My Best Friend Became a Muslim

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I have known Norca Silvana since she was 11 and I was 12.
We went together to the same junior high school in our village, near Genoa. By that time, she had just arrived from Equador with her brother and her mother. She started speaking Italian at the drop of a hat and I remember that, when we were discussing about racist bias, some people in my class used to argue: “Norca and Raul are different. You can’t really say they are foreigners! Their Italian is perfect”. Having a strong accent was one of the reasons why children were allowed to talk poorly about foreigners, but Norca’s family was different from other immigrants. So they were like us.
As long as I have known her, she always had the ability to join something totally new without any kind of difficulties. I can’t say if it happens because of her migration background. I admire her enthusiasm and the strenght she put in the effort of recovering from life’s difficulties.

Two years ago we met after a few months spent without having seen each other. She told me that she decided to convert to Islam.
Of course I was surprised. We spent many hours talking about her life-changing decision, sitting on a bench. And, since then, I’ve kept asking her many questions. I can’t deny that I found her explanation fascinating. For me it was a privilege to have the opportunity to speak with a new convert, who is also a friend and has the patience to answer each little doubt of mine. It’s not a common thing.

“The arabic word for heart is qalb, that shares the same root as to change and to turn”, she told me.“It’s for this reason that everytime we do the five prayers of the day, we turn to follow the qibla (the direction to the Ka’ba, in Mecca): the heart has to turn to this direction”. It’s a reminder for wherethe heart should be directed to, what should the heart face: five times a day, at least, a muslim tries to remember about God.

Norca became a Muslim after going to Berlin on holiday. There, she met a Pakistani guy who was very respectful and humble. His calm lifestyle, in spite of the city where he was living, impressed her: “He told me it was because of his religious belief. He talked to me about what his religionteaches and I was very shocked. How could he have such a strong belief? He was so intelligent that I couldn’t understand how was it possible. He asked me about my religion and I explained him that in our society we don’t know that much about our religion, that it’s just a habit and a matter of tradition. Even if I come from a South American family and they are more religious than the average European are, I remember that I wasn’t able to say anything about the Bible. He, instead, said such a powerful statement: how cannot I believe in the Koran if it’s the word of God?”.

She started to do some research on the Internet, but there were mostly western sources and it was not very useful. Then she went to an Islamic center in Genoa, where they gave her a book with some explanations about the Quran and its verses. She began to think about her past believes, and to study. “The more I studied, the more I started believing in my heart. I understood that for me everything makes sense. My vision about life was already not so far from that of Islam. Now I understand everything in my past, when I wasn’t a Muslim, when I wasn’t aware that I was a Muslim”.

During our conversation, Norca made clear to me the importance of her faith. “When we say the declaration of faith lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāh, muḥammadur rasūlu-llāh(that has been translated as There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God), this doesn’t mean that we think we have our God and Jews or Christians another one. The word ʾillā-llāh means the object of our worship, something you obey. That can be God as anything else. Atheists can say they don’t have any divinity, but in reality we all have anʾillā, the intention of our actions. We don’t do anything without saying beforeBismillah (in the name of God), which is really powerful because when a Muslim does something, he asks God to put bless in what he’s about to do”.

Today I called her to speak about the Paris attacks. As always, I started to ask my flood of questions.

How could people who did something like that think that God has put bless into their actions?

“I don’t think they even know the religion. They don’t know the holy book, they don’t know the meanings of what they are trying to manipulate”

Is there any kind of violence that is tolerated, according to the Quran?

She sent me this video, from the speech of Mehdi Hasan.

“When you read the Kuran, you have to pay attention to the context it was rebuilt in. There are some verses that speak about the use of violence as a defense. Violence is allowed when you’re attacked, because you’re supposed to respond. There’s not the concept of “offering the other cheek”: you have to fight oppression and not tolerate it. Otherwise it will increase. During a war, violence is permitted”.

But, according to my friend, this is not a justification for what terrorists did.
“People who don’t know Islam at all only pick verses about violence and use them to prove that we are taught to be violent. From my knowledge, I can say that they are attacking for political reasons. They see the West as a threat, but I don’t believe that they believe what they’re doing is taught by Islam. If you study Islam, you understand that their behaviour is completely anti-islamic. They have no knowledge of the religion they profess. And even saying Allahu Akbar (Allah is greater), it doesn’t mean that what they are doing is islamic.
“Someone has to differentiate between Muslims and Islam. Because Islam is the religion, which is perfect. And Muslims are imperfect human beings, from many different countries, who believe in God and in Muhammad. But if you’re a Muslim you don’t represent Islam. We’re just the people”.

For Norca, converting was not easy because she had to appropriate a culture, that was so far away from ours. Still, she did it. As when she arrived to Italy more than 10 years ago, because it was the country she wanted to live in. Islam is the religion she chose, I believe it was exactly what she needs and I’m happy for her.
Her words made me think about what she found in Islam and what religion should mean: something that gives people hope and serenity.

Written By @EmiBarbiroglio on Medium