“I have some questions and if you can’t give me an answer I believe I’m gonna become a Muslim.” – A Revert’s Beautiful Story

“I have some questions and if you can’t give me an answer I believe I’m gonna become a Muslim.” – A Revert’s Beautiful Story

The Story of Canadian Convert/Revert. Jenny Molendyk Divleli (pic above) is a sign language interpreter. She dedicates herself to improve herself and the people around her. She meets Islam at a young age. 

Read her beautiful story! (transcript of the interview)

I was born in Canada, as were my parents. We all grow up in Western British Columbia. My father is a police officer for the RCMP, it’s the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. And my mum is a nurse

So I studied American Sign Language Interpretation at university. I wanted to become a sign language interpreter for the deaf. My university career was done in Winnipeg I worked as an interpreter for a little while. And then before I move to Turkey, I got my teaching certificate. And now I’m an English teacher.

So I grow up in Northern BC. Fairly small city, lots of outdoor activities and wilderness, spent a lot of time kind of in nature and going camping I’ve been working ever since I was 16. I started just with small jobs in order to get through high school and then university. In university, I was working as a health care assistant. As well as working with autistic children. I also was working as a cashier to pay my way through university. Once I did my university education, I was working as an interpreter, as a sign language interpreter for the deaf. As well as an intervener for the deaf-blind.

Before I became a Muslim, I’m gonna state, I knew very little of Islam, if not anything. I mean I remember the first Muslim, the first Muslim that I can remember meeting was actually somebody I worked with when I was in high school and I had no idea she was Muslim. I learned many years later actually after I had converted to Islam. I suppose my only exposure to Islam anything I had seen on the media, particularly post 9/11. And sort of, whatever the video wanted me to hear, right? So that Muslims were responsible for terror attacks or these kinds of ideas. I think I may had maybe a prejudgment about women in Islam were oppressed. I remember specifically when I was looking into Islam, one of the questions I remember asking was, is it true that women can only sit in the backseat of cars, right? So I’ve no idea where that notion came to me but somewhere that was a prejudgment that I had. So aside from the kind of whatever I had ever seen in the media, I had no knowledge. I didn’t even know that Muslims were the practitioners of Islam, right? So it’s very basic.

I had a conversation with a Muslim. And I remember being so shocked because the images that I had seen on the media were so different from this individual. And then later on we had a discussion as well about the fact that the prophets between Islam and Christianity were similar, which was news to me and I remember thinking “Wow! I should learn something about this religion like what if I’m ever in an opportunity or if I ever have to interpret in a mosque or… I should get some background knowledge” So I just decided to read into Islam to expand my knowledge in case I ever was gonna interpret in that situation. And in the meantime, I was still having conversations with the individual that I admit, about Islam and so as I was reading and seeing there is so many similarities between Christianity which was the religion that I was practicing before and Islam.

I just became more and more shocked how many similar ideas there were. So, from there I continued to do some research. The more research that I did the more I understood that there were things about Islam that I really appreciated. And then there were things about Christianity that I started to question. And eventually, I was working at university at that time, I was working at a country club, and there was a Muslim family, a Syrian Muslim family at the time. They just joined and I understood they are Muslim and I said ‘oh I see that you are Muslim and I’m learning about Islam a little bit, I’m reading about Islam’. And the man, he was really keen, to you know talk or to bring me books or help in any way that he could. And eventually, they invited me to the mosque with them and to their home. And so I went, because I was learning about Islam and I was, you know eager to go and see the community. And then when I went to the mosque, I ended up meeting some really wonderful women like young women that were my age. With whom I became quite close friends. And slowly without even my knowing it, the search that which is just initially kind of become a better human being and to gain knowledge, I started to ask myself some serious questions about, like is this something that I really believed in, and yeah what were the questions that I was struggling with, within Christianity and this were the things that I needed to contemplate more.

