Assalamualaykum :My name is Aisha. I am 42 years old, of Indian origin and settled in Sydney for over a year now. I accepted Islam less than 5 months ago and the story I am about to tell will Insha’Allah renew the faith that you already have in the benevolence and mercy of Allah SWT – the one and only true God!
Born to devout Catholic parents and the youngest of three siblings, I was raised in a loving and nurturing environment. Perhaps my upbringing was a little too strict and sheltered for my liking and at times I felt stifled by the protectiveness of my older brothers, but overall I have to say it was an ideal childhood.
So given the strict Catholic upbringing and the principles that had been imbibed in me during my formative years, one would have thought that it would have been practically impossible for me to go astray when I grew up, right? Well! You’d be amazed at how quickly those values flew out of the window when love came knocking in the form of a very handsome and charming Senior at the first co-ed College I attended when I was 21.
As my brothers had left home by then to pursue their own careers, I did not have their watchful eyes on me and was soon caught up in a whirlwind romance. Before I knew it we were discussing marriage, babies and our future! Needless to say I was so swayed by the ‘sweet talk’ that I threw caution to wind; only to discover a few months later that they had just been empty words and promises – a means to an end!!!
Distraught at my situation and the eventuality of my parents finding out, I took what seemed to be the only way out. My life was supposed to end there, but God (as I knew him then) obviously had other plans for me. I survived the 16 feet drop onto the concrete ground below, but my face would never be the same again. After a series of painful plastic surgeries over 6 months and about 68 stiches on my face, I came out looking and feeling like a battle scarred soldier. My parents believed it was just an unfortunate accident and that made me cringe even more.
It took a lot of courage to return to university, but I was determined not to be fazed by pointing fingers and wagging tongues. I was determined to succeed despite all odds and when I graduated a year later, my parents’ beaming faces made the whole ordeal worthwhile.
In the following years, I pursued my career with single-minded devotion, while other women my age were busy getting married-off and my parents were looking for a ‘suitable boy’ for me. I was 26 when my work threw me in contact with a man (let us call him Mr. C for the purpose of this narration) who appeared to be a ‘God send’. He was warm, caring and above all a perfect gentleman. The only catch was that he was a Hindu Brahmin. He proposed after just 3 months of us meeting and while I found myself very drawn to him, I told him that my religion meant a lot to me and also given what I had done in the past, I did not wish to put my parents through any more pain.
Mr. C then approached my parents and asked them for my hand in marriage. He told my parents that he wanted to get baptised and accept Christianity, as he had always been drawn to it. He also promised to baptise our kids as well when we did have them.
As it seemed like a win-win situation, my parents relented and we had a big Church wedding a few months later. In a few weeks’ time, I had my first jolt when I was asked by my mother-in-law to perform some Hindu rituals as a new bride. My husband, who had promised never to force me to practice Hinduism, stated quite blandly that if I truly loved him, I would fall in with his mother’s wishes. As I did not wish to expose his duplicity to my parents, I gritted my teeth and sat through the ritual.
Soon after I fell pregnant and I was very excited at the prospect of having our first born. That’s when my husband dropped the second bombshell and declared that we should never have kids, as our parents would end up fighting over the religion of the baby and that would drive a wedge between us. I reminded him of his promise to my parents, but as it seemed to have no impact on his conscience, I fell in with his wishes, as I just wanted to keep the peace and I did love him dearly despite it all.
So a crime was committed against religion and humanity and we terminated a life before it took shape. By this point I had lost my moral and religious compass altogether. In the years to come, while my husband and I shared a very beautiful and close relationship (or so I thought at that time!), I had totally severed my relationship with the Church. Christmas and Easter were the only two occasions I went to Church and this was not because I had lost my faith, but because I was lulled into a false sense of security. I had a doting husband, loving parents, a stable and happy marriage, financial security, we both had successful careers…so what did I need to pray for?
And then calamity struck. My mother took very ill and I found myself praying fervently to God to heal her. My prayers went unanswered and my mother passed away a few months later. My Dad left India to visit my brother in Sydney. To further compound matters, my husband was posted in Dubai on a 6 month assignment a few months later. This left me with just his Mum to turn to, who wasn’t very welcoming given that I was still the “rebel daughter-in-law” who refused to bow down in front of their deities. Suddenly I felt like someone had pulled the rug from underneath my feet.
