This interview was conducted by Muglatte.com with Kristin Nicole Ritchie and was translated to Arabic.
Would you please introduce yourself?
My born name is Kristin Ritchie, but upon my reversion to Islam, I go by Abedah or (Abby) for short. In Arabic it’s عابدة.I was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. I will be 28 in a week.
How was your life before converting to Islam?
Before Islam, I experienced many things. I was a musician, a rapper, a singer and had a lot of fans of my music. I did tours all over the US and some shows in Europe. I made music videos and was in famous magazines and newspapers. I drank a lot of alcohol and went to bars often. I was a Christian, but I was never serious about my religion and I never followed any of its morals.
Were you happy?
I was happy because I always had a good job and because I felt independent and in control of my own life. I experienced much sadness and many tough lessons, but yes, even know looking back I feel like I was generally a happy person.
So why did you convert to Islam?
I converted to Islam, because I saw something in the religion that I had never seen before…logic. When I was being told about Islam from a group of friends, every word from their mouths was like a revelation…each word I heard about Islam was like an ocean of hope and enlightenment had been poured into my heart and mind. The more I learned about Islam the more I became sure of its beauty. After reading the Quran, it was undeniable to me that this was the right path and I had desired a relation, closeness with God my whole life and I never found that in Christianity. The weeks leading up to my conversion, I had many Islamic dreams and they were so real and so powerful I knew without a doubt that Allah swt was guiding me to Islam and I was not going to reject that, so I decided then I had to take Shahada.
Can you share with us one of those dreams?
Well, in one dream, I was reciting Quran in the desert (this happened in most of the dreams) and I started out alone, but every time I would finish the whole Quran I would look up and there would be people there and they would ask me to start over, and they would sit and listen until I finished the whole Quran, and when I would finish again, I would look up and there would be more people, and I did it again and again, and every time I finished there would be more and more people.
Another one is that I was going to pray Salaat and I was using one of the prayer rugs that had the Qibla compass on it and when I looked down to see which direction Mecca was, the compass was spinning, and I started to become very scared, and I felt evil jinn around me so I ran and hid and didn’t perform my salaat. I was told by a shiekh it could mean that I would be tested and which way would I choose? Fear or my obligations and duties as a Muslim?
But when you first heard about Islam, didn’t you feel that converting to Islam means giving up your lifestyle and adapting to a totally new one? Didn’t that look hard by the time?
Well, before I converted to Islam, I drank a lot. That was something I never wanted to stop doing and even the 1 or 2 times that I did try, I couldn’t. I never had the desire to stop, but about a week or two before I took Shahada, I woke up one morning after one of the dreams, and I literally said “I don’t want to drink anymore”…subhanAllah, it was like Allah swt reached into my heart and ripped out that desire for drinking and when I awoke I felt it gone. I knew that converting to Islam was going to force me to change my lifestyle; I was a bit worried that it would be too hard, but I felt such a strong guidance from Allah swt that I knew I could do anything with His help and with the help of my Muslim friends. Also, my lifestyle didn’t seem so important or appealing to me anymore, even in the weeks before I took Shahada. SubhanAllah. As for adapting, at first everyone in the Islamic community around me wanted me to stop everything all at once and I felt very pressured by them, but as I gained more knowledge and as my Imaan got higher, I realized I have to take things one day at a time and pray to Allah swt to keep me on the right path and help me overcome any parts of my old lifestyle that were forbidden in the new one I was building for myself, for the sake of Allah swt.
How did you deal with such pressure from the Islamic community and did that affect you negatively?
