Currents of Life: Fatima Ozoguz

Across the world people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds are reverting to Islam. The pace is so high that Islam has become the fastest growing religion in the world. Many of those who have embraced Islam in recent years are people from Western countries. In Western Europe, Germany has the largest Muslim population after France. More than three million Muslims live in Germany and estimates claim that some one hundred thousand of them are converts to Islam form German descent. Recent statistics show a continuing increase in their numbers. Furthermore studies tell us that a considerable portion of those who embrace Islam in Europe are educated women. In a world where Islamophobia and a distorted representation of Islam is prevalent, there are still individuals who manage to find the true path of Islam. These individuals have been lovingly guided by God. And they have a unique story to tell. In this episode of "Currents of Life" we will meet a German woman who has embraced Islam. Her name is Fatima Ozoguz and she will share her unique experience and the story of her conversion to Islam. Fatima Ozoguz was born and raised a Protestant Christian. She had great faith as a teenager and young adult but gradually began to question the dogmas of her own faith and look for the meaning of life. In retrospect Fatima sees her conversion as the sheer guidance of God. After her initial interest with Islam and consequent research, Fatima embraced Islam at the age of 19. Later in life she became acquainted with the Shia branch of Islam which she chose to adhere to. Now she lives with her Shia Muslim husband and is a mother and a grandmother. Fatima and her husband believe that the true message of Islam must be spread and they strive for this goal.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “Good morning and welcome!Please come this way.In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.My name is Fatima Özoguz, and my maiden name was Schmidt.I converted to Islam 30 years ago and I am 49 years old.I have 3 adult children, who are married. I have one grandchild and on is about to come.I have lived in Delmenhorst for 23 years. I grew up in a Protestant home but my parents were not regular churchgoers. It is only since I became a Muslim that they have become more religious. I have always taken my belief in God very seriously, though. I was confirmed and I went to church every Sunday while the rest of my family slept in.But I gradually began to look for the true meaning of life and to question the dogmas of my own religion. I found I couldn’t identify with it anymore, and I began to search for other religions. Doubts about Christianity weren’t a catalyst for Islam; it was just that I was reconsidering life in general. I felt there was something lacking in Christianity. There was a lack of spirituality and at the same time it felt too out of touch. It was a faith that you practised on Sundays in church but otherwise it didn’t play a particularly important role in one’s life. Politics and religion are kept strictly apart in

Germany, as well, in the Christian world. That bothered me too. So, how did I get interested in Islam?

First of all, we don’t find Islam on our own. We are always guided by God, I am very convinced of that. At the time of my conversion I was 19 years old and I was studying for my university-entrance diploma (A levels).

One trigger was the Islamic revolution in Iran because everyone was talking about it at the time.

There was extensive coverage on TV and in other media. This made me wonder what drove a whole nation to set up an Islamic republic. How did they do this?

This was the reason for my initial interest. I began to do research on Islam in libraries and bookshops. But most of what I found had a critical perspective and was written by non-Muslims. I wasn’t able to find any detailed literature of the kind I was looking for.

So, in order to obtain the information I wanted – since there weren’t any mosques in our small town – I put an ad in the newspaper requesting Muslim women to help me. I purposefully did not address Muslim men to avoid misunderstandings. And some women got back to me! I started to correspond with them, some of them I even met in person.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert:“They gave me reading material, which you wouldn’t find in a normal book store. This enable me to obtain a better picture and I was able to ask many questions. The challenge in the beginning was to find a Muslim community. Back then it was very different. Today you have lots of events in German, also for young people. There were only events in Turkish or

Arabic. And I didn’t speak Turkish at the time. When I visited the mosques. I relied on translations. But it was still preferable to sitting alone at home. I started my research at 17 and I was 19 when I converted. So, it took about two years of intense research and the more I learned, the more I was sure that Islam was the right path for me. I couldn’t accept the Christian doctrines anymore, in particular, the fact that Jesus supposedly died for all our sins. The more I thought about it, the more I realised I couldn’t believe in Christianity anymore.

