I first met my housemate about six months ago. It started with a Facebook message from my friend, Umairah. She wrote: “There is a Vietnamese lady who would love to study about Islam. She doesn’t know much English. I remember you are from Vietnam. Can you help her?”
To be honest, right at the moment I read the message, I felt so excited. Of course! You don’t often see a Vietnamese person trying to learn about Islam!
Immediately I sent a message to the phone number Umairah gave me. I introduced myself as a Muslim revert who can speak Vietnamese, and is willing to help and answer questions about Islam.
I remember that I didn’t receive the reply until a week later. Anyway, we arranged a meeting, and finally I met the woman on a cool, breezy evening in May.
Her name is Hoa, which means ‘peace’ in Vietnamese. She was about 30, had a chubby, kind face and a soft, sweet voice. She came to meet me not alone but with her boyfriend, a Pakistani, and together we went to a cafe shop in Footscray.
Hoa told me that she was a Catholic from Saigon, Vietnam and had been living in Melbourne for about five years. She met her boyfriend about 6 months ago. A Muslim Pakistani, the boyfriend wanted her to learn about his religion, but he was aware of his lack of knowledge of Islam as well as her English incompetency. Thus, for the past few months, he had been looking for a suitable person to help explain Islam to his girlfriend in Vietnamese. He didn’t expect her to become Muslim but wanted to clear all the misconceptions she had about Islam. One day, they went to a clothing shop on Sydney Road, and it was where they encountered my friend, who happened to remember that she knew a Vietnamese Muslim – me.
On our first meeting, Hoa and I talked a lot, especially about Jesus (pbuh), because sister Hoa said that she was confounded by the Islamic view of Jesus. I gave her some explanation, but I doubted that she actually digested much I said on the day. I went home, worrying that I had not done my job, although at the same time I felt really excited that God gave me the opportunity to talk to Islam to someone. That was the first time I said ahamdulilah for the fact that I can speak Vietnamese. Just a few days before, I nearly intended to stop my Vietnamese translation of Risale-I Nur (a commentary on the Quran) because I felt that there was little chance that Vietnamese people would care about it. However, after that meeting with sister Hoa, God showed me that I was wrong, that I needed to proceed my works, because even if one person is benefited from them (intellectually, mentally, spiritually), that is already enough.
Hoa and I maintained contacts after that initial meeting. I took her to Saturday discussions, introduced her to my friends, and gave her some of my translations of The Words – The Risale-i Nur. I was impressed with Hoa’s sincerity to learn about Islam, which was reflected in her commitment to accompany me to discussions every week as well as her numerous questions.
She emphasised to me that she would never embrace Islam for the sake of her boyfriend because for her, religion was not a joke. She also did not choose to learn more about Islam because she wanted to please her boyfriend; rather, it was her who told the boyfriend to educate her of the religion. “I might not be the most informed Catholic, but I really love the messages of Catholicism. So I would not leave my religion for a guy.”
In June, as I was looking for a new place to stay, sister Hoa asked me whether or not I would like her to move in with me. Initially I didn’t want because I had just found a relatively cheap and decent room in a shared house close to my university. However, I changed my mind after sister Hoa told me in an assertive fashion: “I want to stay with you because I want to learn more about Islam”.
So I abandoned my plan, and instead hurried to find a new place. I remember that there were not many suitable options for me at the time, as most of the two bed-room apartments in Brunswick were highly priced. However, God was indeed the Determiner, as one day He led me to an apartment on Mitchell Street. Other than having an ideal location, the two bedroom apartment had a separate living room (rather than a kitchen-living area like in most Australian apartments nowadays,), which could be converted into the third bedroom. As a result, I invited another friend of mine, a Chinese Muslim convert, to move in with us. Thus, the rent was divided into three, and was affordable to each of us. Ahamdulilah!
We have been living together since July. We are quite close: we have dinner together, read books together, and tell each other about our problems at school and at work. Every night, we spend about half an hour or one hour discussing Islamic topics. Rather than just us explaining to sister Hoa what we believed, we also learned many things about Catholic faith from sister Hoa, making our discussions resemble interfaith dialogues.
Because sister Hoa had a Christian background, she had no difficulty catching up with Islamic stories and concepts such as the story of God, Adam, Abraham, Solomon, Noah, God, Jesus, free-will, the hereafter, the judgement day and so on. What she found perplexing most of the time was Jesus and prophet Muhammad (peace be upon all of them), as she often asked me questions like “Okay, Jesus might be a prophet, and not the son of God, but why we need another prophet?” or “”Why do Muslims love prophet Muhammad so much?”
I tried to give her the best answers I could think of. Generally, I kept emphasising that all prophets, from the first prophet Adam to the last prophet Muhammad (peace be upon all of them), preached the same message: “There is no god but God”. Prophet Muhammad did not come with a new religion – he came to verify what had been revealed before by Abrahim, Noah, Jesus, Adam and so on, and to bring God’s new instructions to human beings on how they should worship God and organise their lives and society. Simply said, prophet Muhammad was the last messenger with the complete message from God. The Quran is for those who believe in God and want to lead the life that would please God.
This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. (Quran 5:3)
To be honest, I didn’t concern much whether or not sister Hoa would eventually become Muslim. Of course I would love her to revert, but as soon as I started explaining to her, I realised that the true joy lied in the opportunity to talk to others about God, to praise God, to inform others of the beautiful message of God. Whenever I explained to Hoa, it was like I was conversing with my instinctual soul and affirming my faith. It seems like I was doing dawah for others, but I actually did it for myself.
Time flew by. Then, about two weeks ago, when I was boiling water for my tea, sister Hoa turned to me and asked: “Are you free on Friday?”
“I have my last essay due on that day. So after 5 pm I’m free.”
” Can we go to the Turkish family?” (We knew and often visited a Turkish family who was very knowledgeable and sincere about Islam).
“Why? For what?”
“I would like to revert to Islam.”
Hence, on 7/11/2014, we went to the Turkish family in the evening.
In the somewhat stuffy living room, sister Hoa slowly recited in front of 5 witnesses: “I testify that I worship no deity other than God, and prophet Muhammad is the servant and messenger of God”.
I burst into tears – tears of happiness.
So did Mariam.
And I believe so did the universe. They found another servant of God.
Convert stories are not rare. For this kind of story, usually the converter is the narrator as he/she is the main character with many unique emotions, experiences and reflections. I hope sister Hoa would write about her experience, because I would love to know how she reached the decision.
However, as much as this is a journey of sister Hoa, I also think this is also my journey, too. I have learned a lot from the 4 months living with her and helping her (with Maryam and others) to understand about Islam.
What I have realised:
(1) Nobody has the power to make anybody believer or unbeliever. We only have the duty to give the message, and let the person decide for themselves. There is no compulsion in religion.
There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. (The Quran 2:256)
(2) Faith is a gift from God. Nobody earns faith, but faith is a precious bounty from God. Thinking that way makes you understand the value of faith, and the necessity to nurture it so that its diamond-like quality would not reduced to coal and mud.
(3) It does not matter if you are born as a Muslim, Christian, atheist, spiritualist or whatever. The journey to find God is equal, and the questions about purpose of life are relevant to all people. Just as a person can be an atheist today, he or she can find God eventually. Similarly, a Muslim today can be an unbeliever in the end. It depends on our choice, and God knows what is in our heart.
(4) Lessons about the pillars of faith should not be taken for granted. Every time you learn about them, you discover something new. Don’t think you are doing it for others; think you are doing for your own soul.
(5) Life is full of surprises, and God is indeed the Best Disposer of Affairs.