Islam converts speak on how they found religion

By Karen Schwartz, Daily Staff Reporter

LSA sophomore Michael Dann was raised as a Christian,
going to church and Sunday school in Amherst, Mass.,
as was his family's tradition. But four years ago, he
decided he was destined for a different path. Dann
converted to Islam, which he said has changed his

Dann said he went from being involved in "the drug
culture" and party scene in junior high school to
looking for something more in life - thanks to the
example set by his tennis coach, a black Muslim man
from New Jersey.

"Through my contact with him, and especially through
tennis, I got to see there was something more serious
about life, something more serious than gratifying
your immediate desires," he said, adding that his
coach did not often talk about Islam explicitly but
rather led by example.

"It was just through his approach to life and his
character, being around him - I was attracted to
something I knew he had, something that was motivating
his life," Dann said. "He gave me different books to
read, not mostly about Islam except for the Quran, but
those books served more to wake me up to that there's
more to life than partying and fun, and that God
should be in my life."

Dann, who also goes by Abdullah, which means "servant
of God," helped organize a panel held last night in
Hutchins Hall as part of Islam Awareness Week. The
panel featured testimonies from three people who
converted to Islam, who told an audience of 50 their
stories and answered questions about their experiences
with the religion.

"It's important because it's a chance to speak for
ourselves, for Muslims to present Islam as they
understand it and not as other people understand it,"
Dann said. He added that the event was a chance for
people to learn about the process of becoming Muslim
and the diverse experiences that bring people to

"Ultimately all we can do is present Islam as we've
experienced it and understand it," he said. "What
other people do with it will be different according to
who they are and what they want. I'm looking at it
more from our angle, that we have a responsibility to
express ourselves."

Law School student Felix Chang said he attended the
event out of curiosity and was very impressed with the
testimonies he heard.

"I think they were really honest and open about the
decisions they had to make, something very personal to
them that they shared, and I appreciated that," he
said. "I think their stories are really interfaith,
that their stories of conversion can pretty much be
applied to any belief system, so it has universal

Muslim Students Association President Omar Khalil said
the panel drew positive response last year, and that
people commented that they enjoyed seeing how
panelists were introduced to Islam and what aspects of
Islam affected them the most.

"We had a lot of feedback last year saying perhaps
that was people's favorite event of the week, so we
felt it was something we should continue," said
Khalil, a Rackham student.

He said the event also showcases the diversity within
Islam and gives campus and community members a more
familiar angle from which to approach understanding

"First of all, what we wanted to show is that Islam
isn't just a foreign religion (and that Muslims are)
not just from the Middle East or Pakistan or from
Indonesia," he said. "We wanted to show that there are
people like the students on this campus who are born
American, raised American, and yet they felt this for
them was the religion they chose for themselves."

Dann remembers being 14 years old and having a short
discussion about Islam with his coach, but it was not
until later that he said he realized the impact the
discussion had on him and the process he had embarked

"I didn't realize it at the time, but suddenly it had
an attraction to me. When I met a Muslim I would ask
him what he believed and if he had anything I could
read. The seed was already there," he said.

His conversion was a gradual process, Dann said, but
it didn't entirely negate his previous beliefs.

"Becoming a Muslim to me wasn't disbelieving in Jesus
or leaving everything from Christianity behind. It was
about believing in what I considered to be a more
accurate version of God's message."

He added that Islam has changed his life and his
interactions with his family for the better.

"Without Islam I don't know where I would be today. My
motivation for succeeding academically and succeeding
professionally - all that stems from Islam, and I
don't think it'd be there if it weren't for Islam."

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