Danielle LoDuca is an American author from Oakdale New York. Although she was raised Catholic Christian, she later chose to be agnostic (i.e. skeptic of God) and viewed all religions with disdain. In 2002 she accepted Islam after studying the Quran and travelling to the middle east. Here is her story:
I never aspired to be a Muslim, I didn’t even want to be a Christian. The whole concept of ‘organized religion’ was distasteful. I sought to use my mind, not resort to some ancient book for assistance in living my life. If you had offered me millions of dollars to join one faith or another, I would have declined. One of my preferred authors was Bertrand Russell, who maintained that religion is little more than superstition and generally harmful to people, despite any positive effects that it might have.
I remember laughing out loud while reading the book ‘Hey, Is That You God?’ by Dr. Pasqual Schievella, in which he derided the concept of God through satirical dialogue. It all seemed so logical. Thinkers like us were surely above religious devotees, I thought smugly.
On September 11, 2001, I had class at 9am at my university in Brooklyn. We had a large window facing the Twin Towers. I arrived in my classroom that morning to find one of the Twin Towers burning. I joined a few other classmates looking out the window at this very startling sight, wondering what had happened and imagining all the damage done and possible lives lost.
We were all utterly shocked as we watched the second plane slam into the other tower. To me, the plane looked like some sort of military plane due to the angle I saw it from and the shadow causing the plane to appear black. My class was dismissed. I went back to my apartment and by the time I got up to the roof of my building the towers had collapsed. It really bothered me that the message of the perpetrators of the attack was not made clear at that time. I wanted real answers. My peaceful fantasy world was shattered on this day.
I really cannot be sure of whether or not I had ever heard of Islam before September 11 but obviously with that abhorrent attack came the knowledge that there was this other religion out there called Islam. My disdain of religions was really validated when I thought about a religion being related to this atrocity. This propelled me to embark upon a project I thought would be groundbreaking. I decided to prove all religions were man made. I was going to do it by methodically comparing them to political philosophies, which I had begun studying that same semester and found strikingly similar to religion. Flawed and conflicting with one another, they provided the perfect medium to show the world what I had come to believe: Religions were human falsifications and religious adherents, dupes.
This grand idea required me to read religious “scriptures”, so I bought a Bible, the Hindu scriptures, books on Buddhism, Taoism and thankfully, I managed to get a free copy of the translation of the Quran some time after I had begun my studies of the other books. The Quran stood out and quickly dominated my reading. It began to accompany me everywhere I went. I didn’t realize what was happening at the time. Its flow, accessibility and its message was so much more digestible, easy to understand and strikingly applicable. The other books, in comparison, had become a struggle to complete and my interest in them, and my project, slowly faded.
Meanwhile, I felt so disturbed by this new post-9/11 reality that I decided to take some time off from college. After that semester, I flew to Australia. I was running away, but the Quran and the other books came with me along with books by Bertrand Russell and other anti-religious “critical thinkers”. My goal remained intact, albeit weakened.
From Australia, I decided to travel to Southeast Asia, where I travelled through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. In Vietnam and Laos, there are some people who still have enmity and resentment toward America, lingering since the Vietnam War. To this day there remain signs of the war on the streets, such as people born with birth defects caused by Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant dropped into jungles by the US to expose enemy fighters during the war. It was difficult for me to see them begging on the streets, living a life of suffering, because of a war waged before I was even born. I don’t know how to describe the feeling; it was like remorse, shame. Seeing, in person, the suffering humans can cause one another was a profoundly overwhelming experience.