Conversion Story For Berhat Cem Oner

Published on 21 Apr 2020

My name is Berhat Cem Oner.  I am 18 years old, I live in London with my parents. I'm originally from a Turkish-Kurdish background. My parents are originally from Turkey and they were Alevis, so that's my old religion. I'm studying A Levels:  A Level History, English Literature and Philosophy & Ethics. In the future, next year inshaAllah, I want to go into university and study Ancient History. Then I want to be a lecturer. That's my aim at the moment. 

I am Kurdish. Kurdish people are scattered in around four countries, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. My family are from the city of Kahramanmaraş,  but originally they say our tribe came from Khorasan region of Iran. Kurdish people, because they don't have a government, they are in different countries in different parts of the world. And they are usually Alevi in Turkey, but majority of them are Sunni, Sunni Shafi'i in Iraq and Iran, I believe.

First of all, the Alevis in Turkey differ a lot from the Alevis in Syria, for example, the Alevis in Turkey, their religion is mixed with Shi'a elements, Sufi elements and Zoroastrian elements, so it's kind of a mixed religion.

Alevis, they do believe in one God, they believe in the Prophet Muhammad, the Ahlul Bayt. However, recently, Alevism has been, I wouldn't say split into sects, but a lot of people have different opinions about it now, because it's not really like the mainstream Islam, for example, they don't pray five times a day, they do not fast on Ramadhan, the women do not wear hijab, they do not attend mosque. Because of these things, a lot of Alevis realized that their religion is not really Islam, although a lot of people.... the government of course categorized as Islam, and Alevis as Muslims, a lot of them they don't see themselves as Muslims because they do not practice their religion.

A lot of them claim that they love and follow the path of Imam Ali, Imam Husayn. However, they don't practice their teachings. The Alevis, the way they pray for example, completely differs from Muslims. Their day is not Friday, but is Thursday instead, and like Sufis,  their prayer is's very spiritual, They do dhikr, they turn around. There's an elder in the middle, he's the leader of the prayer; this elder plays the Turkish musical instrument called bağlama, and he recites stories of Imam Husayn and he talks about the love of Imam Ali, and the people.... that's how they worship. That's the Alevi way to pray. 

The beliefs, some people claim that Alevis see Imam Ali as a prophet, that is completely false. Of course, there may be some ultra ignorants like young people, maybe, who haven't studied about Alevism who might think Imam Ali is a prophet because of how great the status is in the religion. However, this is completely false. No religious leader or elder claims it, this is not in the books, there is no such thing. 

My parents, they are Alevis, they would claim to be Alevis as well. However, I would say they're not practicing. They have Alevi beliefs I would say, but they don't pray. They don't practice like I said. And because of this... my father, for example, always tell me we are Alevis, this is really important, this is our identity. That's why since a young age, I always wanted to know, like they said, love Imam Ali, they will teach me the stories, but I cannot love Imam Ali or the Prophet of Allah if I don't know about them; so I wanted to learn more about Alevism. 

I wouldn't say I'm really that knowledgeable about  Alevis​​​​​​​m, but I started learning about the basics. And what I realized was, I was always a follower of Ahlul Bayt,  always, but I found the contradiction. For me, Alevis​​​​​​​m was not the path of Ahlul Bayt. So when I looked more into Alevis​​​​​​​m, I also found out about Shi'a Islam.  I didn't know about Shi'a Islam before. For me, Shi'a Islam was like the perfect way, the path of the Prophets and the Imams. Then I'll start learning about Shi'a Islam, when I started from Alevis​​​​​​​m.

My family is very big, I got a lot of family in the UK. I have one brother, one sister. My sister, she doesn't really follow any religion, and my brother is five years old, he's very young, so he doesn't also believe in anything. But he, for example, when he sees me pray, he tries praying behind me, he's trying to imitate me as well. My other family members such as my uncles, my aunties, they don't really like Islam, because of the way how they've been treated in Turkey. For example, there were many massacres in Maras and Sivas, these Eastern areas in Turkey, where there are many Alevis​​​​​​​. These people got burned alive, they got massacred.... Because of these terrible things that happened to them, they have a negative viewpoint on Islam. They don't think it's a religion of peace, they see it as a religion of terrorism. 

I would say that's the Alevis​​​​​​ view, that's why they are away from Islam now. And if you went to the elders, or let me say, 30 years ago, Alevis would have still said they're Muslims, but now they reject it completely. They say, if we are Muslims why did we get killed? The situation is a bit similar to Shi'a Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan. So they are away from Islam now.

As a result, my family is also like that. My mom, dad, of course they know I'm Muslim, but they don't really support me in this way.

