From Hollywood to Islam: Zainab Ismail’s conversion story

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SHAFAQNA-

Sr. Zainab Ismail, a Puerto Rican- American who was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx. She attended Pace University in New York and spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. She is a fitness and nutrition expert who has had many celebrities from Hollywood and sports as her clients. Every month for 5 years, her job as a personal trainer gave her the luxury of traveling to Los Angeles, CA. But a series of events over a few years, brought her to Islam by the Mercy of Allah SWT. Her yearning for the closeness to Allah led her to accept Islam not once but twice.
Attraction to Islam
Fifteen years ago, Zainab found herself in a fitness competition alongside her male Muslim friend who told her she needed to change the way she dressed. He then gave her a Qur’an to read. She only read 2 pages before she put it aside. “In 2000 and 2001, I was one in four chosen in the country as a Facilitator for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). This is a top certification. I traveled the country as a Facilitator. That is when a company hired me to Facilitate in Hong Kong and Malaysia in 2002.” she was given the opportunity to go abroad to teach other personal trainers. Although travel was an uneasy topic post-9/11, she took her chance to go to Hong Kong and then Malaysia. “I was the first American Woman in the Olympic Athlete facility in Malaysia and in the Kuala Lumpur University, I looked very young and not the typical American they were used to seeing- blonde hair with blue eyes. The professors had me prove myself worthy of teaching. At the time, I had no idea Malaysians were Muslims. I just assumed they were Asian like other Asians I knew about. This played a part in my conversion to Islam as it stuck in the back of my mind; I remember that it was Ramadan when I went to Malaysia; I had no idea it was Ramadan nor did I know what Ramadan was at the time. “It was quiet during the day, and at night the city came alive,” Zainab said. This experience was then subconsciously imprinted on her — although momentarily, she paid no attention to it.”
In 2005, she was competing in a Biathlon where she described she was in the best shape of her life. It was during this time that she experienced a car accident where she flipped her SUV across the highway, the Belt parkway, five times. Fortunately, she was not heavily injured. She was hospitalized due to a massive concussion, however. As she was in care, the administrator of the hospital, who doesn’t come and see anyone, wanted to witness the person who survived such an accident. Off the record, he told her, “‘I don’t know what you believe in, but if you believe in God, you find out what His mission is for you and you go and do it’,” she said. In 2005, she was too busy being a celebrity trainer and didn’t pay much mind. “But it was another thing implanted in my subconscious,” she said.

Converting to Islam
“It’s hard to believe how different my life was before. Alhamdulilah, Allah (SWT) blessed me by guiding me to the straight path. My story was written by Allah (SWT) and happened solely by His will. In early 2009, I attended a wedding at a Catholic church, and subhan’Allah, I don’t know what it was about the wedding ceremony, but I walked out of that church knowing that I no longer wanted to be Christian. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew I didn’t want to be Jewish because I knew the conversion process was very lengthy and involved.I had an Egyptian Muslim friend during that period who I spent a lot of time with. I witnessed the unity of the family during Ramadan and it was something that really stood out and appealed to me. I sat at my computer one day and I googled “what does it take to become Muslim,” and to my surprise, all it took was saying a few words!
I told my Muslim friend that I wanted to be Muslim and they were very excited. I was given a Quran, but truth be told I didn’t really read it much. I did know, however, that I wanted to take my shahada before Ramadan of 2009.
It happened one June day. I was on my way home from a trip to Los Angeles and I was walking to my car, and at that moment I was overwhelmed with a feeling of absolute, one hundred percent certainty, that I was ready to take my shahada. I really didn’t know much about Islam at that point, but it was implanted into my heart at that moment that I was ready to become Muslim. The next Friday I took my shahada. I didn’t know how to pray until my first day of Ramadan 2009. Fortunately, after that Ramadan, at the end of October, I found the M.E.C.C.A. Center and their New Muslims Program. It has been an amazing journey ever since.”
Now she is a trainer in the Muslim world.” I have been blessed to be able to use my professional expertise to help Muslims. Honestly, Allah has led me to do what I was doing before and gave me the ability to continue doing what I was doing after I accepted Islam. I should be in sujood until my last breath, because my life has been nothing but a blessing. I feel as a new Muslim, I have a greater impact, not only am I teaching fitness, but I am doing Dawah. My diverse background benefits Muslims.” In this world, there are only a handful of well-known trainers, she said, and she is the only Latina with her level of education in movement coaching, personal training, and nutrition, due to her background and experience (for over 20 years) in her previous non-Muslim world. “my students have nicknamed me “the hijabi drill sergeant.” In addition, I run Fit For Allah, a group strength-training class held weekly at the MECCA center in Manhattan, and work as director for the non-profit, health and fitness organization, Nadoona. [ Nadoona means “call on us” in colloquial Arabic and aimed a revolution not just about losing weight but being good slaves to God] . Through this organization and their Nadoona Body Makeover, I am able to create and design individualized programs for weight loss, utilizing the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah. I begin each class with a du’a, striving for the pure intention to spread health and fitness for the sake of Allah SWT. We have to remember that this is a part of worship. You cannot have one without the other- the inward without the outward or the outward without the inward.”

Being a Latina Muslim
For many Muslim women, one of the most known features that attract the eye is the hijab. Zainab is one of many women who chooses to wear the hijab, and wears it proudly. “We only fear the unknown, and you can’t trust the news about anything. The media chooses to teach you what they want you to know, they aren’t trying to give you a better viewpoint,” she said.
Because Zainab lives alone, she didn’t mention the big news to her family for a couple of weeks. In fact, she decided to wait until the following year to deliver the news to her father in person, who is a Pentecostal Christian and an assistant Spanish pastor in Orlando, FL.
“My mom has always been supportive. My brother, on the other hand, was initially selfish in thinking— as he was only concerned of losing me during Christmas, which was important to him,” she said. However, “Since then he is my biggest supporter and we have grown closer than ever before,” she said.
Her father was another story, but probably a similar one to many Muslim converts coming from a different background. He gave her the typical response of: He will pray for her to come back to her origins, she said. But as time has passed, her bond with her father, too, has strengthened. They always share quality father/daughter time through workouts during her visits to see him in Orlando. ? “I changed By living the prophet’s Sunnah. For instance, with my parents, they were suddenly elevated in my eyes because of the Sunnah- my mother three times higher than any other being and no “uff” from me to my father. And they see it a living example. And they love it.”
“I pray at least 5 times a day. Being a convert, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s a comfort and a mercy. People usually don’t even say hi to each other — but Muslims are sure to greet each other,” she said.” I am so busy. I have to remember that my external reality is not my internal reality. I take classes at the Mecca Center in NYC (www.meccacenter.com); I often speak to my teachers for guidance. I struggle to find time to purify my heart and become a better Muslim and stay grounded.
My routine is to listen to lessons from Shiekh Hamza Yusuf. Do Dhikr, read the Quran, listen to talks from scholars whenever I can, sometimes in the car. one day, I would love to see the House of Allah. That is my ultimate dream.”
After embarking on what looks like a 15-year spiritual journey, Zainab is a very proud Muslim who doesn’t hesitate in sharing her story with others. It’s amazing how she disregarded some of her early encounters with Islam to only in the end proclaim her newfound faith.
Source: messageinternational.org, muslimgirl.com, muslimahmontage.com
DUA: Allah please accept this from us. You are All-Hearing and All-Knowing. You are The Most Forgiving.You are The Most Relenting and repeatedly Merciful. Allah grant us The Taufiq to read all the 5 prayers with sincerity.

(Taken from: To Be Earnest In Prayers By Amina Elahi)

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