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The Spiritual Edge: Searching for the 'real' Islam

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Diana Demchenko converted to Islam as a college sophomore. But since she didn’t grow up around the religion, she had to learn what the real Islam is and searched - online, in local mosques, and eventually abroad. Thousands of American students used to travel to Egypt to study religion and Quranic Arabic, and Diana was one of them.

Diana grew up always interested in religion, but her immigrant family was more traditional than religious, which gave her a degree of separation from the Christianity that dominated their new home in Michigan. Even she though went to multiple churches, read scripture, and interrogated clergy, it never really sat with her right. After a series of emails, texts, and conversations with a Saudi student in Michigan, Diana converted via text message in the college library hyped up on coffee.

Becoming Muslim was the easier part. Being Muslim was harder. Diana tried to find spiritual leaders she liked and to study scripture in translation, all while navigating the not-exactly welcoming American cultural landscape, which sometimes extended to her family. In Mosques in southern California, she found what she thought was a more authentic Islam, practiced by immigrant Muslims.

Eventually, she found herself in Cairo with other students who came to study Arabic and the Quran. While there she found Islam to be a much more normal, daily thing in people’s lives, and less of an identity to fulfill. When she was forced to come back to the US because of the COVID pandemic, she took that new perspective with her and kept her old convictions to keep looking for answers.