My name is Jeremy and I am from Leeds. I became Muslim in 2004 at the age of 21, and since that time I have also been known as Yusuf.
I was brought up in a practicing Christian environment; my mother and father were missionaries in Uganda for around 17 years. I am the youngest of my siblings and I was born towards the end of their mission, spending the first two years of my life there. My family moved to Leeds shortly after we returned to England. I was sent to Church of England schools and my parents were very active in their church. It’s fair to say that I was brought up in a strongly religious household.
Shortly before my teens, it suddenly dawned on me what the central message of Christianity is. We were being taught that Jesus, whom I had always understood to be a great man, is somehow also God. Whilst I didn’t question it too much at the time, I remember thinking that it was a little strange and it made me feel a little uneasy. When I hit my teenage years, I began to experience life in a new way, taking a path that, as a relatively conservatively raised child, I had assumed I would not venture down. Apart from my obsession with cricket, I had a keen interest in music and I soon became caught up in the stereotypical musician’s party lifestyle.
I have always believed in a divine power, and was in fact always quite sure that the universe was created, especially given how well ordered it is. Despite this, I reached a point towards the end of my teens where I had completely moved away from any formalised worship. I had, at the same time, become rather depressed and was experiencing severe anxiety issues, which was a side effect of the lifestyle I had stumbled into. My interaction with the Divine was limited to moments where I felt sure, apparently inexplicably, that I was about to die – in that moment. I would feel this way because I was having anxiety attacks – at one point I counted seven in a single day. Although these were rather traumatic, I now know that they prepared me for what was to come later and, as such, they were a great blessing. They made me acutely aware of God’s tremendous power and the fragile nature of my life; that He is the one who is able to make me die, or to keep me alive. I would turn to Him in these moments, but ‘religion’ was not really in my thoughts.
Around the same time, I met a young Muslim woman whom I fell in love with. Although it was clear that she felt the same way, she also made it clear that a relationship was pointless as I was not a Muslim and that a Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim man. Deep down I felt that this was positively barbaric and against everything I had been taught, but at the same time I was amazed that she, a beautiful, intelligent and articulate woman, would find this to be a completely sane position.
Once I had got over the initial shock, I asked her: “What is Islam?” From there, we began a dialogue about religion, politics, sociology and aspects of popular culture. At first, these conversations were just for general interest and I had no intention of actually becoming Muslim. I was always struck by her natural wisdom, which I now know was the result of having been brought up with the Qur’an and the teachings of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. I was later given the Yusuf Ali translation of the Qur’an, and I would wash my face, hands and arms, wipe my head and ears, and wash my feet, as I had been instructed (a process called wudu), before reading it every night before bed. I was not much of a reader, but I really wanted to understand it for what it is, and so I would read a very short portion and try to reflect on the meaning.I was hooked.
What was really surprising to me was, not just the fact that many of the major characters from the Bible were in the Qur’an (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus), but that I was very clearly in there too. It explained me to myself – and I didn’t like everything that I learned.
This is perhaps best illustrated by an incident that happened to me one night whilst I was reading. I had reached the chapter in the Qur’an call Surat al-Noor – the Chapter of Light. In it is the following passage:
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The metaphor of His Light is that of a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, the glass like a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, its oil all but giving off light even if no fire touches it. Light upon Light. Allah guides to His Light whoever He wills and Allah makes metaphors for mankind and Allah has knowledge of all things.
Just as I read this, I was hit by what I can only describe as a feeling of peace and happiness coupled with a deep innate knowledge that this was somehow true. I wasn’t sure where this came from, although it seemed to be from both outside of me and inside of me at the same time. I read it over and over and I could almost but not quite comprehend it, yet at the same time it seemed absolutely true. Somewhat stunned by this, I carried on reading until I reached the following:
But the actions of those who are disbelievers are like a mirage in the desert. A thirsty man thinks it is water but when he reaches it, he finds it to be nothing at all, but he finds Allah there. He will pay him his account in full. Allah is swift at reckoning.
Or they are like the darkness of a fathomless sea which is covered by waves above which are waves above which are clouds, layers of darkness, one upon the other. If he puts out his hand, he can scarcely see it. Those Allah gives no light to, they have no light.
This is where I encountered myself again. I had spent my whole life chasing a mirage; I wanted to be liked, respected, loved – I wanted people to think that I was cool. I was thirsty for contentment and happiness (and although I did not realise it – Allah), and I thought adopting the lifestyle I had chosen would bring me that, but I found nothing but my recompense – and that was anxiety and depression. I understood directly that the ‘swiftness’ in the account was, in fact, immediate. Then I wondered: “How did anyone at that time know that the bottom of the ocean is dark? It is not possible to dive that deep, and this was apparently a desert religion.” I was, however, sure that I was in a dark place myself.
From this point onwards, and as a result of other experiences like it, I began to feel a real connection with Islam and the Qur’an. My friend’s mother later bought me a book to teach me the form of the prayer, which I learned and began to implement. I quickly began to realise the abundant benefits found in the five daily prayers; I found guidance in submitting my whole self, inward and outward, to Allah, my Creator. I found that it became easy to do without many of the things I had previously believed I needed. Pork and alcohol became repulsive to me, and I actually wanted to live a good, clean and wholesome life. It felt liberating.
I had become Muslim without realising it. All that was left to do was to formalise it by saying the words of the Shahada:
ash-hadu alla ilaha ill Allah
wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadar Rasool Allah
I bear witness that there is no god but Allah
and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
I did this on 2nd May 2005. As with every element of Islam, becoming Muslim was very simple, however, it was a profound experience. Becoming Muslim is not without difficulty, but these difficulties help you to understand your own capacity to deal with what life throws at you and the daily prayers keep you steady through both the difficult and the easy times. Islam is the greatest and most precious gift I have been given. In Islam, I found a profound spiritual path which joins and improves both the outer and inner aspects of my life and has given me a deep connection to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and, above all, to Allah.