My time working on a TV show in 2012 led to me crossing paths with Brother Musa Cerantonio. We never met in person. He saw my audition and we later emailed. After this blog posting, I never corresponded with him again.
Imagine my surprise this May when I learned that he was arrested for trying to sail from Australia to Indonesia in order to fight in an Islamic jihad. Here is the story from The Guardian and from The Daily Mail. I hadn't realized that he'd already run into trouble in the Phillipines in 2014.
There is nothing he said in our interview back in 2012 that led me to believe he was a jihadist. The only hint that he was not very tolerant was an entry he made on his own blog. He had been very annoyed by a taxi driver who had been playing music when he got in the car. Cerantonio asked him to turn it off (which is seldom greeted kindly by the driver). A problem ensued and Cerantonio blamed the driver without seeing any blame going towards himself. This lack of empathy can lead to extremism.
I am not really sure what happened to him and who he is now. All I can do is remember a time when this is the man I got to know. After all is said and done, Allah is The All Knowing.
And now for what I originally posted...
Brother Musa Cerantonio is the speaker featured in the above video. It’s from a time when he spoke to a large audience on the topic, “From Darkness to Light.” It’s about his reversion to Islam. While it is a long video, it’s also fascinating. It’s worth viewing if you want to understand why anyone would leave their past life and come to Islam.
I asked Brother Musa if I could interview him for this blog and he was nice enough to agree. In some ways we are alike and in others different. I’ll let you compare and contrast as you read.
Asalamu Alaykom, Brother. Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions. I trust that you are back in Egypt in good health and increased deen.
Wa Alaykum Assalam.
Al-Hamdulillah I am here in Cairo and well.
I'll try my best at answering the questions without going on and on which I tend to do whenever I write.
When and how did you take your shahaddah?
I embraced Islam in the year 2002 at age 17. It was a long journey which took about 2 years of reading and investigating Islam. As it would be a long story to narrate, you may watch it here in this video.
Thanks for that! I’ll include it on the post. I also took shahaddah in 2002. For me it was on September 9, 2002. How about you?
I don't know the exact date that I embraced Islam however I know it was in the month of Ramadhan in 2002, which means it was somewhere in November, I think in the first or second week of it. Which means you beat me by 2 months.
When and how did it become apparent that you would feel better in a Muslim country?
The first time I knew that a Muslim country would be better for me, especially for my faith, was when I visited the blessed city of Madinah in 2005. Being in a place where Islam was everywhere and you were able to feel so at home and at peace really made me want to stay there forever. I won't lie and say that I didn't still miss home, especially knowing that the Australian Muslim community was in great need and there is much to be done. It was this balance that I realised I had to satisfy, being able to practice Islam as best I could and having access to Islamic knowledge which was available in Muslim lands as well as being able to serve my community and be involved in propagating Islam. I was never sure how I would be able to fulfill this as they seemed like 2 contradictory aims, either settling in a Muslim land and being cut off from da'wah, or staying in Australia and being cut off from the Muslim lands. It wasn't until I was offered a job in Egypt working for an English-speaking Islamic TV channel that I was able to do both of these things and now that I am living this dream I don't look back for a moment.
I really hear the pull both objectives have on you. From the chance you’ve been given to present on IQRA, I think it’s the best choice for now inshahallah.
Do you consider that you've made hijrah?
This is something which I ask myself until now and I try to resolve with myself what my true aims of being here in Egypt are. I did come here wanting to be able to improve my religious practice, however at the same time I cannot say that I will be here for good, if an opportunity were to arise that I found to be more beneficial for me. I still aspire to return to Australia as well as other lands to help work for and spread Islam and I cannot rule this out. For now though my intention is to stay in Egypt as long as I can and as long as I feel I am getting the most out of my time.
That’s a good litmus test as all of us have finite time and must constantly monitor how best to utilize our time and talents.
What has been the hardest part of making that leap of faith?
Leaving my family, friends and activities behind me. These days its not so hard with cheap air travel and Skype to see family and to keep in touch, however perhaps the hardest part is knowing that in some ways I am leaving many activities behind me and having to hope that somebody will be able to continue them. I really miss being in the mosques and Islamic centres that I have been in since I embraced Islam. I miss being able to learn and share knowledge with those I have become so close to.
I see from the video you held a leadership position within your community in Australia so I bet they are feeling the loss of you as well.
How do you imagine that it's easier for you, as a male, to live in Egypt than for me as a woman?
