I am born into a Muslim family; a blessing yes, yet, a no-brainer, the choice is not mine and I follow the religion of my parents. I am lucky. So it fascinates me to meet people who convert to Islam, people who are born into religions of their parents, indoctrinated naturally, from an early age, yet convert when life-changing events take place in their lives. One such person I am fortunate to meet is Baqer Froeschl aka Christian Froeschl, an Austrian now living in Jakarta, Indonesia. I have met Baqer in the past, some three years ago but did not have time to converse with him then. Now, I make it a point to talk to him in Jakarta. You may, perhaps, find his journey to Islam as fascinating as I do.
I was born in 1969, in a small town 130 kilometers from Vienna, Austria. My family were practicing Roman Catholics; I went to church regularly, stayed at a monastery and even sang in the church choir. My family were in food hospitality business; my Mum owned a bakery. My father suddenly died when I was ten so Mum was head of household for the three of us; I have an older sister and brother. Since I was helping out in the bakery, the food business came to me naturally so I focused my studies in that direction. It was here that I was first introduced to Islam and Muslims through Turkish immigrants; I admired their disciplined faith.
After graduation in my chosen field of study, I moved to Switzerland and joined a bakery and was in charge of making pastries. This was very hard work; up at four and work through till six. Here again, I met many Muslims. I was young and brash so I did what men in my age did back then; I married and had a son. I also got my masters in the science of confectionary. To escape a troubled marriage, I accepted a job offer in Germany. At about this time, I realized contradictions in my religion, especially when controversies on sexual abuses went viral. Although I was at peace with my God and regularly attended church, exotic religions pricked my interest.
I was offered a job to run a string of pastry outlets in Jakarta, Indonesia, a place so exotic, I had to open up an atlas to figure out where it was in the world. I moved to Jakarta in January 1997 and was head of Café Bean chain of pastry outlets; it was a roaring success. With malls and general economic activity picking up in the Far East, this was a great success. The economic crises and terrible riots of 1998 in Indonesia forced me to return home; but I was back within five months. I took on a Muslim girlfriend at about this time. Nothing changed much; I still drank like a fish and enjoyed the high life.
Year 2000 changed my life as I decided to open my own chain of stores in partnership with my brother. A good decision; we had six stores by 2005. At about this time, I met my current wife who used to visit my store. She was a Sunni Muslim who had converted to Shia Islam in 2002. She was a good debater and we discussed a lot of religious issues; I was particularly interested in building bridges between cultures and religions, but she had other ideas. She introduced me to Sheyk Farris, head of a local Shia center in Jakarta with whom I formed an instant rapport. We met every Tuesday evenings and I observed the religious rituals of Shia Islam. I then began attending the recitation of beautiful Dua e Komail on Thursdays. The more I dug deeper into Shia Islam, especially her history; I began feeling a pull, a tug in the heart. I quit drinking alcohol.
I attended my first Aashoora, a disturbing, emotional event for me, a very emotional person. The event fulfilled my need for an association to a higher authority and personal sacrifice for human justice; I embraced Shia Islam. I learnt to pray salaat, including tahajjud morning salaat most days. I was blessed with hajj and ziyaarat (during Eid e Ghadeer) with my wife; what an incredible blessing! And peace. I used to go to Bali for relaxation and quiet. But Kerbala and Najaf, for me, had more settling and calming effects.
I am at peace with myself, with a wonderful family in a practicing religion that regulates my life with discipline and purpose. I am also at peace with my mother and siblings who have accepted my new religion and are happy to see me contented and settled.
As related to me on January 28, 2013 in Jakarta.