Islam is my choice: I pronounced the shahadah on Thanksgiving Day, 1972, in the city of Washington, DC. Often when I say I am Muslim by choice, both Muslims and non-Muslims ask why. This curiosity leads me to tell the same basic story because I hardly think my individual entry into the doors of Islam lights up any bulbs of excitement. That may be because no light bulbs went off for me at the time.
I was a seeker, raised in a loving Christian environment. I was close to my dad. We called him The Rev. As a Methodist minister my father led a fascinating life with his own light of faith. I witnessed him leading both his private and public life within that light. Imagine how devastating it would have been to hear him profess faith in public, but then do horrendous things in private.
I adored my father. I had my first experience of transcendence sitting in his lap. As a child I was deathly afraid of thunderstorms. I felt like there was a message being hurled at me for my shortcomings. Oddly, it was not the lightning—which could actually do some harm if it struck something—but the roaring noise of thunder that I found most upsetting. One evening, my father took me onto his lap and told me the biblical story of Noah’s Ark and the flood. He told me God’s promise never again to destroy the world by water. The symbol of that promise—he leaned in to whisper—is the rainbow. For a brief moment, I was suspended beyond the material world. Time stood still as joy and serenity flooded through me as if to confirm the divine promise.
As a teenager I began to look into more diverse expressions of faith. I also spent high school living with Jewish, Catholic, and Unitarian Universalist families. I pursued more of this religious diversity in my early years at university by studying Eastern faith traditions. By my second year, I had moved to a meditation ashram and began practising Buddhism. I still carry light from both of these earlier experiences of faith. From Buddhism I carry a profound experience of tranquillity and transcendence through daily meditation practices. Once a year I take myself off the beaten path to spend ten days in silent retreat with ten hours of meditation a day. From the Christianity of my father, I carry sincerity and love. Despite the benevolent patriarchy of my father, he bequeathed to me an enduring sense of Divine Love. I chose my Arabic name Wadud from the Loving God.