Riley Logan, 19, pauses as she applies makeup in the window light in her dorm room at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., as she gets ready for her day. After growing up in a Christian family, Riley converted to Islam in the fall of 2017. However, Riley was apprehensive about openly practicing her newfound faith in her hometown of Benton Harbor, a small town on the western side of the state “It was hard when you were in a place that was so conservative," says Riley. Riley didn't start openly practicing her new faith until she arrived at Central Michigan University in the fall of 2018.
Riley and Manahil Kahn, 20, leave the Bovee University Center to go do homework on the campus of Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. Riley met Manahil through the Muslim Student Association on campus and the two became close friends. The young group of fellow Muslims at CMU has given Riley close friendships and support. “I met people here and they’re encouraging and not pushing” as Riley began openly practicing her faith. “It made the transition easier… it’s like another family," she says.
Riley checks her phone while waiting for her roommate to get ready in their dorm room at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. Riley grew up in a Christian tradition but describes herself as an independent person but found herself being limited in Christianity. Not being about to be curious and question aspects of the religion frustrated Riley. One day she began to research Islam when she was in high school and began questioning what she thought she knew about Islam. “With Islam it’s such a logical religion and fit with what I thought about God. It just clicked," she says. “Islam finds an answer for everything. It’s nice to be a part of something bigger.”
The view from the eighth floor of Troutman Residential Hall on the campus of Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. Riley and her current roommate Rahaf Azzam moved to the eighth floor after experiencing issues with their non-Muslim roommates. In college, adhering to the tenant of Islam to not intentionally harming oneself goes against the typical college partying experience- all of which Riley abstains from. “A lot of muslims become more religious… It takes more restraint to not drink or smoke," Riley shares, "It strengthens their faith.”
As she prepares for one of her five daily prayers, Riley drapes her head scarf over her head in her dorm room. Since starting covering her hair, Riley makes a point to not post pictures of her self in a hijab on social media for concern of someone from her hometown seeing that she has converted and it having a negative impact on her parents' lives. While her parents are very supportive and accepting of her decision to convert, when Riley is at home she wears a turban rather than a hijab. “I try my best to not stand out a lot (while covering)… Which sucks because I’m proud to be Muslim but also I don’t want to be killed.”
Riley studies with her friends in the Dow Bioscience building. Studying late into the night at the Bioscience building is one of Riley and her friends' favorite times to hangout and catch up after long days. Often they will stay up until 2 a.m. alternating between studying and goofing off with each other.
Manahil Khan, left, and Riley, left, pose for a selfie with Maham Khan as Maham attempts to put on lipstick prior to speaking on a panel Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
Riley squints as she rides her bike back to her residence hall after class. Before converting Riley did a lot of research of the religion but says she was “afraid something would come up and make me regret my decision.” Since converting Riley has lost several friends, however, her parents and siblings are very supportive of her choice. She also keeps a guard up as she navigates the effects of Islamophobia in America and says “I went into this way more prepared than I needed to be."
Riley washes her feet in her dorm bathroom's sink as she gets ready for her day. One of the main resources Riley used to research Islam before converting was "Islam for Dummies" which showed the equal nature of men and women in Islam. Riley points out that the stereotypes of Muslim men and women often come from Muslim culture- not the religion."That’s something I have to work through and remind myself to separate culture and religion," Riley explains.
Members of the Muslim Student Association of Central Michigan University pray together following their weekly meeting. Prayer is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and because of class times and lack of quiet spaces on campus to pray, Riley sometimes misses a prayer and has to make up the missed prayer as soon as possible.
Riley eats lunch by herself in the RFOC dining hall at the Towers Residence halls on the campus of Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. Navigating the food menus of the residence hall cafeterias while adhering to Islamic dietary laws can be challenging for Riley when it comes to avoiding pork and pork products and cross contamination of foods.
Rahaf Azzam stands on her prayer mat in her and Riley's dorm room as she prepares to pray.
At the end of a long day, Riley stretches during her bedtime routine in her dorm room. As a convert, Riley often feels excluded on two levels: being American and being new to Islam. "I introduce myself and people will ask where I'm from... People automatically assume I'm not from here and I don't have anything to share with them." She went on to say. “It’s hard coming from a different country and religion...Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out by being American.”
As she takes a break from studying, Riley leans back and Manahil Khan catches her fall. As a convert Riley explains that “you’re forgotten and you’re scrutinized," and often felt along in her decision to convert. Meeting other converts at CMU was exciting for Riley because as she says they know the feeling of feeling behind, having questions that feel silly to ask their lifelong Muslim friends, how hard it is to tell parents and to lose friends from converting as well as how hard it is to keep up and do research. “Most people don’t understand,” says Riley. “I feel really, really behind… (but) no one ever makes me feel behind," she went onto say.
The view along Campus Drive on the campus of Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., as seen.
As the light outside fades, Riley prays in her dorm room in the evening. Growing up, Riley’s hair was important to her and regularly received compliments on it. “My parents created me and my hair and I appreciate it (my hair) but I feel like I'm not appreciating it by not wearing it down.” Riley always saw wearing a hijab or head scarf as a choice. However she now feels uncomfortable not covering her hair. “It's such a prominent symbol of Islam to cover hair… It makes me feel a part of it all.” She went onto say “Wearing a scarf forces me to keep learning and keep practicing… It forces me to set a good example and be a good Muslim.”
Riley laughs as her friends Manahil Khan, left, and Halima Abdi, dance around her after a meeting of the Muslim Student Association on the campus Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
Riley touches up her makeup in her dorm room. Since converting Riley has found dissonance between aspects of her that have changed. "It's weird because I'm still lying to a lot of my family about being Muslim but with my friends I am more truthful," she explains. "I think I have become more happy- I don't know where that comes from.. (maybe it's) one of those things that comes from being new in a religion."