Illinois Mom Does First Hajj

Kristin Szremski, 53-year-old award-winning journalist, converted from Christianity to Islam and took the pilgrimage to Mecca, her first Hajj.

The Hajj is a mandatory religious pilgrimage for Muslims that is held annually in the Fall. This year, among the hundreds of thousands gathered in Mecca, was Kristin Szremski, an Illinois mom on her very first Hajj, albeit with a very fascinating story of self-discovery and finding peace.

Kristin Szremski is a 53-year-old award winning journalist, with more than 20 years’ experience as an investigative reporter and editor. She recently described her 53-year journey during which she changed her religion twice, went through divorce, lost her house, underwent two major surgeries and finally, finding her place in Islam and peace on her first Hajj.

Finding Her Faith in Islam

Szremski only recently converted to Islam. In fact she was born and raised in a Missouri-Synod Lutheran family. She later got married to a Catholic husband who eventually convinced her to join his church when she was 40 years old. Kristin describes Catholicism as being a major turning point and influencer on her decision to join Islam. Unlike in Lutheranism, the Catholic Church encouraged members to seek answers, knowledge, and a more in-depth understanding of the Bible.

Her first encounter with Islam was in 2000 when she worked for the Star Newspaper in Chicago as a special assignment reporter – she was assigned to report on the Arab community. While conducting research during the first six weeks, she was able to interview very many Arab Muslims. Their Islamic lifestyle cultivated her urge to find out more about Islam, driven by her spiritual hunger.  However, her conversion was a slow, continuous process that took around 18 months of rigorous soul-searching. What fascinated her the most during this period was the startling similarity between most the stories and teachings found in both the Quran and the Bible. She recalls that her final conversion was in July 21st 2001; she was in a hotel room reading the Quran and praying on her knees. She declared the Shahada – that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger – and later made the same announcement publicly in Arab to seal her conversion.

Szremski Braves Arthritis to Travel Her First Hajj

Fast forward to 2014 and Szremski , now a fully devout Muslim,  has been greatly weakened physically by two surgeries – one on her neck and the other on the lower back, brought about by degenerative arthritis – but she still bravely pushes herself to attend her first Hajj. She describes her first Hajj as a very spiritual experience that involves a lot of personal reflection as well as being physically demanding. She managed to find her way around the place by joining up with a tour group out of Milwaukee. In spite of the physical shortcomings, she was able to go through with some of the rites of Hajj. When she’s asked what she mainly gained from this experience, she points out that in spite of all that she has been going through lately she learn that she not take the gift of her faith for granted.

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