Conversion Story For Margaretha Adriana Van EsPublished on 25 Apr 2020
Well, my name is Margaretha Adriana Van Es, I'm from the Netherlands, I grew up in a small town called Bilthoven. And I really enjoyed it. It's a very nice place with woods around it, and really nice school and a lot of friends. My family was not really religious, we have a Christian background. And actually, in the Netherlands, we have both Calvinist Protestant Christians and Catholics, and my family was a mix of that. So I got a little bit of both, but we were not practicing in that sense. But I had a very happy childhood, actually. And for my studies, I moved to another town I moved to Leiden, which is near the coast, and it's a very beautiful historical city.
I studied history and I still work in that field. I really enjoyed my student time a lot, I had a lot of fun with new friends and new activities and a lot of extracurricular activities as well. I've always had a very good relationship, alhamdulillah, with my family, and I still have actually, and I'm very happy for that and I learned a lot from them. They are not practicing any particular religion but there are some core values that you find in every religion and they were very keen on teaching me that. I went to a Catholic school where they also were not very strict on defining religion and telling religious rules, but they were very keen on teaching us the most important values of religions like charity, love and sharing things. So very warm memories of that time actually.
I don't remember one particular thing that I missed when I was young, growing up in a not very religious family. But I do remember that from a very young age, I was very interested in religion, and especially studying different religions, and also the cultures that were connected to them. I remember that even before I went to high school, I started reading a little bit about Buddhism and about especially oriental religions, as we used to call it. And then I remember that we started doing philosophy at school which I enjoyed a lot. I also remember that in high school, we were supposed to write essays about what we believed and philosophical issues and talk with each other about religions. And we had to prepare presentations about different world religions. And I find it extremely interesting, I still remember that that was basically my favorite topic, together with history. So I enjoyed it a lot.
But it took quite a while before I could say to myself that I believe in God, actually. Because for a long time, as a child, I thought that if you believe in God, it means that you believe in a person type God, with arms and hands and feet and a face who sits on a cloud, God forbid, and who forces people to do things that they basically don't want. And it took me a long time that the sense of admiration that you can feel for the universe as a whole and feeling that there's more to it, that that is God. So I had that sense of admiration for a very long time. I also found out that no matter how bad you may feel sometimes, no matter how terrible the circumstances may be, sometimes, there will always come good times again, there's a kind of system in the universe that makes that, in the end, things turn out to be fine again, and I found it very comforting.
So I think I was around 14 or 16, when I started to see that. And still it took at least till I was 18, I think, until I read from some philosophers like Spinoza and others, that I thought I can call myself a believer, I don't have to say that I don't believe just because I don't believe in a person sitting on a cloud, but I am actually a believer. I didn't really feel the need to join an organized religion, actually, I was quite happy the way it was. But I must say that I was looking for a system where I could find a good balance in a way between, on the one hand, enjoying life and on the other hand, sharing whatever I had with others.
I remember a long time where I struggled finding a proper lifestyle. I didn't want to be a complete hedonist who just enjoys life and has a good life. I mean, when you're a student in a wealthy country like Netherlands then you can't say you're having a bad life, usually. I had a very good life and enjoyed it a lot. Had a lot of good friends, enjoyed good food. But I felt like, you know, this can't be everything, I need to find some way to share my happiness with other people. But it's difficult to find a lifestyle where that really goes in a balanced way.
I've been a very strict vegetarian for a while, thinking that it's not good to eat animals. I remember that I've been thinking that maybe I should just give up everything and give everything to the poor. But then what do I do to myself, so I remember thinking along these lines. But on the other hand, I was also quite distracted by life itself and, you know, studying and just having fun. So I must admit that I wasn't always that much thinking about it. But I remember having these thoughts. And I found it very special when I started reading more about Islam is that it just gives all the answers to all the questions. And for me, I remember, the philosophy was right, the theology was right. I had a kind of idea about God in the universe and how everything was one, but I didn't know there were other people who believed the same. And suddenly, there was this form of Islam that seemed to think exactly the same way as I did. So that was very special.
The philosophy was right, I felt like when I learned about the Prophet, peace be upon him, and about Ahlul Bayt, I felt like, wow, these can really be my role models. These are only persons I've ever heard of who are worth following from A to Z. And the lifestyle was so perfect for me, because it gives a spiritual dimension to living your life as a seemingly normal human being. And at the same time, in a constructive way, thinking about yourself and about others at the same time, and appreciating what you have, while not being dependent or becoming dependent on it, and also sharing it with others. It struck me, it was too perfect to be just a human religion to put it that way. So those were pretty strong arguments for me to convert. And it's also especially the feeling that, okay, I don't have to join an organized religion, or an institutional religion. But if I find something that's apparently so perfect for me, and it matches so well with what I believe, then I can't run away anymore. I mean I'm already Muslim. Now, it's just a matter of taking this step.
