How I Came to Islam
Many people have asked me how I came to become a Muslim. It’s quite a long story but I’ll try and describe the key events.
It is hard to know where to start because everything that happens in our lives can usually be linked to a decision or event that happened before it. Possibly the best place to start is my first business trip to Pakistan in February 2007.
I didn’t want to go. In fact, nobody from our team wanted to go, but SOMEBODY had to go. In the end I volunteered and it was a decision which changed both my career and my personal life.
Although I knew a lot about the food in South Asia I knew very little about Pakistan the country other than what CNN and BBC choose to tell us in the West. My mother was terrified at the idea of me travelling to Pakistan when I first mentioned the possibility, so I chose not to tell her that I was going once my final plans had been made.
The trip went fine, I enjoyed the food enormously, and I made many new friends. On my return my boss gave me a new assignment – manage the team in Pakistan! It was not too long after this that I found myself managing teams in Turkey, Dubai and Cairo, amongst other places. As I spent time visiting these countries and working with the people there I became very much aware of how Islam plays a role in people’s daily lives. I saw prayer mats in people’s offices and copies of the Qur’an on desks. I would be woken early morning in my hotel room by the call to prayer coming from nearby mosques. The days themselves would be punctuated by other calls to prayer. I was asked to sanction a new ablution area in the office in Karachi. Even the way that people speak is different.
After about a year of travelling to and working in Islamic countries, I felt the desire to read the Qur’an. I felt that I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of Islam to help me in my relationships with the people I was in contact with. Knowing how much Islam was a part of their lives I didn’t want to offend my colleagues because of my ignorance about their culture and beliefs!
There was no idea at that stage of converting to Islam. At the time I was a confirmed agnostic and very sceptical of “organised religions”. I have a very analytical mind and a strong scientific education. My parents were not at all religious and had never encouraged me to be so. I occasionally went to church on Sunday after my first marriage, but that was because it was “expected” rather than out of any belief on my part. Although I had the idea in my head to read the Qur’an, it was just an idea…
On my birthday in 2008 (08/08/08), for some reason that I can’t explain, I decided that I should give up drinking alcohol. I was not a heavy drinker at all. I used to enjoy the occasional glass of wine, and I would enjoy sharing a bottle of wine with my husband on a Saturday evening. In fact, a few years earlier I had given up drinking alcohol for about 12 months but that was more on health grounds. I was trying to lose weight!
A few days after my birthday I decided to see if I could find a good English translation of the Qur’an. After a while I found a very nice translation on the web in modern English which I could download and put on my laptop. I began reading… The Holy Qur’an
I was travelling quite a lot at the time and would read bits of the Qur’an on my laptop on planes, in airports or in hotels. For those who have never read the Qur’an it is not an easy book to read! But strangely the more I read, the more I felt compelled to continue reading. I found things in the Qur’an that I didn’t expect to find. I found that my feelings about how people should behave in this world were there in its pages. I found myself reconciling my scientific training with the concept of the Universe being a Divine creation. I felt that the Qur’an spoke to me.
I had a startling experience about a week after I started reading the Qur’an. It is hard for me to describe it, and I can assure you that I hadn’t been drinking; nor was I delusional. I was on an overnight flight from Zurich to Johannesburg. The flight leaves Zurich late evening and arrives in Jo’burg at about 9 o’clock in the morning. I had taken dinner and settled down to sleep. After some time – I don’t know how long – I woke up. The cabin was quiet and in darkness, but I felt I had something in my mouth. Something physical. And when I opened my mouth, words fell out. The words said, “Allah has a garden for us all”. I was shocked. I had never experienced anything like that before. I felt a bit unnerved, but took a drink of water and settled back down to sleep. I woke up again some time later – it could have been 5 minutes or an hour later, I don’t know – and felt this strange feeling again. But this time when I opened my mouth the word “Muhammad” fell out.
I managed to fall asleep again, but there were no further experiences like that. When I look back, I think that was the turning point for me. Only sometime later did I discover that this occurred on 1st Ramadan.
On the return journey I arrived back in Zurich airport. I noticed that the Euro lottery jackpot was about 200 million dollars equivalent, so I thought I’d buy a ticket. I was walking to the counter to buy a ticket when I stopped. I suddenly thought of how blessed I am to have the job I have, the home I have, the family and friends I have. I didn’t need to win this money. So I turned around and went to catch my plane back to Geneva. Why did I do that??? That wasn’t like me at all!!!
It took me 19 days to read the entire Qur’an, and then I found myself wanting to know more about Islam and our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings upon him). I started reading and reading and reading. In October I was due to go back to Pakistan to spend a week with a friend and her family. We started chatting about prayer and I asked her to teach me how to pray when I was with her in Pakistan. Although she didn’t actually teach me, we did pray together many times and I felt that it was so right to pray to Allah. I have, of course, since learned how to pray on my own.
There are many more strange experiences I could relate that have happened both to me and to people close to me, but since they are personal and involve other people I will not share them here.
This is the basic story of how I came to Islam. No person suggested I should become a Muslim, nor guided me to Islam. I have read a lot about Islam, the life and teachings of the Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings upon him), Islam in the modern context and, of course, women’s rights in Islam – always an interesting topic! I’m neither a scholar nor an expert, but as a newbie to Islam I try to inform myself of the issues by reading as widely as I can and trying to filter out the “noise”. My ultimate reference point is always the Qur’an.
May God protect you.