I always believed in God, I never doubted it, basically. However, the thing I didn't understand was Alevism is..... I saw issues of Alevism​​​​​​​, so I wanted to know more about it. For example, my dad would say, we are Alevis​​​​​​​, we have to be, it's our way of life, it's our philosophy. And of course, they would claim.... my parents, my other family members would claim, this is from God, this is the truth. However, I have always wanted to know why is this the truth. For example, when you go into Islam, they say, the Qur'an and the Ahlul Bayt. they're the proofs of God. The Qur'an is so miraculous that it must be from God. Alevis, I didn't see any evidence that it is the true religion, so I wanted to know more about it. So when I researched more about Alevism, and listened to the elder, the teachings of Alevism, the people of knowledge, I also, like I said, I came across Shi'a Muslims. Speakers like Sayyid Ammar Nakshawani, he really inspired me ... when I wanted to learn more about Imam Ali, so when I looked into lectures of Imam Ali, I saw this man, this individual. When I saw him, his lecture were so inspiring. I watched all the lectures about Prophet Mohammed, Fatima, the 12 Imams. Then I started gaining more Shi'a Islamic beliefs while I looked into Islamic scholars, and Shi'a scholars as well after Alevism.

So when I saw the contradiction in Alevism, I got put off a bit. Although it's a beautiful religion, it teaches love, being a great human being, they call it al-insan al-kamil, a perfect human being, I didn't feel attached to it, because although it's beautiful, not everything that's beautiful is true. I didn't feel a connection with it. So I stayed away a bit more from Alevism, and came closer to Islam. 

Then I started looking into also Sunni Islam.  Sunni Islam, also, maybe I might have been a bit biased because of my family, because of how the Sunni's treated us and things like this, but I also didn't feel close to it. For example, when I heard about, "'Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, fighting with Mu'awiyah, may Allah be pleased with him", these things really confused me. "'Ali and Ayesha, Allah will be pleased with them both". I never understood these things. I saw problems with Sunni Islam as well. So gradually, when looking into these other sects of Islam, because of Alevism, by studying Alevism, I came across these things. That's how I identified myself as a Shi'a Muslim. I thought this was the true path,.I felt a connection with it.

And after I became a Shi'a Muslim, I felt like this is what I was always looking for. And after, I've always felt like a proper Shi'a Muslim. I learned about the beliefs and I came close to it. The reason, I'll say the main reason why I wanted to change was when I found about Imam Mahdi. When I was younger, I always.... my dream, well, I say dream but it's very something like people will say it's impossible; I always wanted peace. Because of the conflicts, my people, my community went through, I have always wanted peace. When I read about and studied about an individual whose whole objective is to bring peace on earth, I didn't care about what people said. I had to embrace that, after I believed that as well, I had to embrace the path of the Imam. And I didn't really care what people said. First, because I believed that was the truth. I'm an open minded person, I always wanted to gain knowledge, and see what it is, and I embraced it. Secondly, I believed, if I gain enough... I wouldn't say I'm a person of knowledge, of course, that's obvious. But if I gain enough knowledge to teach and give da'wa about Islam to my friends, my close relatives, that is also a solution. So maybe people wouldn't judge me as much if I gave knowledge, if I can gain debating skills, learn more about the religion, why certain things are practiced. 

When I first became a Muslim, or when I first started practicing Islam, now when I started praying, fasting, I didn't really tell my parents straightaway. My father, especially, it was harder to tell him. I told him much later, after I first told my mother, then I told my father. It was very difficult because I used to hear a lot of bad things about Islam and Muslims from my parents. So when I say I've joined this path, they will take you the wrong way. They'll say, you left your religion, you left the path of your family, your forefathers, and you are joining the enemies. They will see as enemies because they've been massacred by Muslims.

So they don't really know about Shi'a Islam. Their view of Islam is only Sunnism, they don't know anything about Shi'ism. So it was hard for me to tell my parents. But one day I was praying, then I went downstairs. My mother went inside my room and saw a prayer mat. When she saw it she was like, what are you doing, what is this prayer mat? I said, mom, I became a Muslim, I'm practicing, I haven't told you, but this is my belief, I'm a strong believer in this.

My mother, she understood it, although she disagreed, she respected my opinion. I told her more about Shi'a Islam, how it's different. She didn't know a lot of their beliefs, and she found it fascinating that it was actually very close to Alevism. So it wasn't a big problem telling my mother. Later on, I realized I have to tell my father as well. My father didn't like it at all when I first told him. He got frustrated, he didn't understand, he didn't know how I became Muslim, because he comes from... he's quite secular, and I would say he's got some communist beliefs. He didn't understand how I became Muslim, because he raised me as an Alevi.

He said, okay, I understood this, I understand that you studied Alevism, your formal religion. But why this Islam? Where did this come from? It was very difficult for me to explain to him. Although I explained to him why I believe in this religion, he says, okay, why praying? What's the point of prayer? What's the point of fasting? He never understood these things. But alhamdulillah, now he's fine with it. First he wasn't alright with that at all, but now he's beginning to understand it. He knows why I do these things. He understood how I came to the religion and why I've embraced this way of life. 

