How is it like to convert to a religion in a land where what you mainly hear about that faith is propagandistic negativity? What would be the reactions of those – family and friends- whom you hold dearly close? This program recounts the stories of some Austrian converts, who have embraced Islam as the religion of their choice. The film also shows how each character's personal journey has changed their perspectives towards themselves, life and social interactions.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Islam is considered the second religion in Austria. 4.2% of the Austrian population is Muslim.
Among nearly half a million Muslims, many Austrians adopted Islam. And there are more to come . . .
Muhammad Weinberger: (Austrian Convert)
How did I convert to Islam? This is a long and complex story .I searched in the beginning among the non-theistic ideologies because – due to my family background and catholicism in this country – I didn’t appreciate organized religions .I researched in Buddhism, Taoism and other religions and also got in touch with the idea of entity. But one night, I couldn’t’ sleep and suddenly realized, like hearing a voice that tells me, “Yes, I am here, but you don’t want to see me.” And I quickly realized it’s up to me to accept God, and to embrace God. This realization happened at this very night. And it was a feeling of relief and lightness, that I almost wanted to run through the streets to shout ‚ “God exists, He exists!”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
Sabrina Fuchs: (Austrian Convert)
I often experience that people are extremely astonished when they hear that I am Austrian and a Muslim. It didn’t take long before I officially decided to leave the church and to adopt Islam. Our children grow up with a grandmother who practices Christianity and with a mother and father who practice Islam. Thus, they learn the content of both religions. It is really important to me that they grow up in their religion (Islam). They also visit an Islamic kindergarden because I want to give them basic knowledge from early childhood. For myself, I found the image of a tree. The roots symbolize Judaism. The stem is like Christianity. And finally, there is something that concludes all of this; Quran is the final revelation. This is the crown of the tree. So, why should I stop in the middle when I can reach the crown?
Here we surely will find a parking spot.
God willing, we will find a place for parking. Finally, we are here. Yes, thank God.
I am the imam of this mosque and I am responsible or the curriculum and scientific researches ,this center exists for 21 years now, conversions to Islam are conducted here in our center and this is the most important and largest Shiite center, in Vienna ,the Imam Ali center, and it is the Umbrella organization for the Shiites, we teach German language here, and of course , the Persian language in writing and we are part of the Islamic Community , in Austria, both sides are in a very good relationship.
Once a person decides to convert to Islam, he/she will most likely adopt the official religion of the constitution he/she got first in touch with. In my case, I adopted the Shia branch of Islam.It is important in Islam that the faith of a person is only accepted with his own arguments for this faith.In particular, we find this in the Shia theology. And this requires that a person has looked into Islam accurately. Jasmine was very determined to accept Islam. It was a definite step she wanted to take.
How many conversions take place per week and/or per month?
It varies. Maybe two conversions in a week; approximately 10 to 20 in a year.
Austria has a unique status. The 100 year-old 'Law of Islam' describe the advantages granted to Muslims living in Austria.
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
The advantages for Muslims living here are that they are officially acknowledged, They have one voice; they have the Islamic religious community, which in practice means that in schools children have an Islamic curriculum. Islamic slaughtering is guaranteed for Muslims, which is important and essential.
Muslim women are guaranteed to take passport pictures wearing the head scarf. There are also prayer rooms. The army provides Muslim soldiers their own caserns. These are, of course, high achievements for both sides as well for the Austrian society that has a vanguard position. Of course, Muslims can officially claim their rights. Thus, they can act freely as all other members of other religions in Austria.
I decided to become a Muslim when I was 18. We are talking about a young age here .I got up every night at 4 am and prayed to God for a certain period of time, “Please guide me the right path.”
The first time I got in touch with Islam was in Christian school as a kid. I had a teacher who was a practicing Muslim. So, he was actually the first example I saw as a practicing Muslim. When I heard somebody reciting the Quran for the first time, it was very touching. I didn't understand why. Why these strange words which I've never heard in my life before, which don't make any sense to me because I don't understand them, why are they so strong?
I start crying like a small child. Back then, I did boxing. I was a tough kid crying like a small child.
It was quite embarrassing, but I don't have any idea why! Just because somebody was reading the Quran, it had a very emotional impact on me. Before I was a Muslim, I was searching. I wanted to be a Christian, but I didn't really believe in it. I couldn't accept many things about Christianity. I didn't see the Bible as I read it. I couldn't imagine that this is possibly the word of God. No offence to Christians, but it was clear to me that this is now the road I have to take. It was clear to be close to Allah, to be close to God, to be deserving of paradise, and to be a better human being; that was the path I had to take. If I go back, this is the only battle I would have.
