Today, Friday, March 4th, 2022, marks the 16th anniversary of my moving from Malaysia to America. My then 4 ½-year-old son and I reunited with my husband after five years of living separately.
I dreamed of going to the United States to be a successful portrait artist, but God had a different plan for me.
“And God is the best of Planners.” (Quran – Chapter: The Spoils of War 8:30)
I rediscovered my Islamic faith when I researched about Islam in order to explain it to my mother-in-law.
I consider it as the biggest achievement in my life. Alhamdulillah. Praise be to God.
How did I rediscover my Islamic faith in the US, a Christian/Judeo country, despite being born in an Islamic country, Malaysia?
Here’s my story.
Growing up in Malaysia, I wasn’t that religious. Yes, I prayed, learned the Quran, and fasted in the month of Ramadhan. However, I was more into the secular lifestyle, like watching movies and listening to music. At school, I thought the Islamic teachers were too strict. I went to school wearing skirts as I was a school prefect. Wearing Malay attire was such a chore and I disliked it.
I couldn’t imagine then that I’d be wearing the hijab someday. I vowed to never wear a hijab. Those who wore the hijab looked at me like I’d definitely go to hell because I didn’t cover up.
In college, I experienced ‘painful’ years, being surrounded by Malays. Personally, I was afraid to let others know that I didn’t know how to read the Quran in Arabic. I had to ‘hide’ the fact that I didn’t know how to read the Quran. I remember when my apartment buddies would gather to recite Surah Yasin, a chapter in the Quran, and I’d read the transliteration and felt helpless.
Another example in my life where I had to hide from not getting called to recite a surah from the Quran was when I had to attend a marriage course before my wedding. Thank God, Allah saved me.
Why was I feeling this way while I was living in an Islamic country? Practicing Islam should be easy, right? You can hear the adhan (call to prayer) from the masjids all over Malaysia. Let me tell you, it’s the people around me, from family to friends that made me feel this way. I was once told that I was good at secular education, but terrible at Islamic studies. In addition, I married a white guy so they must’ve been thinking that I was living a western lifestyle.
After I had my eldest son, I thought deeply about raising him in a proper Islamic way. But I didn’t know where to begin, as I was not really religious myself. I also had a valid concern about living in the USA as a Muslim, especially since it wouldn’t be obvious to his teachers or schoolmates that he’s a Muslim.
When I finally moved to the USA in early 2006, my mother-in-law kept asking me about Islam whenever we talked. I suspected she wasn’t content with her son reverting to Islam. So I did my research online and I found Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s lectures on YouTube. I was amazed by his calm personality while explaining Islam. He is a revert Muslim, just like my husband, so it was easy to connect with what he said. I got addicted to listening to Islamic lectures. At the same time, I discovered another person, Sheikh Yusuf Estes on YouTube. So secretly I thought, Islam is easy and I didn’t understand why I felt Islam was so hard to practice in daily life. I learned the basics of Islam in depth so I could explain to my mother-in-law about Islam if she asked more questions again.
At this point in time, I was a portrait artist and, during my work, I used to listen to music and Islamic lectures because I was at home alone. My husband was at work and my son was at school. In 2008, while working on a painting, I was listening to a lecture explaining the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) about the prohibition of painting and sculpting objects that have souls, such as humans and animals. I stopped and thought to myself, “What am I doing? I don’t want to go to Hell while having success as a portrait artist.”
So I decided to go cold turkey and leave portraiture that day. That decision upset my hubby’s family but I knew that would be the best for me.
It’s about time you wear a hijab
Around the same time, I found one video by a revert Muslim sister, Angela Collins. I still remember her name, she’s a Californian girl from Orange County. She talked about how she loved wearing a hijab and being a Muslim. I thought that if she appreciates Islam and loves wearing a hijab, what about me, a born Muslim?
Here’s another incident from my life. One of our neighbors learned that we were Muslims and he asked me why I didn’t wear a head covering. I was so embarrassed at the time. I found many times where I’d stop my work and go to the bathroom and put on the scarf and look in the mirror and think, can I live like this for the rest of my life? Would I still look pretty? But you know what? I never told my husband about my intention to wear a hijab. I thought I’d do that when I’d celebrate my birthday that year..
