My eyes and mind were opened, when, as a journalism student, I did an article about Muslim women’s rights. That was the beginning of everything
For a word that means ‘peaceful submission to God’, Islam is a religion that is connected to some pretty negative connotations and often seen in the media for all the wrong reasons. So, why would an educated, independent and well-traveled young Australian woman decide to convert to a religion widely considered ‘backwards’?
I get confused looks at my fair skin and light eyes. Some Australians ask what country I’m from, and get shocked to hear I’m Australian. Australian AND Muslim? The combination is unthinkable to some.
Converting to Islam hasn’t been easy. 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. Despite the harsh and rude comments about my change in faith (including how some assume I converted for a man), I’ve also had people come up to me and ask me why. It’s a question I’m happy to answer. My conversion to Islam was down to three main factors. This is my story and the story of the journey that led me over the course of two years to where I am now.
Traveling to Malaysia was definitely the foundation for my conversion to Islam. I went there after deciding on a whim to go on student exchange, not imagining what a crazy adventure I had set myself up for. It got me out of my comfort zone and exposed to things I had never seen as a small town Australian girl from Gippsland.
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’. I 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.
My image of Islam was shattered when I went to Malaysia. I found myself becoming curious about the pretty South-East Asian Muslim girls with their colorful hijabs and clothes. I made many Muslim friends who went to university and had jobs. Some wore veils and others didn’t. They all seemed quite content and loved their religion and Islam quickly became a religion I wanted to learn more about.
My eyes and mind were opened, when, as a journalism student, I did an article about Muslim women’s rights. That was the beginning of everything. My mind was suddenly bursting with knowledge about Islam and the fact that women had many rights in Islam! Muslim women were legally given rights (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 won the same rights.
The first time I stepped into a mosque in Malaysia, I felt an immediate sense of calm and peace. The strong yet humble cry of the call to prayer invoked feelings in me I 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 did that over a year later – but it introduced me in a beautiful way to Islam and to the Oneness of God.
I was a very staunch Christian before converting to Islam. My life as a Christian was a focal point of my faith journey; without it I would not be a Muslim and it was my love for Jesus (peace be upon him) that actually led me to Islam.
Christianity is actually the closest religion to Islam, not only theologically but also historically. There are many misconceptions about what Islam teaches about Christianity. To begin, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) wrote a letter regarding how Muslims should treat Christians. We are to treat Christians with respect – even if a Muslim man is married to a Christian woman, she cannot be stopped from praying in her place of worship.
Christians and Jews are commonly referred to as ‘People of the Book’ in Islam, because we all have the same Abrahamic roots. Jesus’ (peace be upon him) name is actually mentioned more times in the Qur’an than the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him). Muslims still believe in the virgin birth and places importance on Mary (may Allah be pleased with her). Jesus is an important figure and you cannot be a Muslim without believing in the life and work of Jesus.
The only difference between Christians and Muslims is that we take Jesus to be a prophet and not to be worshipped alongside God. Islam teaches the Oneness of God, and to worship Allah alone and we believe that Jesus taught this himself. The term ‘Allah’, by the way, is the Arabic word for ‘God’ and is not just an Islamic term. Arab Christians also call God ‘Allah’.