A Starting Point to Convert to Islam: Justin's Journey to Islam

By Justin L. Peyton

My name is Justin Peyton, and I am a 29-year-old African American convert to Islam, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I grew up in a loving, two-parent, and 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.

9/11 Lead Me to Study Islam

convert to 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 in Philadelphia. 
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.
[…] 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.

I Decided to Convert to Islam

convert to Islam

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 mosques.
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 […] 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, and 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. […] 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.
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 efforts.
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.

To read the complete version of this text, go to 
http://www.islamreligion.com