A new faith called for a new behavior
Richard Beauchamp sat in the parking lot watching the Muslims come and go. He had never been to a mosque before, and was nervous.
When he mustered the nerve to go inside, he was greeted warmly. He said that he'd been raised a Baptist, but felt drawn to Islam.
"They were extremely kind," said Mr. Beauchamp, 31, of Irving. "It was so easy to go back."
His next visit was on a Friday during prayer time. Mr. Beauchamp didn't know the Muslim way of praying, so he sat in a chair and watched. Most men were on the floor.
"The chairs were for the elderly," he said. "I was so caught up in the prayers that I didn't notice."
Mr. Beauchamp said he became disenchanted with Christianity at a young age. He didn't understand how babies could be born with original sin. Nor did he understand how Christians could believe in one God and the Trinity at the same time.
His journey to Islam was a solitary one, which is common among American converts. He discovered Islam through books, before ever meeting a Muslim.
Within a year of his visit, he was sure he'd found a spiritual home. But becoming a Muslim meant a major lifestyle overhaul.
"I was living a normal lifestyle of a 20-something American," he said. "I was going out, going to pubs, and mixing freely with women. As a Muslim, I could no longer call up a friend, if she was a girl, and just hang out. I certainly couldn't drink anymore."
His friends took his conversion harder than his parents did.
"My lifestyle changed a lot, and it was hard for them," he said. "But when I read what Muslim writers said, it made me take a hard look at how I was living."
He said he'd had taken a dim view of Muslims growing up, which was a barrier to his conversion. Stories about the Iranian revolution, violence, and the capture of American hostages make him leery.
"It was a battle to get through the prejudices I had," he said. "But going to a mosque smashed all those negative beliefs. I saw extremely faithful people who were sincere and compassionate."
On Monday, Mr. Beauchamp will be in Indonesia to marry a woman that he's never dated. Because Muslims frown upon dating, he turned to the Internet to find his spouse.
"She's a good woman, devoted to Islam," he said.
He corresponded with her for six months, then flew to Indonesia to meet her and her family last month. He was there on Sept. 11 when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"Many Americans are getting a distorted image of Islam," he said. "It pains me because Islam has brought me a sense of peace and a sense of purpose that I never had before."