Then I got to know a German-Muslim couple who arranged several witnesses. We sat in their living room and I spoke the Shahada in front of them. Then we prayed together. It was a very moving moment in my life, and I have fond memories of the occasion. It felt like a new life was about to begin. For a moment I suppressed the thoughts about the problems

It would cause at home. I always wanted to wear the headscarf because it fascinated me that Muslim women preserved their beauty for their husbands. After my conversion I was so full of enthusiasm that I forgot to readjust my headscarf when leaving the bus.

When I realized it – I readjusted it – and my mother who picked me up, noticed and asked: “What are you wearing? Do you think it looks good?”

I answered: “No, it is part of my faith.”

She was so shocked, she nearly caused a car accident.

Her first words then, were: “Oh God, don’t tell your father!”

I should add, my father was a teacher at a secondary school and had a lot to do with Turkish children and their families.

Unfortunately, they didn’t throw a very good light on Islam. For this reason, my father had a very negative opinion of this religion. He was also the mayor in our town. It was a big shock for him to see his daughter suddenly running around with a headscarf. The next challenge was at school where I decided to wear the headscarf. I felt extremely alienated because people were not familiar with it. And I felt very lonely until I met my husband. It was a great challenge. My husband comes from a Sunni family. But after analysing the Shia doctrine he

so to speak converted to Shiism, although it is not really correct to say ‘converted’ because both are branches of Islam and both acknowledge each other.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz’s husband: “I was born in 1959, which means I am now 57 years old. I came to Germany at the age of one. My parents are originally from Turkey, my father from the Syrian border, my mother from the Georgian border. They met in Istanbul and moved to Hamburg. I grew up in Hamburg where I did my A levels. Later I studied process engineering at the Clausthal University of Technology. I did my doctorate studies in Bremen and then worked as a chief engineer at the institute for environmental process engineering for ten years. Since then I have lived in this area.

It was through the coverage of the Iranian revolution that my brother and I came into contact with the Shia branch. We didn’t know anything about it before then.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “He then studied the Islamic history and its traditions.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz’s husband: “After two to three years of studies we decided to follow this path of Islam. Even though I am a Muslim by birth, we deliberately chose to see this new path as a new profession of faith.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “Shia felt more logical to us. To my husband first, and then to me too. The first Islamic conference for German Muslims started up at that time. It was organised on a regular quarterly basis in different towns.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz’s husband: “The situation is hard to imagine 30 years ago, when German speaking Muslims all together, both Shia and Sunnis, made up 200-300 people only. And they went out to their way to drive long ways to meet.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “At the time, it was Munich’s turn to host the event, and the location was quite close to me.

I was studying near Munich at time as I wanted to become a customs inspector. I was very eager to participate at this event because I wanted to meet people. There weren’t any Muslims where I worked And it was at this conference that I met Muslims from Iran. One family invited me….”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz’s husband: “It was autumn when I received a call from a Muslim brother from this very family, who asked me to pop over with my video recorder because they had guests, who they wanted to show a video. Since this wasn’t an unusual request as it happened quite frequently, I just picked up my recorder and went over to their house. When I entered the room there was only one woman sitting there, no one else.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “It was very strange because he entered the room, and of course I had no clue what was going on. They only told me that a Turkish brother would be showing a video…”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz’s husband: “So I connected the video recorder. But for some reason we didn’t watch the video, but just talked…”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “I thought he was quite nice but immediately assumed he was married, and that he couldn’t possibly be available…”

SOUNDBITE[German] Fatima Ozoguz’s husband: “Later on, the brother’s wife came to my wife and the brother himself came to me, and we both were asked

the same question: “Do you want to get to know each other?””

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: So, we stayed in touch and wrote letters to each other and called each other. There wasn’t any email or twitter back then…”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz’s husband: Around Christmas time she came for a visit and stayed for several days. At the end of her visit I asked her if she wanted to marry me…”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “We married in 1986.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz’s husband: “On 22February we drove to the Islamic Centre of Hamburg where we got married by the former Hodja. On 4April we did the civil wedding.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Tina Slawinski-Hussain, German Convert:“My name is Tina Slawinski-Hussain but it is about 9 years now that I am called Zeynab. I am 26 years old and live in Bremen near Delmenhorst. I converted to Islam in June 2007. Back then there weren’t many activities organised for German speakers. But there was an Internet platform called “Shia Forum”. I published my story on it to get some tips and advice about my religion. Fatima got in touch with me, and we discovered that she only lives15 minutes away from me. Since then we have been regular visitors at the Monday meeting.

