Personal Stories

Avril’s Story

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)

Martin’s Account

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.

David’s Account

Just a little over 20 years ago, I had come to the stage of asking “What does the remainder of my life have in store for me?”. At that time my life was lacking meaning and direction. In my thoughts I tried to imagine the future – would I in another 20 years still be ‘going out Friday and Saturday night with the lads’ and all that becoming sick and anti-social, wasting hard-earned money and damaging my health! It was becoming a pointless exercise.

At the time, I worked with two Muslims. One was difficult and rough in his manners, the other was quiet and friendly and invited me to his home (this was a surprise since I thought a non-Muslim was not allowed to enter a Muslims home). There was a third Muslim who was not related through work, but a friend. Looking back, the two Muslims I briefly encountered never asked me about my beliefs or what I knew about Islam.

It was during this period of life that something strange dawned upon me. If Islam says no alcohol (it was one of the few facts I knew) then I could go home one evening and drink without anyone knowing. Then it dawned on me. The agreement or contract is between you the individual and GOD alone. This was my starting and I have been learning and enjoying life ever since.

Yusuf’s Account

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.
(v. 33)
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.
(v. 39-40)
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.