I think in some ways this is true as Egypt is still a very patriarchal society. I have found that many of the 'cultural' elements of society here can make life harder for women, whereas at the same time among the more religious people a woman will find more respect and ease. Speaking with many secularists I heard them say that they are completely opposed to women working as it was against 'Arabness', whereas speaking to some of the religious people they said that they had no problem with it and would be willing to work alongside women.
That’s an interesting comment! I haven’t heard that before. Some of these conversations are not ones I get to hear.
In the reverse, how do you imagine that it's harder for you, as a male, to live in Egypt than for me as a woman?
I will be honest and say that I cannot think of any specific example where it is harder for me in Egypt as a male, however I do not doubt that there must be examples available. Perhaps in time I will find something though for now I have not encountered any hardships that were due solely to me being a male.
Formerly, as a single man, did you find that Egyptians want a foreigner to marry into their family OR that you were not welcome to do so? I'm curious if they were as welcoming to the idea of a foreign man as they are to a foreign woman.
Though I didn't marry an Egyptian woman, I have found that Egyptians are very open to allowing a foreigner to marry into their family. Most will be content with having someone who is a practicing Muslim and do not focus so much on race, though I do not doubt that they still have their preferences. Being a white westerner I have found no problems with this, however speaking to other brothers who are from the East or Africa I have heard horror stories of being discriminated against by some Egyptians. Out of those who I know to be religious and sincere I have never heard of any racial preferences and I have seen with my religious Egyptian friends that most are in fact married to non-Egyptians.
The racism in Egypt is sadly apparent.
Hindsight is 50/50. If you could help someone else avoid a pitfall, what would be some advice to clear their path for them?
Being aware of your path and learning from your experiences and the experiences of others is very important. I find that forward-thinking will help clear many of our potential problems. I remember my grandfather always taught me to treat life like a game of chess, don't simply think one move ahead, think 10 moves ahead and this way you will avoid falling into traps. This means we have to assume every possibility and plan ahead to make sure we are able to avoid or at least be ready for any hardships or trials. This necessitates doing all of our actions and planning with absolute sincerity. True sincerity does not just mean having pure intentions, but rather it means studying what you will do, preparing for it and exerting your utmost effort to do it with the best of your ability.
I love that advice! May both you and your grandfather get good deeds for passing along this smart way of visualizing a life plan.
How did the revolution effect you personally and professionally? Did it shake your deen or your resolve to live in Egypt? Did it increase your faith in any way?
I was not in Egypt at the time of the revolution as I did not arrive here until later in the year. I remember though being glued to Al-Jazeera watching the revolution take place. My emotions went wild, I was watching the people march in the streets, being shot at and attacked by police. My heart longed for the chance to be with them and to be able to take part in this uprising against tyranny. Knowing that the people were making their future and deposing the tyrant Mubarak made me proud and gave me hope as a Muslim. I knew that this was not something that belonged to the Egyptians alone, but rather was something that the whole Muslim Ummah would benefit from, paving the way towards Islamic governance Insha'Allah in Egypt and around the world.
As soon as I arrived in Cairo I went to Tahrir Square and it felt so surreal to be there standing in the place I had seen so many shocking and amazing scenes unfold before me on the TV screen. later when protests resumed against the military rule I went to Tahrir to join the people and found myself in the middle of the chaos and ended up having a tear gas canister land next to me and learning a valuable lesson that if you ever find yourself exposed to tear gas, don't stand there looking at it, run as fast as you can away from it!
I’m laughing because I can picture very well both your surprise and sudden resolve for self preservation. I have been to Tahrir since the protests but not during the protests. I myself don’t have an interest in being part of Egypt’s change in this way. I’m very subversive and mold the kindergartners of Egypt to be compassionate listeners and thinkers who solve problems with words not fists.
Can you describe one really joyful experience in Egypt which made you say, "Subhanallah! This really is a moment which makes being here worth it!"
There are so many to choose from that it is hard to choose just one.
I’m glad to hear that! I can say the same for me.
I remember when I first arrived at my apartment I asked the doorman where the nearest masjid was. He told me that if I go left there are 2 mosques in the street, if I went right there is another, if I went straight ahead there were 2 and in the street beside my apartment there was another masjid. All of which were no less than a minute's walking distance. I went from having only one mosque in my area to having to choose which mosque out of the 8 or so that were in my vicinity to pray in!
Mashallah that moment must have felt so good; to know that you were surrounded by places of worship whereas before you were limited.
Thank you, Brother Musa for answering my questions. May Allah continue to surround you with light and guide you so that you can in turn guide others.