Revert stories: The only Muslim in the village
March 5, 2018
This week we got the opportunity to interview Sherrie, an MA Translation and Interpreting Studies student from Malpas, who reverted to Islam. The interview was wonderfully insightful and it really gave us a much better understanding of the life of reverts to Islam!
Please do read this interview right up to the end, because trust us, it'll really enlighten you on so many things!
How old were you when you accepted Islam?
I had just turned 26, it was around 2015 time and I said it with a couple of friends of mine. I was in Saudi, Riyadh. We went out for a dinner and I told them that I was considering converting. I was at that point where I was ready. One of them, she was so excited (this was like in Eid ul Adha time), and she was like you know, you should say it these days, it’s really good! You should say it now! And yeah, so she walked me through it and I said my shahada then.
How did you become interested in Islam?
Well I think it’s hard to attribute the sort of catalyst for my interest in Islam to one particular cause. You know my conversion story isn’t one of those dramatic, you know, I was a wild child then I stumbled across it one day? No, it’s not like that, rather it’s like multiple moments of significance along the way have sort of culminated into a well thought out conviction.
So firstly, I had been a practising Christian for basically all of my childhood although my family isn’t practicing Christian per se. I also had this desire to become close to my creator. I’ve always wondered about why we’re here, why the world is how it is, you know?
I’ve always had these questions about creation and I always accepted that there was one god, so from a young age and growing up in a very sort of white British village, the way that was available, to sort of explore religion, was by going to church.
But then when I was around 19 I went to Morocco. One of the girls on the course was a Moroccan Muslim and she was a very good ambassador for her country and her religion. She was very hospitable and [always] inviting me to stay with her and her family and I guess I had a sort of exotic experience, hands on, of a Muslim country and a Muslim family and I found it quite alluring. So yeah maybe that was kind of the most tangible catalyst if you will.
And following on from that, I lived in Spain for another period of time. One particular Muslim I ended up getting engaged to and I guess when I was in a relationship with him I thought, right if I’m gonna marry this guy I need to know what he properly believes in and what his expectations are because y'know, I’d just heard people warning me like, be careful, Muslims [etcetera], so I was like lemme go find out about what it is he believes in, what it is that his religion says, because I just didn’t buy into the idea that Muslim [equals] bad, like the rhetoric.
And then fast forward a little bit, I went to Egypt and made friends with an Egyptian girl, she was such a good ambassador for her religion. I never liked the idea that we were different because at that time I was very much practicing the Christian faith. I had been baptised actually in that year and I was very fervent in my practices so praying in the morning and reading bible [etc] but then I saw her praying 5 times a day and I just found that dedication really inspiring and encouraging and I guess it sort of lured me in, that commitment.
I ended up getting a job in Saudi Arabia. Seeing the dedication and seeing that people’s lives would stop in the day just to worship god and to pray and to give thanks, I wanted a piece of that you know? And again, Allah placed another crucial figure in my path, who is still to this day my closest friend. [Through her], I saw how there were other ideas in Islam that I also found favourable. I can’t exactly think of the exact ones right now. But yeah, I guess I just found that through discussion with her and through learning more about Islam, where Christianity had questions that were left unanswered, Islam had them.
And then fast forward a little bit more, I went to Cambodia. I think its important that at that time I was like on my own, I didn’t have any influences from people at church, people back home or the church group that I used to attend in Saudi. I didn’t have influences from Muslim friends, or the Muslim culture that I was living in in Saudi. I was in a Buddhist secular country, on my own, with no influences from outsiders so yeah.
I was also spiritually feeling like the ways that I was trying to reach to god and get that closeness weren’t working. And actually, I remember I was thinking about how Muslims pray and how they get down into the position, at the time I didn’t know what it was called, sujood, and just bowing. I had known from reading the bible that Jesus himself, peace be upon him, had also prayed like this. And I just thought, maybe this is what I need to do to humble myself, to get myself into that position of prostration. And yeah so, I was actually praying, making dua, in the way that I knew how at that time, and then I got down into prostration and yeah like, I guess the feeling of humility and connection was even present then.
