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In The name of Allah,The Most Merciful,The Most gracious

Imam Shortage Hits U.S. Mosques As Muslim Population Increases

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In The name of Allah,The Most Merciful,The Most gracious

I Am a Muslim Because of 9/11

Ms. Drugge, my 8th grade math teacher, was explaining that the model we were dissecting was called a parabola. In an instant, our vice principal ran into the room and exclaimed that our country was under attack. Little did I know that this Sept. 11 morning would define the rest of my life.

In the wake of the attacks, my feelings of anxiety and concern soon turned into intense nationalism and pride. Aspirations for Harvard and Stanford took a back seat as I looked up the entrance requirements for West Point. I wanted to be a part of the solution. An American flag was placed alongside my Jerry Rice, Cris Carter and Michael Jordan posters. I could not sit on the sidelines as my country was attacked. I soon realized, however, that my nation was not the only institution that was attacked that grim morning.

As the days turned into months, the attacks of 9/11 settled in. The news would describe the terrorists as Muslim men from Muslim countries with Muslim beards and Muslim intentions. I became more cognizant of my environment and how my peers perceived my faith. When my mom would pick me up from baseball practice, I noticed uneasy eyes directed at her headscarf. During Ramadan, when I fasted through lunch, friends began commenting on how I was “terrorizing my body.” Our country was uniting together against a common enemy, and I became the enemy because of the faith in my heart.

The next years would be the most challenging of my life. As a 13-year-old, I wanted nothing more than to fit in with my surroundings. Being a devout Muslim certainly wouldn’t help. I instructed my mom to pick me up 15 minutes after practice was over so my teammates wouldn’t know that she wore a head scarf. During Ramadan, when I fasted, I went to the library instead of the lunchroom, hoping to go unnoticed by my classmates. I was ashamed of my Islamic identity and felt that others couldn’t see me as an American because of it.

These experiences forced me to reflect on my faith. Being born into this faith would not be enough; I would have to believe in it. If I didn’t, Islam would be tucked into a corner of my life, away from the sight of others. The more I read, challenged and questioned, the more I was propelled to become the best citizen I could be. To care for those in need, to positively contribute to my community, and to sponsor equality and justice, Islam made me into a better American.

Years after 9/11, I learned in math class that the bottom-most point on a parabola is known as an inflection point — the point where the slope of the line goes from negative to positive. Sept. 11 was my inflection point, without which I would not be the Muslim I am today.

9/11 Sparked My Interest in Islam

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In The name of Allah,The Most Merciful,The Most gracious

9/11 Sparkled my Interest in Islam ! 

My name is Justin Peyton and I am a 29-year-old African American fromPhiladelphia,Pennsylvania. I grew up in a loving, two-parent, middle-class household with three siblings.

Growing up, my family and I self-identified as Christians, but we were never members of a church, nor did we attend Sunday services or other activities. The extent of religious expression in our home was celebrating Christmas.

Nevertheless, both of my parents set definitive boundaries for good conduct and character to which I was expected to adhere. Given the state of marriage and family in American society today, I am grateful to God for this blessing.

In addition, my parents’ interest in the histories and cultures of other regions of the world created an environment of general tolerance, respect, and admiration for people whose customs and beliefs were different from my own. Both of these factors would greatly contribute to my future acceptance of Islam.

If I had to identify one single event as the starting point for my journey to Islam, it would have to be the tragic events of 9/11. (Now before anyone gets spooked, thinking that I’m a radicalized American convert and forwards this story to the FBI, give me the benefit of the doubt and continue reading.)

After months of seeing very unflattering media coverage about Islam and Muslims, it occurred to me that the negative portrait being painted did not coincide with the experiences I had with Muslim classmates, neighbors and others, growing up in Philadelphia.

It also occurred to me that despite knowing Muslims, I had never actually bothered to take the time to learn about their faith.

So, with the open-mindedness instilled in me by my parents, I decided to research some facts about Islam in order to reconcile the apparent disparity between my personal experiences and media coverage.

Being a college student at the time, the first place I went for information is the Internet, and I eventually settled on one particular website that was geared primarily toward non-Muslims.

Over the course of several months, I progressed from reading introductory articles on the basic belief and practices of Muslims, to more in-depth topical pieces on belief in God, His prophets, His books, Judgment Day, and so on, as well as reading about practices like prayer, fasting, hajj, and so on.

Spurred to learn more, I went to a local bookstore,  purchased a copy of the Quran, and began to read. I could spend pages listing which information struck me most and why, but suffice it to say that everything that I read made intrinsic sense to me.

After a few more months I decided that reading and learning about Islam on my own was not enough, so I searched to find any nearby mosques.

I contacted the closest mosque, which was about 45 miles away, spoke to their president, and arranged a time to visit and discuss Islam with local Muslims.

On the appointed day, I showed up and spent a great deal of time talking to a very helpful brother. Unbeknownst to me, the information he shared permeated my heart.

During my second visit, in late summer of 2002, it dawned on me that I believed that Islam was the truth, so right then and there, I took my Testimony of Faith and spent the whole weekend at the mosque learning what was necessary for me to perform the ritual prayers on my own when I returned to school.

That community was wonderful, and had I stayed in the vicinity, I am sure that I would have received a lot of support adjusting to my life as a new Muslim. But that was not to be.

Prior to the events of 9/11, I had developed an interest in the military, and continued discussions with local armed forces recruiters, concurrent with the exploration of Islam that would lead to my conversion.

Within two month of accepting Islam I also signed papers to join the Marine Corps, and that winter, after graduation, I was off to boot camp.

Looking back on that part of my life, I am grateful for the skills I gained and experiences I had during the course of my service. But in retrospect, the timing between these two events was less than ideal.

I found that as a new Muslim, the nature of military life was not conducive to helping me find my bearings in this religion. For instance, the pace and schedule of entry-level training made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for me to fulfill basic tenants like praying the prayers in their allotted time or fasting Ramadan.

Even after leaving training, I was located in an area of theU.S.with no Muslim community, which prevented me from developing my faith. It wasn’t until some three years into my service that I met another practicing Muslim service member who would be able to teach me both about Islam and how to navigate military life as a Muslim. May God reward him for his efforts.

After completing my military service in the summer of 2007, I moved back toPhiladelphia, became an active member of a local mosque, and was blessed with the ability to obtain a job at the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a non-profit civil rights and advocacy organization for Muslims.

The two years I spent as a part of the Philadelphia Muslim community and an employee of CAIR-PA was a tremendous learning experience that really spurred my development and whetted my appetite for more.

And that leads me to where I am now, an Islamic chaplaincy student at Hartford Seminary inConnecticut, pursuing its combined Masters of Arts in Islamic studies, Christian-Muslim relations and Graduate Certificate in Islamic chaplaincy.


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