MY REVERT STORY: THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

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MY REVERT STORY: THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

In The Name of Allah, The Most Beneficent, Most Merciful

My Revert Story: There’s No Place Like Home

By Ruqayyah Dawood

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high

There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby

Somewhere over the rainbow, Skies are blue

And the dreams that you dare to dream, really do come true

As a child, ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ was my favourite song, largely due to me being a big fan of the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ part because my mum dressed me as ‘Dorothy’ from the same film for fancy dress competitions, but mostly because I longed to be happy in a place up high, where dreams really do come true.

At sixteen I was seemingly like any other teenage girl. I had posters on the walls of pop groups and rap artists and I would fret over my appearance and whether my hair looked good like the majority of girls my age. I attended all the local parties and worried about the same things that the other girls stressed over. When I accepted Islam at this tender age it seemed overnight, as if faith entered my heart with a whoosh– so much so if anyone asked how I reverted, for a while I would explain I had read a book on the Articles of Faith and “that was that.” But as I learned more about Islam, as I matured and now as I observe the disbelievers and the fast spreading concept of atheism in the West today, I realise my story and journey to Islam began in childhood- with a thirst for truth and a natural disposition, or ‘Fitrah’[1] to the monotheistic belief in One Supreme Creator .

My first introduction to Islam was a school trip to our local Mosque. I was only five or six but I remember it like it was yesterday, treading the soft green carpet and joining the other pupils in viewing an open Qur’an within a glass display case. I stayed to admire the wonderful Arabic script much longer than the other children, resulting in the teacher calling out, “Amanda, do hurry along!” I can clearly recall thinking at the time, ‘these are the Words of God.’

At nine during Religious Education classes I would enjoy drawing pictures of Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, hoping one day I would visit this land of previous Prophetswith its light golden sands, white washed buildings, date-palms and shining sun. Whenever our teacher asked for a volunteer to fetch something from the store cupboard, I’d raise my hand up so high, almost dislocating my own shoulder to be chosen. Once inside this tiny closet I would bypass the Hindu figurine of the blue, four armed Vishnu and the elephant idol of Ganesh and take the model of Jesus on the cross lovingly in the palms of my hand, wondering why he was made to suffer for me. It seemed so unfair, so sad. Tracing one of Jesus’ punctured hands with my finger, then along his arm and shoulder, up to the garland of thorns on his head, I wondered how it could be so that God would die? Even then I saw Jesus as completely human, the ‘red blood’ that trickled down his cheeks troubling me as I kissed his face before placing the figure back on the shelf. In Secondary School I would debate with our Science tutor when he tried to argue the case for Evolution that we were from Adam and not apes. When he scolded me I whispered to my classmate sat beside me that, “maybe he is descended from apes, but I certainly am not!”

God was always part of my life and there was never a time I doubted His existence or considered Atheism, alhamdulillah; all Praise to God. From as early as I remember I would ask of Him when I was in need. How true it is that we are born with the natural disposition of belief, but it is our parents who make us Christians, Jews, Magian and so on. [2] For myself my parents had made me Mormon. My father was born into a Mormon family; my mother reverted upon marrying him and became more devoted to the ‘Latter Day Saints,’ than even he was. Every week I attended the Sunday classes where aunty ‘Pip,’ my father’s older sister, taught the children of the Church. I quote from her Personal Journal that she left behind when she passed away. She refers to me as ‘Mandy’:

“It’s wonderful to have Mandy with me at Sunday School and Sacrament meetings. I love that little girl. She is adorable, full of fun and joy. And so good although she doesn’t like to sit still and quiet in the Chapel- but that’s natural in a two year old  and she does mostly.”

It seemed to me that my aunty was frequently sad. She was a talented dancer in her youth and due to be married to the man of her dreams when she became crippled from a hereditary condition, and all her plans came to an end- her dashing fiancé loving her no more. My aunt’s Journal also documents the huge pressure placed on her by the Mormon Church. They told her she had the Spirit of Elijah[3] in her and throughout her writing my aunty Pip speaks of the Bishop ‘prophesising’ a ‘special blessing,’ where she will be cured in front of thousands. But in order to receive this she had to work, despite her fatigue and pain, teaching the fee-paying children of the Church. Pip speaks of apprehension and fear of failure- waking in the night feeling ‘the spirit’ pressing down on her chest. My aunt died aged fifty-two having never received that so called ‘special blessing.’

‘The spirit’ or Holy Ghost[4] was spoken about regularly in my childhood, but whilst most my relatives and the Church spoke of this Celestial being and summoned it within themselves, seeing it as a positive force, my father had a very different view. He often fought with his sister, Pip, when I was young over beliefs and issues within the Church. My father used to speak of ‘the Spirits’ to me and how it is important to never call on them. He had seen spirit like figures when working in the coal mines and liked to relate a story where following his step father’s death his mother, my nan, asked to see her late husband’s spirit. To her horror she witnessed her bedroom door open at which she prayed frantically not to see him, realising her mistake. My father’s opinion was these spirits, with exception of the Holy Ghost were souls of the dead, and I believed the same having no reason to doubt my father’s explanation. As a youngster and despite his warnings I would lay awake in bed daring a spirit to appear, then feel a horrible thickness in the room and beg God to take it away. Thoughts would come;’ You want to see a spirit, you know you do,’ and I would plead, “No! No dear God I don’t want to see one, please I don’t!” I had a bible under my pillow which I kept for blessings and would hold it in fear.

 I was baptised at eight years old and it was a terrifying experience that I still remember until today. I was made to wear a white gown and whilst ‘The Holy Ghost’ was mentioned in front of a room of beaming spectators, I was tipped back without warning, dunked inside a chlorine riddled pool. I came back up in shock, too embarrassed to give away my fright in my facial expressions. Afterwards older children of the Church told me the same ‘Spirit’ was now in another room in the Chapel playing the piano! They tried to make me look, but fearing it was a trick or I might indeed see this ‘Spirit’ I ran back to my mother’s side.

I don’t remember my father being at my Baptism and despite Mormonism being his family’s religion he spoke against ‘The Latter Day Saints’ and other religions frequently. His main contention with the Mormon Church was the compulsory tax or ‘tithing’ [5] an amount of 10% from one’s income to be given to the Church, no matter your social circumstance. My father had the same hereditary condition which his sister suffered from, and on Sunday afternoons after I made him a cup of tea or glass of orange squash, he loved for me, his ‘Precious Mandy,’ to sit in front of him whilst he brushed my hair. At theses times he would speak about various philosophical topics including the fallacies of Mormonism and Catholicism. With the Catholic faith it was the confession to a priest he disagreed with and the fines imposed according to the severity of the sin. He would tell me to confess only to God and that God forgives us if we ask. When I was twelve my father officially signed us out of the Mormon Church.

My parents were religious, but when they fought they often resorted to swearing, ‘this and that’ on the Bible. Even as a child I found this hugely disrespectful to God and although they did their best for me, much of what they believed and practised I rejected. For example, they were hugely superstitious. Seeing one magpie would ruin my mum’s whole week, as one was supposedly for sorrow, two for joy. And if a mirror broke we were to expect a further seven years of grief! I however walked under ladders and put my new shoes on the table, when my parents were not around. I could see no connection between placing shoes on the table or gazing at the moon, with bad things happening the next day.  Looking back I probably felt empowered when doing these rebellious actions, in a cruel world where over most other things I had no control. I was bullied mercilessly in school and Dance Academy.  I was the kind of child that wanted to be everyone’s friend and would give away my things to anyone who asked, which led to me being used and abused. I was liked by the teachers because of my talents in writing, maths, art and pretty much everything I set my mind to. Being good in dance, drama and sports also, I was loathed by other pupils for being ‘Teacher’s Pet.’ some girls took their jealousy and dislike of me to levels of cruelty common in girls at school age.

In Primary School, “Mandy pandy, pudding and pie. Kissed the boys and made them cry,” was sung to me almost daily. Both boys and girls teased me that I had a ‘Cripple dad,’ and the one and only time my disabled father collected me from Primary School, pupils taunted him and spun him around in his wheelchair, pushing him down a hill. My dear father felt useless and humiliated and I suspect he cried at night. He had University Degrees and a Genius I.Q., being offered positions as a University Professor, but the demeaning experience had him remain at home designing computer games, reading and writing.

In Secondary School the bullying progressed to the physical kind, having my head flushed in the toilet, hair set on fire, spiders being placed on my neck, and the worst I remember was a used female sanitary product being left on my school table.

I would go home and cry, frustrated and angry. Alhamdulillah I never self-harmed but rather imagined putting my karate and boxing training to use and beating the bullies silly so they would never cross me again. A blue belt in karate, my mum taught me how to fight when she wasn’t teaching me how to dance. She would then take me to where the bullies played in the evenings and make me get out the car and fight them. After one look at their terrified faces I would refuse to hit them, picturing blood running down their cheeks, get back in the car and beg my mum to, “please take me home.”

I cried most nights, gripping my small hardback bible asking, “Jesus please come to me. Lord Jesus I need a hug. I need you.” I would close my eyes and have faith when I opened them he would be there, but of course he never was.

I believed in God and although we were taught the Trinity in Church, I would look at my illustrated ‘Children’s Book of Mormon’ and ask myself why ‘Lord’ Jesus was being tempted by Satan if he were God? We were taught the concept of good versus evil, but this rivalry didn’t make sense to me either- ‘Why would God create an equal to him that is evil?’ I thought.’ Why doesn’t Jesus just push Satan off of the mountain instead of allowing him to taunt him with temptations?’ I concluded that God and Jesus must be two separate entities and mulled over issues like these. Disbelieving in a Supreme Creator never, by the Grace and Generosity of Allah, entered my mind. With all the negativity surround the Mormon Church and their passing around of envelopes for the weekly tithing being refuted constantly by my father, I developed the view that wealth and money were the roots of all evil. My parents fought constantly over cash and I once found myself waking up in hospital after being beaten for my lunch money. Added to this was the whole ethos at the Dance School I attended; the wealthy families saw their daughters being put forward for every competition, whilst those talented like myself were held back due to jealousy and our mothers not donating enough to the school.

So Christmas day from around the age of ten, out of guilt over the materialistic nature of the festivities and the scores of wonderful gifts my mum brought me, I would find a quiet corner and meditate in silence for five minutes, about the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas. What I wanted to find at the end of that rainbow following rain, was not a pot of gold or worldly treasures, but happiness and peace. Every Christmas I forced my mother from the kitchen and have her and my father watch me sing, ‘Away in a Manger,’ with a blue bed sheet wrapped around my head, emulating Virgin Mary. I’d hold a doll in my arms which represented Jesus; my younger sister would star as a reluctant Joseph! There was a graveyard behind the Hall my Dance School used, and when seeing a headstone with the name ‘Mary’ engraved on it, I would excitedly call my fellow dancing pupils to be a witness that I had found Virgin Mary’s grave!

As well as dancing, acting and competing in athletics competitions, I sang my heart out in our new ‘Church of England’ with, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful,’ being my favourite hymn. I was also an avid reader and would read even the English dictionary for fun.  My father gave me book after book to read- Charles Dickens, Encyclopaedias and Science Fiction novels. I hated Science Fiction as the stories seemed so far-fetched. I would rather indulge in reading my bible, looking for a clue to why Jesus wasn’t responding to my calls for the bullying to stop, and what I had to do to attain God’s Favour. But within those pages I found verses speaking of Prophets Lot and Noah doing unspeakable things. I couldn’t understand why I was being encouraged to look for answers in this Book, yet the X-rated books on my father’s top shelf were forbidden for me to even touch. ‘Had my parents even read the bible?’ I wondered, feeling guilt and shame that maybe they didn’t know the sexual nature of the verses I was reading at night.

Aged fifteen I was on a quest, no longer did I head straight for the fiction novels in the Town Library on a Saturday afternoon. Old enough to go alone without my parents seeing what I was reading, I took piles of books from the ‘Religion and Beliefs’ section of the library on Christianity, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Black Magic to a table to explore. One night after having a scary experience with a Ouija Board [6] and a glass beaker whilst alone in my room, I promised God not to dabble with the spirits again. My friends introduced me to another craze of telling our future using playing cards, black being a ‘yes,’ answer, red being’ a ‘no.’ I soon saw the ridiculousness in this when I asked the same questions again and again, getting different answers every time. I gave up on my search for truth for a good while. I’d prefer to express  myself through dance and performing, dreaming of stardom as the next ‘Janet Jackson’ where my name would be called out in appreciation and illuminated in lights above Theatres and Concert Halls.

Despite me appearing like any other teenage girl, wearing all the latest fashions and attending youth clubs and ‘discos’ like everyone else, I was determined to marry the old-fashioned way, be the first pop star who wore no make-up and never let money be my goal. Once I left school and began college I decided I was tired of my clothes never being ‘cool enough,’ hair style not being ‘hip enough’ and trainers not being ‘expensive enough.’  I started to dress differently to girls I had gone to school with, in baggier clothes and I’d listen to different kinds of music which focused more on addressing humanitarian  issues and worthy causes. The repeated swears in the raps I listened to didn’t sit well with me though. A lot of the time I felt ‘unclean’ and tainted by the harsh world and revived my prayers, requesting God to bring me that comfort and peace I asked for as a child.

In College I was studying Psychology, Biology and Law. I wanted to be a Criminal Psychologist and figure out why the inhabitants of the world were so vicious, unjust and unruly. I chose to remain in the company of Asians whose families originated from the Indian subcontinent, as they were more accepting and generally kinder than my white friends in school. This is when I began to hear of the terms ‘halal’ and ‘haram’ from my Muslim friends, but more frequent were discussions on  Bollywood and the Indie-Pop and Indian RnB/Hip Hop music scene. To me it appeared that Sikh, Hindus and Muslims were the same. They listened to the same music, ate the same food and all had strict parents though they called God by different names. The first time I heard the Islamic name for the Creator, ‘Allah’ was whilst listening to an Indian music channel. I heard a news report that shoes were being sold in a shop in Leicester with the name of ‘Allah’ printed on them, causing outrage amongst the Muslims. It stirred in me memories of the Qur’an I saw during the Primary School field trip to the mosque. It also reminded me of my own bible that lay under my pillow. I had too many unanswered question regarding contradictory passages in my bible, but when a fellow college student suggested I read the Qur’an and consider becoming Muslim I laughed at the invitation.  “My Parents will kill me!” I reckoned! To me, being a Muslim was more to do with eating Indian delicacies and mastering Bhangra moves, than adopting any logical belief system. There was no way my parents would approve of me smelling of curry or growing my hair to my feet, I thought!

A few weeks later I had a succession of some really bad days. My parents were divorcing and my Type 1 Diabetes which I’d been diagnosed with at twelve was making me grouchy due to neglect.  I had returned to college after a suspension due to me punching an Asian girl who had told me to ‘paint my face brown.’ I had sworn  to myself I wouldn’t be bullied once I stepped foot in college, and although my parents were proud of me standing up for myself, I regretted my disproportionate reaction. I couldn’t concentrate in class so I took myself to the college library and carried a pile of books to an empty table, reviving my childhood passion for studying other faiths and beliefs. I scanned trough books touching on the various Christian denominations, Greek Mythology, Buddhism and Hinduism, Paganism and the Spirit world. I found only fantasy, mythology and some nice stories therein- nothing to transform my world. For some reason, the one book I had picked up on the topic of Islam I left till last, and packed it away in my rucksack where it would remain for weeks. When I mentioned to a Muslim girl that I had forgotten to return the book to the library, she handed me a newspaper article and insisted I should read it too. I politely took the clipping, folded it in half and placed it inside the book on the ‘Articles of Islamic Faith.’

That evening I sat in my bedroom and removed the book on Islam, opening it to page one:

Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;

Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;

He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;

And there is none like unto Him [7]

It was the hundred and twelfth chapter of the Qur’an, the Qur’an being described in this book as, ‘The Final Revelation from God.’

Something was aroused within me and I felt a rush of energy and fascination as a shiver ran up my spine. As I delved into this book further I felt I’d uncovered the answers to the big questions I had about God and Faith: Jesus was not God or His son, but rather a Great Prophet and obedient servant of the One True Creator, Allah, I read; this is why Jesus (pbuh) never responded to my prayers or me calling out to him! He was human and tested by God like us all, but was special and so sent as an example to Mankind during his times. I read of my beloved Adam, Abraham and Moses (pbut) being part of Islam and sent also as Messengers and good examples for men. On reading that they too belonged to the Islamic belief system, my respect and love for the religion of Islam resonated immediately. Now I just had to find out about this marvelous ‘Muhammad’ (pbuh) who I knew nothing of!  Satan along with the ‘Jinn’ were another creation of Allah and were obviously the ‘spirits’ I had been hearing of as a child. After the leader of the Jinn, ‘Iblis,’ was instructed to make prostration to Adam (pbuh), he, out of pride and arrogance disobeyed Allah and swore to take most of Adam’s children with him to the hellfire. Allah has a Plan and He is the only One in control of the Heavens and the earth and not sharing power with Jesus or Satan.

I continued to read about the four divine books Allah sent to Mankind and understood that my bible indeed contained good, but the parts I read that troubled me were an adulteration. The paragraph in this book which stated Fate, good and bad was from Allah alone, and having nothing to do with superstitions or band omens I agreed with completely. At this point my heartache and stumbling through life made perfect sense- It was necessary to live through what I had in order to become who I was at this age of sixteen, and make this decision.  Tears streaming down my face I uttered the words,

I bear witness that no one deserves to be worshiped except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”

Feeling emotional and divinely blessed, I opened the newspaper article assuming that it most probably deserved to be read and not used merely as a bookmark. It was a piece written by a white revert explaining how she had accepted Islam after reading the Qur’an and she also spoke of being honoured through her new religion and had found true salvation from her Lord. The photograph next to her inspiring words showed her wearing a head covering just like Virgin Mary wore it as was depicted in my ‘Children’s Book of Mormon.’ In the next moments I was wrapping myself in a sheet and staring at myself in the mirror in tears of joy. This is who I wanted to be: An existence where anything good I achieve is for my Creator and appreciated by Him; these deeds are saved for the Hereafter when we will be returned to our Lord. I looked forward to a future where my name is not in lights on the buildings of this world, but rather mentioned at the Throne of The Magnificent to the Angels of Allah.

Seven months later my father joined me in accepting Islam also.

We found truth, happiness and peace, but not at the end of a rainbow. It lay deep within ourselves, and our embracing Islam was written by The Divine Pen in the Seventh Heaven before time even began: Accepting Islam was as if we had come home.

Note: My dear father passed away in his sleep seven months later whilst fasting, on a Jumu’ah in Ramadhan. May AllahSWT accept all the good things he taught me as a child, rest his soul and admit him into Jannatul Firdaus. Ameen.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

[1] http://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/DefinitionFitrah.htm

 [2] The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)  said, “No child is born except on his true nature (Islam) and that his parents may choose to give him/her a different religion other than submission to One God. “[Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim]

[3] Ilayas in Arabic.

[4] In Mormonism the Spirit/Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead, along with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

[5] Mormon Tithing- 10% tax on all income and interest.

[6] A Ouija Board, also known as a ‘Talking Board,’ is used by Occultists to contact and communicate with spirits.

[7] Suratul-Ikhlas (The Sincerity) Al-Qur’an, Verse 112.

 

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8 thoughts on “MY REVERT STORY: THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

  1. I found that reading this was interesting to me, perhaps because i was raised in the LDS religion and have converted to Islam just two years ago. I would love to hear more about this incredible transformation from the author of this piece.

  2. I felt very emotional reading this because the journey you made was amazing, I hope that you find the peace and happiness you always searched for sister x

  3. What a load of rubbish

  4. Oh Mandy, I’m still waiting. 😔

    – Aboo Hurayrah

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