Islam gave me a sense of belonging: Story of an Aussie convert

Source:  Tribune Published in World on Thursday, November 23, 2017

From a drug addict to a devoted Muslim – a prison sentence opened a new chapter for Robbie Maestracci filled with faith and zeal to be a good human being.

Moving back to Australia after spending a decade in the United States, at 16 Maestracci felt out of place and relied on drugs and partying to get through the year, until 2007 when he was sentenced to 10 months in jail for drug-related offences. “Jail opened my eyes. It wasn’t anywhere as bad as I thought it would be, but it’s not a goal you set yourself to end up there. It’s not a wonderful place or anything.”

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Somewhere along the way, Maestracci leaned towards spirituality. “I started changing old habits, being honest with myself and other people. I started going to a Baptist church down on the Gold Coast and got involved in feeding needy people in the area.”

“Doing things like that made me realise that it wasn’t that hard to change – I could change… It was light compared to total darkness.”

But he was not contend. “In the back of my mind, I’d always wanted to read the Holy Quran and to go to a mosque.”

On a particularly low day, Maestracci reached out to Muhammad, a cab driver he had met weeks earlier.  “I called him and asked if I could go to the mosque with him. He asked me why, and I said, ‘Look, I need guidance, I need help’, so he picked me up and took me there that evening.”

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Speaking to an imam and watching people pray at the mosque brought a sense of belonging. That night he converted to Islam. “Everything changed,” said Maestracci. “I no longer had this desire to use drugs, and I’ve been clean now for five years. It changed my entire life. It gave me the means and the rules and the path to follow to achieve what I’d set out to achieve a year before I converted, which was to strive to become the best version of myself.”

“When you’re doing that on your own with no rules to follow, it can be a tough process,” he stressed.

Maestracci says the strength of the character of the Muslim people appealed to him. “The fact that they didn’t use drugs and drink at all was something that really appealed to me. It was the polar opposite of how I’d been living my life and seemed to require such strength of character. As a young man, I was always drawn towards strength.”

Speaking on the reactions of people around him after his conversion, Maestracci said 99 per cent were supportive. “No one thought I could change. Whether they agree with the theology or not, they are certainly happy with the results it had in my life.”

Three months later, his mother accepted Islam as well. “She has been a massive supporter of anything positive I do in my life but in this instance, she also believes as I believe, and therefore she practices as I do.”

Like most Muslims living in non-Muslim countries, Maestracci has been a victim of Islamophobia. “I’ve been called a terrorist.”

“It’s like water off a duck’s back for me, but if it’s directed at someone who I’d consider vulnerable, it makes me angry.”

But it amuses him too. “I’m a blue-eyed Aussie bloke with a Southern Cross tattoo, and to be discriminated against for the first time in my life is an interesting feeling.”

“It’s a weird feeling to have someone hate you, not because of anything you’ve done to them, or anything about you, other than what you believe. They hate you without knowing you.”

Maestracci works in community outreach, reaching out to people who need help. “Predominately, it’s kids with legal issues – giving them advice about how to get a solicitor or encouraging them to follow their bail conditions so they don’t re-offend and end up in jail.”

Ali Kadri, Imam Uzair and Robbie Maestracci will feature in SBS’s show The Mosque Next Door.


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