Often, when people reach a milestone age, it forces them to pause and reflect on life. Or, as in Ilyana Insyirah’s case, spur them into taking time off work and go travelling. “I was freaking out about turning the big 3-0 this year, so I re-evaluated my life, and decided I wanted to see the wonders that God has bestowed upon the world.”
A midwife in Perth, Australia by profession, Ilyana sustained serious injuries in a car accident a few years ago. Having overcome the challenges she faced, both physical (she broke her neck), and mental, she went on to win Graduate of the Year for Western Australia, as well as complete an internship in Tanzania.
Now, having taken six months off work to travel, she searched for a new challenge. “Honestly, scuba diving was not on my list of things to do.” After speaking to a friend who was then interning with a Marine foundation on an island close to Bali, “she was telling me all about her study of Manta Rays. I got really interested in diving and the rest is history.” A flight and a boat ride later, Ilyana found herself in Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia.
Sacred Footsteps spoke to Ilyana about her experience in becoming a qualified open water diver.
Once you decided you were going to scuba dive, what was the next step?
My friend hooked me up with an instructor, Bobby, from Big Fish Diving. He was an awesome instructor! I enrolled for the Open Water Diving course, which is an entry level course, under the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), but there are also other organisations you can do choose to do the course with.
What did the course entail?
It consists of four days; the first two are made up of theory lessons and confined water dives in a pool. At the end of the four days there was a multiple choice exam, which you need to pass. For the theory part, we were taught hand signals underwater, the different functions of the equipment, as well as what to do in an emergency.
The pool sessions were great to prepare me for what to expect in the ocean. I had an awesome instructor who made me feel relaxed and helped me learn all the required skills. There is a checklist for all the skills that you need to be able to accomplish prior to the open water dive.
Did the injuries you sustained in the car accident affect your diving in any way?
Prior to the course, I had to visit the local island doctor and get a letter stating that I am fit for diving. There are a list of the health questions that you have to answer before the course, particularly about any respiratory issues, or broken bones that could affect your diving. I was given the all-clear, but due to my previous injuries, I had to avoid lifting the oxygen tank when getting in and out of the water .Thankfully my instructor Bobby helped cater to all of my health needs.
When did you actually dive in the ocean?
So after two days of preparations, the third and fourth days consisted of diving in the open sea.
How did you feel when the time came?
In spite of the two days of training I was terrified! Bobby briefed me early in the morning before we set off for the boat, and that made me feel more calm. Knowing he would be there every step of the way really helped.
Talk us through the process of diving in the open water.
After setting up my gear, we proceeded to the boat. As the boat approached the dive site, Bobby instructed me to start putting on my wet suit. He checked my equipment again and told me what to expect for my first dive. Heart pounding, gear on, I said my prayers and positioned myself to enter the water. Both Bobby and I were to enter the water at the same time, at his count. At the count of three, I pushed my weight backwards and fell into the water. I felt weightless, despite the heavy tank and my weight belt. I was floating on the surface due to my equipment, which you can adjust to float or go deep into the water.
As soon as I was comfortable, we started our descent. I had issues with the pressure on my ears so it took a while for me to actually get down to eight metres (open water diving is up to 18m).
What was it like being underwater the first time?
The first time I went down into the depths of the ocean, I was astonished at how vast it was. It was a strange sensation being weightless and being able to breathe underwater, as I tried to avoid bumping into corals! For the majority of the first three dives, I was honestly busy trying to stay calm and getting used to breathing with the air from my tank and working through all the skills. I didn’t really have time to think about anything else. I remembered vividly how cool it was underwater and I kept saying prayers that I stay alive!
Did you begin to feel more comfortable underwater?
After we managed to complete all the skills by the third dive, I was more relaxed with the fourth. I was actually able to look at the corals up close and really notice life underwater.
I was beginning to feel much more confident with my skills and Bobby just guided me rather than be my instructor. It honestly helped my self-confidence as I felt so much more comfortable in the water by then. He was still close by to assist me when I had an issue and even helped me take some photos.
When did you officially qualify as a diver?
After the fourth dive, it was time to take the exam and Alhamdulillah I passed. That meant that I was officially an open water diver!
Did you continue to dive after that?
Yes! It was such a wonderful experience as I was a lot more confident in the water and thus was able to appreciate the underwater life a lot more. What really struck me was how the ocean dictates everything. The dive sites can be busy with scuba divers and during one of the dives, the currents were a little strong, and it was really funny as you could see how the water pushed everyone from the right to the left- including the fish! The verse that popped into my head was “They plan and Allah planned, And Allah is the best of planners.”(Q3:54)
The incredible array of species and colours are stunning; from small Angel fish and Unicorn fish, to the elusive Mola-Mola fish. There are corals, sea snails and zoo plankton; seeing everything up-close is spectacular. Indeed God is Al-Khaliq (The Creator) and you can truly see how everything is created perfectly according to His plan, and that nothing is haphazard.
I watched fish go about their routines, with no regard or concern for us humans with all our equipment and gear. That God creates life, giving each a purpose, simply amazes me. The Manta Rays gracefully flap their fins like wings, and glide in the water in spite of their size. I watched a Manta train pass, whereby the male Mantas form a line behind the females in an attempt to mate with them. The males mimick every move that she makes. At a ‘cleaning station’ other creatures clean up the Mantas, who are known to spend several hours a day here, sometimes queuing up in a line! It reminded me of the words “How many a creature there is that does not carry its provision. Allah gives provision for it and for you, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.” (Q29:60)
Did your experience change your perspective spiritually?
Yes it definitely did. It can be really quiet underwater. I was surprised by how acutely aware I was of each breath that I took. Each breath meant less air in the tank, reminding me just how fragile life is. If I ran out of air or the equipment was to malfunction, everything could come to an end in an instant. In the peace that exists underwater, you are able to admire God’s creation up-close, and revel in its beauty.
And finally what would you tell other Muslim women who are interested in diving?
I especially encourage my fellow Muslim sisters. We are just as capable of being scuba divers or instructors with or without hijab. In this day and age, when there appears to be so much hatred, we should show we are strong individuals and should not be judged according to what we choose to wear.