When I first thought about becoming a Muslim, I held back partly because I thought the process would be complicated. I envisioned having to join a mosque, wear a headscarf (since I’m a woman), take a new name, learn how to prayer Islamically, read all of the Qur’an, even learn Arabic! It just seemed like too much trouble.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that all I had to do was testify that God is One and that Mohammed is his messenger. I didn’t even have to say it in Arabic.
The day I decided to become a Muslim, I showered (recommended) and then read the words from a book I’d gotten from the library. There are various ways to say or translate the words of the Shahada (as the confession of faith is known), but the gist of it is: I testify (or bear witness) that Allah is the One and Only God and I testify that Mohammed is the last messenger. (Some prayers add that Mohammed is Allah’s slave and messenger.)
That’s it. You don’t even have to pray before or after you say the Shahada.
Right after I recited the confession of faith by myself, I met with one of my Muslim friends and told him what I’d done. He thought it was wonderful, but then told me that I needed to say it in front of a witness or witnesses. He led me in saying it in Arabic. Then one of my other friends suggested after I said the Shahada with her (I wasn’t taking any chances!) that it would be a good idea to say my Shahada at the mosque.
So I did. On the last day of Ramadan. It was crazy that day with all the crowds rushing to be in time for prayer, but I managed to say Shahada with one of the mosque’s leaders in the mosque office right before prayer started. Then I was hustled up to the women’s prayer room on the second floor overlooking the main hall of the mosque (where the men pray). I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know how to pray. I was squeezed between two other women, not just because there were so many people, but because Muslims believe that you should stand shoulder to shoulder when you pray, I found out later. I didn’t want to stick out by not praying, so I did my best to go up and down, up and down, when all the others did.
After the prayers and the message, the imam announced my name and that I had become a Muslim that day. He encouraged all the women to come up and welcome me to Islam. I must have had fifty women hug me and wish me the best. Some of them were wiping their eyes. All were joyful. And how did I feel? Overwhelmed. Not by emotion, but by all the new sights and sounds and noise and people. And yet as time goes by, I hold that day close to me in my memory. It was truly a turning point in my life.
My experience is not typical. It’s not usually so hectic. And often even the female convert is presented to the congregation in the main hall and repeats her Shahada in front of men and women. It depends on the mosque you go to. Some are strictly segregated, some are not. (Both of the mosques I’ve been to are. I would love someday to have the experience of going to one that isn’t.)
So that’s it: you’re a Muslim. You don’t have to change your name or join a mosque, or wear a hijab/headscarf (except when you go to the mosque), or even take classes (although it’s highly recommended after your conversion). There is no equivalent to baptism as in the Christian church. Islam is very accessible.