I remember one evening, as a few months into reading about Islam, as things were starting to get more serious for me and I was realizing that this was a religion that I really wanted to consider. I remember praying at night and just asking Allah, just saying you know Allah, whoever you are, God, whoever you are, if you are God of Christianity or if you are God of Islam, show that to me. And kind of give me a sign but, make it clear to me, right? Which is the truth? And after I made that supplication and I prayed that prayer that night, everything just becomes so much clear. I really met amazing Muslim people in my life. The question that I was struggling with, just about the faith or about modesty like covering or monotheism or the history of the Quran, these kinds of things. God just keeps putting people in my life to answer those questions. So I was really, considering the fact that I was looking into Islam, but people didn’t know. I hadn’t told my friends, I hadn’t told my family. And what was that gonna mean if I did accept Islam  ? and how were they receive me? and so I made that prayer about you know God who are you God of Christianity, God of Islam.

And I made an appointment with the chaplain, the pastor of the Christian community on our university campus. And I had asked him, I sat down with him and I said, look, I’m at the point where I’m questioning my faith, and I have some questions and if you can’t give me an answer I believe I’m gonna become a Muslim.

I have some questions and if you can’t give me an answer I believe I’m gonna become a Muslim.

And a lot of the questions particularly were with the Bible actually, and how the Bible was selected? and how the books of the Bible were selected? and like the canonicity of the Bible  ? and why wasn’t the original bible in existence  ? and why where there such discrepancy between the different versions of the Bible? Whereas the Quran has been preserved for 1400 years. That was something that was really significant for me because. I mean God even in Christianity God says like he will protect his word. And there was the Quran that was the message of God that even if it would be physically destroyed it would be protected because so many people had memorized it. And the original is still in existence. And then there was the Bible that there was no original and within the versions, there were so many, you know, interpretations.

And so I sat down with this Pastor and I asked these questions and he couldn’t give me an answer and he said;  ‘in the and you know in the end you just have to believe and, that’s what faith is. You just have to believe.’ And that, that was a struggle for me, I didn’t feel right. Because I felt sure, surely religion and belief, it is more than just a hunch it is more than feeling or more than an idea. I wanted something that felt more concrete.

And the same weekend at my university, there was a conference that had been put on by the local Muslim student association and they brought a speaker from England. And I just remember walking in that weekend and all of the youth were there, all of you know all of the students and everybody wanted to meet him. He is quite popular at the time. And everybody wanted to talk to him and spend time with him. And I walked up to him and he… he just sat and answered all of my questions. And I just remembered thinking ‘wow like I went to this pastor and I had these questions and he couldn’t give me his answers, he couldn’t be clear to me and then this man who everybody wants to speak with, he dedicated hours, literally hours of his time to just sit there and to answer my questions.’ And the other really unique part of it, because I asked him the same questions I asked the Pastor. I asked him questions about the Bible. And this brother from England, gave me the history, not from the Muslim perspective. He actually was a comparative religious scholar and he gave me the perspective from the religious Christian Church, from the Christian history books and he said look this is the history, if you wanna go read about it, you can just go to you know Christian textbook that you would find at a Christian university. And I have so appreciated that perspective. Because I didn’t want his bias. I want the truth, I wanted something concrete which is what I had gone to the pastor for. And… at that moment I felt so much relieved like there it is, there is the facts. But at the same time I questioned, why had I never learned this when I went to church or Sunday school. Because I was very active in the Christian church growing up.

And anyway so at the end of the evening he asked me, he said you know do you believe in Allah? And I said yeah like I’ve always believed in God, that’s no problem. The concept of God has never been an issue and he said do you believe that the prophet Mohammad is like the final prophet and messenger?  And I said yeah I think that makes sense. And then so he said to me go wash take your ablutions and come back and let’s give your shahadah. Your testimony of faith. And I was just like ‘woooo noo’, this like, this is not happening right now, I can’t do this right now. Because again I was at that point where I knew it’s the truth but I was so scared to take the step. And it was funny because I had prayed and asked God I was like who are you and show me the truth. And there it was but in that moment it was just like I needed to take the step you know like God did his part, time for me to do mine. But again I knew what that meant for me .I knew that that meant the following day I would put on hijab or which not everybody does but for me it was a really important step. I knew like if I was gonna make this decision I was gonna live as a Muslim. And that was gonna mean, no more drinking alcohol and you know no party no pork, no, you know like putting a hijab on. So I told him no, like I’m not gonna become Muslim tonight and we continue to discuss. And at the end of the day I said look this conference is two days long, If at the end of the weekend I feel like I do today, like I will become a muslim, I’ll make that decision, which is what I did.

