Conversion Story For Bediaa Chenouili

Published on 21 Apr 2020

My name is Bediaa Chenouili.

I am turning 40 soon God Willing. I am a mother of two little girls. I have been married for 13 years.

I studied psychology, and then because I didn’t find a job, I did a sign language training. And now I am working with deaf people for approximately 7 years. So I am a full time mum and I work full time.

I was born a Muslim, in the sense that my parents were Muslims. So I always knew only Islam from birth. On the other hand, the difference is that I went from the Sunni school of thought to the Shi'a school of thought. I think it was after my A-level, so after my first or second year in high school.

And then, indeed, I’ve done the transition between my old religion references and other religion references.

The point of view that I had about the Shi'ism was quite particular, because I used to hear a lot and used to think no less. Which means, for example, I use to hear that the Shi'a hit themselves, the Shi'ism is blood, the Shi'a worship other than God, that they have some practices that are similar to what was seen before Islam. So on the base of what we used to hear, they were far from being 'good Muslims'. So it was all the information that we had, the fear that we had and to think, how can people do that? Like things that we see too often on the internet, especially self-flagellation or things like that. So it was mainly these elements that we knew about Shi'ism itself.

Honestly, nothing! Sincerely, I knew that it was happening often, the pictures aren’t with words. We only had the pictures and we could interpret it the way we want. No one would never come and tell us this is what it means and no one would think about the meaning of it. Like, look! This is very strange! Is it really Islamic? And they pretend to be Muslims! At no moment I questioned myself thinking. What is it exactly? What is the meaning of it? This is a reflection that came way later in the future. Yes, because for me I always heard that the body was something that was sacred, so a harmful action that one can have on his body is not allowed, absolutely not allowed in Islam. And above this, it was all the ideas that we had. The Shi'ites worship stones, they pray on stones. The Shi'ites consider that Imam Ali (peace be upon him) has a higher rank than the Prophet (s) and sometimes maybe higher than God Himself. So for us, it was that Shi'ite equals polytheist.

I think that my conversion came with the internet. Why? Because as I said I had finished my A-level. And then we started the chats and the forums, things like that. So it was something new and I wanted to know what it was. So we went on Islamic websites, if I remember well it was Ommah dot com. And we used to discuss with people on different subjects and some of them were Shi'ites.

We - because I used to do this with my friend - we were quite surprised. We thought, it exists! It’s here! So if we have questions to ask why not ask them. So, in parallel, we used to meet people that were Shi'as and also Sufi's, so basically people that had reflections and Sufi ideologies. It was mostly toward this direction that I started at the beginning. And it allowed me to have bibliographic references. I read Jalaluddin Rumi, Al-Hallaj, stories like that.

And then I was discovering what was religion through the concept of love. It was something which even until now is never discussed at all in Sunnism. You know, it was …well it is…that Sunnism is very rigorist! You have to do, because you have to do! Because the rules are the rules, and that’s it! It’s strict. And I remember sometimes I used to say to myself: 'Today I’m going to have an Islamic night. I am going to take a book of hadiths. I am going to read from the first to the fifth chapter. And while reading, there were always obvious contradictions. One says it’s good, the other one says it’s not! Even though one was a person of reference and the other one was also a person of reference so there were things that weren’t really right. I am thinking, one says it’s good….so it wasn’t making sense. So all of this made me have questions.

After that as I told you. we started to read a lot about Sufism and then we discovered, I personally discovered, a story that said… I can’t really remember the terms but briefly something like: If loving the family of the Prophet (s) makes me a polytheist, then I’m a polytheist!

Even though it was from someone that was truly a person of reference in the Sunni position, which was al-Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal. So I’m thinking, why to that extent? This love for those people can make this person, that has such a value in Islam, except that we consider him as a polytheist! So this interest for love, considering that love can bring us closer to the Almighty God, this was a concept, at least for me, that was revolutionary, that I have never heard of before.

This is how my researches, on the base of Sufism, got me to bifurcate on the researches about Shi'ism and indeed it was reading. The first thing that I read was al-Tabari, the history of Tabari, and also thereafter Ashoura and Ashoura as well. And then honestly I couldn’t believe it! Honestly I was... it was incredible!

You have to know that I personally have a father that is an Imam. I have a father that is the director of a mosque. So we were always in a religious atmosphere which means that when it was Ramadan, for example, after we used to eat, my dad would pray and we would pray behind him. So my father knew the 'heseb', my father knew lots of people. He really was my reference and when I read this book thinking this story is so incredible, so huge, I mean it’s the scoop of the century and there is no one to tell us about it!

I always heard that the Prophet (s) when he used to pray, his grandsons would climb on his back and, for the love of those kids, he would leave them go down of his back, that’s it! It was the only hadith that we used to hear vaguely about the grandsons of the Prophet (s). So me, honestly I thought that they might have died at the age of 4 to 5 years, that’s it! Now I learn that it’s not true, that they lived up to a certain age, that they had a huge history, a huge contribution to the Islamic culture. And that, on top of this, they were murdered so savagely without any impunity. I mean no one is saying…we almost want to say is there a camera? Someone? You’re lying! It’s not possible. No one is saying anything and it is that huge!

After that, I really started to search, I started to read books. I started to go where I did not dare to go before. thinking, but still they are Shi'ites! And I remember that, once, I found a book of invocation, it was Mafatih al-Jinan, and I showed it to my father.

I said: ‘Look dad, what do you think of this book'? Because my father was indeed my reference and by flipping it, he said: 'Pfff, in my opinion, it’s a book of Shi'ites’.

I said: Why? How do you know?

He said: 'Because Abu Bakr is not mentioned, neither Omar, nor 'Uthman, so it must be a book of Shi'ites'.

And all he told me was: 'Be careful of these kind of people'.

So step by step, it opened me to another vision. It opened my eyes on the principle of verifying the information. You see, when I was a student I had methodology lessons, so in the methodology lessons, we learned how to verify the validity of information, the validity of different criteria to make sure that the information is correct. And then it was like I fell from the clouds thinking, it's true that there are lots of things that we hear without really hearing them but that still arrive at destination, for example, this information is correct, this one is not, the other one, not really. And then here it’s our duty …at least mine, to search what is it said behind what we see.

And this is indeed how I had another look on things. It is true at that time I was living with my parents. At that time the question of religion, the question of the Shi'ite position intrigued me. But I hadn't yet made that step to say: 'That's it! I want to become a Shi'ite'! I would listen…it would be interesting. I wasn’t really Sunnite…it was my stage when I used to say we are not Shi'ites neither Sunnites, we are just Muslims and this is what matters.

Then, step by step, I got married I used to tell my husband: You know, Shi'ism is not what you think it is. At the moment he told me: 'No, but you don’t realize! I heard that Imam Khomeini used to read letters to the angel of death which would be placed in the grave to address. Who does he think he is? A prophet? So I say: 'Yes (I was talking to him by phone) I don’t know if what you say is true, but there are interesting things about them.

Then we got married. My husband met a Shi'ite that he didn't know was a Shi'ite at first. So they started to exchange many subjects and, once, he came back home telling me: 'Indeed, you are right about Shi'ism! At first, I didn’t want to hear what my friend had to say, but because you told me once that it was worth it'. And then, step by step, I think that for him, once he integrated the idea, he directly switched to 'Shi'ism mode'.

He started to pray, he started to take the oath of allegiance to the Imam Mahdi (atf). He would wake up every morning for 40 days. But I admit that for me my husband bifurcated very quickly but me I was still telling to myself: Shi'ism is something good but we need to be careful and this is how, indeed, me too I have done that step…

I think that the day it really happened was …we had a daughter that we named Zahra. So on the day that we wanted to celebrate her aqeeqah we celebrated it in a Hussainiya. And my father, being the grandfather, had been invited to the Hussainiya.

And then he told me: 'We didn’t pray 'isha prayer. So I told him: 'But dad we join between maghrib prayer and 'isha prayer.

He said: 'How do you join between both prayers?'

I told him: 'Yes we combine both, we are allowed. It is written in the books'.

He told me: 'But it is the Shi'ites who do this! .... oh, so you have become a Shi'ite?'

I said: 'Yes!'

At that moment it was a drama. He said: 'How? How come? I told you to be careful! You combine prayers. I have never seen this. Even though I am a Muslim for 60 years. It's you that were born yesterday, that try to teach me'. So indeed, in relation to my own family, it wasn’t easy at first. Coming back like this with other points of view that weren't identical to the majority. To the 'paternal knowledge', the one who knew everything, this wasn’t easy to live.

