Imam Talk Podcast #09 – I Converted To Islam In High School with Rauno Abu Maryam
Channel: Tom Facchine
Series: Tom Facchine - Imam Talk Podcast
File Size: 65.82MB
Bismillah Alhamdulillah wa salatu salam Salah Welcome back to Imam talk. Today we have a very, very special guest with a very, very interesting YouTube channel called Nordic Muslim, our brother and my my colleague from the University of Medina who hails from Estonia. Could you please introduce yourself your name
and where you're located now brother?
A salaam aleikum wa rahmatullah wa barakato. First of all, just Alchemilla higher and for inviting me to this podcast. And I'm Yes, as as, as you said, I'm from Estonia.
The date with names like my, my birth name is Raul now, are you and no, that's an Estonian name. And when I converted to Islam, I started using use of so most people back in the mid back in Medina, they know they knew me as use of. And after that, and other brothers started calling me Abu Mariam, even though I don't have any kids yet.
I knew always I still know that Inshallah, when I have my first daughter, she's going to be married. So I go by Abu Marie. I'm also recently so I have many names. I'm Belinda Russell, I, so you continue Go ahead. And like this stone is really small country currently, and I'm in the southeastern part of it in a really small place called Castellina. Like, just it's basically like a village like 600 people recently moved here. And because this is where my parents live, and
we have something going in a small town, like where we started like Juma prayers recently, so I'm, you know, still in touch with the brothers there. And, but it's really kind of far away from the Capitol, but it's just like a two and a half hours drive anyway, so you can easily, you know, get stolen as a really small country.
Mashallah, that's very, very interesting. I'm glad I asked about the name.
And I'd like to go back to it for a second. Because a lot of us, we have kind of that choice. And I'm always asked, because I go by Tom and I, when I converted to Islam, I only kind of took on another name, maybe for a year or two in the very beginning.
And then I kind of went back to my my birth name. And there's various sorts of approaches to that. And a lot of people are curious, or maybe want to know, why people choose either to adopt a new name or to continue with the other one, what was sort of your thought process when it came to your birth name versus taking on another name? Yeah, so first, when you become a Muslim, you kind of want to make like your whole life as Islamic as possible. And sometimes you're not aware even that, you know, you don't have to change your name like, and this is something I only realized, while I was already in Medina, one of the one of the best brothers I've ever met, they're one of the brothers
from Algeria. He also explained to me how, you know, it's better not to use a new name, when your old name like your birth name doesn't have any bad meaning, especially like, if you can be doing Dawa in your own country. And then, you know, people are gonna think like, you know, why do you have to, like, pick up, like, take an Arab name, or something like that, and also for the sake of your parents, when, when they have given you a name, and there's nothing wrong with that. And then, you know, you choose another name, you leave the name that your parents gave you, it can be really harsh on them. And we then sometimes think about this as converse, and I think it's really, it's better
like you can have a Konya, it's no problem with that, like, I have Apple Meriam. But I think it's better to stick to the birth time that we have, unless it has like some bad meaning, then we can consider changing it maybe like, like, if you have like up to champs or something like in a slave of the sun or something, then obviously, it's better to change that. Right. Now, do you know what your your birth name means? I tried, like, I tried really hard various times to find out what it means exactly the closest I got was like some kind of like, counselor or something like that, or like I really, like don't have exact, exact like,
like meaning, but I didn't find that it has any bad meaning. So I'll handle like I can, I can use it. Yeah, that's a great point that you bring up and that's something that I eventually came to realize as well. And it was the second point that you brought up about families very, very pertinent to me because my my father has the same name. Right? So he named me after him. And so if I had gone about and, you know, my father is still not a Muslim, so, you know, everybody can pray for him inshallah for guidance. But if I had changed my name at one point, I had no it would have really, really set us back, you know, and it would have damaged our relationship. One of the interesting
things is that, you know, when I started looking into it, you don't
Think about what your name means growing up, it's just a name.
And my name actually does exist in Arabic.
As tell em tell em is actually the the means twin. And so Thomas with the long form of Tom has actually a symmetric name that it exists in Hebrew and in Arabic and an Aramaic. And Thomas was supposedly one of the however Yean, one of the the disciples of Asa Alehissalaam. So it is really interesting, like to look into your name and to, to keep that part of your identity, just as you said, if it's not something that is offensive to a Las Palmas, Otto or his Dean, then there's no reason to change it. And in fact, it's actually a really significant data point, like you were saying, because I probably would imagine in a Estonia, similar to the United States, there's a
perception that Islam is a foreign religion. Right? And so, if they expect you to be okay, if your name is useful for your name, as you know, Mohammed, like, Okay, this foreign guy came in, he has his religion, and that's his culture, whatever. But if they see someone named Tom, or Bob, we have Bobby the other day, who might you know, who knows? Insha Allah becomes a Muslim.
And other people like John, I know several John's that have become Muslim. And, you know, this is something that forces them to think about it in a different way. Well, maybe this isn't just some sort of cultural thing. Maybe this is something more universal than that. And something that is accessible, even to me, maybe it's something that I should consider for myself. So that's really, really fascinating.
Tell us a little bit more about Islam in Estonia. And I'm sorry, are you yourself actually a convert but is that true? Yeah. Yeah, I converted when I was about 17 1817 is when I started failing as a Muslim already, but I didn't really say the shahada had been pray properly. But when I after turning 18 This is where I started praying properly. And I said to shahada so yeah, it's been a it's been a lot of years, like most of the adult life has been as a Muslim.
But as for as for Islam in Estonia,
recently, the the census official census results came out, like the dude every 10 years, and one of the questions they ask is about religion. So back in 2011, when they did it the last time
before the latest census,
there were like, officially 1508 Muslims 0.1% of the population is still one is a small country anyways, so like, it's 1500, like, you know, it's a small number, but you know, in a stellar in context, it's not that small either, like, but still pretty small. 0.1%. And
according to the latest census, 2021, they just recently published the results of that, regarding religion, the Muslim population has officially grown. It's now 0.5% of the whole population. So that makes about 5000 6000 people. It's, it's, it's a small number, but the growth Michelle likes, it's really good. It's like, it has grown like five times, obviously, like, it's probably not going to be growing that fast. But we'll see Inshallah, hopefully, it will be interesting. So where is the growth coming from? Is it coming from outside from immigration? Is it mostly refugees? Is it internal converts, how's it growth? I wish it was like internal I wish it was like more convert. And
handling we do have some converts, mostly, mostly sisters, mostly women who find their way to Islam. There are not many Estonian men who have converted to Islam. But mostly the growth has come from from outside the the university students coming from outside or people come to work to Estonia. And then when the whole refugee thing started in Europe, like everyone was afraid that like, you know, it's gonna be stolen, it's going to be flooded with Muslims, but but this growth, only like, a small part of that growth is is by bride refugees.
