My journey to Islam took place over several years.
It took me quite some time to work things through to the point where I could say “Yes, I am a Muslim”.
There was no eureka moment, no bolt of lightning , no instant conversion.
The really serious part of the journey lasted for about 18 months. I had a whole load of questions that I needed answers for.
I found that some of my questions were being answered along the way or that other questions would somehow become not that important any more.
They just became irrelevant. They didn’t need to be answered. Or the answers could wait.
Islam is very simple.
Believe in God. Establish regular prayers in your life. Give money to charity.
But you are not being asked to adopt a different nationality.
What is not so simple is that you have to deal with the cultural baggage that you think comes along with Islam. What will people think of me if I go down this route? How will my family/friends/workmates react
You are just being asked to believe in the one true God, Allah. To start praying five times a day. To give in charity.
Your life will certainly change. But you are still you. A better you.
The important thing to know is that you are not alone on this journey and that Allah is with you every step of the way.
How it started
I suppose the first stirrings of this new part of my life happened on my very first beach holiday.
I found this nice little hotel in Turkey which was situated right on the beach. The hotel was an old villa. Most of the rooms had no air conditioning. Just a big fan on the ceiling like you used to see in the old black and white movies.
In the height of summer it was hot and you had to sleep with the windows open to try and catch some breeze. This was great as you went to sleep to the sound of the waves lapping on the beach below your window. And, of course, in the morning you woke up to the sound of the waves lapping on the shore.
A fantastic experience. You didn’t want to close those windows. Ever.
The local mosque was only a few streets away and, five times a day, the call to prayer – the Adhan- would sound out. So, whether you were in your room asleep or getting ready to go out or chilling out on the beach below, this haunting sound periodically hung in the air.
After a few days, you anticipated the Adhan starting and listened out for it and stopped what you were doing to listen to it. It got to be part of your routine. Even at 5 o’clock in the morning when the first call to prayer rang out.
Holiday in Turkey over, nothing much happened for the next year. What I did do, though, was to download some podcasts of readings from the Qur’an. I didn’t feel that I was searching for anything or on a religious quest but I did like listening to the Qur’an.
Quite often, I would listen to the Qur’an in bed as I fell asleep at night.
It was just background noise for me. I wasn’t really concentrating on what I was hearing . Some of it was quite interesting when my brain did tune into it but, more often than not, it was just a soundtrack in the faint background.
But I sincerely believe that the words of the Qur’an affected me on a sub-conscious level. They seeped in to my being, awakened stirrings in my soul, softened and opened my heart to the word of Allah.
Time to get serious
Two years later, I returned to the same resort and to the same hotel in Turkey for a second holiday.
The call to prayer, the Adhan, was still there. It hadn’t changed.
But perhaps I was starting to change. Not on a conscious level, I wasn’t actively seeking Islam in any way, but something was going on within me at a much deeper level.
I was “listening” to the Qur’an more. Starting to think about Islam. Listening to the tour guide as he pointed out mosques and explaining the history of sites and telling us things about Islam, about Islamic history and about Mohammed. For souvenirs,I was buying little decorative prayer rugs.
But in the early hours of the morning, on the second day of my stay, I had a dream. A dream that started off a closer look at the stirrings within me.
I keep a travel journal and I wrote down what I could of my dream when I woke up.
Thursday, 1st September 2011
“Weird dream this morning before I woke up. Strange one tied in to the Prophet, can’t remember the dream details though. Might have been triggered by me waking up about 5.15 for a pee and hearing the call from the mosque then. Strange!”
I couldn’t remember the details of the dream or what was said in the dream.
Things were said but I couldn’t remember the words.
Someone appeared to me in the dream but I wasn’t allowed to see his face. I didn’t write it down at the time, but I was pretty sure that there was a veil covering his face.
It wasn’t a sudden moment of profound revelation. I didn’t drop down to my knees. Not a sudden conversion of any sort.
But, when I got back home, I started a conscious search in to what had been bubbling, deep down under the surface.
I needed some answers.
Searching for answers
I came across a book called The Kuzari – written by Judah Halevi around 1130 CE , the foremost Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages.
In The Kuzari, a dream came to the King of the Khazars that caused him to ponder over the different belief systems.
The Khazari inquired of a philosopher at first, then invited a Christian scholar, a Doctor of Islam and a Jewish Rabbi to explain their faiths to him. The book consists of the different arguments for each of these faiths.
In the end the Khazari chose Judaism as his path.
