Date :Saturday, February 3rd, 2018 | Time : 17:24 |ID: 58987 | Print

Lady Yvette (Nargis) Baldacchino an Australian revert.

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SHAFAQNA-

An Exclusive Interview of a Revert to Islam from Australia, Lady Yvette (Nargis) Baldacchino by Tina Baradaran and Rahyafte Radio Team.

 

Sister Nargis comes from a mixed Italian Maltese Greek and English background. She graduated with a Law degree and is working in the field of Government and Immigration Law.

Welcome to interview.

1.How did you become familiar with Islam? And what drove you to convert to Islam?

While a child I acknowledged the existence of God within my innate (fitrate), but I grew up in a Christian family, so I had no choice, although from a young age I started to question many concepts such as the doctrine of Trinity, where God Himself exists in three parts, including Jesus (a.s) being the son of God and praying to humanlike statues.

I was continually dissatisfied with incomplete or illogical answers provided and eventually I became a nuisance and was punished by the Christian Teachers at School for my frank and inquisitive nature.

When I was 13 years old the Sister asked the classroom, who doesn’t like the Bible?  I was the only one in the room to answer, I stated that “It has been tampered with by a human hand, it has pornography in it, and I believe that it is not God’s true word”.  I was told to get out of the classroom.

In my teenage years, I abandoned Christianity altogether, tired of established Western religious systems.

I would have dreams of groups of people from different nationalities wrapped in white garbs, walking up and down systematically in a place with large pillars. I later realized that this was Saffar and Marwa in Mecca and people were dressed in white Ihram for Hajj I connected this to Ghandi; so when I was older I started studying Eastern religions. My enquiries inclined me towards Buddhism and Hinduism.

During this time my mother was preparing to fulfill a lifelong dream of traveling to Egypt. I often mocked my mother’s obsession with Egypt. However, it seems now that it was Allah’s blessed plan.

My mother traveled to Egypt in 1997.

Shortly after, I traveled to Egypt too, although I had no interest to go there, I planned to stay for 5 days just to see my mother.

I flew with Gulf Airlines. On the plane I plugged in the headset to listen to music; I stopped at the sound of a beautiful rhythmic harmony that brought immense peace to my heart, despite being unable to understand its meaning.

After arriving in Egypt I stayed much longer than planned. In fact, every time I attempted to leave I found something blocking my way. I have never felt so out of control of my life.

Everywhere I traveled I was told over and over again about the Masjid of Hussain in Cairo. If I went there, my wishes would be granted. I didn’t know anything about this Imam Hussain, but I saw so much faith and love for him, so I was also inspired. The remnants of the Fatimid Kalifate left a love for the Ahlul-Bayt, still present amongst Egyptians today.

So I went to the Masjid of Hussein full of hope, while at the grave I sincerely asked to be guided to the truth, to be shown the straight path and to change my empty life in Australia.

Growing up in the West, I was constantly fed with negative images of Islam and Muslims; however, as a traveled in Egypt I saw strong family values, respect for the elders, and a great spirit of generosity. People were so poor, yet their hearts were so content and satisfied, like they knew their destination and purpose in this life.  I did not see this drive towards materialism, nor a fear for tomorrow. I concluded that most of these characteristics were driven by their religious beliefs, so this initiated my enquiries into Islam and the more I discovered, the more I was impressed; I found Islam to be a complete package, covering all spheres of life, from medicine to hygiene, science to moral values, and even the unseen world.

I found Islam to be a complete package, covering all spheres of life, from medicine to hygiene, science to moral values, and even the unseen world.

 

One day walking down the street, I heard that same beautiful rhythmic music I heard on the plane coming from the coffee shop that touched my soul, and it was the Holy Quran.

Finally I was given the Holy Quran in English. The moment I opened this book I realized my search was over. As I started to read, I felt that God was talking to me for the first time.

Many verses, such as, Surah Tawhid or Iklas, instantly ended a lifetime of confusion.

