I Am a French Convert

This is Maryam’s story of how she embraced Islam in her home country France.

I was raised Catholic in a traditional French family living in the South of France. Except for holidays, religion was not a predominant part of our life; it is a private matter in France, making it unclear whether religion affected the lifestyle of anyone.

The Muslim Girl in My Class

When I was in secondary school, there was a Muslim girl in my class that no one wanted to be friends with. It made me feel sorry for her.

My parents had taught me to be kind to everyone, regardless of their hair or skin color, or where they came from, so I decided to be her friend. I remember that Maryam was smart and helped me when I was struggling with math.

Hearing Quran for the First Time

Twice a week Maryam and I studied at my house. One day, when I was 15-years-old, it happened that we could not study at my house, so she invited me to her home. I had never been there before, and I remember being excited to meet her mom.

They lived in a small apartment, and Maryam did not have her own bedroom, so we studied in the living room.

Her mom was very friendly and prepared us something to eat. While we studied, I noticed Maryam’s mom reading from a book in the other corner of the room. And although she tried to read quietly, I heard the beautiful melody.

I asked Maryam what her mom was doing. She replied that her mom was reading the Quran, the holy book of Muslims.

I was surprised because I never heard anyone reciting the Bible the same way.

I asked Maryam’s mom to sit closer to us and read for me. Although I did not understand a word, I really enjoyed her recitation. Strangely, it touched my heart.

Similarly, when asked how he found listening to recitation of the Quran so captivating when it is made in Arabic, Dr. Jeffrey Lang, an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Kansas, who spent the first 18 years of his life in Catholic schools, responded:

“Why is a baby comforted by his mother’s voice?”

Learning About Islam

Starting from this day, I tried to visit Maryam more often, and her mom would recite the Quran for me. The more I listened to Maryam’s mom reading Quran, the more I wanted to know about her religion.

One day, she told me about the five daily prayers. I was surprised to learn that she prayed to God five times a day! All I had known before this point was how to make supplications the way Christian people do.

Praying for the First Time

I wanted to see her praying, and she allowed me to watch her. Observing her bow down to God in such a beautiful way planted the seed of Islam in my heart.

I asked whether I could join her in the prayer, and without telling me that I have to become Muslim first, she invited me to join her. Together with Maryam and her mom, I prayed in their living room. I was 16-years-old at that time.

Although I had not officially converted to Islam at that point, practicing the Islamic prayer movements became a habit, but one that I concealed from my family because I worried they would not agree to it. Maryam and her mom also never pushed me to become Muslim.

After I finished high school, I moved to Paris for my university studies. It was a huge step and change in my life. I chose to study history and the Arabic language because I wanted to learn the language that Maryam’s mother read in her beautiful recitations from the Quran. My interest in Islam grew, and I started to read more about this religion. I also continued my habit of following the prayer movements.

I Embraced Islam

The more I learned about Islam, the more I felt a desire growing in my heart to become Muslim. Roughly 10 years after I first heard Maryam’s mom reciting Quran, I embraced Islam. That was nearly 15 years ago.

It was a long time before I finally told my family that I had accepted Islam as my religion, and when I finally told them, they were shocked.

Sadly, my conversion strained our relationship, and for several years I worked very hard to keep in contact with them because they did not want to see me.

Alhamdulillah, with patience, goodwill, and the help of God, I was able to convince them that I did not become a terrorist and that I was still a good member of our French society.

I now work with the French government, and although I cannot wear my scarf at work, I wear it during my free time.

Having been promoted several times, I now have my own office where I can pray. Before that, it was difficult to do my daily prayers, and many times I had to make them up when I got home from work. But I experienced that God opens doors if we are persistent and have the right intention.

About Claudia Azizah
Claudia Azizah is originally from Germany and mother of two children and writer. She served as Assistant Professor at the International Islamic University in Malaysia until August 2019. She is co-founder of the Ulu-Ilir-Institute in Indonesia. She regularly writes for the German Islamic newspaper. She is interested in Islamic spirituality, art and Southeast Asia. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram: #clazahsei