I even told my mother-in-law that I’d wear a hijab someday while we were discussing the similarities between the Jews, Christians, and Muslims wearing head coverings. I was shocked. I just uttered the intention that I’d wear a Hijab someday.
These incidents lead me to the most shocking part of this story. It was my husband’s 35th birthday and we were ready to go out for dinner with his parents to celebrate his birthday. All of a sudden, he requested me to wear a hijab. He told me, “It’s about time you wear it.” I was like, how are your parents going to take it? Obeying your husband in good things is a must and I know my duty as a Muslim wife. So I obeyed. Although I had some concerns in my heart about what his parents would say, I just had to go through with wearing it.
That was the start of the rebirth of our family’s Islamic faith.
He wanted his son to be able to pray five times a day
We wanted to become serious in following Islam. My husband was considering homeschooling. However, I was not into it at first. But when he said he wanted his son to be able to pray five times a day, I had to agree and that was the start of my homeschooling journey.
But it wasn’t an easy journey, as my in-laws doubted what we were doing and asked lots of questions about homeschooling. I suspected that they doubted my ability to homeschool — I just came to the US not too long ago, my English wasn’t as good as it is now, and I didn’t have any teacher’s certification. On a side note, if you’re doubting as to whether you can homeschool or not, even if you just have a high school diploma, you can do it. The K12 program makes it so easy for you to homeschool. Don’t let others stop you from doing what you think is best for your children.
We also cut out music and mainstream tv from our lives. Boy, that was hard. We went cold turkey. We wanted to remove the unnecessary distractions from our lives to please God; that turned off some people.
Around the same time, my Quran learning journey started. My husband asked me to teach our son the Quran myself. First I had to relearn the Arabic alphabet. Back in 2008, it was hard to find videos on youtube teaching the letters of the Arabic alphabet. I had to teach myself the alphabet in order to read the Quran. While listening to some reciters I had an aha moment — learning the Quran in Arabic wasn’t that hard. That spark propelled me to start my journey of learning the Quran.
It took me 10 years to master my reading of the Quran in Arabic and I am still improving every single day. Both of my sons have learned to read and recite the Quran in Arabic from me, Alhamdulillah.
The secret to Change to be a Practicing Muslim Family
Do you want to know the secret?
Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. (Quran – Chapter: The Thunder 13:11)
In my dua and prayers, I ask God to guide me and my revert Muslim husband to follow Islam properly. Married to a revert Muslim has a mountain of challenges. If you’re not careful, you might fall into your spouse’s former way of life. I didn’t want that to happen to my family. Even though I wasn’t ‘religious’ before, I knew that having your spouse follow the Islamic belief wholeheartedly is the way to the truth without compromising it.
I realized that if I wanted my husband to follow Islam properly, I must start with myself first. I started to keep to my five daily prayers and encouraged my family to pray together. My husband and son found joy in attending Friday prayers. We started attending the Halaqahs in the mosques and actively looking for other mosques in Los Angeles to attend.
Found Inner Peace and Happiness in Obeying God
I’m so thankful that I found Islam in America. Islam is a gift. Even though you may be born in an Islamic household, you still need guidance from God to be rightly guided. And do you know what I got from practicing my religion the best I can every single day?
Inner peace and tranquility.
I learn a great deal in putting trust in God. I just need to do my part to worship Him properly and encourage my family to do the same. I stand by the saying, you may not be rich and have a lot of wealth but if you have God, you are fine. In fact, in Islam, we know that this world is temporary and we strive hard for our permanent lives in Paradise (the Hereafter).
I hope you got inspired by learning about my own journey of rediscovering my Islamic faith. As long as we are breathing, there is room to change to be a better person. Keep striving for that because God will help you achieve your true purpose in life. As He says,
“Take one step towards me, I will take ten steps towards you. Walk towards me, I will run towards you.” Hadith Qudsi.