At the age of 21, Kaighla Um Dayo was a bright-eyed, enthusiastic Evangelical Christian attending Bible college. She had big dreams of traveling the world spreading “the word” as a missionary post-graduation. But life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan.
On her first mission trip to India, the path Kaighla had meticulously and confidently plotted for herself fell apart. She explains:
“I was confronted for the first time with all the different possibilities in the world, and my worldview was forever altered. I came home completely broken up inside, unaware anymore of who I was or what I believed.”
Kaighla’s world opened up wide, but she felt the need to close the door with God. She says:
“I decided God and I would not be on speaking terms until I figured out how I saw Him truly.”
After that decision to walk away from a Deity she thought she no longer knew, Kaighla gave birth to a son, experienced serious physical trauma, and lost her dream job all in the span of a year. Kaighla plotted, but God planned.
Kaighla admits that she missed God and started researching Islam, the only religion she had, to this point, not studied. A different path began to emerge. Needing to support herself and her infant son, she accepted a job as an English teacher at a Muslim boarding school and started reading everything in their library.
She remembers in Ramadan that year, she was in the Muslim school library, reading the English translation of the Quran and when she, “got to Surat At-Tawbah when Allah says Jesus will deny ever having told people to worship him, and I remembered all my Bible studies from college and agreed that, yes, Jesus was all about people praying to his Father in heaven; he wasn’t interested in claiming glory for himself. I decided to embrace Islam on the 8th of Ramadan, 2009”.
Family and Friends’ Reactions
When I asked Kaighla if she was afraid that her family would disown her or disapprove of your choice, she responded with a resounding Yes. She says:
“Yes, I was afraid. I have always been the black sheep of my family […] and my last several years’ worth of choices had left them shocked and bewildered.”
Kaighla feared the worst from friends and family in reaction to her conversion. She says:
“I thought my friends would likely say, ‘Welp, there’s Kaighla, being crazy again. Another phase!’
I thought they wouldn’t take it seriously. But then, I was afraid my more devout evangelical friends would disown me outright.”
Spilling the Beans
When I asked Kaighla how she approach the topic when she told her friends and family, she said bluntly that she was not gentle or wise. She explains:
“I announced my conversion on Facebook by changing my name to Khadijah and my religion to Islam, and making my profile picture me in hijab, filling my timeline with Quran verses and reminders. Like, overnight, 180-degree change, in public. In hindsight, pretty foolish.”
In reaction to what seemed to many in Kaighla’s life like a jarring, whip-lash change, many were bewildered. But she was surprised that their response was not as harsh as she expected.
There were champions of Kaighla’s cause through it all. She says:
“My little sister was a huge cheerleader for me and has been my biggest support from day one. She never questioned the inherent goodness of my heart, and my other little sister, as she grew, has joined the ranks. Now they both, along with my mom, defend me and work hard to re-educate their friends about Islam and Muslims.”
“My more devout Bible college friends did walk out on me. Some accused me of being blinded by a “false prophet’ a la Paul’s assertion in the New Testament. My less religious friends stuck by me, but it was definitely uncomfortable for them. My family was just very surprised and unsure how to move forward, but I think most of that was my choice of delivery.”
The fallout from her Facebook pronouncements were hard especially on those closest to her. Kaighla explains:
“My mother didn’t really have a response but was definitely put off. The distance […] between us was entirely my fault, because (spurred on by the Muslims I knew then) I began to insist that everything she loved and wanted to take part in with me was haraam, and insisted she call me Khadijah instead of the name she painstakingly chose for me all those years ago.”
Kaighla says that, in hindsight, it wasn’t her conversion that caused friction or put distance between her and the ones she loved the most, but it was the extremes with which she approached Islam and her loved ones that was the root of strife.
After seven years in a toxic marriage in which she was taught extreme views, and a lot of perspective and understanding, Kaighla says:
I have worked on repairing these relationships the past several years, and most are doing much better now. I just had to be honest about what made me try to be so very different and well… foreign, overnight, and that it wasn’t God who expected that of me. When I explained and apologized, most of those people I hurt have chosen to forgive and move forward with a relationship.
Kaighla added that she would advise any new Muslim, to “be kind and gentle with your announcement. Don’t spring it on them, and don’t announce it via Facebook until you’ve actually talked to those closest to you first.”
“If you’re gentle and if your friends and family really and truly love you, they will support you in one way or another. If you really love them, you won’t shove Islam in their face and demand that they accept every little thing about your new lifestyle overnight. It’s a wonderful thing to get to see who your real friends are, and a thing like this reveals the hearts of the people you love.”