Sunday, December 23, 2007


Through two e-mail interviews with Sr. Jennah Heydar, I asked her some questions regarding her reversion to Islam and holding the first ever International Reverts Conference, Toronto, 2007. Below is a mix of the two with an introduction added as it appeared in Farsi in Khorasan Daily, Mashhad, Iran.

Namrud - the ruler contemporary with the Prophet Ibrahim/Abraham (as) – had to prove a big claim he had made; he had claimed that he was God. This appeared to Ibrahim (as) as an idol which he, as a divine prophet, had a duty to break. He stood face-to-face with Namrud and said, "Allah causes the sun to rise in the east, so you cause it to come up from the west (if you are as mighty as He is)." Thus was the disbeliever abashed. (See the Holy Quran, 2:258).

There have been such big claims by hundreds like Namrud, but the call of Ibrahim (as) have echoed through the ages, "Cause the sun to come up from the west". And there has not been a response yet.

Today the West, through its concept of 'humanism', represents Namrud and his claim, though still not having a response to Ibrahim's call. However, Allah (swt) Himself has caused the sun to rise from the West to show the failure of the West and its so-called 'humanism'.

Jennah Heydar is a 'sunrise from the west'. She has seen the ever-shining sun of Islam in the West and, through much search and sincere effort, believed in it.

I found Sister Jennah over the net. As the founder of Revert Muslims Association, she serves her deen through bringing new Muslims as well as born Muslims together. She is also a visual artist and she often tries to create artwork that brings attention. (See samples of her artwork here). She is currently working on a series, for Ashura. Her line of work allows her to work on Islamic websites as well as the Revert Muslims Association’s one.

Sister Jennah's love for Imam Mahdi (as), the Promised Saviour of mankind, led her and her fellow brothers and sisters at the RMA to choose ‘Labbaik Ya Hujjatallah’ and ‘Preparing the foundation for Imam Mahdi (as) eventual return’ as the theme for the first ever International Revert Conference, Toronto, 2007.

A sunrise from the West is believed to be among the signs of Imam Mahdi's return. Why not regard the increasing number of Western brothers and sisters reversions to Islam as 'a sunrise from the West'?

Please tell me a brief background of yourself.

I was born and raised in a Protestant but non-religious family, in Montreal, Quebec and later moved to Ontario, Canada with my parents. I always had a sense that I was missing something in my life, never knowing quite what it was. I had an innate love for my creator but I never followed a religion. I was agnostic.

I studied in the arts and became a graphic designer, like my father and his father before him.

How can a girl born in a non-religious family have 'an innate love for her creator’?

This is a good question and I often wondered why I was praying when nobody ever asked it of me? It’s true my family did not follow any religion and they remain agnostic to this day. Growing up the topic of God did not come up very often, if at all. In my family Christmas was a thing of Santa Claus, reindeers and gifts under the tree and not really having any connection to Prophet Issa (pbuh). When reading the verse 7:172 from the Holy Qur’an I understood it to explain the Arabic word 'fitrah' as to innately know the oneness of God and to know his existence without having anyone tell you as much.

That is to say I believe that all people have an innate sense of religion and the ability of knowing God as One. It is innate just as you know killing, lying and thieving are wrong. What I believe happens is we move away from this, often because we forget what we know innately being masked by the material world or because of another religion that may take away from Allah (swt). In my case I was very aware of this innate feeling to believe in my creator and I acted on it with praying and behaving as I felt Allah (swt) expected of me.

There was a time when this knowing of Allah (swt) grew distant and my teenager years were often times a narrow road and filled with temptations that looked to remove me from my path. I soon came back and continued on in my life but was affected by that feeling I described earlier of feeling lost or that I had something I should be doing.

Now that I have found my way I wish to do what I can to help others see the light and to remind them of their innate knowledge of the one true creator. Also to bring the truth of Islam to those who are not Muslim and to help put a stop to Islamophobia.

How did you start your search for Islam? What Islamic resources impressed you more? How did you say your Shahadah?

In the year 2000 with labor complications, during the birth of my child, I had a near death experience that shook me beyond anything in my life. I was married, at the time, to a non-Muslim, non-religious man who I had met when I was very young. After this near death experience I began to have this sense of misplacement, as if there was something I should be doing but I couldn’t recall what it was. I had this feeling before off and on in my life but it was stronger then ever at this specific point. I began to pick up books on spirituality and I searched through different religions and ideologies. I was trying to relate to my soul. I began painting hours a day researching my thoughts and placing them on canvas. Not finding what I was looking for I felt lost and confused about the direction my life was going. As much as I tried to keep my marriage moving forward it ended but fortunately our children have adjusted. Alhamdulillah

The introduction to Islam, oddly enough, happened when I was playing a game on the Internet one day, I should mention I really enjoy playing computer games. On this momentous day I began to talk, or I should say type, to a young man over the Net who happened to be a Muslim. He was the first Muslim I had ever met. He was very genuine, kind and polite and he left me with such a good feeling that I was intrigued by his faith and I wanted to learn about it. He encouraged me to read about the history of Islam and to understand it all so including the texts by both Shia and Sunni scholars. He felt confident that I would be directed once I saw the truth. He was kind enough to send me links and files and audios and videos.

