Why Leila Raffin became a Muslimah

by Leila Raffin

I don't know really how to begin. My native language is French and I am not used to write in English but I think it is the best way to make my story accessible for everyone. So I will ask you to be indulgent with me and if you find mistakes (everybody makes mistakes), please send me an email to notify me. My e-mail address is raffin@writeme.com and my website URL is http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/7687

Where I come from

I was born in France in the suburb of Paris, we can say in a little "bourgeois" environment. I have been educated by my grand-parents. Thanks to God, they gave me everything I needed to succeed in my life. Until 17, I had a "normal" (what means normal ?) life, shared between my studies and horse riding. Horse riding was for me a real passion, I think I have learned more about life near horses than near humans (sad to say that). My grand-parents gave me a good education and thought that the best for me was to send me study in a religious school, in catholic high school. They were not very religious, I mean they did not go every sunday to church, but it was more by tradition. My mother and my uncle have been to catholic school, so I "have" to go there ... They did not impose it to me, I agreed. It was not difficult, I was born catholic, I was in a catholic culture. As many people, I did not ask myself many questions about my religion. Most of people adopt religion from their culture, they are christian because they are born in a christian culture, they are jewish because they are born in a jewish culture, they are muslim because they are born in a muslim culture. Few people ask themself why they are christian, jewish or muslim. If they do, they rarely search very far and return quickly back to their culture/religion because it is easier to keep traditions and to be like people around you than to accept changes and this in every fields (religion, science, education, ...).
At 18, my grand-father died, his was near 68 years old. This occurs suddenly and it was very difficult to accept his death because I considered him like my father, he brought me up. My grand-father believed in God but he never went to church. The pret of the church of the neighbourhood did not know him at all. During the ceremony for his death at church, I could not accept all the hypocrisy around it, it was too much for me. Then I began to reject my religion, and with time all form of religion and I doubted about the existence of God. I respected the religion of the others but I did not want one for me. I thought at this time that if people needed a religion, it was by lack of confiance in themselves. I thought that believe in itself was sufficient and there was no need of religion. I thought that religion was a way to avoid fear that the death generates. I thought many things I can find now in lost people, without religion. There were some questions for me without answer: Why are we on earth ? Is there something after death ? What are we in the universe ? We are so small and insignifiant in the cosmos ... Who, without religion, has an answer to these questions ?

What makes me search

At the age of 22, I choose to go to Canada for my studies. I went to Montreal for one year where I met many people. It was the first time, I went to live in a foreign country. This made me realize how Frenchs are nationalist, proud of their country and their culture and how they are intolerant. I think that Frenchs should see what exists in other countries, be more tolerant and more open-mind and appreciate what they have in their country instead of critize everything. It was a remark not really related to religion but I have many reasons for that disgression. As I am french, people think I am not open-mind, that I have a lot of "prejuges" and especially about Islam (as most of non-muslims). I always try to keep away the "prejuges" I can have. Everyone has "prejuges", even if he does not want to, they can come from our culture or from medias. It is difficult to keep them away but we have to do it to stay objective in our jugements. I think there is not enough people who do that (keep its "prejuges" away). I would like to develop that point but it is not the subject here, although it is a very interesting subject. If I had not adopted this way of thinking, I would never try to know Islam because Islam has a very bad image in non-muslim countries such as France. Medias and specially television give that image by showing massacres in Algeria, fights in Afghanistan or by relating attentats revendicated by islamists. When non-muslim people read or hear the word "islamist", they think "islamist-islam, it is the same", they associate violence to Islam. We can reproch them their lack of curiosity and their lack of will to know the truth but nothing more. We have to reproch that image to medias and to people who revandicate Islam by using the violence, by killing women, children and innocent people. This is not acceptable.

