Islam Mosque

Faith, First: In Conversation with Mathilde Loujayne

Meet an inspiring – and unlikely – face of Islam.

Raise your hand if your teenage years revolved around makeup, fashion, college applications, and dating. Mathilde Loujayne’s adolescence was no different, except hers also featured a nearly decade-long spiritual quest that eventually led to a life-altering decision. Today, as we continue into the holy month of Ramadan, Mathilde talks us through her journey to date. The Dubai-based author, who hails from the south of France and works in PR, converted to Islam at the age of 18.

“Trust me, I was obsessing over boys and makeup as well,” she says with a laugh. “Your teenage years are such an interesting time, there’s so much going on. But a common thread throughout my life, even when I was a kid, was a strong sense of spirituality. I was eight when I first started asking the bigger questions.” Ironically, Mathilde was born into an atheist family, making her questions that much harder to answer. “I was never taught about God. I had to find those answers myself. And when I learned about God, I was in France and asked my parents if I could get baptised. They agreed.” 

Baptised at the age of 10, Mathilde reveals what prompted her decision: the death of her older brother, who was only 16 years old. “It really opened the door to wanting to understand what happened to him. Why did he die at such a young age? Where is he now? Where is his soul? I had to figure all that out as a very young child – and I was still grieving, of course. As a Christian, I was trying to find answers through my community at the time, but was unable to. That pushed me to understand other perspectives, other religions. And shortly after, my parents moved to Oman.”

Mathilde Loujayne

Both nature and nurture come together to shape who we are, a fact illustrated by Mathilde’s move to Muscat at the age of 11. “I went to an international school, where there was so much diversity, so many different backgrounds and cultures and nationalities. My friends and I were really open about discussing our thoughts on certain topics, which prompted me to read more about other religions. But I was still thinking Christianity – maybe Orthodox or Protestant? I wasn’t really looking elsewhere.” 

Mathilde pauses to warn me that what follows is a long story, but it’s a fascinating one. She discloses that her father survived cancer before she was born and was on a spiritual journey of his own. “It was something we’d never really discussed. But around that time, he told me and my mom that he had converted to Islam a few years prior. We had a Quran at home, and I would debate endlessly with him. I wouldn’t consider his point of view, I was very confrontational – a typical teenager, I guess.”

And then 9/11 happened. 

“I was 17 at the time and, suddenly, the whole world turned against Muslims. I couldn’t understand what was going on because Omanis are so peaceful, so hospitable. I’d never met a violent person in Oman, and my dad was now Muslim. I figured that since I want to read about other religions, I might as well start with the Quran. I have one in my house, I live in a Muslim country – it just makes sense.” But while her decision to read the Quran was more about general knowledge and less about conversion, Mathilde approached it with an open mind. And an open heart. 

“I was so surprised when I started. I found myself reading about the prophets that I knew in Christianity, the stories were so similar, the message was so similar. It felt so familiar, but so new at the same time. It felt like God was speaking to me directly. And the message was so loud – it brought peace to my heart as I was still grieving. It answered so many questions that I had about my brother. It eased my pain and gave me more than I was asking for. That’s when I asked my parents if I can become a Muslim. They were very supportive, so an imam came to our house and I said my shahada – the pronunciation of faith – in their presence.”

The rest, as they say, is history. “I’ve never looked back,” she remarks. Striving to keep her faith strong, Mathilde has been on a mission to understand Islam from a female perspective. As for what she’s discovered? “I encountered many misconceptions that I had to explore. I did a lot of research to understand women’s rights and why certain things are forbidden. What I’ve realised is that it’s a religion of logic, it’s all for our own benefit. Like now, for example, we’re fasting not only for spiritual reasons, but also health. I researched the wives of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to understand their journey because I wanted to approach the story of Islam through the women of Islam. Even his daughter Fatima – I learned so much about the importance of modesty through her. Being French, I had a hard time with modesty,” she admits with a giggle. 

Mathilde rightfully asserts that women from the early years of Islam – both Khadijah and Aisha were pillars of the community – aren’t recognised nearly enough. “If you think about it, a lot of the lectures focus on the companions of the Prophet, but not so much on his wives. Some of them were scholars themselves, they would teach the companions. No one talks about that. It’s such a huge achievement and something we should be proud of as Muslim women. Seeing how much knowledge they had contrasted by how many girls don’t get an education in Muslim countries today? It’s not right.”

female influencer Dubai

Talk of influential women steers the conversation in the direction of Halima Aden, who famously gave up a thriving modelling career, stating that it was at odds with her faith. I ask if this act of sacrifice resonates with Mathilde. It does. “I always wanted to be in the music industry. And I was. After moving to the UAE, I worked for a company that put on major concerts and music festivals with A-list artists – Kanye West and The Prodigy included. It was a lot of fun, but you can imagine what the music industry is like. There were so many times when I thought, ‘What am I doing here? These are not my values.’ Don’t get me wrong, I still love music, but I knew I had to give up my job. I resigned and ended up in the corporate world, which was a sacrifice because I loved the work. It just wasn’t compatible with my lifestyle.”

