Why did you convert to Christianity

Islam: "I woke up and thought: I'm converting now"

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This text is part of our report series "Overland". Nine local reporters report from their region for ZEIT ONLINE. The series is part of our section # D18, in which we want to explain Germany to Germany.

Max Klein remembers his first Christmas as a Muslim well. He was 17 and was sitting in the restaurant with his family. Candles were burning on the table and a waitress was serving vegetables, chicken and roast pork.

Max put broccoli and potatoes on his plate. He left the meat because Islam forbids eating chicken that is next to pork. His grandmother, Max says today, then looked at his plate, pushed the meat platter over to him and asked: "Max, are you actually back to normal now?"

Since then, his grandchildren and grandmother have never spoken about his belief in Islam again. She doesn't ask and he doesn't tell. Because until today Max has not become what his grandmother calls normal. He still believes in Allah for two and a half years.

Max is 19 years old today. He lives in L├╝chow, a small town in Wendland. He is known locally as a convert and wants to be recognized as such. Whenever he leaves the house, he covers his short-cropped reddish hair with a prayer cap. On some days he wraps himself completely in white linen clothes. When he greets a woman, he does not shake hands, but places it on his left breast and bows. The opposite sex should remain untouched - that is the custom in Islam, says Max.

He chose to show what he believes. And he wants to talk about it, also with journalists. He often uses the words "happiness" and "contentment". And he speaks of faith "with all my heart" and a "life for Allah". He says sentences like: "As a Muslim, I am more content, happier." And: "Anything bad has resulted in something good."

His life now has fixed rules

It is the side of his story that Max prefers to talk about, that he adorns and sometimes exaggerates into a salvation story. But as in all stories, there is another side.

It's about lost friends. From a grandmother who no longer finds her grandson normal. And the feeling of being shunned as a Muslim. Max talks about it too. "Because a Muslim shouldn't lie," he says. And yet in the end he always comes back to the story of the happy convert. He says: "As a Muslim I have lost a lot, but I have gained a lot more."

Max is sitting cross-legged on the living room floor. As he speaks, he closes his eyes for a moment. "How should I best describe it?" Life, says Max, feels completely different as a Muslim: firmer, stronger. He now prays five times a day, goes to the mosque every evening, and refrains from alcohol and sex. "I am now learning Arabic and studying the Koran." His life finally has fixed rules. The prayers, he says in a low voice, are "moments in which I am really happy".

There was happiness in his old life too. Childhood was great, says Max. His uncle taught him how to read tracks and how to make a fire without a lighter. He took ponies to his heart, drew beer at the village festival and dreamed of one day becoming a policeman like his father. Like other local youth, he began drinking beer and liquor and smoking marijuana. At some point he had his first girlfriend and had sex for the first time. "An almost normal youth in Wendland," says Max.

And yet something was different. He calls it the "black hole". Max doesn't know where he's from. His parents adopted him as a baby. When he was six years old, they told him about it. "I didn't understand it back then," says Max. But the feeling that "something was missing" never let go of him. At 16 he began looking for his birth mother. He doesn't want to talk about what became of it. Only that he got to know his sisters, he says. And that the meeting was good for him.

When Max talks about it, he doesn't show his feelings. Sometimes it seems as if he is not reporting on his own life, but on that of a stranger. He says, "Islam is about controlling yourself." If you ask him whether the "black hole" could be a reason for his commitment to Islam, he waves it away: "I don't know and I don't care."