A diverse university experience
causes Haneefah to open up to other cultures and find
out about Islam.
By Haneefah bint Stefan
The first time I
ever thought about having Islam as my religion was at
the age of 15. Reading a story in my high school
religion book about a Swedish woman who converted made
me think: How would it be if I became a Muslim? How
would it change my life?
This woman was
wearing a scarf on her head, and she was working as a
secretary. Because of my lack of knowledge about
Islam, this shocked me extremely. How can she work
with that thing on her head? Who will ever hire a
woman like that?
was that I would never become Muslim because it would
stand out and would lessen my chances of getting the
dream job. I guess this thinking depended largely on
the way I was raised. My parents are honest and
hard-working people, but they do not see the need for
religion. They see that the meaning of life is
actually inside life itself, and after it when we all
become dust, there is nothing more to it.
guess my mother respected the traditions and morals of
our Protestant Christian church, so she sent me at an
early age to a children's group, and later at the age
of 14, I was asked if I would like to go to
I agreed. I
thought that it was best to do it. Who knew, maybe I
would change my mind later and regret that I did not
go, and then I would be outside of the church. Also,
it was fun to go to these classes. We painted, sang
songs, played theatre, and went to a camp. There was
not a lot of serious people among us - most came only
because of tradition, and to get gifts, jewelry and
money from relatives on that great day when the
classes finally finished and there was a ceremony in
From this time,
I remember having strong doubts about Christianity. I
read the Bible but it did not give me what I needed.
I knew there was something I was looking for, but I
did not know what. I learned about astrology and
tried meditation and so on, but all this made me feel
even more confused.
I started to
keep a "spiritual journal". It was a small book,
which I filled with different material, religious and
non-religious. I would collect biblical verses,
poems, Hindu chants, songs, and anything that had
meaning to me.
secondary school at the age of 16. Living in a small
suburb outside of the city, I was required to transfer
to a school inside the big town. I chose the one
which was supposed to have the highest status. I
could not imagine that there would be so many foreign
after I started, I felt I was not happy. I wanted to
change my major, so I transferred from Media to
Languages and came to a new class where I knew no
one. The first people who spoke kindly to me and
became my friends were an African girl, and an Iraqi
girl who was wearing a scarf. It was so exotic to
me! All my life I had been surrounded by people of my
own background, and now I got a taste of other
cultures and life styles.
I was so
fascinated by the Iraqi girl that I started to hang
around a lot with her and also became friends with her
friends. I became famous as the Swedish person who
had no Swedish friends. It was more of a cool thing
to me - I felt I needed to distance myself from the
The Muslims of
my school sometimes had active discussions about Islam
and that impressed me very much. I thought, how can
it be that this religion is such an active part of
their lives? It is not like Christianity, it is alive
not dead! And it has an impact on everything in their
One day when I
went with my father to a second hand market, I looked
for some books and found an old translation of the
Quran in the Swedish language. I decided to buy it
for historical purposes, and to gain a greater
understanding of my friends' religion.
By now, I
started to add Islamic items to my journal. I was
writing the opening Surat Al-Fatiha, and its
translation. I also memorized it. I had no motive
behind doing so, I was just interested in it.
time, I was totally absorbed in the Quran. I felt
like I had found a real treasure. There was something
drawing me to it - something not logical, especially
since this translation which I had, was written by an
Orientalist and contained a number of serious faults.
The worst thing of all was that the author pointed to
supposed faults in the order in which the verses
came. He said that it was evident that some verses
should change place. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God)
that I learned the truth by asking my friend.
I went to my
Iraqi friend, and told her that I was interested in
Islam. She became very shocked and felt a need to sit
down or else she would pass out! After the shock
settled, she decided to take me to an Islamic
organization and there I got some books, pamphlets and
the phone number of another Swedish woman who had
I was afraid of
what my family would say, and indeed my mother became
outraged when I told her that I wanted to become a
Muslim. The whole family searched my room and threw
away my Islamic books. They said that Islam was like
a cult and that I was brainwashed.
But this did not
stop me. In the month of July 2001, I declared my
shahada (testimony of faith) openly. I had called the
Swedish woman who's phone number I had been given, and
she arranged Islamic lessons in her home. I went to
her villa, which had a garden, and we prayed the zhuhr
(forenoon) prayer there in the open air. For me this
was a symbolical act, because in my society it is
something not appreciated to show acts of worship
openly. I felt so free and could care less about what
other people would think.
It was with a
loud and proud voice by which I said the words which
undoubtedly has had the strongest impact on my entire
Ashhadu an laa
ilaaha illa Allah, wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasool
I bear witness
that there is no deity worthy of worship save God;
And I bear
witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
No other single
sentence has influenced me as this one has.