And then fast forward a little bit more, I had applied for another position working in Saudi Arabia. And when you apply for another job in Saudi Arabia, you need to get a work visa and, on the application, you have to state your religion. Um I left that box on the form unticked for like 3 days because I was like I’m not technically yet Muslim but I feel like I’m becoming Muslim, but I don’t wanna put on the form that I’m Christian but then I also haven’t made that change yet officially. So, I guess yeah I could sense that I was coming to Islam and I had read and heard sufficient information about the practice and the beliefs, to make that step but there was still something holding me back.
And now I can say that the thing that was holding me back was the fear of how I would be accepted by my family, by my friends, by my society, by those who knew me, whether or not they were close to me. And the fear of what are people going to say? What are people going to think? How am I going to be accepted by people? That was what held me back.
And so, for the time being, I selected Christian on the form. Then when I went back to Saudi as I mentioned before, I took the decision while I was with friends, made the shahada and alhamdulillah since then I haven’t looked back.
How did you tell your family about your conversion to Islam?
So, for a while I didn’t like ‘come out’ for want of a better term, to my family or my friends back home. I would say that it took a few months until I was able to come out to people back home.
And I guess one of the toughest things was dealing with my mum who was very ill towards the last couple of years of her life because she asked me one day. She came out with this, she said ‘Sherrie, are you Muslim?’
And because of the way that she had spoken before, I mean she’s not prejudiced per se but I guess it’s one thing being friendly and accepting of other people and other religions but it’s another thing when your child decides to, in her eyes, reject what she had been following all of her life and change to a different religion. So, I think my mum, she probably saw it as though I was turning away from everything. I obviously didn’t want to upset her because she was ill, but I also could not denounce my faith so I just kind of very diplomatically said that I think there are many things in Islam that we can embrace, that I embrace, and I went on to explain a couple of things because she was thinking that y’know it’s not safe for women and so I basically was sort of promoting some of the ideologies of Islam to my mum, by saying that I embrace them, so yeah, it was difficult to come out to my family.
How accepting was your family of your conversion?
So, one of my sisters, she’s very understanding and supportive. My Dad, he’s also pretty cool about everything. He knows like I only eat halal meat, he knows if I don’t answer him if he’s calling me and I’m upstairs, then he knows, oh she’s praying, so he’s understanding of that. My brother in law, he’s also lived in Saudi for a couple of years so he’s had experience with Muslims, and he’s also on the ball when it comes to the way Muslims are portrayed in media. My sister, the one who’s married to my brother in law, she’s relatively okay but like once or twice she’s come out with something. We’ve dealt with that but yeah that was difficult, and like my mum, she actually passed away before seeing me actively and visibly Muslim. So, I guess, who knows what she knows now?
On the New year’s vacation this year, we went to my other sister’s house and she’d gone to the effort of going to her supermarket and ordering halal beef. They don’t have halal meat there so they had to order it in, they went to the effort to do that. So, my family has been really supportive actually in those things.
I remember also on my first Ramadan, she got me a happy Eid card and she got my family to sign it. So yeah, they’re very supportive in those things so yeah.
But it’s more of the community, the village where I spent a lot of my teen years. Maybe because it’s a predominantly white British community. I am literally the only Muslim in the village, I think.
What’s it like being, perhaps, the only Muslim in the village?
When I visit home, I still wear hijab but like I wear turban style in a way that doesn’t look too ‘muslamic’ but inshallah this will also improve and my fears will dissipate as I sort of come out more visibly to people.
I don’t feel I can fully be myself when I go back to the village, I feel like I’m the elephant in the room. Even like wearing my funky turban style. I feel it’s just people being people isn’t it? Chit chatting, gossiping, maybe looking at you a bit skewwhiff.
Is there any particular hadith or ayah from the Quran which helps you in certain situations?
‘If you go to Allah walking, He’ll come to you running.’
Jazakallah khair for the interview! Thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed every single bit of it! May Allah reward you for it!
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