My love for my religion increases all the time! The light of Ahl al-Bayt and of our

Prophet is so close to my life. And when I see people like Fatima or brother Yavus who remind me of Ahl al-Bayt and with whom I can pursue this religious path– it’s just wonderful! It has become a regular thing for our community to meet here each Monday to start off the week. We meet here in Delmenhorst just before 7 pm. First we begin by reading the Quran, then we discuss a particular theme and each week there is a different speaker.

It provides a wonderful start to the week as we think back and reflect on the weekend. It brings a blessing to our week’s activities. Many people attend the meeting and take time to talk to Fatima or brother Yavus to discuss something or to get their advice.””

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “Our family is a large whole, a kind of independently functioning system But of course, others are also involved on our Muslim path. My daily routine involves me preparing breakfast for my husband and myself – and for my children, too, when they used to live at home. I am a regular housewife like everyone else. But at the same time I also translate for our publishing house ‘Islamica’, then I provide marriage counselling. People call here to receive guidance. I also work as a volunteer for the hospice association and I am an active member of my political party. Originally, ‘Muslim-Markt’ was designed to help Muslims to find Islamic doctors, or to find Muslim cemeteries or individual burial sites, or to find Muslim lawyers and Halal restaurants and those sorts of things. It was for this purpose that the website was founded by my husband and his brother twenty years ago. And our whole family is involved in it. Muslim TV is also of interest. My brother-in-law is a newscaster.”

SOUNDBITE [German] News speaker: “Tehran, Imam Khamenei delivered a speech last Saturday for the participants of the International Quran competition.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “They produce it on Thursday and it’s online on Friday morning around 10 am.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz’s husband: “In thankfulness we receive everything from You. Let us find our role in the flow of gratitude. Forgive us our sins.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “Our weekly session is every Monday from 6:45 pm to 8 pm. It is arranged as follows: first we read four pages out of the Quran. Then a person gives a talk on a particular subject, after which we have 45 minutes to ask questions and to discuss it. Then we sit together and have some snacks.

Many young people attend this meeting because it’s held in German. In our community we have people from around 8-9 nations, although they are all German citizens now.

For that reason, our common language is German. We feel that since we live here we must communicate in German. That means our publications, our lectures and events are held in German so that the majority of the population gets a chance to understand what we do, as well.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Lecturer: “So, I believe we are on page 251. It is the 14th to 28th Aya, is that right? Please, begin.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [German] Fatima Ozoguz, German Convert: “The Germans realize that something is wrong in their country and all over the world. The rich get richer and richer, and the poor get and poorer. Discontent is beginning to spread. People don’t feel that politicians are listening to them anymore. They feel, to put it nicely, like they are being led up the garden path. And those at the top just do what they want. Muslims have become the general scapegoat for this discontent.

How should Muslims react?

Well, the main problem is they react too much and at the same time do not act enough Imam Khamenei says, we should demonstrate the true Islam and show that Islam has nothing to do with the murderous Daesh. We need to approach the rest of the population in a better way, instead of being fearful. It is no good when Muslims are fearful of non-Muslims or vice versa. Fear is never a good adviser. I recently listened to a lecture by Hodja Ramazani at the Islamic Centre in Hamburg. He said, that Muslims in the West have an obligation to make society safer and better. You can’t do that if you hide yourself away, or if you don’t speak the language, or if you only mix with other Muslims. That is certainly not what we are trying to achieve. Islam provides rules for family life and working life, something that is of particular importance given the current situation.

Everyone realises that the current system of interest rate development cannot continue. It leads to injustice. I believe only Islam offers an adequate solution. In Islam everything is regulated so wonderfully, religious life as well the normal, day-to-day life.

Ideally, even a banal act like eating food can be a form of worship if you do it in God’s way. This fascinated me. And, of course, the principles of faith. There is only one God and Mohammad is his Prophet. I find the rules regarding alms-giving very important too. Also the responsibility towards each other within our community but without it involving an individual losing his own identity. Islam is so logical and remains vibrant.

It safeguards its values but at the same time takes into consideration human nature. And that fascinates me.”

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