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From Christianity to Islam - A Journey of



By Tara Dooley, Chicago Tribune




In retrospect, Carole Sturm traces her conversion to Islam to a prayer she uttered as a

15-year-old in a Roman Catholic church. It was the appeal of a spiritual teenager,

raised in the church, the plea of a young woman who believed in God but struggled with

the Catholic mysteries of faith and forgiveness. “I said, `God, show me what this means

or show me something else,’” Sturm, 34, said, recalling an afternoon nearly 20 years

ago in Tulsa, Okla. “After that, I figured I was going to hell. I mean, I was 15.” It took

about five years, but God answered her prayer and showed her Islam, Sturm said. “It

was a slow dawning,” said the Arlington, Texas, resident and computer systems analyst

for Sabre Group, based in Ft. Worth. “It wasn’t like I woke up one night and said, `This

is it.’” In converting to Islam, Sturm joined a growing number of Americans who switch

to faiths that have been imported to the predominantly Christian United States. And like

many others who convert, Sturm said she found that her new religion allowed her a

spirituality and an understanding of God that previously seemed elusive.


National Islamic groups estimate that there are more than 6 million Muslims in the United

States, placing the religion’s membership ahead of several of the nation’s mainline

denominations. There is no formal or elaborate conversion ritual to the faith. Someone

who becomes Muslim must simply declare a belief in one God and recognise Mohammed

as a messenger of God, Sturm said. But like Christianity, attracting converts is

important in the religion, especially as Muslims choose to live in non-Islamic states, said

Yvonne Haddad, a professor of Islamic history at Georgetown University. “It is a

missionary religion,” she said. “In the 20th Century, (conversion) has assumed a more

important role.” In many places in the United States, the Muslim community consists of

families from Islamic states worldwide as well as American converts.


For Cherie Lyle, the decision to convert to Islam from the Seventh- day Adventist

Church was prompted in part by the assortment of races and ethnicities she

encountered during Friday afternoon prayers at a mosque on Center Street in Arlington.

“I saw this sea of Muslims that ranged from the blackest black to the whitest white,

and what came to me was, This is what heaven must be like,” Lyle said. Lyle’s journey

to Islam began when she happened on a television show about the five pillars, or basic

tenets, of Islam: a declaration of faith in the absolute oneness of God, prayers five

times a day, gifts to charity, fasting during the month of Ramadhan and a pilgrimage to

Makkah. Lyle, who had taught Sunday school in her church, said readings of the Qur’an

offered a believable way to understand God and an account of how to live as a Muslim.

The Christian Bible, and especially the writings of the Apostle Paul, had confounded her

with contradictions. “I had studied very deeply, but I always felt that the hard

questions went unanswered,” said Lyle, who is trained as a lawyer but now teaches at

Al-Hedayah Academy, an Islamic school in Ft.Worth. Although Sturm said that Islam

once seemed a foreign faith to her, it became increasingly familiar as she pursued a

degree in finance from the University of Oklahoma and met students from Islamic

countries who shared their knowledge, including the man she eventually married,

Shahzad Khan.


For Sturm, reading the Qur’an answered her questions of faith in a logical manner. Islam

did not require her to make leaps of faith, such as accepting Jesus as the son of God

and path to salvation, she said. “There is no way we can earn our way to heaven

without God’s mercy, but there is more responsibility on the shoulders of the person,”

she said of Islamic teachings. “That was important to me.” In addition to an emphasis

on personal responsibility, teachings on the importance of the family and morality also

appealed to her, she said. Watching his daughter convert to Islam did not feel right,

said Sturm’s father, Charles Sturm. But he came to accept her decision when he saw

how she, Khan and their two children lived their religion. “I would not have advised my

daughter to do this,” Charles Sturm said. “When she followed the tenets of the Catholic

faith, she was a good woman. (But) I have no doubt that she is a good woman now

that she is following the religion of Islam.”


Although the teachings of Islam may feel instinctively right to Carole Sturm, following all

of the customs is not always easy. Lyle and Sturm said they have struggled -to

different degrees -with the Islamic requirement that women cover their hair. Once she

made a declaration of faith, Lyle, 43, immediately took to wearing long, concealing

clothing and to covering her hair. But after she broke the custom for her sister’s

wedding, returning to the covering became more difficult. Now, she sometimes does not

cover her hair for business meetings, she said. Similarly, Sturm does not cover her hair

at work, where she often deals with Sabre’s clients, although she emphasized that the

company offers a good working environment for Muslims. “I just haven’t been able to

face the questions and the looks,” she said. “People do take you differently...It colours

how seriously they take you and what you say.” Despite their difficulties with dress

requirements, Lyle and Sturm underscored that the decision about what to cover and

when is a woman’s to make. Both women objected to critics who say Islam is

oppressive to women. Examples of extreme restrictions on women’s freedom to work or

even walk unaccompanied outside in some Islamic countries are cultural or political

impositions on Islam, they said. In fact, both said that Islam offers women reign over

their money and names. Requirements of modest dress are for both men and women,

and nothing prohibits sun dresses at home, Sturm said. For both Sturm and Lyle, Islam

showed them a way to understand God. “It was like seeing God without all the

baggage,” Lyle said.






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Last modified: March 31, 2001