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How Saint-Petersburg citizen Elena became Muslim and ended up in Finland

Muslim and ended up in Finland

Elena is a doula. But first of all, she is an interesting and positive person. She will tell us how she learned about sex in Islam, what she taught tourists in Thailand and how she learned the profession of her dreams.

Journalist Kateryna: Please, share your story of converting to Islam with us. How did it happen?

Elena: At the end of 2004, when I just turned 18 years old, the wave of islamophobia increased due to the tense situation in the Caucasus and the September 11th terrorist attack in the United States. The universal fear and mistrustfulness were reinforced by negative news about violence, bombings, and other terrible things.

I was worried about Muslims and Islam too. There was one case in the metro. I met a young man, a student in medical school. We talked nicely about different things. Calmly. Relaxed.

But the moment I found out he was a Muslim I immediately rushed out of the train. You can imagine how frightened I was with the Islamic issue.

Later I got married. I and my husband created a family tradition: every month we buy novelties and books that caught our eye in a bookshop. We discussed and analyzed everything we read in the evenings. In one of such book shoppings, I found the book “Love and sex in Islam”. I remember the black cover of the book as if it is right in front of me. There was nothing unnecessary on it, only eyes looking out of a niqab. I was wondering how this (sorry for the word) “barbarians” build their relationships. I bought this book because of my curiosity. And it turned my mind about this religion.

It turned out to be a serious collection of publications about love and family in Islam, Sharia regulations, verses from the Qur’an and hadiths on a given topic. I was surprised! It did not match with what I heard about Islam.

I was amazed by the wisdom and harmony of information, a careful analysis of each situation that can only arise in life. I thought about how my husband and I would apply this model to our life. By the way, my spouse was also impressed by the book. We discussed it during many evenings.

I was searching for information about Islam on the internet. I read the translation of the Qur’an, after which I was even more impressed. I found all the answers to all the questions in my head right there. I was a believer since my childhood. I believed in God, prayed to Him in my own way. But I did not observe Christian rules, neither members of my family did. I felt uncomfortable to do it. Also, some allegations made me doubtful. Islam struck me to the core with the concept of monotheism. There was only one Creator, Knowing everyone and everything and there is no equal to Him.

We went on holiday to Egypt at the beginning of 2005. During this one-week tour, we were walking among the millennial mosques of Cairo. And suddenly I heard adhan above my head. It was as if an electric shock had struck me! I had an irresistible desire to go to the nearest mosque, and we did so.

When I saw the worshipers inside, I wanted to pray the same way. After the prayer, I realized it was right for me. I wanted to become a Muslim. My husband felt the same. And the same day we converted to Islam.

It was January 5th, 2005. Almost immediately I started observing the hijab. Alhamdulillah, I am very happy that I found myself in this religion. That the Almighty opened my heart for Islam.

К.: Why did you go to Thailand?

Е.: My husband decided so. He considered it would be dangerous for us to live in Russia. At first, we planned to settle down in Turkey. We even lived there for half a year trying to stay there through the purchase of the real estate. But it didn’t work out because of different problems either with documents or with scammers.

We went to Thailand to chill out. My husband met a man with whom he started a business later. That’s why we stayed to live there.

К.: What did you do in Thailand? Did you work as a doula there too?

Е.: In Thailand I was busy with our home and family at first, facilitating our household chores. At the same time, I worked as a breastfeeding consultant. I graduated from the course of one of the oldest organizations in St.Petersburg “Azbuka materinstva”. I conducted a rather big group for sisters on VK named “Halima”. I consulted there too, shared useful information.

Step by step I got involved in business activities. My husband recommended me to learn to be a diving instructor. This work went so well that I began to teach others and to work as an assistant for the course director of the diving center.

I liked diving. Opening an undersea world to others was very fascinating. I was also involved in promoting, solving bureaucratic and other issues regarding business, that was not easy.

I didn’t work as a doula in Thailand but the first thought about doing it, about getting an obstetric education came to me right there. I worked with women, helped them with breastfeeding. The birth of my second child played a very important role in this matter.

It began prematurely. In order not to take any risks at the private clinic I was planning to give birth in a Thai state hospital. It was the only place that had the necessary equipment for newborn lung ventilation. So while I was staying in a large birth hall having contractions for one day long, I witnessed about 50 babies being born, maybe even more. We were separated only by curtains between the beds so that I practically saw every woman. And felt them. All those feelings, fears and loneliness I felt in multiple sizes. At the same time, there was an urgent need for a person who would support women in difficult moments, comfort and help them to survive the childbirth trial. I thought that I could be that person.

