Saturday, August 05, 2006

SHAHADAH



My husband and I had gone to the masjid for a speaker’s program. It was the first time that he had invited me to the masjid since our marriage a year or so earlier. We had met and married while we were both working as substance abuser counselors in a rehabilitation center. We couldn’t have been more different in the beginning, as we are from entirely different backgrounds – he is black and I am white, he is Muslim and I was Jewish. Although he hadn’t asked me to become a Muslim prior to our marriage, he did give me silent dawah by his excellent example. He had an extensive Islamic library, and because I was an avid reader, I naturally read a lot of his books. I also observed his modest behavior, watched as he made salat five times a day, went to Jumah prayer on Fridays, and fasted during the month of Ramadan. So, it was natural that I would develop an interest in his religion.

When we arrived at the masjid, he pointed out the entrance to the women's section - downstairs in the basement. We agreed to meet in the parking lot after the program was over. OK, I can do this, I thought to myself as I entered the dark dank hallway and walked down the steep steps, I’ve never had trouble making friends before. I had always enjoyed “multi-cultural” situations and looked forward to the evening. My husband had suggested that I wear something “modest” for the occasion. I ran my hands down over my long-sleeved dress, straightening and smoothing it out. I felt confident that the women at the masjid would approve of my appearance. However, when I arrived at the bottom of the stairs and walked through the door marked “Sisters”, I could immediately feel it in the air: thick tension, suspicion, estrangement, confusion … every veiled head turned in my direction and the Muslim women stared at me as if I had two heads. I stood frozen in place in the entrance way, staring back at them. I had never seen so many Muslim women together in one place. Most of them wore the traditional hijab, but two women peered out at me through head coverings that revealed only their eyes. A few others sat with their scarves draped over their shoulders. When they saw me, they pulled them up over their heads. But then one of them got up from where she was sitting, approached me, and introduced herself as Sister Basimah. At least this one has a welcoming look on her face.

“Hi,” I said. “My name is Sharon. I’m here for the speaker’s program.”

“Is anyone with you?” she asked.

“My husband is upstairs,” I replied.

“Oh! Your husband is Muslim?” she asked.

“Yes. Yes, he is,” I said.

“Alhamdulillah,” she said. “Come over here and sit with us.”

She led me to a table where three other women were seated. They were the most beautiful exotic women I had ever seen. Right after she made introductions, I forgot each one of their names, which were equally exotic. Sister Basimah then got up and went to greet more people that had arrived.

“Where are you from?” one of the women asked me.

I replied that I was an American of Eastern European heritage, born in New York City.

“Where’s your husband from?” was the next question.

“He’s from America.”

“But, where is he from?

“Philadelphia,” I replied.

“No, I mean, what country is he from?”

“He’s American, born in the United States, he’s African-American, from Philadelphia,” I replied, thinking that there was a language barrier. I would later learn that most of the Caucasian women in the masjid were married to Arab men.

“Hmmm,” they all said in unison and they cast their lovely gazes downward.

“Are you thinking of becoming a Muslim?” another one asked, looking up at me with a beaming expression on her face.

“No,” I replied, “I’m Jewish.” Well, I wish you could have seen the look on their faces. As soon as it was politely possible, the topic was switched.

“Are your children Muslims?” one of them asked, returning to the interrogation.

“No.” I replied, “I don’t have any children.” That was it; their attempts to find a common ground with me had failed. They smiled at me and then something incredible happened for which I was not prepared: the conversation turned to Arabic.

I continued to sit with them at the table. They mostly spoke to each other in Arabic, and I mostly smiled. As more women would join the table, they would introduce me in English, “This is Sharon. She’s Jewish.” Then they resumed speaking in Arabic. When the program began, the women gathered in the prayer room and everyone sat down on the plush carpeted floor. But after about five minutes, the women started chatting to one another, all but drowning out the sound of the program which was being delivered over a stereo speaker from upstairs. After the program was over, the women went into the kitchen to prepare food. Sister Basimah came over and told me to sit and make myself comfortable until it was time to eat.

“But, let me help you,” I offered.

“No! You are our guest. Some American sisters have arrived. I’ll introduce you,” she replied.

Sister Basimah motioned to one of the women on the other side of the room. She came over and the two women kissed each other on the cheeks and greeted each other with a cheerful Arabic expression. Then they both turned to look at me.

