‘There’s a picture of you with a shawl around your head. Why are you wearing that?’ I was scared to tell her.’: Daughter converts to Islam, keeps decision from her mom because she ‘didn’t want to hurt her feelings’

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“It’s true you don’t truly appreciate your parents until you’re an adult. My parents divorced when I was very young, and I was primarily raised by my mother in Kansas City. We had a lot of trying times growing up and I definitely tested the limits of my mother.

Little girl sits on couch with cat in her lap with her mother and father beside her who are now divorced
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood
Young girl smiles beside her mom
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood

I moved away to a new city for college and I was never included in the ‘party’ scene like most college students. Matter of fact, I have always felt uncomfortable around people who were under the influence. A couple years into my college experience, I started reflecting on what the purpose of life is. Which led me to research religions in general. I wasn’t raised in any particular religion. As most American Christians, I celebrated Christmas and Easter with family. I attended Church a few times with grandparents, but never had a strong religious upbringing so you could say I was confused when it came to religion and my belief in God. That was until I started studying Islam.

I only had a few friends of the faith, but really didn’t know much other than the fact that they didn’t ‘party’ or have premarital relationships. I was intrigued and needed to know more, so over the course of 2 years I read the English Quran translation and read as many books as I could. One night I was reading Quran and reflecting back on my own life and just thought, ‘this is what I believe.’

The journey of learning about Islam was done on my own. I didn’t reach out to my family because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I recently listened to a podcast geared towards American Muslims and convert Muslims, and one girl said that ‘it breaks our parents’ hearts’ when we change our religion or the way we were raised. That is exactly why I hid my newfound faith.

Mother smiles as she holds baby girl who has her thumb in her mouth
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood
Mother smiles beside young daughter who has bonnet on her head
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood

I converted to Islam, June 24, 2007 and I kept my decision from my mom because, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings and I didn’t know how she’d react when she found out. It was easy to hide living in another city while attending college, and I chose to not wear hijab in the beginning. I knew that wearing it was a huge decision and I didn’t want to take it lightly. I knew that once I put it on, I didn’t want to take it off.

7 months later, a new semester was starting. I was so focused on Islam, making my prayers on time and staying away from haram. BUT there was one thing missing. No one knew I was a practicing Muslim. So I made the decision to put the hijab on.

Woman who converted to Islam smiles with scarf around her head
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood

During my last semester in college, my friend and I decided we wanted to backpack Europe together after graduation and before starting our careers. I had never traveled outside the United States before, so I needed to apply for my first passport. Little did I know, they send the extra picture back to you, and that’s how my new identity was revealed to my mother.

I had sent in my application and a few weeks later, my mom called me to tell me there was an envelope in the mail for me. Not knowing what it was, I told her to go ahead and open it. My mom said, ‘it’s a picture of you with a shawl around your head. Why are you wearing that?’ My stomach turned. I explained to her that I converted to Islam and wear the hijab. I told her I was scared to tell her because I didn’t know how she’d react. I explained that Islam gives high importance to your mother. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated that the one most worthy of companionship is the mother three times before mentioning the father. Leaving that conversation over the phone, I felt a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. I was no longer living a secret life and thought I could be free with my mom now, or so I thought…

When others started learning about my conversion, they’d put bad thoughts into my mom’s head. She felt at ease and was completely fine with my decision, until others started telling her misconceptions about Islam. She would call me upset because someone told her women have to obey their husbands, Muslim men are abusive, men can marry more than one wife, etc. I was heartbroken. My mom and I had a difficult time. I tried to console her and explain to her the Islamic rulings the best I could, but it caused a lot of hardship the first few years. It got so difficult that I had to move in with my uncle and aunt for a while. I still spoke to my mom often and would see her at family gatherings, and eventually, I agreed to move back to her home. Hijab was the hardest because it was visual for her. So I agreed I wouldn’t wear it inside her home. It took time a while for my mom to come around to the idea of me being Muslim.

Over the course of a few years we had some difficulties with my faith, but nothing unlivable. I had a good daily routine. Work, gym and back home for dinner.

Woman who converted to Islam smiles in mirror selfie at gym
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood

I was an avid gym goer, arriving the same time every day after work. I began to get familiar with the same faces day after day, week after week. One day, I noticed a tall and handsome man wearing an athletic jacket with IRAQ written on the back along with the country flag. As the days went on, I could tell he noticed me as well. I mean, I was the ONLY hijabi in the gym, so I’m pretty sure EVERYONE noticed me for their own reasons.

After passing by each other for weeks, the tall handsome man stopped me. ‘Salaam Alaikum, where are you from?,” he asked in his broken English and strong accent. ‘Wa Alaikum Salaam, I’m from Kansas.’ My heart jumped out of my chest and I returned the ‘salaams’ back to him. He looked at me confused because he thought I was from an Arab country as I wore my solid black scarf to work out in. I explained to him that I converted to Islam.

Small talk that day lead to a full-on conversation lasting almost 2 hours, just standing in the gym not noticing anyone else around us. We were both from different worlds. And there was a STRONG language barrier between us, but that didn’t affect the instant attraction between us. Days and weeks went by with small talk each time we saw each other until one day, I was offered an invite to eat his moms traditional Iraqi food. I was very hesitant and nervous, but there was something calming about him so I accepted his invitation. Little did I know that 4 months later, I would be engaged to this man.

Woman who converted to Islam smiles beside boyfriend
Photo by Caitlin Claeys

We came from very different backgrounds, his English was very weak, we even used Google translate when we had a hard time getting our point across. One day I fell very ill. I was rushed to the Emergency Room with a severe kidney infection where I was admitted to the hospital. Moose (as my family calls him) learned I was ill and rushed to the hospital to be by my side. He even slept on the floor for two nights, because the hospital was so full they had no cots left. The next day I learned I needed surgery and Moose was there when I woke up. After seeing how much he cared for me, I knew he was ‘the one.’

Woman who converted to Islam smiles as she stands behind boyfriend resting head on his shoulder
Photo by Caitlin Claeys

After courting each other for a couple of months (because ‘dating’ in Islam is forbidden), we agreed to get married. There wasn’t much of a proposal, but we had an engagement party where we had our Islamic marriage contract performed. My mom thought things were moving ‘too fast’ because she didn’t know Moose well. After our engagement, my family got more time to get to know my new fiancé. He attended my grandpa’s birthday and other family festivities, and everyone grew to love him.

I don’t think my mom was ever comfortable about my decision of becoming Muslim, until I got married 5 years later. She learned that Muslim men aren’t abusive and controlling and what she saw in us was not in line with the misconceptions people believe about Muslims. My husband is very silly, he likes to joke and make everyone he cares about laugh.

Bride who converted to Islam stands beside groom
Photo by Mollie Hull
Bride who converted to Islam stands smiling beside her mother
Photo by Mollie Hull
Bride looks over to see her mother hug groom
Photo by Mollie Hull

Now we have been married going on 7 years and have two beautiful children together. My mother is a proud grandma and my best friend. We talk almost daily and FaceTime often. Even though we have gone through a lot of hardships in the beginning of my journey, we wouldn’t be where we are now if it weren’t for those hard times.”

Woman who converted to Islam sits on couch smiling with husband and two kids in selfie
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood
Woman who converted to Islam stands outside home holding daughter as she stands beside her parents
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood
Elderly man sits in chair with baby as young girl stands beside him and wife and daughter behind him
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood
Husband and wife stand outside holding their two children
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood
Husband and wife sit on porch with their son and daughter in their laps
Courtesy of Jodi Mahmood

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jodi Mahmood of Texas. You can follow her journey on InstagramSubmit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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