The way I learned to practice was from books, lectures, and I researched online to be honest, how to pray. I found there's differences in Shi'a and Sunni way. But yeah, it was online and my reading books. In the beginning when I first became a Shi'a Muslim, I didn't look for mosques, but because the place I lived, it was quite far from all the local mosques. So the first couple of years, when I first became Muslim, I didn't go to any mosques. I didn't really know any Shi'as, maybe one or two in my school. I wasn't around Shi'a Muslims at all. 

However, after I have joined the group chat, I used to follow Instagram pages, Shi'a pages, and the other group chat. In this group chat I met a lot of brothers. After meeting these brothers I attended the mosques. That's how I started finding mosques, after I met Shi'a brothers online

I attend fiqh and 'aqaid classes. The way it started was, in the group chat Sayyid Ali Khalkhali was also there. And because my friend was very close to him, he became close to us as well. Then we started discussing with him privately. He used to the message us, we used to message him. Then after meeting him, he decided that I want to teach you guys. And it was amazing because I have always wanted to seek knowledge, and when he offered that to us, that was amazing. We accepted it, and every week we have private classes. 

I've learned about Imam Husayn's story since a young age. So when I saw Shi'a Muslims beating their chests, mourning and even striking swords in their heads, it wasn't really difficult for me to understand why they did that. Because I grew up knowing Imam Husayn, what he did, how he sacrificed himself for Islam, for humankind and for justice. I knew the details, what they did to him, how they treated his family in that land. 

So I realized rather than simply people wanting to be more empathetic, Shi'a Muslims, they wanted to feel the pain of Imam Husayn, so they can .....also want to fight for justice, like Aba 'Abdillah. So I didn't really find it strange at all. I actually understood the meaning behind it instantly. It didn't put me off Shi'a Islam at all. 

I haven't been to any ziyarat or the holy shrines but inshaAllah I want to go to Karbala. When I first reverted, I instantly told my friends. I didn't hesitate telling my friends because I was always very close to them. Like many Alevis, my friends are Alevis as well. They first didn't understand, they said what is this Islam? But they were open minded, they weren't like their parents because they didn't really go through the things their parents went through. So they were open to my ideas. I saw a lot of Sunni Muslims giving da'wa which really motivated me as well.

I also wanted to spread about Islam because if I believe in something and I think it's the truth and it benefited me truly, I want to spread that. I want to share it with people. So I told my very close friends about Islam, why I believe in this religion, why it's the truth. I said if you claim to love Imam Ali as well, I prove to you, look this is the way of Ali. He prayed, he died in sujud. Imam Husayn stopped war to pray. These were the practice of the Imams. Because of that my two closest cousins and my two closest friends, they also reverted to Islam. They said, okay. Although they're not practicing, they're Muslim by name and identify as a Shi'a Muslim as well rather than being Alevis.So I did affect the way my friends think a little. Even my atheist friends, before they had a negative view on Islam, but that changed completely when they met me when I showed them my beliefs. 

Yeah, first of all I want to study Ancient History in university. Then I actually want to go hawzah, I want to study more about Islam, Islamic history. Sayyid Ammar Nakshawani is a big inspiration for me, a big role model. I kind of want to do the things he does. I want to lecture about Islam, teach people about Shi'ism.

The thing I would tell people who are studying about Shi'a Islam, but out of fear they are scared to embrace the faith, I would tell them if you studied Shi'a Islam, you must have heard about the story of Imam Husayn. When you believe something is the truth, I don't think a human being ......they have no right to reject it. It's actually selfish if you reject the truth. I know it can be very difficult, I understand that. It was hard for me to become a Muslim as well, maybe in the beginning. But the truth is also going to stand out always. That's why we always have to embrace it, and when you embrace it, do not fear because Allah tells us He will help us. If you put your trust in Allah, He will help you and you may guide people as well. Like you being guided you learn about Islam, that will lead you to guide people as well.

So if you see something as the truth, you have to embrace immediately. This is our duty as human beings I believe. It doesn't matter what people think about us. Because at the end of the day, if you do believe in the Day of Judgment, no one's going to help us on the Day of Judgment. Only our faith will, and the intercession of the Imams. 

The terrorism or the terrorists that claim to be Muslims, I do not think, personally, I don't think they should.... when people learn about Islam, it's quite obvious if these people are Islamic or not. For example, Islam is split into two main branches, Sunni and Shi'a. If Islam was truly a religion of killing and violence, why haven't us Shi'a been slaughtered for 1400 years? Surely, there must be different types of Islam. And when you look into the book of Allah, the Qur'an, the hadith, it is clear that these things, the practices these terrorists are doing, are not really Islamic. So I don't think you should put people..... when people learn about Islam, immediately, you see that these people are not Islamic. There are extremists in a lot of religions, a lot of beliefs. For example, I don't believe Stalin should represent communism. So ISIS shouldn't represent Islam also. It's about what is said in the books, rather than what the people do themselves.

This video was first published on 23 Jun 2017 by ABTV Reborn as Reborn - Although being Allawi is beautiful, it wasn't the true path. We are grateful for their cooperation.

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