A Smile That Went a Long Way
I grew up in Middle America in the 1970‘s-80’s in a family that did not identify itself as religious but somehow I always seemed to find myself drawn to things spiritual and religious. I attended an evangelical Christian church as a girl growing up with my Grandmother and Aunt. I enjoyed my time there and experienced my first deeply prayerful moments there, for which I will always be grateful.
There was nothing that could be done, however, about the doubt that lay in my heart as I matured, that the beloved Jesus that we worshipped could not be God incarnate – I just couldn’t buy it. I did try to ask questions but was told after a time quite firmly that it was a matter of blind faith, so I began to think I’d better keep my thoughts to myself ! I decided in my heart that Jesus must have been a powerful prophet and that I could believe in completely. I continued on and became more religious in my practice: I only wore long skirts and long-sleeved blouses, my hair was always pinned up off my shoulders, I studied scripture everyday, prayed regularly, attended church twice a week and avoided activities that were considered sinful by the church, many of the same types of things that are considered haram in Islam. I considered becoming a missionary.
My parents began to worry that I was becoming too zealous and they abruptly pulled me out of the church at 14 yrs of age. This event was to be a devastating blow to my pysche and one that I did not recover from for many years. It was, however, part of the divine plan for it was the grief and longing I felt for the nearness to the divine that would put me on a quest of study of many religions and idealogies before I found the one, true way – Islam. During high school and college, I felt completely lost. I had no peer group, no support. I married young, become a workaholic and somewhat of a musical prodigy in classical singing; hitting several career milestones at a young age. Now my god was music and I tried to make it fill the void that was within me but no matter how much praise I might receive, nor how much the audience loved me, I did not love or even like myself. I studied Judaism, New Age schools of thought and the Episcopalian church to no avail. With my spiritual and emotional life in tatters, my marriage over and my career stalling after 7 years of traveling the US and Europe, I hit rock bottom. I was teetering on the edge of life and could have fallen off the cliff at any minute. The only thing I lived for at that time was my precious little daughter who was then a toddler.
Then something amazing happened. I met a man in my local deli, who would later become my husband, that made it his business to give me a smile everyday, no matter how rude I was or how terrible I looked or however his day might be going. His kind treatment of me at the lowest point of my life made me wonder where his sense of mercy and that smile came from. I later learned that it came from his Islam. Giving a smile is indeed a tremendous gift and a type of Sadaqa, as our dear Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, has said. You never know when something as simple as a smile could turn someone’s life completely around!
Knowing him led me to study Islam and I found it to be a natural fit for me spiritually in many ways. The sense of “fitra” means a lot to me because the ways of Islam are many of the things that I believed as a youth and feel so organic. I was so relieved and excited to find out that there was a spiritual path that I could believe in wholeheartedly and dedicate my life to. Islam has literally saved my life in so many ways. I realized that I didn’t need the love or acceptance of anyone or anything except Allah and that I could have that by following his divine laws and living in the hope that he would accept me and draw me closer to him. Alhamdullilah, my life has been immeasurably blessed since I converted.
It was through a dear friend of mine, Sister Umbreen Akram, that I discovered MECCA and attended the Sister’s Halaqa a couple of years ago. I nearly wept from the joy of the gathering and the beauty of the sisters sharing their thoughts and concerns. I even had the privilege of witnessing the conversion of a new sister that day and I will never forget how special that was! MECCA is offering a wonderful support and education system to new converts whose value is immeasurable in worth.
May Allah continue to bless the center and all those who go there for learning, support and a sense of community, Amin!