From Muslim To Mormon

GwenGwen, who adopted the name Khadijah as a Muslim, is retired and lives in Portland, Oregon, devoting as much of her time as possible to volunteer work and writing youth and young adult Science Fiction. Gwen publishes on line, but wants to shift to self-publishing in her next book.

It all seems so surreal at times, my how the years have flown past me. From the time I was about 12, I wanted to know how we all got here. I wanted to know how things happened; how all this complexity around us came to be. Somehow, despite the abusive home life, and the darkness about me, I just knew that the beauty and complexity about us all is not an accident, and later I would begin to see that unifying intelligence could easily be called God.

I wouldn’t really address the idea of God again until my late 20’s, when I began to realize that certain things around me could not be random. I also felt that someone had helped me at several points in my life and the feelings became so strong that I began to really want to thank whoever was doing these things for me. So, in a series of what I consider to be God driven incidents I read the Bible and realized that the help must have been coming from God.

Those who are accustomed to the Holy Spirit working in their lives won’t find this surprising and years later it is very clear that Heavenly Father was pursuing me long before I knew it. In one series of events in 1974, one evening I had stood on the porch and marvelled at the astonishingly beautiful sunset; feeling extremely fascinated with how it happened.

Later that night, I watched a program that reviewed the book, “Late Great Planet Earth”, and the very next day, I saw the book laying on my boss’s desk. I borrowed it and spent the next two weekends reading it and comparing the passages quoted with the various versions of the Bible in the house. At the time none of us were Christians and I still do not know how the Bibles came to be there.

Me wearing a traditional hijab

Me wearing a traditional hijab

At the end of the second week end, I was on my knees, praying to God to bring me wisdom, and forgive my sins. After all, I had tiny children and knew that I was not a good parent. I was very worried about damaging them.

Interestingly, in the next 30 plus years, I’d find several different churches, but always felt as if something was lacking. After 9/11, my search for the one true God would even lead me into Islam for several years. I didn’t want to casually worship God, the only one who loved me, but I wanted to do it with devotion and obedience.

Along the way in life were many blessings and heart breaking hardships, yet I kept searching for the true God. In my early experiences with Christianity, many seemed to preach about Jesus on Sunday, but then be against the power there in. In several churches, it all seemed to be a surface experience and I’d repeatedly find that I felt too evil, too lost to ever be a real part of it all. Ever conscious of my own faults and being hated by those around me, I entered Islam.

For a few years, I loved the praying, highly organised and involving absolute prostration before God, I felt as if this was best for me. The problem is that Islam is a very closed society, and if you are not Middle Eastern and speak Arabic you are never really accepted. I loved Allah SWT1 and worshipping him, but was very hurt by the way that some Muslims treated me. No matter how hard I tried, it felt like I was failing God.

So it was, on March 13th, 2011 I found myself in Ohio driving back toward the apartment I shared with two other women in Painesville. I’d been out doing research on the Amish because I’d endured a harsh childhood at the hands of an Amish step father, and wanted to make sense of what I’d experienced.

Kirtland Temple

The Kirtland Temple is a National Historic Landmark, now owned and operated by the Community of Christ

So, this day, in the afternoon, I was driving north and began to pass through the tiny community of Kirtland, Ohio. As I drove, I saw a strange looking building in the distance and gradually realised that it looked like a church.

Something in my heart leapt, and I felt compelled to pull over and look at the structure. I looked Kirtland up on my Android and realised that the structure before me was the first Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! Over the years, I’d had several brief encounters with various types of Mormons, but I never got involved.

I was very fascinated with early American history, and knew that I had to see that building; go inside. Well, it was all locked up and the visitor’s center for that church was too; I would have to return another day. Getting back in my car, I started home, realising that I had no idea when it would be open.

Then I passed an LDS church and knowing that they had to be connected, pulled in when I saw cars there. Surely they would not object to just one question from me? At the time I was still Muslim, and dressed appropriately for a Muslim woman to include the abaya and hijab2. I worried that they would be mean and reject me as a terrorist as a few had done.

To my utter astonishment, the missionary sisters warmly received me, even after I said that I was just interested in American History and not becoming Mormon. After all, I was Muslim. One visit became two; two became four and soon I was attending the Mosque on Friday and Mormon Church on Sunday.

