Who in their right mind, in this day of age would become a Muslim? This appears to be the often mocking sentiment of those who question the convert to Islam. Look at all the civil strife in the world, the acts of wanton terrorism, the way they treat their women. Show us a Muslim democracy; show us a peaceful Islamic State. What could possibly attract a person to that aggressive, uncivilised faith? The question presupposes that the believer is a consumer, acting exactly as they would when buying a car. Yet in reality the decision is made on the basis of what one considers to be true.
Several years ago, whilst I was still at school, my heart began to turn away from Christianity, the faith with which I had been brought up. There became a shyness of my beliefs. When a friend from church approached me one lunch time at school to congratulate me on my Confirmation to the Anglican Communion, I felt too embarrassed to respond. While alone on holiday on the shores of Lake Windermere one year, I remember my discomfort with the display of Christian fellowship there.
I have often identified my second trip to the Hebrides island of Iona – a traditional place of Gaelic Christian pilgrimage – as the source of my disbelief, but in fact my doubts and shyness in faith were with me for at least two years prior to that. It was, however, on Iona that I formalised my atheism. Many who go there find themselves in a state of high emotion at some point, absorbing the beautiful music and the acute sense of isolation. Other people would speak of their confusion, their alienation and their disbelief when I returned a year later. For me there was a night towards the end of my stay on the island when I decided that I didn’t believe in God any more. I stood half way up the mount of Dun-Í in the darkness, making myself cry, telling God that he wasn’t real.
On my return from holiday I announced that I did not believe in God any more. Over the next few months I began wondering about things which my mind was too small to comprehend. Was the nothingness outside the universe of the same substance as that which made up the nothingness in-between all the matter within it? I would invent ideas about the universe and ponder on them. It was as if God had been a roof to the cosmos and now there was just infinite space. Belief in God had made the universe homely; disbelief made it vast and incomprehensible.
I do not recall when I was first uncomfortable about going to church, whether it was before or after that visit to Iona. Nor do I remember when my belief in God returned, but it did because for a long time I used only to utter a portion of the Nicene Creed. ‘I believe in one God, creator of Heaven and Earth.’ For the majority of the time from the point of my rejection of belief, I did actually believe in God, but I did not believe that Jesus was God. Innately I was uncomfortable with any worship of him. I did not have any deep philosophical reason for this, as those who argue against the Trinity do, only a strong feeling inside that God was completely separate.
It was after my first year at university that I began to feel the need to find the ‘Truth’. Though I was agnostic, I had retained my Christian morals which I felt clashed with the outlook of those around me. I had become friends with somebody who had something of a dependence on alcohol, while I had confrontations with other students, so that by the end of the year I was far from happy. Towards the end of the summer term I would withdraw from almost everyone and in May I promised myself that I would never drink another drop of alcohol because I did not like what friends became in their drunkenness, nor what I became.
Over the summer I attended a service at the evangelical Anglican church, All Souls, Langham Place, and listened to a sermon by John Stott. I was quite impressed by what I heard and it inspired me to reform myself. With the start of the new term I became perpetually obsessed with searching for the Truth. I began attending All Souls church every Sunday just to listen to the sermon. At university I disassociated myself from those I had known the previous term and kept myself to myself. I felt that I had been influenced by friends towards foolish ways and so I was cutting myself off. I didn’t even go to sit in the pub any more.
I do not remember the details of this journey any more or the order in which events took place, nor when I first started thinking about Islam along side Christianity. However, this was a time when the search became all that I would think and talk about – boring and distressing friends. When I finally came to believe in Islam it was as the truth. It was not an issue of choosing a religion which suited me.
So how did I come to believe in Islam? It came out of my agnosticism, my discomfort with myself and my feeling that I had to reform. It came out of my failure to believe that Jesus is God. It came from my stubborn pursuit of the truth, when I realised that I could not rely on my friends, but I could rely on God. I came to accept Islam as my path for no other reason than believing it to be the true religion of God.