I grew up in a secure and loving home in a tiny village in the Swiss countryside. This village gave me the best childhood memories and until now, it is the place I call home (pictured above). My family moved there when I was about five years old. My parents wanted my siblings and me to grow up in a place that was close to nature and would allow us to have a quiet and stable family life. Ever since I remember, my parents have focused on family, studies, and work. In my childhood, we spent a lot of time outside, learning about plants and animals in our garden and the nearby forest, observing star constellations at night, and listening to birds singing at dawn. They also encouraged us to be diligent at school, complete all our tasks with excellency, and constantly improve ourselves. For this, they gave us amazing books about other cultures and eras, books in foreign languages, notebooks to write stories, and tons of painting and handicraft materials. Without a TV at home, my siblings and I were always the ones with different hobbies and ideas than the other children in our village and at school. From an early age, this environment instilled within me an intellectual curiosity, the willingness to learn and grow, and the confidence that it is okay to be different.
While my village is Christian, religion was not very present in my family. In my childhood, we prayed and occasionally read the Bible in the evening. My parents considered religion a personal matter and allowed us to explore it individually. However, for most of my life, I believed that there was a higher power because I learned that some natural phenomena did not have scientific explanations. I saw, first-hand, how each animal and plant is created with perfection, has a unique function and purpose, and lives in complete equilibrium with another. I got interested in spirituality in my teenage years when my parents gifted me the book titled “Theo’s Odyssey” by Catherine Clément. This book narrates the story of a boy who was diagnosed with a mysterious deadly illness and traveled the world with his aunt to seek healing from leaders of different religions. I enjoyed reading how the different (fictional) spiritual figures explained the creation of our planet and purpose of life based on their own worldviews. I loved this book, but it would take me about a decade to go back to reading about religion.
During my years at university, I had a feeling of restlessness. Having moved out of my parents’ home to pursue my studies, I experienced the typical student party-life. While I mostly focused on my studies and work, I did go out during that time and tried to fit in with the people around me. I could however not identify with the drinking culture and all things that came with it. To me, this lifestyle was, at best, a waste of time, and the “You Only Live Once” slogan of my friends did not convince me. I started to ask myself whether this was all that life had to offer. I felt restless and wanted to find my life purpose and inner peace. I thought that traveling the world was the solution. I traveled to Latin America, Australia, Indonesia, and eastern Africa and enjoyed every bit of it. But every time I came back home, the restlessness returned to my heart.
Six years ago, in my late 20s, I decided to change my career from corporate law to human rights, hoping that this would give me more satisfaction in life. I got admitted to a doctorate program in the US and moved across the pond. From the very beginning, I found like-minded friends who did not pursue a party lifestyle and were interested in deep conversations about life. We had many fascinating discussions about religion that made me realize how little I knew about my own religion. Seeking to learn more, I started reading a bit about Christianity, but it did not resonate with me. I had many questions for which I found no answer. Nonetheless, this experience made me more aware of God, and I felt that there was a higher purpose to life. During this time, I also stopped partying and became more confident that I did not need this type of social life to have joy. I started to feel that my lifestyle around work, studies, and family was truer to my natural self.
Two years into my doctorate, I had the opportunity to work with a Syrian nonprofit organization in southeastern Turkey. When I arrived there, I was fascinated by the presence of religion. The call for prayer, colleagues praying in the office in front of everyone, and the special atmosphere during Ramadan were intriguing. I remember asking my colleagues many questions about the prayer, fasting, gender roles, dress code, Islamic history, and more. They answered me patiently and with extensive explanations.
Since my arrival in Turkey, I was curious to learn more about Islam, but I was overwhelmed with my work and study. When the pandemic hit, I graduated from my doctorate and suddenly had more free time. I decided to read Karen Armstrong’s book “Muhammad: A Prophet of Our Time.” I chose this book because the author is not Muslim, and I thought it was best to learn from someone who does not have a preconceived opinion on the topic. This book changed my view of Islam. While I recognized similarities between Christianity and Islam regarding our individual relationship with God, Islam introduced me to a new element of faith that I found unique to Islam. It has a clear vision of society and rules on how to treat the people, animals, and nature around us. What resonated most with me is that Islam encourages us to lead a moderate lifestyle, do good in our communities, and avoid causing harm to anyone, including the environment.
As I was learning more about Islam, I realized that many of its teachings resonated with me because they were not new to me. The way my parents raised me, the values I learned as a child, and my lifestyle, are very much aligned with Islam. Nonetheless, for a long time, I was hesitant to learn more about Islam because I worried that I would mistakenly consult any inaccurate sources. I found myself in an internal struggle between wanting to know more and being afraid of getting pulled in an unhealthy direction. I was scared (at least subconsciously) that my intellectual curiosity would lead me down the road of conversion. I worried about my family’s and friends’ comments and reactions; after all, Islam does not have the best image in the West. I also had a negative opinion of converts because the only ones I knew through the media were people who got radicalized and joined extremist armed groups. Through other converts, I realized that this opinion was totally unfounded. Slowly, my internal struggle waned, and I came to admit that Islam brings peace and tranquility to my heart. Eventually, I took the leap and converted.
Recently, many people have told me that my face is shining, and I seem so confident and content. I just smile – I know the reason why. My life has become complete, and my soul has found its home. The restlessness and search for meaning in life has come to an end.