Before Islam I was Margaret (Peggy) Marcus. As a small child I possessed a keen interest in music and was particularly fond of the classical operas and symphonies considered high culture in the West. Music was my favorite subject in school in which I always earned the highest grades.
By sheer chance, I happened to hear Arabic music over the radio which so much pleased me that I was determined to hear more. I would not leave my parents in peace until my father finally took me to the Syrian section in New York City where I bought a stack of Arabic recordings. My parents, relatives and neighbors thought Arabic and its music dreadfully weird and so distressing to their ears that whenever I put on my recordings, they demanded that I close all the doors and windows in my room lest they be disturbed!
I traced the beginning of my interest in Islam to the age of ten. While attending a reformed Jewish Sunday school, I became fascinated with the historical relationship between the Jews and the Arabs. From my Jewish textbooks, I learned that Abraham was the father of the Arabs as well as the Jews. I read how centuries later when, in medieval Europe, Christian persecution made their lives intolerable, the Jews were welcomed in Muslim Spain and that it was the magnanimity of this same Arabic Islamic civilization which stimulated Hebrew culture to reach its highest peak of achievement.
Totally unaware of the true nature of Zionism, I naively thought that the Jews were returning to Palestine to strengthen their close ties of kinship in religion and culture with their Semitic cousins. Together I believed that the Jews and the Arabs would cooperate to attain another Golden Age of culture in the Middle East.
Despite my fascination with the study of Jewish history, I was extremely unhappy at the Sunday school. At this time I identified myself strongly with the Jewish people in Europe, then suffering a horrible fate under the Nazis and I was shocked that none of my fellow classmates nor their parents took their religion seriously. During the services at the synagogue, the children used to read comic strips hidden in their prayer books and laugh to scorn at the rituals. The children were so noisy and disorderly that the teachers could not discipline them and found it very difficult to conduct the classes.
When I was 18 years old I became a member of the local Zionist youth movement known as the Mizrachi Hatzair. But when I found out what the nature of Zionism was, which made the hostility between Jews and Arabs irreconcilable, I left several months later in disgust. When I was twenty and a student at New York University, one of my elective courses was entitled Judaism in Islam. My professor, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Katsh, the head of the department of Hebrew Studies there, spared no efforts to convince his students–all Jews, many of whom aspired to become rabbis–that Islam was derived from Judaism. Our textbook, written by him, took each verse from the Quran, painstakingly tracing it to its allegedly Jewish source. Although his real aim was to prove to his students the superiority of Judaism over Islam, he convinced me diametrically of the opposite.