But it’s not just behind the scenes in the music industry where Mathilde feels like a bit of a misfit, unfortunately. With Islamophobia at an all-time high in France, I ask how she reconciles the fact that’s she French, female, and Muslim. “It’s a confusing time because I love my country, but I can’t stand the news.” And yes, she hears about the hijab ban daily at this point. “That ruins it for me. I wish France would embrace its diversity, but it’s going in the opposite direction. I almost don’t know what to say because I feel very sad about the situation. It hurts when your own country goes against your values – I wouldn’t be accepted if people knew who I was.”

While Islamophobia is a relatively recent phenomenon, longstanding opinions about the religion are well-documented. “Islam is the best religion, and Muslims are the worst followers.” I read aloud this famous quote by late 19th century playwright George Bernard Shaw to Mathilde, curious about her reaction. Caught off guard, she chuckles before confessing, “When you’re a new Muslim, you embrace the religion fully and think all Muslims are perfect Muslims. It’s an assumption we falsely make because we’re all human at the end of the day – no one’s perfect. But living in the Middle East, you can’t assume every Muslim is practising – everyone is on their own path. I’ve learnt to not judge.”

Big Little Steps

Big Little Steps. PRP AED 78,
available at thedreamworkcollective.store

This is a message reinforced throughout her book, Big Little Steps. “New Muslims come with an energy of wanting to be perfect, but I tell them to take their time. You have to understand why you’re doing certain things, understand the rationale behind it.” Aimed at both converts and those born into Islam, Big Little Steps breaks down the religion’s principles in a simple and inviting way with the aim of making it more approachable and highlighting its beauty. Published by The Dreamwork Collective, it tackles preconceived notions of Muslim women in a positive manner. Even the aforementioned Halima Aden makes an appearance.

“I wanted to share everything that I’ve learnt as a woman and a new Muslim,” says Mathilde, delving into the idea behind the book. “When you embrace Islam, there’s so much to learn, and it can be very overwhelming because people from every corner come to you with advice – unsolicited advice sometimes. It comes from a good place, but yes, it’s overwhelming.” The book was born as Mathilde sought the right words to explain why she chose to embrace Islam to her mother. “I wrote Big Little Steps with non-Muslims in mind – specifically my mom – because all this time, I was trying to prove to her that I’ve become a better person. I’m not very talkative, so it came out as a book.”

As someone who struggled to find material for new Muslims, she recalls, “I wish I had something like it growing up. I had to buy a children’s book when I was learning how to pray. That’s why I wanted to make it available to others.” Big Little Steps is also strategically designed to engage readers, encouraging them to take notes as they go along. “The idea is to understand Islam through my personal experiences, with the book serving as a guide to read the Quran. It’s not about my vision. I want the reader to start their own thought process.” Referring to herself as a mere vessel to spread the word of God, Mathilde says her goal is fulfilled if she can help even one person. 

Now that’s modesty.


Our Newsletter

Our Newsletter

Your Female Email

Gaggler your inbox for a 10% discount on your first order!
By clicking ‘Subscribe’ you agree to receive emails from The Gaggler and accept our privacy policy and terms of use.

Around the World with Eid Al-Fitr

Celebrate the fast, differently

Eid al Fitr and Eid ul Fitr are different spellings of the same Arabic phrase which means “festival of breaking the fast”. “Eid” is the Arabic word for “festival” or “holiday”, and it is used to refer to both Eid ul Fitr and Eid al Adha, another important Islamic holiday that commemorates the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, as an act of submission to (PBUH) Allah’s command.

This is a time when Muslims come together to offer prayers, exchange gifts, and share meals with their loved ones. It is also a time to reflect on the values of Islam, such as compassion, generosity, and forgiveness, and to strengthen ties with family, friends, and the community.

Eid’s Global Significance

Eid is one of the most significant and widely celebrated festivals in the world. It is an occasion that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, and is a time of joy, celebration, and giving thanks. The significance of Eid is not just limited to Muslims; it is also recognised and celebrated by people from different cultures and religions around the world.

The significance of Eid varies across cultures and countries. In some countries, such as Egypt, Eid is celebrated for three days, while in others, such as Turkey, it is celebrated for four days. In some countries, such as Indonesia, Eid is known as “Lebaran” and is celebrated with traditional foods, such as Ketupat and Rendang. In other countries, such as Pakistan, Eid is a time for new clothes, henna designs, and special desserts, such as sheer khurma.

One of the most important aspects of Eid is the act of giving. Muslims are encouraged to donate to charity and to give gifts to friends and family members, especially to children. This act of giving is a way of expressing gratitude for the blessings that one has received throughout the year and is an opportunity to share those blessings with others.

