My journey from Christianity to Islam: Convert shares story

IMAM Zainadine Johnson's immersion in the Islamic faith has put him in places unimaginable to many Australians.

He grew up in Brisbane, playing rugby league for Mitchelton and spending his summers surfing on the Sunshine Coast.

His skills playing lock forward and five-eighth earned him schoolboy representative honours.

Zean Johnson scores a try for West Mitchelton Panthers as a junior rugby league player.
Zean Johnson scores a try for West Mitchelton Panthers as a junior rugby league player. Contributed

He recalled being captain of Mitchelton Panthers junior sides and winning three premierships in a row with the club.

His Christian faith was affirmed by regular attendance at a Presbyterian church.

When school finished he moved to the Sunshine Coast to look for work and surf, but not necessarily in that order.

"I was surfing three times a day," Imam Zainadine said.

"It was my passion.

"We used to travel and hunt for waves - the boys."

He knew nothing of Islam.

"I'd never heard of it."

But an incident during his 20s, which he did not want to speak about, brought a change.

"Something happened in my life that encouraged me to become a better person and try to find some guidance in life."

He also saw his friends, men in their 20s, dying from drug overdoses, drink driving and suicide.

"I felt 'if you keep going the way you are going, you are heading towards the same direction'.

He moved to the Gold Coast in about 1998 and focused on becoming a professional surfer.

"I was trying to prepare myself to go into competitions."

He met his Catholic wife-to-be Fernanda Gonzalez, an international university student from Columbia.

They married in 1999 and their first son was born soon after.

At the time he was working as a consultant in investment loans.

Imam Zainadine started going to a Catholic church every Sunday and reading the Bible.

It helped him but wasn't quite what he was looking for.

"I wanted to be like Jesus.

"I thought he was a really clean-living bloke and a good guy."

Imam Zainadine's wife became friends with some Muslim university students.

Sunshine Coast Muslim community leader Imam Zainadine Johnson gives a sermon at the Kawana Family Centre.
Sunshine Coast Muslim community leader Imam Zainadine Johnson gives a sermon at the Kawana Family Centre. Patrick Woods

"We invited the Muslims to our house and we sat with them for a while."

He wanted to "check them out".

"Even back then there was propaganda that made Muslims look like the devil."

But he found them to be normal people.

They impressed him.

He had already given up drinking alcohol by that stage of his life.

"It was pretty hard to find mates who didn't drink."

He played a game of soccer with his Muslim friends and afterwards started asking questions about Islam.

The notion of worshipping God alone and not associating any of his partners in worship appealed to him.

"Islam puts Jesus as a prophet of God, but not (as) God."

He read books about Mohammed and Islam before going to the Labrador mosque to meet the Imam.

"The thing I remember about the mosque is everyone was smiling, which was very different to what you see on TV."

His wife was also drawn to the faith so in April 2000 they became Muslims.

Breaking the news to his family was not a smooth process.

Imam Zainadine's mother had previously told him to choose a religion, but not Islam.

"I remembered that after I became Muslim.

"For about four months I didn't tell her."

He instead started putting the teachings of the faith into practice by visiting his mother more regularly and helping her out.

It was something he had not previously done.

When it was time for prayer his wife would keep his mother busy while he would sneak into a room to pray.

He would do the same for his wife.

Imam Zainadine was relieved by his mother's reaction when he finally told her of his reversion.

"She said 'I've noticed something change in your life and I think it is for the better'.

He said he felt the same.

"I feel it has saved me from a certain end."

He changed his first name from Zean to Zainadine and his wife changed hers to Eman.

They both kept their surnames.