From the Land of the Midnight Sun
By Sara Hermansson
In the Land of the Midnight Sun, Sara found her way to Islam.
Sara Hermansson was born in Mariestad, Sweden. 27 years later, she tells us how she in 2004, found her "way to the most beautiful gift… Islam".
How was your life before finding your way to Islam?
My life before Islam was empty in a way. Just the feeling to live for the day and not knowing the meaning and purpose of life. My self-confidence was quite weak. I didn't feel that I belonged anywhere in the society, something was missing. I was searching for something, I just didn't know what it was at that time.
What was the turning point that led you to choose Islam?
It was a long journey and it took time. I knew there was and is a God, I just couldn't identify myself with Christianity. God for me has always been something so great and big that my mind is limited to understand what He is. This, as God has such great power and can not be compared to a human being. God has no limitation, he is capable to do whatever He desires.
I searched for a long time among different religions and the more I came to know about Islam, the more I felt Islam is the full truth and it made complete sense. Islam described God as I had always imagined Him.
What do you love most about Islam?
What I mostly love about Islam is Allah's love and mercy.
What does being a Muslim mean to you?
For me, being a Muslim means to live in peace with yourself and your friends, family and the whole society. And to show the best behaviour as possible, according to Prophet Muhammad's (peace and blessings be upon him) Sunnah and how he treated people and how he showed love, charity and mercy. And also to please Allah swt[Editor's note: swt is an abbreviation for subhanahu wataala, used by some Muslims, meaning Almighty] and follow His words and ask for forgiveness and thank Allah swt for everything.
What would you like to tell people about Islam?
Islam gives you a rich life, in the sense that, life has a purpose and you feel peace and love in your heart.
Do you think Islam is relevant to today's world? How?
I believe Islam is very much relevant to the world today. There is so much hatred in the world and a lot of people have the wrong concept of Islam, which is in many ways our own (we Muslims) mistakes in showing Islam in a wrong way. We need to show Islam in a peaceful way and with patience.
What do you think Islam has to offer the world today?
Islam has many things to offer the world today. For example, charity is very much emphasized and to not be greedy regarding money and material things. To share love with your neighbors and with strangers. To keep self-respect, to show that confidence is not to show your body, it is to protect it; which is the ground to confidence and good moral.
What are the obstacles that you faced after embracing Islam?
- From family, friends, and associates, etc.
There are unfortunately many misconceptions about Islam. For example, that women are oppressed and forced to do what ever men say. So, it was not strange that my parents were not happy after I told them that I reverted to Islam, but they knew that I started to read about Islam since a long time before that.
They had and still have a negative view about Islam. Very much due to what is portrayed in media, but also because of the many bad actions done by Muslims who fail to correctly represent their religion. Unfortunately, I am held responsible for other peoples acts.
My parents do accept me and they love me very much and when I'm there at their house they always cook food that I can eat as well. In that way they respect me, but they do feel ashamed if I need to pray somewhere.
What's positive, is that they think that I'm helping them a lot and that I'm very caring.
Some of my friends reacted in a negative way when I became Muslim. I have no longer any relationship with some of them, unfortunately.
Others, I still got a relationship with, but I try not to discuss Islam too much with them, as some could feel uncomfortable with that. However, they do sometimes ask me things.
My parents are not keen on discussing Islam. With time, I pray they will start asking and become Muslims inshaAllah.
It's in the hands of Allah. I try to be kind to them, help them as much as possible, respect them and just show good behaviour.
I guess my relatives think I'm strange to revert to Islam, but none of them ever commented about it.
- From within the Muslim community.
As for the obstacles I faced after embracing Islam, from within the Muslim community, is that I'm not good enough as I don't wear hijab.
- From the Arabic language and/or specific acts of worship.
I have felt frustration on not understanding Arabic. I have also not felt completely free to pray in any place, even in Islamic countries.
What methods of dawah were used to invite you to Islam? Were they effective?
Friends who showed charity and love and open arms had a great effect on me.
What were you unhappy with in your own religion/lifestyle?
I felt I did not see a purpose with life. I had an empty feeling; no peace.
After accepting Islam did you embrace a whole new way of life; or did you experience just isolated changes to your life style?
I embraced a whole new way of life with daily prayers, etc. I'm still doing the things I liked to do before, that are halal, like sports and enjoying nature.
How difficult was it to believe in Muhammad peace be upon him?
It was not difficult for me to accept the belief in Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). This, as when you read about his beautiful way in dealing with people with understanding and love; and his respect and love to people as well as animals. In addition to how logical his acts were, it's easy to believe in him.
What role did current events have on your journey to Islam?
Current events had the effect of "A wake up call".
Did the search for a spiritual path lead to other religions before finally finding Islam?
Yes, I read about Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism before embracing Islam, I believe that knowledge about other religions is very relevant to be able to compare and to get a larger understanding for your own religion and for other religions.
