This interview is Part 2 of Kai Wingo’s journey to Islam. She is an American Muslim with a Master’s degree in Education, a homeschooling mother, and small business owner. To read Part 1 of her story, please click here.
What happened after you took your Shahada?
I took my shahada on a weekend.
I was teaching at an inner-city school. When I ended work on Friday, my hair was out and I wore my tight, professional business clothes. When I showed up on Monday, I was completely wrapped up. I wore a long skirt and was fully covered, with a hijab.
I walked through the parking lot, got to the door, started pushing the buttons to go inside, and I just stopped. All I could think was, “Oh my God, I can’t do this.” I knew what was coming. I turned around and wanted to head back to my car; I wanted to go home and call out sick.
But then, and I think Allah must have whispered in my heart because, I said to myself “Aootho billahi minash-shaitan nir rajeem” (I seek refuge in Allah from Satan, the Cursed). I knew at that moment Shaitan was trying to keep me from going forward. I knew once I stepped inside that building there would be no going back and Satan was trying to scare me. When I sought refuge in Allah, it gave me the courage I needed to go inside.
The kids (students) were actually pretty funny. As soon as they walked in the classroom, “Yo Miss, what’s on your head?! What are you wearing?”
So the first day back as a Muslim, I let the whole class period be about answering their questions. I explained to them that I was a Muslim now and let them ask whatever they wanted so they could get it out of their systems and we could move on. After a week they got used to it and it was like nothing at all.
Some of the staff, however, gave me a harder time. One person actually thought that I had cancer. When I told them that I was a Muslim, they were shocked, “Well, why?!” It took them a while, but everyone eventually accepted it and that was just my life moving forward. I was a Muslim and a Hijabi but I was also still a teacher and still Señorita Kai and still trying my best.
How did your family react to you becoming Muslim?
My dad was like, “Oh that’s great. I’m glad you found something you like.” He was really non-judgmental. He was a former hippie so I think that helped him be more tolerant and accepting.
My mom, on the other hand, was concerned. She understood I was Muslim but didn’t want me to wear the hijab. She was worried someone would mistreat me because of it, or if I married a Muslim that he would beat me. She was concerned for me, but it hurt me. I hoped she would be as loving and accepting as my dad but she was almost embarrassed to be seen with me and would ask me to not go out with her in my hijab.
Eventually she got used to it. She would go to Dunnkin Donuts and meet Muslim women and tell them, “Oh, my daughter is a Muslim”. She realized over time that it was more normal than she thought. It just wasn’t in her circle of knowledge. She had to come outside of what she knew to realize that I was going to be okay, Alhamdulilah. Now, she buys me gifts from Islamic stores and she’ll even put a hijab on to take pictures with my daughter.
Allah softens the hearts.
Can you share some of the struggles you’ve faced since becoming Muslim?
There’s a quote from Yusuf Islam, who was formerly known as Cat Stevens, and he says, “I’m glad I met the Qur’an before I met the Muslims.”
I love the Muslim community, but there is still division, speculation and contention. I think that if we were to put more effort into seeking knowledge and seeking to understand the Quran, and how the Prophet and his companions lived, it would be better for us as a people.
If we could stop picking at little things and just remember that Allah is a source of love, and He loves those who are merciful, and is merciful Himself, then we could take that into consideration when dealing with each other. We’re really good at nitpicking but we’re not that good at celebrating the goodness that we already see.
Islam is perfect but Muslims are not. We’re human and we’re going to make mistakes. For any new converts out there, I’d say stick to the Quran and the Sunnah (by learning from a trustworthy teacher or scholar) and find a community where you feel loved and not judged.
What are some of the comforts you feel Islam has given you?
Salah (prayer) and going to the mosque. I miss being in the masjid and the communal element that comes with it. We’re all working towards paradise.
I’ve also found a lot of joy in studying the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. There are so many instances where I find I’m weak in an area, and then I read about how the Prophet handled it and it helps me.
The Quran is a guidebook for life. If you are feeling any type of way or going through a struggle, you will find an example of how to deal with it in the Quran. I’m a solutions-driven person and the Quran and Sunnah really give me those solutions.
It’s hard to be hopeless and Muslim because there’s always something you can do. And even when something is completely out of your control, you still have that loving, kind idea that Allah loves you and you’re going to be okay.
You’ve been Muslim for 10 years now. What have you been up to during this time?
After I became Muslim, and while I was still teaching, I completed my Master’s degree, Alhamdulilah. After that I got married.
Marriage has its own struggles because while you’re navigating your personal Islamic journey, you’re now sharing someone else’s journey, too, and navigating that. Our first year of marriage was really just us figuring out how we were going to be as a husband and wife.
The beauty of it was that we had Islam as our foundation, so no matter what struggle or disagreement happened in our lives, we could always fall back on Islam. It’s been the guiding light for all of our decision making, Alhamdulilah.
A few years after our daughter was born we were playing with a set of Melissa and Doug fashion stickers and my daughter asked, “But where are the hijabs, Mommy?”
My husband and I decided to create products that could instill a sense of beauty and belonging for young girls who don’t get a positive image of Islam shown to them. We really wanted to highlight the beauty of hijab, abaya and the many cultures of Muslims around the world. That’s when we started Split Moon Publications.
We created sticker books showcasing diverse Muslim fashions from around the world so that our young sisters can look at themselves and say, “I am beautiful and this is beautiful.” Society shows them a different standard of beauty so we wanted to raise that bar by showing them the beauty in Islam and build their confidence.
We also did an Arabic alphabet sticker book that contains every letter of the alphabet with all of the markings for their vowel sounds so people can actually use the stickers to write words. My husband really wanted this project because he hopes that one day every Muslim will be able to write Surah Al-Fatihah, the first chapter of the Quran, by memory.
What advice would you give to others who have come to Islam and want to continue their learning?
Understanding Islam takes active learning. I would start with the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. It’s going to give you a lot of perspective as to what was going on at that time.
At the same time, make sure you have a daily relationship with the Quran. I recommend the Clear Quran. It’s an English translation and at the beginning of each chapter, it gives you the context of revelation and the time period the chapter was revealed in so you can have a better understanding of what was happening.
If you are ever learning something that doesn’t sit right with you, then do your best to investigate until it does or go to someone that you trust. Ask questions! Don’t take anything at face value.
Islam is the way!
To learn more about Kai and her company, Split Moon Publications, please visit https://www.splitmoonpublications.com/
Melissa Barreto is a convert to Islam and homeschooling mother of five children. She is the Co-Founder of Wildflower Homeschool Collective, a homeschool organization based in Northern New Jersey.