Accepting Islām – Starting Over
Originally published on Islamic Network here on Thursday, January 05, 2006
I come from a nominal Christian background, Presbyterian, the Church of Scotland to be exact. There was a point in my very early life where my parents were religious but by the time my memory starts to kick in, my Dad has gone from being a church elder to an atheist and my mother seems to have become generally uninterested.
At home there was no ‘religious talk’. However, we moved house a lot and a number of the schools that I attended had a religious slant. When we moved to Newcastle Upon Tyne in my early teens, I was sent to a Church of England middle school but the motivation from my parents seems to have been more to obtain good grades than to instil any religious belief.
I grew up equating religion solely with Christianity. I had a belief in God but little in-depth knowledge of Christianity, let alone any knowledge of another religion.
At school I was always happy to play the role of the class clown and had my fair share of being sent to the head master’s office but the belief in God that I had meant there were certain lines I wouldn’t cross. I remember being challenged by one of my peers at school to spit in a copy of the Bible but just couldn’t do it, although my friend happily did. Similarly in my teen years friends would use Bible pages as cigarette papers but again this was something I couldn’t bring myself to do.
By university I’d narrowed my belief system down to “I believe in God but not religion.” I finished university with an intention to “read the Bible some day.”
I’d heard the accusation that Jesus (`alayhi al-Salātu wa al-Salām) was the son of God but had never given it much thought or even questioned if such a statement made sense.
After university I began concentrating on my career goal which was in the music business. I had studied up to university level but that had always been “plan B” in my head, I had no desire to go down the road of a “normal job.”
So during the day I worked full time in a music store as a sales assistant. Outside work I wrote a monthly review section in a regional listings magazine, was busy promoting myself as a deejay, had a regular club night that I was organising, and was learning more about the studio side of things and soon finished recording my first track. It was through pursuing this goal that I met a friend, himself a revert Muslim. He was a partner in an independent music shop, an experienced producer and sound engineer.
We spent a lot of time in the recording studio together. It was a kind of student – teacher relationship. I was learning so much from him that I eventually decided to drop out of a college course that I was taking in sound engineering. He was a very outspoken individual and certainly not shy about his religion. Owing to the respect I had for his technical knowledge, I’d listen attentively whenever he strayed onto other topics; which was, more often than not, Islām.
Something that struck me early on was how his belief was not just restricted to thoughts and ideas; it was something that dictated action. In the middle of a recording session he would just stand up and announce it was time for him to pray and so everything would just have to stop until he had finished. I soon found myself watching what I would eat in front of him out of a feeling of respect for his religion.
The music business is full of sharks and there is a lot of behind door politics and insincerity. My friend was forced to leave Newcastle and return to London. I was left with my appetite whet for Islām but my only contact with the Muslims now some 250 miles away.
After he left I began sharing a house with a mutual friend of ours, someone that he’d also spoken to about Islām. I kept bringing up the subject of Islām in the house and my flat mate shared with me some of the da’wah (introductory) books that he’d been given.
I’d read little bits after work and was becoming steadily more intrigued. I remember sitting against the radiator in my bedroom reading a small pamphlet which had a transliterated version of the shahādah (testimony of faith) inside. I read it aloud to myself and I felt such a buzz from doing so, I didn’t yet understand it, nor could I pronounce it properly but I distinctly remember this positive feeling overwhelm me as I read.
At work my manager approached me to tell me that our company was opening a new store in a different city down south and asked if I would be prepared to go and assist with the opening week. It was very short notice but I thought to myself a week in a hotel, away from everyone? That would be the perfect opportunity to properly read these books and to reflect upon Islām.
On the train journey down I was reading intensively. I remember one small book that consisted only of bullet points of `aqīdah (beliefs), without mentioning the proofs or explanations for them, yet reading it I felt like I was absorbing facts not conjecture.