If we, as Muslims, want people to understand and respect us and our religion; we must act in the same way to others.
What is your current state after embracing Islam?
Islam has given me a feeling of peace and harmony. It's a feeling of satisfaction that I found the truth.
Swedish Woman Submits to Allah
By Haneefah Bint Stefan
The first time I ever thought about having Islam as my religion was at the age of 15. Reading a story in my high school religion book about a Swedish woman who converted made me think: How would it be if I became a Muslim? How would it change my life?
This woman was wearing a scarf on her head, and she was working as a secretary. Because of my lack of knowledge about Islam, this shocked me extremely. How can she work with that thing on her head? Who will ever hire a woman like that?
My conclusion was that I would never become Muslim because it would stand out and would lessen my chances of getting the dream job. I guess this thinking depended largely on the way I was raised. My parents are honest and hard-working people, but they do not see the need for religion. They see that the meaning of life is actually inside life itself, and after it when we all become dust, there is nothing more to it.
Nevertheless, I guess my mother respected the traditions and morals of our Protestant Christian church, so she sent me at an early age to a children's group, and later at the age of 14, I was asked if I would like to go to confirmation classes.
I agreed. I thought that it was best to do it. Who knew, maybe I would change my mind later and regret that I did not go, and then I would be outside of the church. Also, it was fun to go to these classes. We painted, sang songs, played theatre, and went to a camp. There was not a lot of serious people among us - most came only because of tradition, and to get gifts, jewelry and money from relatives on that great day when the classes finally finished and there was a ceremony in the church.
From this time, I remember having strong doubts about Christianity. I read the Bible but it did not give me what I needed. I knew there was something I was looking for, but I did not know what. I learned about astrology and tried meditation and so on, but all this made me feel even more confused.
I started to keep a "spiritual journal". It was a small book, which I filled with different material, religious and non-religious. I would collect biblical verses, poems, Hindu chants, songs, and anything that had meaning to me.
I started secondary school at the age of 16. Living in a small suburb outside of the city, I was required to transfer to a school inside the big town. I chose the one which was supposed to have the highest status. I could not imagine that there would be so many foreign people.
Immediately after I started, I felt I was not happy. I wanted to change my major, so I transferred from Media to Languages and came to a new class where I knew no one. The first people who spoke kindly to me and became my friends were an African girl, and an Iraqi girl who was wearing a scarf. It was so exotic to me! All my life I had been surrounded by people of my own background, and now I got a taste of other cultures and life styles.
I was so fascinated by the Iraqi girl that I started to hang around a lot with her and also became friends with her friends. I became famous as the Swedish person who had no Swedish friends. It was more of a cool thing to me - I felt I needed to distance myself from the normal crowd.
The Muslims of my school sometimes had active discussions about Islam and that impressed me very much. I thought, how can it be that this religion is such an active part of their lives? It is not like Christianity, it is alive not dead! And it has an impact on everything in their lives.
One day when I went with my father to a second hand market, I looked for some books and found an old translation of the Qur'an in the Swedish language. I decided to buy it for historical purposes, and to gain a greater understanding of my friends' religion.
By now, I started to add Islamic items to my journal. I was writing the opening Surat Al-Fatiha, and its translation. I also memorized it. I had no motive behind doing so, I was just interested in it.
With little time, I was totally absorbed in the Qur'an. I felt like I had found a real treasure. There was something drawing me to it - something not logical, especially since this translation which I had, was written by an Orientalist and contained a number of serious faults. The worst thing of all was that the author pointed to supposed faults in the order in which the verses came. He said that it was evident that some verses should change place. Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah) that I learned the truth by asking my friend.
I went to my Iraqi friend, and told her that I was interested in Islam. She became very shocked and felt a need to sit down or else she would pass out! After the shock settled, she decided to take me to an Islamic organization and there I got some books, pamphlets and the phone number of another Swedish woman who had become Muslim.
I was afraid of what my family would say, and indeed my mother became outraged when I told her that I wanted to become a Muslim. The whole family searched my room and threw away my Islamic books. They said that Islam was like a cult and that I was brainwashed.
But this did not stop me. In the month of July 2001, I declared my shahada (testimony of faith) openly. I had called the Swedish woman who's phone number I had been given, and she arranged Islamic lessons in her home. I went to her villa, which had a garden, and we prayed the zhuhr (forenoon) prayer there in the open air. For me this was a symbolical act, because in my society it is something not appreciated to show acts of worship openly. I felt so free and could care less about what other people would think.
It was with a loud and proud voice by which I said the words which undoubtedly has had the strongest impact on my entire life: Ashhadu an laa ilaaha illa Allah, wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasool Allah [I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship save Allah;And I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah].
No other single sentence has influenced me as this one has.