Bread for My Soul
A Russian Lady Discovers Islam
By Elena Shromova
December 20, 2005
"…and then, when Youri Gagarin came back to the earth, glorious as he was, surrounded by thousands of people who wanted to see the hero of the day, an old babushka came to him and asked :
"My son, have you then seen God in Heavens?"
I still see, as if it were just yesterday, my mother standing in the kitchen telling me this popular story, smiling at me-I was eight or nine years of age-smiling at the simple little old babushka who for sure had no idea that the one who believed in God would never ever be able to become a pioneer or a "komsomolez". Such a shame for the poor!
This is how I grew up. Pioneers, red flags, atheism, father Stalin, father Lenin, endless chain of other "fathers". Easter.. well yes, there still was a kind of Easter. We painted eggs and found it very exciting but we were forbidden to tell about it at school (the same reason-the desired title of a pioneer which unless would have been difficult to obtain).
And then everything changed. "Fathers" were "defathered" and the whole country started to search for new idols. Easy money, business, western goods. Freedom, freedom and freedom again. Church slowly gained power, slowly became in. A Mafioso with a gold chain almost dicker than his neck as well as all possible politicians and Mr. president himself didn't fail to attend the church on an appropriate occasion.
I can only say from that time that this mass church euphoria didn't touch me at all. Well, the façade became more beautiful, more attractive, more fashionable, but it still didn't give answers to the very essential questions. As my logic just refused to accept the idea of God having a son and I didn't see other ways rather than church and Christianity I questioned the whole existence of life after death, the meaning of life, the meaning of myself in this world.
This was probably the time when I unconsciously started to search for God, I wanted deadly to find answers to my questions. I couldn't live just like that, just exist without any purpose as it seemed to me. At times I had an indescribable fear of death. It was almost a depression. At these moments I would ask myself again and again, well, suppose you will have a happy life according to the standards: loving husband, lovely children, good job, good friends, and then you die would anything from your whole life have any meaning. Your children and grandchildren will also one day be gone. The Earth, The Cosmos, everything will one day be gone. Why do I live then? Why making efforts? Where is this line of what is right and what is wrong? Why being good? Why being bad?
Curiously enough I could never utter the phrase: I don't believe in God. I just couldn't. I felt that I did believe. Whenever somebody asked me about religion, I would almost panic and depending on a person asking would either say that that was a very personal question or I would start a discussion which would practically always end up with even more questions. The concept that I should believe without questioning didn't satisfy me at all. I couldn't feel anything when my questions stayed unanswered. Now I understand how desperately I wanted to love God then, I wanted to feel and to believe and to be sure and to live in peace.
During my whole five years at the University I just once came across a bit closer the word "Islam". We had a subject, something like the History of Religion. One of the textbooks contained the following phrase "…and it is written in the Qur'an: Kill the disbelievers..." (At-Tawbah 9:5). I remember I was shocked and I said to myself if I had ever chosen a religion than not Islam. But Allah knows best!
After finishing University in Russia I went to continue my studies in Germany, al-hamdu lillah!
I come from a very distant part of Russia, the Far East. We are almost the end of the country, the last point before China. Japan, Korea and China are nearer to my native town than Moscow. 10,000 kilometeres was my journey to Hanover. 10,000 km to get to know and to love Allah and Islam. Isn't it a wonder? Isn't it a great mercy? Subhan Allah! [editor's note: subhan Allah means glory be to Allah]
When I look back now, I see so many small things which like parts of a puzzle give now a full picture of my journey. My first year in Hanover-too busy with my studies, learning German and adjusting myself to a new environment to occupy myself with existential problems. Like a small drop in the sea of busy life, I remember talking to a student from Turkey. He was not really a very religious person, but this is a thing which still fascinates me about Muslims: sometimes even a non-practicing person carries unconsciously a certain feature of a good Muslim, if it is for generosity, hospitability, honesty, or just a firm belief that there is a God, often Forgiving, most Merciful, a belief which seems odd in the western consume obsessed society.
