A Faith Slowly Born
As a child I was never taught Islam. I went to a catholic school and my teachers were nuns. Back then we thought you were either a Catholic or a Protestant. Islam was a foreign thing; I would associate it with stories like Arabian Nights, and cruel actions, such as slicing off the hand, and the enforcement of women wearing long black veils I believed in my religion and was a steadfast and devout Catholic.
Thirty years ago I met and married my husband. I was working as a nurse and he was a doctor from Pakistan. Although he was a Muslim, I never once felt the need to change my religion. When my husband’s family visited from Pakistan I would think to myself, what strange people. They would rock back and forth whilst reciting the Qur’aan out aloud. I remember thinking whatever they were doing; they were going to wake up my children. On hearing the adhan – the call to prayer-I would feel a sense of dread; it intimidated me.
We gave our children Muslim names, and when they came of age my husband began teaching them the Qur’aan at home. But it is one thing to read the Qur’aan, and quite something else to understand it, which my children didn’t. I still continued to attend church and performed my services as a Christian to our community. At home I would read the Muslim story books to my children. I never felt uncomfortable with this, as they were stories of Adam and Eve and Noah’s ark, which I was familiar with. I never read them anything which I myself as a Catholic was not happy with.
During his teens my son Khalid told my husband and I that he felt he was losing all is friends. They would go to the pub and indulge in the things that Khalid as a Muslim could not. My son’s faith was strong enough to steer him away from the wrong path. He was a practising Muslim as I was a practising Christian and I was happy as long as he was too.
Then, five years ago I visited the Vatican in Rome. I found it disturbing to see the numerous and different sculptures of Jesus Christ there. A few months later my sister fell ill and we decided to make our holy pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal. Part of the pilgrimage involved walking on your knees, to the shrine of Mary, mother of Christ. The pilgrim’s knees would bleed as a result of this ritual. I could not bring myself to agree with this practise and didn’t understand how the church could allow it to happen.
I visited the Museum in Fatima. Here, there were pictures drawn by three little girls whom Christians believe were given a vision of hell by Mary, mother of Christ. The pictures illustrated what the girls had seen in hell, and I instinctively saw they fitted the description that is in the Qur’aan. It was ironic: most people look at those paintings and their Christian faith is reinforced; I looked at them and it became clear that the Qur’aan must be a revelation from God, and Islam the true faith.
Faith lays down the foundations of how one lives one’s life. I started questioning the faith that I had adhered to my whole life. For the first time, after so many years of being married to a Muslim, of raising Muslim children, of putting up with Muslim in-laws, now I appreciated Islam, and was considering making the change. My husband suggested I talk to other Muslims, perhaps a scholar, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want advice from someone who had been born and raised a Muslim simply because they could not possibly understand what I was going through. My son was very supportive; he knew I wasn’t ignorant of Islam and urged me to make my decision. In the end I picked up a copy of the Muslim Directory and called the first number I found under Islamic establishments. Alhamdulillah, the woman on the other end was an Irish woman who had also been raised a devout Catholic. She had faced the dilemma I was going through and had the answers to all the questions I was asking. Is Islam really the true religion? We spoke for two hours, I felt as if Allah had sent her to save me. That day I entered into Islam.
I had spent so many years of my life being ignorant. No longer. Although my Christian relatives displayed no disappointment at my conversion, and were happy for me, to many others I endlessly explained that Allah is God, and that Islam is a monotheistic faith which shares the same principles as Christianity. Once I had made them understand, they would say “the media portrays Muslims to be mainly terrorists who kill people in the name of Allah.” They didn’t know what Allah is; why hadn’t anyone educated them about Islam? They would ask.
My husband and I then went on hajj and when we came back I knew I had to start an Islamic school. There was no vision, no one advised me to do it, I just knew. It had taken me so many years to come to the point where I understood Islam; I wondered how hard it must be for children. I remember my children not understanding what they read in the Qur’aan during their early years. I told my husband and he suggested we use his surgery as a small school on Sundays.
With the help of volunteers and resources from our own pockets, we started off teaching a group of eleven children. Soon this number grew and we were able to relocate o a local junior school. We now accommodate over 100 children, and teach Islamic history, Arabic and personal development. Many of the teachers are doctors who work in local practices and the town hospital.
Recently, the children performed a play on Adam and Eve, to which I invited a local church group and many other non-Muslim friends and acquaintances. Through the play, I wanted to portray the similarity between our faiths. The feedback I received illustrated that many of them who had prior little knowledge of Islam or negative preconceptions were touched and wanted to learn more. Going forward, it is therefore imperative to build bridges between our Muslim faith and the non-Muslim groups. God-willing, my ambition is to establish an Islamic cultural centre where we can expand the current teaching programme to cater for all age groups, and also as a place to initiate interfaith dialogue.
God chooses whom He wills to be His followers. That is how I can explain why my son became practising at such a young age. I often wish the same was decreed for me. But then, I am privileged; the veil was lifted off my eyes and now I want to help others to understand Islam.