Interesting. Okay. I want to go back to what you said about women because that's something we experience here as well. We have I think, a WhatsApp group for the local converts the people who have converted to Islam in this area, and almost all of them are women. Like I think maybe we have 30 or 40 individuals, maybe just 1234 Maximum men, and the rest of them are all women. Why do you think it is that Western women find Islam so appealing? Maybe there's something specific in Estonia that's different from us, but what or do you have any reflections on that? I've thought about spinal I've thought about the same thing myself like even years ago because like it's It's the trend is
that women generally like even in like, you know,
Other countries, they generally accept Islam more than the men do. I think personally, it's just a personal opinion that one of the reasons is that women generally tend to be a little bit more spiritual, they tend to find more time to look into these things. You know, men are busy with, you know, with other things more, in my opinion, but women sort of like, they, maybe they read more, they're more into education, if you look look at like, even the numbers, like in universities, like mostly it's the, it's the women who, who are represented more. So I think women by nature, in a way have have kind of like a tendency to learn, try to learn more and educate themselves more, and maybe
men do. But that's, again, like just my personal reflection on it know that there certainly is data to back that up, at least in the United States, when it comes to religious practice. It's more typical, at least in our country, that, that women have higher rates, or report higher rates of religiosity and taking over responsibility for the religiosity of the children. And I think that's a big thing, too. Once someone becomes a parent, usually it's it's the women that are, are really, really insistent upon the religious upbringing of their kids. And that was something I experienced personally.
My mother always took us to church every single Sunday, my father couldn't really care less he didn't really didn't really come most times.
So that's something at least that's very common for us.
So before, I do want to get into a little bit of your, your, your personal history, and what sort of brought you to Islam, but you know, we're just talking about population and immigration, these sorts of things. Obviously, Europe is going through a lot of really interesting trends and crises and reactions, and when it comes to the whole immigrant thing, and Islam and how, how can Muslims be accommodated into Europe? And do they belong in Europe? And all these sorts of things? What's it like? What's the relationship between the Muslims and sort of the quote unquote, native Estonians like, in Estonia, like, is there tension? Is it relatively amicable? What's the situation
handled, like, mostly it's, you know, it's okay to be a Muslim, you don't really get like, judged for being a Muslim that much.
But it got a bit worse, when the whole refugee like wave started coming from the Middle East, and especially the far right parties, especially one of them used it like for, you know, getting, you know, getting more fame, and they started talking about it, and like, kind of scaring people, they gained a lot of followers through that.
So at that time,
people started becoming first really anti refugees, but also at the same time anti Muslim, because most of the most of the refugees at the time, came from Muslim countries. And
one thing that also maybe worth mentioning here is
that, in some, in some cases, they have the right, I believe, like, I have my my position also has changed regarding refugees. Like, sometimes
we'll see people like flee from the war, they're like really refugees, you know, they have, like, their homes got destroyed, you know, they have lost everything, and they just want to, you know, find a safe place to live in. That's, that's one thing. But there's also a lot of people even, like, you know, even coming from countries that don't have any war in them, I was like, involved in like, in some work personally, like translating for the, for the police and border guard, like that same summer when this whole like, you know, refugee wave happened. And they were like, some guys like three guys, or something came coming from Algeria. And, you know, they don't really have the excuse
to use this, like, you know, like, do apply as a war, like, you know, War Refugee or something like that. And, and, especially if they are demanding, like, you know, free, free education, free housing, free accommodation, anything like that, it's going to upset the local people, obviously, who also have the same struggle, they have to find a job they have to apply to university. So, so in a way, I understand why some people get really angry
with the way refugees, but it's really complicated issue and like, you know, you can't, you can't judge all of them, you know, just based on one experience that you've had, because some people really like, you know, they've had it so rough in their countries, like coming from Syria or wherever, and, you know, just to
be like, aggressive towards them here. Like, you know, nobody should do that. Yeah, no, that's, that's, that's a really good point that you make. There is it's a shame that whenever something is provided for free or some sort of help
There's always people out there that are looking to take advantage of it that don't necessarily deserve it. Or that's not really their situation. And that's just a human element. It's not something about Muslims or Islam. You know, we recently had a big expos a on COVID aid, right? So we had the pandemic, and there was a lot of financial aid that was given out left and right for this and that cause. And they're just starting to realize how much fraud was involved in applying for that aid, and some people just kind of getting rich off of it. Now, obviously, some people exploit these things, like you were saying, like people on certain political persuasion, exploit these
things to make an argument that this shouldn't happen at all. And that's not necessarily logical, because people need help. But, you know, just to say that this human element kind of is always there. That's that's looking to kind of exploit something, regrettably. And yeah, it hurts, it hurts. It hurts everybody, because you do get painted with one broad brush. As we say. It's really interesting in Utica, New York, you know, Utica is known as unofficially as the city that loves refugees.
Because we've had, we have a very large refugee resettlement center. And refugees have literally turn the city around. And this is actually that's why I asked the question in the first place, you have places like in southern Italy, I'm sure you're probably aware of where
they were experiencing loss of population and loss of jobs and all these sorts of things. Then the refugees came in, or they were allowed to come in. And they completely turned around the local economy. Very single similar thing that happened here, especially starting with the Bosnians in the 90s. Buying up old buildings, or inhabiting old buildings, renovating them, completely, sort of turning the city around. And so it's really interesting to live in Utica, we have this kind of culture where even the the non Muslims are the people who have been in Utica for 100 years, or their families have they understand most of them, most of them, like understand the value of refugees and
what they bring. Most of them are hard workers, most of them. Yes, they take time. I think we have some local people, academics that run studies and things like that, and found that it takes refugees about seven years, to get fully acclimated to the point where they're putting back in and contributing and actually adding value to the community. Because it is hard, it's hard to pick up everything and go to a place that's completely different. You don't know the language, you don't know the culture, all these sorts of things. So that's, that's, that's very fascinating, something that both Europe and the United States have in common.