Then afterwards, with some elements leading to others, it started to change things. From my husband's side - he is the youngest of a family of eight children - so he has parents that are relatively old. When he started to talk to them about Shi'ism, it was, wow! You are still talking about Shi'ism! It’s huge. And glory be to God and step-by-step they very quickly thought about it and they very quickly changed.

But from my side it’s more complicated. There are more barriers to be crossed but there are still things that were integrated. So my own family, honestly there are things that are not been said. For example, we are a family of seven children. I am the second oldest of them, and in comparison to my brothers, I am the only one who is Shi'ite. So, when we talk about it, I am put aside a little bit. I want to say, they accept, but if they do not accept I am who I am. And praise be to God, I’m very happy that I have found the path.

On the other hand, it’s me that tells them, go make some searches! If you think that my ideas are strange, go search and find out if they are strange. And in relation to my father, I came back with the same subject about joining between prayer. I remember it used to bother me so much when my father used to say: 'No, it doesn’t make sense, you do this and you consider that Aisha is this and that Abu Bakr is that'. So he came up with all the cliche. I would go back home in tears.  I remember my husband told me 'Look, never mind! We are going to do the research. And we are going to bring him the proof that everything we are saying is true.

I remember once he went to my parents' house with a USB key. And my father had brought the Sahih Bukhari saying: ' No, the Sahih Bukhari says that there are specific times for the prayers, that you have to respect the times for the prayers and the times for the prayers are five and the middle prayer is the most important. And while looking in Sahih Bukhari, we found that, indeed, you are allowed to join between prayers without having the excuse of rain, fear or war. I remember the book was translated from French to Arabic my father read this hadith and he went far to sit in the hall, thinking my daughter, who is 40 years younger than me, she just showed me something that I clearly refused. This I think, from a spiritual point of view, was very difficult for him and for many things like this where he would refuse and say: 'No, you do not realize'.

Now he doesn’t dare anymore, I think he doesn’t dare. In our doctrine, the little girls when they reach the age of 9 they wear the hijab. My father, when I was 16, he obliged me to wear the hijab. My daughter praise be to God, the commission she understood, she went to lessons, she had her little party, and now she’s wearing the hijab, even though at school she has to take it off, but when she is at my parents’ house, for example, she keeps the hijab on if there is an older cousin otherwise she takes it off.

Not long ago, my father tells me: 'But why is she wearing the hijab, the weather is too hot, she’s too young'.

I told him: 'Ask her, don't ask me'.

So my father tells her: 'Why do you wear the hijab?'

She says: 'For God!'

'Yes but you can take it off in front of me, I am your grandfather.'

She says: 'Yes, but I can’t because my cousin is 14 years old so I can’t.'

How can you answer to this? And honestly I think that my father thought, how can you answer to this? So no matter what are the dogmas of the religion, there are facts that are here. It means his granddaughter, who is nine years old, is saying, I am wearing the hijab because of this and this…His granddaughter that is nine decided to pray at the age of nine and she didn’t leave her prayers since, God willing.

So when we talk we need to bring evidences, because they do prove a lot. I mean that when your father tells you that the middle prayers is this one and that you can’t miss it. You say: 'But dad, when you take the morning prayer, zuhr and 'asr prayer and maghrib and 'isha prayer, the middle prayer is here which means you must pray zuhr and 'asr'.

How can you react to this? That’s why I think that Shi'ism being a religion of science, of books, of exchanges, of argumentation, that’s it, there is nothing else to say. And indeed, I think this is what made my father more quiet thinking, she’s right for many things.

There are always, elements, like the companions 'You the Shi'ites, you say this'. There are them, and there is me. Ask me what I say, me who is one of them. Ask me what I do. Did I ever insult? These are things that some people do.

The problem that Sunnites have, is that they put everyone in the same basket. The Shi'ites do this so now you must be doing this too. No, there are Shi'ites who do mistakes, Shi'ites who don’t, Shi'ites who are good. We often tend to focus only on what is wrong. Like in the Sunni community, there are Wahhabis, the muslims, those who are less muslims, the moderates, those who are not moderate at all, and so. We are going to look obviously at the worse and this is how it happens.

I think that step-by-step my father integrated few things. But, for me, the chapter of my dad…there are still things to work on, but I think I don’t give him too long until he becomes Shi'ite. That will be for soon God Willing.

