Others, however, are not so fortunate. They are born into Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian or atheistic households, where they are brought up according to the creed of their families, and are left to live and die with those erroneous believes, unless Almighty Allah takes pity on them, unless He, in His infinite mercy guides them to the truth.
I was born in 1978, in Germany, in the free state of Bavaria as the only child of an average Roman Catholic couple. Neither of my parents was particularly religiously inclined, which would manifest itself in their hardly ever visiting the church –except on such holidays as Christmas or Eastern- nor would they eagerly engage in any other of the communal activities. The married life of my parents was not a too happy one, so they split up when I was about four years old.
The right to care for me was given to my mother. We left the town where my parents had lived together and went to my mother’s ancestral home. To sustain ourselves my mother had to take up work again, so I was most of the time left with foster parents, who would give me my lunch and help my mother in looking after the household. Life, though not a bed of roses, went smooth and eventless.
I was sent to school, completed four years of primary education, which passed eventless, too, and for reasons not known to me, very friendless. Thereafter I was admitted to an institute known as Gymnasium, in order to acquire secondary education. The first two years were marked for nothing but indescribable loneliness and a feeling of helplessness and dejection. By then also my foster parents had passed away, and I was left on my own, whole day long. Since I had hardly any friends, I spent lots of time reading or in prayers.
Although the spiritual aspect of my education had been pretty much neglected, I soon tried to somehow make up for that. At times I would go to church also, not to attend service, but just to enjoy the hallowed atmosphere and to read the hymns. I also began to collect pictures of the holy family, saints, in short anything related to religion. In the evening, I used to pray to God, the Father, to Jesus, to the Virgin Mary and all the saints I had so far heard about, secretly always worrying that maybe I am forgetting one.
In school we were introduced to the basics of the Roman Catholic catechism, such as trinity, redemption, Jesus being the son of God, the status of the Virgin Mary and so on. These concepts seemed rather obscure to me, and whenever I approached my teacher –a catholic priest after all- to elucidate the matter, I was left to realize that he probably was as much in the dark about his faith as I was, which was indicated by his stating that ‘this is the secret of faith’ (a phrase which is also repeated in every service). I was quite confused. I was maybe eleven, twelve years old, then.
My state of confusion aggravated when once our history teacher, in order to make classes more interesting, showed us a film about hajj (at that time the subject of our lessons was ‘The beginning and spreading of Islam’ and ‘The Arabs in Spain’). This film presented a married couple, Christian converts, telling the audience about how they came to embrace Islam, the true spirit of Islam and the profound inner peace they had attained after their conversion in general and after having performed hajj in particular. In this film were shown many breath taking sights of the holy places, the Haram Shareef, the Holy Ka’bah, the thousands of pilgrims clad in ihram, united in their quest to please the lord. The scenes I saw deeply touched me, whatever I heard appealed to me, made sense, soothed my upset soul. It seemed as though in Islam lay the answer to all my questions.
On my way back home from school I was so shaken that I hardly knew where I was going. On one hand it seemed that Islam was the solution to all the spiritual perplexities I was confronted with, but on the other hand there was the extremely negative image of Islam which is so prevalent in the west, which was also engraved in my mind. Back then, I was yet too young, too immature to distinguish right from wrong, guidance from error, truth from untruth, or even feeling the need to do so. After some time this upheaval lost its force and I again tried to find solace in praying to Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the countless saints. Things, however, did not seem to be the same anymore, and slowly but steadily I distanced myself from my objects of adoration.
A couple of months later, in January 1992, triggered by what now seems to be a very trivial incident, truth struck me like lightning and I suddenly knew that I must become a Muslim, no matter what might happen. It happened thus that in the five minute break between the classes, a Turkish (read Muslim) friend of mine had shown a few pictures taken at a religious function of her younger brother. Seeing these snaps, showing her family so strangely serene and at peace with themselves instantly brought back memories of the glimpses of truth I had seen in that film not too long ago and which had stirred me so much.
At that time it was most probably not clear thinking which led to my decision of becoming Muslim, which I had made then and there in the classroom, still sitting on my chair. It seemed as though someone had taken hold of the very collar of my shirt, dragging me along, leaving me no time to rethink, consider or analyze the step I was about to take. I was too shaken to pay attention during the next forty-five minutes. The only thing I had on my mind was to talk to this Turkish friend of mine as soon as possible.
When classes were finally over I got hold of her and told her about my decision. She was greatly surprised, to say the least. However after having recovered from the first shock she was very helpful, advising me to first visit the little mosque in our town, to talk to the imam there, to read some Islamic literature, then, after having understood the basic principles and after accepting them from the bottom of my heart, she said I should make my final decision. She also expressed her pleasure at my interest in Islam, telling me that she will be there for me whenever I need her. She further told me also to talk to my mother, to take her permission and to ensure that I would not face any resistance from that side. I thanked her for her help and we parted.
On my way back I was almost bursting with excitement. I could hardly wait to talk to my mother, whom I hoped, no, rather expected to be as jubilant as I was. (This expectation of mine was not based on any factual evidence, as I had never heard any positive remarks from her about Islam or Muslims, at best she had passed some joking remarks, but since I had not yet regained the ability to think clearly, I was excusable.) When I was home at last, I rushed to the telephone to call my mother and to share my emotions with her. The telephone was probably not the right means to convey news of this kind, nor had I chosen the most opportune time, but I simply could not wait for her to come back home in the evening. Immediately after greeting her I burst out ‘Mammy, I want to become Muslim!’
