This itself did not lead me to Islam, but it primed my heart. Before all of this, I was pretty arrogant, but slowly through these experiences my heart softened and my mind expanded. My perceptions and understanding shifted and matured. I decided that I did not want to allow myself to feel that just by being American I am somehow better than anyone else.
During my stay in Australia, an Israeli who was leaving to go back home for some time owned the apartment I sublet. Prior to that, my knowledge of the conflict in the Middle East was murky. I had heard about it in relation to the 9/11 attacks; that it was possibly a motivating factor in the seemingly new world disorder, but I knew virtually nothing else. Through my new landlord, I garnered enough information to fuel insatiable curiosity. What I was hearing seemed peculiar, like reading a book with pages torn out. I needed to fill in the blanks, so I began reading. I checked out book after book on the Middle East and the enduring conflict that was supposedly at the heart of so much unrest.
Upon returning home to NY and seeking out more information, I felt that books weren't enough, so I began attending lectures on the topic. I experienced conflicting stories. Contradictory views. It was black and white, polarized. I began seeking out lectures and classes on this topic in the hope that I would be able to satisfy my longing for understanding.
One night, I attended a lecture in Manhattan. After the talk, a man stood up in front of the small audience. He announced that himself and others were soon traveling to the Middle East for humanitarian initiatives. When I heard him speak, everything clicked. I knew I had to go. I had to. I made the decision right there on the spot. I was going to the Middle East into one of the most unpredictable, explosive places on Earth. I would finally find out for myself and see with my own eyes one of the root causes of my own country's untenable vulnerability.