Why did I convert to Islam? If you read my last blog post, you’ll know that I started thinking about this because I wanted to marry an Egyptian Muslim, and in order to do that it was a legal necessity. But we broke up, so that ceased to be an issue. Nevertheless, I converted. I did so officially when I was in the Behman Hospital, with the help of a sheikh who would visit every so often.
I realized that faith of some kind was necessary to get me through that experience. I have never felt so lonely, or so trapped, in my life. Every single day I thought about trying to end my life. Once I punched a door so hard I broke my hand; it took months to heal. I felt betrayed and mistreated by every human I knew who was supposed to be looking out for me. I couldn’t have survived without some kind of belief in a higher power who would make things right eventually.
While in the hospital I spent much of my time reading the Quran and memorizing portions of it. In the Surah Maryam, which is about Mary the mother of Jesus–a Surah that resonated especially with me because I was raised Christian–I read about Allah taking care of someone who was totally at the end of her rope, so much so that she wanted to die. In Surah 4, an-Nisa (‘Women’), I read and memorized the following famous verse (135):
‘O believers! Stand firm for justice as witnesses for Allah even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or close relatives. Be they rich or poor, Allah is best to ensure their interests. So do not let your desires cause you to deviate from justice. If you distort the testimony or refuse to give it, then know that Allah is certainly All-Aware of what you do.’
This verse spoke to me because I felt like none of the Americans in my life understood the good work I was trying so hard to do in Egypt, and because I felt at the mercy of powerful Egyptian forces beyond my control. The verse told me to ‘stand firm for justice’ despite all this. It told me that Allah was aware of all my failings, which are many, but other verses–the beginning of every Surah, in fact– assured me that Allah was also compassionate and merciful.
I prayed many times every day. The hospital was well supplied with prayer rugs, and I found their beautiful designs and soft texture extremely comforting. Several of my attendants, who were all very kind (though it creeped me out that they watched me 24/7), taught me how to pray properly and prayed with me. A kind man from Sudan gave me the prayer beads pictured below. I used to rub each bead and think about, and pray for, each of the many, many people I love.
In addition to being inspired by the many wonderful Muslims I have met in Egypt, I was inspired by seeing how Andrew Summers (formerly of AndrewAndrew) has embraced Islam, as an American with no upbringing in this religion, and the positive effect it has had in his life and the lives of those around him.
One of the nice things about being Muslim, for me, is that I don’t have to give up loving Jesus and his teachings. Islam affords great respect to Jesus as one of the prophets. Indeed, Islam is for me a way back to loving Jesus and the Christian scriptures as I once did. As a Muslim with a Christian background and sympathies, I am now connected in a deep and personal way to both of the two great religious traditions of Egypt. And that, to me, is very beautiful.