So tell us a little bit more about then, okay, you're in this country that has very, very, very few Muslims. How did you become exposed to Islam? And what attracted you to it?
So I come from my background is like, really, like an average Estonian family, I would say, my parents are not religious.
I would say agnostic, maybe my dad would sometimes go to the church during the Christmas time, because it's just a habit, you know, people do that. Not really, for religious reasons, maybe, but just, you know, part of the holidays festivities,
the only person in my family who was religious was my grandfather.
And at some point, I started finding that, you know, there has to be a creator at some kind of higher power, probably had heard some things about God from here and there, and somehow started believing in God. I was like, I was like, Really, like a child. At that time. I can't remember my age, maybe like 1011 12, something like that. And, and somehow, I got curious, and I wanted to know more about it. But the only, like, sources about religion that I can get my hands on, we're Christian. So for example, I remember my grandfather had this small
book for children with Bible stories.
You know, telling the stories about the prophets, actually, like a lot of it was, you know, true, because, you know, we believe in like a lot of the same stories in Islam, you know, broadly.
So I remember reading that, and it kind of strengthened my faith in a way at that time, that yeah, there is a God. And somehow I started, you know, becoming
more closer to Christianity, until I found myself actually practicing Christianity.
During my teenage years, I would go to church sometimes, but in another town, or away because I was shy about it, like, talking about religion, being religious or having or believing in God in Estonia at that time was was something that is that was frowned upon. Even Even nowadays, some people like you know, think you were like crazy or you're like
You're silly to believe in a higher power. So yeah, I would go to another town just to attend the church.
I would read the Bible regularly, I would say the prayer every night before I go to bed, the Christian prayer. But at some point,
I started doubting the whole concept of, of Trinity.
It's funny to think about it that actually believed in it somehow. And now it like, doesn't make any sense to me at all. Like, how can how can like this, you know, three in one thing work and make sense.
So I started moving away from Christianity, but I remember I would still go to church, and I would still pray to God. And even even though I might be confusing, but even though I believe in Trinity, I never prayed to Jesus, right? I believe that Jesus was son of God, but I never pray to him. I only pray to You know, one God. That's a very common remark. Like, it's amazing how often I hear that and myself, too. I mean, I never once prayed to Jesus in my life, even though I believed in Trinity. So that's
the only one that finds fascinating.
Yeah, so after that, I started moving away from Christianity. And I was kind of, in this time period, where I believed in one God and I thought, I honestly thought that this is how I'm going to be I don't need any religion, but just believing in one God, that's enough. I don't need any I don't need to follow any particular religion, I can be like a believer, but not religious. So
at that time period, I was also more open to other resources. Like other sources,
whether they were like,
Islamic or like, even like, I looked into some Hindu
I watched in one of the videos, you also said music was a big part of your life before and, and for me, it was the same like I used to play the guitar. And I used to, like, do some busking on the streets, play the guitar and sing a little bit, just for the fun of it. And I remember in one, one of the music festivals, one of the biggest ones in Estonia, I met some met some women or girls from
like, they were still only in but they were like, in Belgium,
following some kind of Hindu mystic religion, like in a in a temple and living there. And it's, it seems so cool to me. So I wanted to read more about it. But this thing like this book that I was supposed to get, I think it was called Bhagavad Gita or something like that. Yeah, of course. Yeah. It went on, it went by me. And a few months later, I started reading more about Islam. I had some people I would talk to online, like friends, online friends, who were Muslim. And they weren't really doing Dawa, to me. But I got a better picture about what Islam is or what Muslims are about, or what they are not about, which, you know, you get up from the TV that, you know, Muslims are
like, violent, and Islam is a really violent religion. So humbly I got, I got a better picture about about Islam. And I decided to read the Quran, that is the translation of the meaning of the Quran, I just come out in Estonian and non Muslim I translated it but still am that it was, you know, okay to read stories.
And I started reading that, and I didn't think that I would become a Muslim. But every time I would read it, I would read it daily, I would start thinking that like, Hannah, like, you know, this, this looks like, you know, this is the truth this makes sense. Like, and, you know, for people, like different verses affect them. But for me, honestly, it was, like the verses about Jahannam like, what if, what if it's true? What if Islam is true? And all those verses about Jehovah and what if I'm going to end up there, if I then follow this? So of course, now we know that you know, what, you have to have the hope and the fear imbalanced, you have to have the help of reaching Jannah and the
fear of you know, ending up in hellfire which you know, makes you work more with good deeds and, you know, abstain from all the bad beats. But at that time, we didn't get it was really there was a verses about Jahannam that struck me the most and, and as I was going through it, I started feeling myself as as a Muslim because I believed in it. And, and, and spa like one thing I also say to people, especially non Muslims, like sometimes the non Muslim students, they visit the Islamic Center, and I tell them about my journey. I always emphasize that for me, it was always believing in the same God I never had
To like, you know, turn around and like, you know, think over all of my worldview and belief system, it was like, you know, going from high school to university like, you know, going forward. It's not like, you know, you had to like make it turn to somewhere else. Right? Software Update. That's what I call it. It was a software update. Exactly, exactly. So yeah, like this is, this is how I became a Muslim. After that, like, it took a while to
actually start praying properly and even to say the shahada because I had this, this thought that like, oh, like, I'm gonna go to Egypt, I had, like, the plane tickets booked and everything planned, going to go to some big masjid, they're
going to be like a really amazing ceremony or whatever. I'm going to do the shahada there. But it was a really interesting, interesting part of, of my life.
Like this transitional phase. So you know, at that time, of course, I wasn't really following Islam that much in all the aspects.
