I was raised in a loving Catholic family, being taught good Christian morals since birth. I attended Catholic school, and actively participated in church functions, including alter serving at mass, and even leading my church's youth group in a city-wide interfaith conference (which coincidentally is where I had my first encounter with Islam at the age of 16). Even as a young child, I felt this close connection with God, and I always sensed God's presence in the world around me. As I completed high school, I never questioned my faith. I was surrounded by a great Catholic family and friends, and was looking forward to continuing my service to God through the church in the years to come.
The start of college began the start of a whole new life for me. I was now surrounded by a diverse group of people who opened my eyes to new things. I found myself absorbing much from my surroundings, and I began to realize and appreciate the countless ideas and opinions that were different than mine. All the while, I was going to church every Sunday and leading my life as it had always been.
At the end of my Junior School year, I began to notice a change. Slowly, I felt my life was distancing itself from God. I tried numerous special prayers, attended more masses, and even talked to a priest, but no matter what I did, I felt God's presence in my life diminishing. Something had to change. This was probably the loneliest point in my life. I was helpless without a purpose or direction. I had to regain God in my life, and I was willing to do whatever it took.
I first started by getting advice from my friends; hoping something they said would click, and bring me back to Catholicism. However, when this approach failed, I knew I had to take more drastic measures. I came up with the idea to start looking at other religions. I mean, why not? I rationalized that by studying other faiths, I would be able to find something to disagree with, and in turn, strengthen my own faith in Catholicism. At this point, I started to realize that I was primarily Catholic because I was raised that way, and I had to confirm what I really believed on my own, aside from my parents. Thus, my search for my truth began.
I knew I wanted to stay within the realms of monotheism, because I was certain of at least one thing: there was only one God. So, I began, with the well-known Christian faiths. Attending many services and talking to pastors in these faiths left me with less of an idea about who God was then what I already had with Catholicism. I still was not satisfied, and decided to research deeper. Upon hearing of my search, a great Muslim friend of mine informed me about the teachings of Islam, and how it included such prophets as Abraham and Jesus. I had no idea that Islam shared a similar foundation to Judaism and Christianity, and I was curious at the least to investigate further.
In March of 2004, I went to my neighbor's apartment to visit. As I was scanning his bookshelves, I noticed he had a translated version of the Quar'an. I was immediately interested, and asked him if I could borrow it. It was around midnight that night when I first picked it up. I was talking to my friend on the phone, who coincidentally was Muslim, when I read the first few pages. Upon reading the verse "In trying to deceive God and those who believe, they only deceive themselves without perceiving." (2:9) on the second page of the Quar'an, I started to cry. My friend asked me what was wrong, and I admitted that this verse explained exactly what was going on in my life. Here I was going to church every Sunday, "claiming" to be Catholic, and all the while, I was feeling no relationship with God. I was only fooling myself, because as I read, God knew what was in my head and heart, and as shameful as it was, to admit I was an "unbeliever." Ironically, as unsettling this conclusion was, I started to feel this small trickle of comfort slowly enter my body. Confusion set in. How could the Quar'an affect me? I picked up this book to learn about Islam In general; not to be touched by it. I was sure I did not want to bring Islam in my life, (my identity was Catholic) and yet, I couldn't seem to put it down. That night, I read until I fell asleep.
Over the next month, I could not go a day without reading the Quar'an. In the beginning, I was inserting small pieces of paper in the places where I had questions about what I was reading; planning on asking my friend for the answers later on. However, the strangest thing started to happen. As I moved further into the Book, I began answering my own questions that I had previously written only a few weeks prior! Not only that, but I was recognizing God more and more in my daily life, and I started to see Him as a part of me again.
My "light bulb moment" came at the end of March that year. I was sitting in church on Sunday, as I had every Sunday even up till this point, and it came to the point in mass where we said the Nicene Creed. (The Nicene Creed is the declaration of faith for all Catholics outlining all the major points of the religion) The very first line goes, "We believe in one God, the father almighty." It was at that very instant, I knew: I couldn't say it. No matter how much I tried to force it out, words couldn't come. I believed in one God; and that's it! Not three parts, not a father, son and Holy Spirit as one; just One all alone. I knew the TRUTH. I left mass right then. I was extremely shaken, and shocked at what just happened, unsure about what to do next.
The next month was the month where I faced all my fears. I cried myself to sleep every single night trying to figure out my plan of action. I was stuck at a crossroad. On one side was my past: everything I had known to be true as a child was now questioned, my foundations were shaken, and more than anything else, my parents love and acceptance was questioned. On the other side was the truth. I knew in both my head and my heart that God, Allah, had written the Quar'an, and I also knew that I didn't want to be an "unbeliever" anymore. All I could think about was my parents' faces, and how disappointed they would be if I told them I wanted to convert.
I finally gathered enough courage and went to Islamic Awareness Week, sponsored by the MSA on my campus. At the first event, I was too scared to talk to anyone. I didn't want to share what I felt, because I thought if they knew I was considering converting, then there would be no turning back. On the second day, I gathered up all my courage, and talked to some sisters. Much to my surprise, they not only welcomed me with open arms, but I didn't feel any pressure.
Over the next few weeks, I met with the sisters on a couple of occasions. I cried as I expressed my concerns about my family, and they listened and encouraged me to do what I felt was right. They even introduced me to other converts, so I could hear their experiences and ask them any questions I had. At that time, Allah, through the MSA, offered me the one thing that I needed the most: unconditional support.
At the end, I felt God in my heart, I knew the TRUTH without doubt, and I didn't want anything in this material world, not even my own family, to stop me from surrendering myself to God. On May 10th, 2004, I became a Muslim.
Looking back, I was always a Muslim; I just didn't realize it. At the city-wide interfaith conference that I attended back when I was 16, I remember telling my Dad that if I wasn't Catholic, I would be Muslim. Back then, only God knew this is where I would be now. I know this was all a part of Allah's plan, and I am so grateful for this gift of knowledge. Insh Allah (God-willing), when I finally tell my parents that I am Muslim, and I show them this story, they will realize that I never wanted to hurt them; I converted for God. I want to thank them for teaching me about God, and I now know, with Allah's help, everything is how it should be. As the Quaran says, "With hardship comes ease," (94:5) and that is how I lead my life.