SHAFAQNA- Jennah Heydari lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, Nafe Heydari and her youngest son. She has two sons; the older son is already away in college. She is a book illustrator and is currently working on a children’s book that she wrote and has been illustrating about a little girl who wears hijab for the first time “Dhoha’s first hijab”.
She helps run an online support group called the Revert Muslims Association, currently organized and maintained by some very devoted Muslims. She started this group back in 2005 as a way to keep new Muslims connected, supported and networked with those, more knowledgeable.
Talking about the path she passed by to Islam Ms Heydari said “my path to Islam started back in 2000 after the birth of my second son. There was a miscalculation of spinal anaesthetic used during the operation. As I was in the middle of a caesarean section I began to feel everything, the anaesthetic stopped working. I started to panic and struggle and call out to the Doctors. I looked over at my new born son, as the nurses cleaned him up and I started to cry. I realized I may not get to know him and that I also may not ever see my first born son again. As I laid there I noticed that the pain was no longer my primary focus, there was something else happening. I felt my soul falling away from my body, as if it was being pulled from me. At that moment I thought I was going to die. Before my soul had completely left my body the Doctors finished the operation. After this point my life had changed dramatically. I began to find books and go on the Internet to research anything I could find about the soul. Eventually I started reading about various religions, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam and even a little Buddhism. I had no real direction, but I knew I wanted answers. I did not grow up in a religious home, yet, as a child I believed in God. When I was really young, I always felt compelled to pray but I kept it private. Looking back, I believe this was fitrah and that even without parental or environmental guidance I innately knew that God existed. After my near-death experience it was a kind of relief to acknowledge my belief in God again. In 2005, my life was in shambles as my difficult marriage fell apart. I moved out on my own and was suddenly a single Mother. During this upsetting time I had met a Muslim man on the Internet. It was all a strange coincidence. I started playing a game with my sons online. The man, online, on this game, was so kind and polite. Little did I knew, one day, he would be my husband. We talked about the game, at first but then when I found out he was Muslim we talked mostly about Islam. I also found out he was Iraqi but was born in Iran, growing up in Qom. That he was Shi’a and that he was a Sayyid. He was very open-minded and believed that anyone could be Muslim, that it’s not exclusive to any one group of people. He never showed prejudice that I was who I was, older and with children and a Western woman with no religion. Later coming to Canada to marry me in 2007, he never allowed his culture to get in the way of his deen(faith). The fact that I was older, divorced with children, was not going to stop him from marrying me. He believed in me and we met on a pious level before any other connection was ever made. But before all that, early 2005 I became more and more interested in Islam and he was very helpful with sending Islamic material for me to read. He sent me not only information on Shi’a Islam but on all the various sects. He thought it was a good idea that I understand the path I chose and that he did not want to alter my perception of Islam or show a bias view. He said whatever path I choose will be my path. I kept an open mind and read everything I could, on different sects of Islam and the history of Islam and certainly about the Ahlulbayt (as). Soon I was spending my entire day researching Islam and Islam was all I could think about.
About prophet of Islam Jannah told Mehr News that when she read about the Prophet of Islam, learning he had the highest moral conduct for all mankind, her love for the Prophet (pbuh) and his family began to grow very quickly. “I was so taken in by his story, that he was an orphan, with little education and that he overcame so much, as a true believer. I picked up as many books as I could, on biographies of the Prophet. As I knew more and more of the Prophet and his sublime behavior, I could relate to Islam more and more. When I learned about his love, the respect and honour that he had for his older devoted wife, Khadija (as), I soon saw Muslims in a different light. My connection, to Islam, grew closer as my love for the Prophet of Islam and his family lit up inside me.”
She added that when she grew up in Islam she recognized Muslims in the news, on TV who were portrayed as angry, always yelling or screaming and certainly having no regard for women. Sadly the news coverage was only of Muslims in a state of alarm and shaped as negatively as possible. “I never saw anything else. I had no good reference to go on when it came to Muslims. As I got older, I never really paid attention to Islam, until the birth of my second son. At that time, I remember wondering a little more about who Muslims were, who was the Prophet of Islam and what were their beliefs.