My thoughts started to turn to actions and I made the decision that I would never drink again. Having arrived at the hotel and worked my first day, I found that I was soon tested. Some of the staff wanted to go out for a drink together, as this is a long established method for strangers to get to know one another. I politely explained that I’d stopped drinking alcohol and that I had things to do in my hotel room. This was the first time that I got a look (one which I’ve seen many times since, whenever I explain I don’t do x, y or z) that conveys “why in the world would you impose that upon yourself?”
I went back to my hotel room and read some more. I was really becoming convinced, scared, happy, lost, a lot of different emotions all interacting. I didn’t know what to do. I’d read in one book about raising hands outstretched up to Allāh, i.e. making du’ā (supplication). So I composed myself and then feeling really nervous, I held up my arms and started to supplicate Allāh. And it was to Allāh this time, I wasn’t just making a general address to God, I was making a step of recognition here, addressing Him by His name, no longer just some concept of God but using His name. I was really emotional, hands outstretched, tears streaming down my face. I sat on my bed begging to be given the strength to accept the truth.
I woke the next day feeling fresh and in high spirits. I remember being really emotional that day and I came close to bursting into tears in front of people a number of times. As soon as I finished work I phoned my friend in London and told him that I wanted to come down and see him. I was actually ready to drop everything, walk out of the job and just go there but he advised me to take things easy and finish the week and to return home. So I went back to Newcastle with the decision made that I wanted to become Muslim.
I’d always thought of myself as a person of principle and so when confronted with the truth I felt I just had to accept it. I couldn’t reconcile truth with not acting upon it. However, the immediate problem for me was that the only Muslim I knew was in different city; so I decided the best option would be to leave everything and to start a new life in London.
I told my parents who were a little shocked by my decision but they were still relatively uninformed about Islām and didn’t raise many objections. I handed my notice into the magazine I wrote for. I told my landlord I was leaving. I told my employer I was resigning; they kindly offered to give me a job in London, but I didn’t want to go straight into employment, I wanted time to adjust to learn how to pray, to study a little bit about this new way of life that I now I wanted so badly.
It’s a humbling process to reach your adult years and to have to come to terms with much of what you’ve previously learned in life being incorrect. I wanted to time adjust to this wiping of the slate.
My step brother had been living in London for sometime. He told me over the phone that he’d support my decision and that he was a little intrigued about Islām himself; as he also knew my Muslim friend.
Early life in London involved a lot of sleeping on friends’ floors. By the time I was taken to the London Central Mosque for my “official” declaration of faith, my step-brother had decided that he was convinced of the truth of Islām and made his declaration with me.
I wasn’t long in Islām before I came across the issue of the illegality of music. Music had been one constant in my life and was something that I was dearly attached to. I’d spent a good ten years of my life being obsessed with it but reasoned now that if it had to go – then it just had to go.
I did as much research as I could and became convinced that Music was something impermissible for Muslims and further that any financial gain from it was similarly unlawful. So the question arose for me, having amassed an extensive collection as a deejay, what should I do with it all?
Wind of my intention to dispose of my collection soon reached one of my old friends in Newcastle and we spoke on the phone; in disbelief he complained “You can’t just get rid of it, why don’t you give it away? You’ve got some really rare stuff there!” So I explained that, in fact, I was giving it away. And I was – to the bin man. Each week I’d snap around 100 – 200 records and stick them in the trash until, as the months steadily passed, I managed to dispose of the lot.
I opted to do it slowly because I figured the bin man would notice and complain if my wheelie bin was too heavy for him to pull to the dump truck. It was a kind of a sentimental process snapping each record individually as I knew so much about each piece, where I’d bought it, how much, who the producer was, where it was recorded, where it was pressed, I’d even memorised some catalogue numbers. I prayed then and do now that Allāh gives me something better in its place in the Hereafter as only He knows how dear it was to me.
If anyone would like to read more on the issue of music in Islām (in English) then I’d recommend this khutbah from al-minbar.com as a concise summary:
If someone wanted a more detailed analysis of all the related issues, then I haven’t found in English a more thorough look at the topic, than a book by Abu Bilal Mustafa al-Kanadi called, “The Islamic Ruling on Music and Singing.” The book can also be read online in its entirety on this site:
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.” (al-Baqarah 2:127)