I never believed in god. I never understood how others could believe. How could you believe in something that had no proof? How could you have faith in something that just wasn’t there?
I’m a white British woman born into the Church of Scotland but I was never christened, never followed religion. I never aligned to anything. I was taught Bible stories at school and occasionally would go to church with my family for Remembrance Day or for weddings and funerals but never believed. I know the Lord’s Prayer and hymns but they were not connected to god or religion; they were just things I learnt at school, the environment I happened to grow up in. I definitely never prayed for real. As an adult I dismissed religion wholeheartedly. There was no god and whoever believed was deluded in my eyes. I was even suspicious of people who were religious and would avoid them at all costs. I thought they were brainwashed and gullible.
Some people ask God to show them a sign. I didn’t ask. I wasn’t seeking faith or looking for anything, least of all God!
It just came to me. I knew something was different within me. I woke up one day and felt that I had a path to follow. It was like I had no control. Neon signs were pointing me in a new direction. I didn’t tell anyone what I felt but started taking small steps on this new road. This was my journey and mine alone. It was a leap of faith. I took many risks and made massive changes. I gave up my job, my home, my pets, my friends, my way of life, and I moved countries. Halfway around the world, in fact, back to the country of my birth, back to where my first journey began. I never thought that would happen, never. I just blindly followed the path, not really knowing why and not knowing where it would ultimately take me.
It wasn’t an easy path to follow at times. Sometimes I got stuck. Sometimes it got very dark and sometimes too bright to handle and sometimes I took the wrong turn. Every time, I instinctively found my way back to the main road and would continue the journey. I didn’t know the destination yet but I knew it was taking me the right way.
Up until then it was just an adventure. I still didn’t realise where this was leading me. I considered I was having a manic episode or maybe had a brain tumour or was just having a midlife crisis but I still kept going.
I finally realised I had faith in my heart and I believed in God. It totally hit me out of the blue. How could I believe in something that I had denied for so long? I can’t even really remember the exact day it dawned on me. It just became clear; I had an inner peace, I felt whole, I felt like I was in the right place at the right time and felt I had the strength of 1000 men within me. I had total faith that everything would be ok. I knew there was a God and I needed to connect. I doubted my own sanity but went with it.
That was the beginning of another journey. The most wonderful journey of my life.
This journey had many twists and turns and took me through some tough and trying times. I was pushed towards learning about Islam by the one person in my life who hates it the most. This path felt so right, I knew every day, every moment, every second, that I was on the right path. I knew this was my destiny. Things were connected in unexpected ways, every step was synchronicity in action. I felt closer and closer to God as I moved toward the final destination.
The more I learnt about Islam, the more I wanted to know. Instead of being put off, I became fascinated and my quest for knowledge was all consuming. I picked up a free Quran, I attended a Rumi event, I met Muslim people who I felt connected with (like a brother or sister), and I wanted what they had. I read and learnt and the language and art intrigued me. I felt it like I had never felt anything before. It was like falling in love. I had finally found “the one.” I started thinking. I wish I was Muslim. Why wasn’t I born Muslim? I felt Muslim inside. I already practiced many of the things Muslims do but I didn’t even know if it was possible for me to become Muslim. I had to shake myself, I can’t be Muslim, can I? What will my family and friends say? I don’t know enough about Islam. How could I commit to it? What are the rules I would have to live by? I am commitment phobic, after all, and definitely don’t like living by rules.
One day, one ordinary day, I spoke to a young Muslim man and he told me about converting to Islam. I was scared and excited at the same time. I almost did it then and there. I knew I wanted to commit myself to Allah but I still didn’t know enough. How can I be Muslim when I don’t even know what that means and what I have to do? I needed to be sure. I needed one more sign.
Fathima was the sign – as soon as I saw her I knew. I had met her at the Rumi event the month before in Bradford and had the best time. She and the other sisters had come over to me and introduced themselves and made me feel so welcome and included. That short time with them was the most fun I had had in a long time. I knew she was significant so I went out of my way to find her online after the event. She accepted my friendship and we said we would meet up one day. However, I bumped into her by accident that day in Leeds and she invited me to go to an event for new Muslims the following week. I knew this was significant and was so excited.
A week later I took the Shahada (declaration of faith). I didn’t even consciously make the decision, it just was meant to be.
Taking the Shahada was the most amazing day of my life. The days and weeks following were like bliss. I was elated and glowing. I was so totally and utterly thankful that I had finally found my way. I hadn’t realised I was lost but once I was found, I knew it. I was so grateful that I had finally realised what was missing. I had put the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle in and the picture became clear, the meaning of my life, my purpose, my destiny and I finally felt like I belonged – I had come home.
That was 5 months ago. Since then, life has just got better and better, way beyond what I could have imagined. I have still been through hard times but my faith keeps me strong and it is the most amazing thing. The people I have met, the choices I have made, and the place I have chosen to call home make me so happy and I am a better person. I now know the future is bright and I will accomplish remarkable things.
Al-hamdulillah (Praise be to Allah)
My name is Martin, from Leeds and I converted to Islam in 2000 when I was 29.
I’d describe myself as a white British of Irish ancestry and I was born into a Catholic family. I was an altar boy for some time and my father had wanted to be a priest.
In those days, I knew nothing about Islam. To be honest, I would have struggled to distinguish between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. I was just a regular person who enjoyed socialising with friends, watching football, meeting people. You know, the normal stuff.
But then I met a Muslim lady of French/Moroccan origin. She was in the UK on a work placement as part of a college course she was undertaking. And she stayed with my parents as a host family as a way of improving her English.
We were attracted to each other and began a relationship. But soon after, she told me that we could only be together through marriage. And that would need me to convert to Islam.
I was initially reluctant to do this as Islam was very strange to me. Yet, I set out to meet with Muslims and learn more about the religion. Sadly, it wasn’t a good experience.
All I wanted was for someone to teach me the basics of the the religion, in clear English and in a way that was easy to understand.
Yet all the Muslims I could find would use excessive amounts of Arabic or Urdu in explaining their understanding of the religion. On top of that, they were very attached to their native cultures in terms of clothing and mannerisms. Nothing I could see in them made me feel that I could belong as a Muslim.
Anyhow, I decided that if I really wanted to learn about Islam, I would have to teach myself. So I began reading book after book.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Islam shared its lineage with Christianity and Judaism, and everything I read just resonated with my soul.
And after months of learning, I felt confident that Islam was the true religion from God and I was ready to convert.
So, alone with Allah and His Angels as my witnesses, I recited the testimony of faith and entered into Islam. Thereafter, I considered myself to be Muslim.
Some time later, I signed up to some Islamic part-time classes at the university. The teacher was a convert and so were several other students. Finally, I met people I could relate to and that’s when my practising of Islam really began.
As a child, I did have a dialogue with God, but it somehow stopped. Islam rekindled that dialogue, reconnected me with Him and removed any intermediaries in our relationship.
Martin’s advice to people who think about converting to Islam…
Take your time. Ask Allah for guidance and ease. And please be inquisitive… Islam has an answer for everything and questions are welcomed!
Oh, and if you’re scared about circumcision (like I was), then don’t worry because you don’t have to circumcise to become Muslim!
Martin’s advice to born Muslims…
Please realise that you are an ambassador of our faith. Be it your appearance, dress or name, non-Muslims look at you as a representative of Islam. So please make sure that you represent it well.