I never gave religion much thought growing up. I wasn’t raised in an overly religious family. We would class ourselves as Church of England if we had to fill in any kind of form but that was as far as it went. We only went to church if we were invited to weddings, funerals or christenings.
And like all British children growing up in the 80’s, we were exposed to some of the parables and Biblical teachings in school assemblies and we sang hymns. We would also take part in the nativity play during primary school, but that was as far as it went.
Overall, I lived a happy childhood. There were some issues when I reached my teenage years but nothing that swayed me from the life I was living and the path I was going down. At 18, I left home to go to university. Like most university students, I was enjoying the experience and having a lot of fun. Religion wasn’t a factor in my life.
That is how it remained throughout my late teens and early twenties. If I had to describe myself at that time, I would say I was agnostic. I believed there was some higher power and I believed something had to happen to you when you died, but I wasn’t sure what.
When I left university, I moved down to London, where I lived for four years. Life was fun and my friends and I were pretty much living for the weekend, and that’s how it remained for three of those years in London. We worked hard in the week, we went out to pubs and clubs at the weekend and that was pretty much the routine. It hardly differed.
The Passion of Christ
There were several points in that time that set my path off, but I never connected the dots until much later. I remember one Easter I went home to visit my parents and my mam, and I went to see a film, ‘The Passion of the Christ.” Bear in mind, I wasn’t identifying as religious, but it had great reviews, so we wanted to see it.
Also bear in mind the Easter story is very much indoctrinated in our brains from being children, so whether religious or not, we know it very well. I remember after seeing the film, my mam and I were talking and I said to her, “I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God, I believe he is important, but I don’t believe he is the son of God.”
We talked about this and what happens after we die. I remember saying, I think whatever we do in this life reflects where we will go when we die. Bear in mind at this point, I knew nothing about Islam.
They Must Be Crazy!
Slowly, I began to feel there must be more to life than working, going out partying every weekend and then having no money to last the week. At the same time, I had just started a job where we had an office in London and we also had an office in Cairo.
During this time, we were in constant contact with Egyptians who worked with us and we would talk daily on a “messenger” type system.
Not many months after starting this job, I remember not finding anyone in Cairo to help me with a problem I had with a customer. When I finally found someone, he explained that they were in the month of Ramadan!
I had no idea what Ramadan was, so I started to ask so many questions about it. When he told me Muslims don’t eat or drink from dawn until sunset, all I remember thinking was Muslims must be crazy! Little did I know that the following Ramadan would be my first attempt at Ramadan, Subhan Allah!
After this, I started to ask more questions about Islam. All I really knew was what the news had told me and the bad images the media had portrayed, which as we know, are usually one-sided and biased. So, I started to ask the typical questions, that we had ingrained in our minds about Muslims.
“Why do you oppress your women?” “Why do women have to walk behind the man?” (this was a genuine conception of Muslim women that kept popping up). “Why do women have to cover their heads, why can’t they wear what they like?”
I am sure Muslims get very bored of these questions, but they were genuine questions I had. I was recommended some books to read to help me further understand the religion, and so I decided to read more about Islam.
Then I started to read some books, but nothing stood out for me enough to accept the religion as my own. I knew more about it and I realized there was a lot of logical explanation to many things. I also saw how misunderstood it was, but there were still things that held me back.
For instance, I still wasn’t 100% convinced that Muslim women were as “free” as the books claimed them to be. Wearing something on the head just didn’t make sense to me. Why, as long as you are wearing modest clothing? This is an issue I actually grappled with even when I accepted Islam, but that is a whole other story!
The Quran and Modern Science
The book that made most impact was “The Quran and Modern Science” by Dr. Maurice Bucaille. Again, nothing really made me think this is the true religion until I read the whole chapter on embryology. How can a man born more than 1400 years ago have known to the detail how an embryo looks like?
It made my hairs stand up, and that is when I understood that this had to be the true religion, the word of Allah. In my further readings, I discovered that my beliefs about what happens to you after you die were aligned with Muslim beliefs, and to me it made sense.
Why would anyone evil or bad go to heaven because Jesus (peace be upon him) had died for their sins? So, if I am a really good person, my reward is the same as an evil person? It made no sense to me whatsoever.
On the 20th. of May 2005, I took my shahadah over the phone with a Muslim colleague in Cairo. I felt very happy about the decision I had made but I didn’t tell anyone. In fact, for almost a year, very few people knew.
Life as a Convert
I learned how to pray by myself, and back then there were no apps, so I had to print out the moves and words on paper to study. I attempted my first Ramadan alone though couldn’t complete it fully due to being alone and not really understanding the concept of Ramadan.
Just over a year from accepting Islam, I married one of my colleagues I had met in Cairo. He had absolutely nothing to do with my conversion and he was not the person I took my shahdah with. However, since we have been married, he has been the steady hand that has sheltered me from a lot of things that converts go through.
Of course, it is with Allah’s guidance that I have stayed on the path of Islam, but my husband has been there every step of the way to pull me back whenever I have strayed and to answer questions that I needed answers too. He has been my rock of stability through this up and down journey of faith.
I Feel Blessed
His family also embraced me and really shown me true characteristics of how Muslims should act with each other. I have been truly blessed by Allah in many ways. And although, this journey has not been easy, I still have questions about certain things, even 16 years on but I know I am on the right path and I know to search and look for the answers to my questions rather than rely on what someone may tell me.
Some converts to Islam have a very hard time but I look at their stories and I feel that I have been one of the blessed ones, that is not to say I don’t have my issues, I do but I consider myself blessed that I have not had to face being disowned by my family. My family have accepted this as they can see I am still their Nichola, and I am happy so as far as they are concerned, they are happy.
Islam is such a beautiful religion. It gets twisted by the media and let’s be frank, by some Muslims. But I will never regret the decision I made because as far as I am concerned, I searched for something that brought a deep purpose and truth to my life and that is what Islam has done.