Date :Thursday, July 26th, 2018 | Time : 20:21 |ID: 67682 | Print

Climbing Mountains: A Quest to Find the Truth

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SHAFAQNA-

This is the story of British born Dr Kate Godfrey-Faucett and her incredible journey from Christianity to Shia Islam via Sunnism.Kate is a Chartered psychologist & psychotherapist with specialist training and experience in working with complex trauma, personality disorder and self harm. She has worked in various settings including the NHS, HMP Prison service and the voluntary sector. Kate has extensive experience of working with both adults and young people and currently works freelance in schools providing therapy, consultation and training. She is also working within the Muslim community helping to create awareness of various issues of concern including mental health; relationship and sex education in schools, and psycho-social engineering. She characterizes her journey with a quote from Nelson Mandela ““After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”


Climbing Mountains: A Quest to Find the Truth

 Part 1 – Before I was a Muslim

I’ll never forget the day when I made a decision that would ultimately change the course of my life forever. It was the late 1980s and I was an art student and planning begrudgingly the next stage of my education at Art College. I was holding down three jobs and living in a rundown bedsit in the city of Exeter (UK), quietly rebellious and non-conformist and most definitely reacting against my very British boarding school education and upbringing. I vividly remember sitting up in bed one morning and defiantly saying out loud to myself – ‘forget this, I’m not going to be a sheep and continue into higher education because that’s what everyone else is doing and what’s expected of me … I want an adventure and I’m going to go travelling around the world and learn about life and different cultures instead!’ I never looked back!

As a child, I remember becoming fascinated by stories my father recounted about his overland and across-sea travels from England to Australia when he was 19. It conjured up images of lands to be discovered and I too longed to travel and experience the wonders of the world. Having decided to embark on my own adventure, I eagerly bought a map of the world and set about marking on it how to travel overland to India via Afghanistan and how to fund my escapades. I bought a wonderful book called ‘Work Your Way Around the World’ that explained how you could earn money from packing fish in Iceland, picking oranges in Spain and so on. You could even donate your little toe to science and receive £5K for the privilege (I didn’t). I had already hitchhiked with a friend for several months around France, Spain and Portugal, slept in fields, in backs of lorries and in train stations, been arrested for doing street art and met varied and colourful characters along the way. I was now 19 and this time I wanted to travel by myself.

Over the months that led up to my decision to break free from the shackles of society, I had already started questioning the meaning of life and had concluded that there must be something out there. I had liked the look of the Hare Krishnas and was quite taken with their flowing saffron orange robes and the thought of banging a drum or shaking a tambourine. I set off to Exeter library to find some information on the subject and ended up getting a book by Jiddu Krishnamurti (not about Hare Krishna …. but I thought the name was close enough). I didn’t really understand what he was talking about but absolutely fell in love with his descriptions of the natural world and sense of coming to everything anew. As a child, I grew up on a farm and to this day have an infinity and strong spiritual connection with the natural world. The writings of Krishnamurti fuelled my desire to head for India so that I could climb and sit on a mountain top surrounded by mist and incense and ‘find myself’ (preferably wearing an orange kaftan)!

Whilst I was planning and saving for my adventures I moved from my bedsit and rented a room in the house of a Christian woman. She had a beautiful garden and I remember sitting amongst, and communing with, the plants and flowers and deciding to give Buddhism a go – it kind of fitted with my hippy, India vibe experience that was going on for me at the time. I also liked lentils. I became a vegetarian and tried unsuccessfully to meditate. Suffice is to say I did not make a very good Buddhist, although to this day I now have a deeper understanding of this path and find many of its teachings and practices to have enhanced my understanding and practice of Islam (and I still like lentils).

One of the reasons Buddhism did not connect with me completely is that I did not find it provided enough practical or spiritual guidance and I also concluded that I believed in God. Living with a kind and active Christian woman inevitably affected me, she would always leave her Bibles lying around and from time to time I would take a look. I was into writing and reading poetry and was drawn to the Song of Solomon and Psalms of David, which I found beautiful and which touched me on an emotional and spiritual level. The whole concept of the Trinity and that it’s like an egg – 3 in 1 (shell, yolk & white) took a bit more persuasion. But I felt I was developing a relationship, not so much with God, who still felt distant, but with Jesus (as) and I began to talk to him and eventually decided to give Christianity a try.

