Allah is really the best Planner!
Who is better in speech than one who calls
(mankind) to Allah, works righteousness,
and says "I am of those who bow in Islam"?
The Holy Quran 41:33
If you asked anyone who's known me all my life, my mother for
example, she'd tell you I was always "into" religion. In fact, I was "into"
everything! So many things struck my fancy. From my earliest recollections,
around three years of age or so, I remember I couldn't decide if I wanted to be
a teacher or a gypsy when I grew up! I'd dress up in long skirts, dangly
earrings and tinkling bracelets, wear a colorful paisley silk scarf as a shawl,
and run around the house, pretending to be Queen of the Gypsies. When I tired of
that, I'd retreat to my playroom in the basement and play school for hours on
end. Of course, I was the teacher, and was always trying to corral my brother
and his unwilling friends into being my students.
Finally, I passed out of the gypsy phase, probably when I learned how
to read. I continued to play school in the basement, and read for hours on end
to my imaginary students. Books fascinated me and I read anything and
everything. The world opened up to me at a very young age, and I was determined
to make my mark in it. From that point on, I decided that I wanted to be a
teacher and a writer. Those dreams did eventually become reality, but not
without a lot of hardships in between.
I was being raised as a Catholic in a fairly devout home. I attended
Catholic school, went to Mass on Sundays and also spent a lot of voluntary time
in church. Sometimes I'd sneak in after school, and rather than sit in the main
church, I'd go to the small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There I would
pray the rosary earnestly and wish with all my heart that she would appear to me
the way I'd been taught she'd appeared in Lourdes and Fatima.
There was a custom in the Catholic Church that May was dedicated to
the adoration of Mary, mother of Jesus. In school we built something called a
"May altar", a small table draped in a beautiful cloth, with a huge statue of
the Blessed Virgin surrounded by vases of flowers that we children would pick
from our gardens. Daily we would pray the rosary, and at the end of May, we'd
have an outdoor pageant where we'd all dress up in our best clothes, girls would
wear crowns of flowers on their heads and we'd sing songs to a statue of her in
the church courtyard. Someone would have the honor of making an ornate crown of
flowers to place on the statue's head, and we'd listen in awe to the Pastor as
he told us how important it was to pray to the "Mother of God"! I was awfully
caught up in all that and always had a May altar in my mother's dining room.
There was much pomp and circumstance in the church. Weekly confession
(of our sins to a priest who was supposed to represent God in the confessional),
Mass, Novenas, Benediction, Baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation, and if
one chose, elaborate ceremonies marking either entrance into the clergy as a
priest or nun, or marriage. I mention all this to illustrate the fact that when
you are raised Catholic, especially if you attend Catholic school, "being"
Catholic is your WHOLE identity. It is constant indoctrination into not only a
faith, but a community. Your friends are Catholic, your spouse better be
Catholic or there's hell to pay, and your children MUST be raised Catholic. You
can't imagine being another religion---you just can't! Perhaps things have
changed a lot in the last 20 years, but until I was graduated from high school
in 1974, I was a very devout Catholic, despite the fact that the older I grew,
the more doubts I seemed to have about the religion.
I made brief forays into the study of Mormonism, because their
missionaries were always knockng on the door. Also looked into the Hare Krishna
movement, because I was fascinated with their yellow saris, shaved heads and
tinkling bells as they chanted on the streets of downtown Pittsburgh. Memories
of my gypsy days, perhaps? There were a few short weeks one summer when I was 12
that I began to read the Bible at the request of a Presbyterian neighbor, but my
mother put a stop to all those investigations. I figured she was thinking that I
was born Catholic and would stay Catholic if she had her way. Little did I know
that she too, was rapidly becoming disillusioned with the church, and religion
in general. That would also have explained her refusal to allow me to enter the
convent when I started high school.
There were problems brewing in our home with regards to the church.
One was the ever increasing demand for weekly donations, school tuition, etc.
The church was getting richer---it was evident everywhere, from the land
holdings and purchases of the church worldwide, to the new Cadillac the pastor
drove. While the church was getting richer, schools were closing, parishes were
downsizing, and the nuns gave up their traditional habits for modern clothing
allowed under the edicts of Vatican II. The Latin Mass was all but
forbidden---you couldn't find one anywhere. Saturday masses were introduced so
folks didn't have to get up early on Sunday mornings. Folk masses became the
rage and guitars in church were just too much for some older parishioners.
Confession went out, the sacrament of "Reconciliation" came in. An evangelical
movement made huge in-roads into community activities and suddenly Catholics
were also "born-again" Christians talking in "tongues". Membership in churches
was declining rapidly. Marriages could now be "annullned" on a whim so that all
those divorced and re-married Catholics could return to the Church and also
bring back the bucks. And perhaps worst of all were the whispered secrets about
the many priests who were molesting children, especially boys, my brother among
The church treated my mother none too kindly from the start. She was
divorced from my father, a non-Catholic drunk and a womanizer, who had a few
peculiar religious beliefs of his own. Mom tried hard to make the marriage work,
but my father, whom I never knew, just wouldn't settle down. The divorce became
final while my Mom was pregnant with my younger brother. We lived with my
grandparents, Mom went to work to provide as much for us as she could, and
actually it was a pretty decent life. We vacationed frequently, had the best
toys, clothes, etc, and felt loved and secure.
But back in those days, divorce was SUCH a scandal. I remember I
didn't even know my parents were actually divorced until I was in high school.
Up until that time, my Mom told everyone she and my father were seperated,
especially the nuns at school. Divorce was allowed in the church, but people had
a way of turning it into a soap opera. The fact that my mother was quite
attractive didn't help her situation much. Other women on the block, good
Catholics, never included Mom in any neighborhood activities. In fact, they
shunned her. I guess they heard their husbands talking about what a "dish" (an
actual comment) she was, and despite the fact that my Mom basically ignored men
and never dated was no consolation to those "good" women. Mom was ostracized. It
was worse at school. Because Mom worked, she wasn't free to run to school and
volunteer. She didn't have time for the PTA or bake sales. I was treated fairly
well by the nuns, but my poor brother suffered a lot. Everytime he'd get into a
scrape at school, the whole convent came down on his head. It didn't matter if
little brother was innocent---if the other kid had a father at home, my brother
got not only the blame, but frequent paddlings as well. More than once I heard
the nuns scream at him "You're no good because you don't have a father!" Many
times, my grandmother, fighting back tears would explain to us that of course,
we had a father---everyone did---he just didn't live with us was all. Time is a
great healer. Those words don't mean much to him now, but when my brother was
young, the nun's comments hurt like hell. That was one of the reasons he was so
receptive to the friendly advances of one of the parish priests. Little did he
know, that by being taken under the wing of one of the good fathers, he would
end up being a victim of sexual molestation. It took him years to inform my
mother, because of course the priest convinced him that no one would believe
him. Years of counseling followed his revelation, and he recovered to the point
t! hat when given the chance to sue his molester in court, he refused, saying
"The man was sick. I forgive him."
These factors, along with the changes in the church, slowly led my
mother away from the fold. As I said, when I was convinced I wanted to enter the
postulancy when I began high school, Mom refused. I can not thank her enough now
for that decision.
One year after graduation, while in college, I married my "high
school sweetheart". It was a horrible mistake. Six years of misery, a futile
attempt at marriage counseling with the parish priest and the birth of one child
culminated in divorce upon the death of my grandmother. Grandma had held my
marriage together by sheer force of her will on mine. Her motto was 'even a bad
man is better than no man', and as dear as she was to me, she just couldn't
conceive of my divorcing. But when she died, that was the beginning of the end.
I took my daughter and went home to my mother's house to care for my ailing
grandfather. It was a terrible time.
