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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Leap of faith

By Ana Breton

A day at Wal-Mart changed the life of one U student forever.

A year and a half ago, Nichole Mossalam was a devoted Catholic with a steady lifestyle. She attended Mass every day and was so dedicated to the Catholic faith she enrolled in a local convent.

But the Mossalam did not stay at the convent. Instead, the “super Catholic,” as her friends dubbed her, got married.

But her marriage dwindled. When her husband wasn’t sitting on the couch playing video games, he was off partying somewhere.

Mossalam got a job at Wal-Mart and became the primary source of income for her family. For the seven or eight months she worked there, she said, she was tired and unhappy.

Until, one day, a customer changed her life forever.

She was working as a cashier when ChloeAnn, a woman in her late 20s wearing a full-body hijab-the veil worn by Muslim women-came through Mossalam’s check-out line.

Sparking Mossalam’s interest in the Muslim culture, a knowledge she had gained in history classes at Davis High School, Mossalam struck up a conversation with ChloeAnn.

“We became friends that day,” said Mossalam, who is now a freshman in Middle East studies. “She basically introduced me to my new faith.”

Countless conversations later, Mossalam became fully dedicated to the Islam faith.

She was so dedicated to becoming Muslim that she wore the full body hijab several months before she officially converted in March 2005.

“It just felt right to convert,” Mossalam said. “It felt natural, and it just gave me a sense of completion.”

Through her conversion, she donated all her clothes to charity in exchange for the hijab-a dark, draped cloth that completely covers her entire body, except her face.

While most people have the impression that Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab, Mossalam said it would be more painful for her to take it off.

“When guys found me attractive before I was Muslim, they would sometimes take flirting too far,” she said. “But when I started wearing the hijab, they just respected me more. I gained a lot of freedom by wearing the covering.”

But by gaining a new attire and religion, Mossalam also lost several friends.

“I used to be the partying type- clubbing and partying every weekend- but since I moved away from that, all those friends kind of drifted away,” she said, adding that Muslims are not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages.

Her family’s reaction, however, was even worse.

Her father, a civil labor worker at Hill Air Force Base, called her a “terrorist.” He also said that if she were to marry a Muslim, she would not be welcome in their home.

But although her father did not attend the wedding, Mossalam married Mohanad Mossalam, a graduate student in pharmacy, one month after their first meeting.

Mohanad Mossalam, a fellow Muslim, emigrated from Egypt because his father, a liaison officer, was transferred to Hill Air Force Base six years ago.

Nichole and Mohanad Mossalam’s fathers have never met.

Over the years, Nichole Mossalam said her family “has became more at ease now that they see how happy (she) is.”

Her marriage to Mohanad Mossalam has been a “night and day” difference compared with her first one, she said.

“He is so supportive and helps me around the house,” she said.

In Islamic tradition, the husband and wife are equal partners and play an equal part in their respective fields.

“It’s funny, though, because I’m very light-skinned, so people don’t know I’m Muslim until they see me with Nichole,” Mohanad Mossalam said.

Now the Mossalams are celebrating their one-year anniversary, which coincided with Ramadan, the month-long Islamic period from Sept. 24 to Oct. 23 in which devotees abstain from eating during daylight hours.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast as an act of submission and remembrance, calling attention to people who live in poverty around the world-it’s not necessarily an act of religious expression.

And fasting for the pair has not been an easy experience.

“It was difficult sometimes to walk through the Union and smell all the food. You seem to have a heightened sense of smell when you are fasting,” Nichole Mossalam said. “But after a while, it gets better, and days just seem to pass by.”

Nichole Mossalam’s biggest concern during Ramadan was a surgery she had to undergo.

Because Muslims do not ingest food or water during the day throughout Ramadan, she was worried about “cheating” with the IV tube that was a part of her surgery.

She said, however, that she could just fast an extra day after Ramadan was over.

Muslims also follow Salah, a prayer offered five times per day. Nichole Mossalam said the prayer does not disrupt her classes because it’s a flexible tradition.

“As long as you pray before the next prayer, you’re OK,” she said.

Now, Nichole Mossalam wants to change people’s ideas about Muslims around the world.

“Unlike the Islamic fascist title placed on us, Muslims are actually a very friendly community,” she said. “We tend to look at the heart, not the face of a person.”

In the future, after Nichole Mossalam learns Arabic and graduates, the couple plans to move to Egypt or someplace in the Middle East.

“We have our own type of culture now,” Mohanad Mossalam said. “It’s like we are where Egyptian and American meets, and that’s what makes it cool.”

As for her religious transformation, Nichole Mossalam has no regrets.

“Becoming Muslim was a gradual process, but it was the best decision of my life,” she said.

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