When I first read the Qur’an, it was as if I was seeking my answers, but also found a whole lot of guidance within it for how one lives their life according to God’s Will.
An Exclusive Interview of a revert to Islam from USA, Mayam Fatimah Grace
Maryam Fatimah has found her faith through Islam. In spite of all the hardships she had to go through, she never gave up. Through some soul searching, she found the right path. She was guided by the Holy Qur’an which she loves to recite. Her life was not only inspired by the Holy Qura’n but it uplifted her spiritually. Hazrat Maryam (AS) and Hazrat Fatimah (AS) were inspiring souls that brought her from darkness to light and gave meaning to her life. She embraced Islam in December of 2012, right after Eid al Adha. Here Rahyafte team (related to Edoardo Agnelli Islamic Association) invites you on a special journey into the life of our sister Maryam Fatimah Grace…
My name is Maryam Fatimah Grace (Grace is a part of my given name by my beloved parents). I chose Maryam Fatimah because these 2 beautiful, spiritual, inspiring souls brought meaning to my life, a motive to seek knowledge, and much more! They are a part of who I am, a light in the darkness to truth. Also, my connection with Imam Ali (AS) is most powerful as I consider him my Spiritual father.
I grew up in the mid-upper US, Minnesota to be exact, where I obtained my high school diploma, and that is where my education went on hold for many years, sadly. My parents divorced when I was a little girl and so, that lead me to going back and forth between them. Christianity was a part of the faith I grew up in. My mother practiced a different part of the faith than my father, and wasn’t as strict as he was (in beliefs). My grandmother, God bless her, was the church goer and a community member, engaged in a part of the church band. She is impeccable with the piano, Masha’Allah!
I have one sister and one brother, and I’m the middle child. My father had my brother with his second marriage when I was twelve. He was a truck driver at the time. My mother trained in health-care.
I am in my early 30s with two beautiful children (from a previous marriage). They inspire me to move forward after the tragedies of losing them both to a divorce battle and one kidnapped. I’ll always battle with that pain, as it doesn’t go away but gets easier with relying on Allah and reciting Holy Qur’an.
It must be really dreadful. May Allah gives you patience and strength to deal with this tragedy and unite you with your children. Now, we would like to know how you got familiar with Islam. What was your motivational factor in choosing Islam as your religion? And why did you choose the Shia school of thought?
At the time I was staying with a friend, and was going through a very hard time. There was a Muslim family who had small quick shops nearby. Whilst in the midst of my own soul searching, I started to question my faith even more than before, so I asked them about their religion. I also had a friend who was Muslim and asked him similar questions about his faith and why he kept some things secret, or rather sacred, according to him.
To understand this more clearly, let me take you back to my childhood. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up learning the Christian faith. Some things made sense while others didn’t; so I always had questions, just never got answers. I left it be for a while but always had faith in God, and then started to get back into more faith when I married my now ex husband. He was apart of the New Apostolic Church (which I never heard of before then). I was about 23 at the time, and so began reading the Bible again as well. I had two different versions one night, sitting at the table looking at one of the verses. In one Bible, it stated huge negativity and an angry God, while in the other Bible it spoke of something totally opposite and the same verse as the other Bible. That is when I started to ponder but didn’t do intense research.
It was only a few years later, while in the midst of my divorce that I did my intense research on Islam. I also started to read the Holy Qur’an and things started to fall into place. I didn’t have all my answers right away, but surely didn’t feel pushed away, as if to just have faith. I remember hearing that constantly when I asked questions about my faith growing up! It never fit well with me to just have faith and not my answers at all.
I kept reading the Holy Qur’an for a while as I sought answers from my Muslim companions and friend. At the time, my friend I stayed with had weekly bible meetings as well. I decided to stay a couple of times and ask questions. They couldn’t come up with answers and promised to have more answers the next time around. It never happened, and so I kept seeking within the Holy Qur’an and from the sources I had.
About two to three months into my research, I felt like this was the religion for me and that it was right. I sought God through a means I never thought possible and asked Him keep guiding me! I looked up on the night of Eid al Adha, and noticed an Arabic name in the moon. I was told it said Allah (swt), but later found out it doesn’t, but that didn’t deter me from seeking more.
I reverted to Islam in December of 2012, right after Eid al Adha. It was a beautiful night and I felt as if a new part of me woken up, in complete surrender. It was very hard the first year of reversion but alhamdulillah I pulled through and learned so much! My enthusiasm to learn was so great I overwhelmed myself too easily! It was work, or studying and then sleep, nothing else really. There weren’t any mosques or Muslims around because I moved; so I was feeling quite alone.
The next year after that, I had some life changes, moving, seeking new work etc. I decided to visit my very first mosque and was excited to meet new Muslims! It was nice at first, but as I was learning more and more, I learned one of the centers nearby was Wahhabi influenced (or rather extreme ways but not fully Wahhabi). I stopped going there because that was not what I wanted and at the same time, I was looking for something more orthodox or more open minded, as this was what I was learning. I was studying Sunnism, as I didn’t know much else. The materials weren’t much on Shi’ism, either. I did a lot of research online as well.
