A sister who has started a dawah website in her native language asked me to submit my reversion story. I had submitted it to a South African magazine about five years ago and couldn’t find the file of my computer! Aargh! But then found the actual hard copy of the magazine and typed it up again. Thought I would share in case anyone was interested in how Allah guided me to Islam..
Yesterday, as the sky turned to watercolours of reds and oranges with streaks of yellows, I witnessed yet another sister enter the fold of Islam. After asking herself what she was waiting for, and why she kept running away from what she believed in, Gemma quite simply tole me, “I don’t know what I’m waiting for – I believe Islam is the truth – let’s do it.” Draped in a turquoise-green scarf that I had lent her for the occasion, she entered the imam’s office with a mixture of excitement, anxiety and heaps of nerves. As she repeated the words of the Shahadah – Ash-hadu an la ilahah ill Allah wa ash-hadu anna Muhammad-ar-rasulallah (I bear witness and attest that there is no God worthy of worship but the One God Allah and I bear witness and attest that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah) – it took me back to the moment when I too became a Muslim.
My whole life prior to my own moment in which I uttered with nervousness the Shahadah, had been a farce. It’s quite strange. Whenever I think about the ‘me before’, it is as if I am watching a film or reading a biography of someone else. That person has become a stranger to me. I do visit that stranger from time to time in the form of photos, bumping into old friends, and that dress that reeks of the past! And although they were times of fun, I always feel an air of sadness surrounding these memories.
Ever since I can remember, I have always been looking from something- what for – I wasn’t quite sure. There was always something I was chasing after. A boyfriend, a good education, travel. And when I did achieve these things, I still felt that void in my life. That big hole in my heart that I ached to be filled. I could be in a foreign country, sitting on soft sand and watching the most beautiful sunset over the sea and I would till feel sad.
Over the years, the more I searched and searched for that one thing that would make me feel complete, the more I became depressed. In our society today, we seem to liken depression to a headache. Its effects on you are rarely taken seriously. It affected me so much that I tried to take my own life. I was fed up, lethargic and felt that I was of no use to the world so why should I live in it. These were my darkest days, where even the sunshine in the spring wouldn’t warm my heart. There were no more tears to cry. All I could do was open my eyes every morning, try to stomach something to eat and go to sleep again.
It was at this lowest point in my life that I met someone I would never have imagined befriending – Rahma. Rahma and I were worlds apart, chalk and cheese. She was a practising Muslim, devout in every way and I…well, I was…me – a once wild flower who was wiltering away. We couldn’t be any more different from each other. But subhanAllah, Allah put something special and pure between us. He brought Rahma to me at my time of need. We formed a special bond almost instantly, and she became my confidant. We would talk for hours on end, and I would pour out my heart to her. I never met someone as patient as her.
She would talk to me about how Islam solves all problems in life, how true happiness and real serenity and peace comes from worshipping your Creator. At first, I thought she was a religious nun-look-a-like and felt that this backward religion was not for me. It wouldn’t cure my depression, it would only make me feel more miserable.
Slowly, I began to look at her more than listen to her. I admired the way she carried herself, the calmness about her, her caring character and knew that this was down to the beliefs that she followed. I envied the direction she had in life and that pushed me to ask questions. We would meet up solely for a question-answer session on Islam, and we would debate about the existence of God, the Quran being the word of God . Immediately I knew Islam was the truth because there was no way to disagree that there was a Creator. How can our hearts beat, birds fly, how could man create all of this technology and we not ask who created him in the first place? Even though I knew all of this I couldn’t admit it to myself. My mind was preoccupied with thoughts of how restricted I would be, how could I dress ‘like that’, what my friends and family would say. This couldn’t be for me. I was meant to shine in life, how could I shine under a tent! I tried to find something wrong with this religion that I knew was the haqq – the truth.
Well, the most unlikely thing happened. The more I read the more I became convinced, and that spring sunshine that didn’t warm my heart now made it smile and laugh and beat fast with passion and zeal for life.
That was enough for me, I was ready to embrace Islam with my heart, mind, body and soul. Rahma and I had planned for my shahadah to take place on a certain date at an event. Subconsciously, I thought that it wouldn’t happen, there was a big part of me that was terrified of becoming a Muslim. But Allah had another plan. At the start of one weekend, I awoke to a strange feeling. I couldn’t quite place the feeling. My mind was consumed with thoughts of Allah, my life, the scientific proofs in the Quran, and…death. I couldn’t eat and my nights were restless. The Sunday of that weekend, I decided to go for a walk to clear my head – hoping that the thoughts would disappear. I came to a road only a few streets away from home. I stood there at the edge of the road and couldn’t move. My legs felt heavy and my heart was beating so quickly. People were crossing the road looking at me as if I was insane. I couldn’t cross the road out of fear that there was a possibility that a car would come, knock me over, kill me and I would die knowing what I knew. Knowing that Islam was the truth. That I would die as a non-Muslim.
Tears streaming down my face, I ran back to my house and rang Rahma and told her “It’s time, I can’t wait any longer, I need to become a Muslim.” She squealed with joy. I felt her joy and felt light, the heavy feeling that I had felt for years and years being lifted as I cried out of relief more than anything else. However, I had one thing that I need to know. I still felt slightly agitated and I naively asked Rahma whether I would be punished for all that I had done previously if I did decide to become a Muslim. She excitedly answered to the contrary and told me what the Prophet (sallalahu alayhi wa salaam) had told one of his companions – that Islam wipes out whatever sins came before it. Rahma sweetly elaborated the point by exclaiming “You’ll be a like a newborn baby – clean! Your page will be blank – a fresh new start!”
It was a hot June day. I sat on the cream plush carpet of Rahma’s sister’s living room, uncomfortably wearing a blue scarf – safety-pinned in the centre and one corner of it draped over my shoulder. Nerves and the summer heat had me fiddling around with the scarf as I anxiously waited for the witnesses to my Shahaadah to arrive. I remember thinking “Gosh, this is it now.” After all the time I had spent reading, debating, arguing, and trying to prove that Islam wasn’t the truth (hours and hours spent searching through the books for one error, one contradiction…just one!), the time had finally arrived.
The large black clock mounted on the wall seemed to be the most striking feature of the room that day. The hands ticked away as if erasing the memories of my life before Islam. Tick…tock, tick…tock. The sound of the clock beat in rhythm with my pulsating heart as Rahma’s sister, Rumaysah, placed herself in front of me, crossed her legs, looked into my eyes, and took a deep breath. Nervously and yet proudly, she pronounced the Arabic words I knew would permanently transform my life.
A tingling sensation ran down my back as I repeated my declaration of faith back to Rumaysah. Ashaduan la ilaha ila Allah wa ashaduan Mohammedan rasool Allah. There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger. The words I tried so hard to pronounce in Arabic seemed, as Rahma had put it, to “wash me clean”.
For the first time ever, I knew who I was, why I was here, and where I wanted to go. I had become a sponge, absorbing all the books I could lay my hands on, attending all the talks I had time for, and wanting to befriend every hijabi on the street.
Early evenings would turn into post-midnight marathons as I read inspirational books and articles by the comforting light of my bedside lampshade, each word glowing in the calm light. I learned how the Prophets (peace be upon them) relayed the message of God to humankind and gained strength from the stories of the early Muslims who held so tightly on to their eeman in the face of torture and exile.
There was Summayah, the first martyr of Islam, who was killed in the most horrific way for refusing to give up her faith, Mus’ab ibn Umayr, who held on to the war flag between his chin and chest – having had his arms sliced off in the midst of battle, and Hind, who once barbarically ate the liver of Hamza, but then humbled herself and accepted the truth of Islam.
By reading the Qur’an and ahadith, my heart overflowed with love and admiration for the Prophet (peace be upon him), his beloved companions, and all that they stood for. One particular hadith touched me so much that it still brings tears to my eyes:
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) would spend more than half of the night standing in prayer before Allah in utmost humility, and when he (peace be upon him) was asked why he stood there sinless in prayer until his feet were swollen, he would answer:
“Should I not be a thankful slave of Allah?”
I constantly pondered the unlimited mercy of Allah, The Most Merciful, who I now acknowledged as my Lord, too.
The day I was born into Islam, Rahma gave me a book called Islamic Beliefs and Teachings, by Ghulam Sarwar. This precious volume had a red cover with a picture of the Kabah in the centre, and, although my fingers were itching to open it on my way home from the shahadah ceremony, I dared not read it on the tube and placed it carefully in my bag instead.
Once alone, though, I devoured each page of the book and lingered on the first page containing information about the publisher and edition number. I did not want to miss a thing. Although I now realize that the book was quite basic in terms of the information it offered, there were hidden beauties inside of it that captured my heart – for example, a short ayah from the Qur’an [Surah Talaq 65:4] under a subheading called Reliance on Allah: “…he who relies on Allah, Allah is enough for him…”
That short statement from Allah gave me hope.
Now eleven years later, I look back at that wonderful time in my life. It was during those first few weeks as a new Muslim that I began to understand the meaning of Islam – to completely submit. To wholly and utterly immerse myself in striving to seek the pleasure of my Lord through good deeds like the ones I performed readily and wholeheartedly gave me immense spiritual satisfaction. For me, these were the happiest weeks of my life. It was when I tasted the sweetness of faith. As the Messenger of Allah (sallalahu alayhi wa salaam) said, “Whoever possesses the following three qualities attains the sweetness of faith: To have Allah and His Messenger dearer to him than anything else, to love a person only for the sake of Allah, and to hate to return to kufr after Allah has rescued him from it like he hates to be thrown into fire.” [Bukhari and Muslim]