Salam! My name is Elisabeth and I am 42 years old, a mother of 8 children, and a revert to Islam. Throughout my life, I have been many different things. I have been married, a single mom, and a mother with a loving husband. Before we get to that however, let met tell you a little bit about my journey to Islam, as well as some influences who helped me be the mother and woman I am today. I hope my story is one that other reverts or women looking to revert can relate to, because it can be a very lonely, confusing, and difficult journey.
My dad was a baptist preacher and so, my whole life, I was known as a pastor’s daughter. Even as a child, that holds a lot of responsibility because all eyes were on me in church.
I grew up in a very strict Christian household. My dad was a baptist preacher and so, my whole life, I was known as a pastor’s daughter. Even as a child, that holds a lot of responsibility because all eyes were on me in church. I had to be an example for everyone else and felt a lot of pressure to be “perfect”. I went to a private Christian school, which had very similar rulings to a Muslim upbringing. Years later, when I reverted, I noticed how similar a lot of the stories were in the Bible and the Quran. I think my strict Christian upbringing made finding Islam later on a lot more adaptable. There were so many similarities between the two religions. Modesty was always a very big deal for us, and no pants were allowed. People often thought of me as an old fashioned girl- I even got asked “Are you Amish?” because of the way I was dressed. In my home, we had no radio, no TV, and no music. The area we grew up in was a rural, beautiful mountainous area. I grew up riding horses, playing in the woods, spending time with our dogs, and riding up to the waterfall to have lunch. Because of having very little to distract us with, I grew up being very creative. Eventually, when I was a teenager, I began to sneak watching TV shows and listening to music because all my friends were doing it. The pressure got to me too.
9/11 had just happened, and I remember being really, really scared of Islam. It felt like all Muslims were terrorists & Islam felt like a crazy cult to us.
I reverted to Islam when I was 25 years old and a mother of two children. I had found myself divorced from my husband and was focusing on my work. My job at the time was to work at a salon as a hairdresser in Vermont. 9/11 had just happened, and I remember being really, really scared of Islam. It felt like all Muslims were terrorists & Islam felt like a crazy cult to us.
I remember at the salon, my boss was a Muslim and this was my first encounter with Islam. Now, there were not a lot of Muslims in Vermont. In fact, it was very rare to see anyone who did not look like me when I was growing up and even working there. To see this man go and pray in the back of the salon, I would always wonder what he was doing. I asked him, “What are you doing back there?” He told me, “I’m praying.” I didn’t know what this meant and I had so many questions. This opened doors for us and we began to have a lot of conversations about Christianity and Islam. I began to study Ahmed Deedat who was known for studying different religions and comparing them to Islam. He had debates and all this knowledge out there, and it really got me thinking. All my life I was taught that the Bible was 100% perfect, but here was my boss showing me all these mistakes in the Bible. He would recite verses in the Bible and show me contradictions. He brought up how Jesus never ever said to pray to him and worship him- he always said pray to God.
My dad told me to stop talking to different people and that it wasn’t good for me to be doing that. This only made me want to learn more.
As a pastor’s daughter, this was mind-boggling to me. I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, what I believed might not be right. Maybe there was something better out there. I had always felt a very close connection to God as a Christian so that was always instilled in me. I cared about what God thought I was doing with my life and what choices I was making. For me, it was just about finding the right path. I decided to go and talk to my dad. I asked him – did you know about this discrepancies? He instantly inquired who I was talking to. I told him I was talking to a Muslim who was very nice and friendly. My dad told me to stop talking to different people and that it wasn’t good for me to be doing that. This only made me want to learn more.
There is only one masjid in the entire state of Vermont, even now. I went there after doing a little bit more research. I knew I had to wear hijab but I did not know where to get one. I got fabric and sewed a slip-on scarf from scratch and still have it to this day. I went to the masjid during Ramadan – at that time it was during the month of December. No one in my life knew I was going to the masjid at all. I remember seeing the congregation and how they were all praying together in union. They were all faced in one direction, praying to one god. I had never seen something so beautiful – there were African Muslims, Egyptian Muslims, Bosnian Muslim, Indian Muslims and people from all over the world. Because this was the only masjid in the state, Muslims of all cultures came here to pray. This captivated me since I had very rarely seen so many diverse people in one setting. When I heard the adan, or call to prayer, I felt a peace in my heart. I kept going to the masjid to see what was going on- I felt connected to it.
There is only one masjid in the entire state of Vermont, even now.
