Lopez Casanova, a university student, Narrates Her Journey to Islam.
"I didn't choose Islam; Islam chose me". This is a phrase I constantly tell my friends when asked, how or why I converted to Islam.
I was raised in an active Protestant Christian family. There are many Christian pastors, evangelist, ministers, and teachers in my immediate family.
Therefore, at a very young age I was enrolled in Bible college to become a Christian leader. With time, I became the center of influence to most of my friends.
I never accepted religious literature from any other religions. I told my best friend who is Muslim: "I will never change my religion", but my faith and love for God lead me to Islam.
My Christian religious beliefs as a foundation allowed me to embrace Islam and recognize its validity as a religion of God.
I did not need to learn Islamic doctrine from a religious scholar or a professor to convert. I didn't even have to listen to a lecture from an Imam. It just took a "practicing" Muslim friend to influence me, one who I could relate to, and one who loves God with the same intensity as I do.
Many of us are born into religious families; some have been introduced to a religious life style at a later age. What matters most is that faith is born in our hearts.
I thank God that I was an educated Christian who attended Bible college before I was introduced to Islam; if not, I might have not been able to understand the message of Islam.
I was raised as a protestant Christian and attended non-denominational Christian churches. My mother's side of my family is Protestant Christian. Most are very devoted worshipers and people of strong faith that live their daily life with fear of God.
My father's side of my family is Roman Catholic. They also live in acknowledgement and reverence of God. I have equal love and respect to all my family regardless of their religious differences.
In high school and college I made a series of Christian friends from different denominations and sectors of Christianity.
Later, I made a few great Jewish friends, and a dear friend of mine is a devoted Jehovah's Witness. I didn't judge any of their religious differences and I didn't have the heart to favor any one specific group.
As a non-denominational Christian I was taught, "If you believe in Christ, you are Christian, and we are all equal in the eyes of God regardless of our denomination." Although I was surrounded by many religious beliefs, I was convinced that there is only One God.
As Christians, we believe that Christianity is a continuation of Judaism, but I never learned about Islam. I lived in a bubble where I did not know that Islam existed.
I remember one time in Bible college, they mentioned, "The Chinese pray to Buddha, and the Arabs worship Allah", so I automatically thought Allah was an idol, a foreign god. Unfortunately, most non-Arabic speakers are under the impression that Allah is a specific god or an idol figure as Buddha.
In 2006 was my first time to hear of the word Quran. It wasn't until then that I learned that "Allah" simply means God in Arabic. I did notice many men named Muhammad; I figured they were named after some great athlete boxer or philosopher.
In Christianity I was taught that anything other than Christianity is created by the devil to detour us from God, or it's a division created by a false prophet.
In Christianity, there are many divisions. These come from the many interpretations and versions of the Bible. Although it is a mortal sin to add or delete scriptures from the Bible, yet every time there is a new Christian sector, they create their own version of the Bible.
This is why my mother taught me at a very young age to respectfully reject religious books, pamphlets, and even Christian literature from others. She said the Bible was enough as a source.
The problem is, as a Christian, I was not aware how far back in history the Bible has been modified and changed. Every different Christian group claims they are the correct religion (the one) and every other group is wrong.
I was raised to believe that there is One God for all and there is no one true religion. I attended a non-denomination Christian church; open to any believer and even non-believers.
The priority is to live a submissive life to God according to the holy scriptures; this is very parallel to Islam. The main differences are that I was not introduced to Prophet Muhammad or the concept of monotheism.
I take a lot of pride in having a diversified group of friends from various social groups, ethnic backgrounds and different religious beliefs. We share the same family values and moral principles; it is fairly easy to get along when we don't debate politics or religious doctrine.
In 2006, I decided to start studying Arabic as my fourth language. I was studying international business, and I needed to pick a language that would be most lucrative to my career.
I asked a Persian friend who speaks 11 languages to direct me to which language would be best to study. He advised me to study Arabic, he said: "Arabic is a global and international language that is spoken in more than 50 countries. In every country where there are Muslims, they speak Arabic because that is the original language of the Quran".
I took his advice and decided to start college Arabic classes. The funny thing is that my Persian friend is not Muslim, and both he and I would have never imagined that these Arabic courses would lead me to convert to Islam.
I made many Muslim friends in my Arabic classroom. Most of these students were Middle Eastern Muslims who were born or raised in the USA, and needed to learn Arabic for family and religious purposes.
My first Arabic class was in the fall semester of 2006, during Ramadan. I learned about the meaning of Ramadan and decided to participate in fasting during the month of Ramadan in 2006 and 2007.
This is the month when all practicing Muslims abstain from all kinds of food or drinks from dawn until sunset, in obedience of God.
During my first Ramadan I just learned about the month of fasting. I was very impressed with the level of commitment and unity in the Muslim community.
My general rule was: "I can participate in others' religious practices just as long as they do not conflict with my own personal religious beliefs." I was not willing to compromise my own faith, but since Christianity also encourages fasting and Jesus fasted for 40 days, I joined the group in fasting.
Many students in the classroom were confused by the fact that I was joining them in fasting. They were trying to educate me on the meaning of fasting versus dieting.
They were under the impression that I might be fasting as a diet. I figured that they didn't know anything about Christianity as I didn't know anything about Islam.
Although I was impressed by the meaning of Ramadan, I was not impressed by their behavior or lifestyle choices. I was observing that the same students that were fasting were also smoking, and drinking alcohol, and casually dating women as entertainment.
I figured I was better off as a Christian. I felt I had a better understanding of the meaning of submission and that they didn't even know the meaning of having a close relationship with God. I thought it's just another religion of rules that they don't follow.
When one of these classmates tried to give me Islamic literature and a CD, I simply said, "Thank you, but I cannot accept that. I have my religion; you have yours and let's just respect that."
My mother always said, "False religions are correct according to their books, but no one has permission from God to create new religious books." So I continued to be Christian for two more years.
To be continued...