I was overcome with grief at Grandma's death, and even my baby girl
didn't give me the will to go on. The divorce and being alone without someone to
love and to be loved by made matters worse. I became physically ill. When I
could nearly no longer function, I went to the doctor who sent me to a
psychiatrist. He explained that the grieving process was so intense and
prolonged for me (due to my double loss through death and divorce) that it had
driven me into a deep depression. With that knowledge, counseling, and a brief
stint on anti-depressants, I recovered. But not enough. I no longer found
comfort in the church. I needed God in my life, but didn't know where to find
Him. I started to read the Bible, something rather foreign to Catholics in those
days, but found no answers. I decided to just "be" a Christian. I made a few
attempts to join other churches, but I just couldn't get with that born-again,
talking in tongues, Jesus died for YOUR sins, philosophy. I tried to go back to
college, but caring for my grandfather was a full-time job, and so was my
daughter. I dropped out. I had no money, no child support or alimony from my ex,
and worst of all, I had no man to "take care of me". I felt as if I had no
future, no reason to live. I prayed a lot, hoping "someone" would hear me, but I
received only silence in return.
I investigated every religion I could think of. I studied them all. I
rejected Judaism on the grounds that it seemed impossible to be of the "chosen
people" or "saved" simply because of one's bloodlines. There was something so
unfair in this to me, and I couldn't conceive of a God who would send people to
heaven or hell based on who their parents were, regardless of whether they did
good or evil in their lifetimes.
Hinduism was another difficult one to swallow. I couldn't get past
the idea of multiple gods, that anything or anyone could be a god, or the
biggie--cow worship. It just didn't make sense.
The oriental religions---Buddhism, Confucism, Taoism, etc, where too
detached from what I considered to be the reality of life and also from the
Bible stories I'd grown up with. Though I knew even at that time that the Bible
was full of mistakes, the idea that Prophets came from the begining of time to
guide people to the right way was still stuck in my brain. Later, I found this
thought confirmed in Islam.
Towards the end of 1981, as my life situation and mental conditions
worsened, I grew more and more desperate to “have a life”. I wanted a home of my
own, a marriage and more children. And I wanted to find the truth in regards to
religion. I was sure the answers to all my dreams lay somewhere with God, but
had no idea of how to reach Him. I spent days and nights crying, hoping that God
would reveal His way for me. Crying and begging God for the right answer.
One afternoon, while alone in the house, the overwhelming urge to
“talk” to God came over me. I can remember that day as clearly as if it happened
yesterday. I will never, insha Allah (God willing), forget the feelings and
actions that took control of me that day.
I was standing in my bedroom, just standing, not even knowing where
to turn, not able to move. I just knew I had to pray to God. Suddenly, the
thought came to my mind that I had to be “clean”. Why, I had no idea---now I
know, but then I didn’t. So I decided to take a bath. I washed myself
completely, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I went back to my
room, and still unsure what to do next, I stood still. Although the weather was
warm and sunny, I donned a long bathrobe, that covered me completely. I felt I
had to be covered. My hair was wrapped up in a towel, yet still guided by an
unseen force, I combed it out, put it up on my head, and then just stood there
again. Suddenly, I knew that before I could approach God, I had to cover my
hair. I can not even remember what I used, but I do know I covered every strand
of it. I suppose if any Muslim had seen me at that moment, they would have
considered my wearing “hijab”---the outer clothing that covers everything but
the face and the hands of a Muslim woman.
Again, I stood, waiting for the guidance to come. Immediately, I felt
compelled to humble myself as much as I could before my Creator. I could not
sit, I could not kneel. I had to get lower, somehow. I could not lay prostrate,
as priests and nuns do when entering the clergy, as that was too “Catholic” for
me. Not that I rejected it because I was no longer a Catholic, but deep, deep
down in my soul, I knew it was not the right thing to do.
Next, the thought came to me that I must place my face on the floor.
