Convert to Islam shares story

Former Roman Catholic says Islamic teachings of tolerance attracted him to Muslim faith

Jaffer Syed said Islam teaches the importance of charity and helping the community.
Jaffer Syed said Islam teaches the importance of charity and helping the community.

“A lot of people wanted to know why I accepted Islam,” said Jaffer Syed, a man who was raised as a Roman Catholic but converted to Islam in his early 20s. His original name is Jeff.

The University of Toronto graduate spoke on campus last week during the final night of Islamic Awareness Week, which was organized by the Queen’s University Muslim Student Association.

Syed was a student in 1992 when he converted to Islam after a few key events changed his perspective on life. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, he lost a lot of money he had invested in Kuwait at the time.

“I was humbled at that point and I was looking for answers,” he said.

As well, Syed made friends with several Muslims during his undergraduate years. While in their company, Syed said he felt obliged by common manners not to breach Muslim religious customs. He refrained from eating pork and drinking alcohol when dining with them. Soon after, he stopped consuming pork and alcohol entirely.

As a result of his changing lifestyle, Syed soon discovered that the Islamic way of life appealed to him in a meaningful way. He eventually decided to convert to Islam and devote his life to following the teachings in the Qur’an. He said one aspect of Islam that was particularly appealing to him was its message of tolerance of other religions.

“In order to be a Muslim, you must accept other scriptures,” he said. “We have to become cognizant of other religions so we can get along.

“We revere the same prophets, whether it’s Adam or Jesus or Mary,” he said. He also said that Islam is open to anyone who accepts the religion’s main tenets.

“Anyone can be a Muslim,” he said.

Syed said some of the basic requirements of Islam are that followers believe in only one God and that they accept God as their creator. He also said it is important that believers in Islam closely follow the teachings of the Qur’an.

“If it says it in the Holy Qur’an, we follow it,” Syed said. “We pray five times a day.”

Syed said that Islam teaches the importance of charity and helping the community. “It’s not just nice to give to charity, it is incumbent upon you,” he said. “We try to help the environment. We help animals, we help mankind.” Syed personally volunteers for a variety of charities and is especially involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving because of his personal dislike of alcohol. He said he is involved in one way or another with 22 different charities.

Syed said many people misunderstand Islam because it is often portrayed inaccurately by the media. He also said Islam is completely opposed to all forms of terrorism.

“Terrorism in Islam is not allowed,” he said. “We don’t like war. War doesn’t solve anything. Islam did not spread by the sword.”

There are approximately 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide and 700,000 in Canada, Syed said.

Syed said that fasting is an important part of Islam, especially during the Holy Month of Ramadan. “[During Ramadan] we fast from sun up to sundown,” he said. He said that fasting is more than just the absence of eating food and drink, but also involves freeing one’s mind of bad thoughts.

“Fasting in Islam encompasses everything,” he said.

Syed said his experiences have made him think about life in a rather unique manner. “I look at life a little differently than most other people,” he said. He added that he is sometimes approached by people who suggest that he might be wasting his time believing in God and Islam. He said he doesn’t feel that way at all.

“It’s something you have to have faith in,” he said.

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