Former US model overwhelmed by Muslim pilgrimage

ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Former US fashion model Constance Mcdonald sat at a camp in Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday listening to a Muslim preacher explaining the rituals of the hajj pilgrimage.

Clad in traditional white clothes from head to toe with only her face and hands showing, she sat listening attentively to the sermon delivered in English and Arabic with an English copy of the Quran in hand. But for the Muslim convert, it is a far cry from when she used to parade on the catwalks and pose at photo shoots.

Understandably, she seemed overwhelmed by the experience of being among 2.1 million other Muslims performing the pilgrimage to Makkah.

"I just can't explain how I feel, there are mixed feelings," Mcdonald told Reuters at a complex housing 1,200 American pilgrims when asked about the hajj. "There have been several spiritually moving moments, but also it has been somewhat confusing and frustrating.

"I am finding the language and cultural differences difficult to deal with," she said, adding that this was her first trip overseas. "It is like a dream, once we're back home, I wouldn't know if it actually happened or not."

Wide circle of converts

Mcdonald, a 38-year-old from Lake Orion, Michigan, said she converted to Islam in 1990 to marry Carl Karoub, a US national whose grandparents were Lebanese.

"At first the conversion was just out of convenience," said her husband, a medical staffer at William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Michigan, who was born into a Muslim family. "But a couple of years later she realised that this was what she was looking for and she started practising (Islam).

"There was no pressure from Carl," she said. "I had been searching for the truth for 10 years, and after I read the Quran and looked at it closely I knew that this is the truth, much like Yousef al-Islam (singer Cat Stevens)."

Mcdonald said her faith was further strengthened when her three little girls started going to a Muslim school and she met many other women who had converted to Islam and were married to Muslim husbands.

She said she started covering her hair in accordance to Muslim teachings two years ago.

Her husband said he paid $10,000 in hajj costs for his wife and himself. Most of the American pilgrims in the complex were of Middle Eastern or Asian origin.

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