“This is Sharon. She’s Jewish. Will you keep her company until we eat?” Sister Basimah said to the other woman.

“Oh, yes!” she replied. “Hi Sharon, I’m Sister Arwa!”

Sister Arwa and I sat down and began to get acquainted. I asked her questions such as how long had she been a Muslim, was she married to a Muslim, etc. Then she dropped the bomb.

“Why did you kill Jesus?” she asked me.

“What?” I replied. My face must have shown my shock and disbelief.

“I mean” she inquired again, this time softening her question, “why did the Jews kill Jesus?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I was astonished and rankled by the question. I could tell by the innocent look on her face that she really wanted to know. Maybe she never met a Jewish woman before, and this was her first real opportunity to get an answer to her burning question. When I was first introduced to her, I welcomed her company; after all, she was the first American I had seen that evening. Now, I wanted to get up and run from the table. Then the anger set in.

Giving her a baleful look, I replied through clenched teeth, “We did not kill Jesus. The Romans did!”

She returned the look of a wounded animal. Her lips opened to say something, but before she could reply someone called to her.

“Excuse me,” she said, “I’ll be back.” I could hear the relief in her voice.

A group of African-American sisters arrived at the masjid and I spent the remainder of the evening in their company. Before I left to meet my husband, Sister Basimah gave me her telephone number and encouraged me to call and arrange a time to visit with her.

I did call her, and we developed a beautiful relationship. She told me all about Islam and Allah. It was from her that I learned that no one killed Jesus! I learned that Allah raised him up unto Himself. She knew I was interested in Islam, and could sense that my heart was searching and yearning for spiritual peace. One evening while my husband and I were visiting her home, she came right out and invited me to Islam. The turning point occurred when she explained that all my sins would be forgiven when I came to Islam. She said that I would be reborn, like a newborn baby, with no sins, with another chance. I broke down and cried. I wanted another chance to get right with Allah. You see, I had a very checkered past. I always loved God, but I got lost in life. We asked her husband to help me say the Shahadah. When I told my husband what I was about to do, he was shocked and happy at the same time. He asked me if I was really sure about my decision, like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. I responded that I was never surer about anything in my entire life. There was no internal battle, no fears or doubts. After I said the Shahadah, Sister Basimah’s husband said, “Mabrook! You’re now a Muslim!”

When we returned home, my husband gave me a gift of my very own Qu’ran and a summarized Sahih Al-Bukhari. Before I left Sister Basimah’s home that special evening, she gave me a gift of a booklet about modesty for Muslim women. She also gave me a prayer rug, a prayer dress, and a hijab. I have worn hijab since that day, Alhamdulillah. I have never taken it off, even after the dreadful days following September 11th.

When I became a Muslim in July of 1998, my father denounced me once and for all. He had been very upset with me anyhow for marrying a Muslim, and refused to recognize my husband as his son-in-law.

“But Sharon, those people hate us!” he cried.

All efforts to explain the difference between the peaceful religion of Islam and the political struggle between the Palestinians and Israelis fell on deaf ears. Never mind that my father was the first one in his family to marry outside of Judaism. My mother had been a practicing Catholic when they married. To add “insult to injury” in my father’s eyes, my husband was also African-American. Prior to September 11th, most Americans thought of Malcolm X whenever Islam was mentioned. Many other family members also made it known how disappointed and frustrated they were with my decision to marry a “Black Muslim”. My father died in August of 2001, one month before the events of September 11th. At the request of my father’s wife, my family did not tell me that he had died until after his funeral was over. Did they fear that I would show up in the synagogue dressed in garb accompanied by my black husband!

We are taught that the religion of Islam is for all people and for all time. It shouldn’t matter whether a Muslim is Egyptian, Pakistani, American, Saudi, Indonesian, or Palestinian. It shouldn’t matter whether he is black, white, red, or yellow. It shouldn’t matter whether he speaks Arabic, English, Spanish, or Urdu. Our cultural diversity should not divide our ummah. Allah tells us in the Qu’ran that, “We created you in nations and tribes so that you may know one another” (49:13).

24 comments:

Amina said...

Subhan Allah, what a moving story. I am all choked up.

My brother, a Catholic, wrote me just today, "While the Muslims mastermind strategies to manifest their idea of a theocracy around the globe, Christians wait for the second appearance of Christ and the Jews are still waiting for their scriptural prophecies of a Messiah to be fulfilled.