At first I was trying to rush myself and do things I wasn’t ready to do, and because of that I would fail and then get angry at myself, because I wanted to please Allah swt but I felt a greater need at the time to please the Muslim community I was in, because they were judging me so harshly and rushing me to be “perfect”. Over time I became very defensive and the attitude of the community made me stop wanting to go to the Masjid for events or for Jummah. I didn’t go there for them of course, but they made me feel so unwelcome and so rejected. They saw me as a non-Muslim or a “bad” Muslim. So when I learned that it’s better for women to pray at home, it really made me feel relaxed and that is what I started doing even up until now. The only time I go to the Masjid is for Eid prayers. Over time I realized that my struggles are between me and Allah swt and I started to look at my intentions and once I got my intentions (niyyah) in the right place, I started to feel more relaxed because Allah swt knew that I was working to adapt to this new lifestyle and I knew that He was being patient, even if the community around me wasn’t and I knew that Allah swt was All-Knowing and All-Seeing and that even if I was rejected from my community, Allah swt was still there.
But how were you able to continue as a Muslim with all the pressure from the Muslim community and feeling unwelcome? Didn’t that make you feel you want to leave Islam?
I was very lucky to have some very educated Muslims give me advice during this time (the ones who told me about Islam in the beginning) although most of them all moved back to Saudi Arabia after I converted, I still kept in touch with them because they gave good advice straight from the Quran and the Sunnah and Ahadith so I knew I could trust it. The advice I got early on was that Allah swt had guided me to Islam, He chose me out of all the other non-Muslims around me, and He chose ME! And Allah swt wasn’t going to guide me just to leave me. These friends told me that when I became a Muslim, everything in my past was forgiven and Allah swt is the most Merciful and that Islam is easy and all about niyyah.. It was these advices that made me realize that I needed to focus on my Imaan and gaining more knowledge and that even if the Muslim community in my city rejected me or made me feel unwelcome that perhaps they had forgotten that none of us are perfect and that my questionable past was forgiven by Allah swt and maybe no one reminded them about that, for reminding benefits the believers. Feeling unwelcome as a new Muslim was one of the most difficult parts of becoming a Muslim, even now I am just past 2 years as a Muslim and my community is still the same towards me. However, it never, not once made me feel that I wanted to leave Islam, because I never judged Islam by the people. Muslims aren’t perfect, but Islam is …I learned that very early as a Muslim and that is why I never had any uncertainty, alhamdulillah.
So what advice would you say to your fellow Muslims on guiding and supporting people to convert to Islam and after converting to Islam?
My advice to my fellow brothers and sisters in Islam on giving dawah or talking with the non-Muslims about Islam is not to push them or pressure them. To give raw information straight from Quran and the Sunnah and to explain the similarities between Islam and Christianity (if they are Christian) because by showing similarities it makes the non-Muslim able to relate better and not feel so defensive. I was so blessed to have a group of Muslims who did not pressure me at all to become a Muslim, instead they spent many months with patience, explaining to me everything I had questions about and highlighting the mercy and forgiveness and overall beauty of Islam. As for after someone converts to Islam, I encourage brothers and sisters to help them! Teach them Salaat, teach them how to at least recite Surah Al Fatiha, introduce them to people in the community, make them feel welcome, don’t rush them to change in one day form their old life to their new life, it takes time, as long as they are making progress, even slow, small progress, it’s still good enough for Allah swt so it should be good enough for us as Muslims. Also, we should connect new reverts with revert groups in the community and someone they can contact if they have questions on how to do something. They need someone they can talk to who is educated, patient and willing to help them learn the ropes. InshaAllah
In the past, what did you think of Islam (before learning about Islam)?
In the past, before learning about Islam, I really didn’t know enough about it to have an opinion. I have always had a “to each their own” mentality. I grew up very cultured and accepting of people from all faiths and backgrounds, so I never really paid attention to Islam or know anything about it, good or bad, before I started learning about it and meeting Muslims
What do you like about Quran?
The thing I love about Quran is that. So far I haven’t found any contradictions like I have found in the bible. Also I like that there aren’t a thousand different versions or questions about where verses came from and it’s been kept in its original language. Compared to the bible, this made me feel more confident in this religion than I ever was in Christianity.
Why did you choose to change your name?And why did you choose that name specifically?
