I am from Laos, a small country in Southeast Asia. Laos was under communist rule for a long time and nowadays follows mainly Theravada Buddhism.
My family and me used to be Buddhist as well but we never much practiced it and did not attend the important ceremonies in the temple. We live in a small village near the capital Vientiane and society’s pressure to conform to the Buddhist rituals was not very strong there.
I was fifteen years old when everything in my family changed. There were two foreign visitors in our village. They were black. They drew a lot of attention because we never had visitors from Africa before.
Most people were shy and hesitant to talk to them. My father’s younger brother was curious and started talking to them and invited them into our home. At this time my uncle spoke very little English and my English was also bad. The two man were very friendly and smiled a lot.
Where is Allah?
They talked about Allah but we did not really understand what they were saying and what or who Allah was. After they ate with us, they asked to be allowed to use the washroom.
We thought they wanted to take a bath. But they only washed their hands, faces and feet. Then they took out a small piece of cloth and performed different movements.
After they finished, my uncle asked them what they were doing. And they explained to us that they were praying to Allah. All of us were surprised. We did not see Allah. Where did they put Allah, we asked. Were they carrying Him around in their bag?
No Need For Offerings
Our two visitors explained that Allah is invisible for us in this world. They said that they were praying to Him five times a day and that they can pray to Him wherever they are.
Where are your incense and offerings, my mother asked through the translation of my uncle. Does your Allah even listen to you if you do not give Him anything?
With their beautiful smiles, our two visitors answered our questions. With simple words they tried to explain to us the Oneness of Allah, the problem with associating partners with Him. No need for offerings, no need for incense smoke, they said.
My mother liked that idea. For her, the offerings, the Buddhist rituals always formed a burden. That is why our family was not so serious about the Buddhist ceremonies.
Will Allah Listen To Me?
I followed the conversation but I was too shy to say anything. However, there was one question in my mind that nobody else raised. Would this Allah even listen to me? Me, a young, uneducated woman?
In my culture, it was men who practiced and carried out all the official rituals. Men live in the monastery. Men are the ones that can obtain a higher form of spirituality. And only men can reach Nirvana.
My heart was beating violently. My hands were sweating. I wanted to ask but I felt so shy. When the conversation stopped, I forced myself to ask the two visitors from the other continent. “Will your Allah even listen to me?”
They looked at me as if they have not recognized me before. And then one of them answered:
“Yes, Sister. Allah is there for everybody. We are all the same in front of Him. It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman, whether you are rich or poor, white or black, Asian or African, big or small. Allah is there for everybody. As soon as you call Him, He will respond. When you ask Him, He will listen. What differentiates us in the eyes of Allah is our piety, our belief in Him. Not our status, not our gender, not our color.”
Looking back, that moment was actually when I accepted Islam in my heart. I loved his explanation. It made so much sense.
Almost All of us Accepted Islam
It took some more time until almost all my family members accepted Islam. Our two guests came regularly for a period of one month. Before they returned, my father, my mother, my uncle and my older brothers accepted Islam.
They asked me whether I also wanted to accept Islam. And with a smile on my face I said yes. I spoke my shahadah and I started my new life as a Muslim.
It was quite a big change for us. We had to change our diet, we had to stop drinking alcohol. Some of our neighbors became suspicious of us and did not want to interact with us anymore. But, Alhamdulillah, my family supports each other and our Lao Muslim community is slowly, slowly growing.
Fatima (her Muslim name) converted to Islam six years ago in her native village in Laos.