First of all, I think the more I learned about Islam, it struck me like, this is so right, it has to be the truth. And when you find the truth, you can't run away from it, I felt like becoming Muslim is not so much a choice. When you know that one plus one is two, then that's the truth. You can't choose to believe that one and one is two. I mean when you find out that something seems to be so correct, and consistent, and have an internal coherence that is right, I felt almost like it's impossible not to become Muslim, actually. And it was not to feel a kind of need for myself. But it did help very well to find both a belief but also a lifestyle.
Yeah, it was also for me about finding the balance, finally, finding a balanced lifestyle that is not an extreme. I think many people are looking for a lifestyle where they actually find a balance between either a complete form of hedonism or, on the other hand, as a self destructive form of altruism. And I Islam is just perfectly in the middle between that. And all of that made me think that this religion can only come from God, because it's too perfect to be human made, like what I told of many other religions.
Well, it was a very slow process becoming Muslim, because on the one hand, as soon as I started reading about Ahlul Bayt, peace be upon them, and about Shia Islam, I must say, I knew almost nothing about Shia Islam before I became Muslim. I like other forms of Islam also. But I felt it was also always something missing, some pieces of the puzzle that were just not there. And I also thought that the Shi'ite teachings all tell pretty much explicitly and also quite interestingly about philosophy and about who the Prophet and his family really were. So when I got those last pieces of the puzzle, I became convinced actually very quickly. But to really become Muslim and say shahada took a bit longer because I felt like first I really have to find out what this religion is about. I wanted to make sure that there is nothing big among the rules or Qur'anic text or anything that I feel opposed to or something like, I got to make sure that that this is the right religion for me, and that I wouldn't get any negative surprises after converting. So I had to do my research first.
It also a matter, I think, that I didn't get very negative reactions after I converted, but I was very afraid of negative reactions. So I also wanted to make sure that I was sure enough about this choice, before I said shahada, and especially before I had my, I call it my coming out towards my family and my friends, because I knew I was going to get difficult questions. So I wanted to make sure that I would be able to answer them correctly, or at least satisfyingly. So that's why. But I think between finding out that there exists something called Shia Islam and really saying shahada, I think there was about nine months, perhaps.
I absolutely never regretted becoming Muslim, alhamdulillah. What I remember, especially, is how easy it actually was to follow the rules of Islam. Because before I became Muslim, I thought like that fasting Ramadan, or wearing hijab or not eating haram food, I thought it must be the most difficult thing on earth. It must be worth it but it must be really difficult. And it wasn’t actually, because once you switch that button, and you decide to go for it, it's really not that difficult at all.
I remember the first Ramadan was just wonderful. And I got a totally new view on my own behavior as a food consumer and it was wonderful. So I don't know if any negative experiences in the sense that some things were too hard on me, but I do remember that and I still think that converting to Islam is an ongoing process. First of all you have to, in the Western world, but I think anywhere, you have to get over a lot of prejudices that you have as a non Muslim about Muslims and about Islam. And that's actually an ongoing process.
At the same time you keep learning about your religion, so that's also an ongoing process, and you keep trying to improve yourself as person and as a spiritual human being. So also that just keeps going on. For me, shahada was a thing of making it official. But for me converting is something that started when I learned about Shia Islam, and it will go on forever, I think.
In the Netherlands, most of the Muslims who live there, they are either originating from Morocco or from Turkey and I think that 99% of them are Sunni Muslims. I had an overall very positive impression of Islam. I also had traveled to Morocco, actually, with a group of friends from university, among them Christians and Muslims and Jews. We had a talk with religious students from the University of Casablanca and that was very interesting. I remember I was quite interested but as soon as we turned to philosophy, they couldn't answer any questions because in their specific branch of Islam, it was for them at that university at least, taboo to talk about philosophy, because they said, if we start talking about relationship between God and the universe, it's like drawing a picture of God. And that's taboo, so we won't do that.
That for me was actually a very big disappointment because I understood their point of view. But I thought, if I don't even know what the Muslims believe....Okay, they believe in one God, but I can't even ask them, is this one, sorry, a blue god with five arms, or is this one concept that covers the whole universe and everything that's beyond and more than that, because that's the two critically or pretty opposite ideas that we couldn't even talk about. So I almost gave up on Islam, unfortunately, that's quite ironic. Then a few months later I met the man, who's now my husband alhamdulillah, and we met at an International Festival where we just talked briefly about each other's countries, which is part of the setup of the occasion, and about religion. He told me that he was a Shia Muslim. And since then, that's when it started, that's when I became interested. And we talked, and I had to go to another country for my research for my master's thesis. So I had a lot of time alone to spend researching Islam on the internet or reading books from the websites that are available, and it was a very good time. For me, it was a bit of a retreat where I could study Islam.
So I did that, and when I came back, I was pretty much willing and ready to become Muslim. And that's about the same time that we decided to get married, and also about the same time that we decided to move to Norway, which we did, alhamdulillah, I'm very happy for that. The thing is that in the Netherlands, there are some Shia Muslims, but they have arrived recently, many of them are refugees from Iraq or they are part of a very small Pakistani minority, but they're very few. And they're very invisible in the public sphere. There are a few Shia centers, but actually, ironically, have never visited any Shia Muslim center in the Netherlands before moving to Norway. A few years ago, actually last year, I went back to the Netherlands for a short period and we visited a few centers, but they're very small, and they hardly have any activities in Dutch.
