I will keep my born name private but the name I chose when I became Muslim is Amira. I became Muslim in November 2012, but I’d read the Quran during August 2012. I then spent time researching as I didn’t want to later find something as a surprise which would change my thoughts. My determination to convert grew and by November I knew I had to take my Shahada (declaration of faith).
I was living in a small city with few Muslims, so there was no big fanfare and no real support. I kept it a secret even from my Muslim friends for around 3 months, until I felt confident in my knowledge to share with others. The more I learned, the more I fell in love with Islam and knew I wanted to wear hijab one day and raise my children as Muslim. I didn’t dare to tell my Catholic father or opinionated mother as I knew their impression of Islam was overwhelmingly negative. It was that very negativity which caused me to look into Islam to begin with, as my sweet Muslim friends were nothing like the media told me they should be. I wanted to find out for myself why the media said what they did.
In June 2013, I finally had the confidence and strength in my iman (faith) to tell my mother by phone that I had converted to Islam. I was met with hatred, being told that she knew something had changed about me as I was a horrible, opinionated person recently. She said I had been brainwashed by my friend and would soon realize this was a huge mistake. When my father got wind of it, he was equally as critical.
To begin with, I could deal with the nasty things they said about Islam, and tried to counter it by educating them on what Islam really said, but it went in one ear and out the other. By December 2013, the tension had built up to boiling point, and one night, I had a phone call from my father unexpectedly.
At the time, I was living in the capital and had started to go to the mosque, to Islamic events, and try to find my place within the community. This, however, proved a big challenge, even in the diverse capital. When I’d enter the mosque, the ladies from a certain Muslim-majority country would all be sitting together chatting, but upon seeing me, would become silent, and watch me walk over to find a space to pray. I would hear their whispers as I began my prayers and quickly scurry out after finishing.
After this happened a couple of times, I got the courage to say “Assalamu Alaikum (peace be upon you in Arabic)” to them, but they would pretend to not understand me, and look at the ground or turn their heads. I knew that this did not represent Islam. I’d always been proud in a way that I’d learned Islam completely separated from any culture, and so I knew what the Quran and Hadith (Stories and sayings of the life of prophet Mohammed) did and didn’t say, and what had been sometimes confused as tradition by some groups.
I felt very isolated at the mosque. One Jummah (Friday Prayer/ like the Sabbath day in Arabic) after prayer, when a lady came to speak to me when she saw my blue eyes as a tell tale sign of a convert, her approach came over as patronizing as she tried to tell me that Muslims follow the Quran and believe there was a Prophet called Mohammad (peace be upon him). My faith, however, remained strong, as I was so happy knowing that all I needed was Allah. It felt like even other Muslims could not bring me down. Until that phone call.
My dad was angry. He was shouting. He wasn’t making a lot of sense at all, talking about disrespecting his ancestors, about me metaphorically spitting on his parents’ graves by becoming Muslim and leaving Catholicism, about rejecting any children I would have as no family of his. Then he said it. He said if anybody asked, he didn’t have a daughter. Click. Bzzzz. He was gone.
I was distraught. I knew things were bad, I knew it had been building up for a while, but I didn’t expect it to quite get to that.
I had suffered from depression since I was 13 years old, a culmination of an instance of abuse, of being constantly bullied at school daily, of arguments with my parents who had me by accident. I had a history of self-harm and of drug abuse.
That night, I lost all rationality. Shaitan (Arabic word for devil) came and sat with me and whispered that I was worthless, that if my parents hated me, so did Allah. I was hysterical. I took the first sharp object I could find and tried to end the fight.
In a moment of perhaps clarity, but more so desperation, I called a guy I was kind of seeing and asked if he would meet me. He drove an hour to my house and found me covered in blood and tears, and distracted me with books and travel plans until I came back to my senses.
The guy is a whole different story. We met on a Muslim marriage site. I decided it would be good for my learning and iman to get married, so I started looking. He sent me a message asking how I knew Chinese, the first sensible message I’d had beyond the direct “marry me!” kind.
We connected right away and we had so much in common. After about 6 weeks of getting to know him though, I brought up the topic of when we might get married. He told me I’d have to wait 5 years for him to finish his degree, which he was studying as a mature student. I was heartbroken. I knew I couldn’t wait that long and I knew dating was wrong.
Something in me was weak on this matter, and I seemed to just fall into the trap of dating. Being born here, he wasn’t overly religious, although he did pray, fast and eat halal. He didn’t take much interest in gaining knowledge and didn’t know a word of Arabic apart from Al-Fatiha (first chapter in Quran)and one other Surah (name for chapter in Arabic) to use for prayer. For some reason, it didn’t hit me as a warning sign, and we spent time alone going out to eat and watching movies.
Only after about a year of dating did I finally realize that I couldn’t do this to myself anymore. I left him, which broke his heart more than I could put into words. I was his first girlfriend and, he said, his soulmate. The guilt troubled me immensely for hurting him, but I had just tried to make right my most terrible sins.