Firstly, I think that everyone is responsible for their own mistakes. So, whether the companions or others, they will have to respond to their deeds before God the Almighty, their good deeds as well as their bad deeds. And then, there are the consequences of those deeds, so from the moment I commit a mistake, and I assume the responsibility… I think that they have the advantage of the status. They were with the Prophet (s) so the fact of being with the Prophet (s) for some of them it meant a higher rank. So from the moment you are with this Prophet and that we grant ourselves this status, we need to be careful. As I said, if a person commits one mistake, he has to assume it. But when a person has a status of example, this mistake is multiplied. So for me, no matter who is the person that commits this mistake, from the moment that all the eyes are turned on this person and that he knows he is an example for others, those mistakes are going to have huge consequences.

I think that this is where the problem lies. We the Shi'ites are reproached a lot, about the cult of personality, we do not realize a moment about the cult of the personality from the Sunni side. And I think that from the moment that we will accept to demystify the holiness of some people, maybe just accept the fact that they have done some mistakes, people will be able to move forward. My position towards the companions is that they have done mistakes that had huge consequences, it stops here. I understand, now there are all the other people that follow blindly. I think that if it’s one companion or another, that committed any action, it concerns them, but the millions of people that are following, have the faculty to reflect as well, the faculty of thinking, the faculty of reacting upon themselves. So they also have the responsibility of what they do. The phenomena of the society has indeed an impact. The way of the Wahhabi's has consequences.

There is what we do and what we say. So it’s quite particular to describe in the actual context, because I think that there is a big involvement in the deplorable situation of the actual world. In regards to the Shi'ite Sunnite discrimination, honestly…. I am a very sociable person. So I have lots of friends, I have lots of exchanges with people. So if we talk Sunnite Shi'ite discrimination, there is indeed discomfort, which means we cannot be what we want to be when we are in a Sunni environment. We cannot think. For example, I have a lot of respect for lots of people. But when you are in an environment when we tell you: 'this one is good, this one is good etc.' ... And in fact we say: 'But you don’t realize that there are lots of things that are bad', we hold ourselves to say things. So, my freedom…to not reduce yours, stops me from talking. So, to not hurt you, I prefer not to say anything.

And for certain things, we don’t talk… We don’t talk and it ends up with comments like: 'Yes! But anyway, you are Shi'ite' etc…. And this is how, in a certain way, you feel a bit discriminated in our way of being. And then next to this, you have levels as well. I think that when people have at least a minimum of knowledge, they know what is Shi'ism and what is truly Sunnism. And then you have people that have absolutely no knowledge. And here, this is serious. It is those kind of people that indeed you can worry for yourself and for your physical integrity. For example, when I find myself in a place where I see that they are rigorists, in certain mosques here in Brussels, I’m thinking, if these people ever find out that I am a Shi'ite. I know that it could end up very badly. So me, from my side, this is the kind of places that I would not consider stepping in for the simple and good reason that, first, I have nothing to learn, at least from them and because I feel the hate is more and more palpable from people that have no knowledge about what it is. And the worse is when you are on social networks. On the social networks, we do not dare to say what we think. On the social networks, we are often hearing things that are being said about such and such Shi'ite action or 'Rawafid' or things like that. And I think if I ever say that I am one of them, how people are going to react. Will I have to explain and justify? No, because what we read and what we see is so sad that we think in fact it would be a waste of time, and this is the bad faith and this way of thinking, that can bring tragedies as we have known in Brussels.

In fact, what I do is - maybe it’s like the glass half full or the glass half empty - but in my vision, I do not hide that I am a Shi'ite. It is just that I don’t say it, which means that from the moment that I will be asked the question, I will say yes 3000%. But as long as I am not being asked, I’m thinking people are not ready to be honest, people are not ready to know that Shi'ism is no far. It’s not in Iran, It’s not in Iraq, It’s not in Lebanon. It’s here, it’s here as well. It’s in Morocco as well as Belgium and France. And I hope that with what is happening at the moment, we are at least going to ask the question. At least asking what you are? Who you are? And what does that mean? Because I think that, to have answers, you need to ask questions. And you need to be ready to hear the answers to those questions. Maybe I am in a bubble but me, I’m fine, I swear.

This video was first published on 10 Oct 2017 by ABTV Reborn as Reborn - My father would tell me to becareful from the Shias. We are grateful for their cooperation.

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