Christine Sharif, Luton
A two day Converts Social & Spiritual Outing took place at Manchester (Mosque) and the Lake District after which a convert to Islam wrote her story.
It is hard to fully express the incredible experience of being together with other people from such diverse backgrounds, so many different national and ethnic origins together at one time, yet sharing the same beliefs and incredible journeys of conversion. Russia, Kazakhstan, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan, Africa, Kurd, England, Indonesia, Scotland; the sheer diversity yet unity felt emotionally overwhelming and words simply cannot convey such an experience. Where else would you find such profound differences yet unity?
This unique phenomenon occurred in a recent social and spiritual outing organised by The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for its converts. A two day event that involved a retreat at the Darul Aman Mosque in Manchester, followed by a trip to the beautiful Lake District, my birth place. The more energetic chose to take advantage of the landscape and views and went off on a lengthy hike. I chose the more sedate option of a leisurely boat trip on Ullswater Lake to Howstown for tea and scones. On our return we had a picnic which was followed by Asr Prayer. This was one of my favourite parts, Praying together in congregation beside the lake in the most glorious surroundings and weather to match. The fact that it was forecast rain and inevitably always rains in the Lake District, the weather itself was a miracle!
We were looked after incredibly well with all our needs fully catered for and with just short of 100 attendees, not an easy task for our hosts who were always cheerful and eager to please. We listened to some wonderful speeches on becoming spiritual human beings and how to meet Allah Almighty in this life, as well as some incredible journeys into Ahmadiyyat. It struck me how each story demonstrated a unique personal relationship with God which encompassed everyone’s individual capacity, needs and means towards accepting the truth. Some had dreams, others spiritual experiences, some were inspired by other Ahmadis they had encountered, as well as quests to find answers to unsatisfied questions and reflections. Whichever route our destination was the same.
Although I have returned home to my birth place countless times it was something different to be there with my Community and reflect on my own journey. Raised in Britain as a ‘typical’ English girl my knowledge of religion was meagre and superficial at best. Science was the ‘intellectually superior’ knowledge and one I held dearly, whilst belief in a Higher Being and all that came with it were supernatural fairy tales to me. Winged beings, turning water to wine and other miraculous stories seemed ridiculous to me and at odds with logic, evidence and common-sense. Christmas, Easter and other such occasions were just part of my culture and had no real meaning for me other than holidays, socialising, food, gifts and good times. I felt pity for followers of religion, who I felt were brainwashed by their respective propaganda, blinded by faith and ignorant to intellectual and rational thinking – if only they would wake up, be free of their out-dated mind-sets and join the modern world, after all I knew best – I had science!
It transpired I was the ignorant and brainwashed one, blindly accepting the ‘ideal’ of what Western society preached, a pilgrim of the atheist revolution comfortable in blissful arrogance and familiarity. It wasn’t until some life circumstances provoked an interest to know more about religion; the more I studied, the more I realised how little I knew and the more I wanted to learn. I eventually came across a book that shook my beliefs to the core – Revelation, Rationality, Truth and Knowledge. It united science and religion in a way I had never come across before and I instantly turned from agnostic to a believer in God. That was the start of my journey into a newly defined concept of religion to me.
Almost every one of my original concepts around religion were mistaken – I relearned the concept of angels, what miracles truly are and actually what an immense and intellectually challenging subject religion actually is. Overwhelmed with information I studied my field of expertise across different religions, and respective sects and the subject of women. Islam according to the Ahmadiyya way not only led me to believing in God, but its teachings are the only ones I have found that answer every question in depth, with plausibility and satisfaction. I don’t always get the answers I’m looking for quickly and sometimes I’m not satisfied with an answer so I keep searching. Other times life experience helps me to understand an aspect which I have previously felt dissatisfied with through reading or listening to an answer and it clicks, ‘I get it!.’
Islam is not an oppressive teaching which subdues and abuses women; in fact it protects women, it celebrates our strengths and gives us rights far more beneficial than those socially constructed by Western society. There is no compulsion or force in true Islamic teachings, it is a personal journey, an individual choice; I was fooled by misconceptions and ignorance.
I am still a patriotic British woman, proud of my English heritage and strong feminist conviction. I am still outspoken, compassionate about animals and have a good sense of humour. I just have a different view on life, its origins and death and choose to follow a new set of moral codes that have led me to become part of a wonderful new diverse and integrative community whose values strive for individual as well as world peace.