LSA sophomore Michael Dann was raised as a Christian, going to
church and Sunday school in Amherst, Mass., as was his family’s
tradition. But four years ago, he decided he was destined for a
different path. Dann converted to Islam, which he said has changed
Dann said he went from being involved in “the drug culture” and
party scene in junior high school to looking for something more in
life – thanks to the example set by his tennis coach, a black
Muslim man from New Jersey.
“Through my contact with him, and especially through tennis, I
got to see there was something more serious about life, something
more serious than gratifying your immediate desires,” he said,
adding that his coach did not often talk about Islam explicitly but
rather led by example.
“It was just through his approach to life and his character,
being around him – I was attracted to something I knew he had,
something that was motivating his life,” Dann said. “He gave me
different books to read, not mostly about Islam except for the
Quran, but those books served more to wake me up to that there’s
more to life than partying and fun, and that God should be in my
Dann, who also goes by Abdullah, which means “servant of God,”
helped organize a panel held last night in Hutchins Hall as part of
Islam Awareness Week. The panel featured testimonies from three
people who converted to Islam, who told an audience of 50 their
stories and answered questions about their experiences with the
“It’s important because it’s a chance to speak for ourselves,
for Muslims to present Islam as they understand it and not as other
people understand it,” Dann said. He added that the event was a
chance for people to learn about the process of becoming Muslim and
the diverse experiences that bring people to Islam.
“Ultimately all we can do is present Islam as we’ve experienced
it and understand it,” he said. “What other people do with it will
be different according to who they are and what they want. I’m
looking at it more from our angle, that we have a responsibility to
Law School student Felix Chang said he attended the event out of
curiosity and was very impressed with the testimonies he heard.
“I think they were really honest and open about the decisions
they had to make, something very personal to them that they shared,
and I appreciated that,” he said. “I think their stories are really
interfaith, that their stories of conversion can pretty much be
applied to any belief system, so it has universal appeal.”
Muslim Students Association President Omar Khalil said the panel
drew positive response last year, and that people commented that
they enjoyed seeing how panelists were introduced to Islam and what
aspects of Islam affected them the most.
“We had a lot of feedback last year saying perhaps that was
people’s favorite event of the week, so we felt it was something we
should continue,” said Khalil, a Rackham student.
He said the event also showcases the diversity within Islam and
gives campus and community members a more familiar angle from which
to approach understanding Islam.
“First of all, what we wanted to show is that Islam isn’t just a
foreign religion (and that Muslims are) not just from the Middle
East or Pakistan or from Indonesia,” he said. “We wanted to show
that there are people like the students on this campus who are born
American, raised American, and yet they felt this for them was the
religion they chose for themselves.”
Dann remembers being 14 years old and having a short discussion
about Islam with his coach, but it was not until later that he said
he realized the impact the discussion had on him and the process he
had embarked upon.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but suddenly it had an
attraction to me. When I met a Muslim I would ask him what he
believed and if he had anything I could read. The seed was already
there,” he said.
His conversion was a gradual process, Dann said, but it didn’t
entirely negate his previous beliefs.
“Becoming a Muslim to me wasn’t disbelieving in Jesus or leaving
everything from Christianity behind. It was about believing in what
I considered to be a more accurate version of God’s message.”
He added that Islam has changed his life and his interactions
with his family for the better.
“Without Islam I don’t know where I would be today. My
motivation for succeeding academically and succeeding
professionally – all that stems from Islam, and I don’t think it’d
be there if it weren’t for Islam.”