ADAPT TO SURVIVE. This was a motto I began to live by at a very young age. As the daughter of a convicted drug trafficker, I learned that you either adapt to the ever changing environment, or you may lose it. My brother and I grew up rough, as do a lot of kids in the US. We were abused and shamed by our Mother and her endless bad choices until our family stepped in and took us from her.
We were shuffled around from family member to family member until a cousin adopted us and we maintained a sense of stability, I was 8 by then. I say these things only because in order to see how I came to Islam, I feel you should see where I began.
I never really understood stability or foundation. My family did their best to raise us as good Christians, we were sent to church, and over the years I developed a bond with God, because of all the nights I would sit praying that the screaming and drunken fighting in the background would suddenly end.
I was 17 when I got my first apartment and began living life under my own guidance. I stopped going to church then and decided that I would always take better care of myself than anyone else could, and would never allow anyone to hurt me, not like hey had done before. I went furthest from God during these years. I fell into drinking and pride.
At 21 I had a great job in the photography industry and after a few years I was making good money and patting myself on the back instead of thanking God. I worked relentlessly only worried about making money and spending it on the most temporary lifestyle you can imagine. I was managing a photography
studio in New York for a few years and I can remember a time there that I would go out and party all night, get home at sunrise, take a shower eat and then go to work…repeat as needed. I would tell myself, well at least I don’t do drugs, so this is not so bad.
I eventually moved back to Dallas and started my own small event photography business. I got some great gigs, I was the resident photographer for Ghost Bar, the newest hottest night club in Dallas. I would go to work at and shoot Justin Timberlake, Tommy Lee, Timberland, athletes, local stars…whoever was big that was there. My images would be published in local magazines and some national like People. I was living it up, some celebs that were regulars even knew my name, I even got a kiss from Tommy Lee. My job came with perks like tons of friends, entry to any club I wanted, open bar tabs…my phone was always buzzing after dark and all I could think of was myself.
I guess it was all too much. I was working and partying all in the same place and I began to feel empty inside. I was surrounded by nothing but a material, temporary life. Nothing had purpose or feeling to it. The people I was around were the same, empty and looking for the temporary satisfaction of the world. I would drink and get home and not even know how I got there. I would have dreams, where I am searching for something, people all around me in an ocean, I’m in a small boat and they reach for me, screaming and needing help. I would lay in bed and think about my childhood, I would think about how my Mother chose her desires over me, how my Father had left and remarried and started a new life with new kids and never looked back. I would just scream into my pillow and wonder if I was gonna crack or lose it. Had I lost my adaptability after all these years?
This was my turning point. I had finally had enough. I used to talk to my friends about life and ask them, “Don’t you want something more?” I felt a new kind of emptiness, this time it was a search for purpose. I wanted to permanently fill the dark hole that had developed in my heart since birth.
Some friends would try to recommend things. I used to hang with this group, some of them were Arab,
some Persian. They were all Muslim, but not practicing. One told me about some stories he had seen on YouTube about people on the same search I was on and they found Islam. Not exactly the encouragement I was looking for, but I was open to checking out videos. I watched Yusuf Estes story, and then Yusuf Islam. He talked about the search, and almost drowning and begging God to give him a second chance at life and now he lives for God through his new religion of Islam. I related to this because I wanted a second chance too. I wanted to live pure and clean like he did.
I wasn’t running around looking for God, or Love, or Change but I ended up with all three.” ~Nicole Queen
I always tell people, God chooses when He’s gonna come at you and He chooses how, not us. I came to a fork in my life and God placed me there for a reason, I could either go towards Him, or ignore the invitation and keep searching blindly for my greater purpose. God was throwing walls at me left and right, trying to make me stop and see the path He was laying for me.
It was the night I met Hassan that was the biggest brick wall I had ever smacked into. He wore an out of style shirt and stood there with his cranberry juice in his hand, looking completely out of place at the local lounge that I hung out at every Tues night. I had just arrived after I finished shooting at Ghost Bar and Hassan’s roommate had drug him out there to play “wingman”. I knew he didn’t belong in this place around these people and that’s what drew me to him. I approached him because he was too shy to talk much to me. We swapped business cards and little did I know this would be one of the last times I would be standing there at that lounge, vodka in hand.
He pretended to need a photographer the first time he emailed me. It was cute. We would talk about life, and what we wanted from it. He talked about his faith, Islam, and I offered what I had learned from endless nights watching YouTube videos. He saw my desire towards his faith and the more I learned about it, I saw that a part of him was growing closer towards his own faith through my excitement.