So that was a Friday night and then on the Sunday on May 14th, I gave my testimony of faith in front of everybody at this conference and became muslim. It was extremely scary because Islam was not what we’ve received in the media at the time. And I knew that if I told them I was probably gonna lose them. And those two friends that I said with that night, they were incredibly supportive and they are still two of my best friends today. There are lots of other people that didn’t support me. And eventually, after I became Muslim, I took some time and I have sent out an e-mail to everybody, a lot of my older friends in high school friends, they were in a different city, I went to university in a different city. So I told people over e-mail. And I told my family a couple of weeks or so, after I had become Muslim. And they were living in a different city. And of course, it was difficult because they didn’t know what to expect. That was really scary for them, right? They didn’t know what I was gonna look like or what did that mean, and they didn’t see the process, they hadn’t seen me looking into things, they didn’t know the Muslim community. Again, their experience of Islam was what they had seen on the media. My dad was a police officer, it was really difficult for them it was really hard. My mom was very fearful that there is this movie “Not Without My Daughter”. She was really fearful if I was gonna fall into like I was gonna be kidnapped or that if I got married you know that my children were gonna be taken away from me. I would never leave the house. Like all of these bizarre Hollywood kinds of perceptions of Islam. That was their experience right and, so they really struggled my dad was for different reasons, my mom for different reasons. Eventually, over time they’ve certainly come around and we’re still very close but there were some major struggles early on I definitely lost some friends.

Some of my friends decided to put distance from me because my lifestyle was different now in terms of just my leisure activities and things I did, places I went. Some of that distance I put eventually what I learned is that the people that were most important to me are  the truest of friends, it didn’t matter They were going to be there no matter what, which has been my experience My truest friends are still my friends today and then the other people that were really negative and I had kind of those really aggressive kind of abrasive responses They aren’t people that I need in my life right now anyway, you know those aren’t if you’re not going to love me as i am no matter what then you don’t need to be a part of my life.

People I didn’t know but in the community that I lived in at the time I remember feeling like everybody was looking at me like I remember feeling ‘oh you know people were staring’ but that was probably just my own insecurity at the time Although I certainly did experience some discrimination within the community overall my experience has been quite positive certainly the Muslim community opened their arms to me and were incredibly supportive and I felt so much love and such a sense of community and respect there which was extremely helpful early on having that community connection I think was major, it was very key in terms of my feelings so strong and willing to continue when things were difficult but otherwise it’s been okay

I think I was so ignorant towards Islam before I became a Muslim. As I said I really didn’t know. I really didn’t know anything. And I think afterward, it wasn’t that my mind necessarily changed. I think I was so much educated and I… I mean such a positive experience and I think seeing the diversity in the community as well as really significant. I think there is always this idea that Muslims are just Arabs which is absolutely not the case. There was such a welcomed opportunity to be a part of such a diverse community. People from all over the world, people with such diverse backgrounds… So that was pretty significant. Other, I mean, I suppose from that, I don’t think I’ve had a lot of other presupposed ideas or notions about it. I mean, I think the most significant things for me when I became Muslim or just what I love the most about Islam right now is, as I mentioned, I think, I just think it balances the faith, and the spiritual, and the intellectual. It’s a perfect balance. There’s proof in it and the fact that the Quran has been preserved and you know that really what we’re asked for and asked of to do it just makes such perfect sense to me. I just think that it is timeless. I think that the examples that we find in the Quran and from the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, I think they’re examples for everybody in all situations and I think that is what makes it like a religion for all and inclusive of everybody.

I also love the idea of community that’s within Islam There’s five pillars within Islam and at each of the pillars you know the statement of faith we say that publicly around community We pray as a community facing the same direction at the same time often in a congregation with one another We all fast the same month of Ramadan again it’s a community action We give charity as zakat we have to do that to support our community to take care of the people in need and then if we go to hajj, again this is Muslims all going to the same place doing the same pilgrimage together.

