Nusrat Jahan Bashir
I was born into a Jewish family, the middle child of three girls. My mother’s grandfather was a Rabbi and she was raised in an Orthodox home; however, my two sisters and I were raised as Reform Jews. Although we were a liberal Jewish family, we observed all the Jewish holidays and I was very attached to the Jewish faith.
Many middle children take on the persona of the peacemaker and I believe I fit that description. For the most part I was a compliant child and that, combined with my basically quiet nature, often led to my being overlooked. I had a loving family but there were many times that I felt a stranger in my family – as if I didn’t belong. In fact I would look through my parents’ drawers for adoption papers that, to me, could be the only explanation for why I was so different. At night, while everyone else was sleeping, these perceived feelings of isolation and of being unloved often led to me crying and praying to God for His help. I relate this only because I feel that one of the things that led me to Islam was these heartfelt prayers.
Being a middle child, I was either too young for the privileges of my older sister or too old for the indulgences of the younger one. As a result I developed a keen dislike for injustice at a young age and a strong desire for equality. Growing up in Miami, Florida in the 1950’s, I was exposed to quite a lot of injustice. In those days there were separate bathrooms for black and white people; separate water fountains; separate movie theaters and even a separate beach. My schools were not integrated until my Junior or Senior year in High School and these inequalities greatly disturbed me.
I attended college in Madison, Wisconsin in the late 1960’s, which were a time of questioning and change in the United States. There were protests against the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and movements for social change. It was during this time that I began to question my faith – was I Jewish because of my own beliefs or because I was raised a Jew? It was also during this time that I met the man who would later become my husband. We began dating in 1969 and when I told my parents they were extremely upset because not only was he not Jewish, but mainly because he was an African American. I had never blatantly disobeyed my parents before but my sense of justice and equality would not allow me to accept their disapproval on the basis of his race.
Although my husband was raised in the Baptist Church he had no interest in Christianity. Sunday was said to be the most segregated day of the week and he saw firsthand the hypocrisy of the faith. So the two of us began to research other faiths, hoping to find a religion that was universal in its teachings and preached true brotherhood. We read books on Buddhism and Hinduism and attended a Bahai meeting but nothing seemed to attract us. Then one weekend my husband went to visit his family in Milwaukee and happened to run into an acquaintance who unbeknownst to my husband, was an Ahmadi. He invited my husband to the Ahmadi Mission House and gave him a copy of The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, written by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as). My husband read the book, which outlined the teachings of Islam in such a beautiful and compelling way that hearts were touched. He shared the book with me and I felt that this religion was exactly what I had been looking for. We later learned that the author, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the Promised Messiah for the Latter Days. Regarding this book, which was originally a speech, the Promised Messiah said, “Everyone who listens to this paper from the beginning to the end, to my treatment of all the five themes prescribed for the conference, will, I am sure, develop a new faith and will perceive a new light shining within himself and will acquire a comprehensive commentary on the Holy Word of God.” And this was the effect the book had on both my husband and myself. A few weeks after my husband attended several meetings he was quickly ready to convert; however, I was much more cautious and afraid.
After many prayers asking for guidance and for God to show me if this was the truth, I had an amazing dream.
In the dream, my husband and I were holding hands and walking up a mountain. It was as if we were participating in a type of pilgrimage with multitudes of people walking up the mountain, some climbing on all fours. While climbing up, we passed those who had made the pilgrimage and were headed down the mountain. Everyone, including my husband and I, was reciting Allahu Akbar(God is Great). Upon reaching the top of the mountain, we came to a large body of water. We knew that, like the other pilgrims, we were to jump off the mountain into the water; however, separating the mountain and the water was a huge vacuum. If one missed reaching the water, they would fall into that endless chasm. Holding hands we jumped together and landed safely in the water, continually reciting Allahu Akbar. Slowly, a darkness began to move from the edges of our environment inward until suddenly I was alone, surrounded by total darkness and suspended in emptiness. An unknown force lifted me and began to move me slowly through this emptiness while bright round balls of light began to appear. The feeling I had was totally euphoric. The uncontrollable force with which I was propelled began to move me faster and faster, while more and more orbs of light flashed by me. Finally the speed was so great that I awoke with a start. The dream had such a profound effect on me that I knew the decision I had made to accept Islam was the right and true one.
Through Islam I found the religion that preached true brotherhood and equality. The religion that taught equality of races and equality of all people regardless of their ethnicity, nationality or socio-economic condition.
Not only did I find the social justice that my husband and I were looking for, but my conversion also answered some questions that had been unanswered through what I had been taught at my Synagogue:
- Being raised Jewish, I believed in a Monotheistic God and was never attracted to Christianity because of its belief in the Trinity; however, I often had questions about Jesus. I knew he was not God but felt that he must have some significance, considering the devotion and number of his followers. Through Islam I came to understand Jesus’asrole and importance as a beloved Prophet of God and the Messiah for the Jews.
- I had been raised with no real belief in an afterlife so wondered what happened to us after death. In Islam I learned that this life is temporary, an opportunity for us to do good deeds and earn a place in Paradise or to do evil and merit punishment in the next life. It’s important to note that in Islam we believe that even in punishment God is Ever-Merciful and after reformation of the soul, even the evildoer will eventually be admitted to Paradise.
- Formerly I had been taught God stopped speaking directly to man and I wondered why God would stop speaking to man, who remained ever in need of Him. Also, how did one develop a relationship with God? Most importantly, I found that God still speaks to man as He has always done and that man can develop a personal relationship with Him in this very life.
Unfortunately my conversion contributed to my being estranged from my family for 15 years; however, by the grace of Allah, we now have (and have had for the past 34 years) a very strong and loving relationship.
In closing I want to express that I don’t feel I deserted Judaism. I feel very blessed that I was raised with the strong belief in One God and was raised with good morals and values. I view my conversion to Islam as actually completing and restoring my faith. The Qur’an says, “This day have I perfected your religion for you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion” and I feel extremely blessed and grateful to be a part of accepting the final religion meant for mankind.