He gave me my first Quran, and told me about classes at the Dallas mosque. Half of me liked the guy, but most of me was drawn to this feeling that the more I learned from him, the more I was getting closer to a new way of life, a pure way that didn’t leave me waking up every morning asking myself, “How did I get home last night?”
I went to classes for months at the Islamic Association of North Texas. I would meet with Hassan at coffee shops and tell him what I was learning. I was on my way and never looking back. The more I learned about Islam, the more my addiction grew. I would stay up all night listening to lectures and watching YouTube videos instead of going out drinking. I found myself lying to get out of shooting parties for Ghost Bar and avoiding my party friends and life began to have a whole new meaning.
Months went by that Hassan and I wouldn’t speak, I was focused on my hopeful changes and he nurtured his own spiritual growth. He would ask around about me, and would smile when others would tell him that I was still going to classes, and pursuing Islam. I bought so many books and CD’s, anything I could get my hands on. I loved reading “The Ideal Muslimah” I used to think to myself there is no way a woman like this exists. I read Believing As Ourselves and felt close to the author and her struggles to find her identity as an American and a muslim. I bought “Daughters of Another Path” and pictured giving it to my adoptive Mom and that she would love the changes to my life. I wanted to be these women that I read about.
I decided firmly that I was going to do this; I was going to convert. It was the end of April, 2007 when I said my shahada at IANT with Imam Yusuf Kavakci. I didn’t want to make a spectacle of it so we did it in his small office, just a few girls from the New Muslim class were there with me, they even helped me dress in hijab for the first time for the occasion. As I’m sitting in the office waiting with them we hear a knock at the door. In walks Hassan, blushing red and a friend he convinced to walk in with him. I blushed as well, we hadn’t really been talking as much as we used to, but I felt so happy he wanted to be there.
I fumbled through my declaration of faith to Allah, trying to make my Arabic as reasonable as possible with my thick twang. I didn’t know how this was supposed to feel, but I knew things would never be the same. I let go of my nightlife photography business, I couldn’t stand being in the clubs anymore. I was a clean person now, and a dirty job just wasn’t going to keep me on this straight path. Ghost bar started offering me double to shoot their parties. I told myself this is the devil tempting me, trying one last time to hold onto me and that I would fight him till the end.
I got a day job, 9-5 working at a speakers bureau, arranging events for talent. I would drive through rush hour traffic blissfully listening to my Yusuf Islam CD, happy that track 6 taught me how to pray in Arabic. I got a roommate to help me not be lonely, keeping me home more often instead of tempted to go out. I had stopped drinking and dating, cold turkey and never looked back.
Hassan arranged for me to stay in Jordan for a month with his family, so I could grow more in Islam and experience a Muslim country. I went alone, without him, since we weren’t married, and I saw a world older than anything I had ever seen. I heard the Adhan played proudly through the city streets and wore hijab every day. I was just wearing it for the spirit of being there but as the weeks went by I realized I would never be able to take it off. For once in my life I learned what it felt like to be admired for being modest, instead of sexual attraction. Instead of a man checking out my body, he was shyly opening the door for me and nothing could be the feeling that I had stripped away my biggest obstacle- vanity. I used hijab as a tool, to help me physically see the girl that I was working so hard on the inside to be.
I flew back to Dallas a full time hijab-wearing Muslim. It was never more a reality to my family than it was when I showed up wearing my scarf. My adopted Mother was so upset, she said she thought it was all a phase, but the scarf showed her I was serious. It took a year for us to build our relationship back up. I never stopped calling and visiting and showing her the positive changes Islam had to my life.
Hassan went to Haj that next year and came back a different man. He started looking at me as more than just a friend and we were married that April, a year after I said my shahada. We both grew closer and closer to Allah and truly became better people because of it. Still to this day I can’t for the life of me figure out how the two of us ended up together, considering who we were from the beginning, but all I have to say is God has many paths that lead to Him. He knows exactly which one you will take, whether you believe it or not.
Today, Alhamdulillah Hassan and I have two beautiful muslim children. I am photographing again, but this time I started something I can be proud of. I share my story often and offer support and advice to others looking to change their lives through my website and blog, www.NicoleQueen.com and www.queensimage.com .
I’m a certified speaker with the Islamic Speakers Bureau and speak regularly at public schools and churches about Islam and Muslims and also am invited as an inspirational lecturer at Islamic events throughout DFW and nationally. Alhamdulillah. My hope for the future is to host a talk show featuring the stories of New Muslims and feature topics relevant to challenges and transitions we face, in hopes to inspire born Muslims to be closer to their faith, New Muslims to face challenges successfully and Non-Muslims to see past stereo types and gain a closer understanding of our faith.