So yeah, like it was. It was crazy time, in a way. But at Hamdulillah. Eventually, after many, many months, I actually said the Shahada. I started praying. And
I don't know if you want me to go on, because I would go, there's so much there's so much to let's maybe pause. And there's there's a couple of follow up questions. I have it because well, first of all, I find it really interesting, your comment about the verses about Johanna. And I think that one of the things you hinted at, and it's very, very true is that those verses give us a sense that there's something at stake here, right, there's something that you really have to figure out. Because a lot of us, you know, we go through life, and it's just like, well, you know, you can believe or you cannot believe where you can have religion and not have religion. And, you know, it's
like, that's your culture, or that's not your culture, and everybody can choose what they want. Right? That's a very, like low stake scenario. And it doesn't give anybody a sense of urgency, right? If you realize that, yeah, like various eternal consequences to this thing, how you're living your life, what are the things that you're believing in? What are the principles that are guiding your decisions and your actions and things like that?
Yeah, like, it's a very motivating thing. And that's a really fascinating part of your story. I think that you felt the urgency, you have to figure it out. That's what I try to tell Christians and anybody you know, that you owe it to yourself to investigate? Because what, what's the consequences if you're wrong, you know, the consequences of being wrong are actually quite, quite severe. And so you don't have to, I'm not going to tell you, you know, what, what to believe. And I don't expect any random person on the internet to just trust me, but you owe it to yourself to figure it out on your own. And if you come to this conclusion, or that conclusion, then at least you tried, right but
for people to just sit back and you know, your life is Netflix and you know, whatever go into the club or go into the disco. In Europe, they call the disco right?
I think they call it the clouds. Now we do they call it the cloud? No, okay. We call it the cloud, you know, that's your life, then it's, you, you've lost either way, right? You've failed to kind of take that required amount of care and, and investigation and do the sort of thing that was that was needed to do.
But what another thing allowed me to do, please just one thing I wanted to add, like here, like regarding this is also what I always tell the non Muslims, when I have this discussion, that like, I tell them like this, like, okay, let's let's, let's say that, you know, there is no life after death. And I'm not risking with anything really, like, I'm gonna live my life as a Muslim. Muslims generally are religious people in general, are more happy or happier in this life. They have more meaningful lives in general. And so you know, Alhamdulillah live this life, if there's nothing, you know, I don't lose anything. But I was like you, if you don't look into this, if you don't believe
in God, your whole life, if you don't have God in your life, like you are really skilled with a lot, if there is something like of course, we as Muslims believe that there is without, you know, without any doubt, but I tell them, the non Muslims that you know, if there is an afterlife, if there is eternal life, it is hellfire. Then you are risking with with a lot. There's a lot at stake here, just as you said, Yeah, that's
the other thing that kind of caught my eye. Like, it's fascinating to me to think about that stage when you're, you first make the decision to start to be religious, okay. Or to you know, you believe or you start to believe a little bit more.
And then there's all these paths that are open to you, right? You mentioned that Hinduism and kind of, you know, sort of having some leanings that way. There's two questions that I want to kind of get your your
Take on, there's a lot of people, especially today, especially in the United States, that they don't feel the need to limit themselves to just one path. Right? So they, they say, like, you know, I don't have to commit to be a Christian or to be a Muslim or to be this or even to be a Hindu or this or that, right? Like, I can just try to be a good person and believe in God and be and be spiritual in my own way.
And that's enough. So the first question would be like, Why wasn't that enough for you? Why did you feel like you needed to? Or was there a moment or some sort of thing that dawned on you, where you realize that that wasn't enough? And then the second question is Why Islam? Because if you're a lot of Westerners are attracted to Hinduism and Buddhism, and the Far Eastern religions, and I have my own sort of ideas and thoughts as to why that is. But eventually, you did choose Islam. So what was appealing about Islam over Hinduism, for example.
So regarding, you know, like, people, people like thinking that, okay, like, you know, I don't need a real religion, like, I'll just
leaving one guy, for example, or, like, I follow like, bits and pieces of this religion and, like, follow something from here, something from there.
The problem with that is, is of course, that I didn't have like, one single moment where I thought, like, okay, like, you know, I must, you know, have religion now, it was like, a really gradual process of reading the Quran, which made me realize that I have to no one to follow Islam. But I think the the major problem here is that
if the people going down that path that just are picking what they like, from one religion, for example, or like, you know, following something from some other religion,
it's going to be first of all really subjective. Like, they don't really have a valid basis, like, you know, the claim that okay, this is right, and this is wrong. And there is no like, like, objective
conception of right and wrong without, without, without God, without the Creator. And we need to find the sources,
which are reliable, that have come from God, from the Creator, that we can learn from, so we can we can know what is right, what is wrong, what we, you know, what we're supposed to do in this life, and what, you know, what we can do what we can't do. So, I think that is one of the, like, major things like, because even if you argue with those people, sometimes you have discussions, like, they're going to base their, you know,
like, their opinions on something subjective, some experience they had, maybe
it's not gonna be like, in the end objective. And if you can't have even morality, you can't have like, like, objective morals, without putting, putting the Creator putting God Allah in, in, in that equation. So that's why we need like we need, we need some kind of source and we need to look into holy books, like it's not bad, like for a person who is looking for, you know, for looking for God to compare maybe different, different holy books, but hopefully, they will see they will come to Quran in the end and see, like, Hamdulillah, this, this has been preserved as it as it was revealed. And it makes sense. And, in my case, why Islam Why didn't I look for other
religions, for example, I had to, like, kind of eliminate from from from that list of religions, like some religions that like, I knew that I would not follow up because they didn't have that concept of one God, because I knew that, you know, I believe in one God, this is what I'm looking for. I'm looking some kind of maybe, like, some kind of framework around it, like, you know, how to like how to act in this life, what to do what not to do, but it had to be
with one God, one Creator. So Buddhism, for example, was completely out of question, in my case.
Some, like, even with Hinduism, like you know, like those people that I met in that music festival, they, they were believing also one God, but like, when you look at the Hinduism, really, like, you know, it's, it's really, it's really confusing. There's like many different versions, even you can say, and there's like many, many gods, so how can it really be like,
And so for me, I knew that, you know, I believe in one God, also believed in Jesus, but I didn't believe in Jesus anymore as the Son of God or part of trinity or, you know, part of God himself.
