Please read / watch first before making assumptions, drawing conclusions, or passing judgments.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Professional Lady Pilot Reverts To Islam

My Name is Aisha Jibreel Alexander and I grew up in a Roman Catholic family. I was always very interested in knowing about religion and always questioned the “dogmas” of the catholic faith, but I found the same answers every time I asked about the trinity. “You have to believe and not question your faith because you are committing a sin”, the nuns at the school always replied. With this concept, I grew up and I developed a fear of challenging my faith, so I continued in the road of Christianity with great faith and trust in God and on what I learned to believe, “the holy trinity.”

In 2001 I had the first encounter with Islam when I worked for a Canadian Company owned by Muslims. There, I had my first confrontation with the faith, but as I was young and very much dedicated to my professional career, I left the questions about religion behind, and I concentrated on finishing my career and taking care of my responsibilities with my family who also relocated with me from Colombia (my mother and my grandmother who are now 61 and 93 years old). I was very blessed with the family where I was born. These two women taught me the love and respect of God. They started my journey towards Islam by teaching me that I could not be or do anything without faith in God. Regardless the school they adhered to or followed, they taught me all about faith and respect of God.

I got married in 2003, a marriage that unfortunately marked my life with domestic violence, but out of the sad episode, I had my dearest son who is now eight years old. My husband at the time did not believe in God. Or should I say he believed in his own way. He drew me far from God; even from Christianity. It was the saddest episode of my life. But one day in 2005, I broke out of that situation with the help of my mother, and I continued life alone with my son and my mother, working hard to achieve  my career goals, while  becoming the main provider for my home.

Aviation brought me many opportunities; most of them really good. I had the opportunity to live in Malaysia, a country that shares three religions - Islam mainly, Hinduism and Buddhism. Back then, I lived in South America and I worked in the United States as a Corporate Pilot. Now, I am an Airline pilot flying mainly to Asia, Middle East and Europe. Unfortunately, being the only female pilot, almost everywhere I went, I spent most of time lonely. Maximum of my colleagues spent their spare time in night clubs and bars, and I was looking for something else that I could not have ever found in a club or at a bar, so I dedicated my spare time to continue my university studies online, but no time for God, other than a small prayer in the morning, and maybe at night time; no time to go to churches. So I was growing as a career woman but what about the life after?

Whenever I travelled to the Middle East, I always felt something special inside. There, I felt like dressing in a more decent manner than I normally did. I used to wear tight jeans, tight pants and fashion tops but I didn’t feel like dressing that way in the Middle East, not at a place where they called the name of God five times a day. I felt ashamed. I guess this is how the conversion started. Once in Bahrain, while waiting for my airplane to be fixed, I downloaded the Quran and I began praying every day in the morning before going for breakfast. I was feeling very empty inside; my life then was limited to waking up, working, eating, exercising and sleeping, but what about my spiritual life? Even when I returned back Home, I was not leading my son spiritually in the way I was supposed to. Previously, on my search to find God, I went from the Catholic church to the Baptist church, and after the ceremony of baptism, we only went to church a few times, mainly because of my tight schedule at work and honestly, there was no connection. Something was  missing. I was not there completely.

Was God in my life? Yes, indeed! But He had better plans for me. I think He was just waiting for me to realize that my life was not only to work and pay bills. He knew I had more responsibilities with myself and my son; responsibilities to build for the life after. So God knocked at my door...and I was afraid to open. I thought just by talking to God in my mind all day and saying His name many times in the day was enough to feed my soul….but no it wasn’t enough. God knew I was in urgent need of Him saving my life.

