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Islam Grows in Multicultural Pittsburgh
A growing number of Pittsburgh residents from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds are reverting to Islam, saying Islam agreed with them on a deep, intuitive level.
"It didn't take me long to realize that Islam was nothing that I thought it was. As I started learning more, I realized Islam appealed more to what I already believe about God," Sherry Snow, who converted to Islam in 1999 and goes by the name Safiye, told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, August 4.
"Being raised Catholic, they teach about the Trinity, and the Trinity never resonated with me. It never made sense.
“When I found out Muslims believe God is just one, that made more sense to me,” she added.
Safiye first came to know about Islam from Philip Snow, now her husband who goes by the name Ibrahim, in 1996.
The first time he learned about Islamic beliefs, from a Libyan friend, the religion immediately resonated with him.
Same as his wife, he found in Islam answers to questions that Christianity could not provide to him.
"We were driving through Utah at around 1 in the morning, and when I asked him what was the dominant faith in Libya, he started talking about Islam. It was that night that my heart embraced Islam. I was so thrilled at what he was telling me. I let out a laugh of release. I laughed out of comfort and joy at what he described to me," he said.
"Whenever I asked questions [about Christianity], I noticed there was an agitation, a frustration. Oftentimes they would get angry at me for posing a question. Muslims were never irritated by questions.”
Although there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to between 6-8 million Muslims.
Though it is difficult to track precise rates of conversion to Islam, about 20 percent of American Muslims are converts.
Converts come from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds, and most report that Islam agreed with them on a deep, intuitive level.
With more converts finding Islam in Pittsburgh, the growing faith has been no stranger to the American city.
"Pittsburgh has a great history of conversion to Islam," said Patrick Bowen, who specializes in Islam in the United States at the University of Denver.
"African-American mosques mushroomed in the middle of the 20th century, and Pittsburgh was the main center. The largest concentration [of Muslim converts] was in the Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio region."
In the 1930s, Muslim converts established the First Muslim Mosque of Pittsburgh, one of the first mosques in the United States to be founded by converts.
As the majority of American Muslim converts are African-American, the First Muslim Mosque of Pittsburgh serve predominantly African-American converts.
"Islam is not a strange faith in the African-American community," said Salaah Brooks, the mosque imam since 1999.
"A person who converts often has an uncle, a cousin, someone in their family who has converted.
"Islam has a very strong social justice message that many African-American converts are attracted to."
Other converts have chosen to attend mosques that serve primarily immigrant and non-convert communities, including the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, the largest mosque in the region.
"The international component of Muslims in Pittsburgh is unmatched," said Julie Webb, outreach coordinator at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.
"Because there are so many different cultures in Islam, there are so many beautiful rituals that come out of them, you have to be confident enough to ask the imam if it's something you really have to do. It takes time to navigate through all the different cultures. ... A convert needs to understand what it means to be involved with an international community of believers," Webb said.
"You have to have an anthropological heart."
Source: On Islam