I texted Neda when I was outside of Haines. She met me outside. I didn’t know how to put on a Hijab and asked her if she could help me put it on. She said that it wasn’t necessary and I began to wonder if she was pulling my leg. She dragged me into the room where the Imam was lecturing and I eyed the individuals in the room. I recognized several people immediately: Amina, Nader, Farhat, and many more. I was expecting the Imam to perform the Shahada in private so I relaxed a bit as I sat in the corner, waiting for the lecture to end. To reassure myself, I asked Neda, “He’s not going to do it in front of everyone, is he?” I am extremely shy, so standing in front of 50 people was scary enough, let alone converting in front of 50 people. Neda comforted me by replying, “No no, you’ll be fine.” I should have known this statement had multiple meanings.
To my utter horror, after the lecture, the Imam asked “Is the young lady here to do the conversion?” Neda was more than happy to pipe up and point to me: “Yeah, she’s right over here.”
Fifty pair of eyes turned to me. I found myself desperately wishing I was invisible while plotting Neda’s death.
The Imam asked me to come to the front of the room. Before I got up, I whispered to Neda that I was going to kill her. She only giggled profusely as I marched to the front of the room. I felt myself turning red as I felt eyes on the back of my head. Everyone was watching! Eek! What if I messed up? The thought taunted me as the Imam asked my name. I laughed awkwardly and said, “I haven’t done this before.” It was true, I hadn’t. Everyone in the room laughed and I felt better since laughter always lightens up a serious situation. The Imam laughed too, which was a relief since he got the joke – “Yes, if you had, you wouldn’t be here right now.”
He asked me a series of questions, such as if I knew anyone in the room. I said yes, I knew Nader and Neda and Amina and Farhat. For some reason, everyone laughed when I mentioned Nader’s name. I didn’t understand why at first but Neda later explained to me that everyone knows Nader, who seems to be very helpful with new conversions. What a coincidence, he helped in mine!
The Imam asked me why I chose to convert to Islam. With 50 people staring at me, my mind went blank. Internally I tried to jump-start my brain: Hello brain, could you start working now? I need to give an answer! I found myself uttering whatever came to mind, such as my family roots, friends, experiences, etc.
I then repeated after the Imam. The first part was in English, which I fully understood. The next part I was a bit more scared about: The Arabic. My initial perception was that he was going to say each word and I would repeat. Instead, he had me repeat each unique and particular sound. I had no idea where the words began or ended but did enjoy repeating the various sounds after the Imam. That was it. Those five minutes was my Shahada!
I turned and watched as fifty people chorused a phrase in Arabic. I knew this was a good sign. After that, I was bombarded with many hands to shake with, sisters to hug, numbers to exchange. I was the center of attention as all the brothers and sisters welcomed me into the community. This welcome was the most warmth I had felt in years.
I am grateful that Neda pushed for me to convert in front of so many sisters and brothers. Not only has this experience been unique for me, but I later came to learn that my declaration of faith to Islam rejuvenated many of the sisters’ and brothers’ faith, as well, because they witnessed a new member to the Muslim community!
That night was a very memorable night for me. I was very pleased and excited to be welcomed into such an open and warm community – one that would help shape me to become a better person in the months to come…