Raised in a Christian home, Sara, 19, was at first fascinated by Muslim culture. She was enamoured by traditions like head scarfs, and how her Muslim friends all seemed to have a prayer constantly on their lips – like right before eating or going to the bathroom.
“But it’s not that my friends converted me, I had many Muslim friends but they didn’t talk about Islam. I fell in love with the beauty of Islam myself,” she added.
Elaine, 20, who is half-Chinese and half-Kenyah from Sarawak, talked about how she first came to know about, and then embrace Islam in secondary school.
“I had many Malay friends in school, and my heart was captured by Islam. It was a completely new and a great feeling,” she said in fluent Malay. Her mother is a Roman Catholic and so she was only exposed to Islam at school.
Smiling, she added that she felt a lot calmer now after embracing Islam. Dressed modestly, the two young women blended in with the crowd at Perkim, an Islamic welfare organisation established to help Muslim converts adjust to new lives as Muslims, which was holding a buka puasa for new converts.
“When I wake up during sahur, I am happy to fast,” Sara said but added that she was a little tired and thirsty in the afternoon. “If I can stand it, I'll go on but if I have gastric pain then I'll buka (puasa).
Elaine, on the other hand, had a “trial fasting” at one of the schools for religious studies in Kedah. She told The Malaysian Insider that she fasted every Monday and Thursday during her four-month there.
“My stomach hurt a bit because of the air inside,” she admitted. Elaine added that fasting makes her very happy; she feels at peace and is reminded of humility and patience. Even though their stories were told with much joy, it was not a smooth journey into Islam for them.
Sara and Elaine both live at Perkim’s shelter for girls, after their families rejected their conversion. Sara said that her family disagreed with her conversion and questioned her sudden decision. “Suddenly I fell in love with the Islamic way,” she said, adding that she couldn’t really explain it.
“My father noticed I had more baju kurungs, Islamic books and other religious things, so he asked,” she explained. Sara, who grew up as a Protestant, had converted in May but only had the courage to inform her family a month later. She said that her mother and sister were accepting but her father had given her the ultimatum to choose between staying at home or to be a Muslim. She chose the latter and is now staying at the shelter with Elaine.
Elaine said her Buddhist father had accepted her new religion while her Roman Catholic mother was less than enthused. She said her mother who resides in Puchong found out about her conversion from others and they had not been in contact since October last year.
“Since I'm a Muslim now, it's a different lifestyle from my mother's... it is easier to live outside anyway,” she added.She admitted that it was “rather peculiar” how she got interested in Islam. “Every time I hear the azan, it moves my heart,” she said with a sparkle in her eye.
She explained that Islam is not a foreign religion to her family. Her sister had converted through marriage, so has her brother, for different reasons. “Islam is more calming. I'm more at peace now,” Elaine said.The girls explained that they do not have to pay for the accommodation at the shelter but merely kept the house clean. The shelter is actually a terrace house in Gombak with two rooms, and two girls to a room.
One of the housemates is a graduate student at USM and is currently doing her practical at Perkim. She is also in charge of the girls while the other housemate is from the Philippines and works at Perkim.The girls are allowed to stay at the shelter for six months at most, but if they cannot find an alternative, they would not be forced to move out.
There is also an 11pm curfew and they have to inform the girl in charge of their whereabouts.The girls survive on a small allowance of RM50 every two weeks. They would take the bus to Perkim every day and the journey takes about 20 minutes.