So, Islam just, you know, fit for me perfectly. There wasn't really any other religion, that that could, you know, fit all
These all these things that you know, I was already believing. And that made sense to me.
Very nice, very excellent reflections. Thank you so much for going into that. Okay, so let's let's pick back up with where you were, you're near 17, late teens, you become a Muslim?
Where do you go from there? What did your parents say? What did your family say? Yeah, Alhamdulillah my parents
Alhamdulillah I can only say good things about them. Of course, they had some sort of, like fear about you know, what's what's going to happen now is our son going to turn out to be like a terrorist legs, these fears are real as as as, like,
you know, silly as it sounds. But you know, this, in a country where Islam
doesn't have, you know, people don't know about Islam. And they have heard like bits and pieces, which is most negative, maybe are from the media from TV, etc. They might have such fears,
by their handle line time, especially
my relationship with my parents, but then maybe even especially, my mom got got much better, we got like, really close and handle until this day, we were like really close even with my dad. So So I handled
in general, like Islam helped me become a better son to my parents. And hamdulillah relationship got much better. Between me and my mom and dad. And
especially in time, they became even more supportive regarding my, my choices as a Muslim. And, of course, one of the difficult things was when I decided to go to study in Medina, which meant that I would be away
in another country for a long time period.
So it was hard for them. But that Hamdulillah we could deny in these days, like it was easier to stay in touch with them with, you know, online, call them cetera. But before I go into the medina stuff, I wanted to come back to the,
like the high school
time, because I accepted Islam, when I was in 11th grade. So in fourth grade, last year of high school, I was Muslim, I was a practicing Muslim. And it was, it was an interesting time, it was not easy. But there's so many lessons to just learn from that. Like that one year.
It's one of the things is that, like, if you are looking for ways to do things properly, for example, regarding prayers, then Allah will, Allah will help you. There are so many, so many
kids these days, or maybe not kids, like people who have to pray. They're like going to high school, they're already in that in that age. But but you know, they make up all these excuses. Yeah, and even sometimes parents are supportive, oh, you know, just come back home, do your like, you know, prayers after, like, the school days is over. So I was like, I was that like, you know, like recently converted. I was like, really, like, straightforward, straightforward with that. I knew that I had to pray on time. And especially in the winter, like, sometimes the classes would end at 3pm. So we have a board at like 1212 o'clock, and one 1.1 PM, we already have acid. Wow, obviously,
at least you have to pray for you and probably answer as well. So what I would do, like, I would before, I've never asked out from the classes, like people go to the toilet, sometimes I would never do that. So I started asking God, like, you know, they kind of go out Teacher, please, need to go out. I never told why. But I went to went to pray when to pray and be
one of the stairs that wasn't used that much. It had like a little bit of traffic still. Or sometimes it would go to be
like, near the, like the sports hall where we would like go to, like, change our clothes after the physical education classes. I would sometimes pray there. I would look around this whole school building a place where I can pray. And Hamdulillah I was always able to do it.
Sometimes maybe, yes. I have to admit like I would stop meet prayer. Because sometimes sometimes somebody would walk I would hurt someone coming and I would stop to prayer. Just be on my phone pretend like I wasn't doing anything. Yes, that was not correct. Maybe I was maybe didn't have that in that much be man to continue praying and not care. But the handler I got back later I did the prayer again. So alhamdulillah it's one of the things that I I think it's really really important.
Like prayer is one of the most important pillars in the life of a Muslim. And if we become like really like, you know,
maybe lenient is not the right word, the best word, but if we, you know,
we don't like seriously, yeah, like, relax, like, yeah, just you know, the higher inshallah you pray after you come back from school or like, like, if you teach your kids for example,
then, you know, they just make all like, the prayers like the harasser. Maghrib, you know, when they when they come back home, if you let them do that for years, like in high school, for example, it's going to be really, really hard for them to actually start praying properly. Once, you know, high school is over. Like, they're going to have all the excuses like, you know, to not pray on time afterwards, as well in university or in their workplace. But the thing is, like, if you're looking for a way to pray, or do anything that is pleasing to Allah, that you have to do that is one of your obligations as a Muslim, then, you know, rest assured, Allah will help you in that he will make a
way you're not just asking, make to add to, to him, and he will, he will make it easier for you. And we all, you know, experience some kinds of tests. It's in the Quran that like, you know, after people start believing, don't expect that, you know, you will be left alone and without any tests and hardships. And now, we in the West, like, general, we have an easy, like, we don't have to struggle, like, especially these days, like in this era, like, we don't have the struggles that the Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alayhi salam and the Sahaba had, that they were really suffering, they were like, you know, having a tough, but we also have our tests, and they're, they're of different
levels. And, and one of the tests can be, you know, to pray on time, sometimes maybe it's not easy, maybe at school, maybe have work. But you know, if you really want to do it, Allah will make it make it possible for you. And it's super important, it shows the value of converts, you know, because people such as you and me, who convert, and we don't have any sort of doubts about belonging to a society, we can be more bold, or at least it's easier for us not saying that people who come from outside shouldn't be that bold. Yes, they should be. But for them, it's also tied in with these, you know, narrow political narratives and about being an outsider and being a foreigner and being
suspicious and being dangerous and these sorts of things. So the temptation for them, it's all West west from the shaytaan. But the temptation for them is to be like, Well, I don't want to be noticed in that way, or I don't want to be kind of suspected of this sort of thing. And then Congress like you and me, we can now listen, like there's no one more Estonian than you. And there's no one more American than I am, you know, I was like, other than Native Americans, probably. And so yeah, I'm gonna, I'm gonna, I'm gonna pray right here, and you're gonna have to deal with it. And, you know, that's something that is, I think, really encouraging for all Muslims. Yeah, absolutely.
So, okay, we're going along, we're starting to get into that's the high school, the high school phase, and we're starting to come along. You mentioned Medina, how did you even know that Medina was an option? Why Medina? How did that whole process unfold? So as I was still in 11th grade, I had become a Muslim. I think I'd set the shahada
April of that year, and just a couple of months later,
there was I went to the
stone and Islamic center which which had just been opened, but used to pray in some small apartment before and just the center had opened and I met the the, the the Imam there, the the Mufti of the stone in Islamic congregation. And mashallah, like, I felt really welcomed. Like, like, he prayed, like, right next to me, there was some prayer or something. And then we sat down and like, you know, we drank tea, and I felt like really like, I don't know, like, this is like a Mufti and like, you know, he's giving me all this time and like, I felt like so special, like, I'm not gonna lie. And
he told me that there is there is some kind of like, Islamic seminar coming up in Poland.
