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Thursday, 19 July 2007

A Typical Aussie Turns to Islam

By Selma Cook

An Australian girl is impressed by Muslim women's empowerment, and converts to Islam.

I saw the Muslim women as being strong and empowered, yet they were gentle and kind. Picture ©

This article is based on an interview with Fatimah Suhot, who has now been a Muslim for 25 years.

I was a typical Australian girl living in Sydney. An only child, I grew up in a stable home and happy family life. My mother was a liberal Methodist; she was not strict, but I went to Sunday school every week.

My father was not religious at all. He had fought in World War Two against the Germans and the Japanese, and he had seen the horrors of war. He ended up a man without faith.

Even though I regularly attended Sunday school, I was not a religious girl; I felt something lacking in the concept of Christ as taught in the church. Still, I used to pray from my heart, and on an everyday basis, I did take religion into account.

In high school, I learned French, German, and Indonesian, and when I finished year 12. I went to Indonesia for a three-month holiday. This was a turning point for me. While I was in Indonesia, I received the good news that I had been offered a scholarship to go to university, so I had to return to Australia earlier than planned. At university, I studied education and continued to learn Indonesian.

During that holiday in Indonesia, I saw how Muslims live. I taught conversational English and got to know many people on a personal level. Most of the people I met were not practicing Muslims, but I went to the mosques and I saw Muslims fasting.

While studying Indonesian, I had to learn something about Islam because it is a part of the life of Indonesians. What I had at this point was an outsider's knowledge. However, I was beginning to recognize the spirituality of Indonesian Muslims. I saw that they were happier and calmer than Australian people, and that happiness and calm made me feel refreshed.

I read the Gospel of Barnabus and it touched me deeply.

This experience gave me a taste of Islam, and I started to travel to Indonesia as frequently as I could. I kept in contact with my friends there, and I extended my visits to Singapore and Malaysia.

At the end of the third year of university, I felt tired. So for the sake of wanting something different, I went to Europe, especially the UK. In comparison with Indonesia, I found places there quite unimpressive. The gothic cathedrals looked overbearing and lacked the warmth and naturalness of what I had seen in Indonesia. Still, I was unsure about Islam.

It was a friend of mine from university who became a means of me meeting Indonesians and Malays in Sydney; in this way, I met my soon-to-be husband.. I kept in contact with my Indonesian friends back in Indonesia and with my new Indonesians friends living in Australia. I was able to learn more and more about Islam.

I was impressed by how Indonesian Muslim women covered and how modest they were, even though not all of them were practicing. This way of thinking led me to have something in common with my husband who is Malay from Singapore.

I met my husband in Sydney. He was basically practicing the main tenants of Islam, and for five or six years we used to see each other in gatherings. Studying at university had given me a love of reading and I was inspired, using the academic approach, to attend lectures about Islam.

My long-term friend from university, who had traveled with me many times and with whom I shared the same friends, converted to Islam before me. When she converted, I became even more interested to attend lectures and ladies' classes about Islam. I also linked up more closely to the Malay and Indonesian communities in Sydney.

[My mother] was racist and believed that Australia should only be for the "Australians" — the white Anglo-Saxons.

What I liked about my first contact with the Muslim community was that there were no priests or clergymen. I found Islam very simple and logical. I admired the social system in Islam and saw that it answered the everyday problems we face. I discovered that Islam filled in the gaps that still existed in Christianity in the field of women's rights.

I saw the Muslim women as being strong and empowered, yet they were gentle and kind. Also, the story of Jesus (peace be upon him) in Islam made much more sense than what I had been told in Christianity. I read the Gospel of Barnabus and it touched me deeply. I went to the mosque to ask for more books.

Some Muslims put me off converting to Islam, telling me to read more even though I felt I wanted to convert. I was working as a teacher when I converted to Islam. It was actually my future husband's relatives and friends who witnessed my Shahadah. My husband approached me through his cousins to marry me. This made me feel honored and respected.

By that time, my father had died and my mother was quite biased against Islam. Strangely enough, when I became interested in Islam she became more religious in her faith. Unfortunately, she was racist and believed that Australia should only be for the "Australians" — the white Anglo-Saxons. My husband was Asian and Muslim — understandably, my mother and I did not talk for one year!

The community I had grown up in backed off from me, but I managed to cope because I had many friends in the Muslim community. I absolutely loved the sisterhood and brotherhood I found in Islam. I have made even more friends since I became a Muslim!

Now after 25 years of becoming a Muslim, my relationship with my mother is superficial because she has been affected by media propaganda against Islam and Muslims. However, I have never been happier and I do not regret a thing.

Selma Cook is Managing Editor of the Youth Section and Volunteer Youth Resource Network at She has written a number of books including: Buried Treasure (An Islamic novel for teenagers), The Light of Submission (Islamic Poetry). She has also edited and revised many Islamic books. She can be contacted at:

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