Thursday 18 January 2018

I came to learn that Islam is about love

Brigid Aylward (37), nurse and convert to Islam, Waterford

Muslim convert Brigid Aylward, from Waterford City. Photo: Patrick Browne
Muslim convert Brigid Aylward, from Waterford City. Photo: Patrick Browne

Originally from the small village of Mullinavat, Co Kilkenny, Brigid Aylward converted to Islam 10 years ago during time spent working in Saudi Arabia.

The paediatric nurse at University Hospital Waterford had been baptised Catholic, but her faith was wavering. Through Islam, she says, she found what she was looking for. Originally, she had been sceptical - especially as women in Saudi Arabia are compelled to cover up. But once she got to know the people behind the hijabs and burkas, she was determined to learn more about their religion.

"Their kindness really affected me," she says. "There was a contentment there that was appealing and the more I discovered about Islam, the more I came to learn that it's about love."

For the first couple of years after her conversion, she didn't don the veil - but that changed in 2010. "I wanted to be identified as Muslim and the hijab is one way to do that. It's a decision I've never regretted, although sometimes I'm asked why I wear it. I don't mind people's curiosity and I'm happy to explain it."

Aylward is keen to point out that contrary to some opinions among non-Muslims, the hijab is not a symbol of oppression. "It's the woman's choice to wear it, not the man's. My husband [Magdi, an Egyptian national] had concerns about how people might react to me, but I think people have been very accepting, particularly in my workplace."

Many are surprised to learn that not only is she Irish, but this mother-of-four hails from a part of rural Ireland far removed from the Muslim strongholds of south and west Dublin. "They'll ask me where I'm from and they get a surprise when I tell them I grew up just up the road.

"Communication is the best way for people to learn more about Muslims and their faiths and tradition, and there have been some good initiatives lately, including World Hijab Day [which was started by New Yorker Nazra Khan in 2013 in order to fight prejudice], which I took part in earlier this year."

Brigid would like to see Muslims taking a greater role in Irish public life and she's doing her bit: she is among the organisers of Islam Integrates, a women-only conference which will be held at the Edmund Rice Centre, Waterford, next Saturday. "I've met some wonderful people through Islam - life-long friends. And I'm happier now than I ever have been."

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