К.: What caused you to move to Finland?

Е.: The economic crises had come. Our tourism business, designed for Russian-speaking tourists, has gone bad. We were left without a livelihood in a very difficult situation. We were praying and hoping for a miracle. And the miracle happened. My husband (compelled to mention, ex-husband already) unexpectedly received some basis for a residence permit in Finland. We only needed to get money for this. And Instagram helped us this time, alhamdulillah. One of my followers, a Muslim brother, offered us financial help. It seems he felt the difficulty of our situation, although I did not particularly talk about it on the network. Thanks to this we were able to move to Finland, alhamdulillah. It was a real miracle. I cannot name it in another way.

К.: Share the features of adapting to life in this Scandinavian country. What did you, as a Muslim woman, like most and what not?

Е.: In Finland, I liked almost everything.

There were some things I didn’t understand but it is mostly due to mentality differences.

At first, I could not accept too strict adherence to the rules. I had an interesting case in the laundry room. You can wash your clothes here strictly by appointment. There are people, there are no people – it doesn’t matter. You have to wait your turn. When your time is up, you have to finish your work. In my case, the time was up but I did not finish the washing. There were 10 more minutes. I decided to wait. And the next visitor stopped the washing machine, pulled out all my soapy laundry into the basket and began washing his own clothes. I was very offended then. I did not understand why one cannot wait for 10 minutes, put himself in my shoes and give me a chance to finish my washing.

But after living in Finland for 4 years, I began to value my and other people’s time. So now I am outraged by people who make washing during my appointment time. Punctuality is very important in Finland. Indeed, because of such insignificant, as it seems, invasions you have to be late and to disrupt plans of other people.

It was also very difficult because the darkness comes very early. Despite the fact that I was born and lived in the Leningrad region, in St. Petersburg, and I was familiar with this, after sunny Thailand, early darkness, along with cold and dampness, depressed me. It was both mentally and physically difficult to survive the first year. Plus stress due to the relocation! All of this led me to a depressive mood. I drank about a liter of coffee every day not to fall asleep during the day, especially on the language courses. Time passed and I adapted, alhamduliLlah, and now I do not have difficulties with this.

What else I liked:

  • people being organized;

  • order and cleanliness everywhere;

  • they are not greedy in human investment, they give support if they see potential in a person. You can always count on the help of the funds, organizations in education and development;

  • almost equal treatment of people, regardless of religion, race, position in society. The main thing for them is what kind of person you are. Discrimination and racism take place too, of course, but this cannot be compared with the situation in Russia or in Thailand.

I will never forget the first days in Finland, this is an incomparable peace of mind. It is worth a lot. To feel its value, it was probably worth experiencing all these difficulties in my life.

К.: How did you become a doula? Are there any educational institutions where this profession is taught?

Е.: I finished the training. My teacher advised it to me, knowing my interest in obstetrics and the practice of establishing breastfeeding. It was free. The organization educated us with a very strong international program. In return, you need to become a member of this organization and to help women who do not have money for doula from time to time (refugees, those who have not had time to settle in the country, residents of shelters for victims of violence, etc.). This gave me a lot of experience in supporting women in different life situations.

Later, I was trained by two cult figures in the world of obstetrics: obstetrician-gynecologist Michel Auden and doula with 20 years of experience Liliana Lammers.

I paid for this education from them with material support from other places.
Now I help clients for money, but I also continue to volunteer. I don’t make a difference between them, I care about all women with equal strength.

Since this business does not bring me sufficient income, I also look after older people over 75 years old.

К.: How does it feel to be a doula? Please briefly describe the most unusual case from your practice.

Е.: Being a doula for me is:

  • Tawakkul, the ability to rely on Allah, on His will. Because there is a lot of unpredictable things (the date and how the childbirth lasts, the type of support and help for a woman in childbirth), uncontrolled things that can unsettle in this work. You just have to accept it.

  • Lack of planning in life. An urgent call can always disrupt plans, the schedule of the main work. I have to adapt. Alhamdulillah, we often help each other with friends. They are always ready to help with childcare.

  • Feeling of privilege. Childbirth is a very intimate process, it appeals only to family members. Therefore, to help the future mother, the doula becomes almost a close member of the family.

