Muslim faith quickly alters student's life
Anthropology undergraduate Michelle Albiston iterated the traditional remarks that bind a Muslim man and women in marriage, called a nitka. After the third reply, Michelle Albiston became Michelle Anwar, wife to Muhammad Sajid Anwar. She calls him Saj.
She was sitting in a classroom in the Farmer's Education building on the Tempe campus on Sept. 23, peering at her new husband over Skype as he sat in a miniscule flat in Surrey, England. The two met on a Muslim dating website, SingleMuslim.com, and have known each other for two weeks.
Michelle had fallen hard and fast for her new Pakistani husband but as well as her faith and her god, Allah and the hopes of a new beginning.
"Here I am, 37 years old and starting my life over for maybe the sixth time, but finally, Allah willing, for the last time," Michelle said.
In less than a week, she will meet Saj for the first time, join her husband in Surrey, and together they will relocate to Saudi Arabia.
"I'm going home," Michelle said. "I'm taking clothes, my Arabic textbooks, my Koran and my ladybug Pillow Pet. I'll belong where I'm going."
Born and raised in a small town outside of Boise, Idaho, the former Michelle Albiston was born into a traditional American home with an older brother and sister.
She was married for six years and divorced for 12. With her first husband she had a son, Michael, now 16.
Her religious unease largely affected her familial relationships.
"I tried everything. Paganism, Wicca, everything, everything, everything. I was lost, lost, lost," Michelle said. "I lost faith in everything. I put out a plea, whatever is out there, that is bigger than I am, make yourself known to me. Let me know you're out there."
Subtle hints led Michelle in the surprise direction to Islam.
In bookstores, Middle Eastern history books and books about the Muslim faith would "follow" her. Personalized ads on the Internet would direct her to documentaries on the Haj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
It was her dreams that led her to really believe.
"I was on a white sandy beach with palm trees. An angel took me by the hand and told me, ‘You have found the right path. It has been laid at your feet.'"
Two days later, Michelle stepped into a mosque, or masjid, for the first time.
On that day, three months ago, she bound herself to Allah by reciting a string of words in both Arabic and English.
"I testify that there is no other god but God and Muhammad is his servant and slave," she recited.
Technically, Michelle is not a convert. It is a Muslim belief that all human beings are born of the Muslim faith; it is the fault of the individual to stray from Allah's path.
"Who we were before does not exist," Michelle said. "Only our good deeds follow us and the choices we make following our reversion matter."
The learning curve for Michelle is steep. Islam is characterized by a devout set of practices.
Believers pray at five particular times of the day. A Muslim never consumes pork and must assure that any meat they ingest has been completely drained of blood. A woman is forbidden from making intimate eye contact with any men except their father, brother, betrothed or husband. Hijabs, in most cases, must be worn in public settings. It is only removed for the eyes of a husband, immediate family or in the company of women.
Michelle's reversion has been less than perfect. Cursing is hardest for her and her academic classes conflict with times of prayer. To assure her hamburger contains no traces of cow's blood is nearly impossible.
August marked Michelle's first Ramadan. The holiday is spent fasting from all consumption, including water during the daylight hours. They also refrain from drinking, smoking and sex.
"It was 115 degrees covered fully by traditional dress and the hijab for the first time. I almost fainted while praying," Michelle said. "I would get in the shower to cool down my body temperature and I'd let the water in my mouth but I wouldn't swallow any.
"I felt closer to Allah. I was doing this for Allah. I was doing this to understand the suffering of others, their pain and hunger. I was purifying myself," Michelle said.
Since Ramadan's end, Michelle has become more steadfast in her faith.
She said Islam taught her to see Allah's hand in all acts, tragic and otherwise.
"I didn't have money; I didn't have anything. I'd be cursing and screaming and crying and hating. I'm in the exact same position but do you see me screaming and crying? No," Michelle said.
Michelle clasped her hands in prayer, silently thanking Allah for her good fortune.
"I'm happy," she said. "For anything that happens, we praise Allah. For anything good, or bad, anything that happens, we say Alhumdulilah, praise God."
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