The longer answer is: for every reason I can think of. I converted the same day I married my husband, but my change of heart began long before I met him. To become a Muslimah was the natural progression of my growing spiritual awareness.
The most common question that I am asked by both Muslims and non-Muslims is, "Why did you convert to Islam?" This is a simple question, but the answer is both easy and extremely complicated for me to answer. I could write a book pondering this question; actually, I aspire one day I to do so. The short answer is that it felt right.
The longer answer is: for every reason I can think of. I converted the same day I married my husband, but my change of heart began long before I met him. To become a Muslimah was the natural progression of my growing spiritual awareness. As my mother fought terminal cancer several years ago, I was reminded every day of how life is short, precious, and full of moral lessons. When she passed on, I was completely devastated. My eyes began to turn inward in search of answers to my questions, such as, how do I live my life? Why did this happen?
While studying geological sciences at the university, I was amazed at the beautiful systems in nature and how we are all connected in some necessary way on Earth. In Chapter 2, Verse 164, the Qur’an describes how Allah "sends down water from the cloud, then gives life with it to the earth after [the cloud's] death and spreads in it all kinds of animals and the changing of the winds" to begin again. As a scientist, it was a pleasure to find science in the Qur’an, and find that science is a highly respected Islamic discipline. I greatly appreciate how in Islam, science and religion do not contradict one another. All the religions of Abraham teach us that we are the stewards of our planet and we are responsible for maintaining its bounty, beauty, and peace.
I recently read a biography of the Prophet and gained a greater understanding of the life and deeds of this great man. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) was a prophet, a leader, a humanitarian, a chief, a feminist, and the founder of a nation. It is unfortunate that Islam has a reputation for being a religion of the sword, because I discovered from my own studies that in ideology it is far from it. The Prophet himself would not allow people to be coerced into his new religion and only fought when it was necessary, and always in self-defense. He conducted himself in a dignified, humble, and pious manner with all people – those of his religion and not. When a funeral procession passed him by, he stood up in respect, knowing well that it was for a Jewish man. In response to being asked why he did so because the deceased was not a Muslim, the Prophet replied, "because he was a human being."
The Prophet also had great respect for women and conferred with them often, especially his wife Khadija (peace be upon her). He encouraged women to learn religion for themselves and seek education and taught everyone the Islamic ideals of equality, justice, and charity. His only daughter, the esteemed Sayyida Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her), was also a great speaker and highly respected during her lifetime. The Prophet would often tell others to consult Sayyida Zahra if he was going to be away, because her opinions on things would be the same as his. Sayyida Zainab (peace be upon her) was also an Islamic scholar in her own right, and given the title "Alimah Ghayr Mu’allamah", ("she who has knowledge without being taught") by her nephew Imam Ali Zaynul Abideen (peace be upon him).
To treat women as equals and consultants in political matters was a brand new concept. This is one of the reasons that I am a Muslimah today: the Prophet achieved more for women in his lifetime than anyone else in religious history, and I am proud to follow his teachings. I find the stories of the Prophet and Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) incredibly inspiring. The Qur'an and these amazing people illustrate to me how the religion of Islam has the power to change the world into a better place. If everyone lived by similar principles of justice, dignity, and respect perhaps there would be a much different Earth to wake up to every day.
That is not to say I haven't had the occasional fear or doubt, but after my first Ramadan, those just about disappeared. I could sense Muslims all around the world fasting from sunrise to sunset, praying, and reading the Qur’an in its entirety if possible. I felt a great connection to all Muslims, as we endeavored in this incredible, mystical task assigned to us by Allah in the Qur'an.
I believe I have found a good path. Prophet Mohammed said that obtaining knowledge is mandatory for every man and every woman. I have always been a firm believer in education and compassion for the betterment of our world. I am always learning, searching for truth, and remembering to stop and be grateful. To me, Islam is like the ocean. It is beyond singular perception, vast, deep, amazing – and beautiful. Only those who have courage and faith can venture into the deepest depths and discover all its secrets. Insha'Allah, one day I shall be one of those.
Zahara Abdi received a baccalaureate degree in geological sciences from SUNY at Buffalo and currently works at an environmental consulting firm. A newlywed and recent convert to Islam, she aspires to write about her experiences.