I could not think of a more humbling, submissive position. Yet, for some reason,
again which I knew not then but know now, I took a small afghan from my
daughter’s crib, coincidentally the size of a Muslim’s prayer rug, and laid it
out of the floor before me. Again, I knew the place where I would pray, and
attempt to meet God, had to be clean. As it turns out, I placed the rug so that
it was facing in the direction of Mecca---incredible to me now, that even the
direction of my supplications, by some instinctual force, was just as Muslims
Did I know anything about Islam or Muslims--no! Certainly not about
their prayer habits. Yet here I was, preparing myself to meet God just as a
billion plus Muslims do 5 times a day.
I stepped onto the edge of the afghan, went down on my knees, then
with arms outstretched, I placed my face on the floor. Suddenly, everything felt
“right”. This was the way to talk to God. I cried. I cried a lot. And I begged
God to direct me to His course.
When I was finished, I got up, and for some reason, felt a sense of
peace. Nothing had changed in my life, in the span of those few moments, and yet
everything had changed! By the nature (“fitrah”), that each one of us is born
with, I had made contact with God in the way that He, Himself had instructed us
to do. I had no idea what was to come of what I had just done. Yet it somehow
felt so right.
It was at that point that I decided I no longer believed in anything
except that there was a God. I even gave up my belief that “Jesus was God” or
“the son of God”. I believed in nothing, except the Creator. Who or what He was,
what was His way, what He wanted me to do next, I had no idea. I just put my
faith in the belief that there WAS a God.
Over the course of the next couple of months, I theorized a lot.
Again, as it turns out, the thoughts that kept coming into my mind were thoughts
that were placed there long before I was ever born. They were the same kind of
thoughts that any thinking, rational person, determined to find guidance, would
Once, I determined there was a God, and that meant only One Supreme
Being, I came to understand that if there was one God, He must have ONLY One way
for all mankind, from the beginning of time, to reach Him. A path that was taken
since the creation of Adam. One path that ended all the confusion as to which
way was "the right way". A path for all those who had gone before us, and for
all those who would come. A way that would lead us not only to Himself, but to a
meaningful life, here and beyond. A path that obviously not all had discovered,
yet surely existed, by the mercy of a logical God.
One God. One way. What was that way??? I was determined to find it.
Though I still had no idea what path this was, I did know this---that once I
found it, it would be incumbent upon me to accept it completely, to submit
myself entirely to it. I clearly remember thinking the word “submit”. The very
MEANING of the word “Islam”, I was later to discover!!!
In December of 1981, I went to a dinner party and there I met my
first Muslim. He was a Nigerian student, studying at the University of
Pittsburgh. We were seated next to each other, and when the waiter delivered our
menus, he leaned over to me and asked if I could help him with the menu, as
there were certain foods his religion did not allow him to eat. “And what are
those foods?”, I asked. “Pork and alcohol”, he replied. Naturally, my next
inquiry was as to what religion he was. “Muslim”, he answered confidently. Right
away, I was driven to ask him if he could explain to me the central belief of
this religion. Without hesitation he told me to believe that there was only One
God. Only One God. Jesus was not a God, Jesus was not God’s son, God had no
partners. There was only One God.
It was so simple! Yes, only one God. I could accept that. My second
was also important. I asked what was this religions thoughts as regards to
women. He was most happy to indulge me, as all Muslims are. Smiling, he
explained that while men and women were equal in the sight of God, they were not
the same. Each was created for different roles. In brief, man was the
breadwinner and responsible for the care of the family. Woman was the
childbearer and responsible for the care of her home, husband and children. As
no boat can sail with two captains, man was given the position of leadership
over the wife. Although there was mutual respect and consultation, in the end,
the man was the decision maker. I think he was half-afraid of what my response
might be. Yet, to me it made perfect sense! “I can agree with that!”, I happily
Over the course of the evening, I am sure I asked a zillion more
questions, but I can’t recall a single one now. But I do know that the evening
ended with me giving him my phone number and asking him if he could put me in
touch with people who could teach me more about this profound discovery. He
promised to ask at the mosque on the coming Friday, and told me he would be glad
to get some books for me. I went home sooooo happy. I believed I was truly onto
something. I believed I just might have finally found the way to God, and the
answer to all my prayers!