I wasn’t convinced by the arguments that led the Khazari to this conclusion and so I decided to carry out a similar exercise for myself and I started a comparative study of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I decided to read the Torah, the Gospels and the Qur’an.
The result was one that surprised me. I was led in the direction of Islam, a religion I had never encountered or considered before.
I had never even met a Muslim back home. Never spoken to one.
I had never read the Qur’an before.
The Qur’an shocked me to the foundation with it’s truth and it’s beauty.
The Qur’an totally grabbed hold of me.
It challenged me.
It sometimes frightened me with the choices it was asking me to make.
But I couldn’t stop reading it.
The Qur’an was a completely new experience and I found that God was talking to me through the Qur’an.
It was like looking in a mirror. Sometimes you would see some things reflected that you knew weren’t good in your life. Sometimes you could see the path that must be taken to make your life better and pleasing to God.
I knew exactly what was happening to me when I was reading the Qur’an. That God was showing me the state of my life and what His direction for me was and what to do about it.
I knew that if I carried on reading the Qur’an that God would continue to challenge me and to lead me on a journey. And that is scary.
But I couldn’t stop reading the book. I was compelled to carry on the road I was taking. I knew what would happen if I carried on reading. I knew where all this was heading.
You can stop reading the Qur’an at any time. You can say “whoa, this is too much, I’m not ready for this, this isn’t for me”.
That is between you, your soul and God. There is no compulsion in Islam.
I carried on reading.
I thought that there must be something I was missing, some hidden problem with Islam, some skeleton in the closet and so I read the Qur’an three times trying to find it.
I found nothing I could object to, no obstacles. And the Qur’an acknowledged the Torah and the Gospels, the Hebrew prophets and Jesus. It was all there.
I found the path for my life.
Making a decision
I read the Qur’an 3 times before I finally accepted Islam in it’s entirety.
After the first reading of the Qur’an I was wholly convinced of it’s truth and it’s teachings.
Why read it 3 times?
I was looking for whatever it was that I had missed on my first reading. Where were the hidden strings? Why couldn’t I see what made people rail so much against Islam?
There were no hidden strings. Nothing I could find objectionable.
It was time to accept that I was looking for something that wasn’t there. I had accepted the truth of the Qur’an long before I had finished my second or third reading
I had been praying to Allah asking Him to guide me on the straight path. The first part of the Islamic testament of faith was no problem for me. I recited it every day.
I bear witness that there is no God but Allah
I held back from reciting the second half of the Shahadah
and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Servant
and Messenger of Allah
not because I could not testify to Muhammad being the the Messenger of Allah but because I knew that if I had recited the whole Shahadah, then I had declared myself a Muslim. No going back.
Who was I kidding?
I had read the Qur’an several times, I had established regular prayers, I did not eat haram foods, I did not drink alcohol. I believed in Allah and the truth of the Messenger of Allah.
My problem was not with belief in Allah or with His Prophet or with the Qur’an.
My problem was that I was worried about what other people would think. You could even say that I was worried about what I would think of me.
I was stalling. I had cold feet.
It was time to accept that I was already a Muslim in my heart.
It was time to recite the full Shahadah and enter the fold of Islam.
Ash-hadu al-laa ilaaha il-lal laahu,
wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan abduhu wa rasooluh
Trying to live as a Muslim
I made a third trip back to my little holiday hideaway.
By now I was living a Muslim life as much as I could.
This was my big test. Could I actually do this?
Could I pray 5 times a day, no matter what? Survive a holiday without alcohol? Eat a halal diet? Still socialise and get on with people?
Yes I could. And I did. And had a thoroughly enjoyable holiday.
There could be no excuses now.
I came back from the holiday and sat down with the people closest to me and explained my decision.
Came out as a Muslim.
Taking my Shahadah
My journey up until this point had been a solitary one. Just Allah, me, my Qur’an and my prayers.
But it was time to join the bigger world. No man is an island. Or woman.
I contacted the local mosque and introduced myself.
I sat on the floor with my fellow Muslims, shared my story with them and made a public declaration of my faith.
I had been declaring the Shahadah every day in my prayers. I was already a Muslim. But it was good to publicly declare my faith.
And the first thing I did immediately after my Shahadah was to answer the call to prayer and join in with my fellow Muslims in the communal Isha prayer.
I was home.
“This day I have perfected your religion for you,
completed My favours upon you, and have chosen for
you, Islam as your religion.” [5:3]