On that morning itself, I concluded that there is no God accept Allah; He has sent many different messengers and prophets, like Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Mohammad (pbut), to carry his message through different generations, societies, and cultures.  Islam was the last part of the message.

2. What attracted you towards the Shia school of thought?

My search for the truth did not end here…. I went back to Australia and after 6 years of following Islam, I came into contact with some Shia’s. I was shocked to find fundamental differences between Sunni and Shia beliefs.

I suddenly realised that choosing which sect to follow was a critical matter; affecting my station in the next world.  Thirsty for the truth, for one year I read, contemplated and supplicated heavily to Allah to guide me and not to leave me destitute after I had come so close.

Although I encountered much negativity and ignorance projected towards the Shia, I found myself slowly being swayed towards Shia ideas; not only by the evidence, but also from a logical stance.

Many Sunni’s warned me to stay with the majority and be safe. However, I knew that if I followed this rule, then I should still be following the religion of my forefathers.

Sadly enough, I found the great division of this pure religion primarily caused by the issue of leadership after the Prophet’s demise.

I deliberately searched in the Sunni references to find evidence. I found more than 140 Sunni narrations supporting the event of Ghadeer.

Even Omar himself congratulates Imam Ali (s.a.w.s) on his appointment.

Logic dictates that the Prophet would not stop such a large group of pilgrims in the blistering heat of the desert before the group were about to disperse, without having a significant reason.

There are also Quranic verses surrounding this event that confirm the importance of the declaration made that day. Allah commanded the Prophet to deliver the final part of his mission to complete the religion of Islam.

Besides, why would Allah leave the fundamental subject of leadership undecided? Leadership has never been a matter for humans to decide. From the time of Adam (a.s), it has always been a divine appointment.

Various statements made by the Prophet during his lifetime confirm the position of Imam Ali (s.a.w.s), “Ali is to me as Haroun was to Musa, except there is no Prophet after me”, “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is the gate”. When the other Kalifah’s where governing, if it was not for this gate of knowledge, in the words of Omar himself, they would have perished.

Most of all, I found Imam Ali’s (s.a.w.s) character shining through the pages of Najul-Balagha. One reading of this literary masterpiece was enough to convince me as to who was more worthy and capable of leadership.

I found Imam Ali’s (s.a.w.s) character shining through the pages of Najul-Balagha. One reading of this literary masterpiece was enough to convince me as to who was more worthy and capable of leadership.

The foundations of the four Sunni Madhabs are built on the Ahlul-Bayt, as Sunni Imams were originally students of Imam Jafar Al-Sadiq (s.a.w.s).

The list of proof in support of the truth continues, however, time does not permit me to go through them all.

Eventually I was guided by Allah to the Imam Hussain Islamic Centre in Sydney Australia. The minute I entered this house of Allah, I felt a strong spiritual energy, a greater connection between the heart and Allah, especially as I heard the beautiful and deep supplications being recited, such as Du’ah Kumayl.

During this time, I discovered the concept of Tawassul and the great personality of Imam Hussain (s.a.w.s) (who I had been kept in the dark for so many years about by the Sunni) including the great sacrifice he made for Islam. At this point I realised that Imam Hussain (s.a.w.s) was the Ark of my salvation, my advocate before Allah, as I was in his Masjid in Cairo (The Masjid of Hussain) when I first asked for guidance and I felt that he was guiding me up till this very moment.

One other significant event which will stay in my memory forever, occurred on the birthday of Imam Ali (s.a.w.s), just after midnight, I woke up, feeling the presence of Imam Ali (s.a.w.s) in my room. He said something very quick and to the point, he said “follow me and you will be safe”.

Following this, I found that this was my final destination with no other way but to embrace the Ahlul Bayt as my spiritual guides and leaders; and it is only when I found the Ahlul-bayt that I could actually realise that something so great was missing in my life for so long and my Islam was half empty…

Since I found such precious jewels the entire course of my life changed.

