“At the beginning…(Latif) didn’t believe in Islam. He was still not convinced to convert. So I tell him frankly. “If you are not convinced you don’t convert.” So that’s why I didn’t rush him it into converting.” -Rosnah Bakar
“I (was) not convinced within 3 months. Because in Singapore, you want to convert you have to go through 3 month courses. And every week you go once. And every week is only 2 hours. So 3 months and 2 (hours) is only 24 hours. 24 hours to believe a religion is impossible! So I told her I don’t believe. I (went) to another class …(and) after 3 months I proceed to other classes. So from there, there are certain things that hit my mind because the Ustad asked me “Who created your body?” So I say “I’m not sure.” If a person who’s so powerful can create a person with everything: organs, brains which can control all your nerves, everything. It’s not just a minor thing. You open up a body it’s so perfect. So from there I really think about it…Whether (it is) this someone who has created us which has great power which we call Allah or God… I was convinced that someone is behind us. So I converted and I married my wife! My brother is a Christian Pastor…he asked me not to convert to Islam…and I told him “Brother we know each other so well. You are such a stubborn type of person. You decide what you want to do, you decide. And what I decide, I will do what I want to do.” And so, at the end of the day we are still brothers. We mostly share the same blood even though we are different religions. And I think now he accepts us.” -Latif Lai Abdellah
My friend Rokman Yousef, otherwise known as Roky (!), was my producer for Portraits in Faith in both Singapore and Malaysia, and he opened up his community of friends for me to meet. It was early on in the project when we conducted our Portraits In Faith shoot in Singapore, and that is when I met Rosna and Latif. What is so unique about them is that Rosna is Malay and born a Muslim. Latif is of Chinese descent and born a Buddhist. They met at work and their courtship included navigating whether or not Latif would convert to Islam. They are a delightful couple and full of gratitude and life.
I remember our time together as if it were yesterday, and I love watching their interview and hearing Latif emphasize that 24 hours of religion classes over 3 months does not make you a believer. He reminds us that it takes time, not just to convert to a religion, but to see the greatness of God. In Latif’s case, his moment of clarity came as he pondered the perfection of the human body…with all of its organs, the brain that controls all the nerves… As Latif says, “who is so powerful to create such a perfect thing.” While Portraits In Faith is not about any one religion, I find great meaning in people’s stories of their conversion, as these are peak experiences in their lives. Very rarely is someone’s conversion experience about theology! It is usually about some profound feeling or realization that there is a greatness in the world of which they are now a part and of which they are a beneficiary. Thank you to Rosnah and Latif for sharing their spiritual journey with me.