Conversion Story For Isabelle Prelle

Published on 21 Apr 2020

Assalamu alaykum, my name is Isabelle Prelle. It has been approximately 32 years since I converted to Shi'ite Islam. I choose Soumeya as a name of inspiration in my spiritual journey. I am a woman, a wife, a mother of 4 children and a grandmother of two children. Beyond that, since many years now, I have decided due to various injustices experienced in the society here in Belgium, to be active in different fields related to the rights of Muslim women and the rights of Muslim citizens. So, I defend the right for women to wear the headscarf.

I was vice president in the council of the Muslims of Belgium. So that Muslims can have the same rights as in other religions, to be recognized and to be visible in the public sphere. I am active on various causes related to the Israeli and Saudi oppression, with all the consequences we know in Syria, Yemen and other countries. And I am also very much involved in interreligious dialogues, to fight against the prejudices and to allow to defend the living together between different cultures and beliefs. 

Before my conversion, like many people I had a lot of prejudices, the images that one carries about Islam often enclose the Muslims in a barbarian posture linked to the period of the Crusades. And therefore I also suffered from this demonization of Muslims, before being a Muslim. 

You have to know that I come from a family of traditions and Christian culture. I say traditions and culture because there is a form of inheritance that is transmitted from parents to children. All my family was educated in the principles of Christianity but on the one hand, my parents have clearly become aware of the manipulation of the religion to assert the power of men.  And therefore they have lost trust in the Christian institutions and so I grew up with this questioning.

On the other hand I have my grandmother who had taken great care of my education, and who was a fervent believer who went every week to church and who went into convents. And made visits to "Lisieux"' and "Lourdes" which are holy places for Christians here in Belgium and especially in France. And so I accompanied her in a lot of situations. I grew up in this spirit and in this Christian culture where my parents baptized my brothers, sisters and I as a vaccine is inoculated, because in the Christian tradition, a child who dies without having baptized, his soul stays in limbo. But let us say that the convictions and the reflections which affirm the foundation of belief were always absent and since the time I was child, I had apprehensions about death and the meaning of life. So I stayed with questions, does God exist or not?

Even though I’ve done my little communions and the confirmation of faith when I was 12 but I admit it was rather for the interests of gifts than for anything else. And then it happens that my family was very open to diversity. So we used to meet people, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christians, Buddhists, people of the revolution of May 1968. We also had contact with people and families from the bourgeoisie. The fact is that when I was 12/13 years old, the first Moroccan family came to settle in the neighborhood. My parents being very open minded, they directly wanted to establish a contact with them and so their daughter became my best friend. And therefore towards the age of 13/14, I began to open my eyes on the deconstruction of the prejudices that I could have towards Muslims.

I discovered that there were values, way of hospitality, respect for the ancestors, intergenerational relations. Then the whole notion of solidarity towards the poor and other people, in short, I discovered that it had other aspects than the negative image that I had. 

Towards the age of 16/17 I met several Muslims including Shi'ite families and I had the opportunity to read, among other things, the books of the martyr Mohamed Baqir Sadr. While I was strongly versed in all scientific approaches, I really found that through his demonstrations, I was convinced of the existence of God. And therefore on this basis, I said to myself: God created us and he left us manuals to live in harmony with the society. So I said to myself the books that exist refer me to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religion. So I did comparative analysis between the three. 

In Judaism, I found that there was the principle of elitism to which I did not adhere to at all which for me would raise a feeling of injustice. 

Christianity, I came from it, so for me there was no possibility to go to the source of the divine message since it was deformed by the human being. 

And so I came to the evidence that the current religion to follow for me was Islam. And at that time I still had two choices, I had the choice between Sunnism and Shi'ism. 

And I really found in Shi'ism an approach for a person who was a feminist before being a Muslim, an approach to women's rights that truly convinced me that the woman in Shi'ite Islam could have rights, and respect for her dignity, that in all other ideologies and beliefs she was instrumentalized, infantilized or oppressed. 

I also found in Shi'ite Islam a focus on scientific demonstration and a reasonable approach to all the principles of belief. In addition to that, the best way towards the authenticity of the Islamic message was through the family of the Prophet who were purified people and who allowed us to have a guaranteed access to the Divine essence of the Muslim message with all ethical values of good behavior and self-education of the soul that allows us to live in harmony with all others. 