So one day we talked about religions and I came up with my usual unanswered questions which almost always blocked the entire further discussion. I just couldn't understand the concept of sin in Christianity. How can a priest forgive a sin? How could he know if I was sincere in my repenting? So I can actually sin everyday and go to the priest everyday? And if Jesus (peace be upon him) has already died for all of our sins, why not sin?
The student from Turkey was calm and quite and then said: "In Islam we say that every person is born like a clean sheet of paper. Everything that you do in your life is written down on that sheet and it is up to Allah alone to forgive or not".
I was fascinated. For the first time the discussion didn't have a dead-end, I found an answer to my question. I was so confused before and just a simple phrase made things so clear and logical and free for understanding and feeling.
But at that point I did not go further in learning something else about Islam. I think it was a year later that I fell in love with a Muslim man. I cannot say that it was a very happy relationship. He was not a perfect Muslim, he didn't pray and led a life which unfortunately many young Muslim students lead when they come to western countries. But in spite of this he had something which I didn't have; something very strong inside-a belief in God, a belief in divine script, and no fear of death. Well, I was a bright and industrious student, a good friend and tried to be a good person, but I always lacked this power, which now, I know, can only come through realizing the existence of God. I saw him fasting in Ramadan, but didn't think much about the meaning. Strangely enough, I first started to search for the meanings when we separated. We didn't understand each other in many aspects and I couldn't stand it any longer. I wanted to leave him but also to understand what was that that didn't function! Was it his religion? His traditions? His up-bringing? Or was the problem in me?
I bought a book about the life of Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) and went to France for a language course. The course was good, the book was even better! I wanted to learn more.
That was quite a difficult year as I got very ill and had to be operated. But in everything is Allah's supreme Wisdom. I was very lonely and I had fear of operation but this was the point where I started to think more and more about God. Al-hamdu lillah, everything went fine and somehow I became another person after that. Everything that happened after is just a logical consequence. I think at that point in my heart I was already a Muslim.
For my studies I had an Italian private teacher for almost a year but through all the problems I lost the contact. So after having recovered I decided to continue my Italian lessons and started to search for a new teacher. One day I picked up a telephone number out of a dozens of offers which one can find on an information desk in a University. I dialled the number and a very nice Italian woman told me that she would be happy to give me lessons and was not very expensive. We arranged a place to meet and then she told me she would be easy to recognise because she was wearing a scarf.
A scarf?! Well, I was surprised, but I thought she was probably an Italian of Arabic origin or something like that. I have never talked to a woman wearing a scarf in my life. I just thought of some of those girls whom I've seen now and then and who seemed to be Europeans wearing scarves. I always thought they were not much educated and that they did all their men wanted them to do. Well, I didn't know much about Islam and had my own westernised ideas of how a woman should present herself.
And then I met Nura, al-hamdu lillah. This meeting changed my whole life. I saw this woman, an Italian convert to Islam, very well-educated, intelligent, beautiful, with bright sense of humour and wearing a scarf! She had light, light in her face coming from inside, ma sha' Allah! My world was changed. I understood how prejudiced I was. We started our lessons, but, to tell the truth, we talked more about Islam than learning Italian, al-hamdu lillah!
And then I read the Qur'an. And I asked myself why didn't I do this before! This should have been the first step.
I was crying of happiness and joy because I understood at once, from the first pages, this is the truth, this is what I was searching for, this is the answer and the guidance and I don't have to fear any more. These words went directly into my heart and I felt peace. Life has a meaning and I can do a lot to fulfil this meaning, in sha' Allah.
I remember sitting one day at my work feeling so absolutely and completely happy that when my colleagues had seen me, they would have known I had fallen in love. And I did I fell in love with Allah and Islam and the way of life He prescribed for us. And nothing on this earth can give a man this feeling of complete, incomparable happiness. Only the love for Allah and recognition of His will.
I pray, I wear hijab, I fast in Ramadan and I don't know how I have lived without doing all of this before! What was that sort of a life, full of confusion, fear and loneliness?
Everything comes from Allah, we just need to make a small step in His direction and He will take us in His Great Mercy. I was lonely and He gave me such a nice Ummah, I was ill and He cured my heart and my soul, I was lost and confused and He gave me peace and guidance, my soul had hunger and He gave it bread.