Firstly, I was born ’Muslim’, in that my parents and grandparents called themselves ‘Muslim’ and we all had Muslim-sounding names. However, we knew little about Islam and didn’t practise it at all. The only thing we knew about was fasting in Ramadan – so, every Ramadan, we would fast. But we didn’t know why we were fasting!
My great-grandparents, grandparents and parents were either born or lived in Kenya. They were British as they were born in the colonies and, eventually, on account of their British passports, they had to move to the UK.
In the UK, some Muslim communities live in enclaves, in small communities with other Muslims, and don’t integrate into society. My parents, on the other hand, didn’t have Muslim friends other than people who were from our particular cultural background. Many of our closest friends were non-Muslim and we pretty much blended in.
Anyway, back to my story, one of my earliest thoughts about religion was on the long, 45-minute walk to school one day. At one point, I had to walk under a bridge and then look right, down a long, wide, tree-lined road stretching as far as my eyes could see, to check if there were any oncoming cars so I could safely cross the road. On this particular day, when I emerged from under the bridge and looked right, I saw the sun right at the end of the road, perfectly framed between the trees on either side of the road – it looked absolutely magnificent. It was huge and bright orange and looked as if it was so close. I looked in amazement and in my heart I knew that this was created by God. I didn’t know God at this point, but I knew in my heart that He created this glorious thing before me. I wanted to praise Him – but I didn’t know how to. I didn’t know what words you say to God when you wanted to thank Him. So I just went on my way to school.
This was my first introduction to God, if you will. And it wouldn’t be until some years later that I learnt more.
When I turned 16, I went off to sixth-form college and it was here that I really started looking into religion. I read books about other religions (I think I was trying to find something I could connect to), but I never once thought of reading about Islam. I was fascinated by other religions and cultures, but just didn’t have the same interest for Islam. I really don’t know or remember why. Can you believe, I sang in church choirs, I danced at temples, but I had never once stepped inside a mosque of my own volition (we had to visit a mosque as part of a school trip once – but it was more of a fun day out for us all than a spiritual one).
I had a great life at this point. I had lots of friends, plenty of fun times, and was doing very well academically. But, as I neared 18, I had to decide which university to go to and which course to study. I was so confused and didn’t know what to pick. In the end, my indecision meant that I missed out on a place at university. Rather than try to get in last minute, I decided, like many 18-year-olds in the west, to take a year off my studies, to work and travel.
It was this indecision of mine, this negative trait I still have sometimes, that was the catalyst for a huge change in my life. Sometimes, we may look negatively at a so-called ‘flaw’ we have, but that ‘flaw’ may be the reason that sets you on the path you were always meant to find, which is what happened to me.
I worked and saved, and then I travelled. This is where I met someone who was a practising Muslim (I’d never met one of those before!). And he gave me a gift that changed my life.
He gave me a book about Islam. Of all the books I’d read before about religion, not one of them had been about Islam. This was my first.
I didn’t get to read it on my travels. I just put it in my suitcase along with everything else I’d picked up along the way. It wasn’t until I’d got back home that, one day, I started reading it.
Now, I must admit, it wasn’t a great book! However, I read something in it that changed my world.
It was a hadith (statement) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):
إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَتَبَ الْحَسَنَاتِ وَالسَّيِّئَاتِ ثُمَّ بَيَّنَ ذَلِكَ فَمَنْ هَمَّ بِحَسَنَةٍ فَلَمْ يَعْمَلْهَا كَتَبَهَا اللَّهُ عِنْدَهُ حَسَنَةً كَامِلَةً وَإِنْ هَمَّ بِهَا فَعَمِلَهَا كَتَبَهَا اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ عِنْدَهُ عَشْرَ حَسَنَاتٍ إِلَى سَبْعِ مِائَةِ ضِعْفٍ إِلَى أَضْعَافٍ كَثِيرَةٍ وَإِنْ هَمَّ بِسَيِّئَةٍ فَلَمْ يَعْمَلْهَا كَتَبَهَا اللَّهُ عِنْدَهُ حَسَنَةً كَامِلَةً وَإِنْ هَمَّ بِهَا فَعَمِلَهَا كَتَبَهَا اللَّهُ سَيِّئَةً وَاحِدَةً
If someone intends to perform a good deed but does not do it, then Allah will record it as a complete good deed. If he intends to do it and does so, then Allah the Exalted will record it as ten good deeds up to seven hundred times as much or even more. If he intends to do a bad deed and does not do it, then Allah will record for him one complete good deed. If he does it then Allah will record for him a single bad deed. (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
That one hadith just stopped me in my tracks and made me cry my eyes out. It may not have the same effect on others, but it changed something inside me.
I realised that God, Allah, was helping us to get to Heaven. He was multiplying the rewards given to us on account of our good deeds, which gave us a chance to build more and more good deeds. But He only recorded a bad deed as one bad deed, which we know is wiped away whenever we do something good or ask for forgiveness.
From then on, I accepted Islam as my religion. I chose it above all the others I had been searching for the truth in. And I vowed to take this hand that Allah had extended to me and do my part to get to our ultimate goal.
After this, I knew I needed to learn how to pray – but I didn’t know people who could pray! One of my aunts knew how, but I was too embarrassed to ask for help! So, I got myself some books and read them all to try to figure out how to do this!
I remember laying them out on my bedroom floor, looking at all the pictures of these strange movements – bowing, prostrating, etc. and trying to make sense of it all. I made myself notes and wrote out the whole prayer on sheets of A4 paper and learned the different movements.
When I first started my research, I didn’t even know the names of the prayers or when they were prayed! It was all so confusing – especially understanding what a rak’ah was (to those who don’t know, it’s a cycle of prayer that consists of standing, bowing and prostrating – prayers are made up of several cycles like this). It took me so long to understand a rak’ah and then I started to pray, holding my A4 sheets of paper (everything colour-coded and highlighted, like a proper student!).
I found it really difficult and thought that I’d never master it and, now, today, it’s as though there was never a time when I couldn’t pray.
This was the beginning of my journey. At this point, my family was not practising the religion at all. And I remember when I started to wear the hijab, some people were not happy about it. In fact, some were really saddened by it and told me so. It took some time for everyone to accept that this was what I had chosen for my life.
I was, at this point, so eager to learn about my new faith – I was ravenous for information, to know the words of Allah and His Messenger. I devoured every book I could find. And then I’d tell my mum.
I’d tell her about what I’d read and learnt, not knowing that it was slowly creeping into her heart, too. Eventually, she accepted Islam too and she set out on her journey to learn how to pray and learn how to read the Quran.
At this point, though, my dad hadn’t felt the same. He respected mine and my mother’s wishes to follow the religion, but I think he found it hard to accept some aspects of the faith. About ten years later, however, a change must have occurred, and he ‘became’ a Muslim, too.
It’s not one of those amazing stories of people finding faith that you may have heard or read, but it’s my story. And, to me, it’s a story of how we can be searching for something – be it the Truth, Happiness, Contentment, Friendship, Love – and perhaps it’s actually been right under our noses the whole time. We just hadn’t seen it yet.