I think I didn’t turn away from the Catholic church, as much as I slowly began to turn towards something else. I found that I was discontent with myself and where I was in life, but I didn’t really know why. Certainly I had come in contact with a lot of people, and had a few experiences, that showed me some of the hypocrisy of some of the people within the church- but that is to be found in any religion- one can’t judge the religion entirely by looking at the people who practice it, and I knew that. After attending that college for a year, I took a semester off, and enrolled the next year at University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. I was farther away from my family, but I felt I was finally on my own to greater degree, as I struggled to balance single motherhood with being a student. It was difficult for me to fit in with my peers- I majored in English and Theatre; and though I was the same age as my classmates, none of them had the responsibility of raising a baby. This automatically set me apart. I also began to question my behavior and beliefs more deeply, and I made a decision that I had to become a better person- more honest, more kind, more true to myself. I realized that a lot of my more destructive behavior came from a huge lack of self esteem. The mother of one of my friends befriended me, and after meeting with her a few times she invited me to sit in her circle- a circle of women.
Until this time my friends had mostly been men- I had a very difficult time dealing with women at any level. I simply liked and trusted men more, for whatever reason. I remember the first night I sat in a circle with these women. They were all older than me, and they were as different as women could be, on the outside. Pat produced a stick, held it up, and began to talk. And then the stick passed from woman to woman, and each spoke in her turn, and I was amazed and impressed with the depth and breadth of their spirituality. Afterwards, as we all munched on cookies and drank juice, I realized that it wasn’t just in the circle that they were spiritual- they seemed to me to really be living in a more conscious and deliberate way. Thus began my interest and study in Paganism. I never delved too deeply into it- I sampled it like a box of chocolates, taking a little bit here and a little bit there- but at the same time I never lost my belief in God- in One God. Looking back, I see that I simply made a crazy quilt of spiritual beliefs and tried it on for a little while.
While I was in college my older brother embraced Islaam. Older brother doesn’t cover it- I admired him and loved him and considered him to be one of my best friends. Islaam to me was just another religion. I had no negative or positive feelings about it at all. I could vaguely remember a grainy photo of Yusuf Islam, previously known as Cat Stevens, sitting cross-legged on a rug looking very content after he became Muslim- but that was about it as far as contact with Islaam went. Ray came to live with me for a bit while I was in college, and I noticed right away that he had changed in a lot of ways- all of them good. He didn’t seem to worry as much, his temper was more even, he was even more thoughtful than he had been before. Through him I met some of the Muslims in the community, and I was impressed with their characters more than anything else. I remember watching them pray, and seeing how they were so affected by it. It was so clearly a spiritual experience for them- they were feeling five times a day what I was striving to feel…and the seed was planted in my heart.
Time went on, and my brother married a sweet Pakistani Canadian woman. I attended their wedding, and was at that time totally immersed in the life of her family. Her father, mother, and grandmother were so kind, so quiet and simply good, that long after we left, I thought about them, I compared them with the Muslims I had met locally, and realized that what I was attracted to in these people was a result of their Islaam. It was the character of Islaam being lived in these people. That was it- that was what I wanted- a religion that was a whole way of life, and one that could answer the questions I had with something clear and exact. I asked my brother for some resources, and he sent me a couple of books, and I began to read. And I fell in love. Islaam had it all- everything I was looking for, I found within it. Again, it was not so much a turning away from other religions (although that certainly was the result) as a turning to what I knew with every word I read, was the simple Truth. The oneness of God I had known from when I was a child- I recognized that and it was home. The one on one connection, no intermediaries necessary- I knew this from my hours spent sitting quietly in St. Mary’s back home- I recognized it, and it was home. The character of the the Prophet- kind, gentle, firm, strong- he contained all those characteristics that I so admired when I found them in humanity- I recognized him, and he felt like home. Living life in a conscious, spiritual manner, making every act an act of worship- again, I recognized this, and it was home.
So one journey ended, and another began. For every two steps forward, I would sometimes take three steps back- but I knew that the goal of my journey was always there, stable, and that God was patient with me, and merciful, and would help me out if I asked Him. I found comfort and security, but I also found within Islaam a scholarly tradition that gave me even more confidence and strengthened my belief. Yes, there are things that we take on faith, and I have no problem with this- but the firm foundation of knowledge within Islaam, and the importance of seeking it, satisfies something within me as well. We are not supposed to blindly follow; rather, we have the sources and the resources to study and understand our religion and way of life. I was blessed within a year of embracing Islaam to marry a strong, intelligent man who had the same goals as I did, and this further strengthened my faith and helped me over the rough spots. Since then, alhamdulillah, I have never looked back. I don’t have to- because I know that in Islaam, I have finally come home.