A Vietnamese sister who is a teacher in Melbourne and regularly attends and contributes in Risale classes, Mai Nguyen, tells us the story of how Risale-i Nur brought her to take the shahada and the changes it brought about in her life.
Can you tell us about how you became Muslim?
Well it’s a long story. I came to Australia when I was in year 11 and at that time I had a sister who had already converted to Islam and who was married to a Muslim. So the first thing I knew about Islam was through her. She told me that she was a Muslim and I was shocked I said to myself, “Oh my God why does she follow a religion?” Because in my culture people don’t generally identify themselves with a religion because they are irreligious. After that my brother-in-law gave me a book called The Words from the Risale-i Nur Collection. He told me to read it and that if I had any questions I could ask him. So I started to read the the book and actually I came to know about Islam through the Risale-i Nur. I remember the first time I read it, it was really surprising because the book just told me that I am weak and powerless and that I have a lot of needs, which was the first time somebody told me that, which was very astonishing to me. I got curious and learnt about Islam. After about half way through the words, I began to read the Qur’an and words together as well as attending Risale-i Nur sohbets (discussion groups) as well. When I was in year 12, I decided to convert to Islam.
During the times you were considering reverting into Islam, which part of the Risale-i Nur seemed most poignant to you?
I think at the time, it was the oneness of God, the fact that there is only one God was very powerful to me. Before I think, I did believe in some power beyond me, but I was never sure what I was calling for. For example, before exams I would I always say, “Please help me!” or “Please let the exam be easy” and I always noticed that I would pray for something, even though I didn’t know to whom. And then when I read Risale-i Nur it just amazed me with all these scientific facts pointing to the fact that there’s only one God and why. To be honest, when I took my Shahada, saying “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his messenger” the first part of it really resonated with me, it was because of that reason that I converted to Islam, because Islam gave me a perfect description of God that no one else could and cannot give me. At the time I didn’t comprehend fully the second part about the Prophet Muhammad, slowly after converting to Islam I learned about that more, but the first part that there is only one true God was really powerful to me. It changed me. Before that I didn’t know anything about God. I thought the world was random. I was the arrogant person in all the comparisons in the stories in the Risale-i Nur. I would worry about the future; worry about the past, the world seemed random and even pointless and with the knowledge of God felt as if I was enlightened, like there was light coming in.
Before you became Muslim was there a period of time where you were hesitant or had doubts?
I was scared of the fact that it would be a big change. I knew that I was going to become different from all the people in my culture. I am from Vietnam, and in Vietnam not many people are Muslims, I had never met any Muslims before so suddenly to become a Muslim it really creates a lot of pressure. I knew I was going to be different, my lifestyle was going to be different, I would not be able to eat the food I used to like pork, I was going to pray five times a day, it was just difficult and I would think about the fact that telling my parents would be difficult. That is what worried me most. I never realised how much I had changed until I went back to Vietnam, when I went for a vacation in 2011, I realised that the fact that I believed in God made me different. When I saw people worshipping different gods or floating around just living life without purpose, I realised, this is not how I want to live. I really knew then that I believed in God. After I came back from that trip to Australia it was what pushed me and made me realised that
Islam is the way to live my life and that I could not escape anymore. My sister and brother in law were always there to notice if I was ready or not and encourage me when I needed it.
Can you give advice to people considering becoming Muslim?
I think throughout year 11 when I was learning about Islam there were a lot of signs that told me that I should become Muslim. For example one time I was at Federation Square for some reason the screen showed someone converting to Islam in a documentary. I would take notice of things like that as I knew and believed that everything happens for a reason. Through my own observations, God opened a lot of doors and opportunities for me to convert. I always feel like if someone gives you a diamond, why won’t you take it? Why would you hesitate? My personal opinion is that if God gives you opportunities; grab them, because He can take them back from you. That’s how I felt when I knew about Islam, I was aware that I only had that decision left to make, to convert. I was also aware that I could not play around with God, and pretend that I was not Muslim. I could not refrain from declaring myself as a Muslim but believe in God at the same time. I was aware that that mindset is playing around with God and I just imagined that if I were to die in that moment and God asked me, “Who are you, who do you worship?” I realised that I did not have the right to say that I was a Muslim because I could not dare to even take the first step to recognise, to say it out loud. And I basically did not want to become a hypocrite because I hate hypocrisy, I did not want to become someone who doesn’t act and speak according to what they believe. God says in the Quran that if people say that they believe in me, do they not think I would test them? And that resonated with me and I thought that when I faced God I wanted to proudly tell him, “Yes, I believe in You and I chose You, because I know this is the right way. You showed me and I took it”
How did your perception of life change?
It changed a lot! I hardly thought about big questions before. I did read books before and knew that there were big questions about life but I avoided thinking about them and got busy with high school pressure and life. Life was quite random for me before, aimless. I felt quite pessimistic, I read books and studied history and humans seemed to be suffering but when I converted to Islam I changed a lot, as it gave me purpose. And suddenly-it was so interesting, like a little secret I wanted to share with the world: “Oh there is a God!” When I read Risale-i Nur for the first time I always talked to my friend and told her about my discovery of God. I told her that He is merciful, and about the hereafter and why He created us. Suddenly I had discovered my true owner. It was just something beautiful. I found my purpose in life. The most important thing is that I acquired hope; hope for the future. I know that there is something to strive for, that it is worth it, that there is a reason you need to try to become better, that you have the potential to rise, you are created for that. Because if you do not believe in God you feel as if there is no reason to become great? I learned why people need to try to be more than just average. Islam gave me courage. Because that was the first religion that told me not to give up. God does not care if I have millions of dollars or have an exciting life according to modern standards; He just wants me to see His manifestations and attitudes. And that’s how I really changed. When I look at everything, when I look at the sky and take pictures of things, I realise that I can relate everything to God and that’s beautiful.
What is your favourite passage from the Risale-i Nur?
I like the 23rd Word it’s about happiness and belief, but I think what I am impressed most by is the chapter about sincerity. I think it’s the 21st Flash. Whenever I read it I feel like a hypocrite. It is such a strong reminder. Whenever you read it you feel ashamed of yourself, and I think that is what I always need, to feel ashamed and that’s why I want to correct my behaviour. I remember that in Islam there are three kinds of people: believers, unbelievers and hypocrites, and for me I am always afraid of becoming a hypocrite. And after becoming Muslim I realised it is so easy to fall into hypocrisy and whenever I read this chapter, I feel that I need this reminder to be sincere. To make sure that in anything I do I am really sincere.
A lot of Risale-i Nur talks about being patient. In the 2nd flash, the part about the fact that you have to be patient because the future is not existent and the past has already passed, that you should try to focus on the present. Because I am quite an anxious person, I am easily lost in the anxiety for the future. For example, I was so worried about my parents, so worried that it affected my current life. But when I read that part I just realised that it is not so serious and dramatic, it helps me calm down and realise I am doing the right thing. Especially right now because my parents are a bit dramatic with me, so to be honest, sometimes I think, what if I have to give up Islam, and when I read it I stop worrying because first of all it is in the future. I am going to focus on the struggles of today first and I have to be patient. So this is the most relevant chapter to me now.
Interviewers: Hayrunnisa Okur, Nilufer Okur
Interviewee: Mai Nguyen