My Shahada, Wedding, and Finding Myself

The shorts I wore the first time I walked into an Islamic Center,

looked something like these. I was a 22-year old confused Christian, who married a Muslim in summer of 1993. Yeah, the wedding day was really interesting. Imagine me in a low-cut white gown walking across the masjid carpet. I remember there were these older sisters who gently guided me into the bathroom and1024425_in_pp.jpg tried to cover me up with the lace veil. It was hopeless; I was exposed. I had no idea what was going on around me and I couldn’t understand why was it so important for me to be covered. Didn’t I just come there last week in my cut off jeans? After the wedding one of the ladies handed me a Quran. She said, “I heard that you study languages,”  “you may be able to learn the Arabic because that’s the original language of the Quran.”  She opened the Quran. I saw the English on one side and the other side what looked like a lot of lines, curves, dots and dashes, I thought, ‘Arabic looks impossible.’ 

The Quran became my best friend.

My first husband was still in the Army, so he was in Germany and I was in the New York , we were separated for months. I kept the Quran that the lady gave me after our wedding and it became my best friend.

I just opened it and started reading. There wasn’t exactly a ‘beginning’. At that time, I was reading the Yusuf Ali translation which contained many footnotes. Some of them under the stories of Prophets gave you the consequent Bible verses to refer back to. That was critical for me because the Quran was new.. I had not developed the trust in it yet. So it was helpful to refer back to the Bible and after some time, I put the Bible on the shelf…for good. I started using phrases like , what your hands put forth, and People of the Book. Every so often my eyes would drift over to the Arabic side of the page, and I would think, one day… one day…

When he came home from Germany, he brought Dr. Bilal Philips book on Tauheed. “You think you can believe in Allah any way you want to?!” that’s what my first husband said to me as he handed me the book. It seemed like he became so MEAN all of a sudden.  He wasn’t mean when I was wearing the cut off jeans though.  Now that he had made Hajj and had been to Medina with the students of knowledge, everything had to be just so…especially my clothes.

I moved away and put on all black plus a face veil

My first attempt at wearing a face veil was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin while I was still in college. We fought about it for days. Finally he said, “You know, as your husband, I can order you to wear that veil.” I didn’t budge. The next day he tried another tactic,  he took out a bag and acted like he was leaving me, ‘that’s it!’ he shouted ,” you don’t know who’s the man around here.” Then I gave in,  put the niqab on my face… and I became the meanest wife in the Midwest. I’m laughing about it now; we were both so young and foolish!

We moved to Atlanta and joined a community where all the sisters dressed in black and covered their faces. I could see how that set us apart from other communities. I became another person, so different than the college girl wearing cut off jeans.  I was a Muslimah. I was wearing black. I was a part of the saved sect. My family would never understand. The religion and my new friends provided many reasons to stay away from my family…far away.  One day my Aunt Jan surprised me with a phone call. “you know, your Grandmother was very hurt that you didn’t call her on her birthday.” I said, “that’s against my religion to celebrate birthdays.” My aunt said, “she was your grandmother before the religion!” I kept my guard up. I was very good at numbing myself. (I realized later.)  I am upon the Truth, they just don’t understand, I thought. Anyway they couldn’t tell me what to do, they were in New York, I was in Atlanta. I was “free”.

Even farther away…

I remember one email I got from my younger sister asking me, ‘Will I ever see you again?”  She was in college then; she needed me. I tried to be oblivious to the fact that my family missed me especially the older ones. And then something happened, it was like my younger siblings and cousins just…forgot me. I became a non-issue, someone who did not matter. They didn’t know me…Actually…I didn’t even know me.  

From 1995-2004 I lived in Egypt and Saudi Arabia I studied, I learned I had countless adventures and have many stories to tell. But who was I? 

Then, September 11th happened

in my hometown New York City it was a shock. I used to walk through those buildings every morning to take the A train when I worked in the Village. It felt like a personal attack. I ran upstairs to my neighbors to watch the news. Then I went to the Call Cabin and got on the phone with Umm Medina; she was from Queens. We were both in shock. I asked her, ‘Do you really believe Arabs/ Muslims did this?” We both paused….‘Naaah! Get-atta- heya”  A part of me was like what am I doing here? I should be there with my people, my family! I was conflicted and confused.  By then my 1st husband had left for AFrica never to return (that’s a whole other story).

I was living in Medina, as an Arabic speaking American. Arabic was my everyday language by then, there was no English spoken on the street. All my neighbors and co-workers except 1 were Arabs or Arabic speaking.  I had been ‘adopted’ into my Yemeni family (another story) who I was with every weekend. Had I become an Arab? Who was I?  The wake up call was when I heard George W. Bush’s voice through VOA, ‘you are either with us or you are with the terrorists’. How can he say that?? The Iranian president came on the next night and replied ‘we are not with you and we are not with the terrorists! ” 

over the next weeks we got to witness the pseudo-investigation in America and the real  investigation in the Middle East from Syria, to Saudia to Egypt. Arab journalists were on it uncovering the lies.

