Assalamualaykum. 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 unrecognisable 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.
It was through one particular friend on the Internet that I first learned something about Islam. We will call him ‘Y’ for the sake of his anonymity. 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. Time went by, and many things happened that eventually led to me being in a relationship with Y at the age of 23. Sometimes 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 relationship with Y was heavily strained. He did not like my romantic past, and the tumultuous transition from being Internet friends to having a relationship in person had taken its toll. He told me he had information from among the jinn that suggested I was not a very good girl at all, and it played on his mind. He knew things about events in my life that even I couldn’t remember having happened. Sometimes when he spoke about Islam it felt patronising and condescending, and Y’s overall attitude towards me felt scornful and judgemental. As such, I would never have accepted Islam until he left my life. 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. Besides, even if I accepted Islam, he would still have held me in suspicion.
Finally, our relationship had broken down and we were not seeing each other, and were back to talking occasionally online. I was broken hearted, and one night in October last year I went to bed asking questions to God. I wanted to know what I should do about Y, and somewhere in my heart was Islam, the real question that hadn’t yet been answered.
That night I had a very powerful dream. I was on one bank of a river and I wanted to get to the other side because I was in imminent danger. A wicked woman, who seemed like my mother, was out to get me. Beside me was a small blonde child who looked like me when I was little, she was asking if she could come with me. I told her it was safer for her to stay, then I made a dash downhill for the edge of the river. As I got close, I started to sink into a swamp and began to drown. The water in the swamp was black and thick with dead body parts, fingernails and hair. “I’m drowning! This is it!” I thought, and started to become overwhelmed until somehow I found myself at the edge of the river. I climbed out of the swamp and was about to jump over the fence that guarded the river when a huge face appeared in front of me. It was the face of a man so beautiful that I asked him if he was my husband. His cheeks were prominent, his skin tone was a golden brown and his eyes were sparkling with rich hazel. There was a floating pattern in front of this face, his hair gave the impression of being pulled upwards and he had a beard.
When I asked him who he was he just looked downwards and ignored me. He was speaking constantly in a language I didn’t understand. I kept questioning until finally he showed me something. It was a mother of pearl amulet with five horizontal lines and five little hands carved at the end of each line. This of course meant nothing to me and I turned back and told him again that I didn’t understand. After my repeated questioning he became impatient, his voice grew and he turned to look into my eyes and bellowed the word ‘TIME!’ at me. I was startled and woke up.
It was 4.30 am or thereabouts. I knew this dream was important and I had a feeling it was something to do with God or Islam. I searched for the words ‘Islam’, ‘hands’, ‘five’, ‘pearl’ on my phone and came up with some answers. I was sitting in bed in the dark, pondering over the five pillars, the hand of Fatima, feeling quite taken aback. The light on my phone turned off. 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 Y, the only Muslim I knew, to see what he thought about my dream. He didn’t have anything to say and told me to keep it to myself. Me and Y stopped talking, and I started reading.
I moved to a different town where I met lots of Muslim sisters who have helped me with my deen. 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 SAW 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.” And all that time I was wasting on having a damaging relationship with Y and on feeling too proud to admit that Islam was right. I was denying reality big time.
Another sister has also told me about Surah al-‘Asr, for which a HOTD member 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, which makes it all the more wonderful that it is the one that was suggested to me in my dream.
So, that was it for me. It was only a matter of time until I took my Shahada, with the help of the sisters who have helped me so much MashaAllah.
Thank you for reading! 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!