I was born in a lower middle-class English family, my mother was (and is) a housewife and my father worked at an electronics firm (he is now a lecturer in electronic engineering). My father came from a Catholic background, and my mother from a Protestant one. They had both shared a short spell in the Quaker church in the early 1970s but by the time I came along they were strong atheists and religion was never mentioned in our house, let alone practiced. My parents had decided that if we wanted to be religious when we grew up, they would support this.
From a young age I believed in God, despite not being brought up with this belief, but still I got the feeling that what they were teaching in the Christian school I went to was not right, somehow. I didn’t believe in Jesus or the Holy Spirit; it all seemed false but at school they told us this was the only right way; all other religions were wrong; so I was very confused. When you’re a small child, you assume adults are always right with no exceptions; what they say goes. Still I could not let this go; so I probably quite wisely, decided to keep my belief in only one God private. I felt guilty for believing something that was ‘wrong’; I felt ashamed and I hoped and prayed that I would stop being a heretic soon. When I was young, I was exposed very much to the fear of ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’, especially with the Salman Rushdie affair at the front of people’s minds; I was very frightened of the Muslims in general. There were two Muslim children at my primary school, but they kept their beliefs to themselves, except for the fact that the younger child Ali refused to pray in Assembly.
I had always prayed for God to show me the right way. I always turned to God for help. There was no doubt in my mind that God existed. By the time I was 11 or 12 years old, and in high school, I began to realize that perhaps my belief in one God wasn’t wrong. At this time I had not really heard of Islam; all I ‘knew’ about it was that it was a violent religion that treated women like dirt. We were actually taught in school that Islam was spread by the sword (in other words by violent and forceful means), that women in Islam were chattels symbolized by their dress, and that Muslims worshipped Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam). I was really disgusted, every time I saw a Muslim lady when shopping in Manchester (there are few Muslims in my area) I thought ‘how can you do that to yourself ?’ I was really incensed. They did teach us one true thing though, that Muslims believe in only one God, which was something I honestly did not know before then.
I looked into all manners of other religions, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism but they all appeared so man-made and contradictory. However, one day I don’t know what hit me but I just felt I had to check whether what I had been taught was true or not. I was also curious because I had been told Muslims believed in one God and I wanted to see if it were true or not. I saw a book called Elements of Islam in the local library, and secretly I took it out. I turned straight to the section on Muslim women and I was absolutely astounded by what I read. It was contrary to what I had been taught about Islam and women, and better than anything else I had ever heard of. I didn’t doubt what I read; I knew it was true. I knew deep in my heart that all of my prayers had been answered. Islam was the truth that I had been searching for all of my life!
Still I felt bad for feeling this; the old guilt from my primary school days came creeping back; how could I believe in this ‘wrong’ religion? I tried to find evidence to ‘prove’ to me that Islam was not the truth but it was impossible. All books that said positive things about Islam, I knew they were true.
I decided I must be a Muslim although I couldn’t come to terms with it; and I didn’t tell anyone. I read every book I could get my hands on. I got a translated copy of the Qur’an from the library but I couldn’t understand it; it was all in middle English. This didn’t put me off; I knew it was only a translation; and what I did gather from it, I liked very much. I knew Islam was for life, that there was no turning back; so I really had to make sure. I ended up studying for two years and a half before chancing upon a chat room in January 1997 that was to change my life. It was the chat room at Islamicity, and the people there were very helpful; the second time I went there I took Shahadah (declaration of faith that makes One a Muslim) in front of people from all over the world.
My story spread like wildfire, I got e-mails from all over the world congratulating me and this was actually really frightening at the time. I felt like I was a celebrity and that I was under scrutiny. At the time I had just been diagnosed with clinical depression, I was feeling very delicate. Some people were very helpful and very understanding. One brother even sent me a package of books which for safety reasons I had delivered to my friend’s house instead. However some of the e-mails I got were quite threatening; they were telling me everything I was supposedly doing wrong, and this from people who had never even met me! I was also sent many articles full of lies about Christianity and the Bible; because everyone assumed that I was going to ‘go back to Christianity’ (I was never Christian in the first place!), and that being Muslim was just a phase. I can imagine Christians thinking this but the fact that other Muslims were making these assumptions really hurt me and wrecked my self worth.
As even other reverts started making disparaging remarks and accusing me of ‘just playing around’ I began to doubt myself. I developed a phobia of the internet and I distanced myself from Islam. I didn’t know any Muslims in ‘real life’ and I had no idea who I could contact. I felt so alone and so frightened that I looked for friends in my area, but they were not a good crowd; they were into drugs, drink and partying; but I was really messed up and I needed some sort of company to stop me going right over the edge. Every day was a nightmare for me; most of the time I’d be hysterical, and at school people were threatening me and making fun of me.
