Allah swt took the matter from my hands. My lecturer asked me during the last class, the day after my conversion, why I was covering my head with a shawl. I told the truth; that I was a mualaf. It sent shock-waveS across the hall as classmates and friends found out the meaning of the word ‘mualaf’. Within hourS, I was bombarded with questions, frowned at, and even a few actually scolded me as people recovered from the shocking news of my divorce and conversion to Islam.
“Why of all religion, Islam?
What is so special about Islam anyway?
Why choose Islam? Why not Christianity?
So are you a Malay or a Chinese now?
Who chose your Islamic name for you?
So who is your Malay boyfriend?
Have you told your family? What did they say?
So you have to pray 5 times a day la. Wow, once a day is hard enough for me.
Have you learned to doa?
Gosh, now you have to puasa la.
Won’t you miss eating pork?
Haiyahh too bad, now you cannot join us for makan-makan.
So have you gone for cutting? What’s that word, ohh.. khatan (hehehe).
Are you crazy? Have you gone out of your mind?
What is the real reason for converting to Islam?
You have disgraced yourself and your parents.
People are laughing at you. They said you are having an affair”
I answered as best as I could. I became the eye of the hurricane, remaining calm and collected while all around was confusion and gossips. Somebody actually took the trouble to inform my father and the next thing I knew, my mother called to inform that I was barred from going home. In other words, I’ve been thrown out of my family house. I had foreseen their reaction, so prior to that, I had taken most of my important possessions to the hostel. Being banned from the family home and unable to go back to my own because my ex-husband still resides there made me a hostel dweller for a year, shifting from block to block. However, I supposed I was better-off than most mualafs who had no friends, no job, and no place to stay.
Those were challenging days. My Malay friends tried to help but they didn’t know how because they had never dealt with a mualaf before. They too were afraid of asking too much, afraid of intruding. I myself didn’t know how to ask, and what to ask. Being alone and surviving on my own after my broken marriage had made me tough and independent, but also too proud to ask for help. I was the only mualaf undergraduate who was enlisted at Pusat Islam so I had nobody to share my inner thoughts with. Being born Muslims, they couldn’t understand the problems I was facing as I struggled to take wuduk, perform prayers and practise the Muslim way of life. I tried to remember the long doa makan, etc but often than not, I forgot because they’re just too long and too many to memorise in a short time. So I took shortcuts, remembering to say ‘Bismillah’ and ‘Alhamdulillah’ for the most common actions. I was also busy with my studies so I could not attend special courses for converts at Perkim. If I were absent from Pusat Islam, the staff there would not find me. Their jobs at the building did not require them to teach me to be a good Muslim. So I realised that if I want things done, I’d have to ask. I asked for Iqra lessons and was taught informally by the staff. I asked and was shown how to perform the prayer. I asked to learn to recite simple surahs and was taught al-Ikhlas and an-Nas. I learned within a month what took a born-Muslim more than a decade to master.
But basically I was alone. Being alone is dangerous for a newly converted Muslim. There are many temptations and a tendency to give up. I had ten years of knowledge about Islam but knowledge from books alone is not sufficient to help me perform the rites. Fasting is easier than performing the solat. Standing at the tap and taking the wuduk was not easy when born Muslims waited in turn for me to finish. I felt as if I was being assessed by pairs of eyes. Though I knew the steps, I was afraid of making mistakes. Also the telekong and kain were strange garments. The kain which my friends helped me to buy was just like a piece of sarong without strings nor bands, only longer and wider. I didn’t know how to wear the kain properly because my younger roommate couldn’t tell me either. Hers had a drawstring. Astaghfirullaahal adziim. I tied the kain like a sarong around my waist but it kept falling off until one day, a kind sister showed me the correct way of tying one before the terawih prayer at the mosque.
Memorising the whole surah al-fatihah and the tahiyat that are needed for solat took me about two weeks. It was painfully tedious because I couldn’t understand a word I was saying in Arabic. I would do the solat alone in my room when I couldn’t join my roommate for jemaah prayer. Armed with a piece of paper with the al-fatihah and the tahiyat in romanized writing, I would begin the slow uncertain steps. I didn’t want to wait to be able to recite both from memory before I perform my first solat on my own. I believed that Allah looks at a devotee’s sincerity rather than the ability to recite all the surahs in the Quran. I did the most basic, trying to remember every steps of solat each time. Alhamdulillah it became easier and easier as time passed.
If performing the solat in my room was tough, it was worse when I had classes before and after zohor. I would rush back to my room,did an express prayer and rush to the next class. Otherwise I would hike up the hill to my favourite surau which offers the most privacy. Even then, as I stepped onto the sejadah, I would say a silent prayer that I would not forget any of the verses during my solat nor recite them wrongly, for I would have to do pray without my trusted piece of paper. I was too embarassed to hold it during prayer, and I wanted to avoid being bombarded with questions when other sisters realized that I was a mualaf. Besides some Muslims, like an religious officer I knew, would consider my paper-holding action during solat as makrur and prevents one from being kyusyuk. But logically, they were in my shoes, what would they do?
Not everybody underwent the process the same way as I did. Some were lucky because they had adopted families to turn to. I don’t have an adopted family. Well, I just don’t. So I had to learn everything on my own; going through each step repeatedly until I mastered it. It was really tiring. I felt as if I was on a bullet-train, trying to make-up for my lost years by studying all I could, as fast as I could, as much as I could. With little support however, I almost gave up and had begun to sink into depression. Praise to Allah, I managed to control my feelings and got rid of the dark clouds. After two exhausting months of coping with academic work and religious studies, I learned to relax. By then I could answer almost all the basic questions about Islam, and could even explain to non-Muslims about the Hereafter (kiamat).