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    Muslims approach harmonic journey

    A couple who converted from Protestantism to Islam head toward simultaneous joys. And they wish people who might judge them understood the true meaning of their faith.

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 2, 2002

    The lives of Freddie and Lori Allen are brimming with expectancy.

    Their first child is due in less than two weeks, and in a few days, they will begin the monthlong spiritual journey that makes up one of the most important obligations of their Islamic faith.

    It is a spiritual walk that likely will begin Wednesday, with the sighting of the new crescent moon, when Muslims worldwide will start Ramadan, the holy month of penitence, fasting, forgiveness and renewal.

    For the first time since converting to the faith, Mrs. Allen will not fast. Nursing mothers, children, the elderly and those who are ill are exempt from the fast that stretches from sunrise to sunset.

    She will miss the annual discipline, she said this week.

    "There's going to be a void there," she said, "because I want to fast."

    Besides abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours, Muslims also are required to refrain from smoking and sexual relations as part of the fast. During Ramadan, which commemorates the anniversary of God's revelation of the Koran -- the holy book of Islam -- to the prophet Mohammed, believers also are required to say extra prayers.

    Despite its demands, Mrs. Allen, 25, said she looks forward to Ramadan.

    "I think that for myself, every year I can say I have learned something new. God provides us with so much. I'd feel pretty worthless if I can't give back. I'm supposed to worship God in the proper way and for me to fast and abstain from what God wants, it's just for a month in the year," she said.

    Her husband, an administrative assistant in information technology at Goodwill Industries, said he also is filled with anticipation with the approach of the holy month. For him, its theme of spiritual renewal is paramount.

    "What I am hoping for is trying to get a better discipline over myself. Taking care of needs instead of taking care of wants. Trying to put things in financial perspective for me and my family and also a better understanding of the religion," he said.

    Allen, 34, who was raised a Baptist, converted to Islam in 1993.

    "I guess, I really have to say I was just searching for the truth," he said, adding that two of his uncles had become Muslims years earlier.

    The general thought in the family at the time was that "they were crazy."

    Allen, who became interested in the religion about six years after leaving home, said he eventually discovered that his uncles weren't crazy after all.

    "And I thank them," he said.

    His wife converted in 1996, a year after the couple met.

    "He introduced me to Islam," she said.

    "The main thing that grasped me was the Koran. If you read the Koran, it brings tears to your eyes. It is the truth. It is just the most wonderful blessing I have received."

    Mrs. Allen, who works as an office manager for the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, grew up as a Methodist. All along, though, she had difficulty understanding the Christian belief in Jesus as the son of God and that prayers can be directed to him.

    "My main question that I had was, if I am praying and asking for forgiveness and help, why would I pray to anyone but God? If there is someone below God, there would be no reason for me to pray to that deity. Islam has answered that for me, because that is not a concern in Islam," she said.

    "I was 18 when I started learning about Islam, and I was 19 when I accepted."

    Her parents were concerned, Mrs. Allen said.

    "They hadn't learned much about Islam. They had seen everything that the media had portrayed Islam to be, and that was negative. They were concerned that I would be oppressed in the religion," she said.

    "They see that it has helped me grow into a better person, and they can appreciate that."

    The Allens, who have been married for five years, have accepted Muslim names, though they have not changed them officially. His is Abdus Sabr and hers is Aisha. They worship at the Islamic Society of Pinellas County in Pinellas Park, where Mrs. Allen converted, and at the Masjid Al-Muminin Inc., the Believers' Mosque, at 3762 18th Ave. S.

    Their faith has benefitted their marriage, Allen said.

    "One thing that we have learned through our religion is us communicating is the only way that our family will be successful," he said.

    "Prior to her becoming Muslim, our communication was not as good as it is now."

    The couple has watched as recent events -- from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to the sniper attacks around Washington, D.C. -- marred the way some outsiders look at Islam and its practitioners.

    "Personally, for myself, I have not had any repercussions, because the majority of people who know me, know me for who I am and what I stand for," Allen said.

    "I stand by certain morals and I hope that it reflects in my everyday lifestyle."

    His wife staunchly defends their faith.

    "If a Muslim were to kill someone for absolutely no reason other than self-defense, that would be as if they killed all of humanity, and that's a very big sin," she said.

    "I have seen people that have looked at me differently and acted negatively toward me. I feel for them and I wish I could help them learn more about my faith. If people were to really understand Islam and learn about it, they would understand that whatever happened was not done by a Muslim. The prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, would not teach us to do that."

    During Ramadan, which will end in early December with the three-day celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the Allens, like observant Muslims everywhere, will give to charity, break the fast at nights with their religious community and read the Koran from cover to cover. They will say additional prayers and try to refrain from negative thoughts and actions.

    In the current anti-Muslim climate, Mrs. Allen is concerned about their unborn child.

    "Of course, I am fearful for my child," she said.

    "I think every mother, every father, Christians, Jews and Muslims, they want the best for their child. My belief is that God has power over everything and the power to protect everything."

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