Five years ago I met a guy, it was a corny cliché romance.
He was charming, fun, cheeky and rarely serious. I fell in love straight away.
I was attracted to his Middle Eastern appearance, his ridiculously long eyelashes and his thick Glaswegian accent. I’d never met anyone like him before.
He was born in Iran, but had moved to Glasgow with his family when he was just three (hence the incredible accent). He worked in London for a few years before taking up a job in Australia.
He was worldly like me, but he was far more interesting.
We met through mutual friends in Perth where we were both living at the time.
We travelled the world together, and very early on in our relationship we met each other’s family. We travelled to country NSW to meet my parents and my three younger brothers, and we travelled to Scotland to visit his parents and his two elder brothers.
The first thing we both noticed, although our families were different, there were so many incredible similarities. Fundamentally both families had strong morals and values. Family always came first, every time.
Like most couples though, we certainly didn’t discuss marriage straight away, we were just young, in love and having fun!
With time, of course we knew that we wanted to be with each other for life, and therefore we needed to discuss important issues about our future. As far as I am concerned, if you make a commitment to marry someone you need to have the same goals and dreams for the future. Otherwise it simply won’t last. We needed to ensure that we would honour and support each other into our future. Thankfully, our aspirations for the future were the same, we are both very driven individuals with a desire to achieve at the highest level, professionally and personally. We also both wanted a family.
Often it is very hard to find a person that you connect with on so many levels, but thankfully I have.
After about two years of being together, he proposed while we were holidaying in Bali.
I was so excited to start planning our wedding, as I wanted to combine the two cultures and have one amazing party!
Everything I had come to know about the Iranian culture I loved! The food, the music, the dancing, the incredible hospitality, and of course the silly taarof!
(Taarof is a form of etiquette, when offered something you are supposed to kindly refuse, even if you want it. You refuse three times before actually accepting. This can be food, or even an item you want to purchase! For example at meal times when a dish is offered, you say no thank you, then it’s offered again and you say no three times before finally saying yes! And if you’re in a store and want to buy something the shopkeeper will tell you it’s free, but they don’t actually mean it! – I told you it was silly!)
It was around the time of our engagement that Hamid’s parents raised the issue of religion and the importance for them that I converted to Islam. It is important that I state here, not once did Hamid or his family demand that I convert to Islam. Not even close. Instead a respectful conversation took place about how much it would mean to them if I considered converting to Islam.
There was no pressure, no urgency, and no disrespect on any level.
At first, I was unsure.
I was raised Catholic, attended a catholic primary school and high school.
I attended church most weekends with my parents, but of course by the time I was 14 it was more of a chore than a personal desire to connect with God.
During high school I was the student who questioned everything. The Religious Education teachers would dread whenever I raised my hand.
I was never disrespectful, I just wanted answers. There was so much I was learning at school and in Church that I was unsure about.
Did it really rain for 40 days and nights?
Did Noah really build an ark with two of every animal?
Did Jesus really turn water into wine?
I came to the conclusion that these stories were written to try and explain life, and it wasn’t up to me to question that, it wasn’t up to me to question religion. It was up to me to respect what others chose to believe. And fundamentally, if I was a good person, respecting others and never doing harm to anyone else, that’s what mattered.
After school I admit religion wasn’t a significant factor in my life. I attended church on special occasions such as Easter and Christmas, but that was about it.
So, when Hamid’s parents discussed the idea of me converting I knew that I needed to really think about my answer.
Saying no, just out of spite wasn’t going to achieve anything. If anything that just said more about my character. And saying yes, just to please them wasn’t right either.
I realised that making this decision would be based on many things. Respect for my new family, but most importantly whether or not I was prepared to learn about a new religion. I started to do my research, soon learning to avoid popular media and instead read academic texts and ask people who had been in the same position as I was in.
Now, my parents could have just as easily asked Hamid to convert to Catholicism.
My father converted for my mother, and my grandmother converted for my grandfather. It’s actually a very common thing.
But converting to Islam meant more to Hamid’s parents and his family than it did for him to convert to Catholicism for my parents and my family.
As I learnt more about Islam, I realised that I knew very little, and what I thought I knew I had learnt from reading articles and comments on social media. 99% of which is completely incorrect. I learned (and am continuing to learn) that it is a beautiful, peaceful religion, very similar to Catholicism.
I decided that I did want to convert. I wanted to learn more about this beautiful religion, and I wanted our children to grow up in a family environment similar to my own upbringing – with parents united in their beliefs, morals and values.
Converting to Islam or any religion is not an overnight transition. It’s a journey, and every one is entitled to go at their own pace, so we shouldn’t compare one person’s journey to that of another.
Many people assume that a Muslim must marry another Muslim, this is not true.
In some cultures, yes, this is enforced, but it is not a religious demand. We need to understand the difference.
Far too often the media enmeshes culture and religion, and as a consequence, society can’t differentiate between the two, it is this misunderstanding that causes so much confusion and hatred in the world.
I could have still married Hamid without converting.
I chose to convert. I was not forced, or coerced.
My life wasn’t thrown into upheaval.
After making the decision to convert, Hamid and I visited a local Mosque and met with the Imam. It was here that I converted with friends as my witness.
Since that day I continue to learn more, read more and immerse myself in this faith. It has been and continues to be a very beautiful journey.
It is of course an area of my life that so many people are fascinated by. So many people have questions, and just do not understand my decision to convert.
I am not asking you to understand.
I’m not, nor will I ever, impose my faith or my beliefs onto anyone else.
The intention of me sharing this part of my journey is to simply educate people and generate more awareness.
I believe that sharing my story is a good thing, especially if I can dispel myths that any of you have. All I ask is that you are respectful. You don’t need to agree with me or my family, but we all need to be tolerant and respectful of each other.
As a new convert my journey is completely different to someone born into Islam. I am not an expert on Islam or Middle Eastern politics, nor should anyone expect me to be.
I do however appreciate that many of you have questions - you’ve emailed them to me!
So, I have answered some of them below, please remember that these are my answers and I do not speak on behalf of any other Muslim
1. Why don’t you wear hijab?
Firstly, it is not compulsory that women wear hijab in Islam. Islam does not force this upon any woman. In some cultures/countries it is enforced, but this is culture not religion.
I do not wear hijab at the moment because I am not ready. Wearing hijab comes with an incredible responsibility and I do not want to wear it just as a token gesture. I think it would be more disrespectful to wear it just for the sake of it, than to not wear it.
That being said, I have worn hijab, at the Mosque and on certain occasions out of respect.
2. Do you drink alcohol?
No. And I do not feel as though I’m ‘missing out’.
I think it’s alarming the number of people that actually ask me this question.
3. Do you eat Pork?
4. Do you only eat Halal?
5. Since marrying your husband are you now oppressed, and not allowed to work or further educate yourself?
This couldn’t be more inaccurate. If anything I’m doing more professionally thanks to my husband’s support. Including enrolling in a Masters Degree, as well as working and taking care of our daughter.
If anything I feel more liberated as a women since embracing Islam.
I feel equal in my marriage and I feel equal among my family.
I find it extremely interesting that the ‘West’ make generalisations about inequality within Islam when we do not live in an equal society ourselves?!
I hope I have been able to answer some of your questions, and erase any myths that you may have had.
(I do wish to emphasise that articles are often written with the intention of creating controversy, there are a few stories online at the moment that are not entirely accurate so I wrote this blog so that you could get my view, without the controversy!)