 

3. How did you feel when you first read the Quran? Since it is hard to understand the value of the Quran to us as a born Muslim, how do you define or articulate the influence of the Quran on yourself, your personal life and your social life?

With my Christian upbringing, I was very familiar with religious books, such as the Bible and the Torah, and as I grew older, my search for the truth led me to study the holy books of other world religions like Buddhism and Hinduism.

However, till this day I remember that special life changing moment when I opened the Quran in English.

At this time in my life I was so thirsty for the truth and I was slowly being guided towards Islam. Reading the Quran was the final step.

As I started to read…. I felt that this holy book had dropped from the sky into my hands.  The words were so black and white, so majestic, whilst straight to the point. The words instantly resonated in my soul and I felt that God was talking to me for the first time.  These were clearly the words of God, and not the words of a human mind, as I had experienced whilst growing up with the Bible and other books.

I could not stop reading, and it was as if everything I felt within my fitrate (innate) was in front of my eyes.

My lifetime of confusion and investigation came to an end in this very moment and I decided to become a Muslim.

The first moment I was introduced to the Quran, besides having an innate connection to it, I found the text very intellectually engaging, which together produced a spiritual awakening within me.

The first moment I was introduced to the Quran, besides having an innate connection to it, I found the text very intellectually engaging, which together produced a spiritual awakening within me.

The Quran just needs an open, sincere heart searching for the truth and it will open up a door for you.

I strive to live and breathe the Quran, as it is the most authentic and reliable book in existence, as it is the word of Allah, and the only pure source of guidance that penetrates every aspect of my life.

It is full of wisdom and knowledge like a sea; the deeper you dive into it the more pearls you will find. Every time I read it, I find a new gem. Without it, I would be lost. Whatever challenge I am facing in life, there is certainly immense comfort and solution in the Quran.

It is full of wisdom and knowledge like a sea; the deeper you dive into it the more pearls you will find. Every time I read it, I find a new gem. Without it, I would be lost. Whatever challenge I am facing in life, there is certainly immense comfort and solution in the Quran.

 

4. There is a connection between your internal and existential need and converting to Islam. Do you consider it as a reason nowadays, as we observe lots of people around the world turn to Islam and especially Shiism?

Yes absolutely, this was my personal experience and this is more prevalent in the Western world because of the environment.

I believe that God exists in the hearts of us all; it is something that is innate, however some of us choose to acknowledge it and submit to that Higher Force, whilst others choose to ignore it and live their life according to their own will and desires.

As a child, I felt this presence of God in my heart and desired to submit; however, I was unsure about the way to reach this destination, as I found myself in a situation that a whole system of beliefs was imposed upon me from birth without study or choice.

I often contemplated about where did I come from, why am I here and where I am going? And it is from this point that my journey started

While growing up in a Western society I often felt an emptiness inside me and a thirst for a greater purpose in life.

The Western capitalist system encourages people to spend and seek luxurious cars, big houses and accrue material wealth. Individuals in such consumer oriented societies are led to believe that these material comforts will provide them with happiness and will satisfy all their needs, including the needs of their soul. As I grew older, I discovered that all the material wealth in the world could not give me a complete and lasting sense of inner happiness.

It was only when I found God that I found completeness in my life, and an inner peace that’s indescribable; as I had found the highest and the greatest pleasure, better than any money can buy, through knowing God.

And as I mentioned before, when I embraced the Ahlulbayt as my spiritual guides my spiritual wings began to fly; I felt that I had NOW really become a Muslim.

When I embraced the Ahlulbayt as my spiritual guides my spiritual wings began to fly; I felt that I had NOW really become a Muslim.

 

5. Can you tell us about your first experience of Ramadhan, first fasting and first prayer? What do they mean to you?

I was blessed to spend my first Ramadan in Egypt amongst the warm hospitality of Muslims.

To me Ramadan is the most ideal vacation, as it is a vacation with Allah.

It is the only month we are given the opportunity to leave the affairs of this world and spend nights and days in Meditation with Allah.

