I used to be Muslim, but I recently converted to Islam.
“The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74
Some of you share my story, and some of you had a different one. Regardless of your past, I am writing this to bring an important matter into your attention.
Name: Afnan Linjawi
Date of birth: 04/06/1992
Location of birth: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Country of residence: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Mother tongue: Arabic
Worst fears: I think I’m Muslim, but then die and find out that I never was!
If you were born in the 90s and in the Middle East – I was at the heart of it- then you will remember 9/11, Khalij War, Palestine, Mohammad Durrah, President Bush, and raucous bickering politicians and spokesmen on Arabic TV shows on Al-Jazeerah.
I was born into war. It was the first thing I learn about our world. I quickly learnt through school the following things: I am Saudi, I am Arabic, I am Muslim, Islam is my history, I am one of the luckiest people in the world because I am all of the previously mentioned, and the world hates me for my religion and my wearing of the head scarf will make people in US, UK, and France hit me.
I spent a great deal of my childhood preparing myself to be the monster Western media described me. You see, this is not what happened to most kids. Most kids understood that they were just kids, I didn’t. Most kids developed an ability called ignorance. I was too precocious and observant for my own good.
But a part of the 90s was also not my fault. Hatred was forced upon me! I went to school in the mornings and Islam teachers would make us feel so guilty for having a happy life. They would say things such as: you don’t realize the blessing you have, kids in Palestine dodge bombs to get to school. I felt like I was a mockery. I wanted to go to Palestine with the flag of Islam and fight until I die.
After school I would go to buy some sweets with my dad at the grocery stores, and by the cashier you would find a photo of people dying on top of a box of riyals for charity. I was frustrated. Why isn’t anyone doing anything? Why do I have to feel like my life was a mistake! My soul should have been given to the person that will bring peace to the world, while I’m craving candy.
I promised myself then, that the least I can do is read the Quran every day and pray all of my Faraidh and Sunnah. And that is exactly what I did. I would come home, lock myself in the room and cry while reading the Quran. I did not cry because I felt for the people that were dying, I cried because the world did not make sense and I didn’t know what was I supposed to do. When I would try to figure it out and ask my parents and school, they all had the same answer: nothing! They would tell me to do nothing. They would say “you’re just a child”, “you can’t fight an army”, or they would disregard my concerns completely. This was crazy, why do you tell me that I don’t know how to be grateful for what I have and then ask me to remain that way!
Anyways, after that I went into middle school. On the first day of 8th grade, I wore my first Abaya and Tarha. I was officially covered. That is the moment when a Muslim girl feels closer to Allah and proud of following her religion. I wanted to be closer to Allah, in fact I wanted to just die at that moment out of fear that I might one day miss a prayer or show my hair, so I’d be less pure. At that moment, I felt the purest. Out of excitement and my will to obey Allah, I told my parents I want to cover my face and wear a Niqab. They gave me a big fat NO!
I was shocked to be honest, considering that my mother wears the Niqab. But they were right. I wasn’t wearing it for the right reasons. I would have never taken it seriously.
Soon after, I turned 16. My body started to change and I began to be interested in other people. As any girl, at that age I wanted guys to think I’m beautiful and irresistible. At that moment, I realized that one day I am going to be a wife and a mother. My poor husband will be stuck with a belligerent wife who thinks she’s the ninja that will save Palestine. My poor children will have a mother who has no teachings to give, message to pass, or hope to grant. And for that, I cried my heart out.
I began to pray to Allah every night that somehow someone would love me and that somehow and in some place I will do good. I will do great and be great. It was two years later, when I turned 18, that I decided for the first time in my life to give the world a genuine smile. I laughed before, but I made sure to cry afterwards. I felt so guilty for feeling happy while others were miserable.
At 18 I decided to change. It was about time. I had to stop hating. It was hurting the people around me and after 18 years of hate, I did not achieve a thing. By common sense, you create change by adding, deleting, and replacing. So I looked at my life so far and decided to add naiveté, simplicity, and positivity. I decided to replace my trademark frown with a smile. And I decided to delete the hate once and for all.
Sadly, the hate, to me, was connected to religion. It came from it. I had to distance myself somehow. I stopped reading Quran altogether. I stopped praying Sunnah, I stopped pronouncing the name of Allah when I did not have to. I still stuck to the five pillars because I didn’t want to desert my religion. I just knew I had to change my thoughts, habits, and routine completely.
I got into university and busied myself as much as I can. I did not want to give myself a second to think, so I won’t go back to my old ways. I was literally running away from my past self.
After giving myself three years of freely thinking with my own brain without anyone’s influence, I put my religion back as a guide and not as a commander. I made my Islam comfortable for me. I made Islam mine and unique to any other Muslim. I realized that just as scholars can interpret verses, I can too. No one will be able to guide me to the right path better than me. No one will be able to ask my questions but me.
It was when I was a junior that I started to look around in my society. The so-called epitome of Islam and the so-called Muslims and descendants of the Prophet and his Companions. I looked at our traditions and customs. I looked at the lessons our elders gave us. I realized then that we are not a pure society, we are not a victim of a society, and we are not a veteran society at all. We are just simply a society.
Here Islam is not what the Quran dictates. Islam here is what the economy dictates, what the people in power dictate, what the media dictates, and what traditions and customs dictate. A lot of “Muslims” here haven’t a clue about their religion. They defy it every waking hour on a daily basis, and they don’t even know it. That’s when I saw the greatest bigotry in Islamic history. That’s when I realized that there is only one pure Islam in the world for me, the Islam in my heart.
The Prophet himself said: “No babe is born but upon Fitra. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6426). It is my job and responsibility to maintain my Fitra. My society labeled me Muslimah, but it did not teach me Islam. It is my job to define my own Islam, because if I let the world define it, it has already taken it away from Fitra.
Now, I have graduated from university and decided to convert to Islam. I decided to “read” the Quran and think about what it says. I decided to read about what other scholars published because I am actually interested in my religion. I decided to read other religions to understand mine.
Most importantly though, I am enjoying the journey of discovery and the pursuit of knowledge.
– Afnan Linjawi (Guest writer)