Myles Hembrow believes his deployment to Oman with the Royal Australian Navy to fight piracy and drug dealers was the magic window that opened the world of Islam for him.
It was `Eid Al-Fitr and as Muslims celebrated the event, he was astonished with the hospitality of people who invited the force to share food.
“What blew me away was the hospitality of the people. We were the foreign defense force in the country, but they invited me to sit down and eat with them,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“I couldn’t comprehend how welcoming everyone was. It was something that always stayed in the back of my mind.”
Born in Australia to Caucasian parents, Hembrow attended a catholic school. He was not averse to religion growing up, but the faith never felt right.
“Something about the Trinity didn’t sit well with me … I feel like I thought quite Islamically before, but now I have a framework and an anchoring point,” he said.
Australia Muslims make up 2.6% of the population of 26 million, according to the last census in 2016. This was up from 2.2% in the 2011 census.
Today, Hembrow observes the five pillars of Islam, including praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadan, and performing both obligatory and non-obligatory charity.
About the charity, he says: “That’s not [necessarily] financial, it can be anything. Giving someone your time, giving my mother a phone call. I never used to speak to my biological father but now Islamically it’s a very important thing to have that kinship.
“[My faith] helped me build a lot of bridges that weren’t there before.”
Hembrow also attends Islamic Sciences classes two to three times a week to develop his understanding of the faith. He also learns Arabic at the University of Sydney while working full-time.
He has also found a community of Muslim people who deepen his love for the faith.
“I honestly get bear hugs. The big Arab boys, they pull me in. Every single time I meet someone who’s Muslim, who finds out I’m Muslim, I get special treatment. I don’t feel like I deserve it, but they are phenomenal people.”
How does he know when someone is Muslim? “Every conversation you have with someone, they will drop a praise to God. They are very quick to attribute anything positive about themselves to God. And they’re mostly open to talking about it too; I haven’t met anyone who’s ashamed of it.”