This is a story of my experiences, rewards, and challenges as a new European convert to Islam.
My journey began more than two years ago, when I professed the shahadah in a mosque I had been visiting, alhamdulellah. A Sister took me into a classroom to teach me every rule regarding prayer in a matter of minutes. I felt slightly overwhelmed, but still very eager to learn. Within three weeks, the Sisters taught me the essentials of the religion. Although I was in high spirits and peaceful in my practice of Islam, there was something about the mosque that began to trouble me.
The Sisters often acted as a “religious police,” eyeing anyone for mistakes and verifying the “correctness” of their beliefs. No day passed without me receiving impolite remarks, and a point was reached where I was worried about being criticized for breathing incorrectly. Disconcerted, I came to view this place not as a mosque, but as a checkpoint. Still, there were still more reasons to be alarmed.
Between the lines of the imam’s weekly lectures, I sensed much anger. Not a week went by without hate speeches and slander. That community can pronounce someone a kaafir (“disbeliever”) quite readily, while viewing this attitude as an obligation. Aside from this, the way they passed knowledge was of concern to me.
The priority of this mosque is to have people memorize books by their own carefully selected scholars. No other views are tolerated, and the level of mistrust in the rest of the Muslim world is strangely elevated. On a daily basis, their teachings are drilled into people’s heads. I observed how the people became like sheep, and how the young women seemed almost besotted with the charming imam. I wondered why there were limited resources of knowledge, why the Qur’an was less studied than Al-Mukhtasar by Sh. Abdullah Al-Harari, and why they didn’t have a complete biography of the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم). I was equally concerned about why they distance others from the Qur’an, by insisting that they will get it wrong by themselves, and claiming that the Qur’an is “not enough” to have “the correct belief.”
Clearly, they demand loyalty not to Islam, but to the mosque.
When the time came for me to leave Switzerland and return to Poland to finish medical school, I felt apprehensive about meeting my family again. I risked estrangement for being on the path of Truth. Indeed, I had an extremely difficult time, and though I wasn’t kicked out of the family, our relationship was very unhealthy. My most painful experience was when they, and others close to them, believed me to be mentally ill. I was forced into many hours of psychiatric evaluation, which finally proved that I was not mad. I also had a large course load and final exams to contend with, so I was very stressed as well as very hurt. In spite of the seemingly all-encompassing darkness I was living in, I managed to find the light.
The flame of Islam is ever burning in my heart. During my darkest hours, when it seemed like I had nothing but a floor to lay my face on, I emerged with the wisdom that God is all I have and ever need, and I can always count on Him. I endeavored to bring myself closer to Him by attaching myself to the Qur’an for dear life, learning tajweed (proper pronunciation of the Qur’an), and engraving several ayat (verses) into my heart. I never abandoned my ‘ibadat (acts of worship), which kept me going when I often felt like my “battery” was very low. Islam taught me the meaning of patience and forgiveness. It gave me serenity, a quiet inner strength, and hope.
With hardship comes ease, and there is always something to be happy about. Alhamdulellah, I happened to live near an Islamic center, where I met a more tolerant community. I adopted trustworthy references, Ust. Yasmin Mogahed and Ust. Nouman Ali Khan. I had true friends, near and far, who would always offer me their love and support. I clearly understood that God loves me and would never leave me alone. Even when my religion and I were eventually kicked out of my apartment, God gave me a new, much better, and happier situation.
With God’s help, I lived through my hardships in Poland, earned my M.D. degree, and left my non-allies. I met a wonderful, caring, and God-loving man whom I married, and started a new and happier life. We moved to Switzerland, because it offers better perspectives for me as a young doctor. Our beautiful and lovely little princess Aisha was born, who is a constant source of joy for us.
We brought closure to the story with the famous mosque. We went there out of religious obligation only, while not being a part of it. By then my Islamic knowledge had increased, and I was able to see the novelties and subtle forms of idolatry the community was practicing. I felt very perturbed, and my spouse, a wise and perceptive man, also sensed something altogether wrong with that place. We voiced our views on their strange practices (celebrating new Islamic “holidays,” having loud and rambunctious parties at the mosque, and wearing “protective” amulets), out of love and concern for them. We met honest friends who translated to us what the imam was really saying in his discourses (violence towards disbelievers), and who informed us that this community is part of a new sect by the name of Al-Ahbash. We dissociated from the mosque, and live in peace.
Disappointing as this may have been, my experience brought me much benefit. In this article, I have described what a sect is like from the inside, as a warning for others. As a general rule, European mosques should be approached with caution. Another lesson I learned is that it is necessary to begin at the wrong end in order to arrive at the Truth. My understanding of what is wrong and unIslamic can give a better idea of the true, pristine Islam revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
What is certain is that Islam is not a message of fear. It is a message of love.
Imam Ash-Shafi was asked, “How can we know the People of Truth during times of fitnah (trial, affliction, distress)?” He answered, “Follow the arrows of the enemy, as they will guide you to them.”
What were some of your experiences and lessons learned as a convert? Please share in a comment.