It's a little bit mixed, so my parents have educated us in the principles of openness and respect of choices even though they had apprehension because they, themselves, were victims of prejudice against Islam and there were fears about some Arab/Muslim traditions. They respected my choices, despite their fears. I kept some contacts with some friends but in reality even if the family relationship and the relationship with the friends can be maintained, I still felt a gap of interest in relation to the major questions of life and so I kept relationships with some people on my side but it is true that on the other side in society with the broad sense. 

It is true that from the moment when one chooses to become a Muslim. I realized that I thought that we lived in states of rights and freedom. And I have to admit that in fact when we take the choice that does not represent the majority norm of society, we are confronted first in certain relations of knowledge. There is like a closure which takes place. And so I found myself in a wobbly posture. 

But at the level of society making the choice to become a Muslim and visibly by the wearing of the headscarf. It has clearly closed many doors for access to trainings and access to jobs. 

In any case, I think that on two levels I was confronted to dysfunctions in relation to the principles of the society in which I live. So I will address the answer on those two aspects:

The first aspect, so it's clear that on the level of the society, as I told you, I thought that I lived in a state of law that guaranteed the fundamental freedoms of citizens and individuals. And I realized that the Belgian society in this case, clearly refuses to integrate and grant equal rights to women in general. Since we clearly see in everyday life since I have been a feminist for a very long time. 

I realizes that women continue to be discriminated and to be used on the job market where we instrumentalize her body or one takes advantage of it to have a cheap workforce. Since women have to work till this moment, 13 months to have the 12 months' salary of a man here in Belgium.

So already there is this observation which is there, but in addition if I accumulate the visibility of my Muslim growth by the fact that I wear the scarf, in the training research, I clearly was banned from training because I was wearing the scarf. There was a training I could access but because I had an opportunity of hiring. When I lost this opportunity to be hired, they put an end to the training saying it was not profitable to train me. 

And therefore the training stopped. When I looked for jobs, regularly the answers I had were, you have all the necessary skills, but the users will not be able to identify with what you are and what you are displaying. Since it is considered that one wears the headscarf like a flag here or as a political ideology that we claim. And therefore indeed, at the level of job search, I was faced with refusals of jobs because I had the headscarf. 

So I said that I put it on two levels because I also realized that when I became Muslim, I found that Islam granted me fundamental rights that no institution or state structure allowed me to invest in this way. Therefore, in Islam, I have the right to work or not to work if I want. If I breastfeed my children or if I take care of the house or if I decide to be a housewife, I have the right to remuneration. If there is an inheritance in the family, the man will have to invest it in the family while I if receive something by an inheritance or if I have a job and I'm paid I can keep everything for myself. More through the models of Fatima al-Zahra and Zainab (peace be upon them both). 

I really saw models of women involved in society, who took political discourse in front of male assemblies. So really, postures of revolutionary women who took positions to defend the against injustice. And they were models that really inspired me but I also realized that in Muslim society it is an ideal, it is a theory that is there, and that God has highlighted and that the family of the Prophet (peace be upon them), have clearly demonstrated to us, but in reality customs, macho practices, predominate even in Muslim society.

So I realized that on two levels there was a woman fight to do to regain her rights as a Muslim woman, where we work on the re-appropriation of our identity as a woman through Shi'ite Islamic reading and the models of Fatima al-Zahra and Zainab. So we do research, meetings to study the different terms and to re-appropriate our identities. Because we estimate that when one is the victim of an injustice, it is often the ignorance of our rights that brings us to the path of injustice. And that it is by the truth and by Islam that we must claim our rights.

But on the other hand, in society also following all the discriminations ladies that Muslim women are victims. But not only Muslim women, since we are in a state where Islamophobia is also increasing more and more. So I have invested myself on fields related to the rights of women to wear the headscarf. I have invested myself in various associations and in 2004 also to counter this kind of discrimination, I was elected in an assembly whose function is to defend the right of Muslims at a national level. And to be an interlocutor to the Belgian authorities for the recognition of mosques, for the training of teachers, the training of imams in mosques and all those who are chaplains working in prisons and hospitals. And I was elected vice president of this institution from 2008 to 2014 to defend the right of Muslims.

So really in my activities, besides the break I had in looking for jobs, I have reinvested my skills and experience in the service of women's rights, in the broad sense of the term, but also Muslims in the different levels of society where there is fighting to be carried out. 

This video was first published on 3 Oct 2017 by ABTV Reborn as Reborn - As a Feminist, Shi'ite Islam really convinced me with its women's rights. We are grateful for their cooperation.

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