To leave our earthly individualistic goals and daily routines and return back to the centre and the meaning of our life. As human beings in our contemporary, materially-driven and hectic lives we really need this; I call it a spiritual recharge. It is so addictive that I feel an overwhelming sadness as this blessed month leaves.

In regards to prayer, I grew up in a strict Catholic environment and prayer was a regular activity in my daily life.

However, when I experienced prayer as a Muslim I felt like I was praying for the first time in my life, especially when I went down in prostration (sajud) the first time, words cannot explain this feeling of intimacy or closeness that I felt with God at that moment.

I felt as if the switch of my heart had been turned on and the electricity started to flow between my heart and God.

With each movement of my body, I felt every part of my body active in the prayer and it felt as if every single cell of my body was worshipping Him.

 

6. Do your parents know that you are Muslim? Do you have a connection with them? What was their reaction after know your reversion? Did you have any problems with people around you after converting?

My mother actually reverted around the same time as me on her trip to Egypt in 1997, 20 years ago. However, my father has been the biggest challenge till this day. The majority of his problem lies with the hijab. He is constantly telling me that other Muslim women don’t wear it, so why do you have to parade yourself around and be on show? Being a wealthy man, recently he even tried to offer me a sum of money to take it off.

For many years I lived double identities; one as a Muslim woman in hijab, and the other; the Western woman my parent’s had worked hard to raise as a normal, educated and decent human being. Coming from a strong Mediterranean culture, it was very difficult to go against the father’s authority.

I would arrive at the door of my father’s house and remove my hijab before I entered.  On big occasions such as Christmas I had to plan trips to other cities.

After I performed Hajj, I made a promise to God to keep my hijab on.

Facing my father was the most challenging day since I became a Muslim. To challenge your parents so blatantly and see their suffering in front of you is not easy.

My father immediately turned away in disgust; he could not even look at me.

I was called numerous names from “shame” to “brainwashed”, my life is finished. He even questioned my sanity.

I was told that I am not welcome in my father’s house “with that thing on your head”. He would not be seen with me in public, as I “was a disgrace and a shame to the family”.

After this day our relationship has slowly repaired, and with the birth of my son Yousef 2 years ago, my relationship with my father has changed, as he loves his grandson dearly.

I faced many challenges from my friends as well who threw all the stereotypes at me about Muslims, “your husband can marry 4 women”, “you will be oppressed and forced to wear a headscarf”, and so on.

I lived in Wollongong Australia and 20 years ago, Muslims were scarce, so I travelled up to Sydney regularly to be part of a community of Sunnis, but when I decided to search about Shiism they became hostile, insulting Shia beliefs, and I was eventually ostracised.

It has been a rough journey in terms of family and friends and till this day you never really feel that you belong anywhere.

It’s hard because Muslims form groups and cliques according to their ethnicity or nationality. If you don’t belong to their group and speak their language, you’re the odd one out. On the other hand you cannot have that same relationship with your family as before.

 

7. Please express your opinions about hijab. Has wearing the hijab had any effect on your private and social life? Wasn’t it hard at the beginning?

It took me about 6 years to put on the hijab and it happened when I went to Hajj.

It was only when I became a Shia, I felt that I had reached that level of knowledge, faith and spirituality for this great responsibility.

I had to be ready to answer questions and constantly conscious of my actions and words, because in the West, to wear hijab is to carry the flag of Islam.

So when I put on the hijab, I felt this enormous sense of responsibility on my shoulders. I saw myself as a flag of Islam; a symbol of the virtues of what it means to be a Muslim. I found myself automatically being intrinsically influenced by this piece of scarf on my head. It became deeper that the superficial layer of bodily covering.  It became connected to my sense of who I am, what I claim to be and how I portray myself.  It was like an external monitor of my internal thoughts and actions; a safeguard against the immoral inclinations of the self.  For example, I found myself being more self-conscious of my speech, interaction with others, bodily movements, choice of company I kept and places I visited.