Community is such an integral part of this religion and we’re all on the same playing field. That’s enormous to me in terms of, there’s no racism There’s no tribalism There’s no sense of somebody being better because of money or education or status where we’re all the same and I think that when that’s understood and it’s just something so beautiful and it really just shows how this is a religion for everybody and how we need to connect with one another and we need to serve one another and worship with one another which I think is really what we need to do as humanity for the sake of the preservation of the earth and preservation of mankind. Just be good and take care of one another and I think that Islam really encompasses that

That’s like the beauty and the truth of Islam that I wish was on the media more. I wish that was the message that was being shared all the time instead of the negativity. I think the biggest struggle that Muslims are facing and that Islam is facing right now clearly is that so much of what is being shown about Islam, It’s not our narrative. I think that the world is really quick to talk about Islam, and often it’s not the Muslims that are being interviewed or that are speaking up and I think that we as a Muslim community we need to be more active but I also think that the media has a responsibility to talk to Muslims as well and to tell the good stories and to go into the communities and see the work that’s going on.

I also think that because there’s so much negativity when it comes to Islam that and we live in such a global environment these days I think it poses a new struggle particularly for Muslims in general but particularly our youth in terms of internalized Islamophobia and Muslim identity. How can I be Muslim as well as you know to live a life in today’s society, what does that look like, how can I still have pride in my religion and still practice my religion without being or having fear of judgment or assuming that people will think a certain thing of me or will oppress me or close doors towards me or have judgments upon me I think that’s a struggle right now for our community. I think we really need to work hard to find our voices and to go back and to look at the struggles of the people of our past. As I said the Quran is timeless and I think that there are true knowledge and wisdom to be taken from those stories and to apply to today’s society and if we can do that and we can find our voices and not hide from who we are. It’s okay that we’re Muslim right! Just tell our own stories I think that’s really important for our community right now. I mean I’ve been Muslim in the west and I’ve been Muslim here in turkey

There are definitely different experiences and different struggles I mean certainly within Canada. Canada is a pretty welcoming country. It’s pretty diverse. We lived in Toronto It’s an extremely diverse city. The mosques are very very active there’s a lot of learning to be had, lots of conferences The mosques are the center of the community. People are going there for activities and sports and community engagement and because it’s necessary to keep your Muslim identity. The mosque is the hub of the Muslim identity, they’re really precious things and it feels very much alive and you really understand your community and how important that is when we came here because everybody’s grown up Muslim and Muslim is part of the culture. Islam is part of the culture, Islam is experienced and it’s lived but in a very different way and I know for myself and also with my children I feel like I have to work really hard to make sure that there’s a consciousness about Islam here and that we don’t take it for granted There isn’t the activity in the mosques like there is in Canada in order to for myself particularly because I speak English predominantly to seek knowledge and to be in community with others. That’s a bigger challenge for women here, they don’t have as much of a presence in the mosques or in just even children I’m struggling to have my children really excited about it So takes I feel like it takes more of an effort to raise them in a way where they’re conscious of the choices, that we make. Conscious of the way that we live, knowing why we do it.

I would say that those are the two major differences There’s positive and negatives of both the fact that we’re here That I mean that was a choice we wanted to raise our children in a Muslim country and we value that very much that being said I really do hope that one day my children will experience the excitement and a love for the mosque that they did when we were in Canada. I think the best way to tell others about Islam is to make sure you know the religion yourself. I mean I think that we are responsible as Muslims to educate ourselves and to practice and adhere to the commandments of the Quran and of Allah and I think that If we do that, that’s the best example I think we know the Prophet Muhammad was the best example for mankind and the way that we know he won the hearts of the people is because he was trusted, he was kind, he was generous, he was forgiving. He was merciful and at the same time, he adhered to his values. He didn’t change them for others and he was always on the middle ground you know whatever was easy for the people.  If we understand our religion and if we practice it unapologetically in terms of again this is my faith and I’m going to adhere to it at the same time I can still be a part of your community and I can still love you and I can still welcome you and support we can support one another and we can have respectful dialogue and I think that as long as we do that and we follow his example, I think that’s going to be the best example for others as well because then it’s undeniable. They’ll see the truth, they’ll see the beauty because that’s what true Islam is. It’s this sense of community and our respect and kindness and charity and welcoming dialogue and bettering ourselves and I think that’s what we need to really focus on !