I am 21 years old and live in Korneuburg. I live alone since age 17. At the moment, I am still Christian, but I am thinking to convert to Islam. I moved out of home and learned car mechanics.
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
The work wasn't enjoyable for me, I didn't get along well with my co-workers. That was one reason to take another path in my life. I didn't really believe in Christianity anymore, but my inner wish was to take on a religion I can believe in. I researched about Islam a lot. Then, I had been thinking about it continuously for the past half year. Also, I met a Muslim family with whom I became very friendly. They gave me a lot of insight and knowledge about Islam. I liked it and now I have decided to take the step. I also talked to my father about converting to Islam,and he joked with me saying, “Hey, are you nuts?” But at the end, he admitted that it was no problem for him.
Ismail Suk (Austrian Convert):
In October 1922, I converted to Islam. Back then, I came up with the idea to establish an Islamic kindergarden. where children grow up in an Islamic environment and also where children learn the German language. With the help of Allah, we succeeded to open the kindergarden. The institution exists for 11 years now and in total, we supervise over 500 children. With the help of Allah, we also established an Islamic school, the ISMA school. This institution is in its third year now and we have attend 75 students. This school ends with high school which means, a child can be with us from the 2nd to his 20th year to become a role model for society.
Until now, my life has been rather chaotic. I did what I wanted, slept long into the day, I lived my way. But I want to change all this when I convert to Islam by keeping praying times and by keeping washing rituals. I definitely want to change my bad habits, and hope I will get help from Islam.
I am happy to welcome our new brother, Marcus, into the Islamic world I first will read the Islamic denomination in German and then in Arabic.
“I bear witness that there is no one who lawfully can be worshipped besides Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger, and I bear witness that Jesus, son of Maria, is his servant and messenger.” Welcome your brother. Yes, it was a beautiful experience to convert to Islam in this specific .
I was welcomed cordially by everyone; everyone congratulated me. When I came home, I opened all the windows, cranked up my music and just was so happy. To pray 5 times a day is still very difficult for me, especially the language. The language is extremely difficult. I would love to be able to read Arabic one day. Yes, but the most important for now is to be proficient in praying.
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00
I wouldn't say my family is strictly religious, but concerning 'identity', religion has a high importance in my family. When I became a Muslim, my mother took it quite positively. But my father is a completely different story! Can you imagine a 3rd World War? That is my father! We had one fight after the other.What bothers him most is my life style. Most of all, that it is a religious life style. It wouldn't have been as bad if I were Christian. But he also wouldn't have been happy if I had pursued a strictly Christian life style. Yet, nothing is worse than being a Muslim for him.
I visited the Mosque and the first thing I noticed was the affection of the people, the simple beauty of the sacred place. I was attracted to the clearity of the religion. Then, there was a crucial experience when I entered the mosque for the first time. There was a Quran reciter, who recited the Surah Yasin. I was stunnished, I was startled. It was such a strong experience because I didn't understand a word. I didn't know what it is. The expansion of the chest which is described in the Quran, exactly this feeling. There is something that enters you and opens your heart. This is a matrix of divine origin. I had those two realizations. But there were also dreams that confirmed me to avow myself. This moment, when your realize all of this with your heart, not with your intellect, is the moment you are truly bewildered. But with your heart, you know it is God's word.
Recently, we opened an exhibition titled " Österreich Islam". There is 800 years of Islamic imprint in Austria. The exhibition reflects on Islam as being always a part of Europe, in particular Austria.
TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00
(in exhibition, ENDING)
Muhammad Asad got to know the life of the Arabic Beduins and was attracted by it. Thank you for coming. I hope you learned a little bit with this guided tour.
Do you have a better relationship with your mother now?
She has no interest?
This is unfortunate.
And no interest for your little daughter?
What can we do? Actually, nothing can be done.Nothing can be done.
And where do you work?
I work at the railway ÖBB.
Ok, I would like to welcome you.
If your are ready to accept Islam, then try to repeat these three religious denominations. I will say each sentence and then repeat it word by word and then, you can repeat it with me word by word.
Testifying for the prophet Mohammad:
The third religoius denomination is for Ali:
Very good. With this step, you have adopted Islam.
Congratulations. I wish you, of course, best of luckand all the best in this new religion, to both of you. Thank you.
I moved out of home at age 16. It didn't work out anymore, in particular with my mother .And my grandmother turned away from me since I am with a Muslim, but now I am founding my own family, with a husband and a child. That is enough, I don't need more .I think there it is! The first time I got in touch with Islam was through my husband, of course, because he is a Muslim. He explained the religion to me and answered all my questions. For that reason I decided to take this step to accept Islam as my religion. What I really appreciate in Islam is that it keeps you togehter. I noticed that the Muslims always are close to each other, in good times as well as in bad times. And even if you don't know the people, they are welcoming and accept you quickly as their brothers or sisters. I really appreciate this.