When I became a Muslim, many people around me asked if I would change my name to a Muslim name. I hadn’t even thought about that when I reverted to Islam, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that it was something I wanted to do and I did it for several different reasons. One reason was because my original name at birth is “Kristin” which in Greek means “to be Christ like” and although that doesn’t necessarily go against Islam, I felt like I was a new person and I wanted a Muslim name that would identify me as a Muslim. Also, another reason is because I had a dream before I reverted to Islam with the word “Abedah” or عابدة in Arabic… In that dream I kept hearing this word by a voice, over and over and over again. I didn’t know what it meant, but when I woke up I wrote the name down in Arabic. I was taking my first Arabic class and knew enough by that point to at least write it down. I wrote it down and took it to my professor at the University and had asked what it meant. He told me that it used to be a name that people would call some women, but wasn’t really used as an official name. He also mentioned that it was used as an adjective to describe someone and that the root of the word was ABD and ABD means “slave” and with the tammorbota at the end makes it feminine so the root word “ABD” (slave) turns into “worshipper” of Allah swt. So, I decided I should take this word given to me in my dream as a name.
How did your family meet your decision to convert to Islam?
When I reverted to Islam, my mother was very concerned. At first she was angry and started a lot of fights. Then she became desperate crying and begging me not to be a Muslim. I know in Islam we must respect our parents and our mothers especially, but not in the case of them asking us to leave our religion so I couldn’t do anything except try to be patient and explain my new religion to her the best that I could. Finally, we got invited on to the Dr. Phil show to try and get our relationship back on good terms. While at the show my mother was able to meet another American Muslim women along with Dr. Phil telling her that even if she doesn’t agree that I am an adult and still her daughter and she should TRY to understand my reversion to Islam, if not for the sake of anything except to fix our relationship. However, I moved back in with her in hopes of repairing our relationship, and although she still has a lot of doubts and lacks confidence in my choice, she is much more accepting to learn about Islam and inshaAllah I am doing my best to show her the religion in the best way.
How hard is it being a practicing Muslim in the west? And what are the challenges facing people who convert to Islam?
Everyone says that Islam is easy, it is and I get why they say that, but being a revert is definitely not easy. In fact it is SO difficult; maybe that is why we get double the reward for things. I think the challenges that people face when reverting to Islam can be very different because people come to Islam from different religions or no religion at all….some have good, educated Muslims around them and some don’t have anyone at all, and some peoples intentions of reverting to Islam are different. I am disappointed in the amount of Muslims or even non-Muslims who think that every woman who reverts to Islam does it for a man. That doesn’t even make sense because a Muslim man can marry a Christian or a Jew so there’s no need for a woman to convert JUST to marry a Muslim man, but still many women do it, they revert to Islam for a Muslim man, and a lot of them end up leaving Islam later if it doesn’t work with the man. This isn’t always the case, but it does happen and that is the biggest stereotype us Muslim women have when we come into Islam. Another challenge is getting away from all the things they used to do that are no longer acceptable in the new religion. Things such as drinking, drugs, clubbing, what they wear, and the hobbies they have like gambling or dating many people and being promiscuous. Some of these things are things that some of us have been doing the majority of our lives and they aren’t really things that we can stop in a day, so the challenge is to be patient and take it day by day to move away from those things and break the bad habits and transform into a new Muslim life that is acceptable within Islamic beliefs. With that comes another challenge of the community rushing the new reverts to be able to quit all of these habits and ways of life in a day or a week, it just doesn’t happen that often and it’s hard for us.
What are your future plans as a Muslim?
My future plans as a Muslim are first and foremost to get married and complete my deen. After that I am starting to put a Dawah project in the works…I think a lot of times Dawah is resting on the shoulders of born Muslim, but who better to give dawah than reverts? I am not saying that reverts don’t give dawah or that born Muslims don’t give good dawah, but thinking back to before I was a Muslim I would much quicker relate to a revert giving dawah than a born Muslim. Of course I would do this, and advice all reverts to do this, with the help of educated Muslims such as scholars, to make sure that they are giving accurate and efficient dawah.
Thank you Abby for this interesting conversation and Jazakom Allah Khairan. We hope you are successful in your plans and may Allah help you in keeping and growing your knowledge and Iman.