“…And when you have taken a decision put your trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust in Him” (surah Ali Imran 3: 159)
Previously I had thought that it would be easy for me to be a Muslimah. Just recite the syahadah and automatically my marriage would be dissolved. The truth is, it is very difficult. Malaysian law stipulates that as soon as a spouse converts into Islam, he or she is no longer under the civil court. If I were to go ahead with my decision to convert without first divorcing my then-husband D, I would lose my right to divorce my him as I would be placed under the Syariah court. He would be the spouse with the right to divorce me, and only if he wants to. Otherwise, I would be bound to him by the civil law, and would have no right for another marriage, even through the Syariah court.
I was at a loss. I was studying fulltime, I didn’t have much time, I didn’t know any lawyer, and I didn’t have enough money to go to court. Besides, D might not agree to divorce me. My greatest fear was that I might end up in the grave as a non-Muslim, before I end up in the magistrate’s chamber. I needed help and fast. I said a silent prayer to Allah for his guidance and left to meet my friend, Z. Alhamdulillah, I met the right person. Z recommended me her own lawyer’s office in town. Within an hour, based on the address given, I stepped into the office. I told the clerk what I wanted to do, got a lawyer and an estimated amount of payment for the divorce proceeding to take place.
I had the will but I didn’t have the money. RM2500 may seem little but I was surviving on half-pay of RM500 a month. However, I managed to secure a loan from my mother and when my government loan arrived, I returned her the amount. In order to get D’s signature, I agreed not to ask for anything from our broken 9-year marriage. Besides, I was worried that should he found out about my intention to convert to Islam, he would not put down his signature on the documents. I didn't want to wait for another 5 years if he decided to challenge me in court. Material possessions were not as important as Islam.
Finally it was settled. The documents were completed. The lawyer told me that usually it would take about 3 months for the documents to reach the court, but mine took only 2 months. The waiting inside the magistrate court was 2 hours but it took only 10 minutes for the interview and for the magistrate to approve our divorce. But then we would had to wait 3 months for the marriage to be legally dissolved.
I couldn’t wait 3 months. I had waited long enough so I took my chances. A day after my university registration, I went straight to Pusat Islam which is in the campus ground itself. Unfortunately I was late and everyone else had gone home, except for a clerk. I told her my intention and she told me to call the next day. However as Allah wills it, earlier that day I had approached my tutor a Malay lady, and she recommended me another lecturer, who is also a convert. I had met this lecturer only once before but being the class representative, I had his phone number, so I messaged him and he told me to be at his office the next morning. So I met him at his office. The first question he asked was, when I wanted to recite the syahadah. I said I had waited for a long time and that I was ready. Immediately Dr.K made a phone call to Pusat Islam to fix an appointment. We were joined by another lecturer, and after 10 minutes at Pusat Islam, I emerged from the building as a Muslim. Alhamdulillah. I was later told that usually people who converted there took days to prepare for the big event but mine was simple and quick, witnessed by seven people.
Frankly, I wasn’t prepared to recite the syahadah that day. I had on a long-sleeved blouse and long pants, hardly the ideal garments one would wear on the day she is to be a Muslimah. In fact, I was still contemplating a suitable Islamic name for myself. I had wanted it to be my own, my own choice. The problem was, I had a few good choices. But when Dr.K asked me if I had chosen one, I spontaneously replied, “Yes, Aliya.” And Aliya it would be. Nur Aliya Yeoh binti Abdullah.
I had chosen Aliya because it has a nice ring to it, has a good meaning, and is easy to remember. Later I found out that it is a form of al‘Aliyy, one among the Asmaa-ullaah al-Husna. Syukur Alhamdulillah.
Two weeks after that, when my civil marriage had been legally dissolved, I went to the Islam Religious Office and officially declared myself a Muslim.