist or fake massiah.”If Jesus did not die than He is a liar, Jesus predicted His death and told quite a few about it before His death.Why would the god of islam pick a “liar” to be his prophet?I have read that it is not only acceptable to “lie” for the god of islam but that it is highly commended, is that true?Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ThomasBaum

    mikeghouseYou wrote, “The claim of superiority is sheer arrogance and generates immediate conflict.”Jesus is reported to have said, “I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except thru Me”.Is this a “claim of superiority”, “sheer arrogance” or simply the truth?It cannot be all three, can it?If it is either a “claim of superiority” or “sheer arrogance” why would the god of islam claim Jesus as his prophet?If it is the simple truth, then the god of islam is a liar, doesn’t the god of islam get pretty perturbed if anyone calls God their Father or if anyone says that God is a Trinity?Didn’t Jesus also say that when one prays they should pray, “Our Father…”?Why would the god of islam pick someone as his prophet Who is in total opposition to him?You also wrote, “The purpose of all religions on the other hand is to inculcate humility, a bridge builder of communities that brings about sustainable harmony among people to co-exist.”Jesus said many things that if they were not the “simple truth” would be far from being “humble” and Jesus also spoke of “bringing the sword …”, of course this is not the “sword of man” but the “sword of truth”.Jesus did not become One of us, God-Incarnate, to be a “co-exister” but to be the “Saviour of the world”.The “watered-down” Jesus in the Koran is not the “fire-brand” Jesus of the Bible, “I have come to bring Fire to the earth and I wish it were already burning”, do you have a clue what Jesus means by this statement of His?Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • rentianxiang

    First, your claim that you didn’t know who to pray to, (god, jesus or the holy spirit) demonstrates your inability to understand the trinity. Your Catholicism was apparently quite shallow and ill-informed. I am a recovered Catholic and also saw through the falseness of the religion but after abandoning one system of falsehood, I had no need for another. I hope you find solace in your new faith and are able to practice the cognitive dissonance necessary to be both muslim and tolerant of non-Muslims. Now, I hope that you will just read the history of Islam with the same attention that you read about Catholic mistreatment of “Indian” people in California. Please read about the tens of millions slaughtered in India, the eradication of non-Arab culture in north Africa, the enslavement of black Africans and anyone else who had the misfortune of coming in contact with the Arab-Muslim slave traders, unprovoked attacks against Greek and Byzantine territory leading to wholesale slaugheter of Greeks in Anatolia and the barbarous conquest of Constantinople and what is now known as Turkey, etc. Also, who cares if Muslims have some knowledge of Jesus and Mary? How does that matter at all? The fact that you were attracted to Catholicism first and then Islam is an interesting fact since both of these religions are noted for their specific rules and answers for how to live, which makes things difficult but simple. And yes, Islam is focused on community awareness but what they means historically (especially in the time of Muhammed and his companions) is that the Muslim community must unite to expand Islam and fight against the unbelievers. I hope your idea of community awareness is different.

  • BatEverhart

    I’m glad Alison has converted to Islam in much the same way I’ve chosen to convert to Judaism. Muslims and Jews may be in general constantly fighting, but we have many of the same beliefs with just a few, but big, differences.I was born a Lutheran but the Christian bible was too contradicting of itself. Like How G-d said, “I shall pass my glory on to no other,” (or something like that) and then it says he passed his glory on to Jesus. It confused me and I found everything I searched for in Christianity in Judaism.I don’t doubt many people find peace in the Qur’an too. I’m glad when I hear of converts like this that have found their way.

  • abrahamhab1

    Alison:

  • TheVoice2

    If Abraham were resurrected and transported to our time, he would be horrified by the three “great” religions claiming to worship his God…they are all polluted with ideas from pagan religions,mythology and philosophy along with all sorts of unscriptural human traditions and customs.With “Christianity”, it’s sun and fertility worship from the days of the Roman Empire with lots of symbols,holidays and customs derived from idolatrous worship of false gods, with the pagan Egyptian triune god idea pasted on top of the whole disgusting concoction!With Islam, it’s pagan Arab moon worship fused with ideas from Judaism and Catholicism(including the “burning hell as a place of torture” idea,adopted from pagan religion).Judaism is polluted with ideas from Greek philosophy(i.e. the “immortal soul” idea) and unscriptural human traditions.Those religions have little in common with Abraham’s faith…he would want nothing to do with any of them!

  • ThomasBaum

    TheVoice2 You wrote, “Those religions have little in common with Abraham’s faith…he would want nothing to do with any of them!”How would you know?Have you ever met Abraham?You just might be surprised by what Abraham would have to say.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • TheVoice2

    To Thomas Baum: