Please read / watch first before making assumptions, drawing conclusions, or passing judgments.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Now My God Has a Name - The Story of American Soldier Jacian Fares

My name is Jacian Fares. I come from the Al-Fares family of Hebron. My father was born in Lebanon, my mother is a Spaniard. I was the first generation born in America (Dearborn, Michigan in fact).

My father took no stock in religion nor did he live it, although my grandparents are devout Muslims, I do imagine his choice and path in life had saddened their hearts. Needless to say my siblings and I were born without a specific religion. We were to be raised as American kids.

Under odd circumstances I was the only one of the three of us to go live in Lebanon for six years, during which I was a teenager. I shall call this time period ‘my first encounter with Middle East culture’.

My second phase of encounter came when I was in the U.S. Marine Corps. I led the invasion into Iraq - not a war I agreed with, but I was a soldier just doing his job.

In Fallujah and other areas of the Al-Anbar province, I came to know locals. I had witnessed other Arabs during Ramadan over the years. I had watched how devoted to their religion they were.

Unfortunately I was shot in Iraq and lost a kidney - but it is as Allah wills. I had always believed everything happens for a reason. When I had come home I was depressed and feeling like I had nothing to follow in life. I was used to having routine and now it was taken from me. My relationship at the time went downhill. So I was alone. My grandparents had hinted at Islam, as well as my aunt. During August of 2008 I read the Quran. And it just clicked. It made sense to me, more so than the Bible or the Torah. It was very straight to the point. Muslim life has routine. I needed this change in my life, to find my true self.

“Verily this Quran doth guide to that which is most right (or stable), and giveth the Glad Tidings to the Believers who work deeds of righteousness, that they shall have a magnificent reward;” (Quran 17:9)

Finally I had routine. I had reasons to live for and make my life that much better. I can say I had made many friends over the past year, all of different Middle Eastern countries; from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, and Qatar. And these friends helped in developing who I am now. And for that I am forever thankful.

This year I have witnessed my second Ramadan. Sadly, I could not fast because I am a juvenile diabetic. But I donated food, money, and time to people in need for all thirty days. And this year is special, my birthday falls on Eid al-Fitr.

And while I am stuck here in America, alone, I am not alone. People in the Muslim communities treat me as any other family member. And I have to say this life we live, the Deen (Islamic way of life) we live, it brings us all together. It brings us together and makes us brothers and sisters every day of our lives - even without feasts.

So I promise I will always treat everyone as my brother or sister, help out ones in need, even in times without special purpose. I will do this every day of my life.

“Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious;” (Quran 4:36)

I love Ramadan and what it represents. It reminds us what being a good Muslim is. But I propose that we make everyday of our lives like Ramadan and share with our fellow man and woman.

As Muslims we can make this world a better place, no matter how the media tries projecting us as, no matter how ignorant people believe we are, we can honestly make this world a better place.

“Show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant.” (Quran 7:199)

We should never push our God onto anyone, but we should inform the ones interested correctly. That's how it was done with me; I've come a long way with the support and help of my brothers and sisters, my friends and family in Islam.

I choose Islam because it's part of who I am. I've reverted back to what my family has believed. I now live how they live. This is all because reading the Quran was suggested to me. I'm happy and proud of myself for doing so. The Quran has led me to finding my true self. And now my God has a name: Allah.

I suggest to non-believers to keep an open mind and just look at what the Quran has to say. There is more there to it, if read with open eyes. The Quran is simply a tool and guide that we should use to live a correct path. It promotes peace, love, and a strong trust in Allah.

“And what will explain to thee the path that is steep? It is: freeing the bondman; Or the giving of food in a day of privation. To the orphan with claims of relationship, Or to the indigent (down) in the dust. Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion.” (Quran 90:12-17)

How Fabian; the French Fashion Model accepted Islam

Fabian; the French fashion model, is a twenty eight year old sister, whose moment of guidance came while she was mired in a world of fame and temptation... she withdrew in silence... she left this world with all that it contains and left for Afghanistan to work in nursing the wounded Afghani Muslim fighters amid harsh conditions and difficult life!

Fabian says: (but for the grace of Allah and His mercy my life would have been lost in a world where man transcends to become the mere animal whose main concern is the satisfaction of all of his desires and instincts without any values or principles).

Then she tells her story saying: (Since my childhood I dreamt of being a volunteer nurse, working to alleviate the suffering of sick children, days passed and I grew up, and I drew attention with my beauty and grace, everyone, including my family incited me to give up my childhood dream, and to exploit my beauty in a career that will earn me a lot of money, fame and spotlight, and all that any teenager could dream of, and do the impossible to access it.

The path was easy for me - or so it seemed to me – I have quickly known the taste of fame, and was showered with valuable gifts that I have never dreamt of possessing.

But it was with a high price... I had to get rid of my humanity, and the stipulation to success and glamour was to lose my sensitivity and feelings, and to give up the life, with which I was raised, and to lose my intelligence, and not to try to understand anything other than my body movements and the rhythms of music. I also had to be deprived of all delicious food and to live on the chemical vitamins and tonics and stimulants, and above all, to lose my feelings towards people... I do not hate... I do not love... I do not reject anything.

Fashion houses have turned me into just a moving idol whose mission is to tamper with hearts and minds... I have learned to be cold, ruthless, arrogant and void from the inside, nothing but a mannequin wearing cloths, I was like an inanimate object moving and smiling, but it does not feel. And it was not I alone who was prompted to do so, however, the more the model gets rid of her humanity, the more her value increases in this cold world... but if she violates any of the rules of fashion she will expose herself to different kinds of punishments that include both psychological and physical harm!

I traveled the world modeling the latest fashion trends in all its arrogance and wanton display of beauty, keeping pace with the wishes of the devil in highlighting the charms of women without shame or decency).

Fabian continues her story saying: (I did not feel the beauty of the dresses over my empty body - but from the air and cruelty - while I was feeling the humiliating and contemptuous looks for me personally, I felt their respect for what I was wearing.

I was walking and moving... in all my rhythms there was the word (if) accompanying me... I learned after my conversion to Islam that the word (if) opens the work of the Devil... This was true, we were living in the world of vice in all its dimensions, and damn those who object to it and simply try to satisfy with their work only).

About her sudden transformation from the frivolous life into the more serious one she says: (that was during a trip we had in devastated Beirut, where I saw how people build hotels and houses under the severity of gun fire, and I saw with my own eyes the collapse of a children's hospital in Beirut, I was not alone, but there were with me my colleagues of the idols passing as human beings, as usual they were satisfied with looking indifferently.

I could not cope with their indifference... at that moment, the veneer of fame and glory, and the fake life that I was living in, vanished before my eyes and I rushed towards the remains of the wounded children in an attempt to save those who were still alive.

I did not return to my colleagues back in the hotel where spotlights were waiting for me, and I started my journey to humanity till I reached the path of light which is Islam.

I left Beirut and went to Pakistan, by the Afghani borders I lived the true life, and learned how to be a human being.

It has been eight months since I have been here, I assist in taking care of families suffering from the devastation of war, and I loved life with them, and in return they treated me well.

My belief in Islam as a religion and a constitution of life has increased through living it, and through my life with the Afghani and Pakistani families and their responsible style in their daily lives, and then I began to learn Arabic which is the language of the Quran, and I have made a significant progress.

After my life was going according to the regulations of fashion makers in the world, my life now is going according to the principles of Islam and its spiritualties).

Fabian describes the attitude of international fashion houses towards her after embracing Islam, confirming that she is being put under intense worldly pressure, they have sent offers to triple her monthly income, but she consistently refused... so they sent her expensive gifts so that she may renounce her attitude and revert from Islam...

She goes on: (then they stopped tempting me to come back... and started to tarnish my image in front of the Afghani families, so they disseminated the covers of the magazines which have my earlier pictures while I was working as a model, they hung them in the streets as if they were taking revenge of my repentance, and by this they tried to drive a wedge between me and my new families, but thank Allah they were disappointed).

Fabian looks at her hands and says: (I have never expected that my tender hands that I spent a long time trying to maintain its smoothness, I will expose them to this hard work in the mountains, but this hardship has increased the purity and cleanliness of my hands, and they will have a good reward from Allah the Almighty, God willing).

How Myriam Francois-Cerrah (British Actress of Sense and Sensibility) accepted Islam

Myriam Francois-Cerrah, a Franco-British writer and journalist and a former actress says she was enchanted by Prophet (peace be upon him's) life.

She says, “There were several things that were pivotal in leading to this change in me. One was looking into the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). I think he is one of the great misunderstood figures of history.”

“My intellectual curiosity was sparked as a result of the backlash against my Muslims friends after 9/11 when I, like most people, was convinced that Islam was responsible for this atrocity. I wanted to understand why my friends would remain part of such a faith.”

“When I began looking into the faith, I realised how antithetical those terrorist actions are to the core message of Islam which enjoins peace, moderation and fairness. I then began to realise what was actually behind 9/11 was the distorted ideology of some political extremists, using Islam as a veneer to justify their actions."

Myriam Francois-Cerrah Embraces Islam

I embraced Islam after graduating from Cambridge. Prior to that I was a skeptical Catholic; a believer in God but with a mistrust of organized religion.

The Qur’an was pivotal for me. I first tried to approach it in anger, as part of an attempt to prove my Muslim friend wrong. Later I began reading it with a more open mind.

The opening of Al Fatiha, with its address to the whole of mankind, psychologically stopped me in my tracks. It spoke of previous scriptures in a way which I both recognized, but also differed. It clarified many of the doubts I had about Christianity. It made me an adult as I suddenly realized that my destiny and my actions had consequences for which I alone would now be held responsible.

In a world governed by relativism, it outlined objective moral truths and the foundation of morality. As someone who’d always had a keen interest in philosophy, the Qur’an felt like the culmination of all of this philosophical cogitation. It combined Kant, Hume, Sartre and Aristotle. It somehow managed to address and answer the deep philosophical questions posed over centuries of human existence and answer its most fundamental one, ‘why are we here?’

In the Prophet Mohammad, I recognized a man who was tasked with a momentous mission, like his predecessors, Moses, Jesus and Abraham. I had to pick apart much of the Orientalist libel surrounding him in order to obtain accurate information, since the historical relativism which people apply to some degree when studying other historical figures, is often completely absent, in what is a clear attempt to disparage his person.

I think many of my close friends thought I was going through another phase and would emerge from the other side unscathed, not realizing that the change was much more profound. Some of my closest friends did their best to support me and understand my decisions. I have remained very close to some of my childhood friends and through them I recognize the universality of the Divine message, as God’s values shine through in the good deeds any human does, Muslim or not.

I have never seen my conversion as a ‘reaction’ against, or an opposition to my culture. In contrast, it was a validation of what I’ve always thought was praiseworthy, whilst being a guidance for areas in need of improvement. I also found many masjids not particularly welcoming and found the rules and protocol confusing and stressful. I did not immediately identify with the Muslim community. I found many things odd and many attitudes perplexing. The attention given to the outward over the inward continues to trouble me deeply.

Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said: 'Forgive him who wrongs you. Join him who cuts you off. Do good to him who does evil to you and speak the truth even if it be against yourself.'

There is a need for a confident, articulate British Muslim identity which can contribute to the discussions of our time. Islam is not meant to be an alien religion, we shouldn’t feel like we’ve lost all trace of ourselves. Islam is a validation of the good in us and a means to rectify the bad.

Islam is about always having balance and I think the Prophet's (peace be upon him) message was fundamentally about having balance and equilibrium in all that we do.

The Prophet's message was always that you repel bad with good that you always respond to evil with good and always remember that God loves justice so even when people are committing serious injustices against you, you have a moral responsibility and a moral obligation in front of God to always uphold justice and never yourself transgress those limits.

Islam's beauty really becomes to its own when it becomes manifest and it becomes manifest when you make it into a tool for the betterment of society, human kind and the world.

The ideal from an Islamic perspective is for ethics to become lived ethics, to become an applied body of values and not remain unfortunately as it often is cloistered in the mosque of somewhere which is some more divorced from reality.

Myriam Francois-Cerrah became popular when she was a child for acting in the 90's hit film 'Sense and Sensibility.' Now she is gaining more popularity for being one of a growing number of educated middle class female converts to Islam in Britain.

She has recently contributed to a series of videos on Islam produced in the UK titled (Inspired by Muhammad).

"From Windmills to Minarets" by Nourdeen Wildeman (September 1st 2009)

I usually don't do this. That is, I usually don't take this much time to tell anyone how I converted to Islam, or should I say, how I came back to Islam.

See, when people find out you've become a Muslim, you always get the same questions over and over again. How did your parents react to it? Were you in love with a Muslim woman? Are you accepted within the Islamic community as a convert?

But most of all, people ask me: Why did you convert to Islam?

I found it shocking that even Muslims ask me why I converted to Islam. "Well, this is the one true religion, remember?" is my usual reply. I did not crash my car into a tree and almost die, I did not have a moment when I saw the light. I don't even know exactly when I became a Muslim.

Some people are surprised, but I wasn't even looking for God. I wasn't looking for a reason in life. I wasn't looking for a purpose.

Actually, I was just looking for a book. I walked into a bookstore not knowing what I would buy. This must have been somewhere in the year 2003 or 2004. I like to read, with a special interest in the books sold in the store somewhere between "recent history", "philosophy" and "sociology".

That's where a green book caught my eye. It was called "Islam; Values, Principles and Reality". I held it in my hand, looked at it, and realized I knew quite a few Muslims but had no idea at all what they believed in.

Meanwhile, Islam is all over the news and seems to influence both internal and foreign affairs. I decided to buy the book and see what this religion is all about. I walked to the counter and bought the book, totally unaware of the four and a half year journey I had just embarked on, which would lead straight up to my Shahadah.

Before I started to read about Islam, I already had some negative associations related to this religion in mind. For example, I was wondering how a practicing Muslim could ever think he is a good pious person while at the same time he's oppressing his own wife.

Or, for instance, I would wonder why Muslims would worship a cubic stone in Makkah while statues or buildings have no power and cannot help anyone.

I could not understand why Muslims were so intolerant against other religions instead of simply saying that everybody believes in the same God. With this in mind, I started reading.

After the first book came a second one. After the second came a third, and so on. After a few years, I had read quite some books on Islam and was very surprised. I found out that almost everything that I thought was a part of Islam and which I opposed to, was actually opposed by Islam.

It turned out that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had said that one can see how good a believer is by the way he treats his wife. I found out that Muslims don't worship the Kabah, they rather oppose worshipping statues or the like.

I found that the Islamic civilization in all of its history - except maybe the most recent ages - was the best example of religious tolerance on the face of the planet.

I did not have to be convinced of most of the things Islam tells us to do or how to behave, since I found a lot of basic rules I already agreed upon before learning about Islam. I read my own opinion on a lot of subjects, but the books kept on saying "this is Islam".

Not much dawah was done in my surroundings back then. Well, not proactive anyway. The help I got was what I asked for when talking to people around me. This doesn't say everything about how dawah is organized in the Netherlands, I just didn't have the people around me who were very much into this.

So when Ramadan came and I decided to give it a try - no book can tell you how it truly feels - I went to my Muslim co-workers and told them I would fast with them. I bought a Quran and found the 30-day schedule on the Internet.

When I told the others about reading the full Quran and fasting in Shawwal [the lunar month after Ramadan], some of them had never heard of this or done it themselves. I brought milk and dates to work and explained to them how this was a sunnah to follow.

I told them that if they didn't read their daily 1/30th part of the Quran, I didn't have anyone to ask my questions from. So we went along as a group. Their mothers or wives cooked meals we ate at work, so I experienced some new food as well.

I learned a lot that Ramadan, and so did the others. And we had a lot of fun. My first Eid turned out to be a funeral, but for the rest it was a great month.

After the month of Ramadan, I went to the masjid to pay my zakah. I figured that giving money to a good cause is a correct thing to do, so not being a Muslim was no reason for me not to pay.

This is where I first met the treasurer of the masjid in my hometown. He asked me if I was a Muslim. "No sir, I am not a Muslim," was my reply, "but I did fast the month of Ramadan."

He told me to take it easy, take my time, and never rush into things.

As months passed, I kept reading books about Islam. Most of the books I read where from non-Muslims, like Karen Armstrong. I also took some time to read what people said that was negative towards Islam. I read about religiously motivated terrorism, about clashes between civilizations, and so on.

However, I found that for every question I could raise, Islam had a convincing answer. This did not always mean that the Muslims I spoke with had a convincing answer, but most of the information I gathered on Islam came from these books.

At the end of the next Ramadan, I went back to the masjid to pay my zakah. I met the treasurer again and he recognized me. He asked me, again, if I was a Muslim.

"No sir, I am not a Muslim," was my reply, "but you told me to take it easy, right?"

He calmly shook his head and said, "Yes, take it easy, but don't take it too easy."

I now started my last year as a non-Muslim. I had already stopped drinking alcohol. I stopped smoking cigarettes. I tried to stimulate myself and others to do good, try to prevent myself and others to do wrong.

I went to Turkey on holiday and had a look inside some of the greater masjids. With every step I took, with every day that went by, I could feel the presence of God in my life grow.

I went into nature and for the first time, I could see that what was in front of me where signs of the Creator. I tried to pray sometimes - something I had never done by myself - which obviously didn't look much like the way I pray today. I kept reading and reading, but now also started to get information on Islam from the Internet.

On Hyves, a popular Dutch social networking website, I was approached by a Dutch Muslim revert. She asked if I was a Muslim and I told her I wasn't a Muslim yet. She asked me to come over to her house and meet her husband. He was a Muslim by birth, practicing, and born in Egypt.

He and I had dinner together and then talked the rest of the evening about Islam. The second time I was there, he showed me the correct way to pray (upon my request). I tried to do it as good as I could and he was watching me try. When we took a short break, he asked me the question.

"So, do you think you're ready to do this?"

"Yes, I think I'm ready."

I realized that I had already become a Muslim. I didn't take my Shahadah yet, so it wasn't official, but somewhere in the previous years I had become a Muslim. I had come to believe that there is no God to be worshiped besides the one true God, the Creator.

I had come to believe that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was his messenger, the final messenger, who had part in completing the religion. I wanted to fast, I wanted to pay zakah, I wanted to make my salah [Prayers], I still dream of the hajj every day.

My path was through books, I came through the theory. It was a rational choice, not an emotional choice. I looked at the information which was out there, compared and contemplated. Islam was the answer to every question. I knew that if I would not start calling myself a Muslim, I'd be a hypocrite.

One or two weeks later, he and I went to the masjid in his home town. He had already talked to the imam so they all knew I was coming. My dad came along and brought a camera.

The imam said the Shahadah, bit by bit. I repeated, bit by bit.

As the imam recited a duaa [supplication], my Egyptian brother translated it to Dutch for me. I felt like I had been running for miles and miles and now reached the finish line. I mean literally, I was out of breath as if I had been running. I slowly got back my breath, I felt calm and happy.

Suddenly I realized, finally, I had become Nourdeen.

I went to the masjid in my hometown. As I entered the building, I met the treasurer. He asked me, again, if I was a Muslim.

"Yes sir, I am, and my name is Nourdeen!" I said with a smile.

"Alhamdulillah," he replied, quickly to add: "...at last!"

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Lauren Booth (Tony Blair's Sister-in-Law): "I'm now a Muslim. Why all the shock and horror?"

When I arrived in Palestine (7 years back), to work alongside charities in Gaza and the West Bank, I took with me the swagger of condescension that all white middle-class women (secretly or outwardly) hold towards poor Muslim women, women I presumed would be little more than black-robed blobs, silent in my peripheral vision. As a western woman with all my freedoms, I expected to deal professionally with men alone. After all, that's what the Muslim world is all about, right?

On my first trip to Ramallah, and many subsequent visits to Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, I did indeed deal with men in power. And, dear reader, one or two of them even had those scary beards we see on news bulletins from far-flung places we've bombed to smithereens. Surprisingly (for me) I also began to deal with a lot of women of all ages, in all manner of head coverings, who also held positions of power. Believe it or not, Muslim women can be educated, work the same deadly hours we do, and even boss their husbands about in front of his friends until he leaves the room in a huff to go and finish making the dinner.

Is this patronising enough for you? I do hope so, because my conversion to Islam has been an excuse for sarcastic commentators to heap such patronising points of view on to Muslim women everywhere. So much so, that on my way to a meeting on the subject of Islamophobia in the media, I seriously considered buying myself a hook and posing as Abu Hamza. After all, judging by the reaction of many women columnists, I am now to women's rights what the hooked one is to knife and fork sales.

So let's all just take a deep breath and I'll give you a glimpse into the other world of Islam in the 21st century. Of course, we cannot discount the appalling way women are mistreated by men in many cities and cultures, both with and without an Islamic population. Women who are being abused by male relatives are being abused by men, not God. Much of the practices and laws in "Islamic" countries have deviated from (or are totally unrelated) to the origins of Islam. Instead practices are based on cultural or traditional (and yes, male-orientated) customs that have been injected into these societies. For example, in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive by law. This rule is an invention of the Saudi monarchy, our government's close ally in the arms and oil trade. The fight for women's rights must sadly adjust to our own government's needs.

My own path to Islam began with an awakening to the gap between what had been drip-fed to me about all Muslim life – and the reality. I began to wonder about the calmness exuded by so many of the "sisters" and "brothers". Not all; these are human beings we're talking about. But many. And on my visit to Iran in September 2010, the washing, kneeling, chanting recitations of the prayers at the masjids I visited reminded me of the west's view of an entirely different religion; one that is known for eschewing violence and embracing peace and love through quiet meditation. A religion trendy with movie stars such as Richard Gere, and one that would have been much easier to admit to following in public – Buddhism. Indeed, the bending, kneeling and submission of Muslim prayers resound with words of peace and contentment. Each one begins, "Bismillahir rahmaneer Raheem" – "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate" – and ends with the phrase "Assalamu Alaykhum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh" – Peace be upon you all and God's mercy and blessing.

Almost unnoticed to me, when praying for the past year or so before that, I had been saying "Dear Allah" instead of "Dear God". They both mean the same thing, of course, but for the convert to Islam the very alien nature of the language of the holy prayers and the holy book can be a stumbling block. I had skipped that hurdle without noticing. Then came the pull: a sort of emotional ebb and flow that responds to the company of other Muslims with a heightened feeling of openness and warmth. Well, that's how it was for me, anyway.

How hard and callous non-Muslim friends and colleagues began to seem. Why can't we cry in public, hug one another more, say "I love you" to a new friend, without facing suspicion or ridicule? I would watch emotions being shared in households along with trays of honeyed sweets and wondered, if Allah's law is simply based on fear why did the friends I loved and respected not turn their backs on their practices and start to drink, to have real "fun" as we in the west do? And we do, don't we? Don't we?

Finally, I felt what Muslims feel when they are in true prayer: a bolt of sweet harmony, a shudder of joy in which I was grateful for everything I have (my children) and secure in the certainty that I need nothing more (along with prayer) to be utterly content. I prayed in the Mesumeh Masjid in Iran after ritually cleansing my forearms, face, head and feet with water. And nothing could be the same again. It was as simple as that.

The sheikh who finally converted me at a masjid in London told me: "Don't hurry, Lauren. Just take it easy. Allah is waiting for you. Ignore those who tell you: you must do this, wear that, have your hair like this. Follow your instincts, follow the Holy Qur'an- and let Allah guide you."

And so I now live in a reality that is not unlike that of Jim Carey's character in the Truman Show. I have glimpsed the great lie that is the facade of our modern lives; that materialism, consumerism, sex and drugs will give us lasting happiness. But I have also peeked behind the screens and seen an enchanting, enriched existence of love, peace and hope. In the meantime, I carry on with daily life, cooking dinners, making TV programmes about Palestine and yes, praying for around half an hour a day. My steady progress with the Qur'an has been mocked in some quarters. I've been seeking advice from imams and sheikhs, and every one has said that each individual's journey to Islam is their own. Some do commit the entire text to memory before conversion; for me reading the holy book will be done slowly and at my own pace.

In the past my attempts to give up alcohol have come to nothing; since my conversion I can't even imagine drinking again. I have no doubt that this is for life: there is so much in Islam to learn and enjoy and admire; I'm overcome with the wonder of it. In the last few days I've heard from other women converts, and they have told me that this is just the start, that they are still loving it 10 or 20 years on.

On a final note I'd like to offer a quick translation between Muslim culture and media culture that may help take the sting of shock out of my change of life for some of you.

When Muslims on the BBC News are shown shouting "Allahu Akhbar!" at some clear, Middle Eastern sky, we westerners have been trained to hear: "We hate you all in your British sitting rooms, and are on our way to blow ourselves up in Lidl when you are buying your weekly groceries."

In fact, what we Muslims are saying is "God is Great!", and we're taking comfort in our grief after non-Muslim nations have attacked our villages. Normally, this phrase proclaims our wish to live in peace with our neighbours, our God, our fellow humans, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Or, failing that, in the current climate, just to be left to live in peace would be nice.

From the Vatican to Makkah: The Story of Ayesha Lucarelli – 'Italian Muslimah'

How I came to Islam…I left my hometown back in Italy, in January 1998. I wanted to study English in London and then back at home I would have found a job. My idea was to be a tourist guide in Rome or around Italy. I needed English as the main language. So I left Italy. I was only 18 and I didn't know anyone in London, but it was an adventure…

Once in London, I started to look for a place where to sleep…yes I know; crazy!! But really, I didn't know anyone…In the end I found this place and stayed for the night. The day after, I was already in search of a job and a college. As days went by, I was getting more apprehensive as I couldn't find any job and money was running out very quickly…I found myself, in this chapel in central London and decided to go in and pray. I was really sad and felt lonely…I knelt down and started to pray to God. I was never the kind of Christian who would pray to Jesus. I prayed to God alone and asked Him to help me. While I was crying to God, a priest came out and was surprised to see a young lady crying and praying. He came over and asked if I was ok. He said to have patience because God rewards those who have patience…I felt better and left…But my prayer on that day was answered one year and a half later…

At this point I was thrown out from the place where I was because I couldn't afford the rent. So I had to pack my things and went in search again for a new place to stay. Later in the evening, I met some Italian girls. They invited me to stay with them in a youth hostel. It was a hostel run by Christian nuns, and the place was open only to girls. I started a new life in this ‘convent’. I was never a shy person and to be honest, I was always the heart and soul of the party. But that year, I was in for a surprise that changed my life forever!

To start with, I found a job, and that meant I could afford the college where I could study English. I met some lovely Muslims at work. They would spend hours talking about God. I would ask them about Islam and the Qur’an. Sometimes I would get upset because they would say Jesus was not the son of God. “Why? How can you say it?” – My answer was. I particularly spent time with this guy. We spent entire afternoons in Hyde Park (A Very large park in Central London, UK) talking about Islam. I even bought a Bible and would defend my Religion. He would take the Qur’an with him and back his facts.

The same guy, he then introduced me to his family and his sister in-law talked to me about Islam. She was a convert too and showed me pictures of her when she used to be a Sikh. She used to be the life of the party too…I thought “that’s me now” – and I looked at her with admiration because she had the guts to change her lifestyle and her situation for the better! She was pure and reborn. I felt the need to do something.

So I left her home…She said many things that touched my heart. I was patient and believed in God. While I was walking back home that day…I heard a call…it was the ADHAAN(= the calling for prayer time) in my ears. Never had I known it existed, never had I heard such a beautiful melodic sound. Allah was calling me to success! (One sentence in the Adhaan says ‘Come to prayers! Come to success!’ I did not know that back then.)

So I accepted it HIS (God's) invitation and took the shahada (to bear witness that there’s no God but Allah and Mohammad peace and blessings be upon him, is the Servant and the final Messenger of Allah) one week later.

[Shahada: After uttering the words of the declaration of Faith and believing in it with your heart, you become a Muslim, a servant of God.]

The dua I made that day in that chapel was…"Oh Allah if you really love me, then guide me to what’s right. Ameen." Allah guided me because He loved me but it took more than one year of patience for me to accept Islam as a way of life, the same ‘patience’ (sabr in Arabic) the priest was talking about that day in the chapel. My life changed totally.

I used to club and drink. I used to smoke and take drugs! There was not a party in town that I did not attend. My life was very sad, full of friends but lonely! Allah loves me; I know this for a fact because He saved me from that life! He saved me from a life of sadness, loneliness and misery! I don’t feel blessed…I feel humbled and HONOURED because Allah chose me. He could have left me in despair. I was lost in the dark. For those who knew me before, they now look at me with respect. I was the heart and soul of the party! I am now nourishing my own heart and soul.

How Abdul Malik - A Brother with Extreme Tattoos & Body Piercings Reverted to Islam

I came to Islam 24 years ago. Before this, I was a heavy metal punk musician. I grew up with a good education but I was rebellious. I was like a human version of Iblees (Satan) in the way that I rebelled. I would not bend my neck to anything. I questioned everything I was taught. I questioned history. I questioned that there was history and that there is “his story”. There are truths and there are lies and I rebelled against the British way of everything. I never drunk, I never did these things, but I thought I would rebel against the system, against the governments I think are unfair. I would do it through music. So I did music that criticized the government, criticized the society I lived in, thinking this would also make me happy. Happiness doesn’t come from the outside. Happiness comes from within. I now know happiness, as water, as life itself, comes from Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala). At the time I thought I could make myself happy through the music. I thought forming my own ideas and the ideas of others, would make my life complete. So what did I do?! I played loud music and I deafened a generation; and I tattooed, and I was pierced, way before all the people were doing this thing. Now it is common place. Then...20 odd years ago, it was unusual and it was uncommon. If you see the holes in my ears, they are not from fighting in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, they are from my own stupidity. But we do these things, and we live with the consequences. I would say that the things I did were done through anger. Anger for various reasons; anger at society, anger at things that I didn’t understand, anger at the fact that there must be more in life than just property, money and wealth; these things that everybody says ‘is the meaning of life’.

I’ve always thought that there was a God and I’ve always asked where He was. I looked at every ‘ism’. I had a good university education, but I argued against everything, and at the end of the day, I looked at Christianity, and they said that Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) has a son. And I could not accept this. If Allah needed a son, that would mean He had a weakness; He is in need of an heir. If you have a son, you’re gonna die, he takes over. Why do you need this if you are All-Sustaining and All-Powerful? So this did not make sense. I looked at Hinduism, and they were worshipping the statues, and I said to one, “If I break your statue, will your statue come and hurt me?” I didn’t even know about Islam. And he said, “You know, it would be a terrible thing.” - “so if I throw your statue on the floor, it will kill me?!”, I thought this was ridiculous; it is a non-sense. I searched Jewish religion. I thought, 'well I can’t be this cause this is not just a religion; it’s a race as well, and I’m not of that race. So how can I join something I’m not part of the club?' It didn’t make sense either. I thought God created everything. Not just one people. I looked at all these different philosophies. Marxism, ism, skism; skism and ism…and at the end of the day, all they are is man-made, manufactured, made by man for man’s ego. And this, I did not understand.

Long time ago, I was walking along Kensington High Street, and a brother had a leaflet. And he was doing a very early version of dawah (calling people to Islam). There was no dawah 20 odd years ago. There were very few Muslim Reverts. (I don’t like the word ‘convert’. ‘Convert’ is to ‘change’. ‘To revert’ is ‘to go back’. I have gone back to what my natural inclination should have been in the first place. There is no room for ‘convert’). So I took the leaflet, and I saw the word "Islam", and I thought, 'What is this thing?'

When I was very little, my grandmother (because I grew up with my grandparents), took me to Hyde Park. And I used to see Arabic Graffiti on the wall, and I used to like the script, and I used to wish I could understand what it said. Somewhere, deep down inside, that must’ve stayed with me, cause when I got this leaflet, and it said ‘Islam’ on it, I wanted to check this out. Then, there were very few books on Islam. I found one, and it was Ghulam Sarwar’s “Beliefs and Teachings of Islam”, in its first edition (its now in its 9th or so edition). A very primitive edition then. And I read it. And I saw the script again and I said, “Ah! So it’s this religion that has this script"; the script that as a child I thought, ‘what is this thing?’ I was good at art, and I thought the script was beautiful; (and of all scripts, it is the most beautiful in the world!) And I looked at this thing, and I read and I read, and then I read one thing –

In the name of Allah, The Beneficent; The Merciful.
“Say: He is Allah, Uniquely One.
Allah The Eternal, Absolute;
He begets not, nor is He begotten;
And there is none like unto Him.”

[The Quran, Chapter 112]

This changed my life. To say that Allah is One. To say that anything that’s a creation has to have a Creator. You don’t have multiple creators for something. If you have multiple architects, they’ll all have infighting, they’ll all fall apart. You have to have unity – “Ikhlas”. To say Allah is One, The Absolute. He Has to be Absolute. If there’s not absolution; if there’s not completeness, then He is partial. If He is partial, then He is not the Lord of all. So He cannot be the Lord Creator. He begets none. Of course! We are His creation, separate from Him. Intact as a creation but separate in our creation. He doesn’t need a son, He doesn’t need daughters, wives or all the clutter that we have on Earth. And nor is He begotten. How can He be made of people or of something else? If something created Him, that must be more powerful, so that must be Allah. “Unlike unto Him, there is nothing” – This is what had the impact! To say, 'Unlike unto Him, there is nothing in the universe'. In the whole of everything. We can only see as far as far as our galaxy with the Hubble Telescope. This is as far as we can go. Now beyond that, how many universes are there? And beyond that, how many universes are there?? If there is nothing, within the light years, and in thousands of millions of light years, there is nothing equal to Him, and there is nothing like Him, then He is Lord of all. And if He is Lord of all, then what am I doing standing on my feet? I must be on my face!! Because He put me here, therefore it should be gratitude, that I show Him.

On the point of taking the shahada, there was nobody around to ask. I didn’t want to ask a lot of the brothers in the street because there were people walking around then, there were no reverts, there was no literature on Islam, there were no little dawah tables out with that ‘take a leaflet brother’! There was nothing. I look back and I think, it (Islam) then, shouldn’t have been partialized to a community. You should not put a boundary around Islam. You can’t put a box around Allah.

And so, when I looked at this thing, I thought, 'where am I gonna go?' So I looked through the phone-book. Yes! In those days there were phone-books! There was not “one two one, one one eight hundred”. So I looked through there and I saw London Central Masjid, Regent Park. And I thought, ‘ok…Go there!’ And looking like I did (I had a tour in the last week and I have a photo of how I used to look like). I had bright blue hair; long hair, ear-rings, tattoos, vest and belt made of bullets. I went in there and I took the bullet belt off cause I thought it might be a bit disquieting, and I tried to tie my hair back, as best as possible, and I said, “I want to make shahada”. And they were surprised and they couldn’t speak much English either, and they just looked at me as if they couldn’t hear me. I said, “Can you bring me somebody who can speak English?” And they brought me Abdullah, who was the Secretary of the London Masjid then. He said, “What do you understand about Islam?” I told him all I had read, and I’m an avid reader, so I read and read. He was surprised, and he said, “ok! I think you understand, but you know you can’t look like you do”, and I said, “I don’t wanna look like I do, but that’s all I have at the moment. I can change that, but I need to change my heart first”. And I took my shahada on 4th February, 1986.