Saturday, December 26, 2009

“From Convent to Convert” By Umm Abdul-Karim Yahya

About the Author: Umm Abdul-Karim Yahya is the mother of Shaykh Abdul-Karim Yahya (student of Habib Umar bin Hafiz and Dar al Mustafa graduate). Umm Abdul-Karim converted to Islam at the age of 70. She is a student of knowledge and currently lives in Tarim, Yemen with her son.

It is difficult to know where to begin to talk about my conversion to Islam… Since I was 70 years old at the time, one could call it a long road.

When I was a child, our family attended the equivalent of the Methodist Church (Protestant) in the United States. We were faithful church-goers and had a personal relationship with the pastor.
Later in life, when I was a teen-ager, I became an Anglican (Episcopalian) through the influence of my brother-in-law and other Anglican friends. My attendance of Sunday church was spotty toward the end of my teens.

I graduated from nursing school and went to an Indian hospital in the north of Manitoba, Canada. While there, I met many French-Canadian priests and nuns who were very kind to me. Mainly through a nun named Sister Mary Arthur, I became interested in Catholicism. After I returned to Sautheen Manito lea from the north, I met an Irish Catholic family that I lived with in Brondos, Manitoba and converted to Catholicism. When I was twenty eight years old, after working at various jobs in Brandon and Winnipgo, a friend and I decided to go to California to escape the bitter winter and have a bit of an adventure. We settled in the Bay Area, living in Oakland. After about a year, my friend left to go home to Canada but I stayed behind. Shortly after that, I met some women from a lay religious group called “Our Lady of the Way.” I had become a dedicated Catholic—going to mass every day and saying the rosary every night. Life with this group was identical to the life of a man in a religious convent. The women took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but did not live in community but rather like ordinary lay people.

I joined this group. My motivation for doing so was two-fold. First, I did not see myself finding a man I would want to marry and secondly, I wanted to be of service to other people in a meaningful way. Life with this organization had its ups and downs.

Our Mother Superior was pretty much a ‘control freak’ who oversaw our carrying out of our vows with a magnifying glass. I was with the group for six years before I decided to leave. Many of the women who joined were women who had tried to lead regular religious lives but were not successful in it—yet still craved it. There was a fair amount of dysfunction there that made me uneasy and the whole modus operandi seemed to be keeping the rules and not serving other people in the church…so I left.

I continued to be a practicing Catholic. By this time, I was in my late 30’s. Now I decided that I wanted to get married and have a child. I met and married my son’s (Shaykh Abdul-Karim Yahya) father who worked in the same hospital as I did. We were married for 3 years before Abdul-Karim was born. In the meantime having encountered a lot of racist tendencies in the Church (Abdul-Karim’s father is African-American) I decided I could no longer embrace Catholicism.

I continued to believe in one God seeing him mostly in my love of the natural world. In the meantime when AK (as we call him) was 3 years old, I got divorced after 6 years of marriage. I became more and more politically active in my union, anti-war and anti-American imperialism work and in progressive politics in Berkeley. During this time, I developed friendships with and worked with many workers in other unions in the hospital where I worked. These friendships last to this day.
I found myself identifying and feeling close to the less elite workers—laundry workers, kitchen workers, nurse aides and the like. They were more grounded in the working class values I espoused than many of my fellow nurses.

In 1991, the more labor-oriented group of nurses in my union were able to oust the “professional” elitist element from power. It was a very elevating experience for me to have helped with this takeover of power. So for close to 10 years I happily worked to promote this new leadership. However then megalomania reared its ugly head in the nurses of the executive director in power in my union.
Our more worker oriented faction conducted an honorable election campaign to retake our organization. Those in power used the dirty tricks method of electioneering and won! I was broken hearted—it was as if my world fell apart.

In the meantime, my son had become a Muslim and married and had children. I visited the family in Syria and then Yemen from 1996 to now. I could see that they lived very good lives and had become more interested in Islam and less interested in materialism—remarkably so. I also met many other Muslims whose lives I admired.

In 1999 to 2000 my three brothers died. My sister to whom I was very close had died in 1980. My mortality was staring me in the face and it was frightening. Of course, all my family and many other Muslims had been making du’a for me. So June 2, 2001, I took my shahada with Shaykh Nuh’s wife.
It is remarkable that my life changed instantaneously. I became a more tranquil, less angry person right away. I, of course, am still learning to be a Muslim with a great deal of help from family and friends. Allah answered my prayers and there were mini- miraculous events after I converted.
In summary, it seems that my embrace of Islam is mainly due to the Muslims that Allah sent my way to show me a new way to live. Not so much that I loved the doctrine but the example I saw in other Muslims.

I now feel that my role may be as a bridge between left progressives and Muslims. In fact, all of the times that I changed my religious affiliation, it was because I was influenced by the example of people I met. So, in the dawah, my advice to people is to simply be good person, do the best you can, and try to embody the teachings of Islam in your daily actions.

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