Sofia’s Journey to Islam
To those of you who are searching for the truth and to those who have found it and are struggling to stay on the right path. A Never-ending Quest: Although Sofia was a stubborn lady,…
To those of you who are searching for the truth and to those who have found it and are struggling to stay on the right path.
A Never-ending Quest:
Although Sofia was a stubborn lady, she knew when to accept a piece of advice – especially she knew who to ask for it. The day Sofia arrived in Turkey she was carrying a small bag in her hands and many uncertainties and hopes in her heart. Her life had changed completely the year before, but the kind of change she was looking for was different now.
During her teenage years Sofia had always wondered about the true meaning of life and the correct way to reach God. Being only fifteen, she was considered a rebel by her Catholic teachers who could never satisfy her questions about faith. How can God be three different things at the same time? Why do people pray to saints and virgins instead of asking for help from the Creator Himself? How can a priest, an ordinary man, know if God forgets our sins after confession?!
Whenever she would ask, the answer was the same: it is a question of faith, you just have to believe. The teachers were always complaining about Sofia to her parents who did not know what to tell them any more. ‘She is a very inquisitive girl,’ her mother would say. ‘She is blasphemous!’ the nuns replied.
Looking back on those years, she was now grateful for her religious education. She could understand that God had chosen those people to educate her so that her soul would wake up in due time on the right path. As a Catholic, Sofia felt she was a phoney. She rejected many principles and commands, but she had always been fearful of God and somehow she had to find the right way to praise Him and thank Him.
Although Sofia was very concerned about this, she could not help behaving as a normal teenager; therefore she would not be illuminated until many years later.
Finding the way:
When Sofia turned twenty-four, her old education awoke and she started searching for the answers in the Eastern cultures, but found herself disappointed once more in Buddhism and Taoism of which she did like some aspects, but others made no sense. She would find the truth in the most unusual way, through the most marvelous person – Ridvan.
It was one November morning when she was in a teacher’s chat room that she met Ridvan – a middle-aged Turkish man with whom she had long academic chats. In the middle of their conversations, he would excuse himself for ten minutes every day at the same time. This could not escape Sofia’s natural curiosity and finally one day she questioned him directly: ‘I am very sorry to be nosy, but I am curious about something…’ Her fingers rushed quickly on the keyboard: ‘Where do you go every day at the same time for ten minutes?’
The screen read: ‘I go to pray’ and Sofia roared with laughter. ‘What is your religion?’ She asked before she made any comment. ‘Islam,’ He replied.
Sofia knew about Muslims as much as she had seen on the media, so her first assumption was that Ridvan was a fanatic for getting offline and interrupting the conversation just to pray. Until that very moment, she had not realised how biased she was against Muslims. It came down on her only after he mentioned Islam and immediately she started shooting question after question about women’s rights and terrorism.
With extraordinary patience, Ridvan counteracted all her attacks with logical answers based on Qur’an and on his vast knowledge of history. Sofia was overwhelmed by his words and she soon plunged into a whole new angle of conversation – faith.
It took her many months to get rid of her prejudice before she started asking Ridvan the old questions which had been sleeping at the back of her mind since her years in high school. He could answer them all – she accepted them all. As their conversations developed, there also grew a great respect for each other. What Sofia felt was the kind of love and admiration a little girl has for her father, the kind of feelings she had lost long ago in her childhood.
A year passed and, as something that was bound to happen, she stopped using the word God to say Allaah, and after reading some Quran, she testified ‘there is no God but Allaah and Muhammad is His Prophet’. She was a Muslim now and the year that followed was a whirlpool of changes.
After her first year as a Muslim, Sofia was now in Turkey. She needed to live in a more Islamic environment to continue learning about her religion. And Allaah had granted her the most qualified teachers whom she called brothers and sisters. They would take care of her and worry about her future as real family. She had never felt so loved and she was inevitably sensitive to any act of kindness towards her. Being taken care of was a new sensation for her. She had always been the kind of friend, sister and daughter who was on the alert to anyone’s needs, not always caring about her own. She had devoted her life to her studies, her work and being available for everyone else except for herself.
Her days in Turkey were filled with the most heartfelt emotions, including those she experienced the day she met Ridvan face to face for the first time. ‘Hi, how are you?’ he asked when they met on a narrow street in Istanbul.