When you consider that we have all descended from Adam and Noah it is easy to see that we are all brothers and sisters. So what we are witnessing is a world-wide dysfunctional family engaged in earthly affairs. I've come to the conclusion that Peace will be possible only through the intervention of the God that we, the fractured factions, pray to."

Anonymous said...

assalamualikum sister.
mashAllah,your story touched me too.

with love,
your sister in islam.
umm s.

Anonymous said...

I really loved this story masha'Allah. Jazak Allah khair for sharing.

Saaleha said...

told you your blog would be great. Mabrook.

musicalchef said...

salam alaikum,

I got to your blog from the Islamic Writers group. Looks great! I also converted in 1998. September 11, 1998 to be exact (so i couldn't really do anything to celebrate for my third "birthday"). I'm sorry that you had such a hard time at the beginning, and insha'Allah, i hope things are going better for you now. I enjoyed your post about the name change too. I don't plan to change my name, but i'm thinking of taking a nickname, especially for when i travel. Safiyya is a beautiful name, and a very fitting choice for you, i think!

Lori

GypC29 said...

Salam Alaikum!
I love the story of how u converted. My sister in law is catholic and just like u she went to the mosque to hear a lecture and just like u she was "interrogated." But thats where the similarities end. She was put off by their questions and how everyone spoke infront of her a different language. She never went there again. Our behaviour infront of the guests of the mosque really determine how quickly one reverts to islam.
Jazak Allah khair for sharing ur story with all of us. Safiyyah is a beautiful name MAshallah.

Fatima

luckyfatima said...

salaam

I am also a convert. My paternal family is Jewish, though my mother is Catholic. I look pretty stereotypically Jewish in terms of coloring and facial features so guess what, people (Muslims) always mistake me for an Arab and don't believe it at first when I say I am not. Heh heh heh, we could swap stories on peoples' weird, patronizing comments about our heritage. Be prepared cuz I am sure you'll collect a bunch more. My favorite is when people keep referring to me as a Jew and daughter of a Jew even though I have been a Muslim for 9 years. Every convert has issues, but we have special issues.

I just tell myself that people are generally well meaning and that they have not really known a person like me before so they don't know how inappropriate some of the stuff they say sounds.
Very few have been truly intentionally malicious. Most people are happy and touched, a few have even started crying, and over the years I even got proposals from people wanting me to marry their sons when they heard about my background and journey to Islam. twice was proposals from Palestinian families (this was long before, I am married now).

Anyway, Good luck w/ it all.

Wassalaam

Lucky Fatima

Abu Sinan said...

Nice blog. I know I am reading this a long time after. Interesting that the convert sister asked why you killed Jesus.

It would seems she needs some work in her new deen. Muslims do not believe Jesus died, so Jews couldnt have killed her.

Anti-Semitism in the Muslim community is one of my pet peeves.

Anonymous said...

Assalammu Alaykum

My grandmothers mother was Jewish....so in the Jewish law i have that bloodline even though i was rased a christian.Are you known as the Jewish Sister?
Smiles

Anonymous said...

As salaamu 'alaykum my dear sister,

A beautiful and moving account of your conversion. I pray Allah compensates you fo rwhat you lost in terms of your family.

Take care and all the best with your retirement, but keep blogging!

Roze (inalain!!)

A. said...

Found your story! When I became Muslim, most other Muslims assumed I had been married to or dating a Muslim at the time. But I was single, no Muslims influenced me.

I felt like I didn't fit in with Muslims when I lived in NJ because I was American. The American Muslims there were very strict, so I didn't go to their mosques, but I didn't fit in with the Arabs either, even though my husband was Egyptian.

Anisah

noona said...

salaamo alaikom Safiyyah, i am posting this a little late i think but only recently did i get to read about your conversion story, i enjoyed reading it:), beside the content it felt like i was reading a book, also, about the description of the sisters' behavior and reactions (apart from basimah), i thought only arab women do that:), i mean you know the whole cultural touch, and the listening habit too "the women started chatting to one another, all but drowning out the sound of the program which was being delivered over a stereo speaker from upstairs". But subhanAllah how people's treatment and conduct reflect on others, it can either attract or repel them from our religion specially when they don't know of its teachings through reading for example, though in your case since you were already reading about islam this would've been what had more influence on you i guess.

Al-Hussain Arshad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Safiyyah said...

