When was the last time that you thanked Allah that you were a Muslim? Do you savour every prayer you do and cherish every Ayat you read or do you take your religion for granted? Is Islam just a birthright that you never strived for? Not everyone is fortunate enough to be born a Muslim. Some, are given the truth, some find it and some remain ignorant their whole lives, never learning the beauty of Islam. Sister Sylvia, a two year convert, was lucky enough to find it and we welcomed her and her inspiring story at the launch of Miss Saba’s new Muslimah club. It served as a real-life reminder of the gift that it is to be born into Islam.
The 27 year old Hungarian’s journey truly began from the moment her elder sister embraced Islam, transforming her own life and planting the first seed that would transform Sylvia’s eight years later. Out of love, her sister tried to share with her the knowledge she gained through her studies in Budapest’s only mosque at the time, emphasizing the importance of having the correct belief in order to be saved from the punishment of the hellfire. She tried to appeal to her but despite her best efforts Sylvia resisted, made hesitant by the false image of the oppressed Muslim woman and her parents’ negative response to her sister’s own conversion. In short, she did not want to become a Muslim.
Undeterred, Sylvia’s sister persisted in her attempts, talking to her about Tawheed and Shahadah, and she found herself being drawn to Islam. The uncertainty scared her. The religion “grabbed” her. At first she allowed it, attending Islamic lectures and feeding her curiosity, but soon her interest began to cause arguments with her parents who did not want her to follow in her sister’s footsteps; they even went as far as to bribe her to stop. Along with their lack of support, the apparent difficulty of the Islamic religion was all it took for her to pull back and for a while she resorted to appease her need for a clear religion by becoming stronger in her Christian faith.
Once graduated in dietetics from a Hungarian university, Sylvia moved to the UK, away from the influence of her parents. With very little English, she took lessons from a Hungarian Muslimah who later became acquainted with her sister (also living in the UK) and together they resolved to help her break down her barriers and accept Islam. Her sister had not yet given up hope and together with her teacher continued to give her Da’wa, building her understanding of Islam.
As time progressed she drew closer to the religion but still felt as if something were holding her back from fully submitting to Allah and accepting the Deen. During an English lesson her teacher sneezed and automatically, Sylvia responded with Yarhamukallah. On noticing this, her teacher’s husband questioned her about her resistance to Islam. What was preventing her from becoming a Muslim? Did she not believe in the last prophet? Did she not believe in the one God? She claimed that she did and cited the reasons for her hesitance such as the difficulty she saw in the all the rules and limitations of Islam. Praying five times a day, fasting for an entire month, it all seemed very different to her. Would she manage?
“Allah will make it easy for you”, was his only reply to her worries as he placed a small Qur’an in her hands and extracted a promise from her that she would read it, something that regardless of all the lectures and lessons she had attended she had never actually done before. Alone, she did so. Opening onto a random page, she began to read. Looking back now, she believes that Allah had inspired her. Although she tries to describe the feeling to us she is unable to; it is indescribable. She still remembers the meaning of the Ayat: “if you disobey Allah you will be punished in the hellfire, but if you believe you will go to paradise”, a clear warning that left her tossing in her bed the following night and decided on her future. She was the closest she had ever been to Islam. She knew that she would become a Muslim, all she needed was a little bit of time.
During this period, Sylvia was working as an au pair whilst struggling to find work in her professional field as a dietician. Facing a tough and stressful time, filled with anxiety, she looked to her sister and saw the contrast of her inner peace to her own troubled life. Whilst Sylvia was busy chasing after the Dunya, she was happy with the peace granted to her by Islam. Desperate to share this feeling, she finally made her decision and purposefully dialled her sister’s number. Sylvia asked if her husband was home and instantly she knew. Her sister eagerly explained the terms of the Shahadah and along with her husband as a witness, Sylvia became a Muslim. The relief was exhilarating, the sense of liberation, overwhelming. Sylvia had finally been gifted with the comfort of Islam. At last, she was relaxed and happy.
