I became acquainted with Islam unexpectedly around the age of 15. Despite encounters with Muslims throughout my life, it wasn't until I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and watched the cinematic portrayal of his life directed by Spike Lee that I connected Muslims with their faith rather than their culture. This marked my initial exposure to the religion of Islam. However, it took another year for me to interact with practicing Muslims to finally understand its belief system and practices. Forming a friendship with a Muslim classmate propelled me to embark on a more profound investigation. Fueled by my curiosity, I started questioning and eventually immersing myself in books. Now, as a mother to teenagers, I often contemplate the factors that solidified my faith in Islam. I wonder how parents can instill a similar passion in their children.
I did not intend to convert to Islam through my studies; I simply wanted to get a better understanding of Muslim life. I am a firm believer in allowing children to follow their own inherent curiosity and thirst for knowledge, as this can act as a guiding light along their spiritual path. The content our children engage with during their years of heightened independence and exploration holds paramount significance. While each person's journey is unique, gaining insights into what influenced others to embrace Islam can offer valuable perspectives.
With that said, I am eager to share the books I encountered during my teenage years that played a pivotal role in convincing me to embrace Islam. Perhaps your curious teen will also find them beneficial. The following is a list of books (or booklets) I read to convince me to be a Muslim in order:
1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
On February 21, 1965, outspoken civil rights leader, Hajji, and proclaimed Sunni Muslim, Malcolm X or El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was brutally assassinated as he addressed a crowd in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, New York. The people responsible for his murder likely wished to silence him forever, but his words would be immortalized in his autobiography published only nine months after his death. Although the book was written by Alex Haley, it was based on transcribed recorded interviews of Malcolm X, thus earning its classification as an autobiography. Thirty years after its publication, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, made its way to my hands when I was only 15 years old. I found the gem after visiting a book exchange in Savannah, Georgia, around 1995.
It was this book that sparked my initial curiosity about Islam. I knew about Malcolm X because of Spike Lee’s movie (by the same name) which came out in 1992, but the book gave more details about his experience performing Hajj and transitioning from the Nation of Islam to orthodox Islam. Reading about this account planted the seed of curiosity that drove me to want to learn more.
2. Islam and Christianity
Coming from a Catholic background, my first concern was what was the role of Jesus in Islam. I had a profound love for Jesus, peace be upon him, and his mother, Mary. Both are highly revered (even worshipped) in Catholicism; in fact, one of our daily supplications in Catholic school was to the Virgin Mary, whom we regarded as an intercessor between us and God. When I learned that Muslims also hold Jesus in high esteem, it was eye-opening. Why were we never taught about this important similarity between Muslims and Christians?
Additionally, the belief of Jesus as a prophet and messenger rather than a Divine figure, son of God, demigod, or part of a Trinity, or being God Himself, was a notion that was easier to grasp for me. The Islamic understanding of Jesus, peace be upon him, resonated with me because I never understood the Christian assertion about the divinity of Jesus. Even as a young child, I had questions about why Jesus prayed, why he ate, why he walked on Earth amongst the people, how he looked, how he had a mother, and how he could die on the cross if he was supposed to be God. These things just did not make sense to me. A simple booklet about Jesus in Islam answered all these questions within a matter of a few pages. Although my intention behind reading about Islam was never to convert, after this first introduction to the Islamic position on Jesus, I was pretty much convinced that Islam was the true religion.
On a side note, Islam and Christianity, the book I largely credit to have cemented my conversion to Islam, was written by Mrs. Ulfat Aziz-us-Samad, a Muslim woman (an example and proof of the value of female scholarship in Islam).
3. A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam
If you have ever participated in any educational event about Islam or browsed through the shelves in your local masjid, then I am sure you have seen this colorful booklet. A Brief Illustrated Guide To Understanding Islam by I.A. Ibrahim covers basic topics about Islam in about 80 pages of text and it is perfect for non-Muslims and new Muslims. The beautiful illustrations and pictures coupled with important information make it ideal for teens. It certainly played a vital role in helping me understand Islam and its central teachings.
4. Muslim Christian Dialogue
A recurring theme in my journey to Islam was comparative religion. As someone who came from an Abrahamic faith tradition, it was important for me to understand the parallels and differences between Islam and Christianity. Even if you do not share the same background and were raised Muslim, if you live in the West, it is equally imperative to understand the religious practices of the people around you.
