SHAFAQNA – My name is Anne, I am 24 years old and I accepted Islam at the end of March 2015.
My journey goes back to my upbringing as a Catholic Christian in the UK. My brother and I were given this upbringing since my mother’s side of the family were Catholic and her father was extremely devout.
The schools I attended growing up were Catholic, and I owe a great deal of my education and faith to them. However, as a child I began to have questions that made me feel betrayed and guilty at the same time.
During Year 2 (I was aged 6) we were making preparations for our first Holy Communion (the second sacrament of the three sacraments of initiation for Catholics: Baptism, Communion and Confirmation). After the first Holy Communion, a Catholic may take part in mass at Church and eat the bread and wine that the Priest transforms by his blessing into the body and blood of Christ. The preparations for my First Communion involved going to classes to learn about Jesus, the Bible, the church and the Catholic way of life. It also involved going to Confession for the first time in my life.
We were all waiting in line outside of the church, each being called in one by one to talk to the priest about our sins. I made my way to the Altar and sat on the steps by the Priest, anxious about what I might say I had done in the previous weeks. He talked for a while about forgiveness, and then asked me what sins I had committed.
I remember feeling embarrassed and confused, I had fought with my brother a little, but had made friends with him again. Was I a bad person? Had I committed sins and not even known about them? Was I lying to the Priest when I said I hadn’t really committed a sin? I told the Priest that I had hit my brother that week, but I had said sorry to him for it. The Priest continued to question me, digging for more sins, determined to show me that I was a sinner. I walked away with a feeling of betrayal that would stay with me for a long time.
Throughout my childhood I had more and more questions. Why were there pictures of saints? Why is there a statue of the Virgin Mary? How do we know what Jesus looks like? Is the bread really Jesus’ body? Was I born with sin? Is Jesus God? What is the Holy Spirit, and what is the Trinity? Is it some kind of gas type substance? Why all the gold? Why can’t Catholics use contraception? Why can’t Catholics divorce?
I was very confused until my teenage years when I made my decision to leave my religion. Whilst all of my friends at school had their Confirmation into the Church, I refused. I could not lie to God about what I believe.
Subsequently, I ignored religion. If religion is this confusing, I thought, then I want no part in it. I couldn’t put up with the mental gymnastics. However, I could never bring myself to say that God did not exist, so I became agnostic.
During my teenage years, my parents got divorced after years of abuse from my father at home. My dad had an affair and had finally left by the time I was 14. I also had a very hard time fitting in at school because my dad taught there. I was different from the other kids and showing signs that I was very unhappy, I became an easy target for bullying.
My mum was going through a difficult time emotionally and wasn’t as able to look after me and my brother with the amazing care she had shown when we were small. Dinner time became a distant memory, and some days the only food was toast or cereal.
My family had broken down entirely, my parents became unrecognizable to me, and because of the shame for my dad and my family, I wasn’t able to confide in my friends at school to tell them what was happening at home. I turned to the Internet to escape my problems, to express the hurt in my life, and to invent a different Anne from the person my peers at school saw.
Beginning of Shift
It was through one particular friend on the Internet that I first learned something about Islam. We used to talk sometimes about religion, but it would be difficult to say that we talked much in particular about Islam since he kept his faith quite private.
Eventually we used to talk about Islam and I started to become quite taken with the faith. There was no Trinity, no Priest, no confession, and the story of Jesus was a much more intellectually satisfying one. It felt like someone had turned the lights on after a long time.
There was suddenly a huge number of people in the world who actually agreed with me, yet I hadn’t known that they existed! And all along I had felt like I was a terrible person for having questions.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take active steps towards Islam for myself. My conversation with that person was strained. After a while, his overall attitude towards me felt somehow judgmental. As such, I would never have accepted Islam at that time; I didn’t want to change my religion in a way that would make him feel like he was right about me, and I didn’t know if I liked Islam simply because I liked him. It was his thing, not mine.
I felt very lonely, and one night in October last year I went to bed asking questions to God. I wanted to know what I should do about my life, and somewhere in my heart was Islam, the real question that hadn’t yet been answered.
That night I had a very powerful dream that I was drowning. I knew this dream was important and I had a feeling it was something to do with God or Islam. I searched for some words from my dream as ‘Islam’, ‘hands’, ‘five’, ‘pearl’ on my phone and came up with some answers. I was sitting in bed in the dark, the light on my phone turned off.
Searching for Truth
I was still sitting and thinking, in the dark, when a light like lightning flickered in the corner of my bedroom. Picking up my phone to turn the light on, I aimed it to where the light came from to see what it was. Nothing was there. Nobody was awake in the house. The light on my phone turned off again and I watched. The light came back and flickered once more!
The next day I woke up and told my mum about the dream and that I was going to read the Qur’an. I tried to reach out to my friend, the only Muslim I knew, to see what he thought about that. He couldn’t help me with it, and I started reading.
I moved to a different town where I met lots of Muslim sisters who have helped me with my religion. They have also helped me decipher the dream, since the interpretation I had was not very satisfying. Firstly, one sister told me that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave the following pearl of wisdom:
“Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth, before you become old; your health, before you fall sick; your wealth, before you become poor; your free time before you become busy; and your life, before your death.” (Al-Bukhari)
At Last…Finding the Way
And all that time I was wasting on having a damaging relationship and on feeling too proud to admit that Islam was right. I was denying reality big time.
Another sister has also told me about Surat Al-`Asr, for which one suggested I watch the Tafseer by Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan. In the video I found he talked at length about mankind ‘drowning in loss’, and not having time when you are drowning.
Essentially, we are all drowning in loss since we are running out of time by Allah’s promise. I heard that this Surah of the Qur’an is often described as definitive of Islam.
So, that was it for me. It was only a matter of time until I took my Shahadah, with the help of the sisters who have helped me so much Alhamdulillah.
I hope my journey is an inspiration to anybody going through difficult times not to lose their faith. Life is a winding road, you never know what turn it will take!