If it hadn't been for meeting my husband, at that very spot - it was a very unlikely event anyway - I don't know what would have happened, because I may never have got a chance to get the information that I have right now, alhamdulillah.
I remember that I was actually quite scared of how my family and my friends would react because the image of Muslims, I think, at that time in 2008, even more than now, the image was quite negative. But I decided to go for it anyway despite what the reactions maybe would be. But my parents actually didn't react that negatively at all. They were not extremely happy, like, hurray, my daughter has become Muslim. And I had a lot of questions and also critical questions. But, thank God, my parents are extremely loving people. And I remember that they told that, you know, whatever makes you happy, we will also be happy about that. And the more they found out that this was for me really the right choice, the more they came to accept it.
And they're very facilitating, I remember the first time I fasted I spent some days in the Netherlands with them and my mom tried to make iftar for me and served me dates when it was time and they always made sure that there are no haram things around when I'm there and when I'm there with my husband. So they're extremely kind and facilitating and helpful. Thank God that went very well. And actually the same for my friends, nobody made a big point out of it. I think my friends also understood that I had always been interested in religion, so maybe it didn't come as a very big surprise for them. So in a way it strengthens relationship with my parents, I think.
Well, I must say that, as I said, becoming Muslim is also a way of overcoming your stereotypes in your ideas that exists about Muslims in the Netherlands, for example. For me, it was a time where I learned to get to know a lot of Muslim people. I was really positively amazed about how nice most of these people are, and most of the stereotypical images we have in the west of Islam and Muslims, it's just absolutely not true at all. So that was a very positive experience. On a few negative experiences is that unfortunately, in Europe, there are very few community centers and religious centers that offer religious programs in the local language like Dutch or Norwegian. There are a few, but there are not many, and usually they aim at young people. Alhamdulillah, we're getting more and more and, thank God, a mosque that I go to now they have a youth program in Norwegian, and sometimes in English and that's just wonderful. But there's too little of that. It's a bit ironic that when you become Muslim in your own country, that you can't attend any religious programs in the language of the country that you're in, and the language that's your mother tongue, but it's a little price to pay for a good experience after all.
How did Islam change my life? I've thought of it quite often. But it's difficult to say, because obviously your lifestyle changes. You plan your day, as much as possible around your prayers and the food you eat, the places you go to the friends you have, although I still have all my old friends, but you get new friends that maybe otherwise you never had met before. My clothing style, the countries that I spend my holidays in. So all these things have changed. But on the other hand, this is the outside, it's my outside that has changed. I mean, because who I am and the objectives that I have in life and the values that I try to live by right now, in a way, they're still the same values that my parents taught me when I was young. Because the deeper values of Islam is exactly what my parents are trying to tell me all that long. It's just that now I have found a way to really live by those values in a much stronger way. But if I look at who I am as a person, and what is important to me in my life, actually not that much changed, it's more that I now found a way to be where I always wanted to be.
Well, when I moved to Norway, which was quite soon after I became Muslim, I've been moderately active, I would say. I must say that, in the beginning, I was quite busy trying to learn Norwegian and trying to get adjusted to different Muslim cultures and getting to know the mosques and all the circles that exist and stuff. But I've been active in [ stand for a sign ] for example, from the very beginning. Actually, me and my husband and a couple of my friends, we established it. Well, I won't say I established it but at least we were there from the beginning which was very nice. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful things that happened in my life, and that I've very good memories of. So that's something very special. There have been quite a few youth organizations, some of them, most of them, existed only for a few years. So they haven't existed at the same time, but I joined their activities which I enjoyed a lot.
Alhamdulillah, my husband and I got a daughter last year. That's just the most wonderful thing there is but it's also extremely time consuming. I spend so much time with her, actually, that I noticed it's almost impossible for me to do any other volunteer work at the moment. Because I'm working, I work as a historian at the university as a PhD candidate. And I have my daughter and my husband and I tried to attend the religious gatherings here in the mosque. I tried to support the organizations that I know, the Islamic youth groups, with some advice and some practical things every now and then. But I wish I could do more and maybe I can in a few years. Right now it's a bit difficult. But in a few years time, I hope that I'll still be working in academia and that we still are the happy family that we are right now.
I think that raising a young girl like my daughter will be a very nice way of passing on Islam and also creating a Pakistani Norwegian Dutch Islam because our family has influence from Pakistan, Norway and Netherlands now so it will be a Pakistani Dutch Norwegian Islam that my daughter is growing up with. And to create it at home and teach her about Ahlul Bayt and our Prophet (s) and about Islamic teachings and have all these milads and majalis at home and take her to mosque. I think that for the next few years that's mainly what I'll be doing but as much as I can I would like to be active in [ stand for a sign ] and other organizations as well. But we'll see what the future brings inshaAllah.
This video was first published on 21 Aug 2014 by ABTV Reborn as Reborn - It was impossible not to become Muslim. We are grateful for their cooperation.