Disclaimer: This post is not intended to offend, it is purely to explore my curiosity on the people around me. It is to help me (and hopefully you) have a better understanding of the world that surrounds us.
“Telling my family was the toughest conversation I’ve ever had. When I first told them, due to what the media portrays, my dad was probably worried that Isis had groomed another white girl…” – Natalie
Does our religion define who we are? Do our clothes define who we are? Then why do we define others by what they wear and what they believe? I do not consider myself religious, but I do consider myself open minded. Open to the ideas and beliefs that other cultures and religions may have, or the traditions they choose to follow.
I chatted to a girl I used to go to school with, who was raised in Christian household, but converted to Islam at age 21. I was intrigued by the idea that she converted to a religion that less than 1% of the population in our area follow. Having grown up in a very Catholic/Christian area, I had never been given the opportunity to talk about religion with a Muslim person. I took this as a chance to learn about something I’d always been curious about.
The main stream media tends to shed negative light onto the Islamic faith, but I knew there had to be more to it than that. So I’m here to share with curious people, like myself, the misconceptions and interesting aspects of the Islamic faith, through Natalie’s experiences.
Harmony among our different religious traditions is essential for world peace. – The Dalai Lama
Natalie’s Conversion to Islam
How & where were you raised?
I was born and bred in the Shire. My brother and I were raised by both our parents until they divorced in 2013, and then spent the remainder being co-parented. My parents are non-practicing Christians, but our household still kept the christian morals of no drinking until 18, no sex before marriage, not having boyfriends until 18, no filthy language.
My parents put strong enforcement on the importance of education. Any christian religious education I received from my grandparents who were devoted christian church goers.
Is your family religious?
My immediate family isn’t religious, however they remain steadfast in the Christian morals that are taught by Christian teachings. My extended family are religious and practicing Christian’s. My Aunty is more spiritual and would describe herself as Buddhist.
How did you discover Islam? How old were you?
Discovering Islam was a complete accident. When I began Uni I began to explore my spirituality and reservations that I had as a ‘Christian’. I began by looking at Buddhism purely as I already had knowledge due to studying Japanese for 12 years. I enjoyed Buddhism from an intellectual mind however I did not believe or sit well with it on a personal level.
I had a Jewish friend and began talking to her and asking her questions however nothing progressed as again it did not agree with me on a personal level.
I then tried going to church and reading more Christian books. However the same reservations that I had as a child remained. Coincidentally at the time I had a few Muslim friends and I began sharing with them my journey and asked them some general questions about Islam. Their answers surprised me that it was totally contradictory to what the general media display.
When did you decide to convert, and what made you decide?
The day I officially said my Shahada (a declaration of faith) was the 15th of November 2016. However, I knew 6 months prior to that, that I identified as Muslim.
Nothing monumental made me decide as such to say my Shahada, I just knew that this was what was for me. I guess the standout thing for me was the peace and fullness of the heart that I got once I started reading Quran and praying in June of the same year – I felt complete.
How did your family and friends react?
The reaction from friends were so varied. I’m sure some people have stopped talking to me, ‘de-friended’ me or probably think I’m mentally insane. Mostly the majority were just curious and wanted to know what was going on and why i started wearing different clothes (particularly mid-summer). And a select few were in amazement and proudness of me and the strength that I had to do such thing in today’s environment
My family was the toughest sit down conversation I ever had to do. When I first told them, mainly my dad was worried, as with what he hears in the media and probably worried that ISIS has groomed another white girl to go fight stupid-ass conflict.
Not long after I began chatting, my grandma passed. Out of respect and for the fact that I myself felt I had to support my dad into going to the church and talking to the priest about Grandma, I put everything on pause.
Nowadays, my family are fine. They don’t mind that I cover when I go out with them in public, and they make accommodations to not have pork products in a meal I come over to share with them.
Is your relationship with them different now?
