It was 2:00am and I was in the back of a taxi with my friend.
We’d been out for the night. As university students, this was our weekend habit.
I was feeling very talkative and asked the driver where he was from, he told us that he was originally from Pakistan.
“Is there a P sound in Urdu? Because I know there is no P in Arabic.”
Recently, I’d been reading up on Islam. There was so much negativity in the media that I’d decided I needed to find out more for myself.
My research into Islam had led me to many things, one of which was the Arabic language.
“How do you know that?” The startled taxi driver asked.
“If you’re reading up about Islam, don’t bother converting. You white girls can’t handle it. Six months max! None of you last more than 6 months!” He laughed.
“Oh really?” I thought.
Searching for God
My search for God and contentment had been a constant battle; I needed to connect with Him but I couldn’t find Him in the places I had been looking.
Coming from Northern Ireland, religion is big thing, everyone is connected to a church. I’d been to Sunday School and other church activities my whole life, and I had a good foundation in Bible Studies.
My family was Methodist, but during my early teens, I started attending Pentecostal churches.
Belief in God was never a question. Religion, however, was a different matter. Following a difficult experience in a charismatic church, I became interested in Catholicism.
I liked how well it was organized, how it was regulated and overseen by church authorities.
Unity really appealed to me. I’d seen so many other Christian teachers preach their own interpretation of the Bible and I found it unsettling, so the Catholic Church seemed to be the answer. It wasn’t.
I moved away to university and got carried away with the student lifestyle. Religion took a back seat.
Islam in France
As part of my degree, I had to spend a year abroad in France and there I decided to focus my honors project on secularism in schools. The main theme was the banning of the hijab.
I remember thinking how great it was that girls would not have to wear a symbol of oppression while they were at school.
Interviewing teachers, it was clear that there was some deep-rooted islamophobia, “If they don’t want to abide by our rules, then they can go back to wherever they came from!” was a common opinion.
Another interesting theme I picked up on in France was the attitude of the French towards the North African immigrants. Again, the Islamophobic sentiment was clear.
Sitting in a seminar during my post-graduate year, it dawned on me that I knew nothing of the religion that was caught up in a media storm. Leaving the university building, I headed straight to a large book shop and bought two books. One a general book on Islam and the other a translation of the Quran.
Misconceptions Blown to Pieces
Reading that book was a real awakening. I could barely connect what I was reading with what I was seeing in the media.
As far as I could gather, Islam taught peace, kindness, strong family values and a deep spiritual connection with God.
Many of my misconceptions were blown to pieces; Allah was not a moon god, Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not a blood-thirsty war lord, and Muslims did not want to kill me because I was an infidel.
When I discovered that Islam did not view Jesus as the Son of God, I have to admit that I was offended.
The books were returned to their shelves and, as far as I was concerned, I knew all I wanted to know. Yet the thought niggled away at me. I had to go back to see how they had come to this conclusion, surely my whole system of belief in God couldn’t be wrong?
Jesus never said he was God. He never asked anyone to worship him. And he made it clear that anything he was able to do was with the permission of God.
More Questions Answered
Mind blown. It was at this point that I knew I had to speak to someone about Islam, to ask questions and to just get a feel of what it was like to be a Muslim.
I contacted my university Islamic society and they put me in touch with a sister who is quite possibly one of the most beautiful souls in this world. Meeting her was the first time I had ever spoken to a lady in hijab.
We met up weekly and I started to go to the Saturday halaqa. What I learned there was life changing. We read Quran, tafsir and seerah and then we would stay on for coffee and food. Those sisters were so kind, so warm and incredibly welcoming.
Declaring My Shahadah
On St. Patrick’s Day 2007, this Irish girl declared the Shahadah. In a quiet mosque, with my new friend, I admitted that there was no God but Allah and Muhammad (peace be upon him) was His Messenger.
The tears flowed and the relief was enormous. I had agonized over this decision, considering what my family would think and how it would turn my life upside down. But I couldn’t deny the truth that I had discovered.
Being Muslim in a big city with a fabulous network of sisters was easy. Being Muslim in Northern Ireland without support is a different story. But 11 years after declaring my Shahadah, I am still Muslim.
Despite being shouted at and spat at on the street, I am still Muslim.
And despite life’s hardships with no network of spiritual support, I am still Muslim.
Despite being begged by family members to leave slam and live a ‘normal’ life, I‘m still Muslim
Mr. Taxi Driver! I lasted more than 6 months, alhamdulillah!
Not bad for a white girl 😉