Gwen, 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Kirtland Temple and Baptism of Jesus courtesy More Good Foundation