Eventually, I realized. Allah put it in my heart and I knew I wanted to become a Muslim. I knew my decision would be horrifying for my family. I was so, so petrified on how I would tell people and what would happen. The first thing I had to do was to tell my two children. My daughter was 7 years old while my son was 4 years old. I remember telling them that we were going to try something different and new. I told them we would be going to the masjid and we would stop eating pork, which was very hard for us to do. We went to the masjid where I took my shahada with a few Muslim sisters around me. It was one of the most important days in my life.
Soon after all these choices, my “friends” no longer wanted to associate themselves with me. One of them said, “I’m sorry – I don’t feel comfortable with this.”
People often did not believe I was Muslim until the day I started to wear hijab. I could have easily been a secret Muslim and that’s why the hijab is a HUGE thing for me and why I feel so strongly about it. For me, my hijab was me “coming out” as someone who believed in Islam. Soon after all these choices, my “friends” no longer wanted to associate themselves with me. One of them said, “I’m sorry – I don’t feel comfortable with this.” Hearing those words and seeing people drift away from me was extremely difficult. I felt very alone, especially since my parents also did not approve at first.
I sought companionship in the masjid. When I went there, I felt like the people were very cliquish. No one was ever mean and people were always kind and welcoming. But I didn’t really have anybody. I don’t think that people realized or thought about how alone it feels to be a revert, and to not feel like you belong. Outside of the small talk and kind gestures, I was never apart of any plans to take out the kids, or meetups outside of the mosque. It made the entire transition into Islam so much harder.
In creating these groups at the masjid for young women, Nazia and I were learning too. We would come up with a topic and she and I would research together. I feel like having the support I needed after so long of battling this journey alone really gave me the courage to dive into Islam deeper.
I used to pray that Allah would send me a Muslim friend and eventually, I did make one. Her name was Nazia, and I remember being so grateful that I finally had someone I could relate to at a friendship level. Nazia and I ended up beginning a team group in our masjid. My daughter was now 12 years old at this point, and I realized that I didn’t know enough about Islam to teach her. In creating these groups at the masjid for young women, Nazia and I were learning too. We would come up with a topic and she and I would research together. I feel like having the support I needed after so long of battling this journey alone really gave me the courage to dive into Islam deeper. Eventually, Nazia did end up moving away, but in her time in my life, she made a very big impact.
I eventually got married again and moved with my husband to New Jersey. It was here that I met my large community of Muslim friends and found my community. My husband is also a convert like me, so we both understand the struggles of coming into Islam especially with a non-Muslim family. For example, we recently had a son and decided to name him Moses instead of Musa. That was for my parents- so that they could understand and relate to his name. Moses is also in the Bible and I wanted my family to feel connected to my son. It is very important to me that they are also included in my family, because now alhamdulillah, we are all on good terms.
I would have to say, aside from my revert journey, my biggest female influence was my mother. As mothers, there are things we don’t tell our children, and there were many things my mother didn’t tell me until years later. My mother, for example, is Italian and grew up in a very strict Italian household. She was not shown any love growing up, no hugs, kisses, or affection of any kind. Children were supposed to be seen and never heard from. Her entire upbringing was very hardened and out of all my mom’s siblings, none of them ever had any children or had any desire to do so. My mom thinks that they weren’t loved as children, so the idea of starting a family seemed like a burden.
When my mom had me, she felt no feeling of love towards me. It could be post-partum depression, but she didn’t have that natural connection towards me. When I would cry, she would stare at me. Even thought she would eventually hold me, it didn’t come naturally. She would take care of me but almost robotically because it was so hard for her to be loving. My dad was a very loving and outgoing person, but for her, it was something she had to teach herself. She knew she had to learn how to give me love because otherwise the cycle would go on forever.
When my mom had me, she felt no feeling of love towards me. It could be post-partum depression, but she didn’t have that natural connection towards me.
My mother put sticky notes everywhere, all around the house. She would write, “Hug Elisabeth”, “Kiss Elisabeth”, “Hold Elisabeth”. She would force herself to love me, hug me, give me affection. She LITERALLY taught herself to break the cycle of being unavailable and for that, I am eternally grateful. Because of her hard work, I was raised by a loving mother who was there for me and gave me lots of love and attention. Because of that, and as a mother myself, I am able to be there for my children as well.
As a revert, mother of 8, and covering Muslim woman, I have been through a lot. I have experienced loss and gains through my journey to Islam and through each of them, I am a stronger woman. I am thankful Islam came into my life through my first job, I am grateful I had a loving mother to raise me through my childhood, & I am ecstatic that I now have a community of Muslims around me. I hope my story can inspire and help another revert who may be feeling alone in this beautiful religion. I know it can feel scary at times but Allah always brings us through. No matter what, there are other people out there like you – all you need to do is reach out and pray.