As-Salamu Alaikum wa Rahmahtullahi wa Barakatu (May the peace, the mercy, and the blessings of Allah be upon you).
I am Canadian-born of Scandinavian and other ancestry, and I was raised in Canada. I have been a Muslima since February 1993 when I was 23. While growing up, I was never affiliated with any religion nor was I an atheist. When I was in my mid-teens I started to think somewhat about religion and at that time I did believe in the Oneness of God (Tawheed). Christianity never interested me.
My first contact with Muslims occurred when I was introduced to some Muslim international students in 1988. Through them I learned a bit about Islam, such as Ramadan fasting. But it was really not until 1992 that I became interested in Islam. In the summer of that year a Canadian newspaper published a series of articles attacking Islam by using examples of anti-Islamic behavior of some Muslims in an attempt to vilify Islam itself. Non-Muslims tend to judge Islam on the basis of the behavior (which is not necessarily Islamic) of Muslims. I was not yet a Muslima but the articles were so outrageous that I sent a letter to the editor in defense of Islam. Now I was curious about Islam. I re-read some articles I had picked up several months earlier from the MSA Islam Awareness Week display at my university. One was about 'Isa (Alaihe Salam) [Jesus] as a Prophet of Islam. Also, I asked a Muslim to get me some books about Islam; they were about the overall ideology of Islam and were written by two famous Muslim authors. Impressed, I thought, "This is Islam? It seems so right." Over the next few months in my free time while attending university I continued to learn about Islam from authentic Islamic books, for example The Life of Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihe wa Salam) by Dr. Muhammad Haykal. One certainly does not learn the truth about Islam from the mass media! Also, newcomers to Islam especially must be careful to avoid the writings of deviant groups which claim ties to Islam so as not to be misled. And just because the author has an Arabic name does not necessarily mean that he or she is a knowledgeable Muslim or even Muslim at all. Also, I learned about Islam from some kind, knowledgeable Muslims and Muslimas who did not pressure me. Meanwhile, I had begun to "Islamize" my behavior which did not require huge change. I already avoided consuming alcohol and pig meat. Also, I always preferred to dress conservatively/modestly and not wear makeup, perfume, or jewelery outside my home. I started to eat only Islamic ally slaughtered meat. Also during this time I visited a masjid (mosque) in my city for the first time
Until I discovered Islam, I knew almost nothing about it. I say discovered because the "Islam" that I had always heard about through the mass media is not true Islam. I had always assumed that Islam is just another man-made religion, not knowing that it is the truth. I had also assumed that a person had to be raised as a Muslim to be one. I was not aware of the fact that all humans are born Muslim (in a state of Islam - submitted to the Creator). Like many "Westerners" I associated Islam with the "East" and did not know that Islam is universal in both time and place. However, I never had negative feelings about Islam, al-Hamdulillah. The more knowledge that I acquired about Islam, the more I felt that I too can actually be Muslim as I found that many of the beliefs that I already had were actually Islamic not merely "common sense."
So after familiarizing myself with what Islam is basically about and what are the duties and proper conduct of a Muslim person, as well as thinking and reflecting, I felt ready to accept Islam and live as a Muslima. One day while at home I said the Shaha da (declaration of faith) and began to perform the five daily salat (prayers), al- Hamdulillah. That was in February 1993, several days before the fasting month of Ramadan began. I did not want to miss the fasting this time! I found the fasting to be much easier than I had anticipated; before I fasted I had worried that I might faint. At first there was a bit of an adjustment period getting used to the new routine of performing salah and fasting, and I made some mistakes, but it was exciting and not difficult. I started to read the Qur'an (Abdullah Yusuf Ali's translation) when I was given one soon after accepting Islam. Before that I had read only excerpts of it in other books. Also in the beginning, I found The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi to be a useful guide.
In January 1996 (during Ramadan) I started to wear the Islamic headscarf (hijab). I realized that I could not fully submit to Allah (SWT), which is what being Muslim is about, without wearing it. Islam must be accepted and practiced in its entirety; it is not an "alter-to-suit-yourself" religion. Since becoming a Muslima I was aware that the headscarf is required of Muslim women and I had intended to wear it eventually. I should have worn it immediately upon accepting Islam but for many Muslimas (even some from Muslim families) it is not easy to take that step and put it on in a non- Muslim society. It is silly how so many persons get upset over a piece of fabric! Also, it is interesting to note that Christian nuns are never criticized for covering their heads. Never in my life did I have negative feelings toward muhajjabas (women who wear hijab) when I saw them. What made me hesitate to put it on was fearing receiving bad treatment from others, especially family. But we must fear Allah (SWT) only, not others. In the few months before I permanently put on hijab I started practicing wearing it. I wore it when I traveled between my home and the local masjid on Fridays when I started attending the jum'a salah (Friday congregational prayer). (Of course, since becoming Muslim I always wore it during every salah). A couple of weeks prior, in du'a I began asking Allah (SWT) to make it easy for me to wear it.
The day I finally put it on permanently I had reached the point where I felt that I could no longer go out with a bare head, and I thought "tough bananas" if others do not like me wearing it since I alone am accountable for my actions and am required to perform my Islamic duties, and I could never please everyone anyway. Sometimes opposition to hijab is a control issue: some persons just plainly do not like those who are determined and independent especially if it is their child.
Upon wearing it I immediately felt protected and was finally able to go out and not be the target of stares/leers from men. At first I felt a bit self-conscious but after several weeks I felt completely used to wearing hijab. Sometimes other persons look puzzled/confused, I think because they are not used to seeing pale- faced, blue-eyed Muslimas! By the way, wearing hijab is da'wah in a way as it draws attention to Islam.
Since accepting Islam I continue to seek knowledge about the Deen (religion) which is a lifelong duty for all Muslims--male and female. Currently, I am learning Arabic and hope to be able to read the Qur'an in Arabic soon, insha'Allah. Reading, discussing Islam with other Muslims, and the Friday jum'a khutba are all educational. Striving to be as pious as one can be and fighting against one's own evil traits (jihad al-nafs) takes effort and is continuous and never ending for Muslims.
I find Islam ever-more fascinating, and I enjoy living as a Muslima.