John Shannon is a Sociology major, and shares his personal journey on converting to Islam, as well as his identity as a Muslim American.
I was born to a fairly stereotypical middle class family in the Fall of 1996. Growing up in The East Valley of Phoenix, Arizona, I cannot say that my childhood and adolescence were particularly filled to brim with diversity. My Mother, however, a lawyer with a degree in political science and a concentration in Middle Eastern politics, always encouraged me to embrace multiculturalism and to always be an ally to those who are underrepresented or discriminated against. While most people I know grew up on Shel Silverstein, I grew up on Rumi. I can honestly attribute my curiosity for other cultures and faiths to my mother’s openness on the subject.
My mother is a Christian and My father an atheist, which made for an interesting family dynamic growing up. I have fond memories of Sunday School as a child, but somewhere along the line in my spiritual development, something changed. As I began to learn more about the religion that I was following, I started feeling more and more out of place. By the time I was eleven or twelve I had stopped going to church altogether.
Upon entering high school, my well of knowledge was significantly deepened. Through my own personal research, over the course of several months, I began to slowly embrace Buddhism. By the end of 2011 I had lost one of my closest friends to suicide, endured a nasty separation, and was diagnosed with a severe depression. Meditation was one of the few things that got me through what I still consider to be the most difficult year of my life.
As I continued to progress through high school, picking up knowledge along the way like a snowball down a hill, I began to develop an interest in the study of the Middle East. By my senior year I had read most of the Qur’an and the works of many Sufi poets. Through my reading, I began to understand that different religions are merely different ways of interpreting the same truth, and becoming closer to God. While I did not abandon Buddhist philosophy entirely, I began to heavily invest in learning about Islam and its message of peace and submission to God. Islam, to me, seemed simple and logical, two things I had not previously encountered. I felt what my mom referred to as a “calling” to embrace Islam.
In the Fall of 2015 I was in my second year of my college education and made a decision that would change my life for good. On October 19th I took my Shahadah with one of my closest friends as a witness. While I cannot be described as orthodox in any sense of the word, my official reversion to Islam was an important step on my spiritual journey.
In the months after my reversion, I learned firsthand just how difficult being Muslim in America can be. I have been called everything form “terrorist” to “race traitor.” People who I once thought were my friends have verbally attacked me for my religious status. To some degree, it feels as if I am white, but with an asterisk. It seems as if my “Muslim-ness” is now my overriding characteristic and drowns out every other aspect of my identity.
The reaction has not all been bad though. My family as well as my closest friends have been incredibly accepting and still love me all the same, as they acknowledge that my religion does not define me as a person. It is a part of me, and a large one at that. But it is not all I am. My journey towards becoming a Muslim was long, and at times difficult. But at the end of the day, I would not change a thing, as my faith has become inseparable from me and has given me a hand to help me through my life’s darkest days. I am a Muslim, and I wear that badge with honor.