Kiersten Hellegers discusses her spiritual journey as a convert Muslim. A Unitarian Universalist growing up, she was raised with an open mind that was exposed to various religions. She reflects on her admiration of Islam early on, and how she views her role as a married middle class Muslim woman in American society. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“I like to think that… that this journey started, you know, like from the beginning of my life and it’s gonna continue. I like to think that my journey is a spiritual journey from becoming Muslim. I think it started when I first became exposed to different religions when I was a child. Growing up in- as a Unitarian Universalist in Massachusetts, my parents never told me that I had to believe in one thing. They never told me what I have to believe in, who I have to worship, anything like that, and they actually allowed me to be exposed to a lot of different religions. So as a Unitarian Universalist, one of the things you have to do as a child when you’re going through the Sunday school is you have to go to neighboring churches, temples, synagogues, so as a child I actually went to a mosque. And that was probably the first time that I ever was exposed to Islam in any way. And all I can remember from that was, like, being surprised how beautiful the mosque was. It was in Massachusetts–I think in Sharon, Massachusetts. I actually was taking some classes about Islam in college, and I began to think about Islam again. And I wasn’t considering it to be my religion. I wasn’t, you know, thinking that way, but I just thought, “wow, these people believe in something. They believe that their God is here for them, and they believe in that power.” And I thought that was really something interesting.
But it wasn’t until I kind of had reached my lowest level, like I had gone to the depths, like I had never seen myself in such a bad state, that I actually, you know, got down on my knees, and I- I put my head to the floor, and I said “God, guide me.” And I looked in the mirror at myself, and I just felt like, “I don’t want to be this person anymore. I want to be a good person.” And that’s when I reached out to one of my friends that I knew was Muslim. And I didn’t say, you know, “guide me to Islam,” but I said, “I need help. I need to- I need spiritual guidance, you know. Can you tell me a little about your religion?” And he actually brought me to his friend who’s Evangelical Christian. Even though he’s Muslim. And you know, he was like, “this girl is a really, really sweet girl. Everybody loves her, and I think you can learn a lot from her.”
So I met with this girl, and then after, you know, we finished our conversations, I said, “you know, I’d like to hear more about Islam.” So, you know, my friend who’s Muslim, he, you know, had me watch some videos about Islam. And I could see in the faces of the lecturer this light, and to me that was a sign. You know, as soon as I became Muslim–I know it’s not like that for other people, but for me, it was like night and day. Like I could s- it’s like the story of the cave. Like I had been, you know, chained, looking at the reflection on the cave wall, and I thought that that was the world. As soon as I became Muslim, I saw that that’s not the wor- how the world is.
As a Muslim, I know that my right as a woman, as a married woman, is to not have the pressure of having to work, and I have the ability to just stay at home and take care of my children if I choose to. However, I don’t think in this country, in this society, that’s an option that I have. I’m not wealthy enough to do that. I don’t have access to servants. I don’t have, you know, the kind of income that would afford me to do something like that. And I think that because there are so many things that need to be done for Muslims. There’s so many roads that need to be cleared, and just so much that Muslims need to be doing in this country to be recognized and to have a positive image that women really need to get out there.
I’m not saying anything against housewives. I’m not saying anything against women who want to stay home and take care of their children and educate their children. That’s a powerful, beautiful thing, and I don’t think that anything should be taken away from that. But I do think that for my situation that I’m in, that it’s just not an option for me, and that if I do have children, insha’allah, I’m gonna be working. I’m gonna be doing maximum capacity. I’m gonna, you know, work outside of my job for different causes, and I’m gonna be, you know, educating my children. I’m gonna be doing it all, and I think that’s what’s expected in this day and age. I wish that it were different. I wish that women don’t have to be stretched in so many places. I’ve seen my mother, you know. She’s always worked as a teacher. She’s also done, you know, multiple other jobs outside of teaching, just to make sure that we have a comfortable life. And she has cooked a meal every night. She, you know, has always been there for me, and she cleans the house. She- you know this is what a middle class woman does in this society. She is all things to all people in her family.”