Belgian Convert Shares His Story and Thoughts

It was the first chapter of the Quran, Surah Al fatiha. That’s the Surah with which you begin every prayer. I found it so wonderful. It was as if God was speaking to me. That first sentence “Bismi Allah Ar-Rahmani Ar-Rahim”. That book begins: In the Name of ALLAH, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

You can’t change your system from one day to next, like a robot. That takes time. I adapted to praying five times a day in quite a child like way. I told myself: This week I’ll pray once, next twice, then three times….Until finally, I was praying five times. And now those five prayers have become a routine. I don’t drink alcohol anymore. I discussed it with my sister recently, because she enjoys drinking wine. It’s so long since I’ve drunk wine that I’ve even forgotten how it tastes. My sister asked me: Don’t you long for it? I couldn’t go without wine or without chip shop sausages. But new Muslims make that switch easily.

People often ask: How can you wear a headscarf? How can you give up eating pork? People see that as a problem. The headscarf is the best example. My mum once said: It’s 33 degrees and women are wearing headscarves. That can’t be healthy. People who don’t see it from an Islamic perspective see it as burden. Muslims see it from a different perspective. Not better or worse, just different. For us, it’s a blessing.

I told my father at 2 am. It was really quite. You could even hear insects buzzing outside. I said: I have to tell you something. I remember the look he gave me. He said: You’re not gay, Are you? I said: No, Dad. Calm down, don’t worry. It’s actually something different. By then he had already seen the Quran, prayer mats and Islamic prayer beads in my room. So he had an inkling something was going on. He then completed his sentence and said: So what is it that you have to tell me so urgently? You haven’t become a Muslim?.

For a moment I thought the words would stick in my throat. But my faith was really strong. I thought, I have faith in God and I have faith in my family. Things will work out. Sometimes things just need time to sort themselves out. So I told him: Dad, I’ve converted. I wanted to tell you. But I waited a year so that you’d see.

He is still studying. He is still the same Stijn. He still likes to play football. For 10 seconds he didn’t say anything it was as if he hadn’t heard me. I was about to repeat it, to be sure. But then he started to cry and shout. And that really hit me hard, because my dad is a strong man who has always supported his family. And I’d never seen him shed a tear. It breaks you when you make your dad cry. So I was also very upset at first. But it all worked out in time.

I think you can choose with whom you can fall in love. For example, if you have certain principles that I find appealing, then I’ll continue to talk to you. But if we are total opposites, I know we’ll never find common ground. There is no compulsion in Islam. I can’t force you to wear a Hijab. I can’t force you to pray. That’s your choice. That’s between you and God. Naturally I would like my wife to be a Muslim. But we Muslims believe in pre-destiny. Your fate is not in your hands. I would describe my integration into the Muslim community as follows: the five years I now have behind me as a convert that makes it sound like work experience; those five years have been five years of let’s call “Moroccanisation”. I haven’t renounced my roots. I am still proud to be Belgian and Flemish.

But during Ramadan you naturally go to the Mosque. Instead of meat and potatoes you eat a tajine or couscous. Instead of watching the game with a beer, you drink mint tea. Such little things make integration into the Muslim community easier. Instead of giving a woman kisses, you now shake her hand. Instead of.. For example you used to go out with Belgian friends and you did things..how shall I put it…that weren’t very virtuous. With Moroccan friends you’d be very ashamed of that. With Flemish friends you can discuss things that don’t seem shameful, but that are taboo in Islam or other cultures. For example you can’t say you find a girl pretty in front of Moroccan parents or grand parents. That’s not done. That’s taboo. It’s shameful. Belgian parents would chuckle and say: Have you asked for her number?. Having a foot in both of these worlds, gives you a broader perspective.

It also makes you more appreciative. There are lots of boys and girls who would like to convert. I’ve talked to several who said: if my family’s attitude were different, I’d already have converted. I’ll tell my parents when I leave home. The same applies to wearing headscarves.

Before I converted, I was also happy. I had my life. I had my friends. The great difference between being religious and not is the perspective from which you see things. I am happy now too from a different perspective. That’s the problem; people see things as black and white, but there is actually a large gray area. A burden to the one is blessing to other. And vice versa.