Before coming to Islam I was a non-practicing Catholic-by-name of two parents who were likewise. I was interested in God from childhood and was overtly aware something was ‘missing’ from at least my early teens… I just didn’t know what exactly that emptiness meant and spent many years looking in all the wrong places.
I spent 6 months in Iran when I was 19 and I can still remember the thrill in my chest when I woke in the early hours and heard the fajr adhan… I could feel it yet in my ignorance I still didn’t look to Islam.
When I was pregnant with my first child I was so struck by the wonder unfolding inside me… I knew that this miraculous creation didn’t come from me… I used to cringe when people would say things like ‘Well done, can you believe you actually made this little boy?’ I would protest awkwardly that I didn’t and found myself taking him to church in the hope of him gleaning something I felt I owed him but lacked myself and didn’t know how to provide. I stopped going eventually… the peace I felt when I was there was outweighed by the sense of not belonging and not ‘connecting’ spiritually with what was being relayed… there was no true sense of my ‘thirst’ being quenched… I knew there was something I needed but I didn’t ‘discover’ Islam was the answer until two years later.
For me becoming Muslim has entailed a less than seamless transition. Coming from a non-religious background I found everything about the codes and structures of ‘a religion’ to be alien-yet I couldn’t deny the surety in my chest. I wasn’t a convert who made the shift easily either outwardly or inwardly… the truth be told I have struggled big-time but the struggle in itself has brought growth and rewards and I’ve come to relish the journey.
‘… the journey itself is home’ (Bashō).
I have realised to my relief over time that being Muslim doesn’t necessitate becoming someone you’re not or looking in the mirror and seeing someone you don’t recognise… if anything becoming Muslim, through an ongoing process, has allowed me to rediscover and get to know in a more meaningful way that me that I lost track of in life, somewhere along the way. I have felt joy in discovering my true identity is much more in keeping with Islam than that which at times I felt I was losing.
I have found it a challenging evolution but in truth I lost more of my actual self in that turbulent period of my life before Allah guided me and have regained more of it now by engaging actively with my Islam. I’m still slowly gaining confidence but I feel that I’m finally on the right track b’ithnillah and that I’m faced decidedly in the right direction. Sometimes the things that transpire in life weigh on and clutter the back of one’s mind… Thinking back to your ‘sense of self’ when you were a child and didn’t really have to think about who you were because you just ‘were’ and to when you were a young person, innocent and heart still unbroken can be an unsettling experience… You know that person and that you are still that person but it feels distant too somehow.
Much has happened since I was that young girl. I’ve made many unwise choices and I have a surreal feeling about the past, the last 6 years in particular… it sometimes feels like it didn’t even happen… or that it happened to someone else… it’s such a familiar story that I can recount it word for word but yet I feel removed from all that has transpired, things that I once thought would plague me forever… it’s a good reminder to me of how brief this life is and prompts me not to waste time in regret but rather to push on in striving to make each moment count. By drawing closer to Allah in my tests I have been blessed abundantly and have been left with content and optimism… that it is ok to have erred, that I can still go forward to a wonderful fulfilling future insha’Allah and that I deserve the chance to do so. Addressing the past in a new way has helped me realise that I don’t need to be bound by it.
“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.” Rumi
When I think back to the pivotal event in my life in October 2009 when, after months of deliberation, I went to Regents Park Mosque in London to take my shahada (profession of faith) -and everything that has transpired in my life since that day, which I never could have imagined for a moment, I am filled with a mixture of fear and optimism… fear at the tests I may yet face and optimism that with the help of Allah I can face the tests to come with patience and in doing so earn His pleasure.
‘And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return.’ Qur’an, 2:155-6
My acceptance of Islam directly preceded a period of deep anguish and huge trauma in my life… within a short time of accepting Islam I was dealing with an unplanned pregnancy in the midst of marital breakdown due to domestic abuse and, 8 weeks after I left my marriage- just when I thought I’d hit rock bottom and was slowly starting to absorb what had happened enough to contemplate the climb back up serious complications were discovered with my pregnancy. It has been a bumpy road at times to say the least- mostly it’s been a straight up white-knuckle-ride.
Alhamdulillah in all circumstances.
I can’t say much about the period that followed because I find it hard to even recall. I know that it was intensely painful and that I became numb to everything but what I was dealing with at any given moment; my son, my unborn daughter, endless appointments, court applications from my estranged husband. I coped by shutting down emotionally, ‘logging off’ from the pain of my broken heart and unconsciously withdrawing from my son.
It wasn’t until August 2012, when the court cases finally stopped and I finally knew that Alhamdulillah my daughter’s health was in the clear that I started to thaw and then, completely out of the blue, to realise that I still loved my ex and to start to grieve my marriage… I just woke up crying one morning and couldn’t stop for weeks on end… it was so unexpected and so intense that I became terrified it might never stop but Alhamdulillah eventually it subsided enough for me to function and, with time, though it’s certainly with me still, to incorporate it as another part of the journey which has molded me into the person I am today.
It has been an emotionally exhausting challenge to try to disentangle myself from ‘him’ psychologically, emotionally and spiritually… to somehow make sense of it all and to ascertain which ‘parts’ were me in all of this confusion and which were him, in the hopes of regaining a sense of my own identity as a person and a Muslimah, so that I can insha’Allah find my way forward.
Over the past two years I have been making greater efforts to actively draw closer to Allah swt, to seek knowledge, improve my character and develop my connection with Him and I have really been feeling and seeing the benefits in my life and that of my children. This has all Alhamdulillah helped me to process and come to terms with what has transpired in my life to this point, accept my current circumstances with gratitude and start to think about taking the lessons I have learned and moving beyond the past toward whatever is ahead insha’Allah. It is my dream to learn to live my life ‘to the full’ in the way that is most pleasing Allah, challenging myself constantly and fulfilling my potential with Islam as my anchor, guide and destination.
The shift in attitude and perception of my situation in life that has come with faith and the support of wonderful people I’ve gotten to know, particularly my sisters in Islam, has given me so much encouragement and hope. My relationship with Allah has strengthened Alhamdulillh and I feel more in control of my day to day life and more connected to the essence of my existence and its transience. For the Muslim regular focus on the hereafter keeps it in the line of sight and makes it an almost tangible destination to strive towards. I long for the peace of it and this re focusing has in turn made the here-and-now more serene… the stresses of this world penetrate and disturb me less and less whilst training my eyes on somewhere more distant and infinitely better. This makes worldly hurts and troubles seem of less consequence and I’m learning to see them as indicators to turn to my creator rather than causes of despair. I now value the tests that He gives to me.
“From the perfection of Allah’s ihsan is that He allows His slave to taste the bitterness of the break before the sweetness of the mend. So He does not break his believing slave, except to mend him. And He does not withhold from him, except to give him. And He does not test him (with hardship), except to cure him. ” Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah