(transcript of the interview)
I’m Aisha Rosalie and I’m a convert to Islam. So I was brought up with no religion. My parents were not religious at all. I went to a school that sometimes went to church a little bit but I never really understood religion. I experimented with lots of different religions before I found Islam. So I experimented a little bit with like Hinduism and Buddhism and all these kinds of things even Christianity. I tried it out but nothing really stuck to me until I became Muslim and obviously it stuck. Like it stuck!
So I was born in Cambridge in the UK. There were some people in the village that were religious but we never really had religion. My grandparents went to church a little bit but I never truly found God until I became Muslim. I think when I was a kid I believed but not through my parent’s influence because my parents didn’t even believe in a God but I remember being a kid and talking to God all the time, but I never told my parents because I didn’t really know anyone who was religious. So I had that really sort of innate feeling that there was a creator but I never really truly sort of internalized it until I became Muslim.
I had some Muslim friends in the UK. I knew some Muslims but the first Muslim country I went to was Turkey. I’d never been to a Muslim country before. It’s the first time I went to a Muslim country and I was very lost when I came here. It was around a year ago I came here to Istanbul and I was very lost in my life. I was reaching a point where I think if I carry on as a non-Muslim I would have really ended up being a bad person. I was really at the end of my character. I was here and I met so many Muslims. obviously as a Muslim country, and I went to a mosque for the first time and that’s where I really discovered Islam.
When I first visited the blue mosque here in Istanbul I never planned to become Muslim. It was never an intention of mine. I was just doing touristy things and I just thought I would visit and when I was inside the mosque I had a tasbih, prayer beads because I bought them for a friend in the UK – it’s like a gift and I took them out of my pocket and I searched on google what you’re supposed to do with them and I started doing Subhanallah Alhamdulillah and I was not Muslim. I didn’t even know what I was saying. I just wanted to try it out and I couldn’t pray, I didn’t know how to pray. Obviously, I didn’t even really know that Muslims prayed but I could see people praying in front of me and I just sat there and I just said tasbih and I come out of the mosque and I heard the azan for the first time, when I came out of the mosque and I remember just stopping in the streets and I was just so overwhelmed by what I was hearing It just hit my whole body and that’s when I went back to my hostel that I was staying in and I found the English copy of the Quran in my hostel and I picked it up and I started reading there and then. So like from the masjid, hearing the azan to start reading the Quran within hours with no intention of becoming Muslim beforehand or even discovering Islam. I had no reason to – I was literally just visiting the place, and I started reading the Quran and then I downloaded the Muslim pro app on my phone and started reading it there and I just never stopped reading. I read the whole Quran and then I declared my shahada after I finished reading the Quran but it was a journey. Actually, this was the first hijab that I brought and I brought it before I went into Blue Mosque for like respectful reasons because I didn’t want to be disrespectful to Muslims going inside and I literally never took it off. Like the first time I put it on I never took it off it just stayed forever.
I was never really given sort of proof you know. There was no one come up to me and they were like here’s proof there’s a God, you need to become Muslim. I never had that, it was just more of a feeling and emotion and through reading the Quran and seeing the beauty of Islam and I think the importance of charity was one thing that really drew me towards Islam. Learning about charity and how it’s obligatory to give to charity. That was a huge thing to me and learning about the Prophet, peace be upon him, his life and the person he was, that helped me a lot becoming Muslim. And I think learning the 99 names of Allah as well really helped me because you know learning that there’s someone who’s a guider, someone who’s always with you, someone who’s merciful, all these kind of things and there was just so many little things I kept reading in the Quran that would just give me goosebumps. I would think like “wow”, and I remember going into Blue Mosque – they had this huge sign there, that told you what it meant to be Muslim and the things on there were things like being kind and giving and there are just so many things on there that I was like if I became that person I would be a really good person and I thought wow if I can like just work on this and just build this character, this is the character that I would love to have and I was just so excited for that
I went to a new converts group like once or twice but because of covid it stopped happening because of the pandemic and everything so they weren’t meeting anymore. So I was watching a lot of lectures on youtube like Mufti Menk and people like this – so the help that I was getting was just kind of online through these scholars from youtube and stuff. I never actually had anyone. It was kind of just me and Allah just going through this process. Just together, wasn’t really anyone there, to be honest. It was a very personal journey and I didn’t really know many Muslims either so that’s how it was for me. I mean definitely a purpose – I mean it’s very cliche everyone says it, but of course a purpose, accountability for your actions so knowing that there’s someone watching everything, that you’re doing and in a way counting your good deeds, your bad deeds. So I needed that, I needed to know that there’s someone watching, so that I didn’t just feel like I could get away with whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted. Because if you just follow your desires all the time you’re just going to end up in this black hole. Like it’s not going to lead you anywhere good. You’re just going to end up worse than before you started so knowing that there’s someone watching and that you do have to do good even if the people are not watching you, still have to do good because Allah’s watching, and I think that was what was missing for me. They were the main things. I guess admittedly before I became Muslim the only thing I knew about Muslims was through the media and the media doesn’t portray Muslims in a positive way. So I did have all the cliche views. I thought women were oppressed. I thought Muslims hated non-Muslims. I thought all these things but I think coming to Turkey really showed me what Muslims are like and I think meeting Muslims here in Istanbul in Turkey was a big thing for me because of the kindness and knowing that Muslims you know, their women are not oppressed women, they choose to wear hijab. I thought women were forced to wear hijab. I thought they were pretty much like, if you don’t wear hijabs – you know you’re shunned from this family and all these kind of things. I thought there was all this kind of forcing going on but knowing that actually everyone does have a choice and you know we do put it on as a personal choice. Learning about that and learning how Muslims you know, they love everyone no matter if you’re Muslim or non-Muslim. We’re still taught to love people and I think because of the media and the way they show how Muslims react to the west and the west versus, you know all this kind of stuff, it just put a bad image in my head and it took a while to reverse that. It really did. It wasn’t instant and it took a lot of watching lecturers and seeing good character. The main thing is good characters – the best dawah is seeing someone with good characters the best hour you can get and that was really important.
My mum was not sure at first. My mum was not too happy about it. I told her that I’m going on this journey that I’m learning how to pray and I learned how to pray before I declared my shahada. I experimented a lot before. I officially declared my shahada and she knew I was sort of going on this journey but she wasn’t sure that I was serious about it. So she kind of sat back and was like you know you can do your thing but once she knew I was serious about it then she started going on google and typing in things and saying like, ‘do you know Muslims do this and they do this and they do this’, and actually it was a good thing in a way because I then had to do research myself to kind of debunk those myths that she was coming up with. So then I had to go on google and then I had to look for more authentic sources like from the Quran from the hadiths and say actually you know mum this is wrong. You know we don’t believe this. This is just the media portraying us in a negative way. So she didn’t react well at first but now she’s fine with it completely fine and I think because she’s on my journey. She’s seen the person I become and my friends the same thing at first they weren’t too sure but now my friends are really happy for me because they see how different my life is since I’ve become Muslim and how I’ve changed for the better and all these kind of things and they’re actually really happy for me
I think just learn as much as you can until you’re ready don’t push yourself to declare your shahada. When you’re not ready, because I think sometimes people can do it too quickly and then after that moment then they lose it and then they lose the deen and then they become non-Muslim again. I think to take your time with the learning, really make sure you’ve watched lectures, you’ve read the Quran or at least trying to read the Quran. Then take that step and you want to find a sweet spot because you don’t want to be learning forever and never declare your shahada because that can happen too but you also don’t want to declare it too quickly so don’t press yourself to declare it too quickly but also don’t leave it so long that you kind of lose it. I think there is something Muslims can do to help new Muslims more or people discovering the deen and I think the main thing is keeping good character because that is something that drew me towards Islam so much was seeing the good character of people. So just trying your hardest to perfect your character and being a good person is the best way to give dawah. You don’t know who’s going to see you at that moment. You don’t know who’s going to be like “Oh look at that, look at that, you know girl with the hijab, look what she’s doing that’s amazing “…You know you never know what they’re going to be thinking. So I think we do have a duty to have the best character possible not just for ourselves and for our own deen and for trying to make it into Jannah but also for other people seeing us and having it as a form of dawah. So I think remaining in good character and I think I remember during my first Ramadan there was a sister who brought me food. She didn’t know me. She just comes over and she brought me food. We were doing some Islamic courses together. She brought food to my house for iftar and I thought that was amazing and that’s something I’ll always remember. So I think there is a duty of us Muslims to try and help new Muslims as much as possible even if it’s something as simple as going to someone’s house and giving them an iftar meal you know. We think it’s a small deed but it’s not especially for a new Muslim. It’s a really big thing so I think reaching out to new Muslims and helping them in every tiny way possible, it’s bigger than you realize.
So there are a lot of ways to learn about the team without having to really pay lots of money. You don’t have to go into a formal course. You can go on youtube for example. You can find so many amazing lectures from amazing scholars. I learned a lot about the deen that way. I think once you become Muslim it’s a lifelong journey. Learning it doesn’t stop after a year or two years, you know. You spend your whole life learning about the deen as much as possible and there are amazing sources online. As well as that, there are really cheap – so I started doing a course with the Cambridge Muslim College. They do it online and you pay 20 pounds a month and you have all these lectures and you do it in a structured way so if you do it for three years and you follow every single lecture they give you a you know a certificate. Like a three-year certificate and you learn everything from like fiqh to hadith to the seerah to tafsir – like all of the Islamic sciences you can learn online. You don’t even have to go to a school anymore. You can learn even very very complex sciences online now. So I think like no one has an excuse anymore for not knowing because we have all these resources at our fingertips.
I really like spending the time just learning forever, I think if I didn’t do that if I didn’t keep watching lectures and keep doing all these things I could get low iman really quickly and I could start losing faith really quickly because you need to keep topping it up that’s why we do five prayers a day because Allah doesn’t say oh just you know to pray to me once a month and you’ll remember me forever we have to keep learning. We have to keep praying because we live in the dunya that’s so distracting we can get lost so quickly. So we have to keep it up or you’re just going to get lost again.