My name is Jack Leota, I’m Samoan and Māori and I’m 23 years old. I’m originally from Auckland, NZ but I moved to Melbourne, Australia as a baby and grew up in Frankston.
Life before Islam.
My life before Islam was wasteful. I drank regularly, took other substances regularly, got into fights and engaged in other illegal activities. And the worst part was I thought it was cool, or I thought it made me tough. Looking back now, it brings me shame and I cringe at how stupid I was. If I could go back in time, I’d slap my younger self in the head.
My first encounter with a Muslim.
I’ve been around Muslims since primary school, so it’s hard to remember the very first time I met one. But one of my earliest childhood memories of Muslims was through wrestling. My brother and I trained and competed in freestyle wrestling throughout our childhood, and we would always compete against mostly Turkish wrestling clubs. The Turkish kids/coaches were always such talented and disciplined athletes and some of the funniest and welcoming people I’ve met.
In early 2022, a new guy started at my place of work, a Muslim. We became fast friends, and whenever I asked him questions about his religion, his answers always intrigued me. Eventually, I became interested enough to look into Islam myself.
Before I started, it was my opinion that Islamic beliefs and values were false and misguided. I’ve always had basic respect for Muslims, but I’d never agreed with them in the past. But the more I learned, I realised that whatever I thought I knew about Islam was false, and I began to see the beauty of it. Over the following year, I bought a Quran and started reading it, I began listening to Muslim speakers and reading the works of various Muslim scholars. Whenever I felt troubled or confused, I turned to my friend from work for guidance and he always helped me understand Islam better.
I slowly noticed my behaviours changing; at first, it was smaller things. I started speaking differently (more respectfully, less swearing.), I began lowering my gaze etc. Then bigger changes started happening, I stopped drinking and I began to live my life, always keeping in mind that Allah is watching me. Seeing the differences in my behaviour and my perspective, made me fall in love with Islam.
When Ramadan 2023 came around, I was eager to take part and fast for the month. By the end of it, I knew in my heart that I wanted to become Muslim. I approached my friend at work and told him this, and the following week, he took me to the mosque to take shahada.
What do I love about Islam?
I could say a thousand things that I love about Islam and it still wouldn’t be enough. But just to name a few:
Peace. The peace I feel every day, especially during salah is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It’s hard to put into words how much peace Islam has brought to my life.
Understanding. Reading the Quran has helped me understand the world better. By explaining why certain things happen in life, it’s helped me keep my head up through hardships.
Purpose. I love how Islam pushes me to do help others and commit good deeds. It gives me a constant objective to work towards.
How has Islam improved me as a person?
The biggest improvement I’ve seen in myself since embracing Islam is the amount of patience I have. Since becoming Muslim, I’ve seen my relationships grow quickly, even with non-Muslims and this is simply because Islam has made me a lot more patient and understanding.
My family likes my changes.
I’m blessed that my immediate family fully accept my decision to convert to Islam. They understand that it makes me happy, and they’ve seen the positive changes in me, which makes them happy.
As an Polynesian Muslim what challenges have I faced?
I’ve had a few people that I considered friends change their behaviour towards me. Sometimes it’s derogatory comments and other times they’ve tried to debate me and tell me that Islam is false, or that it’s evil. It is a bit upsetting but I try not to let it bother me. My faith in Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala outweighs my fear of judgement.