As Salaamu Alaikum Brother!

I changed it! Jazaka Allahu Khayr for catching that!

American Muslima Writer said...

Masha'Allah I'm tryiog to read some of your back posts and this caught my eyes. What a beautiful conversion story and I was wincing when you attended tha masjid knowing full weel that they were going to be rude to you and knowing full well that you might be repeled from Islam because of it I'm happy one sister was great to you and she encouraged you to say shahada. Masha'Allah.
I'm sorry about your father dear. May Allah ease the grief from your heart.

Muslima said...

Assalam alaykom dear sister,
I just came across your blog, so my comment is 3 years later.
I am really sorry for the annoying behavior of those sisters in the mosque, this is not how a muslim should behave. It really upsets me to hear about ho wsome muslims treat reverts or even non-muslim.

In one of the comments a lady said [about the description of the sisters' behavior and reactions (apart from basimah), i thought only arab women do that:), i mean you know the whole cultural touch, and the listening habit too]
I don't think it is fair to generalize it to all arab women, there are arabs who do not behave this way actually it is considered a bad behavior in our culture and BTW i'm arab.

May Allah impproves the manners of all muslims and Allah yihdeena.

salam,
AN.

NoortheNinjabi said...

Salaam Alykom Sister!,
MashaAllah, I'm all choked up now! I was sent your way by another sister, who thought we may have something in common.. My maternal side is Ashkenazi (and for the some, actually practicing!...my brother is now considering invoking Aliyah), so wow...mashaAllah. Congratulations your blessed story and may Allah SWT continue to guide you, amin! As for the sisters in the masjid, now when people come, inshaAllah they have someone to chat with!

Safiyyah said...

Wa Alaikum As Salaam Muslima:

Thanks for discovering my story :)

You are correct in that not all Arabs (or anyone else) are that way or the same in behavior. Alhamdulillah, I now know enough Arabs to know this.

The problem is that when someone is considering coming to Islam, or when someone is a new Muslim, he or she is hypervigilant, taking everyone and everything in.

This is why we Muslims, whether Arab, Pakistani, or whatever, must put worth excellent Islamic adab at all times.

Especially now, in the post 9-11 era ... people are interested in Islam and Muslims.

For me, I came to Islam for Allah (swt), not for my husband or anyone else, so I am "usually" ha ha, able to overlook things and it doesn't negatively impact my deen.

However, I personally know sisters (and many of us have read on the Internet) who have left the deen due to unIslamic behavior from husbands or others Muslims.

Although Allah (swt) makes Muslims ... and He also puts veils over people's eyes when He wishes - we should still be careful of how we present ourselves and our deen to others.

"Our Lord! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error, our Lord!" (2:286)

Safiyyah said...

Salaams NoortheNinjabi!

Alhamdulillah. Insha Allah I will visit your blog in a few days. I just came back from ISNA and Ya Allah, it was exhausting. I am so glad to "meet" you :)

Fadiosis said...

Assalamo alaikom.. this is my first visit to your blog and as I am addicted to stories of people converting to Islam this is the first post I read..

I am so happy for you :).. alhamdolillah.. I have to say that I was more interested because I've never heard about converts from Judaism.. and so I truly am happy for the fact that you could rise higher than any cultural, religious, racial differences... I am so proud of you sister :)..

your sister in Islam
Fadiah.

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Dearest Fadiah

JAK Sis!

Insha Allaah you will visit me often!

wbabdullah said...

Beautiful. Touching. Inspiring. Wholesome. Healthy. Don't know what else to say without sounding like a FAN-atic! Mash'Allah, a beautiful story. Insh'Allah through your story, many will come to see how much Jews and Muslims have in common and not be blinded by bigotry and prejudice!

bendinglight said...

assalamu `alaykum wa rahmatulLahi wa wa barakatuh sister Safiyyah,

Subhan'Allah. It is always amazing to hear the story of how Allah brought His slave to Islam! Jazaki Allah khayr for sharing your story with us.

I was saddened to read of the way you were treated on your first visit to the masjid. I hope we have gotten better at this nowadays, insha'Allah. We really need to be putting a lot more emphasis on gaining knowledge about adab.

I am looking forward to browsing your blog!

Zoya

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Whittni and Zoya: Insha Allaah I will see you both here often :)

Whitttni, yes, we have much in common. Too bad that Zionism veils it :(