It didn’t take long before I felt pressured, though, from others. Do this at exactly this time, do that. It was as if I waited too long, I would meet a wrathful, angry God! Yes pray on time but don’t hold off if you cannot help it. Yes, be covered, but you don’t have to take things to an extreme right away, as in change your whole wardrobe. So with this pressure, I also didn’t feel any support, really. I was feeling like Islam wasn’t for me. So I took my hijab off and felt even more isolated than before, as if not being in Islam anymore made me feel worthless. I still believed, but in a non Wrathful God who wouldn’t be so cruel and at the same time felt guilty for letting Him down. So I started to seek in what Shi’ism was and why so many opposed of it (even those who were so called ‘open minded’ warned me of the Shi’a).
So I asked a friend, whom I became close to, about his faith. He sent me videos from Ammar Nakshawani to watch, as well as answered many of my questions. He also sent me links to search and read, and so I did more research. I felt as if things were wrongly taught to me before after learning more of the holy infallibles (AS). I felt robbed and hurt! At first not understanding why some things were different than others within Sunni Islam and Shi’a Islam, I did a few searches, such as the last speech at Ghadeer Khumm, the meaning of the verse 33:33, and more soul searching. Just like my reversion to Islam, it didn’t take much for me to realise (and much prayers to Allah s.w.t. in where He wanted me).
I went to a Shi’a mosque and also asked some questions to a sister there, whom masha’Allah was happy to help me even though there was a language barrier. A little girl led me to the Sheikh, who helped me with a couple of questions after our prayers.
A few more searches in the next coming weeks, I asked my friend how to revert to Shi’a Islam. He told me I didn’t need to as I already reverted to Islam. It is just that before I felt like I left Islam when I really didn’t, because I still believed in God and the Holy Prophet (SAW). I recited the shahadah again, as it is anyways, but in my heart I felt like it wasn’t complete without the “Ash hadu anna Ali’un wali’ullah”.
After that, I came to realise this is where Allah (swt) was guiding me all along! And even though I didn’t know it before! I remembered the word in the moon and realised that it doesn’t say Allah after all, but Ali! Follow ‘Ali (AS) and you connect the Holy Qur’an and you won’t go astray!
A couple of months ago I was blessed to go on ziyarat! Alhamdulillah I finally got to go visit my Imams (AS)! I felt more connected than ever! It is such an amazing, beautiful experience that can not be explained really. It really is soul searching and deep, peaceful, inspirational, lessons learned experience! I would not give it up for anything and I pray all who have love in their hearts to go, get to go. I am currently also studying preHawza through online Hawza and just got done with my 2nd year.
That’s quite a journey. I hope you will be successful in this path.
How did you feel when first reading the Qur’an? Since it is sometimes hard to understand the value of Quran to us as a Muslim born person, how do you define or articulate the influence of Quran on yourself, your personal life and your social life?
When I first read the Qur’an, it was as if I was seeking my answers, but also found a whole lot of guidance within it for how one lives their life according to God’s Will. What is permissible, what isn’t, and a whole lot like how I knew to be taught by Prophet Jesus (AS), and the Prophets (AS) before Prophet Muhammad (SAW). A lot of similarities, and the knowledge of how the story of Prophet Jesus (AS) was similar yet different circumstances. I felt as if the Qur’an was speaking to me but not sure how at first.
As I was learning more and more, the Holy Qur’an influenced not only my way of life, but on a deeper, spiritual level as well. Over the years it keeps growing and going deeper than before. At first, I noticed the change of respect I would receive by others, depending who they were. Most strangers even gave me more respect as a person than before (and not because of my religion but because of how I started to carry myself as a person). I had more confidence within myself and still growing even now! The Holy Qur’an is my connection to God, and to understand His speech, it brings me to my inner most deep connection with the Ahlul Bayt (AS). Without this, I could not have this deep of a connection with Allah (swt) and the Holy Qur’an. I’m still growing, learning, but aren’t we all?
Then you are telling me that there is a connection between your internal and existential need and converting to Islam. Do you consider it as a reason that nowadays we observe lots of people around the world turn to Islam and especially Shiism?
Yes, most definitely an internal and existential need for reverting. I feel as if Allah (swt) has been guiding me my whole life. I just didn’t know which path that was until I came to Islam. And yes, I consider one’s internal needs (spiritual, nafs etc) have also a part of why people revert to Islam. We are naturally wired to follow the Will of God but holding onto that rope is what’s challenging. Seeking the way towards the AhlulBayt (AS) is not as hard as people make it out to be. We all have a yearning to follow the right path whether we are raised in Islam or not. Is this way towards the AhlulBayt (AS)? Many don’t see it is but many do. Things go much deeper than just coming towards a way.
