NO RUSH TO CONVERT
— ROSNAH BAKAR —
“At the beginning, Latif didn’t believe in Islam. He was still not convinced to convert. So I told him, ‘If you are not convinced, you don’t convert.’ So that’s why I didn’t rush him into converting.”
— LATIF LAI ABDELLAH —
“I was not convinced within three months. In Singapore, if you want to convert, you have to go through three months of courses. Every week you go once. And every week is only two hours. So three months and two 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 three months I proceeded to other classes. So from there, certain things hit my mind because the ustad [expert, teacher] asked me, ‘Who created your body?’
I said, ‘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 thought about it…whether it was this someone who created us that has great power which we call it Allah or God. I was convinced that someone is behind our creation. So I converted and I married my wife!
My brother is a Christian pastor and he asked me not to convert to Islam. 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.”
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 in the project when we conducted our Portraits in Faith shoot in Singapore, and that is when I met Rosnah and Latif. What is unique about them is that Rosnah is Malay and was born a Muslim. Latif is of Chinese descent and was 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. I love watching the video of their interview and hearing Latif emphasize that 24 hours of religion classes over three months does not make you a believer. He reminds us that it takes time to convert to a religion and see the greatness of God. Latif’s moment of clarity came as he pondered the perfection of the human body, with all its organs, the brain, 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. 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.