I enjoyed being a priest helping the people for some years.
However, deep inside I was not happy and I felt that there was something not right. Fortunately, and it is God’s will, some events and coincidences in my life led me to Islam.
A Trip to Egypt
I used to think of Egypt as a country of Pyramids, camels, sand and palm trees. I actually took a charter flight to Hurghada.
Shocked to find it similar to some European beaches, I took the first bus to Cairo where I spent the most wonderful week in my life.
This was my first introduction to Muslims and Islam. I noticed how Egyptians are such gentle, sweet people, but also very strong.
Like all Britons, my knowledge about Muslims up to that time didn’t exceed what I heard from the TV about suicide bombers and fighters, which gave the impression that Islam is a religion of troubles. However, getting into Cairo I discovered how beautiful this religion is.
Very simple people selling goods on the street would abandon their trade and direct their face to Allah and pray the moment they heard the call to prayer from the mosque. They have a strong faith in the presence and will of Allah. They pray, fast, help the needy and dream to have a trip to Makkah with the hope of living in heaven in the hereafter.
Teaching about Religion
On my return I resumed my old job of teaching religion. The only compulsory subject in British education is Religious Studies. I was teaching about Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and others. So everyday I had to read about these religions to be able to teach my lessons to the students, many of whom were Arab Muslim refugees. In other words, teaching about Islam taught me many things.
Unlike many troublesome teenagers, these students set a good example of what a Muslim could be. They were polite and kind. So a friendship developed between us and they asked if they could use my classroom for prayers during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Luckily, my room was the only one with a carpet. So I got accustomed to sitting at the back, watching them praying for a month. I sought to encourage them by fasting during Ramadan with them, even though I wasn’t yet a Muslim.
Once while reciting a translation of the holy Quran in class I reached the verse:
And when they hear what has been revealed to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of what they have recognized of the truth. (Quran 5:83)
To my surprise, I felt tears welling up in my eyes and I tried hard to hide it from the students.
The following day, I was taking the underground and noticed how terrified the people were. I was also afraid of the repetition of such acts in Britain. At the time, the Western people started fearing this religion they blamed for terrorism.
Read: A Catholic Priest: I Now Have a Clear Understanding of God
However, my previous experience with Muslims took me to a different direction. I started wondering ‘Why Islam? Why do we blame Islam as a religion for the action of terrorists who happened to be Muslims, when no-one accused Christianity of terrorism when some Christians have acted the same way?
Meeting Yusuf Islam
One day I headed to the biggest Mosque in London, to hear more about this religion. Getting into London Central Mosque, there was Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer, sitting in a circle talking to some people about Islam. After a while, I found myself asking him” ‘What do you actually do to become a Muslim?’
He answered that a Muslim should believe in one God, pray five times a day and fast during Ramadan. I interrupted him saying that I believed all this and had even fasted during Ramadan. So he asked:
‘What are you waiting for? What is holding you back?’ I said:
‘No, I don’t intend to convert.’
At that moment the call to prayer was made and everyone got ready and stood in lines to pray.
I sat at the back, and I cried and cried. Then I said to myself:
‘Who am I trying to fool?’
After they ended their prayers, I headed to Yusuf Islam, asking him to teach me the words by which I announce my conversion.
After explaining its meanings to me in English, I recited after him in Arabic that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, I couldn’t hold back my tears.
‘Gardens of Islam’
I decided to write this book “Gardens of Delight: a Simple Introduction to Islam” to give non-Muslims an idea about the basic principles of Islam. I tried to tell people how beautiful Islam is and that Islam has the most extraordinary treasures, the most important being Muslims’ love for each other.
The Prophet says:
‘Even a smile to your brother is a charity.’
May Allah have mercy on brother Idris Tawfiq.