The moment I said Islam was for me, it was in the Middle East; when I heard the call for prayer. At that moment, I had to cover my eyes with my sun glasses in front of the other pilots that were with me on the way to the restaurant, because my eyes were filled with tears...I felt like saying, “stop! I have to join this prayer”. I still remember one of them making fun of the call for prayer, and I felt so upset inside. I felt like calling him ignorant, & saying, “Don’t you realize it is a call for praying to God?”…but the words didn’t come out. Only tears kept rolling down my eyes. On that night after dinner, I came to my room, grabbed the praying rug, and bowed down to God; as I asked for His guidance for finding my spiritual light. After that night, my search started stronger than ever. I watched videos, read the Quran on my long flights, looked out for Islamic organizations to find answers, and finally one day in Argentina; while resting after a long flight, I listened to a program about Islam in the country. So I googled for Islam in South America, and found that I was not the only Hispanic interested in Islam. The community was bigger than what any one could imagine. I committed myself to return to Argentina soon and visit the biggest Masjid in the American Continent. So I did. Three months passed, and I was assigned a trip to Argentina on thanksgivings day. After arriving, I made an appointment and went to visit the Masjid. I met with the Sheikh, a Saudi Arabian man who led the prayers in the Masjid. We talked for about three hours and before I left, he asked me if I wanted to embrace Islam. I said right away, “Yes!” I feared I might not return back to Argentina or get a similar opportunity.

My biggest struggle was to change my preconceived conviction of Jesus (peace be upon him) being God. At first, I felt I was betraying him. I was concerned and scared. I couldn’t wash out those phrases of the nuns back at school saying “not to challenge the religion because it was a sin”. This was the most difficult part.

Sheikh Mohammed from the Masjid in Argentina helped a lot with a little phrase he said to me, “Ibrahim, Moses, Noah, and Jesus (peace be upon them) where all in this road. Do you think is there any reason why you can’t be following them?” Reading the Quran and finding the recognition that Jesus (peace be upon him) enjoys, the importance of Maryam in Islam (she is in Islam, more important than she is for many Christians in Christianity), reading about the influence of Constantine and how he changed Christianity, all these studies helped a lot in clearing out my mind and feeling comfortable with accepting the truth that was always hidden to me; not by purpose, hidden just because it was the truth that my parents and ancestors knew, but “never challenged”.

As far as my lifestyle was concerned, I stopped drinking; this happened few months before I accepted Islam. Soon after my trip from Bahrain, after I prayed for guidance, I met with a good friend of mine; she and I always ate at the same restaurant and had a drink or two with the food. That day, I said “no” I don’t drink anymore, and I declared inside I was never going to have another alcoholic beverage, because I wanted to seek God. Also, I don’t eat pork anymore and I am changing my wardrobe, which is very difficult because I love clothing and fashion.  I was always proud of my body and I liked dressing in a way so that everyone would look at me. Now, I have starting wearing a Hijab, wearing loose clothing, abayas, and modest long shirts.

At work, I am struggling very much. In the company where I work, most people are biased towards Islam. As far as my mother is concerned, she is still Christian, but she says she’s glad of my positive changes, and she is learning more and more about Islam every day, and she feels proud of me for being a Muslim. And now that my 8 year old son also reverted to Islam at his own free will, she is happy that we are on this safe path seeking for God.

My dream as a new Muslim is to study Islam, and help those families that are struggling with accepting the idea of converting to Islam. I want to focus particularly on children coming to Islam.

I think converting to a new faith is harder for parents with younger children because they can be easily confused. This is why I would like to concentrate on children of converted families in the future.

I also would like as a Muslim Pilot, to show the world that Islam is not the submission or oppression that many think it is, and defeat the idea that Islam rejects career women; on the contrary, being able to do what I do is something that only Allah could make possible.

          The last thing I would like to share is that I have chosen a Muslim name for me, which is Aisha Jibreel. Aisha means ‘new life’, as Islam is a new way of life for me, and Jibreel, because he is the messenger of Allah, and I am in Islam because Allah delivered to my heart a message of peace, by showing me the road to Islam.

Friday, 5 July 2013

"Journey to Light" by Anna Linda Traustadóttir

I was born Anna Linda Traustadóttir to Icelandic/Danish parents in Reykjavík, Iceland in 1966 and baptised into the Lutheran Church. My family moved to Vancouver, Canada and then to New York City when I was young. I finished high school at 16. In 1988, I got my B.A. from McGill University, Montréal, Canada. Since then I have been travelling around the world, studying and working. Denmark has been my base since 1990.

