To some people, changing one’s religion is a big step and that you are changing into a completely new person. We had a conversation with Nur Rossthenee Hj Mohd Nendaroh who is in her mid-30’s and who has recently converted to Islam.
What was your name before you converted?
My birth name was Rossthenee, and I only added ‘Nur’. I didn’t want to change my name completely because I didn’t want people to think that I was someone new with a different identity.
What was your belief/religion before embracing Islam?
I was a free-thinker before this.
Is there anyone that inspired you to convert to Islam?
My parents and my two brothers converted first in the early 2000’s if I’m not mistaken. I only converted two years ago in 2016.
Is there a reason there’s a difference in the timing of when you converted, compared to your family?
There are some times when I asked my friends about the headscarf, they would say it’s okay to not wear it. However, there’s always this little voice in my head that says if I were to convert to Islam, I would want to embrace it fully, including covering up without making it as an option. I don’t intend to convert just for the sake of it. I want to live in it, which means, following all its orders. I have gathered all my courage two years ago, and finally changed my religion wholeheartedly.
Where did you go to school when you were younger?
I grew up here in Brunei and went to Maktab Sains (MSPSBS). If you know the custom here, the school uniform are all covered from head to toe, except for the hands and face. From where I went to, the school uniform also includes the tudung (headscarf).
How long did it take you to think about converting?
There is always this pressure when a family member converted, some would ask for our turn. I didn’t want to feel as if it was forced, or being pressured to do so. So it took me probably a year to finally open my heart to Islam. When I was all ready and it came sincerely from the heart, I told my sisters about it and that’s how it finally began.
Do you have anyone who you can refer to or ask to about Islam?
I actually have more Muslim friends than non-Muslim friends. I also attended religious school up until Primary 2 and learnt Islamic Religious Knowledge up to Secondary 3. Therefore, I do have some basic knowledge.
However, there are actually little things that weren’t taught at the courses I took when I converted, like you aren’t allowed to touch any male beside our muhrim, otherwise your wudu would not be accepted, or that you aren’t allowed to eat while performing your salah, and that is what my recently converted sister did while she was praying! We were taught on how to perform our salah (daily prayers) of course, but I believe there’s only so much they can teach us. So, there are a lot of things that I need to refer to. Fortunately, I do have some friends from Pengajian Islam, which means Islamic learning, in Universiti Brunei Darussalam that has become my contact point.
Did you struggle or face any negative reaction towards your conversion?
My mom is Chinese Dusun. I remember how it was quite hard for her side of the family to accept that we were going to embrace Islam. The conversion started with my uncle, then my mother and our family. I think back then there was this assumption that once we converted, we wouldn’t be together anymore. Other than that, everything went smoothly. Allah has made it easier for me. Alhamdulillah.
Was it a challenge adapting yourself to Islam?
I have always mingled with Muslims even when I was still young and free. The only thing that created a difference is the way we dressed, and of course our religion.
Wearing the tudung wasn’t a problem as many people would think, neither was the food as I’m accustomed to it. As for Ramadan, which means, fasting for a month every year, wasn’t a problem either. Back in high school, I would join my friends to fast because it would have been disrespectful if I were to eat or drink in front of them since I’ve been friends with them since we were little.
As for performing the daily prayers, I used to find it quite difficult at first because I would have to arrange my schedule, not around or according to what I do, but around the prayer times. Performing five daily prayers also include waking up early to pray, which I wasn’t used to. And now, in Ramadan I would also join for Taraweeh prayers. It’s quite a transition to me. Before I converted, all I did was fast, now, I can do a lot!
How has your life changed since you converted?
Going back to the earlier question about the challenges, I might add, is prioritizing work before prayers. Sometimes, I can’t focus when I pray, but I always try be mindful about prayers. It takes only 10 to 15 minutes to pray, if you can spend an hour on Instagram, surely you can spare some time to pray. I tell myself to always make time to pray and make dua, not only for when I need Him to help me or to answer my prayers, but all the time, especially when I feel grateful. Being zen is one of the things that I learned since I became a Muslim. Whenever stressed, I would take myself to pray.
Another thing would be discipline. There’s certainly beauty in Islam: I understand and see why we should wake up early for Fajr prayers and advised not to go back to sleep. It’s good for us, just like the saying, “the early bird gets the worm”. I always think every thing we do according to Islam, certain beliefs like not to sleep after Asar and before Maghrib, and don’t sleep after Fajr prayers, has a reason behind it.
How did you feel when you gave your shahada, can you please describe the emotions you felt?
I was with my sisters and cousin when we give our shahada. All my family members were there, including the non-Muslims ones. They all came to support that big turning point of our lives. I remember learning the shahada in religious school, but we always took the meaning for granted. When they gave us the piece of paper of what to say, we then realized the meaning behind it. When I gave my shahada, one thing I could say about the experience is that it was very emotional for me.
What is your advice for the sisters that are thinking of converting to Islam?
There’s a fine line between doing it immediately it and taking baby steps, because you don’t know when your time is up. But at the same time, you should not feel pressured to do it. There are times you just know that the time is right to finally do it.
Some people find it really difficult to have their family’s blessings to convert to Islam, so it is your duty to convince them and reassure them that you are still you, nobody is losing anyone. We still go to family events and gatherings, it’s just that our beliefs are different and how we are dressed. Family support is really important in this case.