  • Participation in a miracle, this help is not only physical but also energetic, non-verbal. Doula fulfills everyone around, charges and calms. She helps women take the birth of the baby like it is, however it may be.

  • The feeling of happiness, necessity, and usefulness.

  • Care about yourself. I cannot help others without the fulfilled inner resource of myself.

It is very difficult to pick out an unusual case from practice since they are all special in their own way. But there is a story that I can tell you.

One sister in faith really did not want to give birth in a maternity hospital because of the traumatic negative experience of childbirth in the past. She wanted to give birth at home, but she did not have the resources to organize a safe home birth. It was decided to go to the hospital at the very last moment. I remember her strong desire to quickly get there, give birth and immediately go home, without staying there even for a minute.
On day X, we did not go to the hospital where we originally planned, but to another, in the neighboring city. I don’t know why I took her there. I did it unconsciously. As soon as we arrived, the sister was put in a wheelchair, quickly brought to the maternity room, and after a few attempts, she immediately gave birth. It turned out as she wanted, mashaAllah. Fast, with minimal staff intervention.

К.: What advice on preparing for pregnancy and childbirth can you give to the girls/women?


Investigate yourself about your needs for childbirth in advance and make sure that these needs can be met:

  • Basic ones – the possibility to eat well, to sleep well, to go to the toilet like a normal person.

  • Safety and understanding of what can provide it (presence of your husband, a doula, a good doctor during childbirth).

  • Facilitating the situation, of the contractions, how can you help yourself in this.

  • Learning the physiology of childbirth in order to understand what is going on. Books of Michel Auden can help you with it.

К.: Due to your rich experience, you probably noticed differences in healthcare in the CIS countries, in Asia and in Europe. What are they?

Е.: Medicine is significantly different in Scandinavia: a lot of money and resources are spent on disease prevention, sports and improving health, both physical and mental. They begin doing it since childhood. But it is not customary to treat sick people, except in especially dangerous cases. They do not call an ambulance, if it is not a stroke, heart attack, a near-death state. Antibiotics are not prescribed in simple cases. Instead, they recommend painkillers and antipyretics, often humidifying the air to alleviate the condition of a sick person a little. 

It is very difficult to get to a doctor just for control (to a gynecologist, for example). There must be a good reason, a complaint. There is an option to go to a private doctor, but it is very expensive.

The medicine here is paid, but not expensive. For defenseless sectors of society, it is free. 
In Thailand, the approach as a whole left a good impression; it is close to the American one. In contrast to Finland, many drugs are prescribed here including antibiotics. The doctors are very good, professional. Surgery is developed especially plastic surgery (excellent value for money).

The level of education of specialists and their approach is very good. There is trust in doctors there. In 80% of cases, the diagnosis will be made and the treatment will be prescribed correctly. People with Chinese or Indian roots often have medical education. Along with modern methods they use the knowledge of their ancestors to fully analyze the patient’s condition.

There is a very big difference between private and state medicine, although doctors are the same everywhere. State institutions have long queues, old equipment, and rude service. In private ones the conditions are much better, you can choose the range of services for any wallet.

I can not compare with Russian medicine since I have not visited doctors there for a very long time. And the experience that I had is probably already out of date.

К.: Do you like your job? If not this one, in what area would you like to realize yourself?

Е.: I really, really like it. I dream of opening a center where women could prepare for childbirth and give birth there in comfortable conditions. Something like a childbirth hotel in Holland. All kinds of events would be held there also, knowledge exchange with experienced mothers of the older generation, breastfeeding courses, women would be supported during the first 3 years of motherhood.

I studied at the University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki for 1 year as an obstetrician but I had to leave my studies. It was very difficult to combine it with motherhood. InshaAllah, I will be able to continue my studies to get closer to my dream.

I also really like taking care of old people. I myself did not expect this from me.

If I did not work as a doula and a nurse, I would become a writer. I have many interesting stories, a lot of ideas in my head that I want to put on paper. But in reality, I do not have enough time even on Instagram unfortunately.

К.: In the end, share your favorite ayah or hadith.

Е.: Surah The Bee, ayah 128:

“Indeed, Allah is with those who fear Him and those who are doers of good.“.

This ayah fulfills my resource, helps to understand that you need to change something in yourself in order to achieve something by the will of Allah.

In fact, I love the whole Quran. It’s just that these verses came to my mind first.

May Allah help our sister Elena in the realization of her goals, and facilitate overcoming difficulties on her difficult but very interesting life path. Amin.

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