Jesus Guided Me to Islam

Catherine Houlihan is a Grant Researcher from Miami Florida. Earlier this week the Huffington Post published an article she wrote where she shares her becoming Muslim story.

Catherine grew up in an Irish-Catholic family but she says she “was never able to fully accept Catholicism as her faith” adding “I wanted so desperately to follow and honor both God and Jesus, but I couldn’t sincerely do that by being Catholic. To my surprise and over the course of 13 years, I found that Islam provided me the opportunity to do both… I never could bring myself to believe that Jesus was God. Yes, I love Jesus, and I wholeheartedly believe that we should proactively seek to obtain the extraordinary human qualities that he possessed, but in my eyes, there is only one God, and a man could never be God.”

“I was unable to ever accept the concept of original sin (that newborns entered this world carrying sins that could be forgiven through the Sacrament of Baptism). I perceived this as an initiation ritual into Christianity; it felt more political than spiritual. I knew that I could never desert my eternal love for God and my ceaseless admiration for Jesus. I remained Catholic, while I searched for a place that allowed me to preserve what I would not abandon and provide me clarity for what I could not accept. Where that was, I wasn’t sure. I genuinely hoped that it existed somewhere.”

Throughout her childhood, Catherine was inspired by the Catholic Saint ‘Thomas More’ who chose death over giving up his faith. In her first year of college, she read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and was impressed by his “unwavering search for truth” and how he found his answers in Islam. Saint Thomas More and Malcolm X gave her clarity and hope that “if I kept searching, I could possibly find a source for both connecting with God and finding the truth that I was seeking”.

After college, I volunteered with an international nonprofit in West Africa. One afternoon, I was sitting outside in the sweltering heat with a Ghanaian volunteer. To avoid getting sunburned, I wrapped my favorite orange pashmina over my head. Then, I heard my friend say: “You look beautiful in hijab.”
“Are you Muslim?” I asked him. He nodded, and with some prodding, revealed to me that Muslims both recognize and honor Jesus as a prophet. That detail caught my attention and got me thinking: Could Islam be the source of clarity that I was seeking? I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t quite ready to explore the possibility just yet.

Back in the US she settled in Miami Florida: “Years passed. Life was so easy and oh-so fun! I felt incredibly blessed, but just beneath the surface, I was very lonely, and far too often, I fell asleep with tears in my eyes and a growing heaviness in my heart, so I turned to my father for guidance. He listened to me intently and made one simple suggestion: Read.”

I used my alone time to explore books about philosophy, psychology, poetry, and religion. Little by little, I began gravitating towards books about Islam. The more I read about Islam, the more I realized that it was more than just a beautiful concept; it was a way of life.

I sought out a mentor who could show me what that life entailed, and I eventually found one. She was an established career woman, with a loving and supportive husband and two incredible children, and most importantly, she had an insatiable love for Islam. She was the kind of woman who I aspired to become. We met weekly. She shared stories about Prophet Muhammad and his closest companions. She reiterated Islam’s belief in the prophhethood of Jesus and its denial of original sin. She showed me how to pray and gave me my most beloved copy of the Quran.

Then, my mentor lent me a CD series called Purification of the Heart by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. I listened to those CDs daily, deeply connected with its messages, and felt these incredible reverberations in my heart when the shaykh recited passages from the Quran in Arabic. I even felt the same reverberations in my heart when I recited the first chapter of the Quran, syllable-by-syllable. As I listened and I practiced my Arabic, I felt as if I was strengthening my communication with God.

As I prayed and fasted during my first Ramadan, I felt this magnificent closeness to an essence that I had never encountered before, and consciously nurturing that essence filled me with immense bliss. It was in those moments that I felt the most connected to myself; it was in those moments that I felt the most connected to God. I knew then that I was ready to accept Islam as my chosen faith.

Through God’s tremendous grace and my mentor’s tenacious planning, on the 27th day of Ramadan 2016, I found myself sitting alongside the scholar whose words in both English and Arabic transformed my heart into a Muslim one: Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. He led me through my Testimony of Faith, which were the sincerest words that I had ever spoken.

As a Muslim of Irish-Catholic descent, I’m not quite sure where I fit in just yet. But in the early morning hours, right before dawn, and as I pray alone, facing Miami’s Biscayne Bay, I feel right at home. For me, that’s all that matters right now.