It was just maybe a few days after
after meeting him or something. And I was like, okay, you know, I should go probably, I want to learn more about my religion and why not? So I ended up going there. I met a brother there
who was studying already in Medina. And some some mache from from Saudi Arabia. Were also there. And I that's the first time I really found out about the
Diversity and I knew that like, you know, I have to grab on to I want to you know, I have to apply and make sure that I you know, I get in and, and hamdulillah after that I gathered the necessary documents I applied with the help of the Mufti and hamdulillah at that year, there were four Estonians that applied and three got accepted. So I was one of the three or so if anyone anyone wants to become like you know, a student in Medina, you try to get Estonian citizen
you will get
like even even better, like some years like probably nobody applies even and we have like really few people who are like applying so it's really easy to get in. Yeah, for those that don't know, you know, the University of Medina Islamic University with prizes geographic diversity in its admissions and so if you apply from a place that has very few people applying you're very likely to get in as opposed to places that have a lot of applicants then obviously you're not as likely to get in
So yeah, this is this is how I applied and handle I got accepted
as a plan B in case I would not you know, for what for whatever reason be able to travel or something comes up now supplied in in a local university in Italian University. And I started studying there actually, but just for a couple of months still till I was able to travel to Medina mashallah I was okay so what let's let's transition to the medina phase.
What were your expectations going in? How was Medina surprising to you? How was that different from what you expected? What were some of the things that amazed you and some of the things that maybe disappointed you?
So it's a big question.
I think for me
you know, coming from this ball village where there's no Muslims around you know, the fact that everyone is Muslim, you have massages everywhere, you have halal food everywhere. Like, this was like, you know, just amazing and I always considered like, you know, Medina itself is like this weird religious like Island, right, you know, with Mecca, for example, or maybe a couple of other places in salary. And you have that university campus which is like this small island within that island, which is like a bunch of like, you know, like really religious Muslims and like just living there like amongst these brothers like handle like was like just coming from like this this small
village with no Muslims and going there being surrounded with Muslims from all over the world this is this was also one of the most beautiful things like you could meet like brothers from you know, anywhere basically like you know, even from countries that you would not imagine that had Muslims there like some central American like island countries or like Papua New Guinea or something like that, like countries like it's kind of like even that like just in itself was a beautiful experience. And of course, I knew that you know, I was expecting like a really international university but like actually being there and like praying next to the you know, brothers from all
you know, nationalities and countries it was just beautiful and being able to make friends with those people in our like, you know, just talk to them like about their journey about
you know, about their life their country the Muslims their Islam there, et cetera. Like this was really beautiful. And
yeah, I think that was one of the most positive aspects just being able to practice my religion so freely so easily. And the remembers halala
as far as it is something I remember even now like when praying on those stairs like in those in that high school, I remembered I always thinking to myself like one day inshallah this will get easier to pass. Like it gets so much easier.
Was there anything that disappointed you about Medina? Was there anything that kind of took you by surprise, that's a common thing that a lot of people because at the same time, it's, it's an amazing thing to be obviously, Medina is, you know, even just religiously, you know, through the Hadith, it's a it's a blessing place.
But sometimes we have an impression that everything's going to be easy, or that everybody's going to be nice to us.
And obviously, that's not that's not the reality. So did you have any struggles in Medina or any disappointments?
And yeah, I should be probably brutally honest here and like, say it as it is. Because sometimes we have as you said, like people have like, in their mind that like
You know, Medina is dislike, you know, everyone is 100% practicing Muslim and nothing bad happens ever. So for example, my scooter got stolen, and my, my bicycle, they tried to steal it, but they couldn't break the lock. I was praying Asia, and I left my bicycle like with lock
locked up on a tree or something. And they had tried to like, break it, but they couldn't like it's a bicycle, like, come on, like, it's what is it work like maybe like, I don't know, 200 rial or something. And it's kind of like these things like they happen. But what people need to understand that like you have, even in the in the prophets, Mohammed, Mohammed steim, Salah has always had such people that are like, who weren't like religious who weren't practicing, maybe they were hypocrites, maybe they were not like, you know, following Islam at all. And you always have these people, there's nothing new about it. So you can't, you know, you can't be like to surprise, but it's better
to know that this might happen. Because some people they say that, like, you know, like in Islamic countries, like you can, you know, you leave your car outside, you know, the keys with the keys, and you know, this and that. And then somebody like takes that advice or like things that really works like that, and it gets something stolen. Like, yeah, that's true, I had the benefit of some of my mentors that helped me get some of the, you know, they would tell me all of the great things before I got accepted. And then after I got accepted, they told me all the bad things. So that I was still excited and motivated enough to want to go and apply. But then when I got there, I wasn't I wasn't
surprised by some of the hardship that was involved and the disappointment. Some people do get very disappointed when they realize that it's not a there's not a fairy tale. There's no perfect place on earth.
At least in that sense. What was your relationship like with your fellow students from either Estonia or from other places? I know that Western students, one of the common things that we have to navigate is sort of maybe a cliquish mentality. There's different students that fall into different groups and they try to pull you off and you know, sit with the scholars don't sit with these scholars be with these brothers don't be with these brothers. Did you have to face any of that? I was mostly spared from that myself. Hamdulillah. But a lot of brothers from Europe do and North America do have to deal with that did you have to deal with anything like that?
I experienced the fact that he had like some, you know, different groups of students, like some of them, like, you know, don't want to hang out with with other groups because of their manhood or something. And you have these, these things, but Alhambra, generally, I was also spread with spread from that and hamdullah had, like some found some really, really amazing brother's
like, he had so much to learn from, and who just like in a really good company, like,
during those, those years there and, and, and handled with some of them, I assume, you know, stay in touch. And even though we know we don't talk daily or weekly, but like they're like still really important people in my life at that period, really, like you know, affected me a lot and like maybe maybe even changed me in some ways. So in general, like yes, I have, you know, I can say the handle I was spared from those six stuff but but it happens and
it's, it's a shame that it happens like especially like you know, in a place like that. And
the problem is also like you know, when they when they have it there they're always gonna carry this that back in their home countries. Yes. And it's especially dangerous when you go back to like really small community you can't you can't really afford division like you know, based on like, you know, whether like, I didn't really put your hands like this earlier, if you put your hands to decide during the prayer like
you have to work like together with people like as long as you know, they have like still like you know, proper IP, I'm not saying like you know, you you're gonna like work together with our region like you know, like let's you know, let's do everything like together but but but in general it's really important to try to avoid this divisions because also in Estonia, unfortunately we have seen how
with with some some light some division has happened and how it has affected the community some people don't feel welcome to come to the center I like handled it has become better now but there was a period where some people actually like avoided avoided the Islamic center when we only have one in the capital or so. It's not like you have like an alternative like I'm gonna go to the masjid now.
But But yeah, like this is really dangerous and unfortunate this this was also taking place in Medina. Yeah. Subhan Allah yeah, there's there's always something that split over you know, and that's the reality that people who have a sort of a partisan or a sectarian mentality, you know, it usually just keeps on splitting and splitting and splitting. You know, you think that I'll once we split
off from this one group that then we're going to be good and it very rarely works out that way. Usually, then you find something else, and there's something else and there's something else. There's no end to it. So that's really nice to hear that I wasn't the only one. That sort of steered clear of all that sort of stuff while I was there.
What Which college did you choose to go into? How was the transition?
Going back from one thing that I like to ask people? What was there anything that you learned in Medina? That
how I would say it, like maybe you had an impression about something within Islam, that Medina completely changed for you, I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about, from my personal experience. When by the time I arrived at Medina, I had this impression that if the scholars or the mullah have different about
that, usually it was one of them had a lack of knowledge, maybe so and so didn't hear the Hadith. Okay, and I was in the Kalia Sharia. So I quickly learned that that's not true that when or lemma you know, we're talking about the old aroma different about something, it was almost always about how to interpret the evidence or how to combine all of the evidence within the masala. Right. So that was something that was a big transformation for me kind of how I viewed Islam and what I thought I understood about Islam, in addition to telling us which school you ended up choosing, and maybe why you chose that school, was there anything like that for you something that would that
Medina change your perspective about Islam?
I'm going to be again, brutally honest,
if that's what we like, had, it had like a really positive effect on my opinion. Because when I was when I first became a Muslim,
the first maybe not even like the first first year or something, but at some point, I was kind of drifting away to sort of like Hawaii mentality.
So Medina, in a way saved me from that. And even like I remember, like, even in during the first
first year, or two, in Medina
I had some arguments with some brothers because of my own, like, like values, Islamic values, that actually turned out to be a bit extremist. So alhamdulillah Medina, like really like, this is really like maybe the most important thing that I came back with, Allahu Allah only Allah knows that maybe I would have found that also in Estonia, like the trip, but in my case, it was Medina. So sometimes when I think about like, oh, like, you know, I wasted like a lot of my time there, etcetera. Like maybe I didn't benefit like from all the classes they were should have been found. This is the most important thing having like a sound upgrade and Alhamdulillah we had also even like in the bar had
in the language institute we had like a really great great the hate Beecher Khalid or dad he passed away this year.
it's fun a lot. Like, like, just hearing like, you know, this strong, proper al Qaeda, which is not like, you know,
it's not like liberal Islam, but it's not also like that, you know, the whole lot of extremism is like, traditional conservative, like proper, like, you know, proper Islam and Alhamdulillah I came back with that. And, you know, nobody's perfect and like, even though like, I also have, like, made so many mistakes in my life Islamically and otherwise, of course, I've had, I've had this, like, this foundation of al Qaeda that I believe that the handle has been, has been really good. Mashallah, so, so which Kalia? Did you study in which which school? I went to Sharia?
So what inspired that choice? How did you go about that decision?
I was like, really, in between Dawa and Sharia. I was like, really like doubting which one would be best best for me. But
I was thinking at the time that okay, like in Sharia probably, like, I'm going to be dealing with like, different mosyle When I go back to my country, people are gonna ask about like, you know, basically, she's more like, you know, like, like, about the Salah, about the booboo and like the hustle etcetera, like all the different kinds of like, rulings, I thought that like, you know, this would be more beneficial.
And that I could, like, you know, learn like, the ways of Darwin like you know, all that, like, you know, what would you have like also like the heathen as you know, like, you know, some people think that when you go to Medina and choose
between different careers, like when you go to Sharia, you're only going to learn like second solo. Or you're going to go to like, like now I can only learn like, you know, the different like, sects and like how to repeat them and like their hate etc. But alhamdulillah you know, in Medina, we have like in different colleges, you you have like some part of the curriculum, which is shared between the different colleges. So he's still in Sharia law. So you learn Quran you learn tafsir really learn to hate, but just the emphasis is on solid. Yes. So that was my, my reason. So yeah, that very similar thought process. And I asked some mentors, and they basically said, yeah, if you go into
Sharia, you will always be useful, because everybody always wants to know what to do. Alright, so and I found that to be true. So now you, you came back. Okay, you're in Estonia. Tell us about sort of, what are sort of the things that you see or observe in Estonia, the Muslim community? What are sort of the challenges? What are some of the opportunities? Where do you see what what needs to be done?
It's not that there's so much to be done, like, I don't even know where to start from. So maybe I just explained what we have like, like, right now we have in the capital, we have the stone Islamic Center,
which mostly does Juma prayers, but also like daily prayers.
Sometimes there's some classes organized. When I was living in the Capitol, I would sometimes also give some classes there,
for kids and otherwise.
So first of all, there's there's a lack of like, Islamic education, to all different levels to do children to do adults as well. And the problem is also like, there's so many different languages at play here, like we have, we have a lot of people that are Muslims who are Russian speaking, because of their ethnicity, or data or ethnicity. So they are mostly speaking Russian. So sometimes, you need like classes in different languages. So this is this is one of the issues that makes it more difficult, maybe
you need more staff, you need more teachers.
