I took this picture in Hue in December, 2013.
For those who have read this blog, you know that in May this year, I wrote an email to tell my parents that I had become a Muslim. Until now, I still can’t believe I had already done that, because I had always tried to conceal my Muslim identity from my parents for almost two years. The first year I came back, I did not wear hijab, so it was easy to mingle although it was adverse to avoid non-halal food. Last year, I also avoided going home by participating in a volunteering trip to Turkey so that I could delay the whole confession matter for another 12 months. However, there came to the point that I realised that it was time for me to tell them, because I could not live trying to flee away from my parents, who I love and treasure most in this worldly life. There was a lot of hesitation involved, but I finally sent the email.
What happened after that email? To be honest, I expected harsh words, but my parents, in contrast, were very gentle in their approach. They clearly displayed their dissatisfaction with my conversion in the emails, but at the same time, they amazed me with their calm and reasonable manner. I didn’t reply their emails; I felt that it wasn’t necessary, and so did they. We ignored the topic, and continued to live our life.
Then, in June my mother came to visit me. Due to unexpected circumstances, Dad didn’t come, so I only had to face mum. Those two weeks were quite tiring, because although mum didn’t mention the issue, I could feel her frustrating/disappointing/anxious glances at me and my thick beanie which I used as an alternative for the headscarf. Moreover, she suddenly talked about me studying in the U.S for master, and then going back to Vietnam for living, as though my life had been designed and arranged, and nothing could change that.
Then, two days before she left, she broke out, and that was the first time we talked about Islam. I still remember how furious she looked, and how she cut shot my words and refused to give me any chance to talk about my reasons for conversion. The situation eventually appeased, but I was still deeply hurt by my mum’s words: ‘Letting you come here is what I regret most’. At that moment, I understood how dejected my mum felt, and my heart was broken into pieces. I have always wanted to become my parents’ pride; that’s one of the reasons I tried my best in my study – so that they could talk about me with pride, so that they would feel that their investment in me was worthy and fruitful. When mum said she regretted her action, great guilt entered my heart. I shed many tears that day. It was not necessarily because I felt unjust. It was more because I knew I could not do anything to save my mum from her bitter regret. I could not throw away Islam and be back the faithless girl I used to be. I believe in God – it can’t be changed.
This December, I returned to Vietnam for one month. The whole thing happening in June was repeated. Mum and Dad were still gentle and tried to avoid the Islam topic, although occasionally they would break out and make some harsh comments on the faith. Like yesterday, on the car, Mum scolded, ‘Why following a foreign religion?Who will want to marry you?’ Like the day we visited My Son, my dad directly attacked Islam and my conversion to the point I burst into tears. Like the day we were in Hoi An, Dad nearly put my hat off, whilst frequently asking me whether I would like to eat bún chả, a pork dish, and then (after my refusal) criticising me for following a restrictive religion. Or like many days my mum spent time pressuring me to return, work and live in Vietnam after graduation. These small things really exhausted my energy, if not spoiling my mood for the vacation. Without my friend Charlotte, who always cheered me up with her liveliness, I would have collapsed.
I cried a lot. Like last time in June, I cried because of guilt, because I knew I could not leave Islam for my parents. But this time, I also began to fear for my faith, that I could not practise Islam anymore, that my faith would be damaged by social pressures, that I would compromise and compromise.
Only in this time did I understand the wisdoms of Sura Fatiha which we recite every-time we pray:
“Guide us on the straight path,
the path of those who have received your grace; not the path of those who have brought down wrath, nor of those who wander astray” (Sura Al Fatiha)
I used to wonder why we need to pray to be on straight path, even though as Muslims, we are already on the straight path. However, to be born or to convert to Islam doesn’t guarantee that we will always be on the right. Rather, to accept Islam and to have faith is like to accept a precious diamond-like gift. Thus, that gift can be taken away from us, or if we constantly mistreat the gift, we will not be able to understand the value of the gift, and instead of protecting and treasuring it, we damage it, reducing its value to the like of coal and mud. That’s why in our prayers, we ask God to assist us, to guide us on the right path in a world of confusion and pressures. Right now I feel like I need God’s help more than anything else because things are becoming harder and harder to bear. Everyday I see my parents, guilt and confusion overwhelms me, as though I were doing something wrong. Sometimes, the instinctual soul whispers to me, trying to convince me that Islam is the problem, that if I give it up, I will reach happiness. It paints the image of me before I convert, the girl with two braids gleefully laughing with her parents and her friends. It tries to persuade me that I will get old happy time if I abandon my faith and return to the old me.
The voice is so enticing and sweet. But when things like this happen, I usually pray God to help me. And I realise that the image that my soul shows me is an illusion. The girl of before might laugh and look happy, but in reality she never knew the sweetness of true peace, the peace that could only be found in belief in God. The girl of before laughed to conceal her unease, her pain of the past, her anxiety about the unknown future, and her goalessness of the present. That girl was laughing, but she was worse than now. That’s because at that time she didn’t know about God, and for her, life was random, accidental and pointless. Although the current me is not laughing innocently like that girl, it doesn’t mean I am not happy and peaceful; it’s just that my happiness is more peaceful, and is found not on temporary ecstasy, but on certainty, knowledge and assurance.
However, most of people don’t understand this. The majority of the world wants to believe that I am suppressed and tortured; the majority of my non-Muslim friends would not understand my obstinacy, while the majority of my Muslim friends can’t care less. Even my parents don’t understand me, if not being disturbed by my faith. It’s really challenging to watch them in pain and worry because of something that, in reality, offers nothing but peace and happiness. I wish they could see Islam beyond its rituals, its Arabic-origin, its misrepresentation in mainstream media, to get to the core of the religion, which is ultimately about answering the three questions: Where are you from? What are you doing here? Where are you going? I wish my parents would listen to me. I wish they would find the sweetness of belief in God as I did. Or at least they would understand.
I write this down not necessarily because I want to share my problem with anybody. It’s just that there are so many thoughts, confusion and emotions within me, that writing makes them clearer and easier to bear. I also write because later in the future I want to read back and say ‘Ahamdulilah, I have overcome this hardship. And I am still a Muslim’.
But for now, I think I should say Ahamdulilah (Thank God) too. Thank God for my amazing, compassionate parents. Thank God for giving me courage. Thank God for everything.