By Sarah Price
Islamic. Jihadist. ISIS. Terrorist. Women banned from driving in Saudi Arabia. Burqa. 9/11…unfortunately, the term ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’ isn’t always associated with the most positive attributes. In fact, the term ‘Islam’ can inflict some pretty negative connotations in this day and age. For a term that means ‘peaceful submission to God’, it is a religion that is often seen in the media for all the wrong reasons.
So, why would an educated, independent and well-travelled young Australian woman decide to convert to a religion widely considered ‘backwards’?
Well, it’s for multitude of reasons. Although people usually assume it’s for a man. Why else would a woman do that, right?
WRONG. Not in my case anyway. It’s pretty dazzling how some people assume these things though. Even asking for halal food at my local university cafe received a snarky comment from the waitress asking if I ‘converted for my boyfriend’.
I get confused looks at my fair skin and light eyes, some Australians ask what country I’m from, only to be shocked to hear I am myself an Australian. Australian AND Muslim? The combination is unthinkable to some.
Converting to Islam Has Been No Easy Task.
Despite some pretty harsh and rude comments about my change in faith, I’ve also had some amazing people come up to me and ask me why. This, ladies and gentleman, is the question that I am happy to answer.
You don’t have to agree with it – my word, you don’t even have to accept it – but this is my story and reasons which led me over the course of two years to where I am now.
Converting to Islam has been no easy task. I’ve been called names, been scrutinized, rejected and fired from jobs, lost friends and had a really difficult time with my family accepting the changes in my life. But with prayer, investigation, lots of reading and researching and talking to people from different faiths and backgrounds has all contributed to my peaceful way of life now.
Yes, I am Muslim. I am also Australian, I’m a journalist, and I am also a traveler. Being a Muslim doesn’t change the elements that make up who I am as a person. Although you can never truly express what comes from your own heart in your own personal journey, my reversion to Islam was due to three main factors. This is my story and mine alone.
Traveling to Malaysia was definitely the foundation for my conversion to Islam. After deciding on a whim to go on student exchange to Malaysia, I never imagined what a crazy adventure I had set myself up for.
Malaysia is my second home. It holds a very special place in my heart and I grew immensely as a person there. I experienced some of the best and worst moments of my life; and the whole experience was filled with color, adventure and opportunity.
From sleeping in a dirty ferry port for eight hours, getting lost in a rainforest on Tioman Island (and trying to make it back before dark), riding on motorbikes in Penang and scuba-diving in Perhentian Islands, these were just the beginning of my adventure there.
I was getting out of my comfort zone in Malaysia and exposed to things I had never seen as a small town Australian girl from Gippsland. Nothing went to plan nor was expected in Malaysia.
My Thoughts About Islam Before Malaysia
Before Malaysia, I knew nothing about Islam. I had never met a Muslim (to my knowledge) and I always thought of Muslims as wearing heavy black garments somewhere in the Middle East, far, far away from ‘civilization’.
Yes, I also thought Muslim women were oppressed. That they couldn’t go anywhere without their husbands, that they couldn’t have careers, and had to wear black all the time. Not that I really thought about it much, I was always in my own bubble of society to ponder too much about it.
So, my somewhat fabricated image of Islam was shattered when I came to Malaysia. Suddenly, I found myself becoming curious of the pretty South-East Asian Muslim girls with their colorful hijabs and clothes. I met many Muslim friends – who became life-long friends- who went to university, who had jobs, who wore veils and also many who didn’t, and they all seemed quite content and loved their religion.
An Article on Muslim Women’s Rights
Being a journalism student, I’ve always been an open-minded person and have a lust for the unknown. Islam quickly became a mysterious religion I wanted to learn more about. That’s when I decided to do one of my investigative articles about Muslim women’s rights.
THIS was the beginning of everything. My eyes and mind were completed opened and bursting with knowledge about Islam and the fact that WOMEN HAVE MANY RIGHTS IN ISLAM!
In fact, Muslim women were legally given rights (that’s including divorce, land rights, monetary rights, the right to choose who to marry, etc.) in the Qur’an and Hadiths hundreds of years before Western women were legally given the same rights.
There’s even a whole chapter about Women in the Qur’an. Men are taught to lower their gaze, and to treat women and their wives with utmost respect because this is favored in God’s eyes.
THIS, of course, does not mean Muslims are sinless. People need to differentiate between culture, politics and religion. We humans are not perfect, in fact far from it. Even I learned this in Malaysia – instead of judging a whole religion on a few people’s actions, look into the religion and what it teaches.
Feelings Never Felt Before
When I first stepped into a mosque, I felt an immediate sense of calm and peace. I even interviewed an imam. The strong yet humble cry of the call to prayer invoked feelings in me I had never felt before. When I first bowed my head toward the Ka’ba, I felt home in my heart. I didn’t convert to Islam in Malaysia – I was to over a year later – but it introduced me in a beautiful way to Islam and to the Oneness of God.
As each day passed in Malaysia, and with each experience I lived, it dawned on me that I was starting to outgrow the sheltered life I was living back home in my country town, and the various stereotypes placed on society from culture to culture. Malaysia was having an effect on me far greater than the boundaries of Monash University, cool clubs and intriguing food; it was the people itself and the lessons I was learning. I realized that every little moment in Malaysia would be some of my best.
I was definitely not the same girl that left Melbourne airport for this unexpected journey I grew immensely, while paradoxically also finding myself and what I’m truly capable of. I was a girl who was insecure and always feeling confined and trapped in the community I was living in – Malaysia, in a way, set me free.
The Best Decision I Have Ever Made
While we can’t be sure of much in this world, I know without a shadow of a doubt that going to Malaysia randomly was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Malaysia didn’t turn out as I imagined or planned, and that in itself made it so wonderful. It taught me to believe in my own capabilities and in myself more than ever, and that comes with taking a deep breath and stepping into the world on your own for the very first time.
Malaysia gave me adventure. It kick started my career in journalism. It allowed me to meet wonderful, terrible yet interesting people. But most importantly…Malaysia gave me Islam. I truly believe I was meant to go there.
To be continued…
Source: http: muslimsincalgary.ca with some modifications