In 1997, while studying Arabic in Cairo, one of my English girlfriends, a born-again Christian bought me a portable Bible, with both the Old and New Testaments. I was extremely pleased because I had decided that I needed to know what the Bible was and what was in it. And I felt that I could hardly call myself Christian without consciously studying the Bible.

In 1998, whilst studying at Damascus University, I read the whole Bible, from cover to cover, taking notes as I went along. Once I had completed it, I realised that there were too many inconsistencies, too many things I didn't agree with. Like the Old Testament's portrayal of God and women, not to mention all the things that Paul wrote in the New Testament. And when I read about the holy men, the Prophets, like Noah, Lot, David, etc., I found that I didn't respect them. I love and admire Moses (from the Old Testament) and Jesus (from the New Testament). Having already read the Torah, I tried getting a complete Jewish Talmud, to no avail. I’d always heard that Jews (except for reformed) do not recognise someone who converted to Judaism. Also, many, though not all, Jews are Zionist (those who support Israel). And I am terribly anti-Zionist and anti-Israel, and so, by default, pro-Palestinian. I also wanted a religion that would accept a convert. I dabbled with Buddhism but decided this was not for me, as Buddhists don't believe in God. And I strongly believe in God, always have. Buddhism is still interesting as an alternative way of life. My mum and I used to discuss Hinduism and so I was very interested in it, but there are just too many Hindu gods for me. Therefore Hinduism was out of the question. That, and the fact that you cannot convert to Hinduism.

When I had my son, Andrés Ómar, in October 2001, I was asked whether he would be baptised, and even then I refused. I felt that innocent children would surely be welcome in Heaven, baptised or not. Anyway, how could I introduce him into the Christian religion when I myself did not call myself a believing Christian, though I was born and raised as a Protestant? I didn't believe in the Trinity, in Mary as the "mother" of God, in Jesus as the "son" of God, in Jesus dying to cleanse us of our sins, in Jesus crying out in Aramaic on the cross: "Eli, Eli, lama sabakh-tha-ni?" I mean why would Jesus cry out: "My God, my God, why hadst thou forsaken me?" when Jesus knew he was sent on a mission by God as a prophet of God?

I grew up being one of the most anti-Muslim, anti-Islam people you could ever meet. This is true: I was. I had also been anti-Arab before moving to Cairo to study Arabic (I thought Arabic calligraphy was beautiful). I'd grown up in the States, raised on American movies, which always portrayed Arabs as fundamentalists, radicals, women-oppressors, religious fanatics, terrorists, never normal, average people. The large majority of people who are anti-Arab have never been to any Arab country. The reality there is very different.

In 1999, I went back to Damascus to work at an embassy. There in 2000, I met an engineer named Muhammad. We married soon after we met. To be honest when I married Muhammad, I married him because I loved him, even though he was Muslim. Over time, I realised I loved him because he was Muslim. A good Muslim. I had met many Muslims here in Denmark and in the Middle East, and just like in my life, I've met some nice and not-so-nice Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. I thought all those Muslims I'd met were representing Islam. And whenever I asked Muslims questions about Islam, one thing struck me: Nearly everyone claimed to be an expert in Islam, even those who gave me, I later found out, false information. It would have been more prudent just to say: I don’t know/I’m not sure. Yet I never judged Christianity or any other religion by its followers. Strangely though, I judged Islam by every Arab I met, even though 1) not all Arabs are Muslim. Some are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Druze, Coptic, Alawite, etc. And 2) most Muslims aren't Arab. Muslims can be Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Macedonian, Malay, Russian, Thai, African, Bosnian, American, Swedish, etc., and of course, Arab. I had been raised not to be prejudiced, but I was. It took me a long time to realise this.

It's only after countless hours of discussion, and at times arguments (!), with my husband that I came to be open-minded enough to realise that I didn't have the full picture.