What 9-11 did for me was bring me a certainty…That  I was really a Muslim. I was so happy to be in Medina a that time, being there during that time really grounded me. So at least I knew that I was really Muslim, not because of my first husband, not because of my friends, not because of the clothes I wore, but because I believed.  

At least I knew that much, yet many layers were to be pulled back and examined.

Are you a re-vert Muslim? What’s your Shahadah story? Share it below or on our Facebook group.


Studying in Egypt: My Story


Study in Egypt: My Story
by Ummu Mansuur Najlaa; Cairo, Egypt

1. What has your experience been like for studying Quraan in Egypt?
Alhamdulilah well firstly my spouse and I decided to bring our children here more than
ten years ago in order to learn Arabic, learn Quraan and raise them amongst the
Muslims. Being from the West and not knowing the language is a great barrier that we
had to cross with regards to our Islamic education here. That being said, I have many
children and Allah always aided me in regards to what I wanted to accomplish. I see great
progress from where I was to where I am now; and I hope to achieve more of my
personal goals with regards to learning Quraan, InshaAllah

2. Can you tell me what some of the Quraan programs are like there in Egypt?

I have gone to three different kinds of women’s Arabic and Quran programs in the past. The first time was basically in the masjid. It was free and we met a couple times a week for three hours each time. I was the only English speaking foreigner most of the time and the rest of the sisters were natives. The teacher spoke in Ameyyah (Egyptian dialect) a great majority of the time and I was very frustrated because I couldn’t understand most of it, although I had studied fus-ha for almost a year before this. MashaAllah the teacher was still very patient with me and tried her best to help me as much as she could. I love that dear sister for the sake of Allah, May Allah reward her Ameen.

The class was for learning how to read a specific surah with the application of the tajweed rules, and not for memorization. However and only by the will of Allah, just by sitting in the class, about a year and a half later, I ended up retaining 10 pages of that surah.(Baqarah). The other major achievement though was being able to read directly from the mushaf on my own, with about 60% accuracy, and especially because I knew bare to nothing previously, just the letters and some of the sounds. Learning some Arabic prior definitely helped because I recognized many words and knew their meanings, so understanding what was being said is the greatest blessing mashaAllah. Taraweeh was never the same LOL.

The second program I went to was a private center which caters to the needs of the
foreign student, called Dar Al Fajr. The cost was $20 every few months…TheArabic teachers and Quran teachers spoke fus-ha a great majority of the time and there are different levels, or grades. I started at level 1 and in each level the syllabus includes tajweed, knowing its rules and its application. We also had tafseer and Aqeedah lectures
once per week included into our regular class for no additional cost alhamdulilah. There
is testing each level before moving on to the next. And there is in the beginning a
separation of those who are native speakers and those who aren’t. Later on, as the non
native speakers get more fluent, they are joined with the native speakers. I had an overall
good experience with them, and even I was allowed to bring my young child with me in
my classes. But I left due to a difficult pregnancy and it became hard to go to school and
back. In addition the policies have changed to no children in the group classes which I
understand. Also visa policies are enforced so one must be updated on their immigration
status when enrolling and registering for the center.
The last place I found in walking distance from my apartment, was through Azhar
system, though it is a private center. It’s called ‘Mahaad Al Alameen. It’s for whoever
wishes to join with them and the cost is around 60$ for the whole year. Very affordable
but very rigorous because there are 4 other subjects one takes in addition to the Quraan
classes. In general the Arabic and Quran teachers spoke Ameeya and natives and non natives were mixed together. Our classes met twice a week for 3 hours in the morning. We took around 2
pages each class to memorize and be prepared to come back with it the next class.
Eventually we got up to 5 pages per week, which put us at a juz per month. This was like
the other program I was in previously so I was used to it, but it was hard if I had to miss a
class, because one must review constantly to retain what was learnt. This center is catered
for adult education, though in the summer the children’s programs are open to the public.

When I asked Umm Mansuur: If someone found a way to take a year off from working and focus on Quraan, how much could they accomplish in a year?
She replied: It highly depends on the motivation of the student. He or she could come and finish the whole Quraan in that amount of time, if they focused on that, and nothing else.

Sometimes people find that they want to learn Arabic first and then memorize and some
are able to do both mashaAllah. I think realistically speaking, one could finish a juz every
other month or about 6 juz for the year, again it all depends. Allahu Mustaan

Ummu Mansuur still lives in Cairo, and continues to learn and facilitate the learning of her children. May Allah continue to bless them and aid them in their affairs, Ameen.