Melissa's Journey to Islam

New Zealand

La ila ha illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah


Bismillahi Rahmaani Raheem.

Asalaam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,

My name is Melissa. I originate from New Zealand, of Maori and European decent.

I perhaps wasn’t born into the conventional family full of love and warm fuzzies; still it was classed as a family. I barely recall much of my younger years but do remember some things that come and go as faded fleeting cloudy patches. My father was extremely abusive and my mother was extremely elusive of the fact that children thrive on healthy attention. It has taken me years of self therapy to wave goodbye to my childhood and with the help of Allah and good supportive friends both Muslimah and non Muslim I have Alhamdulillaah over come the pain of the past which has allowed me to pave the way for my future.

At the age of 9 years my parents divorced and my mother, 2 brothers and my self migrated to Australia where we resided until 1996. We lived mainly in Suburban Sydney. During our years in Sydney I made friends with many people from many different nationalities.

My mother worked nightshifts part of the week and we were left with baby sitters. I remember one from Lebanon, of course at that age I knew nothing about Islam or Muslims.

We shifted to Hurstville, Sydney, where I attended a primary school and befriended a lot of girls from Iraq, Lebanon and other Eastern Europe nationalities; I was very close to one in particular named Maymoona. She was from Lebanon and just so happened to live next to us.

Her parents owned a Mediterranean Food Outlet and used to bring Kibbeh, Falafels and other goodies home and share with us. Her grandparents lived next door to them but were Lebanese Christians. Maymoonas mother had reverted to Islam. May had 2 brothers and 4 sisters. It was actually a very memorable time in my childhood. May’s grandparents grew grapes and would gather up all of the children and throw the grapes in to a large wooden barrel and tell us to jump all over them. At the time I didn’t understand we were making wine for them. May loved avocados on toast and we ate it each and every Saturday morning or when we had sleep over’s. None of the sisters wore hijaab but their mother wore a pristine white hijaab. We had a park where Arabs and Yugoslavians played Soccer next to our house. May and I would play there together each day after school. Despite it appearing to be a perfect family setting, it was anything but. Her father was very abusive towards her mother which only caused us to bond more closely as we found such a painful experience to be something we had in common.

My mother for some reason or another moved us into a Seventh Day Adventist School where I was in the Choir. We later moved and I attended another Primary school that had many Muslim girls in hijaab attending. We had 3 in our class and we used to play during our lunch breaks. I never really paid much attention to the fact they were very different from myself. Primary school years past and High School started. I never saw another hijaabi that I remember.

We moved to the Western Plains of Australia in the small town of Coonabarabran. My mother had decided she would forsake city life for the self sufficient life style of an organic farm. We had no power, except by generator, no running water and the nearest main road was 12kms from our front door. Life was very frugal in many ways and much neglected. I had suffered abuse at the hands of my mother’s partner and had often contemplated suicide as a means to make it stop. I never thought about religion much as my Mother is Wiccan and I had learnt such things from her by watching more so then actual lessons. Still I believed in God, but was unclear on what God actually was, but never thought to further examine the topic.

At the age of 16 we returned to New Zealand. My relationship with my mother was very volatile and fragile. We locked heads together more often then I care to remember, almost on all topics. When we arrived in New Zealand I found a job with some family who owned Kiwifruit Pack Houses so I started to work and save with intention of moving back to Australia to be with my friends. I did save enough to become a WOOFI (Workers of Organic Farming) and traveled to Childers, Queensland in Australia. I ran into trouble as my savings dwindled and I was left alone at the age of 16 in an area I was fully out of my element. I was homeless in Brisbane and ended up begging my mother to help me back to New Zealand. Upon returning to New Zealand I ended up moving out of home and in with friends and fell in with the wrong crowd that I met during a Conservation Course I attended in a small rural town. I started to consume alcohol and became dependant on Marijuana which I consumed daily. I eventually moved to my home city of Tauranga, Bay of Plenty where I snagged a full time job packing Kiwifruit. I came into contact with many women from Somalia. They worked in picking Kiwifruit but we stayed in a workers caravan park together. I kept to myself and just wanted to blend into the background and b unseen. But to no avail. I later met one Somali woman who was very friendly, invited me to sit and eat with her. My interest grew as to why she wore a scarf on her head. I started to ask more in depth questions and her answers were very enticing and insightful. So much that it helped me to reflect on my past, assess my present and hope for my future. I was currently fighting a drug addiction, had no real friends or family and my life was going downhill and if I didn’t get a hold of the situation it would soon spiral out of control. The more I asked the Somali woman the more I was intrigued, the more I thirsted for information.

I admired the lifestyle of the Muslimah’s around me, the closeness, the bond between each other, the respect they held for all they came into contact with. Despite not being educated in New Zealand they yielded vast amounts of knowledge on such a broad scale.

My 17th birthday was dawning upon me and I had made the conscious decision to enter Al Islam. I was invited by a group of Muslims to travel to another city, Wellington, where another world was opened up to me. I decided in Ramadan I would revert and adopt Islam as my chosen religion. The morning of January 14th 1996 was a pleasantly warm morning and middle of summer. I made my way towards the Islamic Centre in Wellington, where I would perform my Shahadah. I didn’t understand the process 100% as I didn’t speak Arabic so was prompted to repeat after the Imaam the words:

“La ila ha illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah”

I was given a Qu’raan with full Tafsir to read during Ramadan I was taken to visit some Muslimah’s. It was in that visit that I received my first hijaab, Turkish style, and black satin with grey and cream roses on it, I still have it till this day. Invitations to attend Iftaar flooded in from all directions, it was surreal but welcoming. I embraced, and soaked up much of the religion and environment I could from those around me. If I were to describe the feeling I felt once I reverted I would have to equal it to the rush of adrenaline felt when holding a child for the first time after giving birth, its indescribable, intense, exhilarating yet frightening. I loved everything about Islam; I loved the Muslim culture, dressing as an act of Ibadaah to Allah, to our husbands, to our selves.

I was advised to marry shortly after my reversion as it would complete half my Deen. I married in 1996, children soon followed alhumdulillah. Although the marriage did seize, it produced four beautiful Muslims. Along the way I have met many beautiful Muslims, rich in Islamic knowledge, rich in brotherhood, rich in faith and honesty.

I have thrived amongst such people and cultivated many productive relationships. I learn each day from those with greater knowledge then myself and Insha'Alah khair hope others can learn from me also. Despite the obstacles put in the way of the Muslim Ummah, Islam is strong and will prevail; many pious leaders will arise from the next generation of Mu’mineen, our children, and insha'alah khair we will all strive to stay on the path of the righteous.

Melissa Kepa-Khudaishi




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