The Transforming Power of the Ummah

One of the things I love about Islam is its community (or “ummah“).  It was the ummah that brought me to Islam.

Three years ago, I didn’t know any Muslims. I had all kinds of preconceptions about them based on what I’d read or seen in the media. While I didn’t subscribe to the idea that they were all terrorists, or that they all hated Americans, I did see them as “others”— strange and foreign and closed off to those who were not like them.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Muslims I met were primarily from Libya. Considering the history between Libya and the United States, I did not expect them to be friendly. But to my surprise, I found them to be outgoing and open. They always asked about my family and often shared details about their lives and their faith. I was surprised that they were so forthcoming—some would say trusting—in their conversations with me. I wondered how they could be so positive in a country that has declared war, either officially or unofficially, on so much of the Arab world.

They soon made it clear that it was their faith that shaped their personalities. Not that they would have described it that way. But the more I learned about Islam, the more I could see the connection between Islam’s emphasis on loving and caring for your fellow man and the way that they treated everyone they came into contact with. I was amused when they said that they behaved the way that they did because it was their duty. Because it was clear to me that their behavior came naturally out of the way they’d been raised.

It is absolutely wrong that Muslims would like to force Islam on the world, by the figurative sword if necessary. Muslims do invite people to Islam (through the practice of da’wah), but in a very gentle way. The Muslims I came to know answered my questions about Islam, but never said anything against Christianity. They never said, “Your way is wrong; ours is right.” They made it clear that they wanted to be friends even if I never embraced Islam.

The Muslims I met invited me into their community  even before I became a Muslim. The closer I got to them, the more I began to want what they had.  And what was it that they had that I didn’t have? Their faith.

At first I couldn’t see how I could possibly become a Muslim because the cultural differences were too great. But getting to know actual Muslims taught me that we are all the same underneath. There’s no reason why what motivates and inspires a born Muslim can’t also motivate and inspire a non-Muslim.

And so I became a Muslim. And if I thought I had been embraced before it was nothing to what I experienced after I converted. I became a born-again Christian when I was 21, I answered I don’t know how many altar calls (where you’re invited to pray at the altar while you’re in a church service, usually as a sign of a deeper commitment to Christ) and I have to say, I never experienced anything close to the welcome I received after my conversion to Islam.

Everyone was so excited! Jubilation is the only word I can use to describe it. I was invited to I don’t know how many dinners, called “sister” by men and women alike, given presents of prayer rugs, beads, outfits and hijabs, taken to the mosque and taught how to pray, given books that would increase my knowledge.

That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a tough transition. Those of you who have read my earlier posts know that I’ve struggled to fit into my new status.  But my sisters and brothers have stayed involved in my life and are truly concerned when I’m having trouble. All they want to do is make me feel welcome, because they know that the real key to my transformation is their enveloping love.

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