couples

Paralympian Jessica Smith converted to Islam for her husband's family.

Jessica Smith was born without a left arm. By the time she was a teenager, she was representing Australia in swimming in the 2004 Paralympic Games.

Now she’s an internationally recognised advocate for postive body image as well an an author and storyteller. Jessica has also been married for two years and has a 17-month-old daughter, Alya, with her husband Hamid.

Aside from Jessica’s already incredible life, there’s something really interesting about her relationship that you might not realise. She converted to Islam shortly before marrying Hamid, at the request of his family — a decision she made only after the slightest hesitation.

Her mum was most concerned at the news, although her father and brothers were also worried about Jessica signing up to what is probably one of the most controversial and misunderstood religions in the world.

The four questions every kid asks Jessica Smith. Article continues…

“Knowing me and how strong-willed I am and how I would never put myself in a situation where I wasn’t making decisions for myself based on my own ideas, I think they knew I would never do something like that if it meant that I was in any way, shape or form doing it because somebody else told me to do it,” Jessica explains.

“It’s really interesting because my father converted to Catholocism for my mum, so I suppose I didn’t see it as – not so much a huge thing.

“I saw it as okay; as a married couple it seems right to unite in terms of wanting to just have the same perspective and morals and values when we start a family. So that was my understanding of it.”

Jessica admits it was a bit “confronting” when she and Hamid told his parents they were engaged and they told her she’d need to convert.

Jessica and Hamid on their wedding day during the ceremony. Image: Provided
ADVERTISEMENT

"I looked at him and said, 'Did you know about this?' and he was like, 'No, how do you feel about that?'" she recalls.

"I suppose it wasn't a demand, and I certainly don't want people to think that there was a choice that was taken away from me because it wasn't, and I think that's what a lot of people assume."

Jessica says if anything, it was the opposite, with the decision totally hers to make. She does admit that if she'd refused to convert to Islam they may not have ended up getting married, so she did a lot of research to ensure it would be an informed decision.

"If I wanted to be with him I knew that this was a decision I would have to make," Jessica says.

ADVERTISEMENT

"It meant so much to him and his family."

It was while researching Islam and how to convert that she began to understand how significant the religion was to Hamid's Iranian family and their culture. She discovered that if they ever wanted to travel to the country as a family they would have to be Muslim.

Jessica describes her conversion to Islam as a "steep learning curve" but says during her journey she is taking care of herself and doing things at her own pace.

"As a new convert there are a lot of unfair expectations that I'm supposed to be an expert, not just in Islam but in Middle Eastern politics," she adds.

Jessica and Hamid on their wedding day. Image: Provided

Focusing on academic texts rather than popular media for information has helped.

"I've learned that it's such a peaceful and respectful religion with a strong emphasis on social justice, and so that's been really imporant to me," Jessica explains.

"My daughter is only 17 months old now so I guess it's not sort of things that we're talking about yet, but as she grows up I hope that I'm able to be open and honest with her about the journey that I've been on."

Jessica chooses not to wear a hijab, only because she doesn't feel she knows enough about her new religion to answer the questions wearing one would attract.

Listen to the full episode of I Dont' Know How She Does It with Jessia Smith.

To subscribe to I Don't Know How She Does It in iTunes go to apple.co/mamamia where you'll find all of our shows in one place, and any books written by the many Mamamia guests.

What is the biggest sacrifice you have ever made for a relationship?

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???