Another important aspect of Eid is the gathering of family and friends. Muslims are encouraged to visit their relatives and loved ones during Eid and to strengthen ties with them. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, it is customary to visit the graves of loved ones during Eid and to pray for their souls.

Eid is also a time to forgive and seek forgiveness. Muslims are encouraged to forgive those who have wronged them and to seek forgiveness from those whom they have wronged. This act of forgiveness is a way of purifying one’s soul and starting anew.

UAE Eid Al-Fitr Celebrations

Eid al-Fitr is one of the most significant celebrations in the UAE, marking the end of Ramadan and a month-long fast from sunrise to sunset for Muslims. The festival is celebrated with much joy and enthusiasm, with families and friends coming together to share food, exchange gifts, and greetings, and participate in a range of traditions.

The day typically starts with a special Eid prayer, which is held at mosques and prayer grounds across the country. After the prayer, families often visit each other’s homes or gather in public spaces to enjoy traditional foods such as dates, sweets, and other delicacies. Children are often given money or gifts by their elders, and many families dress up in their finest clothes for the occasion.

In the UAE, there are also many events and activities that take place throughout the Eid al-Fitr period. These include traditional markets, food festivals, and cultural performances, as well as fireworks displays and other outdoor activities. Many shopping malls and other venues also hold special events and promotions during this time.

Overall, Eid al-Fitr is a time of joy and celebration in the UAE, with people of all ages and backgrounds coming together to share in the festivities and express their gratitude for the blessings of the past month.

Eid Celebrations Around the World

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated in various ways around the world, often reflecting the local cultural traditions and customs. Here are some examples:

Indonesia: In Indonesia, Eid al-Fitr is known as Lebaran. The celebrations typically last for one week, during which people visit their relatives and friends, and seek forgiveness from one another. Special food is prepared, including ketupat (a type of rice cake), rendang (spicy meat dish), and opor ayam (chicken in coconut milk).

Egypt: In Egypt, Eid al-Fitr is known as Eid el-Fitr. The celebrations last for three days, during which people wear new clothes and visit family and friends. Special dishes are prepared, including fata (a bread and rice dish), kahk (a type of biscuit), and maamoul (a sweet pastry).

Turkey: In Turkey, Eid al-Fitr is known as Şeker Bayramı (Sugar Festival). The celebrations last for three days, during which people visit their relatives and friends, and give candy or small gifts to children. Special dishes are prepared, including baklava (a sweet pastry) and güllaç (a dessert made from thin layers of pastry soaked in milk).

Malaysia: In Malaysia, Eid al-Fitr is known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Celebration Day). The celebrations last for one month, during which people visit their relatives and friends, and seek forgiveness from one another. Special dishes are prepared, including lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo), rendang (spicy meat dish), and ketupat (a type of rice cake).

United States: In the United States, Eid al-Fitr is celebrated by Muslim communities across the country. Many communities hold special prayer services, followed by communal meals and other festivities. In some cities, there are even public celebrations, such as parades and street fairs.

Iceland: In Iceland, Eid al-Fitr celebrations are unique, in part, because the Ramadan fast is performed in a way that is not to be seen anywhere else in the world. Iceland’s midnight sun phenomenon means that during Ramadan many Muslims fast for up to 22 hours a day! Muslims in Iceland do have the choice to break their fast based on the timings of sunrise and sunset from the nearest country, or of Saudi Arabia, however many have iftar when the sun breaks above the Icelandic horizon. So when Eid al-Fitr comes around, the celebrations are magical. The capital city of Reykjavik has a few mosques where the joyous merrymaking takes place and guests come laden with food inspired by Indonesian, Egyptian, and Eritrean cuisines to celebrate this holy day.

Morocco: In Morocco, Eid al-Fitr festivities give center stage to the country’s colourful culinary dishes. Where other countries focus on gift-giving and more commercialised displays of celebrations, Moroccans, after their morning prayers, hold low-key foodie affairs with family and friends. Lamb, couscous, and prunes feature prominently in meals throughout the day, followed by traditional cookies and pastries.

These are just a few examples of how Eid al-Fitr is celebrated around the world. Regardless of the specific customs and traditions, the holiday is a time for joy, forgiveness, and a renewed commitment to one’s faith and community.

Eid is a significant festival that is celebrated around the world by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is a time of joy, celebration, and gratitude and is an opportunity to reflect on the values of Islam, such as compassion, generosity, and forgiveness. It is a time to strengthen ties with family, friends, and the community and to express thanks for the blessings that one has received throughout the year.


Our Newsletter

Our Newsletter

Your Female Email

Gaggler your inbox for a 10% discount on your first order!
By clicking ‘Subscribe’ you agree to receive emails from The Gaggler and accept our privacy policy and terms of use.
Load More