By Rafael Bruzzese
It’s always an interesting moment watching the expressions of people when it’s revealed to them that I’m a Muslim. I manifest no distinguishable or recognisable symptoms of Muslimness, no Arabic name, no flowing gowns or headwear, my beard refuses to grow more than a couple of centimetres. Moreover, I’m not Lebanese, Turkish, Arab or Afghan, but from Canterbury, born to an Italian father and an Australian mother. Some of my interests include football, cricket, binging TV shows and most of all, eating pizza. I speak like the people I grew up around, share the same jokes, dress just as poorly. I actually have mates called Jack, Tim, and even Bob and I can’t eat spicy food. I am an average, indistinguishable 19-year-old Australian guy with some Mediterranean thrown in. But without fail, whenever my faith is revealed, it often prompts abrupt surprise, followed by a spontaneous cross-examination.
“How can an ‘Italian’ be Muslim?”
“Well, Italy is a country … Islam is a religion”,
“…Are you half Lebanese then?”
“Are your parents Muslim?”
“So why are You Muslim!??
Why am I Muslim…
I don’t always know how to answer that question when I’m asked. The answer which first comes to my mind is: “because I believe Islam is true”. However, I understand that the question is not asking whether I believe Islam to be true, but rather how I came to find Islam to be the truth in a world where Islam is for so many people, an exotic and pre-modern mythology, or worse, a violent, destructive cult (see YouTube comments section for any vaguely Islam-related video). I no longer tend to bother explicitly trying to prove the sensibility of Islam through rational argument to strangers or acquaintances. This is partially because, well, rationality and logical thought evades a large swathe of the population, particularly when it comes to Islam; but mostly, because I incline towards the Ghazalian  notion that belief and truth are not fundamentally about rationality but rather our experience and senses. The role of our intellect is, primarily, not to delve into metaphysics or philosophical debates, rather it is to interpret and understand reality through our experiences and senses.
For me, one such experience was having the first prayer of my life answered. I had sceptically asked God (whose existence I had doubted since I was a child) to show me if there was a true religion. The next day whilst walking in the city, a man handed me an English translation of the Qur’an. I commenced reading that night. I started noting the verses of beauty and peace. The more I read the translation, the more I found wisdom or something profound within. I was surprised to note I had begun to record every verse. I began to listen to recitations every night before sleeping and watching lectures which led to debates with my friends and classmates. There were two elements which struck me most, the first was the Qur’an and the Prophet’s (saw), calling to transcend the actions of others.
‘And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.’ (41:34)
‘And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace’ (25:63)
‘O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do.’ (5:8)
The reasons that these verses (among countless others), and the actions and sayings of the Prophet (saw) had such a profound impact on me, was that they clearly dispelled the claims of sceptics who labelled religions as morally antiquated. To me it had become evident that Islam clearly called for moral transcendence and righteousness; with this, I began to understand the necessity of worship. Almost as soon as I came to this realisation, I encountered the verse:
‘O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, that you may become righteous’(2:21)
The second pivotal impression that emerged from the Qur’an was, unlike other scriptures, it implored its readers, to examine and reflect upon the universe and existence, to affirm the reality of Tawhid (indivisible oneness of God). The idea that all things in existence both animate and inanimate are controlled and moved by the same simultaneous incomprehensible, transcendent, conscious entity and are not merely resultant of accident. I contested Christianity on the basis, which suggested a complex Triune understanding of God, that could not be validated by our senses and experience but merely though immersion in scripture. Contrastingly, the Qur’an contained verses such as:
‘Thus does Allah make clear to you His signs: in order that you may consider [la1alakum tatafakkarun]’(2:219) (2:266)
‘Had We sent down this Quran on a mountain, indeed, you would have seen it humble itself and cleave itself asunder for the fear of Allah. Such are the similitudes which We propound to men, that may reflect [la`alahum yatafakkarun]’(59:21)
‘Truly, the worst of all creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf, the dumb, those who do not use their reason/think.’(8:22)
‘Or do you think that most of them hear or reason? They are like livestock. Rather, they are [even] more astray in [their] way. ‘(25:44)
‘[This is] a blessed Book which We have revealed to you, that they might reflect upon its verses and that those of understanding would be reminded. ‘(38:29)
Concurrent to my immersion in the Qur’an and my deepening existential crisis, two other rather bizarre occurrences further contributed to my epistemological transformation. I attended an all-boys high school, and would probably have broken out in an intense sweat at the sight of a girl for most of my early adolescence. Yet, by chance one day I was introduced by a friend to a Turkish girl. We hit it off immediately and shortly began dating. She was a Muslim, and I remember one time she told me, that when we were to marry in the future, I would have to convert to Islam. We broke up a month later. But she further taught me the fundamentals of Islam, including the surah Al-Fatiha (first passage in the Quran) and Salah (prayer). Shortly, after I parted ways with her, I remember facing a conflict in my growing conviction in Islam, over a particularly small issue. Growing up near the beach in Sydney, parties and drinking were a part of the culture. So, I questioned why alcohol, when not consumed in excess, should be prohibited. The answer came one fateful night, after I consumed a relatively small amount at a friend’s 18th birthday, and found myself drastically ill. Most of my friends were too drunk to realise that I had alcohol poisoning and needed urgent medical attention. The following experience was so traumatic, that I never entertained the idea of consuming alcohol again.
This made it clear to me that the physical world, The Qur’an and my own experience were inextricably interconnected. And that I had found within the Ayat, affirmations of my own experiences of life and reality as well as guidance.
In December of 2015, I attended a mosque for the first time and uttered my Shahada (profession of faith). At that point, I thought my immense journey was over. However, that was before I told my parents and friends; before I began to engage with a community and tradition that I had no understanding or knowledge of. InshAllah I will discuss some of my experiences navigating different Islamic schools of thoughts, groups, ideas and identity crises in a later reflection.
 Imam Al Ghazali, was one of the most distinguished Scholars and Thinkers in Islamic History. His works and scholarship were so outstanding that he was bestowed by his contemporaries and successors with the honorary title “Hujjat Al Islam” or Proof of Islam.