We are driving to Mustafa‘s now, my brother from the mosque, to pick him up. And God willing, we will eat something together. He works in an Islamic school as a teacher. Mustafa and I spent all Ramadan together in the mosque. Although you get extremely tired from fasting, your mind is fully awake. You are highly concentrated, you feel very alive and awake. It is so special. The prayers are so intensive. All I’m saying cannot describe the reality of what it means.
TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00
Will it take longer?
It will take a bit.
Ok, I am outside.
You are just standing here?
Yes, I haven't moved for one hour.
Oh God. And we have to pray now!
Yes, God willing.
This is so nice of you to let me drive your car.
Do you want me to show you something cool?
No, not yet.
No, first press this.
Destination Input. Why Navigation?
Ok, Destination Input.
False commands. In this menu you can only say short commands.
You are just too slow.
It is very hard.
Ok, I will try it again.
G - U - M - P
What is wrong with you, woman?
On the way to Japanese Restaurant:
California rolls were very good.
MUSTAFA: (Friend of Giorgi):
I don't go every day to eat Sushi .I think it is the best diversity of all. It's a cold, main dish. The fish is healthy, Omega-3 fat activation, isn’t it? It is Hallal and we can eat it! But usually we don't.Hey, this is mine.
I live with my father. He believes in God. Thanks God, at least he believes in God. He goes to church, he honors all the holidays and is fasting as well. Here are all his Orthodox religious pictures of saints, all his icons. They are not mine, they belong to my father. Apparently, these icons have psychic energies. Let's talk about something else. In the past, I exercised regularly. Everything is a matter of concentration. It’s the same in prayers, also in sports.
How did you become an Austrian Boxing Champion?
I don' know what you are talking about.
TIME CODE : 35:00_40:00
We meet in front of the door in five minutes. Both my daughters, thanks God, are very much interested in Islam.
Feride has turned 12, and Kaete is 10. Their mother is not religious, so both girls experience a religious life through me and that can work for a religious life. Both reacted in a different way. First Kaete, the younger one, discovered Islam for herself. That was her way to have something in common with her father, while her sister had other priorities.
My father explained all the details about Islam to me, which made me more interested in it. And that's the reason I want to accept Islam now. My sister converted recently as well. She already doesn't eat pork. Her persistence inspires me. She is a very good Muslim. My father and her are my good role models.
Ok, Kaete, we are going now to brother Galib. Galib is an Islamic Musician. He is the Cultural Referee of the Islamic Religious Community. He is also the head of the Viennese Institution of Andragogy. And we drive there to conduct the ceremony of your denomination, God willing. He is in Pressbaum. We have to get out.
Are you nervous?
Not really .But one thing I am concerned with, brother Galib will say the words of the Shahada, and I have to repeat them, right?
Yes. I am concerned that I will say the words wrong.
No problem, you can repeat them. Like everything in Islam, the ceremony will be clear and simple. Kaete will speak the testimony in front of three witnesses. And I am one of them.
My experience is that often Muslims are scared to go to a public helpline because they often are confronted with prejudices, or they get the feeling to be seen as a head scarf wearer, but not as a whole person. So, I had the following idea because this shouldn't be a hindrance,this fear of non-acceptance due to religious reasons! And I thought there must be plenty of Islamic institutions with practical experiences that would be ready to make themselves available for such a new network. That's how my consulting network came to life. Now, I am on my way to BFI (Institute for Job advancement). My job includes social work and relationship building. When you have problems, you can come to us so that you won't feel alone. It includes motivation work and support in your studies, so that you won't drop out and continue to complete your education.
IN BFI. . .
I was thinking to call you yesterday.
Can I give you to my colleague? Ms. Fuchs is the supervisor of Dominique.
BFI, Sabrina Fuchs, hello?
Yes, we had this experience with him, too.
He can make an internship next week.
It will all work out.
Yesterday, we had a conversation with his mother, who is also very desperate because of him.
But I hope it will work out.
I call you back to let you know what happens next.
Ok, thank you too. Good bye.
TIME CODE: 40:00_45:00
IN THE CAR. . .
I love my work. It is not only a job. Even as a child, I knew that I wanted to become a social educator.
