It’s been a blessed 8 years since I reverted to the way of life, Islam. Growing up I had always believed in God, that He was in charge of our lives and whenever we needed help to call out to him, whenever good comes to us we thank Him. But I hardly put this into practice, it was just something I knew.
A visit to Anglican church
I was not raised under any specific religion but predominately was drawn to Christianity as most of my family in Botswana are Christians. On her path to seeking truth, my mother would take my younger sister and I to different churches. We were in our early teens. I recall a memory we went to attend a Sunday church service at Anglican church in Gaborone. The building was big with a huge cross in front where the preacher stood. We sang songs which I had no idea of the lyrics, so I just lip synched. They came a time when we had to line up in front to be fed what was called ‘the body of Christ.’ I have also been curious so I was like “why not give it a taste?”. Mind you I wasn’t aware what exactly it was I was about to put in my mouth because it was announced in Setswana ‘Selalelo’ so I went to line up in front. We had to kneel down, I opened my mouth and this white circular spongy thing was put on the top on my tongue. It was light so it dissolved fast in my mouth. It was a bit tasteless but with a sweet after taste. That was the first and last time I went into the Anglican church.
New membership to Seventh Day Adventist church
A few years later I went to visit my now deceased maternal grandmother and she took my younger sister and I to her church, Seventh Day Adventist (SDA). Its interesting looking back how most these experiences my younger sister was by my side. So Saturday came, we got dressed in our pretty dresses and we were off to my grandmothers’ church. She lived outside of the city in a faraway village called Mmadinare, so her church was not as massive as the ones you’d find in Gaborone. My grandmother gave us these books with a black cover written ‘SDA Hymns’. This time at least singing-wise I was prepared. I loved my grandmother and spending time with her was the highlight of my school holidays. I think that’s what probably influenced me to continue attending SDA in Gaborone, that and the fact that my favourite cousin also attended it. I gradually become part of the SDA family. I joined the youth group where after each sermon we get into our group and have discussions on Bible stories and issues about the youth and how to tackle them. It was like a support system for us and as a teenager living in city with a single parent temptations were on a high, so this helped. My ‘membership’ as an SDA member expired as soon as I discovered partying.
By the grace of Allah, I was awarded a scholarship in 2007 to study Multimedia Design in Malaysia. Excited doesn’t even come close to explaining how I felt, I was dancing on top of the moon with joy. In my meeting people from all walks of life, I became close to a Muslim lady from Tanzania, Zahra*. From 2007 to 2012 we were completely inseparable. From her generous, wise and kind character, I picked up a lot of good habits from her I also made friends from Malaysia, Indonesia, Sudan and Thailand. Living in a Muslim country I got to experience the Islamic events such as Ramadan and Eid. In my family, Islam is not new as I have a maternal aunt, cousins and uncles who reverted to Islam years and years ago. During my studying in Malaysia there was a semester when Islamic Studies was in the course as an elective. As I have mentioned about my curiosity, I took the class. No one knew of my intentions, not because I wanted to hide it but I just didn’t see the need. I hardly informed people on which ever subjects I registered so what was the difference (I thought to myself). So first day of class there is was ready to learn about Islam. My Tanzanian friend, Zahra*, whom I was very close to also had decided to take the class, but we both didn’t know so you can imagine the shock when we both ran into each other in class, she was flabbergasted.
How Islamic studies shifted my perspective
From a young age I’ve always loved history. I am fascinated by how people in the past from all around the world lived and co-existed in their cultures. Indeed, Allah knows what is in the breasts of man. The first lesson in Islamic studies we learned was about Muslim inventions. Subhan Allah (Glory be to Allah) I was astonished at how almost everything we utilise in today’s world was by a Muslim inventor. From algebra, the camera, toothpaste to chemistry. We learned about the likes of Ibn al-Haitham, Abbas ibn Firnas and Fatima al-Fihri. I enjoyed my learning about Islam thoroughly, so much so I continued outside the class.
While still in Malaysia a friend of mine from Sudan, *Saleh, gave me a book called Tauhid. I read the book and felt so enlightened. It taught about the Oneness of Allah, who Allah is, why we worship Him and what Islam means. The book had a black cover with Arabic calligraphy on its cover. I felt it was a simple book to read, it clarified a lot of issues for me. What I loved mostly was how it explained the Oneness of Allah and that there is no deity but Allah. A few weeks later I took my shahadaah, Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest). I was with Saleh and repeated after him the shahadaah in Arabic then in English. From that second I felt a veil had been lifted from my eyes and heart. I felt lighter, as if I was blindfolded my whole life and only now the blindfold was removed. I felt so much joy in my heart, it was unexplainable and I loved the feeling.
After my shahadaah I started to learn how to recite a chapter in the Qur’an called Surah Al Fatihah and I learnt how to pray. I remember I had a print out of the step by step guide with the words to say during prayer in Arabic which I would put it by my side during prayer. I felt deep in my heart this is what I want my whole life to be like, learning about my Creator, worshiping Him alone and doing deeds that are pleasing to Him. Learning Arabic and reciting the Qur’an was an amusing experience for me, as it still is today. My first Ramadan came on my birthday and I was felt truly humbled. To be a Muslim, have my first birthday as a Muslim fall on a blessed month and being the first time in my life fasting was an incredible experience for me. I thank Allah for my family for accepting my choice to revert to Islam. When I sent my parents and family an email telling them I have reverted to Islam, they were shocked at first but not once did they threaten to disown me like how I’ve seen other reverts be treated. As Christians, they accepted my choice and even today are still very supportive. I pray to Allah to guide their kind hearts. My friends truthfully helped me in my journey and I owe a lot of gratitude to them as well.
-NAIMA NALEDI TSELADIKAE IS A SINGLE 30-YEAR-OLD FROM FROM BOTSWANA, AFRICA. SHE IS CURRENTLY LIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA STUDYING MEDIA MANAGEMENT AT RHODES UNIVERSITY
*Names have been changed for the purposes of this article