A Vietnamese woman becomes a Muslim, is shunned, then accepted

By Trong Nghia   January 10, 2019 | 04:30 am PT
A Hanoian who returned from Saudi Arabia as a Muslim has won over initially hostile neighbors with her piety.

Phan Van Dinh opens the gate of his house and tells his wife with a grin: "I couldn't eat anything at the wedding; there was only pork."

"As-salamu alaykum (Peace be upon you)," Vu Thi Vui calls out from the garden, using the traditional Muslim greeting.

The spick and span house in Hanoi’s Dong Anh District makes it hard to believe that Vui, 41, raises animals for a living.

The couple live with their two sons in a small house by the dike. But it has a spacious garden, enough to raise more than 40 sheep and a lot of vegetables.

Hungry, Dinh sits down to have a hotpot with his wife.

Vui and Dinh by their familys dinner, where there is no sight of pork, cat or dog meat. Photo by VnExpress/ Trong Nghia.

Vui and Dinh have their dinner. Photo by VnExpress/ Trong Nghia

Their meal is typical of that of most Vietnamese families, comprising vegetables, chicken and lamb, a favorite meat in the Middle East.

Vui’s conversion has helped her business, because many Muslim restaurants in the capital city that can only use halal meat buy it from her.

Halal is permissible meat under Islamic Law, which involves slaughtering animals and poultry by cutting the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe. Visitors from Muslim countries all over the world, including regional ones like Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, will only eat halal food, which bans consumption of pork.

However, the current state of peaceful existence was unthinkable when Vui went through a long period of depression because she was considered a heretic.

In 2009, she went to Saudi Arabia to work. Here, the atmosphere and rhythm of life was peaceful as in Vietnam, but there was one thing that perplexed her.

"At times for Muslim prayers, people just leave their shop (where they sell and work) and go to pray. Even the gold shop is not carefully locked and there was no fear of thieves. This made me curious and I started to learn about their religion."

Vui seemed unaware of tough punishments for crime in the kingdom, including the amputation of hands for stealing.

She said that through the reading of the scriptures of Islam, her knowledge expanded. "I learnt what is in the sky, the origin of all things, why the sea and the river are close together but not united as one. And the biggest thing I got to understand is how to become a useful person."

She decided to follow the religion and was given the name Khadija.

In 2012, she returned home to Vietnam, where she was spurned by her family. She received in silence the harsh and hostile words from her family.

Not many people in her hometown are very religious, so they did not relate to someone following the Islamic path. Her friends did not dare to go and talk to her for fear of being influenced by "wicked charms".

Once somebody snatched her hijab, the mandatory veil worn by many Muslim women in presence of any male outside of their immediate family, off her head. For a long time, she thought it was impossible to overcome the prejudices.

"The media reported a lot about extremists or heretics. When I was in my hometown, I was traumatized while my ears were constantly bombarded with people calling me mad, sick, and a witch. Some even called me terrorist," Vui said.

Since her familys financial status improves, her husband and children also followed Islam. Photo by VnExpress/ Trong Nghia.

As her family’s financial status improved, Vui`s husband and children have also followed Islam. Photo by VnExpress/ Trong Nghia

Her family members were shocked by Vui's change in religion because it would upturn long-standing Vietnamese traditions. Under Islam, believers are not allowed to light incense for ancestors and parents, the argument being that a living person or a dead person cannot have a higher position than the Creator. Her father was aghast: "Who will pay respect to me after I die?"

As time passed, though, Vui's parents stopped talking much about her religious life, seeing that she could earn more income from her own religious community and live a comfortable and fulfilling life.

An understanding husband

After returning from Saudi Arabia, Vui also had to contend with her husband’s coldness, though she had already asked for his permission to become a Muslim. Everything in the family felt stuffy. The couple slept on the same bed, but they felt like two strangers. She would burst into tears often.

Sometime later, because of the love for his wife, Pham Van Dinh, 48, tried to study the Koran and accompanied her to the mosque to find out more about the Islamic culture.

"My biggest impression about the Muslims is solidarity. Elderly people and young children, when entering the mosque, have the same important position, it does not feel like their community is divided by class or status. Everybody shakes hands and hugs and they don’t say bad things behind each other’s backs and they don’t lie," Dinh told VnExpress.

Alcohol is also banned, so Dinh thought it was a pure life worth following. When he became a believer, he was named Iman.

From the day he entered the mosque, Dinh was able to make Hallah food with his wife. Photo by VnExpress/ Trong Nghia.

From the day he entered the mosque, Dinh was able to make halal food with his wife. Photo by VnExpress/ Trong Nghia. 

He added that in a Muslim family, spouses have clear status. Husbands act as breadwinners who take care of the whole family, and wives are homemakers who concentrate on housework. A wife cannot have a higher social position than a husband or work harder than him.

"Brothers, Muslim members, families, and especially spouses are not allowed to be angry with each other for more than 3 days. If one does not meet each other for more than 3 days, one has to pray for peace. The man must always be more generous and initiate the conversation."

Vui said: "Muslims believe that the present life is only temporary, and the afterlife is permanent. Therefore, they always try to do many good things and stay away from the bad, to have the most peaceful life in the afterlife." 

Friends and neighbors gradually became more understanding of the couple as days passed.

"Everybody loves her. On the first day of the New Year, many people in the neighborhood came to ask her to be the first to enter their shops for luck," said Van, a neighbor.

Every Friday, the family visits the only mosque in Hanoi on Hang Luoc Street.

Tue, a member of the mosque management board, said: "Even though there are hundreds of believers who come regularly, Vietnamese are not many and pious people like Vui are even more rare."

Entering the mosque, prayers echo in a fragrant space. Vui and her husband and two children wash their hands, their faces, and comb their hair before holding the Koran in hands and start saying their prayers.

Abdanlah, Vui's 7-year-old son, follows the ritual without a guide. Someone whispered, "Our religion is as pure as Abdanlah's eyes."

After nine years of hardship, Vui now has a happy family.

"I just hope for a good life and be seen as a normal person by others around me".

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