This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Yassmin and her Muslim faith.Tell us a bit about yourself!
I like to think that I am everything people don’t expect. I just turned 20, I’m in my final year of mechanical engineering and the manager and chassis designer of the University of Queensland Race Car Team! Also, when I was 16, I founded the organisation Youth Without Borders, which is based out of Australia and works internationally. I am also a big fan of sport; I LIVE for soccer, F1, cycling and I have been boxing for a few years. What do I do for fun? I love travelling, meeting new people, reading heaps, music, meaningful conversations and really just enjoying all the opportunities I have been blessed with in life!I guess I should mention that I am a Sudanese born, Egyptian/Moroccan/Turkish Muslim female who was brought up in Australia.
For those of us who don’t know, what are the basic tenets of Islam?
There are five pillars of Islam and these are considered the five most important things in the religion.
The first is Shahadah in Arabic, which is the Declaration of Belief. It is essentially a single statement that says (translated) There is no god but God, and [he Prophet] Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is the messenger of God. The Shahdah simply affirms the basic premise of Islam and saying it honestly and believing in it is all that is required to convert to Islam.
The second pillar is Salah, or Prayer. Muslims are required to pray five times a day, at prescribed times (around dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and night). The prayers are quite meditative and are often a welcome break from the day. It’s nice to take time out, pray, reflect and then return to your daily business.
The third pillar is Sawm, or Fasting. Every year, Muslims take part in the Fasting of Ramadaan, an entire month every year where we don’t eat or drink anything from dawn till dusk every day. It is the holy month of the year and good deeds are ‘given more brownie points.’ You are not only fasting from food but from all bad acts – it is almost a detox for the soul. At the end of the month, we have a festival called Eid and it is pretty much a massive feast!
The fourth pillar is Zakaah, or charity. Every Muslim is required to donate a portion of their earnings to charity every year for the betterment of society. Usually, you donate 2.5% of your saved money in the last (lunar) year to charity and if you can’t pay it, you can offer ‘good deeds.’
The fifth pillar is Hajj, or pilgrimage. Every Muslim who has the money and capacity to do so is obliged to do the Pilgrimage to Mecca. As a bonus, all your sins are wiped away.
What are the biggest misconceptions about Muslims?
I think the two biggest misconceptions are that we are a violent religion and that we are “oppressive to women.” Both, I am pleased to report, are totally false. The word “Islam” derives from the Arabic word “Salam” which means peace! It’s all about being good, doing everything in moderation and taking care of others – essentially just like every other religion.
Oppressing women is a cultural issue; it’s definitely not religion-based. In fact, when Islam was introduced, it brought with it a whole bunch of revolutionary, women-empowering concepts – it allowed women to own their own land and property.
I think many of the misconceptions come from the fact that people mistake culture for Islam. Some people love using religion as an excuse for their warped ways of thinking! I like to think that people should judge Muslims by the religion and not judge the religion by the people that practice it.
How would you define your relationship with your faith?
I think as I have grown older, I have have come to understand my religion and appreciate its nuances a lot more. For me, Islam is a way of life. I would like to think that I am somewhat devout; I pray (mostly!), fast, try to be as good as I can, but then again – I am not perfect.
I believe that religion is a deeply personal thing so I would never judge anyone else’s beliefs. I would never force my beliefs down other people’s throats. We are actually told to allow everyone to choose their own path!
Have you ever questioned your faith or considered another religion?
I have questioned it to learn more but I have always found answers. I haven’t really considered any other religions because I feel secure and have faith in my current belief system. I believe questioning is important though and will always do it.
I know you live in Australia now. Is there a large Muslim population in your city? How do people react to your faith?
There isn’t a massive Muslim population where I live, but it is growing. I think people in general are curious or wary, simply because they don’t know much about Islam other than what they see on the news. I guess that’s why I always encourage people to ask me questions, to find out more…because I am believe that conversation and dialogue is important.
What does Islam bring to your life?
It gives me a framework for life. I guess I like to think of it like this: if I had questions about money, I would go to an accountant and accept what they had to say. For how to ‘live life’, I go to my religion and follow that. Islam is my way of life, but it isn’t all I am. I am a Muslim, but I am also a sister, an engineer, a woman… all are part of who I am and they make the ‘Yassmin’ Package!
What advice do you have for those who are interested in exploring Islam?
Well you can email me for more info if you are interested! I am not an expert though, so I would recommend checking out some books or even approaching a local mosque and asking some questions. The net is great, but be careful as there is a lot of un-substantiated writing and hate mixed in. Oh, and also, if you know someone that is Muslim – just ask! Most of us are usually pretty happy to tell you about it and welcome the open conversations.
Are any of you Muslim? Any questions for Yassmin?