‘Cold’, she said to make his moustache rise in the shape of the first smile she saw on his face. She had anxiously longed for that moment for two years, yet, she felt so calm, as they had been together forever. They talked for hours. ‘I cannot believe I am sitting here in front of you’, Sofia whispered tearfully.
He just smiled, for he was a man of few words when exposed to feelings. On appearance he was a simple man, but he was so big inside, so full of knowledge and yet, so modest. He had the knowledge acquired through books and also the kind one gets after having lived many years of a hard life. He shared both with Sofia and she tried to learn as much as she could from them. ‘I will always be with you’, were the last words she heard from Ridvan the gloomy Wednesday afternoon they said goodbye.
Due to Ridvan’s busy schedule, they only could meet a couple of times. This was enough for Sofia to re-group her troops and start battling life again. Although Sofia was a stubborn lady, she knew when to accept a piece of advice – especially she knew who to ask for it. That person was Ridvan, the man she trusted hundred per cent. She was aware of the fact that it was going to be very hard to stay in Turkey on her own, so Ridvan concentrated on the most difficult aspects for her to get used to. Cultural shock, language barrier, unknown place, no job, loneliness… plus all the hardships implied when living in a developing country.
The factor that worried Sofia the most was loneliness. She knew that she could manage to get a job as a teacher of English, as a matter of fact she already had several offers to take into consideration. It was being alone what made her doubt. She wished to stay in Turkey with all heart, but she was terribly afraid – afraid of failing to find what she was looking for, afraid of breaking down, afraid of falling into another depression.
A difficult year:
Once Sofia realised she was a Muslim, another episode started for her. Adapting to a whole new way of life was not at all easy. There was so much she needed to learn! At first she only concentrated on the practical aspects such as her new dress code, prayer, dos and don’ts. Little did she imagine how hard it would be to live, think and act as a Muslim. Her new choice brought her more sorrow than she thought of at the beginning.
At first she believed it was a matter of changing the method in which she praised God. Soon she found that the most challenging part was yet to come. After her conversion, she encountered all kinds of opposition. She had a typical Italian family who followed the most important Catholic traditions – Easter and Christmas. Whenever she brought into question the reasons why they celebrated these events, everyone would agree on the answer: ‘We have been doing it since the times of your great grandmothers. It’s our family tradition.’
So when Sofia wanted to irritate them, she would push the topic further throwing a lethal dart: ‘But you do know that these events are meant to be commemorated more than by eating and gathering to have fun…Do you know the meaning of Easter or you just like eating fish with the family? Do you think Christmas is for toasting at midnight with Champagne?’
Not always did Sofia raise these questions, but she enjoyed causing a stir in certain occasions to demonstrate that being a Catholic was more than following your great grandparents’ traditions. With her mother’s irritation, she felt victorious for she knew she was right.
Sofia’s grandfather always laughed because he also knew his granddaughter was right. After serving in World War II, his feelings towards God and religion had turned sour. Sofia loved him very much; she would sit by him and listen carefully to the many anecdotes he had about the war. He would also narrate his experience with Muslims and how he became their friend while fighting in Libya. Perhaps it was for this reason that he was the only one who easily accepted Sofia’s conversion. His words were a treasure for her: ‘You know I do not believe in God and religions, but if I had one, it would be Islam!’
That was the little support Sofia received from anyone in her family. Her mother would call her lunatic, her sister would ignore her and for her father it made no difference as long as it didn’t affect him. She also lost many friends who could not understand her. At work she said nothing and whenever she covered herself to go onto the streets, she had to face the society’s prejudice, laughs and looks!
There was nothing Islamic in her Western country (Argentina) and it was too hard to resist so much opposition. Sofia often wondered if she had taken the right decision, if it was worth such sacrifice!!
The answer was clear – yes. Paradise is something extremely valuable; therefore its cost ought to be high. With this spirit and a deep belief in Allaah, she could continue her way, the way that, she hoped, would take her back to her Creator, the Creator of all things.
