Description: An African American finds Islam.
By Justin L. Peyton
Published on 16 Nov 2009 - Last modified on 23 Mar 2010
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> Stories of New Muslims
My name is Justin Peyton and I am a 29-year-old African
American from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.† I grew up in a loving, two-parent,
middle-class household with three siblings.†
Growing up, my family and I identified ourselves as
Christians, but we were never members of a church, nor did we attend Sunday
services or other activities.† The extent of religious expression in our home
was celebrating Christmas.
Nevertheless, both of my parents set definitive
boundaries for good conduct and character to which I was expected to adhere.†
Given the state of marriage and family in American society today, I am grateful
to God for this blessing.
In addition, my parents' interest in the histories and
cultures of other regions of the world created an environment of general
tolerance, respect, and admiration for people whose customs and beliefs were
different from my own.† Both of these factors would greatly contribute to my
future acceptance of Islam.
If I had to identify one single event as the starting
point for my journey to Islam, it would have to be the tragic events of 9/11.† After
months of seeing very unflattering media coverage about Islam and Muslims, it
occurred to me that the negative portrait being painted did not coincide with
the experiences I had with Muslim classmates, neighbors and others, growing up
It also occurred to me that despite knowing Muslims, I
had never actually bothered to take the time to learn about their faith.
So, with the open-mindedness instilled in me by my
parents, I decided to research some facts about Islam in order to reconcile the
apparent disparity between my personal experiences and media coverage.
Being a college student at the time, the first place I
went for information is the Internet, and I eventually settled on one
particular website that was geared primarily toward non-Muslims.
Over the course of several months, I progressed from
reading introductory articles on the basic belief and practices of Muslims, to
more in-depth topical pieces on belief in God, His prophets, His books,
Judgment Day, and so on, as well as reading about practices like prayer,
fasting, hajj, and so on.
The site also had articles on the place of family,
marriage in Islam, as well as conversion stories like this one.†††
Spurred to learn more, I went to a local bookstore,†
purchased a copy of the Quran, and began to read.† I could spend pages listing
which information struck me most and why, but suffice it to say that everything
that I read made intrinsic sense to me.
After a few more months I decided that reading and
learning about Islam on my own was not enough, so I searched to find any nearby
I contacted the closest mosque, which was about 45 miles
away, spoke to their president, and arranged a time to visit and discuss Islam
with local Muslims.
On the appointed day, I showed up and spent a great deal
of time talking to a very helpful brother.† Unbeknownst to me, the information
he shared permeated my heart.
During my second visit, in late summer of 2002, it
dawned on me that I believed that Islam was the truth, so right then and there,
I took my Testimony of Faith and spent the whole weekend at the mosque learning
what was necessary for me to perform the ritual prayers on my own when I
returned to school.
That community was wonderful, and had I stayed in the
vicinity, I am sure that I would have received a lot of support adjusting to my
life as a new Muslim.† But that was not to be.
Prior to the events of 9/11, I had developed an interest
in the military, and continued discussions with local armed forces recruiters,
concurrent with the exploration of Islam that would lead to my conversion.
Within two month of accepting Islam I also signed papers
to join the Marine Corps, and that winter, after graduation, I was off to boot
Looking back on that part of my life, I am grateful for
the skills I gained and experiences I had during the course of my service.† But
in retrospect, the timing between these two events was less than ideal.
I found that as a new Muslim, the nature of military
life was not conducive to helping me find my bearings in this religion.† For
instance, the pace and schedule of entry-level training made it extremely
difficult, if not impossible, for me to fulfill basic tenants like praying the
prayers in their allotted time or fasting Ramadan.
Even after leaving training, I was located in an area of
the U.S.† with no Muslim community, which prevented me from developing my
faith.† It wasn't until some three years into my service that I met another
practicing Muslim service member who would be able to teach me both about Islam
and how to navigate military life as a Muslim.† May God reward him for his
After completing my military service in the summer of
2007, I moved back to Philadelphia, became an active member of a local mosque,
and was blessed with the ability to obtain a job at the local chapter of the
Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a non-profit civil rights and
advocacy organization for Muslims.
The two years I spent as a part of the Philadelphia
Muslim community and an employee of CAIR-PA was a tremendous learning
experience that really spurred my development and whetted my appetite for more.
And that leads me to where I am now, an Islamic
chaplaincy student at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, pursuing its combined
Masters of Arts in Islamic studies, Christian-Muslim relations and Graduate
Certificate in Islamic chaplaincy.