Putting Their Faith in Islam
Around 30,000 women in Switzerland have converted to Islam, according to a recent report by an organisation for women.
By Jean-Michel Berthoud; Reprinted from Swissinfo, December 2004
Although raised as a Protestant, 35-year-old Nur Sammour-Wüst feels she has always been a Muslim.
She converted to Islam over a decade ago and looks back to an event in Sunday school as a harbinger of the change that was to come.
The teacher told us that God sees and hears everything, but that he sent his son Jesus as an intermediary to the world, she recalls.
I went home and told my mother that if God sees and hears everything, I dont need a mediator.
Now, as a Muslim, if I pray for help, I pray directly, says Nur Sammour-Wüst. Direct communication with God is a basic tenet of Islam.
Fear of death
In 1991, at the age of 22, she met and married her first husband, a Lebanese.
During that time I was always asking myself questions, especially about death. I didnt find the answers I sought in Christianity there, death is a taboo subject.
Her husband, on the other hand, who had lived through war, did not understand the Western fear of death although, like her, he was only 22.
For him, everything was clear, because in Islam death is clearly defined.
I started to learn more about Islam, and at one point suddenly I knew. I already believed in God, in the prophets, in the angels, in predestination, in resurrection. I was already Muslim, I just had never realised it. In 1992 I officially converted.
After her first husband died in a car accident, Nur Sammour-Wüst remarried again to a Lebanese. But after six years they divorced.
Now a single mother, she is raising her son and two daughters as Muslims.
I am responsible for them also religiously until they are 18 years old, she says. At home we live and practise Islam, and the children accept it. I think its normal for them.
And should one of her children no longer want anything to do with Islam?
My most fervent wish to God is that this does not happen. It would be awful for me, because to me Islam is a way of life. It is not like a shirt that you simply change.
Still, she feels religion and belief cannot be forced on anyone. If, in the worst case, a child no longer wants anything to do with Islam, then upon reaching adulthood he or she must take responsibility for that decision.
A common preconception is that Muslim women sit at home and are not allowed to go out in public. Nur Sammour-Wüst, who leads an active life, denies she is an exception because she is Swiss.
In the time of the prophet Mohammed, 1,400 years ago, women were politically and intellectually active. The notion of house-bound women tied to the stove is patriarchal, not religious.
According to Nur Sammour-Wüst, Muslim women in Switzerland often complain that they face more problems than their Swiss counterparts who have converted to Islam.
She puts much of this down to a failure to learn the language.
They absolutely have to learn German, she says. The Prophet Mohammed also said that when you live somewhere, learn the language that the people speak so you can communicate.
In my view, if Muslim women live in Switzerland, they should be able to speak the language. If they learn German, constructive discussions can take place.