Growing into Islam

Mariam Santos

My conversion to Islam was a long journey. I must confess I didn’t have a sudden revelation that made me want to become a Muslim, rather I spent years observing, listening, and learning about Islam. Islam is a matter of faith and a complete way of life, so I took my time growing into it. Sixteen years after I came to live in Kuwait, I converted to Islam.

When I came here I was not a lost person without a religion. I had been brought up as a Christian and I felt fine practicing this religion. I also didn’t want to change my religion just to make people like or accept me as this would be very hypocritical. I remember when my husband and I got married in Kuwait the judge told me, “You are a Christian and Christians are people of the book. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that you have to change your religion.”

I really respected him for telling me this. As time went on I started reading about Islam and my husband told me a lot about Islam. He often asked me if I would like to convert to Islam but I told him I had to really feel ready and committed to do this. I learned more about Islam with my children and I liked what I learned. Islam makes sense to me as the last and final religion.
I like the emphasis on mercy, justice, equality, charity, and helping others. Of course these concepts are also in Christianity and other religions, but the structure of Islam encourages one to practice these things regularly. Within the five pillars of Islam are so much wisdom and goodness for the world. Paying zakat, for example, solves the injustice and imbalance between rich and poor, if widely practiced.

Fasting promotes empathy, discipline, and faith. Nothing can teach people the lesson of how fortunate they are to have enough to eat and drink better than fasting. It also encourages honesty and commitment to God. You can fool people and pretend to be fasting, but no one can fool God. Having five set prayer times a day means we put everything into perspective, we temporarily take ourselves away from earthly matters, we reinforce our faith, and we show our thankfulness to God.

We can also unburden ourselves from all our worries and our problems by praying to God and asking for help and guidance. Knowing that the ultimate outcome of everything is in God’s hands is a huge comfort. I was growing closer to Islam but I still had some reservations about abandoning the religion I grew up with. I spoke to my husband about this and he mentioned it to the sheikh at the local mosque.

The sheikh said, “Tell your wife she’s not abandoning her original religion, she is developing it and bringing it to its natural conclusion. Islam builds upon the teachings of Christianity. It’s the final message of the religions of the book. So it’s as if she had obtained a Bachelor’s degree practicing Christianity, but by accepting Islam she will complete her spiritual studies and go on to get a Master’s and a PhD.”

This analogy made sense and gave me a lot of comfort. It made finalizing my decision to convert to Islam an easy one. Soon after I became a Muslim, my husband decided we would go to Makkah for Umra with our children. When my mother-in-law heard this she immediately decided to come along. “You won’t know what to do so I need to be with you,” she said.

A close Kuwaiti friend also offered her support and joined us with her husband. “Don’t worry, everything will be easy,” she said. She was right. In Makkah I felt a great sense of peace and contentment being part of such a huge community of worshippers from all corners of the earth. Since then I have been learning about Islam and I still have a lot to learn. Each verse of the holy Quran teaches us many important lessons.

All issues of life are addressed, all questions answered. It is extremely beneficial to have a capable teacher to help interpret the rich language and historical context of the Quran. There are many places in Kuwait (like IPC, TIES & AWARE) that offer free lectures and courses about culture & Islam in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Most importantly, these are places where Muslims and non-Muslims are welcome, tolerance is emphasized, and discussions are frank and open.

Courtesy of the TIES Center: the TIES Center aims at empower Kuwait’s expats through social and educational services that promote a positive and productive role in society, and to facilitate opportunities for intra- and interfaith interactions that promote social solidarity. For more information, you can contact TIES at Tel: 25231015/6; Hotline: 94079777; e-mail: info@tiescenter.net.

By Mariam Santos