To start I read about all the various Muslim sects. I bought/borrowed one book after another as I could not seem to quench my thirst for knowledge of Islam. I also read all about the Prophet (sawa) and Khadija (as) and all the decedents, the Ahlulbayt (as). I read about the caliphs and the 14 infallibles. I spent time reading the history of Arabia, the tribes, the battles. I started an on-line Islamic study course. I absorbed as much as I could as often as
I could.

I read and studied hours a day. I was happy to discover the website ‘converts to Islam’ on-line as it was clear they were a website committed to supporting newly reverted Muslims. It was a reassuring place to visit. I spent a lot of time on websites such as al-Islam, aimislam, almujtaba, converts to Islam and many more as well as collecting books on the subject.

I would wake in the middle of the night to read and I would cry tears of joy because the truth slowly was being revealed to me. I was, of course, touched and moved by the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and I immediately had a love for the Prophet and his family. I read of the battles and in particular the battle of Kerbala (and since then - many times over) and my heart cried. Soon the whole truth came to me.

Were you affected by any supernatural event during your search for the truth?

Yes. During this time of intense study (a year) I had many dreams that seemed to be saying so much. In one most prominent dream I was visited by a veiled woman and she tried to convey that there was a war beginning and that I had to recite my Shahada and work for Allah (swt). She pointed from atop a minaret towards the east and the south and she showed me images of people suffering. She showed me three stones and she then merged them together, which I later interpreted as uniting the Ummah. The turning point was when I had an epiphany that encouraged me to become a Muslim.

After picking up the Qur’an for the first time I was immediately struck with a memory of an on-going recurring dream I had my whole life. In the dream I am reaching forward towards an old book that sits open on a wooden table, the room is dimly lit by candle. I feel compelled to get to the book, I must reach it but a force holds me back. I occasionally reach the book but the words are unclear and I suddenly wake up, feeling lost and frustrated by the dream. This dream began so early on in my life that I can’t remember how young I was, it would repeat once or twice a year. On this day, the day I had this epiphany, I was forever changed when I realized the holy Qur’an in my hands was the book I had longed for my whole life. It was the book I was trying to get to, to read. My eyes filled with tears right there at the check out counter of the local bookstore and I could feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck as a warmth built up inside me.

I later recited my Shahada under Allah (swt) and witnessed by the young Muslim man over the Internet. Alhamdulillah I was walking on the lightened path.

Once I was a Muslim I knew that I was not only to submit to Allah (swt) but I must also give back to Islam in as many ways as possible. The more of Allah (swt) I found in my heart, the more life began to change for me and my involvement with Islam. New people were coming into my life and they were filled with hope for Islam as I was. I worked/work on Islamic web-sties doing web and graphic design and various art jobs. I am an artist so I have taken some study in Islamic artwork and I have begun to create series of artwork that Insha’Allah will help bring attention to Islam.

I study Islam as much as I can so that I can better articulate my views on the subject. I have even begun to try to learn to speak the Arabic language.

It seems that the number of women reverting to Islam is much larger than that of men. What do you believe to be the reason for that – if this is right at all?

I know that the Internet tells us, through statistics, that there are more women than men reverting to Islam and for the most part it seems that this could be true. If there are more women reverting than men then in my opinion, it is because they recognize that Islam IS equality and freedom and liberation for women. It is what Allah (swt) has laid down for us. Islam is a way of life that brings true liberation to all women if practiced as Allah (swt) willed. So upon learning this we are drawn to it.

To further explain, I think many western women feel librated for false reasons and one key reason has to be their need to express themselves provocatively. The so-called liberation or feminist movement of the 60s has been thrown out of perspective. They were throwing off their undergarments to prove themselves as equals, to show their strength to do as they pleased. And now they walk around half naked to prove what? That they can arouse a man's delight, and to manipulate or to be the envy of others? And at what costs?

Of course men and women should be treated equally but there are obviously areas that we can’t be treated equally for reasons that are beyond our control. Allah (swt) has made us different and things that are different cannot always come in as equal in certain areas. This is not something women should feel threatened by, as in turn there are certain things that we are only capable of over men. We are equal in our minds and in our souls and under Allah (swt) and this is what we should strive to express.

