What’s something that you are passionate about?
Music, I really like music, I didn’t listen to it for a very long time after I became Muslim and then probably seven years ago I started doing it again, and I got back into punk, reggae and metal big time and really enjoyed it.
At the time I got into reggae because I was living in Singapore at the time, the local underground scenes were primarily punk, metal and reggae, I enjoyed punk and metal when I was younger so I listened to what was there.
I’m actually seeing Iron maiden next month, I haven’t seen them in about 5 years, so yeah that’s very cool, it’s my first album I ever brought when I was 12 or something. I went down to Sydney last time they were here just to see them. I’m more obsessed with them than any others.
Jon was your birth name, and when you converted you took on the name Ibrahim. How did you determine your new name?
You don’t need to change your name unless it’s something with particular religious connotations. My full name is Jonathan, which is a Hebrew name that means friend of David. It’s completely innocuous in terms of meaning. But if your name had a particular non-Muslim significance, particularly if it referred to a deity, then in sacred law you should change that because it’s basically what you call Shirk, or associating something with the divine other than God. But Jonathan has completely harmless meaning.
The people I initially knew suggested I should change it. A lot of practical reasons, it makes it easy, in my case I didn’t need to, but I did anyway. I chose Ibrahim because one of the older or alternative names for Islam is the Millatu Ibrahim, which means the religion or path of Ibrahim. And that struck a coord with me, the notion that it’s an ancient religion and it goes back forever, and Islam today is its most recent and final form.
I took a lot of meaning from that.
What is a significant achievement of yours?
Quitting alcohol. I was an alcoholic for a period of my life, and that was more challenging than quitting cigarettes. And I did it.
What advice do you have for someone that may feel they have a problem with alcohol?
Talk about it to someone. Whether friend or family, a councillor, an AA meeting, or the /r/stopdrinking subreddit.
Speaking its name out loud creates a crack in the spell it has over you, weakens its power over you, and strengthens your power over it, though of course there is no true power nor might except in God.
What do you hope to achieve this year?
I actually got into bike riding this year, I live out in the western suburbs, in Ipswich and I drive half way in and ride the rest of the way in. I’m currently doing about 8kms a day and I’m hoping to get up to 16kms a day, 8km in and out. So riding from about Jindalee. When I do that it kills me right now, I’m not fit at all, but I’m hoping to build up to that. It’s quite fun and I really miss the days I don’t ride in like today.
What is the greatest risk you’ve taken?
Leaving a marriage that wasn’t working, and leaving the country I was living in and coming back home to Brisbane, to nothing basically, and starting again. I could have stayed there and put up with it I guess, but I just called it quits and came back. It was very difficult.
I moved to Singapore to be with the woman I loved, and once that was gone, there was no reason for me to remain there. I also missed the austere, hardy vegetation of this dry continent – nothing in tropical environments looks resilient when compared to ancient stands of gumtrees along dry creekbeds.
What’s something that has changed your life?
Friendship. I am a very introverted person usually, I don’t make friends that well. Probably in the last 3 – 4 years I’ve probably made about 6 friends, a couple I’m quite close to. They probably don’t realise it half the time but they’ve made tremendous impacts on my life.
What’s your best advice to give to other people?
Be yourself in the sense of being aware of your strengths and weaknesses and being in control particularly of yourself. If you’re aware of what you’re doing, what your weaknesses are, what your strengths are, it’s harder for certain situations to control you. As a Muslim I have a master but in an individual sense the advice I’d give to someone is that you should be a master of yourself and control the things you do, and that’s something I learnt from addiction particularly. If you control yourself and what you do, then it’s harder for other people to control you as well.
What role do beliefs play in your life?
I’ve been Muslim since 1998. Tremendous. It hasn’t always been a very straight path for me, shortly after I converted I took to Salafi thought very strongly. I don’t like words like radical or hardline, they don’t mean anything really, but I was very conservative. I sold all my Black Sabbath records for example, well I didn’t sell them actually I gave them away because I couldn’t profit from their sale. All my music was gone, and that worked because I was very in that world view, it’s very self-contained and all its points of logic and reference points make sense. It’s a very logical world for you when you’re inside that. And that worked for some time until I got older and less angry with the world I think. And once you get to that point it’s much harder to sustain that world view.
I actually found that point to be quite difficult and it was a challenge to my faith, and that’s where some of my friends came into it as well. I wouldn’t call myself liberal or progressive or anything like that but I got into a more mature sense of the faith and became more grounded in it as well. It’s always been there, particularly the concept of Tawhid has sustained me through a lot of things.
Is there anything else you would like people to know?
When I came back to Australia in 2005, I didn’t talk about my religion. It’s quite a personal thing, I didn’t advertise it, I only for a brief time put my first name on my resume.
I applied for a lot of jobs in IT with my first name and got nothing at all. I changed it to my first name, my birth name Jon, and got a job within a month or so. After that I didn’t talk about it much at all, kept it really personal, so people at my work didn’t know I was Muslim, very few people did. Over the last year I’ve gotten tired of that. Especially the rejection ‘oh you’re Muslim but you’re nice for a Muslim!’. But they know any other Muslims so what are they talking about?
I found it very tiring really, not talking about it. Being very private or secretive about it. When I was at uni I’d pray at train stations on the way home because it was convenient. I got a few odd reactions but nothing bad. More recently I haven’t done that because of security and I didn’t want to get clobbered by someone. In the last 6 months particularly, it’s like no I’m not going to do that. I haven’t had any problems, probably because I’m a guy as well, not a girl, I imagine that would be a different experience. I just got tired of concealing it.
A bit of it was also you’d read in the news about people going overseas and their experience of the religion and why they came into it was very different from my experience when I was 18. That was years before all that stuff started. I can’t understand being attracted to something because it’s violent, and that’s not my experience at all. I saw the thing on facebook for this and thought why not. I don’t care if people know I am because I am being more public about it and it’s quite easy once you start doing it.