The month of Ramadan is coming to an end for Muslims across the world. For some, it was their first time fasting from sunrise to sunset.
“It’s been a crazy, hectic journey, but very rewarding,” said Bailee Echols, 22, of Cleveland.
Echols, who grew up in a Catholic home, spent the past month fasting for the holy month of Ramadan after converting to Islam in November of 2016.
Early this year, she made a public announcement on Facebook that she had converted to Islam. A decision that was fueled by an image Echols came across on social media that included a verse in the Quran.
“It was 'Indeed my lord is near and responsive,’ and that right there kind of hit me.”
Converting to Islam would mark a new journey for Echols that included experiencing Ramadan for the first time and wearing the hijab, which drew some negative comments.
“Some of them were negative towards me, like ‘Why are wearing it? What’s the purpose? Not everyone is wearing it.’ But it’s just me as an individual, that I feel more connected.
Anti-islamic hate crimes increased to more than 22 percent of the total hate crimes motivated by religious bias in 2015, according to statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Despite the number and negative comments Echols has come across, she said the love she shares for the religion surpassed the fear of islamophobia.
“At the end of the day, I’m doing this for Allah, not for anyone else.”
Echols is among others in the area who have also made the decision to convert.
“It’s been about 13 years now,” said Ivana Zajkovska who runs The Madinah Project in the Akron area. The group creates a space for young Muslims to connect and bring together the interfaith community. It’s something Zajkovska calls important to break barriers within the community and open healthy conversations between different faiths.
“It is not the time to stay in our bubbles,we cannot afford to do this," said Zajkovska. "We have to reach out to our neighbors, we have to reach out to our communities.”