By Abdul Aziz Myatt
Islam - submission to the will of Allah. I converted to Islam because there came a time when both my mind and my heart accepted that there was no god but Allah and that Muhammad was His Messenger. All that I had believed and upheld before this conversion is at worst wrong, and at best irrelevant.
My duty now, the purpose of my life, is to do the will of Allah, to submit to the will of Allah — to strive, In sha' Allah, to be a good, a devout, Muslim. To live as a Muslim in the way that Allah has decreed, through his Prophet and Messenger Muhammad. One of the many wonderful things which occurred on the day I converted was when the Imam of the Mosque explained that by accepting Islam I had begun a new life — Allah had forgiven me my sins, and it was as if I started my life again with my Book of Life, the record of my sins, empty.
I have a new life now, a new identity — for I am a Muslim, and all Muslims are my brothers, wherever they happen to live, and whatever race they are said to belong to.
How was it that I, a Westerner with a history of political involvement in extreme "right-wing" organizations, came to be standing one Sunday outside a Mosque with a sincere desire to go inside and convert to Islam? The simple answer is that it was the will of Allah — He guided me there. As for my political past, it belongs to the past. All I can do now is to trust in Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Lord of all the worlds.
As Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid — a distinguished scholar — has said:
"Asking for details of a persons past and wanting to know what sins they might have committed when they were ignorant about Islam is not right at all. Allah covers peoples' sins and loves to see them covered (i.e. not dragged out into the open). So long as a person has repented, his sins have been wiped out. Islam deletes whatever came before, so why should we ask questions that will only embarrass people? Allah accepts people's repentance without their having to confess or expose their sins to any other person. A number of the sahabah [companions of the Prophet] had committed adultery and murder repeatedly, or had buried infant girls alive, or stolen things, but when they entered Islam they were the best of people. No one needs to be reminded of a shameful past; it is over and done with, and Allah is the All-Forgiving, Most Merciful."
In terms of the 'Western' explanation that most Westerners will seek in order to try and understand my conversion, I suppose my journey toward Islam began when I first went to Egypt and, as a tourist, visited a Mosque. The Adhan — the call to prayer — had begun and I was struck by its beauty.
It is fair to say my heart responded to it in a way that, at the time, I did not understand. Then, I knew little about Islam, but each time I visited Egypt I learnt a little more. I talked to several Egyptians about their religion, and bought a copy of an English translation of the Qur'an. The little bits I read made a lot of sense to me, and the more I learnt about Islam, the more admirable it seemed to be. The more Muslims I met, the more I admired them.
But I was still in thrall to my own ego, my own Western way of life, and by two other things which prevented me from fully appreciating Islam and investigating it further. First, my life-long belief in Nature: the belief that we somehow belong to Mother Earth in a special, almost pagan, way and that our own consciousness is the consciousness of Nature.
Second, that it was our nation, our national culture, which defined us and which therefore, was of supreme importance. But, in my heart, I always felt a universal, honorable, compassion, as I always felt the need to be aware of the numinous, the sacred. Many times in my life I believed this "numinosity" derived from God, the supreme Being — while at other times I believed it derived from Nature, from the cosmos itself: from what I often termed "the gods".
For decades, I wavered between these two versions regarding the origin of the sacred. Because of this awareness, these feelings, I was not as many people — and journalists in particular — believed me to be: some sort of fanatical political extremist who 'hated' people. And yet it is true to say that I was perhaps too arrogant — too sure of myself and the understanding I believed I had achieved — to give in to this compassion, this awareness, and accept I was simply a humble creation of an all-powerful supreme Being. Instead, I believed I could make if not a significant difference then at least some difference to this world, based on my own beliefs and understanding.
My conversion really begins when I started a new job, working long hours on a farm, often by myself. The close contact with Nature, the toil of manual labor, really did restore my soul, my humanity, and I became really aware of the Oneness of the Cosmos and of how I was but part of this wonderful Order which God had created.
In my heart and in my mind I was convinced that this Order had not arisen by chance — it was created, as I myself was created for a purpose. It was as if my true nature had fought a long battle with Shaitan, who had deceived me, but who could deceive me no more. I felt the truth of the one and only Creator in my heart and in my mind.
For the first time in my life, I felt truly humble. Then, as if by chance (but it was the guidance of Allah) I took from my bookcase one of the copies of the Qur'an I had bought after one of my visits to Egypt. I began to read it properly — before, I had merely "dipped into it", reading a few verses, here and there.
What I found was logic, reason, truth, revelation, justice, humanity and beauty. Then, with a desire to find out more about Islam, I "surfed the Internet" for Islamic sites. I found one with audio files of Adhan and Salah and verses from the Qur'an. Again, my heart responded. There was no need for words.
In the next few days I found more web-sites as I read all I could about Islamic beliefs. Stripped of my prejudices, my arrogance — no longer deceived by Shaitan — here was everything that I myself felt, and always had felt to be true: dignity, honor, trust, justice, community, truth, an awareness of God on a daily basis, the need to be self-disciplined, the spiritual way before materialism, and the recognition of how we, as individuals, are subservient to God.
I marveled at the life of Muhammad and at the spread of Islam — at how those early Muslims, once "rough and ready" nomads, had through only the words, deeds and revelations of the Prophet, created perhaps the most civilized civilization there has ever been. I became enthralled reading about the life of the Prophet Muhammad, for there was something remarkable here: he seemed to represent everything I felt in my heart and my mind to be noble and civilized. In fact, he seemed to me to be the perfect human being: the perfect example to follow.
The more I discovered about Islam, the more it answered all the doubts, all the questions, of my past thirty years. It really did feel as if I had "come home" — as if I had at last found myself. It was like the time I first went to Egypt and wandered around Cairo.
The sounds, the smells, the scenes, the people — I really felt I belonged there, among "Islamic Cairo" with minarets and the Adhan around me. Personally, I have always loathed cities and large towns — but Cairo was somehow different. I liked it (and still do) — despite the overcrowding, the noise, the traffic. Now, I would sit for hours listening to recordings of the Adhan (which I understood) and the Qur'an in Arabic (which I did not understand). Truly, here — I felt — was the numinous.
Thus, my own conversion became not a question, but a duty. For I had found and accepted the truth that there was no god but Allah and that Muhammad was His Messenger.
So it was that I came to enter a Mosque to say that I wished to convert to Islam. They were so pleased and so friendly — so brotherly — that it brings tears to my eyes now as I remember it, and I thank Allah that I found the true Way in the end.
In my new life, I have a lot to learn, and a desire to learn, as I believe I have the best guides anyone can have — the holy Qur'an and the example of the noble Prophet Muhammad.