My name is Jon Dean.
People always ask me questions like “Why did you do it?
What did your family say?
What did your friends say?
How has it impacted your life?
What makes someone go from being an English non-practicing Christian to another religion?”
I’m going to just quickly tell you what I went through and what I did. And I’m going to tell you about another message that I’m trying to spread which might be interesting.
My story started in 2008-2009 when I moved out to Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia. I went there to work. I work in the health industry in exercise and nutrition. And I went out there because Saudi Arabia was a place that needed people like me to come and help them move.
There are also some big growing industry out here, very fast, and they are very cash-rich people. You know there is money out here.
So I came out here. And as I was working here I had no idea about Islam, nothing at all, apart from the fact that I had seen some pictures on TV where I thought what Saudi Arabia would be like and most Middle East which was war-torn and people blowing themselves up here and there.
I had no idea and this kind of image I had made me a little bit worried about coming here. But also it kind of gave me the impression that Islam was very strict. If you put a foot out of line you will be in prison, you will be whipped; you will have your hands cut off. You know, you hear all these stories.
So the first thing to me was to start understanding Islam purely to make sure I don’t end up in jail. That was why I started it. I wanted to lead as normal life as I can as compared to what I used to do back home. I didn’t want to get caught doing anything that was too bad that would put me into prison or bad situation. I had no idea what it was like.
So I started reading a bit about Islam. I’ve lived with lots of different people and lots of different countries. I’ve lived with Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Catholics and I’ve had friends that are Jewish and atheists (non-believers), spiritual people that practice different spiritual practices, things that are not religious but they believed there is a creator and they didn’t believe in the Bible or the Quran or any of the other kinds of text we can give them.
A Thirst for Knowledge
I have always known that there is something bigger than what I see. I was never an atheist, I have never been, and I could never believe that boom there was this one big accident and there is no purpose to my life, there is no connection to anything, there is nothing bigger than me, I’m it, this is me, I can do what I want. I never believed in that, and it kept me fairly grounded throughout life but also I was interested in knowing more.
So I guess I always had this thirst for knowledge into the kind of the unseen as such. And I used to read a lot of books, people like Bruce Lee, Mohamed Ali. I was quite interested in martial arts and boxing, and I used to love the spiritual side of these guys; where they would get their power, their belief, their guts to keep going. This is what excited me.
In Saudi Arabia
When I came to Saudi Arabia, it’s one of those countries where you like first ‘Wow’, lots of women are completely covered, all the men are wearing their traditional clothing. It’s very different from where I used to live. And it’s not a very publically smiley country. You go out and people don’t smile that much to you when you are in the street.
But what I noticed is the more I started speaking to people here the friendlier they were. And I kept thinking to myself “Wait a minute. I’m sure these guys are supposed to be really strict and not want to be helpful” and this kind of misconception I had in my head. It turned out the Arab people in general are probably the most hospitable and friendliest people on the planet.
On top of that, it’s the most nonviolent peaceful place I have ever been in my life. I didn’t have to watch my back out here. You can walk past a group of ten 17-18 years old at 2 O’clock in the morning standing outside a mall or coffee shop and you would walk through them and you don’t have to fear anything. These guys would usually be polite and say “Hey how are you? How is Manchester United?” Things like this.
People here are friendly and this kind of friendliness, this hospitality, this kind of giving back, this attitude I found here shocked me and started make me think “Wait a minute. If the people aren’t like what they seem on TV, you know, there are no soldiers walking in the street, there are no wars that seem to be going on. there is no one blowing themselves up. If these things aren’t happening like what I was led to believe, then maybe the religion is not so harsh and strict and restricted and prison-like.”
So I started talking to my friends a little bit more about the religion like how do you get on with this. “You are a cool guy, how do you get through life having not to do this and this and this?” And people would always talk to me the same way. They would always start talking about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his life and what he would do and how productive he was and how he would lead a very balanced way of life and that he was kind and generous and all these things. And I was thinking “Wow this guy is really interesting”.
So I started reading more about the Prophet and other Prophets of Islam. Thoughts just flooding to me, this information and how all the stories from the Bible I learned at school were also in the Quran, and how these two religions were so closely integrated. Actually there were three religions, the Abrahamic religions, as such Jewish, Christian and Islam, and how they were so closely linked and connected. And this brought me in. This made me think “Wow, I’ve heard about that story. I have seen that” and I started getting more information.
As a scientist, and this is really important, as a scientist which I’m a research scientist, when you start to study the Quran or the hadith or the text surrounding the information that surround this religion, there is a lot of straight talking evidences you can actually sit down and look at and say I can see the source of this information, I can see the history of where this came from.
And unlike some of the other texts from other religions, it was actually very straightforward. It was pretty simple. It was you got God, believe in God. Everything else you can slowly get used to, you can slowly start to integrate into your life. But if you believe in God and you believe there is a line of prophets that came to spread the message pretty much just to help you get on with your life and do well, then that’s Islam, you have got it down.
And when I first started hearing one of the guys here talking about this, it kind of shocked me. I asked him ”How could anything be that simple? Like I don’t have to do this or I have to do this every day.” He replied “Look, the way this religion works is very much like here is a guide for life. If you believe that there is something that created everything, OK a Creator, so we, the universe and everything was a creation. It wasn’t just an accident. If you believe in that then you are a Muslim. You believe in one Creator that very much governs everything.”
Then your job is now is to keep going down this line to start investigating more. And the good thing about Islam is telling you test it, challenge Islam, read, learn this is a big thing of especially the old-days Muslims, the original Muslims always talking about progressing and learning and the advances Islam made to this world was unbelievable. And I’m not going to talk about it now. But it was fascinating, the history and the science and it occurred to me because people just don’t know this information we don’t get taught about it at school.
A bit like surfing, not so many of my friends could surf or snowboard and they are all seen on TV, some of them look so good and some of them look crazy and dangerous. But until you start to do it, until you start to feel it, you will never really understand it. And Islam is a bit like that. You have to start to read about it from good sources and good people.
I know plenty of very smart interesting people that you could listen to about the religion. They made me basically open my eyes and made me realize that what I knew about it was pretty much wrong and when I started reading about it, it was very simple, very straightforward and it made sense to do this.
Things like prayer, I meditated before. I have gone to Yoga classes. I knew that actually taking sometime out sometime in the day to say thank you and to relax and to think of something higher than yourself and to think about your loved ones. Stuff like this helps. And if you do it in a group in a thousand of people doing it you feel that energy, trust me you get recharged.
So this all of a sudden it was like I can pray and stand back up I feel great. So I felt “Oh, bingo.” Once you put your head on the floor, when your head touches that floor, something in your body tells your mind, your soul, your spirit whatever it is, that you are really are submitted and this is what Islam is all about.
You are actually dropping down and you are saying “Yeah there is something greater than me.” And I want to learn more about this. I want to build up this feeling what we may call faith and to do this. I’m going to do these practices daily. I’m going to slowly build in this and I’m going to enjoy it.
Ready for Shahadah
And so back to my story, you need to know what people thought and how I felt. So one day after all this information that has been going in my head that I have read and studied, we were having lunch at the hospital, and one of my friends said to me “I hope one day in-sha-’Allah you would become a Muslim!”
And I said, “You know, I think I’m ready”
And he said “What, you are ready?”
And I said “Yeah I’m ready. I want to do this. I want to become Muslim.”
I have studied it. I’ve researched it. You know being a bit of a scientist geek, I believe in it. And I started to feel an urge that was going towards me. You know, there is a pulling. I need to do this. I’ve got to move towards it. I’m going to take that chance.
That was it. The ball was rolling. I went outside the hospital with two of my friends, and, the idea when you become a Muslim you just need two people to be with you and you just say you believe in God. And you believe that Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet and you are both making a statement that you are Muslim and for Muslims you call it reverting. So everybody is born Muslim and you go your ways and then you come back to your original way which is just become Muslim and you just believe in one God, one true God.
When I went outside this guy helped me with the Arabic words and I remember saying it. I wasn’t really feeling anything at the time, I was just following the words, listening to the Arabic words they are saying not quite sure what they meant at the time and we said it in English then in Arabic and then being embraced hugging my two friends you know big smile.
It’s interesting at the time and then I remember walking back in the hospital walking upstairs and as I’m walking upstairs, I’m not kidding, the sound around me it is very weird to explain it, but so crystal clear in my head. Things have become quiet before me in the outside. I remember walking in and these people saying “Aha, congratulations,” and colleagues at work shaking my hands, and I was like I couldn’t quite hear them. Their volume was turned down. It’s strange. But the volume inside me was starting to turn up. And it was like somebody is mixing in the sound quality on the outside versus the inside and I was talking and this sound inside me was getting louder and louder.
I was actually starting to get a little bit worried like an emotional feeling, not happiness not sadness not anything I felt before, so I left them saying I have to go to the bathroom. When I was in the bathroom and locked the door I just stood in front of the mirror and this sound was increasing and this feeling was increasing.
I guess the way to describe it would be like a kettle is boiling and you know something is going to blow. I’m near the sink pushing water to my face and I’m thinking “What’s happening?” and I just remember I just burst out crying. I was just crying and crying and I remember crying and looking to myself crying in the mirror and I was crying so hard I started laughing because why am I crying, so now I started to laugh and cry and thinking what if someone came in and see me like this? And it was just kind of one big explosion of feelings coming out of me.
And just like that, boom, it stopped. I remember just looking at myself like “Wow what has just happened?” And at that point I had this feeling of just peace. That’s how I describe it; just peace with everywhere within the outside and it was unreal. I never experienced anything like that before.
And never since that day, you know, I’ve never quite got this feeling of peace, but I always had it with me. But it has never been so in my face. But since that day I’ve had this feeling that was completely a different feeling for me. And it changed my life since that day. And I have never looked back since.
It’s kind of strange talking to a camera about it. It’s still quite weird talking to anyone about it. But it was something I can’t explain, and this is what I love about spiritual moments like this. There is no scientist that can measure it.
It’s just something between you and God and if people believe it, they believe it. If they don’t, they don’t.
If they experience it, then that’s amazing. That’s what I want.