My father thought this wasn't a good job for women, now I understand him. Back then, you worked in an extremely difficult field where you had to deal with extremely disturbed and maladjusted youths. My father wanted to spare me of this experience. For my friends and family, it was very difficult back then. They couldn't imagine why I wanted to convert to Islam. My mother's biggest concern was that I loose my independence and autonomy because Islam is still seen here as a religion that suppresses women. In reality, this is not true at all. The next shock to my parents was the marriage with my husband. My husband discovered me in a TV talk show and he appreciated my arguments a lot. Then, he wrote a letter to the producer, which they forwarded to me. I thought his letter was incredibly brave. It was so brave and funny that someone would try to contact me in that way. So I thought, “Ok if he is so brave at least I will answer his letter.”
I think it will be in Arabic, and when I speak it wrongly, it might be strange.
Feride: (Sister Of Kaete):
My conversion took place in Turkey. We were in a lovely space. I thought thouroughly about where I wanted to convert. I wanted it to be a place where there are many Muslims because it is such a beautiful religion. When I held the ceremony, there was Orutsch with us, his wife, my father, me and a couple of other people. Of course, I was a bit excited as it was all new to me. But now, I am so used to it.
Galib Stanfel: (Austrian Convert):
Muslims in Austria struggle with a paradox. On the one hand, Austria is the only country in Europe where Islam is officially acknowledged. On the other hand, all the stereotypes and negative judgements exist here as well as in any other country. Muslims struggle with this paradox. They wish and urge to participate in society.
There is, to a certain degree, a confusion between culture and religion which is always being mixed up here in Austria. For example, the groups of immigrants from certain countries continue to carry out their political conflicts here. Or the politicians in Austria put the Islam in a corner where it is useful for them. All this is not an extremety. I think it is normal that a society needs to arrange itself with new impulses, and then learn.
I often hear of women who have problems to find work just because they wear the head scarf.
TIME CODE: 45:00_52:00
It is true that women with head scarf in Austria have more difficulties to get a job, but in Germany, it is even worse. It is prohibited to wear the head scarf. For example, when a woman can proof that she isn't getting a job due to her appearance, she can take her case to court in Austria. We have an anti-discrimination law. Because Islam is officially acknowledged here, no one can be discriminated openly. Teachers are permitted to teach with a head scarf in Austria. It is just no issue here. When a teacher wants to wear the scarf, she is entitled to do so. We have even cases where German Muslim teachers came to Austria because they couldn't work in Germany. I notice a huge difference in discussing or approaching those issues, just because the Law of Islam exits in Austria. There is no discussion about if or if not Islam is included in our constitution, because, in fact, it is! Since 1912, no doubt at all. Once a female politician thought to offend our prophet Muhammad in a nasty way. She was then legally convicted because an acknowledged religion enjoys the protection against derogative doctrines. So, this law makes a huge difference. For example my children go to school and are guaranteed religious education. With a minimum of three students any school has to organize a religious curriculum. Or when Mulims go to the army, they have the right to an Islamic catering. For our society, I wish to restore a normalcy for being a 'Muslim', that they stop questioning it. We are fellow citizens who participate in society like everybody else, with no privileges and no disadvantages. This is my biggest wish to come true.
When I adopt Islam now, I will certainly feel a bit different. There will be a change in my life and that will be nice. There will be changes; I won't eat pork anymore and I will try to pray everyday. And before I start to eat, I will try to say: “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” I really hope that I will get a new name, like my father and my sister. That would be lovely.
Can I see how it looks like?
Where is a mirror?
Ok, I can't see myself.
I thought about wearing the Hijab. My friends think that Islam doesn't suit me because they don't notice it on me. Also, because I am Austrian and I don't talk so much about it and don't carry an Arabic name. I think it would be strange if I would change too quickly though, wearing a head scarf all of a sudden. For that reason I will first wear it privately and later in school.
I have to admit that I am unusually nervous. Especially because it is a wonderful and big step that Kaete is going to take. I am happy and very proud of her.
You both sit next to your father. Allah wants that we all feel good in our religion. For that reason, it is very important that what you do is really what you wish to do. For us, Muslims, all prophets are acknowledged, starting with Abraham, Adam, Moses and Jesus. This is nice about Islam. We can look up to all of those prophets. They all told us important things.
So, Kaete, what you have to do is to testify that Allah exists. That he is the only God and that Muhammad was his prophet. Then you will repeat what I say in Arabic and then three times in German.
Do you want to do this?
I bear witness that there is only one God, and that Muhammad is his prophet. Yes, congratulations. Now you are a Muslim. Best of luck. Welcome. Yes, now about your name, I thought about 'Kámele'. It is a nice name.
When you will carry this name, you will know from your heart that you may strive for the meaning of your name, which is "perfection". So God willing, all the best to you. I am relieved that it was so easy and that I am now a Muslim. I am really happy right now.
AUSTRIAN SONG ‚In God’s Name’
In his name I will act.
In God's name, today and tomorrow.
In his name, our acts are blessed.
I might turn last, but never loose.