Additionally, Muslim-Christian Dialogue by H.M. Baagil, M.D., an interreligious dialogue is based on actual conversations that present arguments from the Christian perspective with thorough answers from the Islamic point of view. Knowing how to answer these valid questions is important for when our children encounter people of other faiths. While I did not enjoy the Q&A format of the book as much as the more informative Islam and Christianity, it was nonetheless a valuable read.
5. Towards Understanding Islam
Towards Understanding Islam by Syed Abul A'la Mawdudi is lauded as a primer for anyone who is a non-Mulsim or newly practicing Muslim. It is also distributed to non-Muslims as a learning tool. I do not recall many details about the book, but it must have provided further answers to questions I had about the Islamic religion. Interestingly, it was published in 1992, around the same time as some of the other books on this list.
6. The True Religion of God
Like a wise teacher, this book takes its reader by the hand and explains why Islam is the religion meant for all humankind. Even in its first few lines, it brings to light that by the very definition of the word, Islam, a person must acknowledge that it is at the very least unique from other religions. In The True Religion of God by Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Phillips wrote on page one:
“The religion of lslam is not named after a person as in the case of Christianity, which was named after Jesus Christ, Buddhism after Gotama Buddha, Confucianism after Confucius, and Marxism after Karl Marx. Nor was it named after a tribe like Judaism after the tribe of Judah and Hinduism after the Hindus. lslam is the true religion of ‘Allah’ and as such, its name represents the central principle of Allah's ‘God's’ religion; the total submission to the will of Allah ‘God.’”
I remember reading this and being astonished because I never considered the origin of the names of different religions. So, just from the very first page, Dr. Phillips had my attention and by the time I finished his book, I was completely vested in what he asserted was the religion of truth.
7. The Holy Quran
It may be surprising that the Quran was not the first book I read when I wanted to learn about Islam, but I believe this was for the best. I had already gotten some tidbits of Quranic quotes in the books I had already read. When I opened the Quran, initially it was confusing. Little did I know I was reading it backwards! The copy I was given, The Qur'an Text, Translation and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, which was beautifully decorated, contained both the Arabic and English text, so it opened from left to right rather than from right to left. When I figured out this minor detail, I was finally able to read it and realized that Allah speaks directly to the reader in the Quran. This was something I never experienced when I read the Bible. The first-person narration is truly captivating and makes the reader feel special and seen – something that is very important to young people.
The Quran had a sort of mystical presence. Its green and gold cover was enticing, and the Arabic was striking. I remember that even my non-Muslim friends were in awe when they saw it on my desk. Although it was certainly a lovely book, the words it contained were the most precious. As Muslim parents, we often encourage our children to memorize the Quran in Arabic, and while that is noble and good, it is also crucial that they read it in English or in the language they use most. It will have a greater impact and help them understand and implement Islam’s teachings.
After reading these books, I was convinced that Islam was my religion and that I had always been a Muslim at heart. I eventually declared the Shahadah and converted to Islam when I was twenty years old. It took me a period of five years to read and understand Islam before becoming a Muslim, but I think I would have done so earlier had I known how easy it was to convert. A few other books that impacted me in the early stages of my conversion were Crucifixion or Cruci-fiction and other writings by Ahmed Deedat and What Did Jesus Really Say? by Misha'al Ibn Abdullah. I also benefitted greatly from videos of Ahmed Deedat, Dr. Bilal Phillips, Dr. Zakir Naik, and Sheikh Khalid Yaseen.
It was a different world at that time, and now access to information about Islam is even easier to obtain. Reading opened the door for me, but there are other avenues available to seek knowledge, and our job as parents is to provide opportunities and ignite the spark of inquisitiveness within our children. We must allow them to discover the beauty and wisdom of this faith on their terms.
As I reflect on my own journey, the books I was gifted with became beacons of light, illuminating a path I was destined to traverse. They revealed that Islam was not just a religion to embrace; it was the faith I had inherently carried in my heart. By nurturing our children's yearning to learn, explore, and question, we equip them to find their own connection with Islam — a connection as unique and profound as the journey itself.
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. To learn more about Wendy Díaz’s conversion story, see Bringing Voice to a Life’s Journey to Islam. You can also follow her on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam