I joined the stream of women rushing up the stairs. We were almost late for prayer. I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing, so I just blindly followed the women who had brought me. I took off my shoes outside the door to the prayer room and then wondered how I’d ever find them again. Then I wove through the mass of bodies till my friends found a spot large enough for the three of us. I was doubtful: it only looked like room enough for one. I kept wondering why the women didn’t spread out more. I didn’t realize at the time that Muslims believe that they are to stand shoulder to shoulder when they pray.
There was a huge wall of windows overlooking the main hall where the men and the imam were. The imam’s voice echoed through the loudspeaker. It was loud enough, or would have been if the women had quit talking. But many of them kept up a constant chatter except during prayer. The message was lost to me for the most part.
I didn’t know how to pray at that point. It was my first time in a mosque and the last day of Ramadan and I was there to say my Shahada. I knew that Muslims prayed five times a day but there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to their movements and I couldn’t understand the prayers since they were in Arabic. It wasn’t until after I became a Muslim (by my profession of faith in the One True God and in Mohammad as His messenger; i.e., the Shahada) that I was given any instruction in how to say my prayers. That wasn’t intentional; some converts learn how to pray before becoming Muslims. But I’d been in a hurry. Once I decided that I wanted to convert, I wanted to get it over with. I figured I had the rest of my life to learn what I needed to know.
The last day of Ramadan, or any Eid day, is not the optimal time to say your Shahada. I said mine hurriedly in the masjid office while everyone around us was intent on getting to prayer. I remembering thinking, “Is that it?” It wasn’t until the end of the service that the imam announced that I’d said my Shahada that day and that the women should welcome me. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to say Shahada in the service, and I’m still not sure that a woman is allowed to come into the main (the men’s) hall for that purpose.
But however it happened, I was now a Muslim. It seemed like every woman there hugged me and gave me her best wishes. Some were wiping tears from their eyes. I felt like a celebrity who has no idea how she got famous. It might be more accurate to say that I felt like it was my birthday. And in a way it was. I was told that my former sins had all been erased and I was starting life like a newborn baby. From now on I only had to worry about the new sins I would commit!
Over the next few weeks I was astounded at the enthusiasm with which I was greeted as a new Muslim. Everyone was excited for me and eager to welcome me into the family. The day after I converted I was given a beautiful prayer rug and some hijabs and prayer beads (which I still haven’t learned how to use!). Later on I would receive another prayer rug, hijabs, prayer beads and books on how to be a Muslim. I felt overwhelmed by the response. I had never experienced anything like it before, even when I became a Christian.
It was the best birthday I’ve ever had.