Nonetheless life dragged on painfully and at the end of the assignment my husband and I visited Istanbul for an Award ceremony. I still recall walking into the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (The Blue Mosque) with my head covered with a scarf and being overawed by the grandeur. While it was only a beautiful monument to me, I still recall the peace and serenity I experienced standing within the four walls of the Mosque. At the Grand Bazaar, my husband bought a little wall plaque for a Muslim female colleague of his stating that she had some marital problems and the words on the plaque were a dua that was meant to grant whatever she desired.
How ironic that proved to be because she did get what she desired within a few months – my husband. I discovered that they were having a clandestine affair despite her being much married and having a 2 year old son. I had no one to turn to with this devastating discovery, as I did not wish to burden my family with my problems. I found myself once again in Church crying bitterly and pleading with God to save my marriage, as I realised I still loved him too dearly to let him go and was prepared to ‘forgive and forget’.
My husband kept promising that he would break things off with the other woman, but she just wouldn’t let go off him. After months of fighting to keep my marriage alive, fasting and praying and even going to the extent of having a liposuction to become ‘slim and attractive’ again, I learnt that my husband had filed for divorce. I decided then not to contest it and so 12 years of marriage were wiped out just like that. Snap!! It was at that point that I lost all faith in God.
After a year of pining away after my divorce had come through, at the insistence of my friends, I took to drinking and partying just as an escape from reality and the loneliness that shrouded me. It was at this stage of my mindless existence where I was just stumbling in the dark looking for answers that I met a young Muslim man named Aleem. Aleem and I got talking over the months and gradually when we got to know each other well enough to share things, I told him of my divorce. He was very empathetic and despite being about a decade younger than me, I felt Aleem really related to what I was going through.
One day I happened to mention that I was going clubbing with my friends and Aleem said he would go too. Now Aleem despite his deep religious beliefs did have a few vices (as we all do) and clubbing was one of them. When I met him at the nightclub that night, I was quite drunk and later he told me dancing quite wantonly. I have no recollection of how I drove home that drunk, but can never forget the earful I got from Aleem the next day. He told me that I seemed like a nice sensible woman and instead of turning to “haram” (that is the first time I heard the word) things for comfort I should turn to God instead. I told him I had no faith in God anymore because I had lost my Mum and my husband in the span of a year; and that wouldn’t have happened if God loved me.
Aleem then asked me a question which totally threw me off my new-found balance. He asked me if I would accept my husband if he came back to me and I said without doubt. He then asked me – If I was willing to accept someone who had broken my trust and the promises he had made me, if I was willing to accept someone who had abandoned me in my hour of need when my mother had just passed away, why then could I not accept God back into my life who only did what was best for me?
I then told him surely losing my husband could not have been the best thing for me. He then said to me that from all appearances I had placed my husband before God and had forgotten the true purpose of my life. He said to me that perhaps God had separated me from my husband, so that I would be “saved”. In order that I would turn back to HIM and prepare myself for the life hereafter.
I must say that I was stumped by such logic coming from someone so young. His maturity in thought and approach to problems belied his age. While I started some deep soul-searching, Aleem advised me to move to Sydney as my brother and family lived there and it paid to be with family. I saw the wisdom in his advice because my move would also mean that we could launch an application for my Dad’s Australian Permanent Residency.
Aleem helped me sell my apartment and move lock, stock and barrel to Sydney. I was sad to say good bye to someone who had grown so dear to me in such a short span of time, but Aleem said that he would always be there for me should I need it.
When I arrived in Sydney, I learnt that my father would have to live offshore while his application was being processed in Australia; which could probably take close to two years. Following his departure, my brother and his wife who had always been quite cordial until then had a disagreement with me over the application fees for my Dad’s visa stating that $46,000 was “money down the drain” given that my Dad was already 75+. I told them that I was happy to foot the costs myself with the money got from the sale of my flat in India. Even if it meant that my savings were wiped out, it was well worth it for everything my Dad had done for us when we were young.
I left their place totally broken in spirit and felt that the whole purpose of my move had been defeated. At this point I turned to God again. I would sit outside the closed doors of the Church and cry for hours on end. I was by myself again and this time round in unfamiliar surroundings and with no Aleem as well to help. While I found a job within a month, the loneliness and uncertainty was eating me up. At this point, hearing of my struggles, Aleem offered to come and assist me in settling down, so that it would reduce the number of months I had to spend alone before my Dad could return permanently.
Aleem had never left his family until then and so I knew that it was indeed a big sacrifice for him. I was touched especially because when my own blood had become a stranger to me, he was prepared to come all the way to Australia just to help me. I happily took him up on the offer and he arrived in June last year. We took up a flat share with a few other Indians.
