My name is Esther, my background is Tongan, with my father’s side coming from the beautiful kolomotu’a and my mother’s parents come from the Netherlands..
I have been a Muslim for 7 years, alhamdulilah.
Life before Islam.
My parents separated when I was very young, I grew up with my mum, step dad and sibling. Growing up especially in my teen years I felt conflict around my identity, I wasn’t around my Tongan family much, they lived in Sydney and I felt like an outsider in both families.
I became bitter and resentful of both my mum for not letting me take holidays with my Tongan aunty and cousins, and my dad for not making more effort with me.
I had a don’t care attitude I was rarely home, always out with friends and what not.
When I was 19 I took the opportunity to move to Sydney, to be with my Aunty and reconnect more with my Tongan side. Alhamdulilah they were some of the best years in my life, I am eternally grateful for the years they took me in and helped me reconnect with my roots.
I cannot complain about my upbringing and my life, but there was always something missing, I never quite new who I was and where I fit.
My first encounter with a Muslim.
When I was in my mid 20s I began work with refugees from various places like Afghanistan and Syria, initially I was learning a lot about the religion and practices but primarily for work as I had taken on the role of providing cultural awareness training for new staff!
Later I began working with a group of young orphans and many of the carers who worked with me were Muslim women.
I also started learning Arabic to help the kids retain their language etc.
I can’t say when, but at some point throughout this time the switch flipped, and Islam began to make sense, I was interested in it for personal reasons, as opposed to for work purposes!
One evening I reached out to a beautiful lady, a Quran teacher at an Islamic centre that the children I worked with attended. I mentioned that I had a longing to become Muslim, she invited me to the centre that weekend, and I said my shahada there, Alhamdulilah.
What do I love about Islam?
I love the fact that all Muslims are equal, we see ourselves as Muslims first, and there is no one person or race or culture better than another.
I love the rituals and practices we partake in, like wudhu, prayer and fasting, it enriches my eman and makes me feel connected to my faith.
I love that Islam is really not too different from Christianity, it’s not a completely foreign concept, it is the logical next step beyond Christianity, we believe all the prophets plus in the final prophet, peace be upon them all, we love prophet Isa- Jesus and see him as a prophet, not a God or Gods son, a concept that I did struggle with. I found it difficult to understand the trinity no matter how I tried.
How has Islam improved me as person?
It’s made me want to be a better person, especially with wearing hijab. I constantly need to be sure I am representing Islam in the best way possible, because us hijabis are a visual representation of Islam. We may be the only Muslim some people know or talk to, so we have to make it count.
Islam has helped me focus on what’s important in life.
My family likes my changes.
My family have been very accepting Alhamdulilah, they treat me the same. I was always kind of the odd one out anyway, I was nicknamed palangi, basically fake white person lol, so I'm still the weird palangi cousin, but now I just wear a scarf, and don’t eat puaka, pig.
My family are religious too, I don’t feel that different from them. I believe Islam and Christianity have more similarities than differences. I do my best to show that, even though it seems like a big change, we still share the same love for God etc.
As a Polynesian Muslim what challenges I have faced?
I think one thing that’s been tough is i already struggle with, grieve the fact I wasn’t raised with my Tongan family. I feel a sense of loss and disconnect with my Tongan heritage, that feels like it’s exacerbated even more now that I’ve become Muslim. Visually I do not look particularly Polynesian, and with the scarf everyone presumes I’m a born Muslim.
The motto on the Tongan coat of arms is ‘Ko e ʻOtua mo Tonga ko hoku Tofiʻa; which translates to, “God and Tonga are my inheritance" becoming a Muslim sometimes makes me feel like I betrayed that, but deep down I know God, Allah is the one God and is the same God, my Tongan brothers and sisters worship, just via a different Prophet.
I still love my culture and my family and am proud of our heritage and I feel sad that it may appear to others that I’m shunning that part of my identity.
I also want my kids to know about their Tongan side, I always bring them around the family as much as I can, but it is hard especially since marrying someone with a very strong culture! But Alhamdulilah for everything!