We also, I believe, we need a lot more Dawa to non Muslims as well. hamdulillah one thing we have, one of the things we have going is that we have every now and then student groups non Muslim students coming to visit the Islamic center, when they're Estonian speaking or mostly received them, talk to them about Islam, the major like the main beliefs and rituals cetera sometimes they can see us pray, when it's a prayer time. So handle lights, it's really good thing we have going and and sometimes like the same teacher comes like, has been coming regularly every year, like with some groups
handle, this is a good thing. But in general, like Dawa to non Muslims other than those student groups, like it's, it's really like lacking like, there is almost none of it. So Alhamdulillah I hope that we can like
maybe maybe work together with with the Dow organization or euro I got in touch with the head of the Europe pm project. And and hopefully inshallah after the World Cup, they will have more time and maybe maybe early next year
they will be able to also like visit Estonia help us get get the dowel going in a more organized systematic manner. I have done like some of these our work before as well like especially during the summer breaks.
But, but it was like really like just, you know, pretty occasional and really not systematic but but I did enjoy it. I did enjoy like, you know, keeping the non Muslims on the street the opportunity to come and talk about Islam or give out some Islamic Islamic reading materials. But there's so much we need we need also like some kind of Islamic daycare or nursery that that should be priority because Islamic school is like a much bigger step with much more organizing and much more people and much more funding. But I think maybe starting from like a daycare where Muslim kids can you know grow up in a Islamic environment because of course all of this you know, it's going to affect when you put
your kids to do a non Muslim kindergarten and they're gonna you know
be with the with the other kids and sing all the songs and like read things that maybe are like straight goes up against the Hadees and like it's gonna affect obvious it's gonna affect like, you know, during those years and after that it's school and so this is one of the major things especially because the Muslims
mean it is growing it means also that there is more children and
spinal like I really, really hope that something Something will something good will, will come in the future regarding these these issues, inshallah Tada, sounds like you've got a lot of promising things opening up. We're running out of time, just a couple more questions.
Are you employed as an imam currently in Estonia? No, I, I used to work for the Estonian standard congregation right after coming back from from Medina. Okay. It was also like, a time where I was like, you know, I didn't really know what to do and like, I had some like, issues I was dealing with and, and like, it was really confusing time. And I think people faced that a lot when they come back from the dinar podium or something like students, they like, you know, they become like, pizza delivery guys like after like, you know, graduating luxury or something. So it's, it's, it's really like, can be difficult. But I was working for them. Like, maybe like a couple of years. I was mostly
doing like Islamic translations, like the Friday headbands, some other things, some, some classes for something grayed out something for kids.
But yeah, now I haven't been employed. But we we started like, recently in a really small town, next to, like, 20 minute drive from, from the village I live in. And it's a really small community that we started like, Friday prayers, is three brothers and one older lady.
But I think there's like there's a special beauty in it starting off with a really small community. And especially because Inshallah, I'm probably going to stick to the staying in this region for
for like, the next years, next few years, at least. So it's gonna be really nice, like to see if we can make it grow, if we can, you know, make this better, this really small community, where everyone knows each other. And we know, you know, even if you just meet on a weekly basis, just read Juma prayer, you still will, you know, ask about how you're doing what's going on in your life. Instead of like, a community of like, let's say like, 200 300 people, like most of the faces, or, you know, maybe unknown to you. And not to say that it's a bad thing that the community in any capitalist growing like that a handle, it's a beautiful thing. But there is also like, a special beauty to
really small, tiny community. Yeah. Mashallah. And starting something from the beginning, when you start from scratch, you know, like you said, you get to watch it grow, and you get to sort of maybe leave them a greater impact than something where it's been going in a certain direction for a while, and you have to try to step in and, you know, make changes sometimes, out there communities have their own momentum.
And their own trajectory, it can be, it can be difficult. So, that's, that's very exciting. Do you have any final thoughts or comments or anything you want to share before we, before we wrap up
pieces of advice for anybody doing Dow or going to Medina, or coming back from Indiana, or
at the I think maybe I would give, like more general advice. Like, I really like to be like, you know, sincere and honest with my experiences and like my life so that other can others can benefit from it. And not to like, you know, cover all the negative not to hide it away, but to learn from him that like, you know, shut us up that other people will not do the same mistakes. And one of the things that like I've been like, especially during the last few months, I've been experiencing, like, I've been looking more back at my life,
including the medina period. And the years after that, when I came back to Estonia, and there wasn't really active, like Islamic villages doing something here and there. And I feel that like, spawn like this life is really short. I'm about a third, about to turn 32 now, and I look back at my 20s and like, they're gone like that. So if anyone's listening to this, who's still in the 20s or even the 30 is like, you know, don't don't wait to get active with something like find one, even just one small thing that you can do for Islam, Islamic community and do it sincerely do it for do it for Allah and inshallah we you will get reward from that. Don't Don't wait. Or don't make up excuses
that oh, you can't do like you know that you don't have the resources but you know, find that you know, just one small thing you can do like maybe like, you know, a new Muslim convert in your in your area, like teaching how to pray, like teaching like small things teaching voodoo. It's kind of like the reward you will get this amazing. Maybe you have like one thing I've done also like I've visited like Muslim prisoners one One summer I was doing some Juma.
but they're like giving classes and maybe there's like a prison in your in your local area maybe there's not an imam there and and you can just visit just once a month would give so much to those people they're like God that one single person one single inmate there's always something we can do and like you don't have to have like, you know this Medina education or whatever, there's so much every single Muslim can do and you just have to find that that one thing that works for you, but don't wait Life is too short.
Well, that is beautiful advice. May Allah reward you and I will try to put it
into practice myself. I hope everybody viewing those to Bill Murray and thank you so much for joining us today. It was a lovely conversation. I'm pleased to know you. And I hope inshallah we'll have future opportunities to collaborate and keep the discussion going. Lot of coffee. Exactly hiring a bottle of liquor in Miami and I really hope we can stay in touch and I really thank you for this opportunity as well. Barnum love, Allah subhanaw taala Hello, hello crescendo, under under stuff, whatever, whatever we like. So I'm going to come off to La