What or who makes me interest in Islam? Unfortunately not the Muslims I met before my conversion but rather those that gives a bad image of Islam, I mean the media. In Montreal, most of my friends were arabs (or had Arabic origins) and were christian. Together, we used to go to cinema, restaurant and sometimes dancing. All things far from God and far from the true Islam. Among my friends, there was a tunisian, not more religious than the others but he was Muslim. Although his behavior was not the best one in regards to Islam, he talked me about Islam, God and the Prophet - Peace be upon Him -. Even if he was not a "good Muslim", he was convinced in the existence of God and His Prophet. He told me about Islam, not much but enough to make me search by myself. As I came from a non-Muslim country and I never had the opportunity to meet a lot of Muslims, the only image I had from Islam was from the media (TV, radio, and press). When I began to search about Islam, I first searched for the status of women in Islam, because it was the point the most criticized by the media and also because I felt more concerned by this question as a woman. I wanted to know if the image given by medias on women in Islam was true or not. This image is a negative one, where women are submit to men, with no rights, forced to put a veil on their head, and so on. Instead of asking to someone and taking the risk of being influence by a person, I prefered to read and make my own opinion. It is true that by reading, I can be influenced by the author but not in the same way as a discussion can do. By reading, you have all the time needed to think, you can take your time. A great part of my sources was found on Internet and thanks to God, it was always true sources. At the beginning, I just want to know about the status of women in Islam. So I began to read all I can find about women in Islam. When I learnt that the most part of people who enter in Islam were women, I wanted to know why, why people enter in Islam, why so many women in spite of the negative image given by medias. Then, instead of searching only for the status of women in Islam, I searched for the status of women in the three monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). I was not interested in the way the religions were practiced nowadays; I was more interested in the sources of the three religions. I read some interesting articles that make the comparison between the three religions. Through one of these articles, I learnt more about my own religion that was officially Christianity at this time. And I finally found that Islam gives more rights, more liberties to women than Christianity or Judaism does. Islam gives to women some rights that French women have acquired only during the last past fifty years (I talk about French women because Iím French but this can be probably extended to most of European women). For most of Europeans, this can appear strange, incompatible with the image that Islam can have. But from this moment, I did not care anymore about what the others could think, I was attracted more and more about Islam, I could not resist. I kept searching more and more about Islam because there were some points that I did not understand, some points I found injust like inheritance for instance. So I kept searching, and I found the explanations by taking Islam in his whole. To understand Islam, you must take it all, not only some parts or just parts you like, because Islam is an entire system where I found everything logical. I searched something that was not logical in Islam but I found nothing. In Islam, everything has a logical explanation, not like Christianity where you are asked to believe without asking too many questions. I never looked at Muslims and their behavior, I always looked at the sources of Islam through readings, alone without the influence of anybody. All these researches have been done in a short space of time, only three weeks. Islam was for me like a magnet and it became an obsession. I thought about it all the day and the night. I felt that the only way for me to remove this sensation was to enter in Islam. I spent some nights without sleeping, thinking about Islam, about the consequences of a conversion. I thought about all the difficulties I might encounter, especially in the French society. But it did not matter for me anymore, the most important was Islam and I finally decided to convert to Islam.

What islam changes in my life

When I converted to Islam, I was still in Canada for my studies. I did not meet any difficulty in Canada because people don't mind there (as in US). The difficulties came when I went back to France. There, I had to face my family, a non-Muslim environment with little tolerance for Muslims and everything related to Arabs. Although I lived in Paris, I did not have many Muslim friends. Without my hair covered, I faced many difficulties in France because people could not imagine one moment that I was Muslim. For instance, in France, when a man meets a woman he knows, he does not shake her hands but he kisses her (on cheeks). So when I had to say hello to a man, he felt insulted by my refusal to kiss him, I seemed to him strange. This is a detail that hides much than it can appear. I was not recognized as muslima by non-muslims, neither by muslims. However, I did not meet many problems with my family because I was already independent from them. They knew that they could not influence me or put pressure on me. The only solution they had was to respect my choice even if they did not agree, except for my grand mother which is really open-minded and understood my choice. I know I have been lucky for that (al hamdoullilah) because I recently met French women that have many difficulties with their family.
What Islam changes in my life? The answer is simple: everything, from the food to the clothes and my relations with the others. I pray my five daily prayers, I fast during Ramadan, I give the Zakat. In 1998, I decided to leave France for differents reasons. I didn't feel comfortable and free to practice my religion there. The French Law does not prevent from practising Islam because France is a laic country but french people does (through their behavior, their remarks, ...). One time I went to the mosquee with my hair covered as a muslima should do. In the subway, a man changed of place twice in order to be sitten the farest as possible from me. He did it showing me that I was disturbing him. This marked me deeply. A muslima has to face many such reactions. How people can be so intolerant in a country often called "country of Human Rights" ? Where is the liberty ? To be "integrated", you must look like others. I feel sad about this because France is my country and I don't want to reny my origins. As I really want to practice Islam, it was difficult, even impossible for me to work in France. I will never find a job as engineer wearing visible signs of Islam (covered hair).

Now Iím living in Morocco where Iím working. I'm pleased to live there because I feel free to practice my religion, I can work and wear long clothes and cover my hair (dressing commonly called hijab). I love hearing the prayer call five times per day. You can respect prayer times. To be in a muslim country during Ramadan is unique.

In June 1999, I went to France for one week and I tried to visit my family. The reaction of some members was radical. When my father learnt I wear hijab (long and large clothes and covered hair), he rejected me immediatly. He refused to meet me, he even called to insult me. Since that time, I have never heard about him. My mother was distant with me. As far as I do not show signs of Islam, they respect my choice ... Today, I keep good relations only with my brothers (youngest than me) and my grand mother. I do not reject the other family members but I can not force them to accept me as I am.

Iím not yet married but I'd like to. Previously, I write in this page "soon incha Allah" about marriage. Things have change (everything change ;-) ) because I have to face difficulties such as racism.

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