I have asked women why they feel liberated in the west. They will say things such as, 'Well I can dress as I please', 'I can work in any field I wish and I can speak out loud about my beliefs whatever they may be'. If I ask them, 'Do you think Muslim women are liberated?' They will often ignorantly answer, ‘No, because they are forced to veil' or 'No, because they are controlled by men and are not allowed to think or speak for themselves'. These women have been programmed to think this way about Muslim women, this false assumption of veiled women has been repeated so often it has become fact in their minds without ever considering to research its validity. These same women are always surprised when I explain that the religion of Islam encourages all Muslims to educate themselves fully and to express themselves and to be equally treated under the eyes of Allah (swt). I tell them about hijab and the virtues of veiling and being treated equally and for what is truly important our souls and our minds. I tell them of the rights of Muslim women. I remind these women that it took men in the west a long time to finally recognize that women had rights and so they then were allowing them to vote, own property and further educate themselves and work in their learned fields, long after Muslim women were already living this liberated life. I often have to explain to non-Muslims that there are some societies that Muslim women do not find their rights and are treated poorly but this is not the Islam that has been revealed to me. Sadly many confuse cultural customs with Islam and the two are widely different.
During the feminist movement western women felt they were moving forward and they were in many areas but I believe they have now actually fallen backwards. There is a breakdown in society and it’s only getting worse. Magazine covers splashed with images of gauntly thin half-dressed models with sprayed on digitally enhanced faces that the young western woman aspires to, Young 13-year-old girls posting up their Internet profiles with provocative gestures and alluring descriptions, TV shows that represent women supposedly living the good life because she has hundreds of male conquests, money and the party life, women frequenting bars posing and flaunting their goods to attract a mate, that will not likely see them with respect. How liberated are they? They have no idea how controlled they really are. There are very few women who are not drawn to the makeup counters and fashion industry, spending billions a year and all to turn on the opposite sex and or to be the envy of all the other women. This is a form of oppression.

Westerners live with the fact that monogamy is becoming less and less popular and sexual disease is on the rise, marital affairs are as common as peanut butter on bread and at some point it will all come crashing down. The pendulum has swung too far. This is not liberation at all; this is being controlled without even being aware. I know, I’ve lived it, I know what it is like to be judged by my appearance alone.

The veil, in Islam, is true liberation. The veil offers peace of mind and shelter to women, it offers dignity and honour. They no longer have to feel compelled to attract the opposite sex or look a specific way to be treated better than others. The veiled woman is respected and strong and confident. She can be a leader, an activist, a Doctor, a Mother, a loving wife. When one discovers Islam they discover the liberation of women that the veil brings along with many other liberating laws for Muslim women that have been set since the revelations made by the Prophet (pbuh). Some laws liberating Muslim women hundreds of years ago in Islam were only slowly becoming popular in the west this last century. Women are drawn to Islam because Islam is freedom for women and equality under Allah (swt). These laws were set by Allah (swt) not by men and this is why you find equality and this is why women would choose to become a Muslim.

I would like to add that there are some western women, some who I can even be so lucky to call my friends, who are not tricked by this campaign for immorality, they live modestly and with a strong female mind and show respect for those who choose to veil.

Hijab is the symbol of a Muslim woman, though unfortunately not paid much attention to by some Muslim sisters, even here in Iran. How will you defend hijab if you are asked to show it through an artwork?

Well as I’ve stated, to me, the hijab equals freedom. I feel many sisters who show disrespect for hijab and wear it incorrectly or do not wear it at all may not be fully aware of their faith, or of the history behind hijab or since we cannot judge them maybe they have another reason they feel they should not wear hijab. If we say we are believers then how do we not cover when Allah (swt) has asked this of us? I must point out; as I have experience with this, when a woman becomes a Muslim, no matter how much she understands and reveres the veil, it is often difficult to begin to wear it. She has to confront the world as a symbol of Islam and it can be especially hard when everyone seems to be against her new faith and view the hijab as oppressive. These women need to find strength to wear hijab but once they do they find they are secure.

Getting back to the artwork, I have thought about this and I would like to reveal a series of art depicting Zaynab Al-Kubra (as) in some way. Possibly abstract indicating her spirit and strong soul. Zaynab, the bravery of this woman, this heroine setting such a great example for hijabi women of her time and still centuries later we feel her presence as we retell her stories. From her, from all that she had to endure we learn to be proud of hijab. With hijab we see that we are recognized for our minds.

In my case, being the only Shia, living in a small conservative town of possibly two other hijabi women, and many intolerant individuals it is not an easy task to veil. When wearing hijab fingers point and comments are made. I have become quite fearful at times as I live alone with my two children. You are already, as a revert, often times, distanced by your family and peers and sometimes not finding it easy to be part of the ummah. It’s a tough path to walk but there is always struggle when it comes to doing what is best to please Allah (swt). The believers' life does not come easy. It is not permissible to just say you believe. So in answer to your question, yes I will be doing a series on hijab that would look to inspire new Muslim and born Muslim women with the story of Zaynab (as).

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