Eventually I got so bad; I was just unaware of my surroundings that I was admitted to hospital as a day patient. Being there didn’t really help in any way, and I just got more and more into the drink and drugs crowd. After a lot of treatment and just plain hard thinking, my head was clear again like it was when I first discovered Islam, and I eventually saw my ‘friends’ for who they really were. I had to escape from them, but I didn’t know how.
Now I was of sound mind again; the clear truth and logic of Islam shone through once more. Only one friend at the time, Emma knew I wanted to go back to Islam and supported me in this. I made the decision that I would try to get in touch with Muslims; so I phoned the Mosque nearest to me. The masjid was not helpful; they actually laughed down the phone at me when I asked if they had any classes or study circles for sisters; and they found it even more hilarious when I told them that I was a white revert to Islam. Sadly this is quite a common attitude in parts of Britain and elsewhere, and I, and other revert brothers and sisters have been faced with this completely un-Islamic attitude time and time again. Many reverts have left Islam because of the cruel remarks and nasty looks they were relentlessly subjected to when in the company of other Muslims; Alhamdulillah I was stronger. The attitude of these racist and bigoted people just made me more determined to make it on my own as a practising Muslim.
One day a sister, Rehana I knew from the internet convinced me to meet her to go shopping in Manchester. The day before was spent as usual, hanging around town with my ‘friends’, still in my head I was planning how to tell them that the next day I would not be coming to their party in a field. Just as I was about to leave for home, at around 9 pm I said ‘oh by the way I’m Muslim and I am meeting a Muslim friend tomorrow in Manchester’; they were shocked. They (all but Emma and a boy called Alasdair, who supported me) tried to talk me out of it but I knew what I had to do.
The next day I put a scarf in my bag and set off for Manchester. At Manchester station I went into the toilet, waited until nobody was around and put on the scarf around my head. I felt wonderful and incredibly confident; even though I walked out of an exit that came out in a busy restaurant I wasn’t fazed. I practically skipped to the shopping centre; the sister was really friendly. We went around the shops for a little while but then she asked me if I would like to come to Medina Hall. The hall being a hostel for Muslim students and also where the offices of the university Islamic society were situated.
That day, a whole bunch of sisters were having a picnic out of doors. I felt like I had come home. I was invited to a camp; I felt elated. When I came into my house, my mother smiled and said ‘that’s a nice scarf’. I told her about the camp and she got out her purse and asked how much money it was and she’d pay. My dad was equally supportive and he took me to the sisters house; twelve miles away (which is a long way for my dad to drive) from which the camp transport was leaving. I enjoyed the camp immensely; I have been on three other camps since. I even went to an Islamic private high school for a while. I was sponsored but my parents paid for my books and uniform and they became good friends with the headmistress, Mrs. Mohammed. Unfortunately the school was too far away and I had to stop going, but I still keep in touch with some of my friends from there.
I have worn hijab full time since the day I went to Medina Hall and can read, write and pronounce Arabic well (I taught myself but checked it up with a qualified teacher). I am a practising Muslim but I am not judgmental of other people and I do not tell people what to do.
Although I have been treated badly by some other Muslims, I have come to realise Islam is perfect, Muslims are not. My family encouraged me more in my pursuit of Islam than many Muslim parents do, Alhamdulillah. I also have many non-Muslim friends who are very supportive. I do not belong to any particular sect or school of thought; I follow the Qur’an and Sunnah and scholars from a wide variety of backgrounds. I have found that a lot of Muslims do not accept me on the basis of my colour and nationality; but this is just cultural ignorance and not from Islam. I’d like to remind such people that Islam is for all of mankind; we are born Muslim; but if they do want to use labels, all of the prophets and their followers were essentially ‘converts’ themselves anyway!
Nothing can put me off Islam; I am glad to be Muslim and although I am not perfect I am really working on it. In the future I hope to improve my practice of Islam even more.
Women in Islam are people in their own right; they are valued as individuals. If a woman has property, it is completely her own. If a man has property, it is also for his wife and children. Muslim women were given rights to vote, inherit and own and deal in property and goods 1300 years before America and Europe. In some European countries women could not vote until the 1970s and 80s! Childbirth and Motherhood are not curses in Islam; they are blessings with many rewards. If a woman dies in childbirth, it means she is a martyr!
By SOPHIE JENKIN
[Dear Readers ! After reading the above faith-strengthening story what are your inner feelings? Would you like to share your views with other readers of the CRESCENT? If yes, kindly mail your views at : firstname.lastname@example.org …. Editor ]