Although Tyrel Basdeo was born a Christian and grew up going to church with his mother and brother, he was never one for religion until he learned about Islam.
To Basdeo, 33, Islam is not a just religion but a way of life.
The chartered accountant told Sunday Newsday he was introduced to Islam about ten years ago while studying accounting at the School of Business and Computer Science.
There he met a Muslim brother and they had positive interactions. They spoke about Islam and he brought Basdeo a book on the religion.
“I was really interested in it because it made a lot of sense and there were things on morals, values and principles that I actually agreed with. But at that time in my life, my early 20s, I really wasn’t interested in religion. I was more into partying and liming, drinking, smoking and gambling, and generally living the life.”
Later, while working part time and continuing his accountancy studies at Student Accountancy Centre in Montrose, Chaguanas, he reconnected with a friend who was a Muslim. He asked the friend to attend jummah with him and Basdeo experienced it for the first time.
He recalled the surprise of having to take off his shoes, to perform wudu or ablution to cleanse himself to enter the mosque, and that his clothes had to be clean.
“When I actually witnessed jummah – the environment, how the brothers were on one side and women on another, I listened to the sermon, the khutbah, from the imam, all the brothers sitting next to me of all colours and races – I felt a unity. I felt that I was missing something and I found it in Islam.
“From my reading and understanding, it teaches you to be respectful, to have integrity, to be responsible, to be accountable for one’s actions, to be humble, patient, and certain qualities that really stuck with me.”
One year he went to the imam, Hamza Mohammed, and told him he was interested in being a Muslim. Mohammed asked if he was sure and even wanted to meet his mother to determine if she was okay with his choice. The imam also warned that he would lose a lot of friends if he became a Muslim but he was too young to believe it at the time.
Mohammed’s consideration and respect just endeared him to Islam more.
He was asked if he believed in one God, Allah, and if he believed the prophet Muḥammad (pbuh) was God’s last messenger and he took the shahada (profession of faith) and became a Muslim.
At that time Basdeo knew of the principles of Islam but not the everyday aspects of being a Muslim.
He said Ramadan started the very next day and, for the first time, he learned about the five pillars of Islam – the shahada, daily prayers or salat, alms-giving or zakat, fasting during Ramadan or sawm, and the pilgrimage to Mecca or hajj – Muslim garments, and began to understand Islam is about helping those in need.
He immediately tried fasting, which he did for the whole month, describing it as “challenging but amazing.” He said he started to appreciate food and water but got annoyed easily because he was hungry.
He also fasted from bad habits and thoughts which, he said, is to train the mind to be positive, disciplined, and for people to be aware of their thoughts and actions. And he went to the mosque every night for prayers and recitation from the Quran.
“I was performing all the actions to the prayers but did not know any Arabic so I didn’t understand. But when they recited, it was like a melody. It captured my ears and my heart. I decided to learn Arabic because I really needed to understand what they were saying.”
He remembered being “struck” that Muslims had to continue going about their day to day lives while fasting which made him appreciate that the sacrifice was for Allah.
“It’s about feeding your soul as opposed to your stomach.”
Basdeo said fasting was difficult for the first three or four days until his body became accustomed to it but the brothers welcomed and encouraged him. And even now, sometimes the hunger still bothers him on evenings.
“It was only when I started going to the mosque regularly that I understood. I saw these brothers actually putting into practice what I was reading.”
He acknowledged there are Muslims who drank alcohol, ate pork and engaged in other thoughts and activities contrary to the Quran but at the mosque he associated with and experienced people who practised the Quran.
He admitted that for the first two years he continued to lime, smoke and drink. Then, one Christmas, eight years ago, he decided the beer he was having would be his last alcoholic drink.
Basdeo said even now he was still learning and growing.
“All the good habits that you form during Ramadan, you want to continue with that and always try to better yourself outside of Ramadan.”
So every year during Ramadan he tries to do more, learn more, or implement something new and keep that up throughout the rest of the year.
He added that he is still learning Arabic, trying to practice good deeds, be disciplined, be introspective, serve others, and be there for his brothers and sisters on a daily basis.
He stressed that he is not perfect but Allah is forgiving as He knows what is in people’s heart.
“That is one of the things I love about Islam. If someone does something wrong society makes them feel as if they are horrible people. In Islam, Allah is merciful and forgiving. Muslims do not, or should not, judge others as they know at the end of the day, the relationship is between God and the individual.”
That thought has bolstered him over the years but especially as he had a lot of challenges when he first “reverted” from Christianity to Islam.
In the beginning he had no support from family and friends so he doubted whether he did the right thing. He said his mother is an active member of her church and he believes she was ashamed that he became a Muslim. Then, when he stopped partying many of his friends stopped speaking to him.
He said his situation is better now as many of his friends and family have seen the positive changes he made in his life and so accepted his choice. Some friends reverted to Islam because of those changes while others still make snide comments or refuse to speak to him but he no longer lets that bother him.
Instead, he focuses on trying to be honest and fair, to stay away from bad habits, be accountable for his actions, and to have integrity.