It did not take long for the differences and similarities between my two faith experiences to begin to become troublesome. I was certainly sure that the LDS I met were much friendlier than the Muslims I knew, and they spoke my language. In Islam, the way that Jesus Christ was handled always troubled me, and speaking of it, got me in trouble.

The baptism of Jesus Christ

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him

The missionary sisters and church members in the Kirtland area, gradually won my heart and helped me to believe that Christians could be loving and accepting, though I still have reservations about the LDS calling themselves Christian, because the Christian denominations I had previously experienced were certainly not as loving and supportive.

We jokingly settled on the idea that the LDS were version 1.0 and everyone else were version 8.1. It would take me some time to appreciate that the LDS do not speak harshly of other faiths, and that is one of the key issues that attracted me to them. I felt I was ready for baptism, but in reality, I had much to learn.

Almost three months passed, and when it was time to return to my home city of Portland, Oregon, I was convinced that I wanted to become a member of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints. It was difficult to think about giving up my Muslim faith, but no one pressured me, and I am convinced that if I wanted to attend church in my abaya and hijab, no one would say a thing.

I was comfortable with Muslim prayer, my abaya and hijab, and the modesty and devoutness of my life, and still miss the security I feel in my hijab. It is difficult for some to understand; perhaps part of my soul will always be Muslim.

Finally on January 29th, 2012 I was baptised and there were lots of well-wishers there. Two of the sister missionaries who’d been my teachers in Kirtland were now at Provo and they drove up to Portland, Oregon. I was somehow uncomfortable with being baptised in pants, so they allowed me to find a white dress for it. I think that perhaps most of the church attended, including my roommates who are not Christian. It all flew by in a blur for me. I was overwhelmed.

Rainbow that appeared the day of my baptism

Rainbow that appeared in Portland on the day of my baptism


For the first time in my life, I felt loved, really loved for me, not who others wanted me to be. Early on, there had been questions about my believing in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith as a Prophet and the standard things that the LDS believe.

I kept telling them that for me those things were not difficult because I believed in Allah SWT, the prophet Muhammad PBUH3, and the Qur’an, so the step on to the rest of the truth was not difficult. I believe that Heavenly Father still talks to us through the prophet, Thomas S Monson. And, I believe that Muhammad PBUH was one of the prophets.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Notes

  1. SWT is Subhanahu Wa tala and that means “glorified and exalted is he”, it’s an honorific that is seen as required respect when they use the word Allah. Muslims believe in one God, and Allah is merely the word God in Arabic. We worship the same God.
  2. I still believe in the practice of Hijab, but mostly don’t do it nowadays to blend into American culture. This Youtube video provides a great explanation into the real reason for Hijab.
  3. PBUH is another honorific and is used after the name of any of the prophets. It means, “Peace be upon him”. Muslims recognise the same prophets as Christians.

Credits

Jake’s Missionary Meeting

Jake outside the church where he spoke today.

As is customary for departing and returning LDS missionaries, Jake spoke in sacrament meeting today.
Here is what he said, taken from my rickety notes:

Testimony

I will speak about testimony today. Preach My Gospel defines testimony as a spiritual witness. A priest is a lot different than an elder. On a service project priests have there hands in their pockets and lean against the wall. They have to be told what to do. An elder works through the spirit.

Graciela didn’t want to be baptized even though she had been to church. I like to baptize everyone I take to church. She didn’t recognize the need to repent.  My testimony wasn’t good enough to convince her. After seven months of teaching her my testimony was finally sufficient. She got baptized. She didn’t care about all my knowledge, just my testimony.

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Missionary Jake – Part 9 of 10

This is part nine of a ten part series chronicling Jake’s Mission. It is told mostly in his own words using excerpts from his letters and photographs sent home.

March 2008

Not much time to write. The package is probably sitting in the mission office. We are not going to have a zone conference because the president wants us to work every day of this month, we are going to set a new mission record of 700 baptisms. This week a lot of our investigators attended church. In the next week we will have a lot of baptisms. Say “Hi” to Tyler [Stout]. I don’t think we’ve even written in more than two years.

I typed up a nice letter but the session timed out and I lost most of it. Congratulations Steven and Adelaide. Make a cardboard Elder Willoughby for the reception. About the letter. It would help to pull out the official letter that they sent to suspend [the scholarship] and use the same formatting and terminology. “Please reinstate the Presidential Scholarship suspended (28 March 2006, but the correct date) for religious service. It will be reinstated for the Fall 2008 semester.” You don’t have to say anything about that I am going to miss school. The first week they usually cancel classes anyway, and I still have a week to change my schedule without penalties. Paul can fill it up with the best options and I can drop and change the ones that I don’t like. I usually sign “Jake Willoughby” in the majority of cases.