During Ramadan, November 2002, I asked Muhammad whether he would help me read the Qur'an in Arabic. He had little time, but I was determined to read the Qur'an in Arabic with the help of a good translation. When I read the Qur'an, Islam’s holiest book, I thought it was beautiful, so scientific, so compassionate, so feminist! Nearly all the books I'd ever read about Islam, all written by non-Muslims, showed Islam in a negative light. Those people who wrote against Islam sometimes gave partial quotes from the Qur'an, leaving out the rest of the verse, or they would translate the verses incorrectly, on purpose or by mistake. I knew enough Arabic to know that what I was reading was unlike anything I'd ever read.

So much science, so much knowledge that has been only recently discovered. I mean the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) mentions: black holes, space travel, DNA and genetic science, evolution (transformation and mutation), geology, oceanography, embryonic development, aquatic origins of life... WOW! I had always heard that the Qur'an was basically just a watered-down version of the Bible, but none of this was in the Bible! I wondered how someone over 1400 years ago could have written anything like this! Some of these ideas were only discovered this century. Then I thought, well, Arab scientists, astronomers, mathematicians, cartographers were so advanced for that time, maybe some of them got together and wrote a book, loosely based on the Torah and the Gospels. But then I studied it further and realised that the Arabic scientific revolution followed the arrival of Islam. Then I read that Muslims believe that the Qur'an was given to Mohammad (peace be upon him) through the Angel Gabriel, and is the continuation of God's word. Muslims believe that parts of the Torah and parts of the Gospels, which speak of Jesus’ life, are inspired by God, or "Allah" as God is called in Arabic. Not just Muslims, but Christian and Jewish Arabs also call God "Allah." Muslims revere Abraham, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, and Noah, in fact, all of the Biblical Prophets. It is also mentioned that there are other prophets that came to other nations to help them become better people. They also believe that the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) is the last prophet, until Jesus returns to Earth.

It says in the Qur’an that Allah can put a veil over our eyes and a stone over our hearts so that we can neither see nor feel the message of the Qur’an. Only when Allah is ready for us to know it, do we understand. On 12 December 2002, I had an incredible dream that started me thinking and contemplating religion more deeply. Dreams are very important in Iceland and dream interpretation is practically a science! I never thought I needed a religion. Religion fascinated me, but I had believed I was doing fine just believing in God, taking bits from different religions until I got my own cocktail: "Anna’s Mix."

In January 2003, I started looking at the Internet, just doing searches like: "Islam," "Qur'an," "Muslim," etc. In March, whilst in Reykjavík, I got the opportunity to speak with one of my best Icelandic girlfriends, a Muslim, and she recommended a really good English translation (the Abdullah Yusuf Ali version), to go along with the original Arabic. In April, I received it and started using it as a supplement.

In May 2003, my Icelandic Muslim friend returned the visit and stayed two weeks with us. We started talking about the Qur'an. I told her that I wanted to translate it into Icelandic. She told me it was her dream too. We agreed we would do it together. We used our time together well, discussing Christianity, Judaism and Islam all day, every day. She had questioned her Lutheran faith, considered Judaism, visited Israel ("Occupied Palestine" as far as I am concerned) twice, and only on her second visit, started to consider the other side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. She got interested in Islam. She had earlier gone a similar path as I, coming to the same conclusions. Back in 1995, when she told me she'd become Muslim, I behaved badly: I was extremely negative. Shame on me for being unsupportive!

Now I found myself seeing myself Muslim. I told my husband about my revelations, and he questioned me at length. He asked me to wait with changing my religion. He told me that becoming Muslim would make my life more difficult, that people who didn't know Islam would treat me differently, that at this time, in the year 2003, and in this world we live in, people would ridicule me. He said I might lose contact with my family and my friends if I took on the Muslim faith. He feared that people that didn't know me so well or that I hadn't seen in a long time, or ever met him, would think he was forcing me to become Muslim. I told him if that were true, we could not have got married, for when we married, I was Christian, and had remained Christian up until then. Also, I argued, people who have known me at all know I am a strong-minded, true feminist/humanist, that I am opinionated, but not narrow-minded, and that no one can control me...My parents have tried for years to no avail!

