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From Windmills to Minarets

By: Nourdeen Wildeman
Date: September 1st 2009
Waar: OnIslam

I usually don't do this. That is, I usually don't take this much time to tell anyone how I converted to Islam,or should I say, how I came back to Islam.

See, when people find out you've become a Muslim, you always get the same questions over and over again. How did your parents react to it? Were you in love with a Muslim woman? Are you accepted within the Islamic community as a convert?

But most of all, people ask me: Why did you convert to Islam?

I found it shocking that even Muslims ask me why I converted to Islam. "Well, this is the one true religion, remember?" is my usual reply. I did not crash my car into a tree and almost die, I did not have a moment when I saw the light. I don't even know exactly when I became a Muslim.

Some people are surprised, but I wasn't even looking for God. I wasn't looking for a reason in life. I wasn't looking for a purpose.

Actually, I was just looking for a book. I walked into a bookstore not knowing what I would buy. This must have been somewhere in the year 2003 or 2004. I like to read, with a special interest in the books sold in the store somewhere between "recent history", "philosophy" and "sociology".

That's where a green book caught my eye. It was called "Islam; Values, Principles and Reality". I held it in my hand, looked at it, and realized I knew quite a few Muslims but had no idea at all what they believed in.

Meanwhile, Islam is all over the news and seems to influence both internal and foreign affairs. I decided to buy the book and see what this religion is all about. I walked to the counter and bought the book, totally unaware of the four and a half year journey I had just embarked on, which would lead straight up to my Shahadah.

Before I started to read about Islam, I already had some negative associations related to this religion in mind. For example, I was wondering how a practicing Muslim could ever think he is a good pious person while at the same time he's oppressing his own wife.

Or, for instance, I would wonder why Muslims would worship a cubic stone in Makkah while statues or buildings have no power and cannot help anyone.

I could not understand why Muslims were so intolerant against other religions instead of simply saying that everybody believes in the same God. With this in mind, I started reading.

After the first book came a second one. After the second came a third, and so on. After a few years, I had read quite some books on Islam and was very surprised. I found out that almost everything that I thought was a part of Islam and which I opposed to, was actually opposed by Islam.

It turned out that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)had said that one can see how good a believer is by the way he treats his wife. I found out that Muslims don't worship the Kabah, they rather oppose worshipping statues or the like.

I found that the Islamic civilization in all of its history - except maybe the most recent ages - was the best example of religious tolerance on the face of the planet.

I did not have to be convinced of most of the things Islam tells us to do or how to behave, since I found a lot of basic rules I already agreed upon before learning about Islam. I read my own opinion on a lot of subjects, but the books kept on saying "this is Islam".

Not much dawah was done in my surroundings back then. Well, not proactive anyway. The help I got was what I asked for when talking to people around me. This doesn't say everything about how dawah is organized in the Netherlands, I just didn't have the people around me who were very much into this.

So when Ramadan came and I decided to give it a try - no book can tell you how it truly feels - I went to my Muslim co-workers and told them I would fast with them. I bought a Quran and found the 30-day schedule on the Internet.

When I told the others about reading the full Quran and fasting in Shawwal [the lunar month after Ramadan], some of them had never heard of this or done it themselves. I brought milk and dates to work and explained to them how this was a sunnah to follow.

I told them that if they didn't read their daily 1/30th part of the Quran, I didn't have anyone to ask my questions from. So we went along as a group. Their mothers or wives cooked meals we ate at work, so I experienced some new food as well.

I learned a lot that Ramadan, and so did the others. And we had a lot of fun. My first Eid turned out to be a funeral, but for the rest it was a great month.

After the month of Ramadan, I went to the mosque to pay my zakah. I figured that giving money to a good cause is a correct thing to do, so not being a Muslim was no reason for me not to pay.

This is where I first met the treasurer of the mosque in my hometown. He asked me if I was a Muslim. "No sir, I am not a Muslim," was my reply, "but I did fast the month of Ramadan."

He told me to take it easy, take my time, and never rush into things.

As months passed, I kept reading books about Islam. Most of the books I read where from non-Muslims, like Karen Armstrong. I also took some time to read what people said that was negative towards Islam. I read about religiously motivated terrorism, about clashes between civilizations, and so on.

However, I found that for every question I could raise, Islam had a convincing answer. This did not always mean that the Muslims I spoke with had a convincing answer, but most of the information I gathered on Islam came from these books.

At the end of the next Ramadan, I went back to the mosque to pay my zakah. I met the treasurer again and he recognized me. He asked me, again, if I was a Muslim.

"No sir, I am not a Muslim," was my reply, "but you told me to take it easy, right?"

He calmly shook his head and said, "Yes, take it easy, but don't take it too easy."

I now started my last year as a non-Muslim. I had already stopped drinking alcohol. I stopped smoking cigarettes. I tried to stimulate myself and others to do good, try to prevent myself and others to do wrong.

I went to Turkey on holiday and had a look inside some of the greater mosques. With every step I took, with every day that went by, I could feel the presence of God in my life grow.

I went into nature and for the first time, I could see that what was in front of me where signs of the Creator. I tried to pray sometimes - something I had never done by myself - which obviously didn't look much like the way I pray today. I kept reading and reading, but now also started to get information on Islam from the Internet.

On Hyves, a popular Dutch social networking website, I was approached by a Dutch Muslim revert. She asked if I was a Muslim and I told her I wasn't a Muslim yet. She asked me to come over to her house and meet her husband. He was a Muslim by birth, practicing, and born in Egypt.

He and I had dinner together and then talked the rest of the evening about Islam. The second time I was there, he showed me the correct way to pray (upon my request). I tried to do it as good as I could and he was watching me try. When we took a short break, he asked me the question.

"So, do you think you're ready to do this?"

"Yes, I think I'm ready."

I realized that I had already become a Muslim. I didn't take my Shahadah yet, so it wasn't official, but somewhere in the previous years I had become a Muslim. I had come to believe that there is no God to be worshiped besides the one true God, the Creator.

I had come to believe that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was his messenger, the final messenger, who had part in completing the religion. I wanted to fast, I wanted to pay zakah, I wanted to make my salah [Prayers], I still dream of the hajj every day.

My path was through books, I came through the theory. It was a rational choice, not an emotional choice. I looked at the information which was out there, compared and contemplated. Islam was the answer to every question. I knew that if I would not start calling myself a Muslim, I'd be a hypocrite.

One or two weeks later, he and I went to the mosque in his home town. He had already talked to the imam so they all knew I was coming. My dad came along and brought a camera.

The imam said the Shahadah, bit by bit. I repeated, bit by bit.

As the imam recited a duaa [supplication], my Egyptian brother translated it to Dutch for me. I felt like I had been running for miles and miles and now reached the finish line. I mean literally, I was out of breath as if I had been running. I slowly got back my breath, I felt calm and happy.

Suddenly I realized, finally, I had become Nourdeen.

I went to the mosque in my hometown. As I entered the building, I met the treasurer. He asked me, again, if I was a Muslim.

"Yes sir, I am, and my name is Nourdeen!" I said with a smile.

"Alhamdulillah," he replied, quickly to add: "...at last!"