Breaking the News
However, she initially hid this happiness from her parents. Unsure of their reaction, she preferred to gain enough knowledge about her new religion to confidently answer the penetrating questions they would surely ask. She also hid her religion from the German family that she worked for, praying in secret and removing her headscarf at work, until her Emaan grew strong with the approach of Ramadan. She wanted to fast Ramadan and be visibly Muslim so she built up the courage to tell her employers even though she knew from previous conversations that they held a negative misconception of Islam. She was consigned to the fact that they would dismiss her but as she went to tell them, they informed her that they were moving back to Germany and would no longer require her services. Despite the loss of her job, she felt free and was able to view it as a new start that had come just at the right time. Her sister was expecting a third child so she moved in with her to offer her assistance, tired of the lack of satisfaction she received from attending to the other families.
Allah had made it easier for her and she was spared from having to tell her employers however there was still the dilemma of how to break the news to her parents. She began to talk to them, trying to “soften their hearts” by commenting on the way Islam had positively changed their eldest daughter and influenced the way she brought up her children, in a way in which her parents approved, according to its teachings. Sylvia had hoped that they would guess for themselves but they were immune to her subtle hints. This time, she would have to tell them.
Following advice from her sister and other converts; she waited for her father to visit her in a Muslim environment and did not make a big issue out of her conversion. She did not sit her father down for an important chat. There was no big build up followed by a huge bombshell. Instead, when her father came to visit his new grandchild, she casually slipped on her Hijaab and left to go shopping with him. In a situation which she describes with much humour, she recalls how her father did not notice at first and then thought that she was fooling around. It took a while for the idea to hit him but when it dawned on him, he was livid. “Why?” he asked her. “Why do you want to be in a religion where you are treated like a cloth, where you have no rights?” His reaction was expected and she reminded him of her sister, a strong happy Muslim woman with rights and a husband who treated her with respect.
Her mother’s reaction was more unexpected and no better than her father’s. Over the phone, she expressed her anger at Sylvia’s decision. In one phone call, all her dreams for her daughter had been crushed; a Hungarian husband, Hungarian children, a typical Hungarian life. To her, she was lost. Sylvia was pained by her mother’s words as she told her in no uncertain terms that she hated her.
Amidst the hurt Sylvia still wanted to mend the relationship with her mother. She explained to her how important it was for her to have the correct faith and how Islam was helping her. As a Muslim, she knew who to turn to when she was in difficulty, she felt protected and shielded by the presence of Allah. It had given her a whole new perspective on life. Whereas as a Christian she would crumble when faced with hardship and question the reason for God to be punishing her, as a Muslim she would step up and face the test of Allah. Islam had made her a stronger, better person.
Alhamdulillah, Sylvia’s parents have now accepted her as a Muslim and she is able to talk to them openly about her faith. They are willing to listen to their daughter and have overcome the strain that had been present in their relationship. Her mother in particular has become interested in the way she lives her life and has even enjoyed sharing the experience of fasting Ramadan with her daughters.
Looking back now on her experiences, Sylvia can appreciate the gift she has in Islam because of the incredible journey she has gone through to achieve it. Asked how Islam has changed her life she says that she now has more internal peace. She knows her purpose in life and has a clear sense of direction that had previously been missing. She says she now feels that she is ready to die, no longer frightened by the concept and liberated by the relief of her conversion. Many Muslims think that non-Muslims have it easier; they don’t have to pray five times a day or fast during Ramadan; but she disagrees. She tells us that she found it easier to live as a Muslim than a non-Muslim and having experienced both worlds, loves the changes Islam has brought about in her life. Even the few things that she thought she would miss such as music have become inconsequential to her as she has come to realise that it offers no tranquillity compared to the Holy Qur’an.
Many born Muslims wish that they were not born as such. They would prefer to wear short, tight clothing and not worry about their Salat, envying the freedom of non-Muslims. Sylvia recounted the story of a Muslim sister who wanted this freedom that she had once had. She did not want to carry the burden of Islam. She wanted to reject the gift. However upon meeting another Hungarian convert like Sylvia, she realised how truly fortunate she was. On the topic of converts she said, “you don’t know how much you help us that have been born Muslims and take it for granted.”
Sylvia’s stories, as well as those of many other converts from all around the world,
are fine examples of the difficulties some people face to become Muslims and teach us the blessing that is to be born into Islam. Some people have to struggle and even fight for their right to be Muslim and then there are those who are born into the religion and disregard it. It may not seem fair but in the end Allah will serve us all justice. Inshallah, their hardship will be rewarded but what about the born Muslim? He will ask them, what did you do with your gift? What will they answer?