When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that this religion of Islam will enter every household, as a Muslim, you knew that’s undoubtedly going to happen.
Almost on a daily basis, we get to hear news of someone embracing Islam is some part of the world. Here we have one of those amazing stories of a German Professor, Dr Birgit Bunzel Linder, who is teaching at City University in Hong Kong telling Muslim Council of Hong Kong her story of embracing Islam.
1. What was your background and your religion/way of life before Islam?
I grew up Catholic and was a firm believer even as a child, and an avid churchgoer.
When I was a teenager, I switched to the Protestant church because I felt that because of all the saints etc.,
I still could not really draw close enough to God.
A few years later, I got involved in the charismatic (evangelical) church that believed in miracles and healing.
When I moved to America, I was in a missionary school to become a missionary in China. But when I lived in China, I began to feel that Christianity is confusing and much of it didn’t seem to be true in my life. I always believed in one God, but I felt that there must be a different way of drawing close to God.
I abandoned religion for a few years because Christianity was not convincing to me anymore.
2. How did you learn about Islam?
It goes to show the importance of every Muslim being a good representative of Islam as people look to their friends and colleagues for inspiration or wisdom.
3. What made you feel Islam is the truth?
It took me a while to really come the point of true change in my life.
There were many misunderstandings that kept me from seeking more diligently. A lot of it was cultural.
The idea that there is only one God was a truth I always believed in but never really confessed or defined for myself.
Learning about it, and really letting it grow in my heart, was like an arrival for me after all these years of searching without knowing what truth I was searching for.
Previously, I also thought that there are so many rules in Islam, and since I did not understand it well, I felt that I might always make so many mistakes.
Little by little I came to understand that in Islam, there is a much clearer understanding and guidance of how to worship God.
What ultimately convinced me of the truth of Islam, however, was watching my friend’s life-changing devotion and the many transformations of the heart and the mind.
I saw a whole-hearted dedication to Allah and the many merits and joys of following Islam. I learned that there is far more mercy and forgiveness and help than I expected, and I began to understand that rules are for protection and serve as guiding principles for purity and devotion of the heart and the mind.
To see that someone can be so fundamentally changed through prayer and fasting and knowledge is probably the most important and impressive experience of my life, and it made me desire the same transformation and peace of mind.
4. Any challenges since becoming a Muslim?
There are a lot of challenges. As someone from a Western cultural context, it is difficult to distinguish between what is a tenet of faith and what is culture when it comes to behavior and especially ways of thinking and perceiving as a woman and as an academic. But this is just a matter of knowledge.
For quite a while, I found it difficult to internalize a different perception of God. I had always looked at God as a friend, as someone to run to in trouble, to ask for help, to realize my individuality, and as someone who is always forgiving, without ever punishing me. I had to change my ways of thinking completely.
In Islam, there is a great focus on worshipping Allah and on living right in all details of life.
I never consciously thought of inner purity, and I was often confused about how to live and worship right.
It is a great comfort to me to learn that the Prophet (peace be upon him) has already modeled a correct and spiritual life of worship for us to follow.
I was surprised to experience in my heart how healthy and good it is to focus on Allah instead of on myself, even in the greatest of troubles.
My prayers used to be about my needs only, and it took some time and heartbreak to understand that it is liberating to let go of the self and focus on worshipping Allah in all circumstances.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for me until now is language.
I try to memorize as much as possible in Arabic, but I am often frustrated by the fact that without true knowledge of Quranic Arabic, I will always lack a deep sense of prayer or of the beauty of the Quran. This is nothing to be judged for, but it always makes me feel excluded from a deeper level of spirituality or ease of prayer.
5. Being a German, what’s your view on Islamophobia and advice to non-Muslims about Islam?
Any fear of others comes from a lack of knowledge.
There are many opportunities to learn about Islam and the Muslim life in Germany, and there is a lot of support for the Muslim community.
In my opinion, Islamophobia is not so much about Islam or even Muslims per se than about the desire by certain groups of people to fight anything that is ‘foreign’.
Ironically, those who oppose Islam or Muslims in Germany are not believers in anything religious themselves. It comes out of a heart that lacks peace, goodwill, common humanity and confidence. This is a social problem that needs to be addressed again and again.
My advice to non-Muslims would be to seek more knowledge, make friends with Muslims, ask questions, and take it as an opportunity to rethink one’s own beliefs.
It could be a very fruitful intellectual and spiritual exchange. Unfortunately, those who are most hostile, do not seek dialogue; they seek confrontation.
I would also suggest that refugees from Muslim countries need to be educated about life in Germany from the beginning, so that unnecessary conflicts can be avoided.
It is not fair to invite people from other cultures to come and stay, but then not inform them about possible cultural conflicts.
A lot of bad impressions can be avoided simply through better information and integration by those who work with the Muslim refugees.
Unfortunately, Muslim communities are often isolated in Germany, partly due to living arrangements and especially because of language barriers. This is unfortunate, because it is a very convincing witness when Muslims become living examples of the goodness and truth of Islam and the greatness of Allah.
6. What are your future plans for your journey as a Muslim?
Besides solidifying my daily life as a Muslim, I would like to spend more time on gaining knowledge, memorizing, seeking to serve others with my life, and reaching out to the needy, Insha’Allah.
Right now, I am in the middle of much change in my life and have the privilege to leave it to the guidance of Allah to show me a new path.