Polish Convert Defies Stereotype

16 years 3 weeks ago #100 by Ummul-Haarith Shahidah bint Gregory
Ummul-Haarith Shahidah bint Gregory created the topic: Polish Convert Defies Stereotype
When a person learns that I’m Muslim the first question is, “What’s your background?” Syrian or Lebanese are the top guesses. Confusion clouds the person’s face when I reply, “I’m Polish.”

My answer is usually followed by another question, “Is Poland a Muslim country?” I explain, “It’s not. I’m a convert.”

People can’t seem to grasp that there are people who accept another religion with a declaration of belief in its teachings. But looking back at my own experience, it’s not that simple.

I learned about Islam three years ago when I met my best friend, a convert herself, and we began discussing religion. As we spoke, I found myself identifying with the teachings but my thoughts constantly drifted to my Polish culture and my Catholic faith. I considered what people would say if I converted and more importantly if I was ready to take on something that is not only a religion but a way of life.

I had too many questions and didn’t bother to seek answers, so I lost interest. Instead, I studied my own religion and tried to find a connection, but again Islam crept into my thoughts.

The internal struggle went on for two years and after going through a bad breakup in the summer of 2005 I was desperate for structure and stability.

At the beginning of this year I started looking for answers. I found myself writing articles about Islamic issues on campus and the misconceptions began to fade. I learned that just like Christians, Muslims believe in the prophets of the Old Testament, as well as Mary and Jesus.

I discovered that Islam is an intellectual religion and even includes science in the holy book, the Qur’an. I sat in awe during my long nights of reading, puzzled that an illiterate man named Muhammad described in the Qur’an, among other things, how a fetus is formed. How did he know these things at that time? For me the answer was simple, divine intervention. I was ready to convert.

The day I converted, April 13, was a blur. I don’t remember walking to the mosque but I do remember the hot tears on my cheeks as I broke down, overwhelmed. I was ready to start a more purposeful life. But before I could do that, I had to help my family adjust to the changes.

A few weeks later, when I flew home to Vancouver, I knew the issue couldn’t be avoided. The first evening at home my mom spotted my emerald green prayer rug. “What’s that?” she asked and then answered her own question. I looked up from my suitcase and saw her confused expression. I started to explain but she cut me off and left.

Normally I would have started an argument but instead I found comfort in prayer. When I bowed down on the mat, my worries seemed to diminish. Something told me that my mom would come around.

The next day I explained the religion to her in more detail than she had known it before. She nodded silently and made me promise that nothing would change between us.

“I can’t promise that because it’ll change me into a better person,” I replied.

My mom still asks lots of questions but she is adjusting. It helped that I promised I would still eat Christmas Eve dinner with her.

Although I found support at home, after my conversion I felt discrimination for the first time. After 17 Torontonians were charged with terrorism this summer, I was called a terrorist. It happened one evening as I walked home from the mosque wearing my hijab, and my abaya, a full-length overgarment.

I wanted to tell people the religion doesn’t praise terrorism. I wanted to explain that jihad doesn’t mean Holy War like many news outlets claim, but that it means struggle of any sort. I was unable to find the strength to say there are an estimated 1.4 billion followers, which makes Islam the second-largest religion in the world.

I know people fear what they don’t understand. But just like my mom was willing to learn, I hope people start to take the time to do a little bit of a search so that fear is turned into knowledge.

Source: The Ryersonian | Izabela Szydlo (Author) | Ryerson University | November 1, 2006 | page 10<br><br>Post edited by: admin, at: 2007/01/14 22:01

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