To answer a question about the elements effecting his faith Ms Heydari said that she was researching Islamc day and night and her life was changing and there were certain moments where she realized that what she was reading seemed so familiar to her, “Islam gave me this feeling I was coming home. I would cry, at night, as the beauty of Islam was incredibly overwhelming at times. I began to learn prayer and how to read in Arabic, through audio recordings. I would recite Al-Fatiha over and over and it made me feel calm and at peace, it was how I rejuvenated myself. At other points, I remembered, parts of my life, in childhood, that when looking back, were signs that Allah(Swt) was always in my life. The more I read the more my experience, when giving birth to my second son, began to make sense to me. I knew life was no longer going to look and feel the same ever again.”
She went on saying that she searched about different religions and became interested to have Quran.
One particular day, when I went to the local book store found an English paperback copy of the Qur’an. I was delighted to see it there, it was not like the Qur’an’s I had seen pictures of, on the Internet, but it was all I could find and so I purchased it. Alhamdulillah at that moment I knew I was Muslim. Shortly after this point, I took my shahada. As a western citizen what does the western civilization lack which made you towards a new system like Islam? I think that question is answered, for me, by the concept of hijab. As a western girl, growing up in Montreal, Quebec, I was, of course, influenced by the media, by my peers. Although I was stubborn and so I was inclined to do things my own way. Wearing baggy clothes was something that appealed to me, even though not everyone appreciated my sense of style. It was all very ironic, as I began to read about hijab, I pondered the idea of feminism and women’s rights.
“Feminism is but a tool to mislead women, created by the Western ideology. Western society want the woman to first show of her appearance than her personality; then all behave in that way in order to be welcomed to society. These are beliefs that feminism inculcates to women, misleading them in fact.”
As a woman in the west you’re told that one way to freedom is to dress provocatively and to even be a little promiscuous. It’s ok, everyone does it, (you think to yourself) it’s normal; it’s a way to show you’re a strong woman, secure and in charge. Growing up, adults will say such things as “You shouldn’t hide what God gave you” or “Let the world see how pretty you are.” These kinds of statements are a means to push you towards exposing yourself through decorative tight-fitting clothing. You learn that in fact, it’s shameful to hide your body. Our society wants us to find recognition in our appearance, we don’t want to be the anomaly, we must fit in, dress and act like everyone else, we want acceptance. Looking back I was very brainwashed by this idea that society ruled and they were who I worshipped, I sought their approval. Even with my stubborn mentality I still wanted the world to see me like everyone else. Looking at women who covered-up, with abaya, I assumed they must be oppressed. Without exposing yourself through your clothing, how can you know if you’ll be accepted? I foolishly thought.
When I began to wear hijab, at first, it was difficult. I was in a very white, Christian town. There was no other Muslim woman or hijabi for miles and miles. My family would not be easy with hijab. On the other side I wasn’t acquainted with the concept either. The influence of the media was not something to be overlooked. But as I converted to Islam I had to observe the dressing code,” she continued.
I was letting the world know I was Muslim and I soon dealt with a lot of adversity. Having a stubborn personality fit well as I convinced myself that nobody was going to stop me from doing what I felt right. Wearing hijab was what was taking me closer to Allah(Swt) and even though I was going to face terrible name-calling and angry glares from people, I was not going to let it change the path I was on. As mentioned it was all very ironic because hijab, covering up, became my freedom. I no longer felt as though men looked at me as an item on a shelf, women no longer saw me as someone they had to compete with, to consider my choice in designer-wear. I finally felt comfortable.
