At the end of the second world war, Europe was in ruins. My journey I guess I could say begins before I was even born.
In 1957, my parents emigrated to Canada from Mannheim, Germany. My family is Jewish and during the war they were in hiding. My paternal grandfather was captured and put into a camp, and my mother lost her father.
Both my parents after the war were quite bitter and desperately wanting to start a new life in a new country. They tried really hard to be “Canadian”. They changed their names and downplayed their heritage quite a bit.
Stories of New Muslims
Unlike my parents, I reached out and embraced my Jewish faith, but I was still seeking something, I don’t know what. And when my search was over, Sandra was gone and in her place Selma. Selma was the name I chose when I converted from Judaism to Islam. Selma (Umm Salamah) was one of the Prophet’s wives, and she was the nurturer. She was the one that looked after everybody. And to me that was very close to my own name because I searched the origins of Sandra, and Sandra means helper of mankind.
Cat Stevens a Muslim?!
My interest in Islam goes way back to the 70s. I was probably about 13 when I heard that Cat Stevens had converted to Islam, and was now known as Yusuf Islam. And I found that so fascinating, and I wanted to know about Islam.
Growing up, we moved around a lot, and most of my memories are from growing up in a farm. We were quite isolated and only had each other for company. My teen years were very challenging. It’s not that I was just rebellious, I was just unhappy. I couldn’t stand being at home. So at 17, I left.
In 2001, I was hit by a drunk driver and I had to learn to walk again. As my car was flying through the air I was totally frightened thinking “OK, is this the way I’m going to die?” At the time when the accident happened I was in a position in my life when I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
I would say that the biggest turning point was my mother’s illness with cancer and her death in 2005. And this solidified my move towards Islam.
The Adhan in India
|there came over me a feeling of complete happiness, peace and belonging ...|
I went to India in 2005, two weeks after my mother’s death. It was the month of Ramadan when I got there. My first night there, the Adhan went off at 5 in the morning. I was so overwhelmed by the power of the sound of the Adhan, I was actually terrified. I went to the window and stood there and there came over me a feeling of complete happiness, peace and belonging. That was a moment that made me take that leap; that leap of faith.
The Shahadah is the affirmation one makes when they convert to Islam. It’s very simple. It’s just the affirmation that there is only one God and no other God, and that’s what you believed in.
What always fascinated me were the similarities between Judaism and Islam. And I just found that the connection between the two was so very powerful.
“You are beginning your steps towards Islam by declaring your faith and speaking the following two sentences, which is to bear witness that there’s no God but Allah, and to bear witness that Muhammad is His messenger.
Without any further delay, we will go ahead and ask Allah Almighty for His blessing, and that blessed moment that we are witnessing, all of us.
Ashhadu alla illaha illa Allah, wa ashhadu ana Muhamaddan rasul Allah (I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His messenger (peace be upon him).
Jazak Allah khairan.
Takbir “Allah Akbar”.
Alhamdulellah, “Praise be to Allah”.
It was really awkward having to tell my friends and my family. I mean there’s no way of saying that I’ve moved away from Judaism to become a Muslim.
Wearing the Veil
|On my way to Jumu`ah prayer, which is the Friday noon prayer, my phone rang and it happened to be another Muslim|
When I first started to wear Hijab, apart from being terribly nervous for the first four weeks, was how much better I became, and thinking about my words and thinking about my reactions to others.
I’m constantly amazed of how people react to the veil. I just don’t get what the big deal is. I guess the problem is that people in North America perceive a veiled woman as oppressed and subservient. Maybe in some countries or in some regimes that might be true, but not here in Canada. Here we have the freedom to choose. And I chose to do this. What they don’t understand is that it is a requirement for women to wear veils to cover themselves. It says so in the Quran.
I really like wearing this. This one, and I’m so glad that I’ve gotten better at putting this on. You know, I can’t even imagine going out in public without wearing it on.
So tomorrow I’m going to wear the hijab to work for the first time. I’m a little bit nervous. I work as a legal assistant downtown, so dressing there is a little conservative, and they don’t appear to be many women wearing hijab.
The reception that I got from my colleagues was great, for the most part. There was a lot of jaws-dropping, and a lot of funny looks, and a lot of hesitation when they passed by my desk.
Sadly, one of the worst experiences that I had came from within the Muslim community. On my way to Jumu`ah prayer, which is the Friday noon prayer, my phone rang and it happened to be another Muslim woman I knew, and she said to me:
“Are you still wearing your Hijab?”
And I said “Yes”
And she said to me “Well, all my friends are wondering who the white girl is pretending to be a Muslim.”
And that kind of broke my heart, because I wasn’t pretending. It wasn’t a fashion statement.
People always assume that because I’m a North American and I’m a convert to Islam that I’m making a political statement, and I think it’s more about making a statement of who I am. In life, I’m a Muslim. And I chose to wear hijab, no different than a Jewish man wearing a "yarmulke".
One of the myths that people have is where they see a North American woman who has converted to Islam, they automatically assume she is married, she must have done it for her husband because that’s the only way to do it for the husband. Wonderfully enough, it’s not.
I was a Muslim woman wearing the veil much before I met my partner. My partner, Sheikh Jamal Zahabi, came to Canada from Lebanon in the 1980s. He is an Imam at an Islamic center. I knew of him, but it wasn’t until a mutual friend introduced us that we found how much we had in common.
My son Collin who is now 23 hasn’t met his new family as yet. He is really excited and supportive. Initially, he wasn’t so sure about it. Probably because there was a lot to deal with at that time. But he's OK now.
My father hasn't seen me with a hijab, and my father hasn't met my husband yet. So we are going as a family, and I'm a little bit nervous. I'm not sure what my father will say, and I'm not sure how he will react...
Watch Sister Sandra Describe Her Journey to Islam
Related Links:I Knew Islam Is Right for Me
I Didn’t Love My Life Until I Became a Muslim
British Actress Inspired by Prophet's Life
Islam Helped Me Become a Better Person
Islam Appealed to Both My Intellect and Senses