One thing I get asked a lot from my followers is for me to share the story of my conversion to Islam.
I've been meaning to write this for ages now, but I must admit I was a bit apprehensive due to all the negativity Islam gets. Yes, I do care what people think, and I can't help it. But I finally decided to do it.
Just to be clear - I'm not trying to convince anyone to do it. I'm simply sharing my experience, and explaining why I made this decision, because some people were interested.
So, here it goes.
I've never really given Islam much thought. My home country claims to be 99% Catholic, and as a child I didn't even know that any Muslims can live there. Islam was this religion in Arab countries, which I only knew from history and religious education classes. I was rather neutral towards it, it was just something completely foreign and irrelevant to my life.
I was never overly religious anyway. I was christened, had my first communion, then confirmation at about 16. But religion was just a part of everyday life - we wouldn't eat meat on Fridays, we'd attend church on Sundays and all the religious holidays, but not much more. I remember once going on holidays organised by the local church youth group, because my friends convinced me to. And it was cheap ;) After that I started attending this group's meetings for a while, but it wasn't for me - everyone else was much more into it, and I just didn't feel it like they did.
At some point we all gradually started attending church less often. And once I moved to the UK, that was pretty much it - I remember I only went to church once with my friends, for whatever reason we had, but even back home I'd only go if I was there over Christmas or Easter.
Saying all that, it's not like I stopped believing in God. I still did, but lost the love for church that I had as a small child, and just believed in my own non-institutionalised way.
How did I learn about Islam then?
When I came to the UK, that was the first time I actually saw any Muslims. There were few of girls in my uni class who wore headscarves, but after initial curiosity it was just completely normal. I was actually more fascinated with the Chinese girls, who always wore some crazy outfits ;) I guess at that point I was still feeling neutral towards Islam and Muslims, they were just the other students in my class.
When I started my first job, there were also some Muslims around, but it didn't really make a difference - no matter what our backgrounds and beliefs were, we were all the same. When I first befriended my husband, his religion also didn't matter.
But he was the first person to ever tell me anything about Islam. The real stuff, how the actual life is, not the stereotypes you could see in media or that they would teach me at school.
Anyway, when we actually got together as a couple, I was adamant that I wouldn't convert ;)
And it was fine - from the very beginning he said that the Quran says that there's no compulsion in the religion, and if I decided against it, there's nothing he could do. He was, however, encouraging me to learn about it - at least for the sake of knowing what I got to live with.
At first I wasn't really interested, but when we started living together, I naturally became curious about how Islam affected Hubby's life. It wasn't just about praying and attending mosque every Friday, but I saw how it was present in all aspects of his life - the food we eat, the dress code, the little things like using lota after using the toilet or taking ghusl when necessary. I started implementing all those things, because it just felt right - even though I still didn't think I'd ever decide to be Muslim.
Eventually I started reading the Quran and listening to Islamic lectures online, just to know more. And it was all getting more interesting, and with time just made more and more sense to me. And I fell in love with listening to the Quran recitation - it just felt beautiful. Still, Hubby didn't really raise the topic of me converting. Only his family would sometimes if I was thinking to convert, and it turned me off a bit when "if" changed to "when".
So it wasn't a quick process. I know girls that convert as soon as they get married, because they think it's what they have to do. But I didn't want to do it just for Hubby's sake, especially with him saying it wouldn't really count - it needed to be my own, conscious choice.
At some point, after a lot of thinking, I told him I want to say the Shahada (declaration of faith). I repeated the words after him, and cried. I don't really remember now what I felt, but I remember crying. It was probably a relief. I remember that the next day his aunt and one of his cousins paid us a visit, and got really excited when he told them. Couple of weeks later we made an appointment with the imam of London Central Mosque, took said cousin as my witness, and I made it official, signing the papers and everything. I'm really happy with the imam on that day - he asked a lot of questions, making sure that I knew what I wanted and that I wasn't under any pressure to convert.
Since then I've had my ups and downs - I'm not perfect, I happen to miss prayers, I probably didn't make as much effort in learning more about Islam as I should. I might not feel it in my heart as much as some other people do - for me it was always more about the reason than emotions.
But I'm glad that it became part of my life.