BY SARAH PRICE
Islamist. Jihadist. ISIS. Terrorist. Women banned from driving in Saudi Arabia. Burqa. 9/11… 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-travelled 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 ‘civilisation’. 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 colourful 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 (pbuh) 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’ (pbuh) name is actually mentioned more times in the Qur’an than the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh). 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 (pbuh).
The only difference between Christians and Muslims is that we take Jesus (pbuh) to be a prophet and not to be worshipped alongside God. Islam teaches the Oneness of God, and to worship Allah (swt) alone and we believe that Jesus (pbuh) 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’.
I love most aspects of Christianity. I love how it teaches compassion, mercy, love and all the good things we human beings should aspire to be. It’s wonderful that many churches are so active in the community and want to do good things in society and help others.
After returning to Australia from Malaysia I felt like something was missing. I researched key aspects and foundations of Christianity. I researched what Paul taught, what various historical leaders implemented after the death of Christ and I read my Bible inside out.
I researched what has been taken out of the Bible, what has been put in and the various contradictions and solid truths of the Bible. There are similarities between the Qur’an and the Bible. For me, the Qur’an answered many questions I had about my Christian faith for a long time. I could find no fault, no contradictions in the Qur’an. I listened to debates between world-renowned Biblical and Qur’anic scholars, with the Qur’an making more sense to me every time.
However, even when I found Islam to be the truth for me, it was very hard for me to actually leave Christianity. Religion has always been the most important thing in my life, and I wanted to make sure I was converting to Islam with all my heart and for all the right reasons. Converting to Islam meant I had certain obligations – praying at least five times a day, giving more to charity, wearing more modest clothing (a choice that I gradually implemented in my life) and give up drinking (drinking is forbidden in Islam).
This is a mammoth change; as much as I didn’t want to leave the safe haven of the church, I also knew I had to follow my heart to what I believe whole-heartedly is complete truth. I didn’t see converting to Islam as so drastically different to Christianity however; I saw it more as an update of my faith, for many reasons.
Christianity taught me to love God. It taught me humility, it taught me to love others, and it taught me a lot about Jesus (pbuh). I would not be who I am if I wasn’t once a Christian.
The best part of being a journalist is being able to make some change in the world; to give people a voice, to learn about human beings and the world around me. Being a journalist led me to learn about Islam.
Interviewing U.N. Person of the Year, passionate leader of SIS (Sisters in Islam), writer and strong advocate for women’s rights Marina Mahathir shaped my view of Muslim women’s rights and of Islam itself. I still remember how sweaty my palms were when I interviewed her. A million thoughts were rushing through my head. ‘Am I good enough?’ ‘Am I really cut out for journalism?’ This was my first interview with someone quite famous.
As soon as I met Marina, her quiet yet assertive nature impressed me and I immediately felt a sense of ease. I knew the interview was an important one, a life-changing one. She answered so many questions I had been asking myself since arriving in Malaysia. Her knowledge was exhilarating and I felt as if I had a newfound understanding of something much bigger and deeper than I ever thought possible.
“We are all one people on this Earth,” said Marina as we finished the interview. Looking back now, I know that was the most important lesson I had learned thus far. Despite various factors that apparently make us so different –national borders, politics, culture, tribes, heritage, skin colour, race and religion – we all bleed the same and breathe the same air. I think we should all try to remember this daily.
Becoming a Muslim and incorporating it into my life has not been easy in the slightest. It’s hard, and I learn more every day. People judge me, even Muslims judge me. Being a Muslim has tested my patience more than ever before or ever imagined. But they say the right path is not always the easiest one – and despite how hard it is at times, it also brings an incredible sense of peace in my heart and into my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It makes me happy, it makes me cry, and it makes me question a lot of things about society and about the Dunya (this life).
All I can say is that I find rest with Allah (swt), and no matter what I go through, I know I am never alone every time I make Salat to my Creator. Truly, ‘verily with every hardship comes ease’ (Al-Inshirah 94:6).
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.
Sarah Price is a Master of Journalism student at Monash University Australia. She has interned in Malaysia and Melbourne.