The difficulty that Aminah Assilimi had to go through and the sacrifice that she had to make for the sake of her conviction and faith is almost unheard of. There are few who could rely so much on Allah as she did, standing firm and meeting the challenges, making sacrifices, and yet maintaining a positive posture …writes Mushfiqur Rahman.
It all started with a computer glitch.
She was a Southern Baptist girl, a radical feminist, and a broadcast journalist. She was a girl with an unusual caliber, who excelled in school, received scholarships, ran her own business, and was competing with professionals and getting awards all this while she was going to college. Then one day a computer error happened that made her take up a mission as a devout Christian. Eventually, however, it resulted into something opposite and changed her life completely around.
It was 1975 when for the first time computer was used to pre-register for a class in her college. She was working on her degree in Recreation. She pre-registered for a class and then went to Oklahoma City to take care of a business. Her return was delayed and she came back to college two weeks into the class. Making up the missed work was no problem for her, but she was surprised to find that the computer mistakenly registered her for a Theatre class, a class where students would be required to perform in front of others. She was a very reticent girl and she was horrified to think about performing in front of others. She could not drop the class for it was too late to do so. Failing the class was also not a choice, for she was receiving a scholarship that was paying for her tuition and receiving an ‘F’ would have jeopardized it.
Advised by her husband, she went to her teacher to work out some other alternative to performing, such as preparing costumes, etc. Assured by the teacher that he would try to help her, she went to the next class and was shocked by what she saw. The class was full of Arabs and “camel jockeys”. That was enough for her. She came back home and decided not to go back to the class anymore. It was not possible for her to be in the middle of Arabs. “There was no way I was going to sit in a room full of dirty heathens!”
Her husband was calm as usual. He pointed out to her that God has a reason for everything and that she should think about it more before quitting. Besides, there was the scholarship that was paying her tuition. She went behind locked doors for 2 days to think about it. When she came out, she decided to continue the class. She felt that God gave her a task to convert the Arabs into Christianity.
Thus she found herself with a mission to accomplish. Throughout the class, she would be discussing Christianity with her Arab classmates. “I proceeded to explain to them how they would burn in the fires of hell for all eternity, if they did not accept Jesus as their personal savior. They were very polite, but did not convert. Then, I explained how Jesus loved them and had died on the cross to save them from their sins. All they had to do was accept him into their hearts.” They still did not convert, and so she decided to do something else: “I decided to read their own book to show to them that Islam was a false religion and Mohammed was a false God”.
At her request, one student gave her a copy of the Qur’an and another book on Islam. With these two books she started on her research, which she was to continue for the next one and half years. She read the Qur’an fully and another fifteen books on Islam. Then she came back to the Qur’an and re-read it. During her research, she started taking notes that she found objectionable and which she would be able to use to prove that Islam was a false religion.
Unconsciously, however, she was changing from within which did not escape the attention of her husband. “I was changing, just in little ways but enough to bother him. We used to go to the bar every Friday and Saturday, or to a party, and I no longer wanted to go. I was quieter and more distant.” She stopped drinking [alcohol] and eating pork. Her husband suspected her of having an affair with another man, for “it was only for a man that a woman changes”. Ultimately, she was asked to leave, and she soon found herself living in a separate apartment.
Throughout these times, she continued studying Islam and although she was changing subtly from within, she remained a devout Christian. Then one day, there was a knock on her door. It was a man in traditional Muslim robe, who appeared to her as a “man in a long white night gown with a red and white checkered table cloth on his head”. His name was Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik and he was accompanied by three other men in similar dress. She was very offended by Muslim men coming to her in nightgowns and pajamas. She was further shocked when Abdul-Aziz told her that he understood that she wanted to be a Muslim. She replied that she was a Christian and she did not have any plan to become a Muslim. However, she had some questions to ask if they had the time.