Soon after it was the month of Ramadan and as a mark of respect to Aleem, I offered to fast along with him. I started off with no idea of the significance or what outcome I expected of it. I told Aleem all I knew is that I was looking for some answers and perhaps God/Allah would show me the way. Aleem spent most of his time listening to bayaans and I soon joined him. Listening to Maulana Tariq Jameel, Dr Zakir Naik and other Islamic scholars, I slowly started opening up my mind to Islam. I learnt from Aleem to my utter surprise that Muslims believed in Mary and Jesus as well.
The more I learnt of Islam, the more I realised the similarities between Christianity and Islam. The more I began to see where the Christians had erred in worshipping Jesus, as the Son of God. I also began to appreciate the fact that it was obviously Aleem’s deep Islamic beliefs that made him so humane and giving, at an age when other youngsters were just chasing after their own personal gains. No doubt he was also given to some pleasures of this duniya that he was praying hard to overcome (and Insha’Allah he will sooner than later), but I could now see what set him apart from other people I knew.
In the meantime, I was miraculously approved to rent a place on my own despite not having previous rental history or any references in Australia. Aleem and I walked miles shopping for furniture while we were still fasting, as I did not have a car. And then once again out of the blue my brother wrote to say that he would contribute 50% towards the costs of my Dad’s visa. This was a miracle indeed, as it gave me the ability to afford the down payment on a brand new car. Suddenly (still during Ramadan) we were driving down the very streets we used to walk down wearily. I had no doubt in my mind at that point that God loved me and there was only one God and that was Allah.
Aleem and I would discuss Islam and its teachings at length and it was then that he told me that he had always prayed that I become a Muslim because I was such a nice person and it would be a shame if I didn’t go to Jannah just because I had not accepted the true religion. He told me that he would always be there for me and care for me regardless of which religion I practised, but he wanted me to explore Islam more for my own happiness, peace of mind and salvation. I went with him on Eid to witness the prayers being offered in an open ground. I stood well outside the circle, but I can’t say that I was not deeply moved by the sight of hundreds of people standing shoulder to shoulder, facing the same direction, all united in one voice, as they worshipped Allah the Almighty.
I went with Aleem to the Mosque a few days later and was given some literature to read. On 14 September 2012, in the presence of Aleem and a group of strangers I took the Shahadah. I still cannot express the relief that I felt flooding my body the moment I had uttered those precious words. I felt my body shudder as if it was suddenly overtaken by a fever and I was then engulfed in the warm embrace from a woman standing by. I suddenly felt a oneness with the women who were strangers to me until then.
One of them reached out to me and brought me a copy of the Qur’an, a prayer rug and my first hijab the next day. “A gift from a sister,” she said and I cannot express the warmth and love I experienced in her presence. I felt the very same warmth and love that I had always felt from Aleem. A love which can only come as a gift from the one true God – Allah the most benevolent and merciful. I have experienced this sense of belonging and oneness with every other Muslim I have met since.
It has now been a month since Aleem has returned to India, but not a day passes without him calling to check on me. I have no husband, no real ”family”, no kids – none to call my own in this world for companionship or support, yet for once I am not filled with despair as I used to before I met Aleem. This is because I have no doubt that Aleem will always be there for me even after he is married and has his own family to fend for because such is the love of humanity and charity that Islam truly inspires. Above all, I know that if I depend on Allah, HE will always be there for me in darkness and in light.
For now I have nothing but the deepest sense of gratitude towards Aleem for everything he has done for me and most importantly for the wonderful gift he has given me. A gift that will last me not just this lifetime, but in the hereafter. A gift that I know now came from Allah Himself. I have no doubt in my mind now that everything in my life has happened for a purpose – Allah SWT had ear-marked me to be “saved”. So everything that had happened in my life was in accordance with His will and Insha’Allah, I pray that I continue to grow in my faith and learn to submit myself to the will of Allah unquestioningly.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I feel privileged that I belong to this Ummah and as long as I live will devote my life to learning more about Islam and spreading the word of Allah SWT. While my colleagues and a few others know that I have accepted Islam, I am yet to share this with my family. This is not out fear of ridicule or acceptance by them because we are already estranged, but because my father is old and frail and I fear that he would not be able to withstand the truth. I am sure just like everyone else, he has this media built image of what Islam is and it would shatter him to know that I have joined a “terrorist religion”. Little does he know that Islam spells Peace.
I for one will hope and fervently pray that one day he and the rest of my family will see the truth and emerge from darkness into light and be saved as well. I request you my dear brother and sisters in the Deen, to pray that Allah grants me the strength and courage to proclaim to my family and the whole world at large that I am MUSLIM and proud to be one. Alhamdullilah!!!