It was at this stage in my search for the meaning of life that I took off to backpack around the world … still to India but via the Middle East, towards which I felt a slightly eerie yet magnetic draw. I had planned my route, packed my backpack and had accrued some savings from selling satellite dishes door-to-door. As I waved goodbye to Exeter, little did I know that I was embarking on a journey that would take me on a changing path of spiritual as well as cultural exploration and discovery.

Growing up in rural South West England and in rural France in the 1970s and 1980s, I had never come across Islam or Muslims. The only slight awareness I had encountered was that Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) had become one and that although I loved his music, I was told he was better avoided. I didn’t know what a Muslim was and assumed it was some strange dark cult thing that errant pop stars ended up becoming involved in. It didn’t stop me from buying his records though!

My first experience of Muslims was after several months of travelling when I ended up in Turkey having trekked and worked my way across Europe. I remember travelling there by boat from Greece and being slightly anxious as had heard various horror stories about Arab men and the Arab mentality … and how they operated on a different wavelength to us ‘normal, civilised, rational westerners’. I had also read ‘Midnight Express’ which didn’t help soothe my nerves, even though I wasn’t doing anything untoward. However, I used to wear great big black ex-army boots and I reckoned I could whack a mean kick if I needed to as a form of self-protection. Luckily, I didn’t have to, but it’s good to be prepared!

The Turks seemed a friendly lot and I enjoyed the free ‘apple tea’ that was handed out as they tried to entice passers-by into their carpet shops. The Blue Mosque was on my hit list of things to see and I vividly recall standing inside, looking around and feeling confusion at seeing the names ‘Allah’ and ‘Muhammad’ written on the walls. I really didn’t know who or what they were and which one was meant to be God. I was also puzzled by seeing women cloaked in black from head to toe making strange wailing sounds as they simultaneously made strange gestures and formed weird positions with their bodies (prayer). The décor was beautiful but I thought this is way too strange and far out for me (and that was saying something!). I concluded that Islam was a sea of darkness, the antichrist, and that it was seeping its way across the world (although it hadn’t reached as far as Exeter, thank goodness).

Funds were running low and there’s only so many oranges you can pick, and street art images you can paint before being arrested. In my trusty “Work Your Way Around the World” book, I’d read that you could work on a kibbutz in Israel as well as pick up other jobs such as bar work, childcare and so on. I thought it would also be an experience to see the Holy Land, although I warned myself I needed to be careful of hitchhiking because the dangerous Arabs would snatch me and I’d end up in a harem or be sold for camels. So, with army boots tied securely onto my feet, I bought a one-way ticket to Tel Aviv with my remaining funds.

At this point, I feel I need to own and explain my ignorance. I probably spent at least a year in the country that God willing will be soon be rightfully returned to the Palestinian people. At the time, I was completely and ashamedly ignorant of the history regarding the occupation of the land and the situation of the Palestinians. I have since tried to make sense of this and although I was in a process of re-evaluating and rejecting what I had been conditioned to believe in general, I feel my ignorance at the time was still partly reflective of the way in which I was brought up and educated, which was steeped in an essence of imperialistic culture/attitude and class superiority. Compounding this ignorance was the fact I was also an idealist, a dreamer and into the spiritual not the political, and I viewed the world around me through a lens of almost childlike naivety and wonder, hence this skewed the way I saw the world.

Having arrived in Tel Aviv and navigated airport security (not for the faint hearted) I found a hostel to spend the night in, and the next day I signed up with an employment agency. I ended up being placed on a Kibbutz right in the north, near the Golan Heights and close to the Lebanese and Syrian borders. The land was beautiful with its rolling mountainous hills and I had a vision of myself becoming a shepherdess. Alas that didn’t happen, although I had one job which involved picking avocados in the early hours of the morning and being given ice-cream as a treat. The rest of the time, work mostly revolved around doing the menial tasks which the kibbutzniks had no desire to do.

Whenever the opportunity arose I would head to the old city of Jerusalem, which is my favourite of all the cities that I have so far had the fortune to visit. It is unlike anywhere else – you walk down these ancient stone steps to the Damascus Gate, it is then like passing through a time warp into a world of the past in which alleyways intertwine and become infused with the intoxicating scents of incense and spices. Religious Jews, mixed with Muslims and orthodox Christians, each performing their own religious rituals harmoniously. I remember thinking to myself that I could just picture Jesus (as) strolling around in his sandals and robes, it was as if time had refused to move forward in this unique and Holy city.

On a practical note the food was great and cheap and I lived off falafels and bought some beautiful embroidered Bedouin kaftans (black not orange) and floated around the ancient city in a state of joy. What was so incredible was that within this small compact space you had all the major religions jostling side by side – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It really was a feast for all the senses as I became intentionally lost in alleyways which confronted me with a myriad of cultural and religious experiences. At the same time, I was able to visit the place where Jesus (as) was supposedly crucified, visit the Mount of Olives, as well as the Wailing Wall of the Jews. The West Bank was deemed too dangerous to attempt to visit and whilst I tried to go to Bethlehem one Christmas, the taxi driver refused to take me due to unrest and fighting.

Whilst I met genuinely decent individuals, I found many of the Israeli people I encountered to be aggressive, arrogant and best described as having a ‘chip on their shoulder’. Wherever you go in Israel, you are faced with soldiers, male and female, in the streets, on the buses, in the cafes, in your face, everywhere, carrying machine guns as anyone else would carry a bag. There is a relentless tension and an underlying feeling of a threat of attack at any time. This undercurrent of fear may well explain the ‘defences’ of aggression and arrogance that I experienced in the people. However, my own political ignorance aside, this heightened sense of tension and threat was the only hint I encountered that indicated in any way that I was staying in an illegally occupied land. The entire time I was in that country I was literally unaware that the Palestinian people existed. It was as if any awareness of them and their plight had somehow been suppressed or denied, almost annihilated from the consciousness of the country and the Israeli people.

The old city of Jerusalem was different to the rest of the country I visited, there was a vibrant energy and sense of life to it. I stayed in hostels in the old city that were run by Arabs – as they were the cheapest – and it was possible to get jobs painting the roofs and helping out in exchange for board and lodging. Thankfully the Arabs (mostly) didn’t appear to be the ‘nutcases’ or ‘abductors’ I had expected or been told about, conversely I found them to be the most approachable and friendly of all the people I met whilst in this country.

I also had the fortune to visit the Dome of the Rock, which literally rises in its golden and turquoise resplendent glory like a phoenix out of the grey ashes of dust and concrete surrounding it. Frustratingly I was not allowed to go inside because I was not a Muslim. I am ashamed to admit it here, but at the time rather than reflecting on the significance of the mosque itself, I was more bemused by the strange blue dress and head covering that I as a foreigner was made to wear over my clothes. To this day, I want to kick (army boots off) myself for having had the opportunity to visit Al Aqsa yet being totally unaware of its importance.

I later decided to continue my adventures into the deep dark world of the Middle East by venturing down into the Sinai region of Egypt. I caught a kamikaze Bedouin taxi to a then small and relatively unknown hippy village on the red sea called ‘Dahab’. With its bamboo beach huts, reggae music, turquoise tropical waters and cheap food, I felt I had arrived in heaven and decided to stay put. What’s more, I was able to make money painting murals on café walls and by making and selling bracelets, without being arrested. The contrast in experience when travelling from Israel to Egypt, the atmosphere and attitude of the people, was immense and immediately striking. Israel felt tense, arrogant and generally hostile whilst in Egypt life felt relaxed and the people were friendly and welcoming. For the first time I felt I had discovered a place where I fitted in and felt at home.

Dahab is located on the Red Sea coast and looks across the Gulf of Aqaba to the burnt sienna mountains of Saudi Arabia. To the other side, it rests against the towering Sinai mountains which provide an impressive and protective backdrop. I would often take myself off and climb up into the mountains spending time just sitting up there totally alone with my thoughts and reflections. Indelible memories of watching the most enormous blood-red fireball of a sun sinking slowly into the earth, and giving way to the magnificence and majesty of the infinite night sky, will never leave me. How could anyone deny the existence of God?

Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed Signs for men of understanding. (Qur’an 3:190)

I spent time in the Sinai, and travelled around Egypt, then travelled back to Europe to work and then made my way back again to Dahab. I loved everything about the Sinai and Egypt and developed a burning desire to want to learn more about the culture and religion of this country. The quest and yearning for knowledge and the truth had again become ignited. I started re-examining and questioning my beliefs and managed to find some English books that compared Christianity with Islam. I also remember fasting one Ramadan as wanted to see what it was like. I became increasingly curious about Islam, about this foreign and mysterious religion that was then unknown to so many in the West.

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