I don’t know her.
I had never met her.
I don’t even remember her name. But yesterday, I sat with her, as she uttered the words, and entered the fold of Islam.
Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan. Khalid and I decided to break our fast in a communal setting with Muslim folks, and took the train to the Islamic Center of New York University. They were hosting an iftar and it was open to the public. As I walked over to the hall, placing my shoes in the shoe rack, young volunteers holdings trays laden with dates, offered me one. I took my place on the rug, holding on to the sticky date. Khalid made his way to the cluster of men, although in this space there is no forced segregation.
Khalid Latif, the Imam and Exec. Director of the Islamic Center, had an announcement to make. “Today, after we break fast and say our prayers, a sister is going to take the Shahada.” People filed in—students, former students with children, people of all ethnicities, dressed in whatever they usually wear.
I wonder who she is!
“Can everyone please form a circle,” Imam Latif announced as soon as we had broken our fast and said our prayers. “A sister is going to take the shahada.”
We clustered on the rug, and Imam Latif took his place next to an African-American woman.
So that is who she is.
The imam welcomed her with words of support.
“…in your journey as a new Muslim, you will meet some good people, and you will meet some annoying people.”
“Just be yourself. You don’t have to change your name. All we need is for your to be you, so that we can uniquely benefit from the blessing that you uniquely can offer to us.
Let your trajectory of life be about God, the God of unconditional love….”
He urged the gathering to give her our support.
“She will need people who celebrate fast with her; let her know that when she comes here, she feels familiarity….
Be aware, that before she came into Islam, she had a life, she had experiences, she had relationships, and all that was in her past, has made her what she is today.”
I watched her listen. But I was listening too. I had never thought of it that way.
Her past is what has made her the person she is. We should embrace her past as much as we embrace her as our new sister (in Islam). Someone raised her, gave her values, educated her, befriended her, and all those people and experiences are as much a part of her today.
You cannot revoke your prior life, nor should you.
The Imam was asking her to recite the shahada, to repeat after him.
“I bear witness and testify,”
“I bear witness and testify,” she repeated
“That there is nothing worthy of worship but God,”
“And I bear witness and testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
So it was said, and so it was done. By uttering those words, she had taken the shahada, and entered the fold of Islam.
He prayed for her, for God to give her strength, to remove obstacles, for support of family and friends. He prayed for her family, for those she loved and those who loved her. He prayed for us, to be there for her. I wish I had taken notes, but my hands were raised in prayer, and I wanted to be in the moment.
“Please embrace your sister,” Imam Latif announced.
That of course, was meant for ladies only, as we lined up to give her a hug, and the men lined up for the food.
Did I get teary-eyed when I held her? I did.
She smiled, and then I moved to make room for the next hugger.
What brought her to Islam? What was her journey like? Is she nervous? Is she the only Muslim in her family? How is her family handling it? Does she have Muslim friends?
I didn’t get to speak to her. But I am still thinking of her.
I thought of her when I set my alarm for 2:45 a.m. for sahoor.
Did she set her alarm?
I thought of her when we sat down to eat sahoor.
Will she be taking sahoor alone?
I thought of her when I sat down with my cup of coffee and recited the Quran.
I wonder if she is a coffee person? I hope she cut down on her coffee before Ramadan started, or she will get the worst headache.
I thought of her when I said my Fajr prayers at 3:50 a.m.
I wonder if she has a prayer rug?
It’s 12 noon now.
I wonder how her day is going?
I say a prayer for her.