Myriam, whose dissertation on her Ph.D. at Oxford is due this year, describes her conversion interns of sight and seeing. She particularly quotes Plato on conversion explaining that it “is not implanting eyes, for they exit already; but giving them a right direction, which they have not.”
The Hollywood actress encountered Islam at a very young age. During her childhood, she went to school with Muslim students; from North Africa, Morocco, and Lebanon.
At high school, she learned from her philosophy teacher that Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were apostles and that religion is a relic; it is a delusion that holds people back from mental emancipation.
Up until the time she went to university, that was the image Myriam had.
After 9/11, Cerrah explains that there was a palpable shift on campus regarding how Muslims were being referred to: “Islam became more prominent when it came to the way we were filtering people’s behavior.” Islam also evolved as a constant subject of discussion and debate.
Soon Cerrah changed her view on Islam and Muslims as she developed a friendship with a group of devout and practicing Muslims.
They simply were “nice, decent, generous, and reliable people whom you could really rely on.
” Myriam started questioning why these people had these particular qualities. Her friends taught her that it is part of being a Muslim to help your neighbor, look after your friends, and provide help for people who need it.
Accordingly, she examined a shift in view on Muslims by virtue of interaction with people who had very solid ethical ideals.
However, she continued to view Islam, not Muslims, as something negative. Later on, Cerrah read a book by an Italian author in which Muslims were described as “vermin, and mangy dogs.”
At that point, she felt that it was really important to start a research on Islam so as to determine whether what is being presented in the media is true or not.
She felt as if she shouldered responsibility as a human to get involved and make sure that Islam is not being misrepresented and defamed: “I just could not be neutral at that point.”
In addition, interaction with female Muslims allowed her to see that women in Islam are not oppressed nor burdened with cruel and unjust impositions.
They were the complete opposite of her; they were not shy nor retiring. In addition, they all seemed to be smart women who knew why they were doing what they were doing.
Thus, they forced her to overcome her prejudice about the status of women in Islam.
At this point, still feeling some notions of skepticism, Cerrah decided to read the Quran “to prove them wrong.” To her surprise, she could not get past the first page.
The opening chapter in the Quran, “Al-Fatiha”, with its address to the whole of mankind, “psychologically stopped me in my tracks. It spoke of previous scriptures in a way which I both recognized, but also differed.
It clarified many of the doubts I had about Christianity. It made me an adult as I suddenly realized that my destiny and my actions had consequences for which I alone would now be held responsible.”
Afterwards, she started reading the Quran with more open-mindedness.
She found out that this Holy Book was not a mere book, but a message contained within pages, universal in its reach but very specific in its ability to speak to your heart and address very specific issues as well. “It was a very moving experience.”
Cerrah explains that it outlined objective moral truths and the foundation of morality.
As someone who’d always had a keen interest in philosophy, the Qur’an felt like the culmination of all of this philosophical cogitation.
It combined Kant, Hume, Sartre and Aristotle. It somehow managed to address and answer the deep philosophical questions posed over centuries of human existence and answer its most fundamental one, ‘why are we here?’
In addition, Myriam was engaged in discussions about Hijab and eventually realized that it is not a means or repression to women, but in fact, a means of empowerment. “If you minimize the attention you place on your physical appearance, you create a public sphere in which people are more equal.
It is about minimizing the attention on the outward so that we could focus our attention on what is substantive and what is real.
Myriam Francois-Cerrah became popular when she was a child for acting in the 90’s hit film ‘Sense and Sensibility.’
Now she is gaining more popularity for being one of a growing number of educated middle class female converts to Islam in Britain.
She has recently contributed to a series of videos on Islam produced in the UK titled (Inspired by Muhammad).
Myriam currently works as a freelance journalist, with her articles featured in The Huffington Post, New Statesman, The London Paper, Index on Censorship, the F-Word, the magazine Emel.