On July 31, 2017, I landed with my family in Montreal, Canada. During our first few months of settlement, I applied for a part-time teaching position at a Language Institute in downtown Montreal.
Fortunately, I landed an interview, and I presently work there.
On my first day, I knocked on the door, and the receptionist politely welcomed me. I remember his first question:
“Are you from Iraq?”
And though everybody else has been nice to me, Mr. Landry’s warmth stood out. I could instantly feel some sort of inexplicable familiarity and affinity with him.
One Friday, I was making some photocopies at the center and as I called him to assist me with the machine, I noticed that he had suddenly disappeared.
An hour later, I found him coming through the door, back to his office. I do not usually take an interest in people’s whereabouts, but I do not know why I grew curious and allowed myself to ask him where he had been. And I guessed he was out to lunch or had to run an errand or something.
“I went to the Masjid”, he said.
And then he suddenly switched to Arabic and said, “Friday prayers. I’m Muslim”.
Never seeing this even in my wildest dreams, I stood there, eyes wide open and speechless for a few seconds.
Just then, Manon the director interrupted the conversation, leaving no further chances for me to ask him any further questions.
I left that subject there and never opened it again with Marc for a few months later until Christmas.
We all got together at the center to have a Christmas pot luck lunch party. It was no surprise now to see Marc being super cautious as he started to pick what he could and could not eat from the buffet.
“Avoid the tiramisu. There’s always wine in it”, he warned me.
“You owe me a story”, I said.
“What story?” he asked me.
In January, I started studying radio production and journalism college courses and I had to record a radio interview with someone who had an interesting success story. I immediately thought of Marc Landry.
S: Should I call you Ali or Marc?
M: [chuckles] Both are fine, I guess.
S: Did you follow a certain religion prior to your conversion to Islam?
M: Before my conversion, I was a practicing Catholic. I was raised Catholic because my parents are Catholic.
S: What inspired you to read about Islam as well as other faiths?
M: I was curious about the meaning of life and the reason why I’m existing on this planet, and what the aim behind this universe is.
Then, I started to read about philosophy and religion, and I tried to find out the clues in religious thinkers and intellectuals’ theories.
I further read about Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, as well as the stories of prophets and messengers. I was inspired by many thinkers, prophets and wise sayings. That gave me knowledge, wisdom, peace of mind, and my lifestyle has improved a lot. I started to think of the hereafter life.
S: What marked a turning point for you?
M: One day, while I was at the library as usual, and I came across a book. I don’t believe this happened by chance, because everything is predestined. When I picked up that book, I immediately knew that I found the light.
The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times by the French author Rene Guenon (1951) struck me and yet it instructed me. It took me to another level. It was my point of illumination. All my other readings were important, too, but this one just made me think: “This is it!”
The book simply ties all religions to a universal theme regardless of their apparent differences. The Reign of Quantity gives a concise but comprehensive view of the present state of affairs in the world, as it appears from the point of view of the ‘ancient wisdom’, formerly common both to the East and to the West, but now almost entirely lost sight of.
Then this book led me to other authors, some of whom had converted to Islam and took a special interest in Islam, especially Sufism.
Since then, I have known my path in life. I found my direction after many years of feeling lost. And I decided to embrace Islam as a faith.
‘That book struck me and yet it instructed me!’
S: How did your family react to your decision to become Muslim?
M: Luckily enough, they took it well. I thank Allah for that. I mean, they did not take me seriously at first. They were not surprised, and thought that this was just an infatuation with spirituality because of my being an avid and curious reader about such subjects.
But the more I talked about Islam, and as I gradually started to imply my intention to abandon my Christian faith for Islam, my mother and I engaged in long conversations about Islam, and then she felt concerned.
Their tolerance with me stemmed from my being an obedient son all my life. To my parents, Islam might be a good faith, but it would be such a loss to leave a faith that has been brought to us by the son of God himself.
So embracing Islam simply meant that I settled for something less or lower in level than Christianity, since it is closer to Judaism, which Jesus Christ was sent by God to perfect.
Then my mother advised me to sit with some priests and renew my knowledge of Christianity by possibly doing biblical seminary studies. I was not against it. I sat with a priest, and even registered for theology courses, and it just left me with more questions.
And by then I no longer had any doubt that I have chosen the right path for myself. I still visit my family until today, and I remember that I spent my first Ramadan as a new convert while I was living with my folks. And I am grateful for having understanding parents.
‘ My Theology courses left me with more questions than answers.’
S: In light of the state of Islamophobia happening in the west nowadays, who do you think is qualified to speak for Islam today?
M: Our behaviors and good deeds can help anyone understand what Islam is. As for more specific questions, we have many more knowledgeable scholars to take care of that. Islam is generally simple, but it has some subtle complexities and paradoxes that need to be addressed carefully, and sometimes it can be hard to get clear-cut answers.
But actions are always louder than words. I know many Muslims who have received little education, but who have learned from their parents’ good behaviors. Some people are more inspired by Allah in spite of their less knowledge about Islam. So it’s not only in books that we learn about Islam.
‘ It’s as if a veil were lifted off their eyes and they could see the light of Allah’
S: Mr. Marc Landry, thank you for your time.
M: Thank you. The pleasure is all mine.
There were certain times when I found it hard to hold my tears. Many of Landry’s words were touching. This is a message to any Muslim curled up in the comfort zone of being born and raised Muslim with a native Arabic tongue. While you are taking your faith for granted, there are others who can spend a lifetime journey till they get there.
Talking to new converts to Islam can definitely be an eye opener for us all.