Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Colleen's Conversion Story
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following is the conversion story of Colleen Mary Dunn. It is a journey that began in the US and carried on through India, Thailand and finally Singapore.
“I grew up in a Catholic home in the US where we all attended Mass together as a family every Sunday. I have memories growing up of rushing around Sunday mornings before church as we struggled to get ready and arrive on time to 10:30 or noon Mass. I am the oldest of 3 children. My Dad is a retired US government employee, and my Mom is a retired Catholic school teacher. All of us spent at least our elementary school years in Catholic schools. My sister graduated from an all-girls Catholic high school and then got her undergraduate degree from a Jesuit university, Marquette, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My brother graduated from Catholic high school as well before enlisting in the US Air Force. I attended Catholic school, then transferred to public school in my junior year. My undergraduate degree was also from a public state university.
Though I had loads of basic instruction in Catholic theology from school, I became more active in religious activities during my time in public schools. In high school, I was a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and at Missouri State University, I was involved in the Catholic Campus Ministry, and sang in choir at the local parish as well. During this time, I met only a handful of Muslim acquaintances, and I knew almost nothing about Islam except what I had learned as a high school sophomore in my Catholic school World Religions class.
Even after university, I remained active in my local parish. In 2002, after eventually settling into marriage in eastern Pennsylvania, I was a Eucharistic minister, lector, cantor, and choir member. Though I found pastoralism to be more lacking in my parish than I found in my friendlier churches in my hometown, most of the time I chalked it up to prevailing attitudes in the community at large.
We adopted Sean from infancy in 2005. The adoption happened rather fast, and we had to spend a month in Japan to get custody, but we looked into baptism as soon as we were able, about a month after Sean was born, when we returned to the States. Though we were visibly active members of our parish, we were surprised to learn that for administrative purposes, we were required to jump through many hoops to get Sean baptised. The biggest hurdle was the requirement of letters from the pastors of the churches of both godparents stating that they were active Catholics. At the time, my sister, who I had chosen to be the godmother, was living in Seattle, Washington, and my brother, who was to be godfather, was on active military duty at RAF. Mildenhall in the UK. Getting letters was an impossible hurdle, and we were disappointed that the church seemed more concerned about administrative paperwork than they were about getting a child baptised. It was not long after this that we stopped attending church altogether.
In 2007, we moved to Calcutta, India. While there, I was unconcerned with religion from a theological perspective, but I enjoyed the many cultural and religious activities that are found there. India is a colourful place in many ways, so I lived it up and attended puja after puja, all in the name of gaining cultural experiences.
Incidentally, during that time I met one expatriate from Morocco who became a close acquaintance. She is a lot of fun and speaks many languages fluidly. I was truly amazed by how freely and confidently she carried herself. Having not known many Muslim women, she really surprised me by shattering all the stereotypes. It was also while in India that I met someone new on Facebook who is from Turkey. He had written a ‘Sufi’ novel, and asked me to join his book page, which I did. The page was full of Mawlana ar-Rumi (q.s.) quotes and philosophical meanderings, some of which may have been good. Some of it may have not been so good, but being a novice to this world, I did not know any better and soaked it all in.
We moved from India to Thailand in 2010. By that time, we had spent three years in India, and I felt like I had studied the country to the depth that I could have written a dissertation about it. I was, as my new friends in Thailand called it, ‘Indianised’. I dressed Indian, ate Indian food, spoke Indian languages, thought about life from the perspective of an Indian. So, one day in September when I dropped off Sean at his new school, I met the mother of one of his classmates. She dressed like someone from the subcontinent, and I asked her if she was from India. She corrected me, “No, I’m from Pakistan.” Great! We had so much to talk about, and we discussed topics like Islam and our philosophies on life. I was struck by how similar we were, even back then. Afsheen and I turned out to be inseparable good friends.
One time, Afsheen said how everyone carries inside of them a Reflection of God, and even if we do not see what that goodness is, it is still there. That is why we have to treat everyone with respect. We are all reflecting Attributes of God. I will never forget that insha’Allah. From what I have observed of my dear friend, that is the basic philosophy she lives by, masha’Allah. What open-minded thinking, and something worth trying to emulate.
Then around April, 2011, Afsheen’s in-laws came to visit Karachi. Again in her in-laws I found a similar openness of being. Afsheen teaches English at Assumption University, so she and her husband, Adnan, would be at work during the weekdays. But Hameed bhai and I really took a liking to each other, and I was not working. So, I would go to Afsheen and Adnan’s apartment and visit with Hameed bhai and his lovely wife, Hafsah apa from about 11 in the morning until about 2 in the afternoon a few days per week. Hameed bhai was a career ambassador, and was very friendly and very open in his thinking. He was also one of those rare souls that would make one feel like they were the only one in the world during conversation. We would discuss life, tell jokes, talk about religion. He was like a dear uncle or father figure, and what an amazing human being!
One thing I remember that he said to me. He said, ‘You know how in the Bible, Jesus said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’’ Hameed bhai said he believed in the same God who Jesus was addressing when he prayed. What an amazing thing to say!
46 and about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lamma sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
In was in one of those conversations that I first expressed the desire to convert. However, being that my husband is Christian, and I did not know how he would react if I became a Muslim, Hameed bhai advised me to study Islam some more before saying the shahadah.
That summer, after Hameed bhai and Hafsah apa returned to Karachi, I took Sean on holiday, where we met my Turkish friend from Facebook in Istanbul. We spent four days touring the city with him, then another ten days in other parts of the country on our own. He kept in contact during our travels, but in the end turned out to be a shady character. He kept asking me for more and more money for this and that ‘charity’. This continued even after I returned back to Bangkok. I trusted him too much, and foolishly gave him too much, and when the money ran out, and he was cut off, he fled.
It was when I was recovering from this incident in August, 2011, that I developed another friendship with another Turk in the UK, who advised me throughout. At one point, I pointed out, in the interest of full disclosure, that I was interested in Islam, but had not converted yet. He said to me, ‘Why not? Once you convert, all your past sins are obliterated. Allah will Help you with your husband, insha’Allah.’
He pointed me towards resources where I could learn to say the shahadah in Arabic, as well as get the translation. He also gave me a huge list of books that I could learn basics, such as “Path of Muhammad”, Martin Lings “Life of Muhammad”, “Irshad”, and a Yusuf Ali translation of Qur’an with commentary. Over time, he remained a support system for a little while. And, al-hamdulillah, Barbaros was right about one thing. Allah did make it easy when I told my husband some months later after I converted, in February, 2012. He took it really well and has been an incredible support system. I am quite fortunate.”