Skip to comments.Islam Attracts Converts by the Thousands, Drawn Before and After Attacks
Posted on 10/21/2001 10:08:53 PM PDT by gcruse
Islam Attracts Converts by the Thousands, Drawn Before and After Attacks
By JODI WILGOREN
ALLWIN, Mo., Oct. 20 Since she
became a Muslim six months ago,
Angela Davis has given up many things. She
stopped listening to music, started sleeping
on the floor, put away her 100 Disney
videos and traded her porcelain doll
collection for velvet posters with verses from
Now, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks, Ms. Davis may have to
give up her children.
After her photograph, in full veil, appeared
in the local newspaper on Sept. 30, Ms.
Davis's soon-to-be-ex- husband refused to
return their children, 5 and 2, from a
weekend visit. She has not seen them since.
"It's a test that is given to me from Allah to
see if my faith is strong enough," said Ms.
Davis, 27, who discovered Islam in an
Internet chat room this spring and now
teaches pre-kindergarten at the Al-Salam
Day School in this St. Louis suburb. "I'm
asked to give up my religion for my kids, but
I won't do it. On Judgment Day, as much as
I love my kids, they won't be there with me."
Though her situation is extreme, Ms. Davis
is one of thousands of new Muslim converts
struggling with their identities amid
anti-Muslim fervor and declarations of an
Islamic holy war being broadcast on
television. Already estranged from relatives
and friends, some of whom accuse them of joining a cult, these new Muslims
face catcalls and fresh challenges to their faith.
Many say the events of Sept. 11 only confirmed their commitment. Shannon
Staloch is not sure why, but upon hearing of the hijackings, she immediately
grabbed a book from her backpack and recited the Arabic declaration of
belief; she made the conversion official 12 days later.
"You know how the world changed when that happened and everyone was
shaky?" Ms. Staloch said. "I wanted something steady."
With some 6 million adherents in the United States, Islam is said to be the
nation's fastest-growing religion, fueled by immigration, high birth rates and
widespread conversion. One expert estimates that 25,000 people a year
become Muslims in this country; some clerics say they have seen conversion
rates quadruple since Sept. 11.
Experts say Islam is attractive because of its universal message the faithful
believe that everyone is born Muslim and thus call the transformation
reversion, not conversion and because its teachings incorporate other
traditions, honoring Jesus Christ, the Jewish patriarch Abraham and other
Biblical figures as prophets. Though missionary work is rare in Islam,
spreading the message is demanded by the Koran. Conversion is as simple
as reciting one sentence "I bear witness that there is no deity except Allah
and that Muhammad is his messenger" in front of witnesses, a ceremony
known as Shahadah.
"There's no class," said Khalid Yahya Blankinship, chairman of the religion
department at Temple University. "There isn't really a formalized
requirement, you don't have to be tested." Mr. Blankinship, who converted
to Islam in 1973 and has since witnessed 100 Shahadahs, added: "It's very
important that Islam should spread. The idea is that one should want other
souls to be saved."
The vast majority of converts are African-Americans, who make up about a
third of Muslims in the United States. Thousands find Allah while in jail or in
recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Less familiar are the lapsed
Catholics and lost Jews, often highly educated professionals, who come to
Many convert because they want to marry a Muslim who demands it, a
common reason for conversions in any religion.
"I would never have changed if it wasn't for Rania," David Nerviani, a St.
Louis police officer, said of his Egyptian-born wife, a bartender he met on
patrol. "It's probably not that deep for me."
Others find Islam through friendships on college campuses, research papers
on world religions or trolling the Internet.
Some just feel called. Abdullah Reda of Reston, Va., said the news of Susan
Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her two sons, brought him
to Islam. A 13-year-old California girl had an epiphany during a sunset drive
through the red rocks of Arizona. Katie Mathews, a graduate student at
Washington University in St. Louis, who plans to make her Shahadah on her
23rd birthday in November, prayed for a sign and soon saw a license plate,
Nine years ago, Jim Hacking was in training to be a Jesuit priest. Now, he is
an admiralty lawyer in St. Louis who has spent much of the last month
explaining Islam at interfaith gatherings. Mr. Hacking's search began in the
12-step program Overeaters Anonymous and intensified when he befriended
an Egyptian-born woman, Amany Ragab, at the law review at St. Louis
University. He made the Shahadah on June 6, 1998, and proposed marriage
to her the next day. This summer, the couple traveled to Mecca.
"The thing I've always latched to is that there's one God, he doesn't have
equals, he doesn't need a son to come do his work," Mr. Hacking, 31, said.
"Giving up the pork and the alcohol was the easy part I never drank
much, but I did like bacon. The hard part, and the part I still struggle with
every day, is being a good person, and living a good clean life."
To help with the social transition, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in
Sterling, Va., pairs converts with mentors. Other mosques offer seminars in
the basics of Arabic prayer. Web sites like jews-for-allah.org and
understandingislam.tripod.com provide glossaries to common Muslim
expressions, step-by-step guides to ritual washing, interactive games to teach
Arabic, and profiles of fellow converts, organized alphabetically, by county
of origin and by former religion.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is maintaining family relationships, as parents
often view conversion as a betrayal. One Web site offers a how- to guide for
telling relatives. "Do not allow them to drag you into a conflict regarding
religion at all," it lectures.
Ms. Stolach, who teaches middle- school literacy, said her mother had
helped her shop for hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering, but Ms.
Mathews says the main reason she has delayed her Shahadah is that she is
living with her parents.
"My mom, she's Christian and she's very upset," Ms Mathews said. "I told
her about my signs. She said, how do I know it's not the Devil?"
"The Koran says you have to obey your parents, heaven is at the foot of
your mother," she added. "I have to obey God before I obey my mother."
On Sept. 11, Ms. Davis's mother exhorted her to remove the hijab, saying it
would endanger her grandchildren. (Ms. Davis's divorce lawyer, and her
husband, did not return telephone calls.) Ms. Davis, who wears a
shoulder-to-ankle robe over her clothes, also faces resistance from her older
two daughters, from a previous marriage, whom she enrolled in an Islamic
school this fall, but who have lately said they would prefer to live with their
As the afternoon call to prayer sounded from the mosque above Ms. Davis's
classroom, the girls, white scarves around their heads, scrambled up to the
women's balcony, where they bowed and knelt like old pros. They
murmured "bismillah" ("in the name of Allah") before starting a game,
"astaghfirullah" ("I beg Allah for forgiveness") after a misstep. But they say
their father says their mother worships Satan.
"I got one person saying they want me to be Muslim and then I got my dad
saying no Muslim," said Krashanna Agers, 9. "I don't know, I'm not grown
That's not true, they have the KLA, MILF, Hamas, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Black September, Al Qaeda...
Hmm, sounds like fun. Do you think they would let me keep my velvet Elvis poster?
And dont forget bombings and terror..that one fool converted right after she heard of the terrorism.....she must really hate America..
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