True Story: I’m Muslim


This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things.  This is the story of Yassmin and her Muslim faith.Tell us a bit about yourself!
I like to think that I am everything people don’t expect.  I just turned 20, I’m in my final year of mechanical engineering and the manager and chassis designer of the University of Queensland Race Car Team! Also, when I was 16, I founded the organisation Youth Without Borders, which is based out of Australia and works internationally.  I am also a big fan of sport; I LIVE for soccer, F1, cycling and I have been boxing for a few years.  What do I do for fun? I love travelling, meeting new people, reading heaps, music, meaningful conversations and really just enjoying all the opportunities I have been blessed with in life!I guess I should mention that I am a Sudanese born, Egyptian/Moroccan/Turkish Muslim female who was brought up in Australia.

For those of us who don’t know, what are the basic tenets of Islam?

There are five pillars of Islam and these are considered the five most important things in the religion.

The first is Shahadah in Arabic, which is the Declaration of Belief.  It is essentially a single statement that says (translated) There is no god but God, and [he Prophet] Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is the messenger of God. The Shahdah simply affirms the basic premise of Islam and saying it honestly and believing in it is all that is required to convert to Islam.

The second pillar is Salah, or Prayer. Muslims are required to pray five times a day, at prescribed times (around dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and night).  The prayers are quite meditative and are often a welcome break from the day.  It’s nice to take time out, pray, reflect and then return to your daily business.

The third pillar is Sawm, or Fasting.  Every year, Muslims take part in the Fasting of Ramadaan, an entire month every year where we don’t eat or drink anything from dawn till dusk every day.  It is the holy month of the year and good deeds are ‘given more brownie points.’  You are not only fasting from food but from all bad acts – it is almost a detox for the soul. At the end of the month, we have a festival called Eid and it is pretty much a massive feast!

The fourth pillar is Zakaah, or charity.  Every Muslim is required to donate a portion of their earnings to charity every year for the betterment of society.  Usually, you donate 2.5% of your saved money in the last (lunar) year to charity and if you can’t pay it, you can offer ‘good deeds.’

The fifth pillar is Hajj, or pilgrimage.  Every Muslim who has the money and capacity to do so is obliged to do the Pilgrimage to Mecca. As a bonus, all your sins are wiped away.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Muslims?
I think the two biggest misconceptions are that we are a violent religion and that we are “oppressive to women.”   Both, I am pleased to report, are totally false.  The word “Islam” derives from the Arabic word “Salam” which means peace!  It’s all about being good, doing everything in moderation and taking care of others – essentially just like every other religion.

Oppressing women is a cultural issue; it’s definitely not religion-based.  In fact, when Islam was introduced, it brought with it a whole bunch of revolutionary, women-empowering concepts – it allowed women to own their own land and property.

I think many of the misconceptions come from the fact that people mistake culture for Islam.  Some people love using religion as an excuse for their warped ways of thinking!  I like to think that people should judge Muslims by the religion and not judge the religion by the people that practice it.

How would you define your relationship with your faith?

I think as I have grown older, I have have come to understand my religion and appreciate its nuances a lot more.  For me, Islam is a way of life.  I would like to think that I am somewhat devout; I pray (mostly!), fast, try to be as good as I can, but then again – I am not perfect.

I believe that religion is a deeply personal thing so I would never judge anyone else’s beliefs. I would never force my beliefs down other people’s throats. We are actually told to allow everyone to choose their own path!

Have you ever questioned your faith or considered another religion?
I have questioned it to learn more but I have always found answers.  I haven’t really considered any other religions because I feel secure and have faith in my current belief system.  I believe questioning is important though and will always do it.

I know you live in Australia now.  Is there a large Muslim population in your city?  How do people react to your faith?
There isn’t a massive Muslim population where I live, but it is growing.  I think people in general are curious or wary, simply because they don’t know much about Islam other than what they see on the news.  I guess that’s why I always encourage people to ask me questions, to find out more…because I am believe that conversation and dialogue is important.

What does Islam bring to your life?
It gives me a framework for life.  I guess I like to think of it like this: if I had questions about money, I would go to an accountant and accept what they had to say.  For how to ‘live life’, I go to my religion and follow that.  Islam is my way of life,  but it isn’t all I am.  I am a Muslim, but I am also a sister, an engineer, a woman… all are part of who I am and they make the ‘Yassmin’ Package!

What advice do you have for those who are interested in exploring Islam?
Well you can email me for more info if you are interested! I am not an expert though, so I would recommend checking out some books or even approaching a local mosque and asking some questions.  The net is great, but be careful as there is a lot of un-substantiated writing and hate mixed in.  Oh, and also, if you know someone that is Muslim – just ask! Most of us are usually pretty happy to tell you about it and welcome the open conversations.

Are any of you Muslim?  Any questions for Yassmin?

16 Comments

Jessica

I "like" the decisive mentioning of islam as religion vs. its cultural manifestations where you can attribute almost everything to religion, even when such attributes cannot be made. This goes for any religion, a healthy knowledge of its roots. I hear it quite often that this or that is the Religion when it is actually culture. I am not muslim but I have friends who are. Learning on what's in the koran and what really isn't and then inserting that in a discussion is not popular but I'll continue.
All my best to you!

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April in Autumn

I loved the culture vs religion point. Like Jessica said, it's true for all religions. It sucks for people think just because you're Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, atheist, whatever you obviously think and act a certain way. I'm always amazed at what people think a religion professes because of some misguided followers. Like Gandhi said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

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International Student Services

I really liked this. I see a lot of parallels with people talking about extremists vs true Muslims and with my own religion in polygamy vs true Mormonism. True Mormons aren't polygamists.

I learned a lot through this, so thank you!

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Honey Bee

Wow, I can't believe we're at a stage where "I'm a Muslim" comes into "interesting/challenging/amazing things" whereas being a part of other religions necessarily doesn't. But I guess it's right in a way… I am a Muslim, too, Alhumdulillah, so i can definitely vouch for it being an 'interesting' or an 'amazing' thing. Thanks for this post. It tackles the most common issue that people have with Islam, ie, the religious vs cultural identity. I would like it if i could have Yassmin's email, as she herself offers to offer any answers we have questions abt. Although I'm a Muslim, I have some queries that I could use answers to. Thanks again, Yes & Yes.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Hi Honey Bee!

I've actually been doing my best to profile all the major, non-Christian religions. If you look through the True Story archive, you'll see interviews with a Hindu, a Mormon, a Wiccan and an Atheist. I'm trying to find a Buddhist, a Hasidic Jew and a Jehovah's Witness 🙂

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Jodi

Major non-Christian religions? You mean other than on Christianity because Christianity is just one religion.

In choosing not to do one on Christianity isn't that severely biased? What assumptions are you making in choosing not to highlight Christianity- that it's not popular or trendy enough??

I did enjoy reading the article though.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Jodi,

I'm not interviewing anybody about being Christian because the vast majority of Yes and Yes readers are English speakers from western countries. Even if they're not Christian, they probably know many, many people who are and were raised around Christian culture. I, personally, think doing a "True Story: I'm Christian" would be akin to doing "True Story: I'm Married" or "True Story: I Went To College" aka not particularly unusual 🙂

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Kristie

I would like to see a "True Story, I'm Mormon" done from someone who is a current and active member, rather than someone who used to be a member. I think it's especially interesting given Mitt Romney is a candidate for president.

*And just a side note- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a Christian religion, despite what Robert Jeffress says.

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Jodi

Sarah, thanks for your response! I really appreciate your explanation! And reading Kristie's response I can see why "Christian religions" might make sense. Although, I personally don't consider Mormons to be Christian.

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irelassred

Hey, Sarah! I enjoy this series so much. I would like to mention though that LDS Mormons as well as Jehovah's Witness are both under the umbrella of Christian denominations. Not trying to be nit-picky, but thought you would want to make note of it.
I really enjoyed hearing Yassmin's take on her religion.

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Jodi

irelassred, it's really a matter of perspective. Most mainstream Christians would never consider Mormons and/or Jehovah's Witnesses to be Christian. Several of their beliefs are in fact anti-Christian, the primary one being that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is God. To not believe in Christ is to not be Christian. But these comments have drifted way off topic…

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j.lowe

Thanks for this! I really enjoyed reading this. I have been trying to understand other religions better with as open of a mind as is possible for me. Breaking down each of the Muslim pillars of faith was really great and helped it make sense for me.

I liked what you had to say about cultural dynamics impacting the expression of the Muslim faith and standards. I find myself making the exact same arguments/defenses when I discuss the Christian faith and how intertwined it is from American/Western culture. I think this is a struggle all religious practitioners face – how to seek spiritual meaning without becoming overly dogmatic about specific cultural behaviors. It's pretty amazing what we have in common when we don't get caught up on the differences.

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j.lowe

Sarah,

I agree with your approach to share stories about non-Christian faiths, since the majority of your readers are Western which is in itself steeped in a Christian background. But have you considered interviewing a Christian fundamentalist or ex-fundamentalist? I used to be a Christian fundamentalist. I ran with circles who believed women should only wear knee or ankle-length skirts and dresses, permitted their people to listen only to hymns (because ALL other music is of the devil), didn't permit their members to attend movie theaters, on top of the more mainstream conservative evangelical beliefs. In fact, in my circles the religious right and conservative evangelicals were too liberal and compromising. I've found both a lot of people who can totally relate to what I've gone through and a lot of people for whom that existence is totally alien. Anyways, just some food for thought. 🙂

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Syamira

I know this was posted in 2011, but I'd just like to say thank you to both Yassmin and to YesAndYes for doing this interview. Too often is Islam portrayed in a harmful or degrading light and I'm happy to see someone say what Islam really is all about. I especially appreciated your response to your relationship with your faith. 🙂

A very good read and thank you. 🙂

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YAY!

This is wonderful. I converted to Islam as a teenager (I'm ex-christian) alhamdulillah and this post really cheered me up. I think I'll check out some other posts as well.

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