In the small West Bank town of Dura, Reading Islam had an interesting encounter with Manuela-Mirela Tanasecu, a Romanian woman who embraced Islam several years ago after meeting and marrying her Palestinian husband, Walid Suleiman, a globe trotter and popular Islamic preacher in the southern West Bank. He has toured more than a hundred countries, mostly on foot, as part of his 7-year global tour to promote peace and discourage war and violence.
They met and married in Bucharest. A few months later, she embraced Islam while on a tour in Iran.
“My name is Manuela-Mirela. I am my parents’ only child. My childhood in Bucharest was beautiful and peaceful, as I used to travel with my parents throughout Romania . I excelled in my studies both at school and in college (I majored in chemistry). I was raised in a Christian Orthodox family which was not particularly religious. But we always believed in the existence of God.
“I married a Palestinian Muslim, and thanks to him that I became acquainted with Islam. Eventually, I decided to embrace Islam following an extended tour to several Muslim countries including Jordan, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia . I declared the Shahadah (I bear witness that there is only one God and that Muhammad is His messenger) in Iran in 1991.”
RI: Was there anything particular that attracted you to Islam and did you feel you had to embrace Islam in order to adapt to this new life?
Mirela: The doctrinal clarity of Islam is really very striking. In Christianity, the Trinitarian doctrine is vague, confusing and difficult to understand. This doesn’t exist in Islam which teaches absolute monotheism. Also, I felt that Muslims took their religion more seriously than many Christians.
For example, Muslims pray five times a day, while Christians only go to Church on Sunday and mostly only elderly people go. In short, I saw that Islam was strong in doctrine in comparison to other religions. More to the point, I noticed during my visit to Muslim countries, especially in Asia, that regions inhabited by Muslims were generally cleaner than areas inhabited by non-Muslims.
RI: How did your family react to your decision to embrace Islam?
Mirela: Actually, my father died before I became a Muslim, and my mother never discussed the issue with me. She seemed to have reasoned that as long as I was happy, it was fine with her.
So, I can say without any exaggeration that my relations with my mother didn’t suffer at all as a result of my embracing of the Islamic faith. In fact, she visits me here in Palestine and she plays with the kids. She never mentioned to me, directly or indirectly, that she was unhappy with my decision.
RI: When you compare and contrast Islam and Christianity, are there specific aspects that you think exist in Islam but doesn’t exist in Christianity?
Mirela: Islam respects and venerates all prophets and messengers and doesn’t prefer one over another. Hence, I can say that by becoming Muslim, I won Muhammad (peace be upon him) without losing Jesus (peace be upon him).
This is really a point of strength in Islam which shows that anyone who loves Jesus can embrace Islam without having to stop loving Jesus because Islam teaches Muslims to love and believe in all the prophets of God.
RI: What was your perception of Islam prior to embracing it?
Mirela: I had thought that Muslim women are generally enslaved and that every Muslim man has four wives. But what I found out later is that the Muslim man cares about his family and wife more than the typical western man does.
Moreover, during my tours of the Muslim world, I found that Muslims were hospitable, gallant and magnanimous people who wouldn’t flinch from helping us whenever we needed help.
RI: In much of the West there is a widespread misconception that the typical Muslim woman is abused. What would you say about this?
Mirela: Well, this perception is true to a large extent, and the reason for that is because they don’t understand the true Islam, either because of misinformation or disinformation about it, or because some nominal Muslims distort the image of Islam through their un-Islamic behavior especially when they go abroad.
Also, the modern woman in the West has become a victim of the overwhelmingly materialistic western civilization. The West claims to have liberated women. But a closer and deeper examination reveals that women have been dehumanized and transformed into a cheap commodity. Hence, I can testify after many years of living Islam that no other religion has honored women like Islam does.
RI: Do you have any advice to Muslim women in Palestine and else where?
Mirela: I would like to offer this advice to my Muslim sisters, especially in the Arab world. Islam gives you everything that makes you happy and allows you to live a serene life. Have confidence in yourself. I am not saying that everything western is bad. There are many good things, like respect for time and other positive aspects. However, there are many negative things that really undermine the value of women. So, don’t harrow after imitation of everything western.
RI: You are living in a country that is languishing under a harsh military occupation. How do you manage? And haven’t you thought of returning to Romania for a quieter and more comfortable life?
Mirela: Yes, there is a lot of oppression here. Freedom doesn’t exist here due to the restrictions of the occupation. But our patience and suffering in this world will be rewarded in the hereafter.
Allah says that the reward of those who are patient will be Paradise.
(This interview is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)