As a child, Jennifer Harrell attended church and Sunday school. In high school, she was on the drill team and dated a football player. After college, she became a Methodist youth minister.
At age 23, she became a single parent. At age 26, she became a Muslim.
"I grew up in Plano doing all the things I thought I was supposed to do," said Ms. Harrell, 29, of Dallas. "I went to church. I went to parties. But I wasn't concerned about heaven or hell. I took it all for granted."
Eventually, she took a job in sales, where she was introduced to Islam by Muslim co-workers. One of them loved to debate religion, which stirred Ms. Harrell to rethink her Christian faith.
She studied the Bible, but also Islam in order to do a better job of
defending her faith. Instead, she became intrigued that Muslims prayed five
times a day, fasted and gave alms as a way of life.
"I wasn't the type of Christian who prayed every morning," she said.
She said Muslim beliefs about Jesus made more sense to her because they
revere him as a prophet and not God's son.
"When I was a Christian, I never understood why Jesus had to die for my sins," Ms. Harrell said. "I mean, they're my sins."
Her first visit to a mosque was memorable.
"I was the furthest thing from what they expected," she said. "Here were all these Arab and Pakistani women, and there I was, a typical Texas girl with blond hair and blue eyes wearing makeup, lipstick and nail polish."
"They looked at me with an understanding that said, 'Finally, somebody has opened her eyes,' " she said.
Before becoming a Muslim, she visited a Christian minister. She said she asked why Christians ate pork, why women didn't cover their heads in church, and why Christians dated.
"I wanted him to defend the Bible," she said. "I gave him everything that I had found wrong with Christian interpretation."
His answers didn't satisfy her.
One day while on her way to the mosque to pray, Ms. Harrell decided to make the shahada, or profession of faith: "There is no God but Allah and Muhammed is His prophet."
Bill Harrell said he knew his daughter had been considering Islam. "I've always encouraged my children to explore and test their beliefs," he said.
Three years later, Ms. Harrell is still a Muslim and teaches at an Episcopal school. She doesn't pray or wear the Muslim head covering known as hijab at work, though she said, "I know it's my duty."
Becoming a Muslim, she said, was the most important decision she's ever made - not just for herself but for her daughter.
"Islam affects every aspect of your life," she said. "It changed my goal from living in the moment to living with the intent of heaven."