There came no reply for what seemed to me like an eternity. My mother was not able to believe what she had just heard. After somewhat having gained her composure she asked me to repeat what I had said. I did, and against all hopes of mine, I had to face my mother’s fury. She was indeed fuming and fretting, questioning my sanity, lamenting her fate, calling me an ungrateful and stupid brat and so forth, and she would have most probably throttled me, had we not talked on phone but face to face. After this initial outburst she wanted to know the reason for my decision, but as I attempted to explain, she again was enraged. This time her anger was directed against Islam and Muslims.
She gave me the ugliest descriptions of Islam, of its being a false religion glorifying bloodshed, cruelty and war, of Muslim men being lecherous and sexually perverted terrorists, of Muslim women having no rights at all, in short, whatever she said was nothing but a reiteration of the mean lies spread by the western media. Thereafter she broke into tears and hung up. I felt desperate and very, very helpless. Desperate because my mother’s reaction was so completely different from what I had expected and helpless because at that time I had no concrete knowledge to give a suitable reply to her objections, I merely felt that these stereotypes were simply not true.
When my mother returned from work, she had still not recovered. She continued haggling with me for two or three days, and it did not seem that this situation is going to improve. Then one evening an old colleague and friend of hers, a Persian, called. She told him all about this newest development and requested him to bring me back to sanity. He did not comply. Rather he calmed her down, explaining her that any opposition would just have an adverse effect, making me even more determined. Instead, he said, she should just let me go ahead as most probably this was just a whimsical idea of a fourteen year old and that this phase would also pass. If I think back now, I rather resent these remarks, but then I come to realize that I am indeed greatly indebted to this friend of my mother. Not only had he managed to calm her down, but also I was given explicit permission to visit the mosque and acquaint myself with Islam and Muslims.
On Saturday, 25 January 1992 I went for the first time to that little mosque in our town. On weekends were held Qur’an-classes for girls (this information was given to me by my friend whom I hoped to meet there, however sickness had prevented her from coming on that day), and I rather sheepishly entered after following the instruction to take of my shoes (which was written in German and Turkish on a number of signs displayed in front of the entrance) and placing them in the racks kept for that purpose. The antechamber was full with young girls, all of them wearing headscarves and their voices mingled in the air. All of them seemed to be fully absorbed in their studies, so my presence was not noticed immediately.
Then one girl spotted me and indicated to a man in his late thirties that a stranger had entered. Meanwhile the other girls had also interrupted their studies and mustered me with curious looks. The man who seemed to be their teacher came towards me and addressed me in Turkish. Since I did not understand him, he called a girl to translate. She came and greeted me then she asked the purpose of my coming. She also explained that hardly ever any German comes here and that my coming was an absolutely unexpected but pleasant surprise. Her friendliness had driven out any anxiety of mine and so I told her about my desire to embrace Islam. She quickly translated what I had said, then the teacher who was called ‘Hoca’ (an honorary Turkish appellation) by his students, ushered me in and offered me a seat.
The room was neat, very clean and heated to a pleasant temperature. Overall the atmosphere was serene, friendly and warm. Since Hoca knew no German, he depended on the services of a girl to translate. He wanted to know what made me search for the truth. I explained to him that the creeds of Christianity are simply too confusing, that I tried to find solace in them, but in vain. I also told him that the little I knew about Islam made sense to me and that I instinctly felt that Islam is the right way for me.
Then Hoca proceeded to explain the basic believes of a Muslim, he told me that God is one and has no partners, that He is eternal, self-subsisting, that He has no off-spring or partners and that there is nothing like Him, that He is the sole Creator of the heavens and the earth, that His is all might and power, that He is independent from His creation, but that all of us depend on Him. That whoever finds his way to Him will never be friendless or lonely… I listened attentively, absorbing each and every word. Whatever Hoca said was like balm for my soul and by noon I had recited the Kalima, that ‘There is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger.’
Much time has passed since then. I continued to visit the mosque regularly; I memorized various Surahs and prayers. I also learnt to recite the Holy Qur’an in Arabic. Slowly but steadily my knowledge expanded. Whenever I had learnt something new it seemed to me as though I had made yet another conquest. I had made the right decision, a decision I never regretted. My mother, who although having managed to overcome her prejudices one after the other, had lost any hope of this being just a temporary phase. She had probably realized that her daughter was not like the average German teenager. She could do nothing but watch my progresses helplessly, with silent surrender.
At times there was hefty opposition from her side, especially when I insisted to wear a headscarf and, a few years afterwards, when I told her about my desire to marry a Pakistani and to live with him in Pakistan. My Allah however made all difficulties easy for me. Whenever I thought that now I lack the strength to reach my goal, He lent me His support and made my task easy for me. In September 1998 my mother also submitted herself to Allah and became a Muslim, thus whatever gap there had been between her and me was bridged and we are now not only united by the ties of kinship, but by the even stronger ties of Islam.
Allah has indeed been kind to me, and I acknowledge my inability to thank Him for His countless favours as it is due to Him. He guided me to the truth, brought me out from darkness into the light.
He indeed is Compassionate, Most Merciful. He is the Protecting Friend of the believers, their fortress and their refuge. With Him alone hearts find solace. He alone is the origin, the source of inner peace. I pray to him that He overlooks my many faults and lapses, that He fashions me and all the believers according to His pleasure and that He won’t let us die save as Muslims.
I also request all of you to remember this humble bondmaid of Allah in your prayers. May Allah reward you abundantly.
by Zahra Baintner