Part 4: Into the Light

In less than 24 hours, my life completely turned around. My family decided I could go back home to live with my mom, continue at my high school, and complete my plan to graduate early.

I was stunned. Was this really happening? Was I getting a second chance? How could I deny a Higher Being? I asked Him to help, and I knew in my heart I was ready to turn my life around. Did this mean He accepted my repentance? I still wasn’t clear who that Higher Being was, but at least I knew He existed.

I was left with very few friends who were supportive of my new personal values. Yet I still needed to feel like I belonged somewhere. I had already had the American experience, so I decided to explore my Pakistani roots—listening to Bollywood music, watching Indian movies, and wearing shalwar kameez around the house.

But something was still missing. I needed a foundation of morals and beliefs. I respected the moral value system of Christianity that I had learned over the years, but many contradictions in their belief system still left me feeling unsettled.

ٱللَّهُ وَلِىُّ ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ يُخْرِجُهُم مِّنَ ٱلظُّلُمَٰتِ إِلَى ٱلنُّورِ

“Allah is the ally of those who believe. He brings them out of the depths of darkness into the light.”

Surah Baqarah Ayah 257

That Ramadan, my family decided I should learn Arabic from a local Syrian lady. Sister Muna lived in a small trailer home with her husband, two sons and a 3-year old daughter, whom she lovingly called “Habibti” (My Beloved). She had a round face with kind eyes, and was soft-spoken. I felt comfortable with her immediately.

She began by teaching me conversational Arabic. “Ana Naureen”, “I am Naureen.” “Ana min Amreeka”, “I am from America.” This continued for a few weeks—but I was in the middle of Arkansas! I didn’t know any other Arabs, what good was this going to do me?

So one afternoon, I stopped our lesson.

“Sister Muna? I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“Do what, habibti?” she asked me with the same affection she showed her daughter.

“I don’t want to learn how to speak Arabic. I don’t know when I’ll ever use it.”

She furrowed her brows and looked at me with concern in her eyes.

“I want to read that book over there,” as I pointed to the thick, ornate book sitting on her coffee table.

“You want to read the Qur’an?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Yes, I want to know what it says. All my life, everything has been ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, because the Qur’an says.’ I want to read it and find out what it says for myself.”

Her eyes lit up and a smile formed at the corners of her lips.

“But I just want you to know, I can’t read very well,” I continued, timidly. “My mom has been sick most of my life, and everyone was just busy taking care of her, and I didn’t like going to Sunday School because they would put me in Qur’an classes by age group, and I would feel so embarrassed that I couldn’t read like the other kids, so I stopped going.”

“Don’t worry,” she assured me. “Let’s begin with the basics.”

Because of my dysfunctional upbringing, my mother’s mental illness, combined with limited Islamic resources in rural Arkansas, my Arabic reading skills were very elementary, to say the least. However, it wasn’t long before we were opening the Qur’an. I would read the Arabic, she would correct my mistakes, then I would read the English meaning, and she would give me tafsir, the meaning of the verses.

It took us 5 months to get through Surah Baqarah and the start of Surah Imran. As she would give me the tafsir, I would ask questions. What does Allah say about people who’ve never heard of Islam? Will those people go to Hell? Why are some people tested with hardship and not others? Is he an angry God? She answered my questions with clear logic, and used Allah’s own Words from the Qur’an as evidence to support her claims.

I knew Islam was the Truth. It was logical. One God, no partners. All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Seeing, All-Hearing. Merciful, not cruel. Of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an, all but one begin with “Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim” (In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful). So why wasn’t I taught the Mercy of God? The Qur’an, the words of God Himself, told me who He really was, not the cruel, vengeful God I was made to assume.

لَا تَا۟يْـَٔسُوا۟ مِن رَّوْحِ ٱللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّهُۥ لَا يَا۟يْـَٔسُ مِن رَّوْحِ ٱللَّهِ إِلَّا ٱلْقَوْمُ ٱلْكَٰفِرُونَ

“Despair not of Allah’s Mercy. Certainly, no one despairs of Allah’s Mercy except those who disbelieve.”

Surah Yusuf Ayah 87

I was different now. I had a new outlook on life, on my world. I had found the Truth, and I had peace in my life, in my heart. My family saw the changes in me, and everything was good. But my time with Sister Muna was now over.