However, external opposition was not the only enemy she had to defeat. In fact, that was the easiest part to deal with because she never cared much about traditions and her character was strong enough to defend herself against people’s attacks. There was a harder challenge – her own inner contradictions and doubts. Anyone can acquire new habits, but the point is who can change the old ones? How can you give your character a new shape after twenty-four years? How can you behave differently towards the same old world around you? Nothing changes just because one changes, and for Sofia that was the most difficult point to accept.
Forming an Islamic thought was the hardest task of all. Re-building her ship to set sail with opposite coordinates towards unknown turbulent waters. She was determined to reach her destination against all the odds, even if that meant having to migrate to another country, for it is said in Islam: “Seek after knowledge though it be in (as faraway place from Arabia as) China”.
Reasons to stay, wishing to leave:
Sofia was very disappointed with what she found in Turkey. Maybe her expectations had been too high. Now she understood Ridvan’s words when he told her that she should not expect anything from anyone so that nobody would let her down. The Islamic atmosphere she was found in Turkey did not vary much from the one she had left in her own country. It was hard for her to understand why these born Muslims had Islam on the palm of their hands and, yet, they did not take advantage of it. They preferred focusing on superfluous matters.
Sofia had another friend near Istanbul who had warned her about this. Yavuz had told her many times that she should not expect much from Turkey and if she wanted to stay, she should think of just some time and then going back home. He knew Sofia and he could foresee how she would feel in Turkey. He fully understood what she was looking for and he also knew she was not going to find it there. She should spend some time with Muslims and then return to her country where she would feel more comfortable to practice and teach what she had learnt.
Sofia loved Yavuz very much, as the older brother she would have had if it had not been for her mother’s miscarriage. He took care of her as a gardener takes care of his favourite flower – trying to keep her away from the weeds, protecting her from harsh conditions and nurturing her to make her grow safe and strong. Sofia trusted him and she knew she could count on him if she stayed, but this did not grant she would be happy. She could not let herself be anyone’s burden, and she was running out of time before her departure date.
When Sofia embraced Islam, she never imagined that some day she would be willing to leave everything behind her to find her place in an Islamic country. Western life was so familiar for her; however, she longed for more than all the comfort that modern life offers in the most materialistic form. The friends who were traveling with her suggested that she should come back with them and try to learn Islam in her own country because that would be easier for her. Sofia knew there was no easy way in Islam and she was definitely not the kind of person who would make so with mediocrity.
Following the Prophet:
She always remembered that when the Quran and the Prophethood were first revealed to Muhammad, the last Messenger of Allaah, he encountered endless times more hardships than herself. To think of Muhammad trying to spread the message of unity and peace in the corrupt idolatrous society of Arabia in the 600s gave Sofia a sense of courage based on a deep admiration for the man she considered the most powerful of all, not because of his sword, but because he counted on the Highest Power – Allaah.
Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) has been the role model for every Muslim and Sofia was trying to follow his example to such an extent that to accomplish her learning process, she would move to Saudi Arabia if she had to.
She often tried to picture life in the pre-Islamic era, when baby girls were buried alive, when wood and stone were worshipped as gods, when life had no more value than some pieces of gold, when women were abused and tortured by their own husbands. She imagined herself as the most fervent follower of Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), for her spirit was against injustice, and the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, had been sent to illuminate those ignorant people and guide them back to Allaah.
Sofia also compared that time to the present and discovered that capitalism based its power on the same kind of ignorance. It is not wood or stone that is worshipped now, but money. The value of life seems not to have changed. Women’s rights are just hollow promises written on a piece of paper. People try to improve according to how much they can get from others, and a person’s worth is calculated by how much he owns. Sofia felt an outcast in a society whose principles were so deviant from the true meaning of life.
However, in that society she was born and raised, and being the only way of life she knew, it was the environment where she felt safest. Before moving anywhere she had to think of what she would lose and what she would gain. She thought about how Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the early Muslims must have felt when leaving Mecca. Only a small group of people believed in Islam and they also left everything behind to go to unknown places with an uncertain future. Everything was against them and they only had Allaah on their side.
Sofia plucked up courage from their example, the courage she needed to make up her mind, to change the course of her life, to continue her spiritual quest in the Middle East. She prayed that her choice would be the correct one and that Allaah would guide her on His way, sparing her from so much loneliness and sorrow on her way to learn about Him and the message He had revealed to His last Prophet, Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).