At the same time I felt such an amazing sense of peace and happiness inside me, as I was doing it to please God. For me, the highest level of happiness is felt when someone is doing something to please God.

It gave me such a special feeling of safety, security and freedom like I never felt before as I felt liberated to walk in the street being unnoticed by men.

I was no longer a sex object for every man’s eyes.

No more wolf whistles, men approaching me for my phone number or sitting next to me on public transport.

I felt like my status had elevated with this new sense of dignity and honour that resulted from wearing my hijab.

I felt like my status had elevated with this new sense of dignity and honour that resulted from wearing my hijab.

I am no longer a fashion victim, a slave of consumerism and the beauty industry.  I found that individuals were forced to judge my character based on my inner self, not on the superficial layer of clothing.  People started to value me for my good qualities and not simply because of what I looked like.  In public places many individuals choose to stop me to ask for the time or for assistance and any vacant seat beside me is usually occupied on transportation services.  People feel a sense of security and safety when they approach me, as they sense a God fearing individual who is less likely to harm others.

However, it is not always positive, on some occasions I have experienced street insults and abuse. For example being told to “Get out of Australia”, glass bottles thrown at me, and being pushed against a wall.

8. How do you see the character of Ayatollah Khomeini (RA) as the founder of the Islamic Revolution and the eminent personality of recent Islamic history? Moreover, please tell us, how much do you know about Ayatollah Khamenie? What do you think about him?

Both of these great men are my idols and heroes. May my life be sacrificed for you both.

Reading the life history of Ayatollah Khomeini inspired me to read more about Ayatollah Khamenei, as I saw a striking similarity between them and no one more fit to be his successor than Ayatollah Khamenie.

From what I know and have seen Ayatollah Khamenie is pious and lives a simple life. He is fatherly and compassionate, visiting the orphans, families of martyrs, Christians, and crying for the oppressed people all over the world regardless of their religion.

He is intellectual and very educated with a library of over 30 thousand books. An avid reader of both Islamic and non-Islamic books.

He is brave and not afraid to speak out against injustice and tyranny and in touch with current affairs, including a connection with the youth in the West. Recently he wrote a letter to the “youth” of “Europe and North America”.

He is my marjah and I made this choice from my own research. I am a supporter of wilayat-al faqih, and when choosing a leader, I recognised the significance of a socio-political role and not merely a religious one.

When I lived in Iran for nearly 2 years under the leadership of Syed Ali Khamenie my appreciation of wilayat-i faqih grew even deeper.

In the absence of our present Imam, I feel that it is my responsibility as a Muslim to stand loyal to the present wali faqih. One must think about the big picture, and put aside their own personal desires and differences of opinions or criticisms of the current system for the sake of unity, solidarity, and empowerment of the Shia nation, keeping in mind that we are waiting and preparing for Al-Hujjah’s (a.t.f.s) reappearance.

I would also like to pay tribute to the great Imam Khomeini and all those who sacrificed their lives and fought for the Islamic Republic, as I feel we owe much to them. This revolution changed and revived the Muslim world forever.

 

9. Tell us what Islam has given you as a woman. And tell us also about the Western woman who is not Muslim, and her sufferings. Is she really ‘free’ practically speaking?

Being a Muslim has empowered me as a woman, as I am valued for my own individual character and not for my outer appearance. This is a very liberating feeling and Islam has given women this, as opposed to the Western woman who is valued only for how she looks, not for who she is.

Thank you Sister Nargis for your time and wise words. You are an inspiration to people all around the world. Your perseverance and understanding of Islam is truly inspirational. May Allah (swt) grant you all the success in this world and the hereafter. May all your deepest prayers be accepted.

We really enjoyed listening to your story and we look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Thank you to our dear audience and listeners today. May we have all learnt something from Sister Nargis.  May Allah(swt) bless you all and keep us all strong and firm on this true path.

Allahuma Ajaliwalkia Farj

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