I decided then and there that if friends and family didn't want any contact with me because I decided to become Muslim, so be it! My religion is mine and I am proud of my research into Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. It has taken me years and countless hours of reading and soul-searching to get to this point. My belief in God is something I have always taken seriously and I have never been ashamed to declare this faith, even when others ridicule me for believing in something they say we cannot see. I argue, look around you, how can you not believe in a supreme being that created everything around us. And for those of you that view Islam as some kind of cult, it isn't. Its one of the biggest religions in the world, if not the largest: One in four people on this planet is now Muslim, and it's the fastest growing religion.

So finally, on 4 June 2003, I decided to officially become Muslim so that I could go on Hajj to Makkah. I had been searching for answers for a long time, since my childhood, and by the mid-1990's, I was buying books on different faiths. Deep inside, I imagined it would find the answers for me. I remember the first time I heard the "Azan" (the Muslim call for prayer, when a fellow says "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) from a minaret at a masjid). It was a bright, sunny, February Sunday in Cairo in 1997, so church bells were also ringing, but when I heard the call for prayer, tears streamed down my face, without my realising it. I wasn't Muslim, but it moved me. One of my oldest and dearest friends, a Catholic, was in Beirut a while ago, staying at a hotel and woke up to the call for prayer at 4.30 during her first night in Lebanon. She thought it was so moving that she also cried.

When I read the Qur'an, I feel it in my stomach, deep in my gut, that this is right for me. The inspirational beauty of the Qur'an makes me sometimes cry. It's an all-encompassing way of life. No other religious book ever moved me to tears.

The Qur'an simply put is the most complex book I've ever read. The more you read it, the more you understand and at the same time, question. The Qur'an is meant to inspire you to learn more. Every time you read it, you peel off different layers of understanding. I am not an expert; I never will be. Even if I read from it every day for the rest of my life, I will still learn something new. It's full of mysteries. I still also supplement my Qur'anic studies with Biblical studies like the "Gospel of Barnabas," "The Torah," etc.

I've also since got some new Muslim girlfriends over the Internet. Whilst searching the net, I came across an Icelandic Muslim site: www.islam.is, and I contacted the writer. We started a correspondence. Around New Year's 2004, I sent her a report I wrote entitled "Islam in Iceland 2003," which I am submitting to the Saudi Government, she suggested we three work on the translation of the Qur'an from Arabic to Icelandic (Kóraninn), as she also speaks Arabic. So it seems that we will be three Icelandic Muslim women working on translating the Arabic Qur'an. For those of you looking for a good English version, I’ve heard the Muhammad Asad translation is also very direct, but I myself have yet to get hold of it.

I did however buy an incredible amount of reading material in Kuala Lumpur last summer. It’s a new Muslim’s Makkah for books. I really stocked up! My husband, son and I stayed a month in Malaysia. What an incredible place! Of Islamic areas, I had only been to the Arab Middle-East and here was a whole new Islamic world in South-East Asia! The experience was wonderful to say the least. I had always been fond of Islamic art and architecture, and all of Malaysia is both an indoor and outdoor museum!

I always try to be positive, so I think it's a very exciting time, the 21st century! If someone like me can become Muslim, there’s hope for anybody! The friends that I have discussed religion with recently know that I have become Muslim, and without fail, they have been extremely supportive. I was a bit surprised that they were not shocked. They said they knew one day I'd find my niche (I'd been searching so long), and they were happy for me. Some even call me by my new Muslim name: Núr, which means light. I also still use Anna Linda, because it's the name my parents gave me and it represents part of the person I was for 36 years. Núr is just the continuation of me!

So ends my story: "Journey to Light," a journey which is, in fact, just beginning!

Maa is-salaama wa Allah makum!