Depending on how many years/months you have been Muslim, can you tell us about your very first experience of Ramadhan, first fasting and also first prayer? What do they mean to you?
My very first time fasting was during the Month of Ramadhan. I was the only Muslim I knew for miles and no mosques around! That experience was the worst for me, struggling to grasp the meaning of fasting and even holding it! It was like a little child trying to not throw a tantrum! Lol…. Although I had online support from a Convert group on facebook, it wasn’t enough, really. I think it would have been different were there others around to help me through it and grasp the idea of even fasting! But the first prayer was amazing! I felt a real connection to Allah (swt) and knew the true meaning of submission! I prayed with one of the brothers and 2 little boys at their shop. My prayer was answered immediately alhamdulillah! So in my inner self of learning more and more of the prayer and gaining that closeness to Allah (swt) it is total and utter submission! Also, without prayer, nothing is accepted.
Do your parents know that you are a Muslim? What was their reaction after knowing about your reversion? Did you have any problem with people around you after converting?
I have connections with my mother, but not my father. Sadly he didn’t agree with my reversion in such an intense way, he cut off all ties with me. My mother also doesn’t like my reversion but she still speaks with me, which is something I hold onto. The initial reaction from my family was negative, and I’ve also been called names, a terrorist etc. It is really sensitive with my family even now compared to when I reverted 4 and a half years ago. I traveled a lot after reversion, so the initial problem with people came and went, especially in the West. I faced little negative reactions over the years but more so respect than anything else.
Please express your opinion about hijab. Has wearing hijab had any effect on your private and social life? Wasn’t it hard at the beginning?
Hijab, for me, is a part of the light towards Allah (swt). It is not only a command by Allah, which is in the Holy Qur’an, but had wisdom behind why He commanded it. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah (swt) mentions the word khumur in verse 24:31, which is the plural for khimar, meaning head covering, to draw it over the bosoms.
In the Holy Quran, Surah An-Noor, Verse 31 Allah says:
“And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful.”
I did intense studies on the hijab, and it doesn’t just mean drawing over one’s clothe over the bosoms and not revealing what is apparent, but also inner hijab, lowering one’s gaze, keeping away from sinful thoughts, acts etc. This whole concept of hijab truly changed my view of looking at myself, raising my self esteem and also my world view as a whole in respecting more than ever! Everything changed because of this and because of my whole reversion to Islam. I feel more at peace, especially with myself.
Wearing hijab wasn’t hard in the beginning, but it started to become hard later on. Until I learned more of it and felt a self worth while wearing it, plus knowing that it isn’t just about the outer appearance but the inner self and going closer to God, I put it back on. Plus I felt half naked without it anyways.
In your opinion, regarding today’s situation, what is the duty of Muslim women as members of their respective societies? To what extent is the role of Muslim women significant in the progress and development of Islam?
Regarding today’s situation, especially for the women/sisters, education is so essential, especially on Islam! It not only helps in spreading Islam when others ask us questions, but also in spreading the word of Islam and furthering the knowledge in raising our families to be steadfast in the deen with an even brighter future. We, as women, are easier noticed as Muslims than men are. And, hence, also easier targets. In knowing our religion, we can help banish that ignorance in today’s world, being more vigilant as well in our society because of the islamophobia all around. As a revert, I have noticed more ignorance than before I was Muslim. It still boggles my mind how others cannot search on something and just believe what the media says or what others say without proper research. Our role as women is very important indeed!
How do you see the character of Imam Khomeini (RA) as the founder of Islamic Revolution and the eminent personality of recent Islamic history?
In all honesty, I wish I could have met Ayatollah Khomeini (RA)! He set an example of true guidance for the people, and bringing justice to a world falling apart! His determination and goals really showed that he not only followed a spiritual path in following the Ahlul Bayt (AS), but a part of what following the Ahlul Bayt (AS) meant as well as fighting for what was right and ridding of the evil! He is a role model for me and an inspiration to strive for what I believe in!
The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, your views regarding him?
I have yet to learn more about this great personality. He is also one I really admire and would love to meet some day, Insha’Allah! He is been misunderstood by many, but he is truely inspirational and is still guarding the legacy of Islamic Revolution. I sincerely pray for his well being and prosperity.
It was a very good conversation. Please let us know any other comments if you have.
It was very nice speaking with you, sister. God bless and thank you for taking your time to speak with me.
Thank you very much for your attention. May Allah bless you and keep you strong and firm on this true path.
By Zahra Salehi
DUA: Allah please accept this from us. You are All-Hearing and All-Knowing. You are The Most Forgiving.You are The Most Relenting and repeatedly Merciful. Allah grant us The Taufiq to read all the 5 prayers with sincerity.
(Taken from To Be Earnest In Prayers By Amina Elahi)
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