I believe people now saw me for who I was, no longer basing their opinions of me by my appearance. Although, hijab can be off-putting once people get to know me, they look past my hijab. As the years went by and I became strong in my iman [faith], my hijab became a part of me, it was an extension of me. Allah(Swt) blesses us with incredible strength when we wear hijab. People cursed me in the streets but I kept on walking, my hijab became my shield. In a time when the dominance systems and media giants have waged attempts to move the world in the path to atheism, what would you propose as the reasons why some people find Islam favorable? It’s an interesting question; in fact Atheism was a big part of my life, before finding Islam. As I mentioned I grew up in a non-religious home. My mother was a non-practicing Protestant and my father was Agnostic, maybe even Atheist at times. Religion and God was never brought up. I had two brothers, of whom proclaimed themselves Atheist in one form or another. Most of my friends had no religious connection.
I honestly believe, Atheist or not, that everyone is searching; we’re all on a quest for answers at some point in our life. We’re eager to belong to a belief system, a way to try to figure it all out. Atheism is just another answer for someone. To me, it’s a cold and darkened journey to nothing. The path of an Atheist leads to uncomfortable answers, not because the answers are based in science, science helps us to understand facts; it is because many of their answers have no real substance. In Islam the answers we receive are received on many different levels, we have our faith, our emotions, that which is lacking for an Atheist man. I find it interesting that an Atheist will call himself open-minded. I realized after becoming Muslim, how close-minded I had been as an Agnostic. An open mind is found when you let your mind speaks but you also allow your heart to speak. An open-mind is when you discover your soul and when you step back and see life from an entirely different perspective. Islam can answer so many questions, but you must be committed to truly wanting the answers. Islam will give you the answers but only if you’re truly seeking them out.
Making points to intellectual needs Ms Heydari mentioned that those who do come from an Atheist path, to Islam, recognize the immediate comfort that’s found in the answers that Islam gives you. It’s not only the comfort in discovering that death is not the end and that life continues in a different realm. It’s that an Atheist who considers himself/herself an intellectual can quench that thirst through Islam, because the answers are always solid. Islam, differs from other religions, it truly is grounded in facts and in science and the answers found in the Qur’an, in hadith are driven with so much sense and without contradiction. “The Qur’an lays out how we live our lives as Muslims and Allah(swt) gives us the ability to research and gain the knowledge to become a stronger Muslim. If something doesn’t sound right, to me, I continue my research and I am always satisfied with the final answers.” Islam can draw in the strongest Atheist because it’s so factual, so relevant and so riveted in science and in answers that can meet you on many different levels.
“Allah(Swt) wishes us to seek knowledge, it is the path of worship that will only lead us to paradise. My husband has always said being a skeptic is an important part of being a Muslim. Atheists do not own the word ‘skeptic’. Allah (Swt) does not want us to be sheep; we are encouraged to think critically and logically. The more we know the stronger our faith. Doubt is not the enemy; it is part of the process to becoming a better Muslim. Every rewarding answer takes you closer to Him.”
She also mentioned that Islamic propaganda is a constant battle in the west. It’s not something that’s going to stop any time soon. The battle to squash Islam is ever rising because Islam is a threat to the way people think, act and feel. The ignorant perpetuate the problem because thinking too hard about something is not easy for them. It’s much easier to just go with the flow.
“If society tells us to like something, we like it, if society tells us to hate something, we hate it. Ignorance is a dark and heavy door that is difficult to open. I believe the best method or approach towards such mentalities propagating against Islam is through actions rather than through words. Although you must learn when to walk away, sometimes the battle is not worth it, some doors will never open. I have found my best results are through a gentle dawah. If you set good examples, for the ignorant, you show kindness to all people, smile, be patient and extend yourself even when it’s not comfortable for you, people will ask who you are and what you believe. It’s always so heart-warming when someone with closed eyes begins to finally open them.”
At the end MS Jennah Heydari mentioned there is nothing greater than inspiration to her. When people discover Islam, they all do it very differently and some stories are difficult journeys and others are not so difficult. What they all share in common is that they are an awakening of a Muslim and that’s a beautiful thing. I would recommend those curious about Islam, to read reversion stories and consider their own journeys, their own beliefs. The Revert Muslims Association, website, has quite a large collection of these stories. We must remember that we only have this one life, the lessons will come quickly and before we know it, we will be at the end, without the answers. Inshallah that won’t happen.”