My name is Melanie and in October of 2009, I converted to Islam.
This statement has profound implications because it implies that, for a period of time before my conversion, a curiosity regarding Islam brewed within me that eventually led to my conversion.
I was born on August, 1987 to an Iranian woman whom I refer to as Mother. She was born and raised in Tehran, the capital of Iran, where she was socialized into Islam by her family and her community. By circumstances of fate, or by some bizarre coincidence, she came to America and fell in love with an American hippie – my father. In my twenty three years of existence, I have yet to hear him talk about God. Mother, on the other hand, would frequently say that “God is watching you” to remind me not to misbehave. Aside from comments such as those, my knowledge of God or religion was next to none. Thus, as you can imagine, my upbringing was a very unique and interesting one.
The only memories I have from my childhood that pertain to Islam involved witnessing my mother’s mother – my grandmother – pray. She, herself, was a devout Muslim and would pray the five prayers of the day. I would, in my curiosity, barge in to see what she was doing and find myself confused as to why she was bowing her head to the ground continually. She would tell me, later, that she was praying. These moments were my first encounters with Islam. There were a few instances where she would allow me to pray with her. I had no idea what I was doing and just followed her actions. Unfortunately, for a seven year old who had been brought up with very little knowledge of God, these events had very little meaning then. However, much later, these events would have a profound effect on me.
Fast forward to 9/11 – I was fourteen years old when the majority of Americans began to scrutinize the Muslim community for the events of the 9/11 attacks. My classmates at my high school were ignorant and would often make ignorant comments about Muslims, to the point where I would stand up and defend the community. I had such a strong conviction that Muslims are not to blame for this. I suppose it was while standing up for Islam that I began to open my eyes to it. It was within these years that I came to realize that I identified more with Islam than I did with Christianity and Judaism. After all, I periodically saw Mother reading the Qur’an and she would tell me brief stories of what she was reading. My mother’s side of the family were Muslims and I certainly knew more about Islam than I did about Christianity and Judaism. And so a realization started to form within me that, perhaps, I was Muslim after all.
Prior to entering UCLA, I still had not gone to a Mosque, nor had I spoken to anyone about Islam, except for my relatives. My relatives told me that I was Muslim because after all, I am my mother’s daughter. I always shrugged at the statement and as the years progressed, I realized I didn’t know one single thing about Islam except the five pillars. But all that would soon change when I would enter UCLA….