Jake and companion prior to baptisms

I am going to send [photos] one by one. I hope everyone has Gmail so they don’t get maxed out. I sent some pictures of baptisms that we had yesterday and last week. We average between two or three baptisms every week. It is a lot of work but really rewarding keeping everything balanced. The ward and bishop want to help, but they have no idea how. We help them along the best we can.

This month should be records for the mission, the zone, and for my personal mission. Every day we seek to magnify better our calling of establishing the Kingdom by baptizing more and more.

Daniel. If you want to know how to prepare for the mission, I recommend D&C 11. I like especially verses 20-21 which apply to you right now. Just put your name in as if the Lord was speaking directly to you (see verse 27).

The shoes do fit. I doubt there will be anything else that I need.

Arturo was baptized yesterday. It was a neat service because a family sang and played the flute. The only problem was I missed it because I was in a meeting! It is alright because the meeting will help us to baptize more and keep our converts active. I will make sure to get a picture with Arturo and I as evidence. Everything is good to go here. If I need anything I will just buy it. Keep me informed on of the good news each week.

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Missionary Jake – Part 8 of 10

This is part eight of a ten part series chronicling Jake’s Mission. It is told mostly in his own words using excerpts from his letters and photographs sent home.

January 2008

Looks like I have several cavities. The dentist says I could take them out right now or wait until I get back so it would be under the insurance.

Mom, I hear the exuse of “I am too old to (change/learn something new/whatever thing)” from a lot of people. The mind only gets old from disuse. The prophet is 97 years old and he has a mind very active! What a great example of diligence and perseverance. Learn the song in Spanish, not just how to sing it but what each word means and why it is that way. I have seen many people who have been born from above (see John 3:3-7 and the footnotes) in their old age and have truly walked in new life (see Romans 6:4). We should not just follow what the prophet says but also what he does.

P days we sometimes play soccer. Every chapel has a small soccer court.

Jake ready to baptize in February

The priesthood holder that I baptized, Alan Olmos, baptized his niece this week. We are also teaching more people from his family and their baptism will be in a few weeks. I forgot the cables to download the photos from the camera, until next week!

This week we found two great families. The mom of one family said “I’ve been praying to know which church is the true church.” I said something like “Perfect, we have an answer.” She will be baptized in two weeks along with two of her five children and her mother.

I have several extremely small cavities, they don’t even show up on the X-ray. He used a blue light to find them and show me them.

In December we broke a mission record of baptisms. The last record was set more than 20 years ago when my mission president was the assistant here. He said he was a little sad to see it fall, but not to missionaries like us. The Lord is truly working a marvelous work here in Mexico.

I think my email last week got returned. Transfers were today. I am now in Cuatitlan Izcali with Elder Martinez. It is a great new opportunity to build the kingdom and accelerate the work of the Lord.

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Missionary Jake – Part 3 of 10

This is part three of a ten part series chronicling Jake’s Mission. It is told mostly in his own words using excerpts from his letters and photographs sent home.

January 2007

Things are good down here in Mexico. The weather is really nice—not too hot and not too cold. It rains sometimes, but never is cold enough to snow. The climate is similar to Utah but more mild. I imagine that the summers will be really hot. Usually the second thing people ask me when I say I’m from Utah is: “it snows in Utah, right?” I’m glad it doesn’t snow here though—I think there would be a wreck every 5 seconds if it snowed. The driving here is crazy. Stop signs are non-existent, or if there is a stop sign nobody pays any attention. The government puts in speed bumps every intersection to force people to slow down.
Photo of Elder Hernandez and Elder Willoughby ready to baptize
You don’t have to worry about speeding either. You can just give the police 10 or 20 dollars and they will let you off the hook. At least that is what my companion says. I’m glad I took his [Brother Peterson’s] class of Christian History because I understand a lot better who I am teaching. It helps to know exactly what is the apostasy and why we needed a restoration. In the mission all we have to do is make sure our investigators understand those two words—apostasy and restoration. Although all the churches may have some little part of the truth, none of them have the fullness of the gospel.

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