At her invitation, they came inside. She now brought up the questions and objections that she noted down while she was researching. “I will never forget his name”, she said of Abdul-Aziz who proved to be a very patient and soft-mannered person. “He was very patient and discussed every question with me. He never made me feel silly or that a question was stupid.” Abdul-Aziz listened to every question and objection and explained it within the proper context. “He explained that Allah had told us to seek knowledge and questions were one of the ways to accomplish that. When he explained something, it was like watching a rose open petal by petal, until it reached its full glory. When I told him that I did not agree with something and why, he always said I was correct up to a point. Then he would show me how to look deeper and from different directions to reach a fuller understanding.”
It would not be long before she would externally submit to what she had already been submitting to internally during the last one and half years. Later in that same day, this Southern Baptist girl would declare in front of Abdul-Aziz and his companions: “I bear witness that there is no god but God and Mohammed is His Messenger.” It was May 21, 1977.
Conversion to Islam, or to any other religion for that matter, is not always a simple thing to do. Except for a few fortunate ones, a new Muslim usually face consequences. The convert may face isolation from family and friends, if not pressure to go back to the family faith. Sometimes, a convert may even face severe economic hardship, as in the case of those who are asked to leave the house because of converting to Islam. Some converts are fortunate to continue to be well respected by family and friends, but most of them face minor to severe hardship especially during the first few years after the conversion.
But the difficulty that Aminah Assilimi had to go through and the sacrifice that she had to make for the sake of her conviction and faith is almost unheard of. There are few who could rely so much on Allah as she did, standing firm and meeting the challenges, making sacrifices, and yet maintaining a positive posture and influencing people around with the beauty of what she found and believed in.
She lost most of her friends, for she was “no fun anymore”.
Her mother did not accept her becoming a Muslim and hoped that it was a temporary zeal and that she would soon grow out of it.
Her “mental health expert” sister thought that she lost her mind. She attempted to put her in a mental health institution.
Her father was a calm and wise man. People would come to him for advice and he could comfort anyone in distress. But when he heard that his daughter became a Muslim, he loaded his double-barrel shotgun and started on his way to kill her. “It is better that she be dead rather than suffering in the deepest of Hell”, he said.
She was now without friends and without family.
She soon started wearing hijab. The day she put it on, she was denied her job. She was now without family, friends, and job. But her greatest sacrifice was yet to come.
She and her husband both loved each other very much. But while she was studying Islam, her husband misunderstood her for her apparent changes. She became quieter and stopped going to the bar. Her changes were visible to him and he suspected her of having affair with another man, for whom she must have been changing. She could not explain to him what was happening. “There was no way to make him understand what was changing me because I did not know.” Eventually he asked her to leave and she started living separately.
After she openly accepted Islam, it went worse. A divorce was now inevitable. This was a time when Islam was little known, much less understood for what it is. She had two little children whom she loved dearly and whose custody should have rightfully be given to her. But in a grave violation of justice, she was denied their custody just because she became a Muslim. Before giving the formal verdict, the judge offered her a harsh choice: either renounce Islam and get custody of the children, or keep Islam and leave the children. She was given 20 minutes to make that decision.
She loved her children very dearly. It is perhaps the worst nightmare that a mother can have: asked to willfully leave her child – not for one day, month, or year, but forever. On the other hand, how could she keep the Truth away from her children and live as a hypocrite? “It was the most painful 20 minutes in my life”, she said in an interview. Those of us who are mothers and fathers, especially of young children, little imagination is needed to feel the pain and torment that she must have passed every second in those 20 minutes. What added further to her pain was that according to doctors, she could never bear another child because of certain complications. “I prayed like I had never done before … I knew that there was no safer place for my children to be than in the hands of Allah. If I denied Him, there would be no way in the future to show my children the wonders of being with Allah.”
She decided to retain Islam. Her two dear children one little boy and one little girl were taken away from her and given to her ex-husband.
For a mother, is there a sacrifice greater than this a sacrifice that is done for no material reason but only for faith and conviction? and counseling.