Interviewer: Today we are joined by one of our sisters in Islam, sister Michaela Corning.
Assalamu`alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.
Sister Michaela: Wa`alaikum Assalam.
Interviewer: So sister, tell us a little bit about yourself and your upbringing and how you came to Islam.
Sister Michaela: OK, well, I was born in Washington, born and raised there. My family is a mixture of both Protestants and Catholics, religiously speaking.
Other Inspiring Journeys to Islam
Interviewer: When you were growing up, did you come from a very religious family?
Sister Michaela: Not my immediate family, but there was definitely something around me continually. But it’s not like, you know, I think my father growing up in a Catholic school where he had a negative impression about that, so he sort of geared away from religion in general. But we definitely grew up with a strong sense that there is a God and there is Creator and all that. And other values like integrity and honesty were very strong in my family. But they were not necessarily grounded on a religious foundation although we went to church, and attended mass and took part on all other Catholic rituals.
So I would say that in terms of the most religious Americans to the least I think we are somewhere in the middle where a lot of American families find themselves. So something in the tradition I didn’t find out till much later studying religion while we did certain things such as Easter for example! So we were not entirely religious. But I was actually born in Eastern Washington and when my parents were divorced in 1982 my sister and I and my mother moved out here. So since I was about 8 years old I lived in the Pacific Northwest.
Interviewer: So in these areas where you went to the university?
Sister Michaela: Yes I graduated from the University of Washington and I grew up mostly in Vashon Island which is an island that sits in between Tacoma and West Seattle and you have to get a fairy to get there. The island is very homogenous, mostly white middle class.
First Introduction to Islam
|I also remember distinctly asking her how come she didn’t have pictures of God on her wall|
I think that my first introduction to Islam was our neighbors because they were African-American and the African-American families in the island were the only Muslim families. And they had kids at my age and my sister’s age. So we used to play together and built forts in the woods together and all that kind of stuff. And when we would go to their house, there were just certain things about their life style because they were a practicing Muslim family that even as a small child, someone 10 or eleven years old, I noticed.
Interviewer: What are some of these things, if you can remember?
Sister Michaela: Well, one was that they didn’t eat pork, which at the time I just thought was just hotdogs because hotdogs were typically from pork in the 80s. And then going to their bedrooms I noticed that she didn’t have pictures on the walls of pop singers like Michael Jackson and Madonna and those people. And I asked her specifically why didn’t she have posters on the wall, because me as a child I did. I had all those pop stars and everything. And she said “Well our father taught us that we should idolize the prophets and not famous people.” So I thought “Oh, that’s an interesting concept”
I also remember distinctly asking her how come she didn’t have pictures of God on her wall, and in my mind it was Jesus. And she as a 10-11 year old, she told me we don’t think that God is a man. We don’t have pictures of God because we don’t know how He looks like and Jesus isn’t God. I thought also that was an interesting concept. And I remember distinctly her showing me her Quran and telling me “You should read that” and I was just like so amazed.
I mean ever since that, this is part of my personality. Ever since I was a small child, I’ve always been interested in people that were different than myself, like when I lived in Moses Lake many of my best friends were Hispanic, and me as someone very Aryan-Anglo looking I was always attracted to those people, just interested in them like their culture and everything. So the fact that Maryam could read the Quran it was just something very fascinating to me even as a small child, so those things stuck in my head.
Later when we got to the high school we didn’t socialize as much. It was a very small high school, so everyone was kind of friends with everybody but we were not as close and socialize as much together. But I remember her wearing Hijab. And we also played basketball in junior high and she wore like long sleeves underneath her uniform and long pants.
Interviewer: And how did the other students react to that?
|I defended her even though she wasn’t my best friend at the time|
Sister Michaela: Some people would say things about her and even though I wasn’t really super close to her, I still felt this desire and need to defend her. So I would say “Oh, she wears the Hijab because she is a woman now and that’s what women do” and that kind of stuff. I defended her even though she wasn’t my best friend at the time. But I still felt like it was sort of my duty. I mean really knowing their family and she always talked to me about a lot of other cool things like “Oh, do you know that we had dinner with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar” and I said like “Wow, you did?!” At the time I didn’t actually know who that was but I knew he was famous.
So that was my first introduction to Islam. It was just through knowing that family. There was actually another person who went to high school with us that was a friend of one of her brothers who is a couple years older than me. He converted to Islam too from knowing the family and now he lives in Kuwait actually, and works in their education systems or something. I mean that was the kind of family they were, very open and loving people. After I became Muslim I actually contacted their mom, Tayyeba, and just because I knew they are Muslims and I just wanted to reach out and she showed me the mosque.
Interviewer: Let me direct this a little bit. Let me ask you what were the interim steps that you came from having some idea and curiosity in Islam to find and you come to accepting Islam for yourself?
Sister Michaela: When I was seventeen, I ended up moving with my father and ended up going to a community college, it was a program that just started that year and I went to the college full-time.
One of the classes as a high school, as a senior student high school, I ended up taking a class called Middle Eastern history and my huge research paper that I did was on ancient Egyptian culture and just Middle East in general, and you can’t learn about the Middle East without learning about Islam...
(... To be continued In-Shaa-Allah …)
Watch Part 1 of Sister Michaela’s Journey to Islam
Related Links:Searching for the One True God Led Me to Islam
From a Normal Teenager to the Flag-Bearer of Islam
How to Tell Your Family You Are Muslim?
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Visiting a Mosque Helped Me Discover Islam