I hope that this interview, which I conducted with my dear friend Zahra Boldis during the summer when I was in Budapest, will be a good memory for her reviving the day of her Shahadah (testimony of faith), the anniversary of December 24.
Thank you Zahra for accepting the interview. Firstly, you may introduce yourself.
My name is Zahra Boldis. I was born in Hungary. My family migrated from Romania, Transilvania. They moved to Hungary and got married here. I was born and raised in the city center with my three other siblings. I became Muslim 3 years ago. As a high school student, I am currently preparing for the university exam.
So, can you tell us about your revert story to Islam?
Actually, my story is very long and consists of many parts, but honestly speaking it starts with an unexpected and quite funny story. Back then I had a kind but strict history teacher when I was at primary school. He was super religious, to the extent that everyone was instructed to kneel down simultaneously when he clapped his hands at the local Catholic church regardless of their faith and beliefs. Once, we were studying in his classes about Turkey and the Ottoman Empire and how they conquered some parts of Hungary. After he mentioned a Turkish series about this era, I became really interested in the history of the Ottoman Empire and Turkish culture. So, I started watching that long Turkish TV series about Ottoman history when I was 12 years old. Actually, through that TV series, I saw many religious practises of Islam previously unknown to me, and it really grabbed my attention. Therefore, many questions came to my mind, for example, why are the characters prostrating on the ground? Why do they raise their palms when they say a supplication? So, these Islamic worship scenes really fuelled my curiosity. While watching, I thought that this was Turkish or Ottoman culture, but as I researched, I learned that those mysterious-looking elements were actually "Islam". First, I had to keep it as a secret because I couldn't fully be sure about my family's opinion and reaction. I hesitated to tell them about me embracing this faith because it was such a new thing for me as well.
On the other hand, I was always interested in RE (Religious Education) courses. Even if everyone was dozing off during those classes, I was the only one paying attention. I always enjoyed learning about the stories of Prophets in the Bible. However, when I asked my teacher and priest about contradictory ideologies such as Trinity, they only gave me vague answers as if they themselves had issue undersanding the Christian concept as well.
When I was 14, I used to climb up the warehouse of our garden and hide there while the rest of the family were sleeping. Doing this nearly every day during a summer holiday, I started wearing the hijab for the first time while reading the Quran and the Bible. I was searching ways. I didn't have much knowledge about Islam on that summer holiday. Even though I am a Muslim now, I still spend a lot of time to comparatively analyze the Quran and the Bible.
What do you see when you compare the Quran and Bible? Anything interesting that you would want to share with us?
We see Isa (as) in the Bible using different metaphors in the New Testament. With a Christian background I found it hard to understand what he reffers to for example in the Sermon of the Mount. But after I started reading about the life of Isa (as) in the Quran from the Islamic perspective, I realised: “I actually understand the Bible more through the Quran.”
So, which tools did you use on your journey to becoming a Muslim? The internet or did you know any Muslims before?
I did not prefer doing my research on the internet because this method of gathering information about a religion is really risky. It is so difficult to differentiate the true information from a baseless falsehood. Furthermore, I had never met a single Muslim during that time and I didn't know anyone who was a Muslim until a family vacation at a Hungarian city. After starting my high school studies, I discovered a way of meeting other Muslims as well. I found a Masjid close to my school, only about 10 minutes away. From that moment I became part of the local Muslim community.
How did you feel?
I chose the date of visiting that mosque to be on December 24. , “Christmas time”. What I remember from this Christmas is that my family was going to church, everyone getting prepared for this special day. I put on my hijab and they said: “Where are you going Zahra?” My answer was simple and said as if self-evident: “To the masjid”. It was an important turning point for me. Their reactions were generally positive, but they were critical in some cases. My mom especially. For her, my changes regarding diet and sleeping habits was the one she worried so much about, saying “Why do you have to get up so early, why don't you eat anything all day during Ramadan…” Sometimes when my mother cooks the meal, I just say, "Mom, I can't eat this." Initially, she was totally perplexed and shocked, but you know, this is a typical mommy reaction (laughs). In those cases, I had to cook my own food, but Alhamdulillah, it was an excellent lesson and opportunity for me to start cooking, thus reassuring my mum that she doesn’t have to prepare two types of dishes at the same time.
So, Zahra, what do Hungarian people think about Islam? What do they know, how do they feel about Islam and Muslims?