I think the biggest thing for them is seeing how much stronger I am mentally, and how my coping strategies when things go south are working well. My relationship with my parents has improved since, particularly because as a believer the Quran emphasises the importance of treating your parents right particularly your mother. And hence I’ve put in more effort to be a better daughter to them.
Do you wear a hijab or burqa? What does it symbolise to you?
I wear hijab, which is just a scarf I wrap around my head. I wear this in public and around men who are not considered my mahram (family).
Hijab to me is more than a piece of material. Firstly, it is a representation of my level of spiritual-ness and relationship with God. To me it symbolises modesty. It reminds me to always be modest in the way I speak and the way I behave. It makes others not judge my beauty but rather, see qualities I have inside me.
Do strangers ever make you feel uncomfortable due to your faith?
Strangers make comments and at first I took notice. But these days I’m too content to even bother paying attention. It’s like water off a ducks back.
Have you ever been verbally/physically abused for the things you choose to wear?
I have had incidents where patients or patients families have verbally abused me for a piece of material that I wear on my head (that doesn’t affect them whatsoever).
I have had a group of coworkers come and pull my hijab off in front of patients just because they wanted to see my hair.
I have sat at work eating my dinner minding my own business while 2 colleagues gossip about how absurd, rude, and wrong it is of Muslim women to wear a burqa or niqab in public (in a country that is democratic).
Do you think the media has a significant influence on outsiders perspectives of Islam?
I think media has a significant role in a persons subconscious psychology. Based on what people hear, they see someone who looks like they fit this role and boxes them.
Like – “How can this person with white skin, an Australian accent, fluent in English and well educated, possibly be Australian if they are wearing a scarf?!”
I’d like to see sociology like subjects explore the impact of the media’s definition of terrorist on Muslims. The definition of terrorist in a modern sense seems to only apply to People of the Islamic faith who do a unlawful violence and intimidation.
However while stating this I’d like not to dismiss the innocent lives of people lost from unlawful violence in the nature of political aims done by people who so call identify as ‘Muslim’ in western and Islamic countries also.
Are there any common misconceptions, or maybe even misconceptions that you had about Islam?
I admit I had quite a few, but all it took was talking to a Muslim for these to become misconceptions to me. I have some examples:
I used to think that women were forced to cover, but learned that it is a choice for a woman.
I used to think the reason why woman couldn’t pray on their period was due to the belief that they were ‘dirty’. The reason behind not having to pray 5 times a day, or fast during a menses is the belief that women already have it tough enough. Being a woman is seen as a commitment within itself, so God wont make it any harder during the time of menses.
I believed that all Muslim men were controlling or abusive towards their wives. When in fact, domestic violence is common theme among all Australian’s despite race religion or culture.
I believed that the ‘Islamic’ terrorists were only attacking non-Muslims and western people. However, I have many Muslim friends that were forced to flee their beloved homes as asylum seekers, and seek refuge in this beautiful country because they were being attacked. Other Muslim friends have lost friends and many family members in significant bombings. Sadly this unnatural death is a common theme among quite a few of my friends.
I believed that Muslims don’t believe in Jesus. In Islam Jesus exists just with a different perspective. For us he is a prophet, he is not the son of God, but still a messenger of God’s word, prophet Muhammed Pbuh is said to come after Jesus.
I believed that Muslims are Muhammed worshipers. Instead, As Muslims we are believers of God, and pass our well wishes to Muhammed as he contributed to the knowledge of Allah as the prophet.
Do you have any advise for people that are interested in learning about Islam?
My biggest recommendation is that if people are curious or have questions is to speak to a Muslim. It doesn’t mean they have to turn into Muslim. But if people have questions, it’s best to ask real sources firsthand rather than rely on media.
I’ve had numerous people upon people want to ask questions and actively listened to my answers. And it is one of the most wonderful things I have an opportunity to do as a Muslim. In Islam this is called ‘Dawah’.
“Become friends with people who aren’t your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow…”
It’s important for us to remember that we are all here on this Earth together. Let us live in harmony and take care of one another.
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Inspired by Natalie