Mostly, they don’t know much about them or they have some misconceptions. Regarding Islam, Hungarians generally get information through social media, television and so on. Most of my non-Muslim acquaintances only know about the five pillars of the faith from History school books. However, many youngsters are curious about Islam. Besides, I have friends who ask me questions about angels, devils and Hereafter. Here I would like to share a memory. A lady sat next to me on an ordinary crowded bus when I was trying to get home from school. She just approached me and to be honest, I was a bit intimidated because she tossed me to the side of the chair. Then a friendly smile appeared on her face and she asked me which religion I belonged to. She was probably impressed by my headscarf and then we started talking about Islam.
A communist government that implemented the Marxist-Leninist policies operated in Hungary in history. So, do you think that the influence of ideas such as communism and atheism still continue?
Of course, it is possible to talk about the impact of this. In Hungary, it is not common to meet actual Christians who really perform their religious rituals. Most of the Hungarians wear Christian symbols as an ornament and practise their religion only as a necessary tradition of their forefathers. I call them “Paper-Christians” because they merely have their certificate of baptism but no ,,certificate” in their hearts. Of course, this idea applies to some Muslims too. I named them “Paper- Muslims”. But in Hungary, this is more common with Christians for sure.
What has changed in your life after you became a Muslim?
Honestly, I only lived a short period of my life as a non-Muslim because I took my Shadadah early. I wasn’t involved in clubbing, drinking, smoking and its kinds. When I became a Muslim I was still a young teenager. When one of my close friend asked my sister, saying “Zahra became a Muslim, what has changed, how do you feel?” she replied: “Zahra is still the same, she just wears hijab, prays and recites the Quran sometimes too loudly (laughs).”
On the other hand, Islam made me ponder on my everyday actions, made me appreciate nature and the people around me more. What I mean is that I started to do everything more consciously, from my eating habits to the way I treat others. Islam had an impact on every aspect of my life and caused me to reconsider it.
What do you think about the future of Islam in Hungary? Are you pessimistic or optimistic about this?
I would call myself an optimistic in this regard. I think immigration plays a significant role. For example, many exchange students or immigrants from Asia have a great impact on the future of Islam in this country. Thanks to the Stipendium Hungaricum scholarship, which enables hundreds of students from all over the world to study in Hungary, I had the opportunity to meet many Muslim students. Additionally, it would be beneficial to increase the number of institutes that bring Muslim communities together, and there should be more professional scholars who teach us the correct Islam.
(In the mosque where we did our interview, Zahra's friends from different countries and nationalities and I just wanted to ask her that question)
You have so many international friends from many countries, some of them European, some of them African, some of them Asian. I want to address the identity issue a little bit here. How does it feel to have a Muslim identity that brings different ethnic backgrounds and different countries under the concept of ummah on this Friday and a European identity at the same time?
Finding the connection between people of different national backgrounds is such a challenging yet a beautiful thing. Indeed there is a link between my Hungarian identity and being part of this varied ummah here. As for my Hungarian fellows who are not Muslim - even though I look like a Hungarian - they often suppose I am a foreigner with my Islamic attire but when I start speaking Hungarian only then are surprised. As if being a Muslim lady and a European at the same time would be next to impossible. Still, it is something amazing that Islam can unite different types of identities in one sphere, enabling friendships to form even between the Ivory Coast of Africa and the Carpathian Basin. (She points to her half-African, half-Hungarian friend sitting near us.) Absolutely, Islam is really universal and able to build strong ties among the Muslims.
Do you have a message for those who will read your interview in Turkiye?
Islam teaches us to put aside the cultural, political and other polarizing disagreements and gather under the embracing dome of Faith. As a revert like me, one may feel lonely, but remember your role that you are an important representative of Islam in your community and aim to portray Islam in its correct way. Maybe you are, and you will be the only Muslim person seen by your parents or any friend of yours throughout their lifetime. Thus, you have a great responsibility as you are the mirror of Islam to your surroundings.
You are absolutely right. To be honest, I really did not expect to see so many Muslims of European origin before coming here, it was really inspiring and a pleasure for me. Even during the short time, I witnessed the Shadadas of many sisters, and what I see here reminded me of Bediuzzaman's famous quote: “Europe is pregnant with Islam and will give a birth to an Islamic nation”. Thanks for taking time for this interview.