04 February 2024

# Islam

Becoming Muslim - My Revert Story

Growing up, you could say I had a pretty sheltered life - born in freshly post-communist Poland, spent my whole life in a small town, with extremely limited experience of different cultures. Raising children in England, I appreciate how much they learn about different cultures and religions at school, while our RE classes were all about the Catholic Church, and I only ever remember having a very brief (and not entirely correct) introduction to other main religions.

My knowledge of Islam before moving to the UK was that basic, stereotypical one - I knew the basic stuff, like the belief in Allah, Prophet Muhammad, five daily prayers, and fasting in Ramadan. From what I'd ever learned at school, I never knew just how many countries Islam dominates in, and considered it a domain of Arab countries. And obviously thought those poor covered women are all so oppressed.

When it came to my own faith, I was born in a Catholic family. Baptised as a baby, attended church every Sunday, and had my First Communion. Attended extra worship during Lent and Advent, and had the Confirmation in my teenage years, although that was more because everyone did it, rather than the conscious confirmation of faith that it's technically supposed to be. I had a time though, when I did want to get more into it - my friends convinced me it would be fun to go to a summer camp with the local church, and I even tried to join the church's youth group after coming back, but I ended up feeling really out of place and never quite into the worship just as much as the others were.

Fast forward to the move to England, and entering this melting pot of cultures. I was trying to remember my first impressions some time ago, but can't really think of how I felt being immersed in this multicultural environment. I think I was just in overall shock of being alone in the new place, and didn't really focus that much on the variety of people around me.

What I do remember though, are the Muslim girls that were in my class at uni. The hijabis fascinated me at first - I mean the fact that those, in my mind, "oppressed" young women were in higher education, when I was always led to believe that they weren't really allowed to do anything with their lives. That was my first opportunity to learn that Muslim women can be really fun, cool, into their clothes and make-up like anyone else, and beyond everything really smart and ambitious.

In the years that followed, Islam still really wasn't something I would be interested in. I've been around various Muslims a fair bit, they changed my general view of them as a whole, but it was more along the lines of "you do you", and just living alongside each other.

I first really started exploring Islam more, when I moved in with my husband. Not really because I was extremely interested as such, but I felt like I needed to know more if I was going to spend the rest of my life with this person. I know how some say "I married a man, not his culture or religion", but for me, these are the things that shaped the man I married, so I wanted to know what influenced the way he is.

The first big thing I encountered in our relationship, was the nikah - the Islamic marriage, which I mentioned in one of my earlier posts. Food played a big role too as I made a switch to a halal butcher, and started being more careful about what I bought in case it contained pork or alcohol. I started realising that Islam is this whole way of life, outlined in the Quran, and I wanted to learn more about that.

I started watching scholars' lectures on YouTube, and then Mr brought me a copy of the English translation of the Quran that I could read. So I read, I listened to explanations of the Quranic verses, I listened to comparisons of the teachings of Islam to Christianity. I loved the overall logic that I found behind certain beliefs.

Contrary to what some people might assume, neither my husband nor his family ever pushed me into accepting Islam. It was my own curiosity, and it took me about two years to decide this is what I actually believed in, that it agreed with me more than the Catholic faith I was brought up in. I don't think my husband even knew how much I got into it - I just occasionally asked him about something I'd read or heard, to clarify. I started looking for Muslim women's blogs and YouTube channels to connect with, and I watched hijab tutorials when he wasn't around just so he wouldn't get overly excited about my interest. 

I eventually realised where I was going wrong with my whole journey - I thought that if I was ever going to convert, I'd have to first know all there was to know, learn how to pray, be ready to wear the hijab, the full works. I didn't look at it as work in progress - I didn't consider how people born into any religion still have to go through their whole lives learning. Just as I didn't get baptised as a baby fully knowing what I was getting into, but had to learn everything growing up, I shouldn't have been putting this pressure on myself to be ready-moulded Muslim before I even admitted I wanted to be one.

After that realisation, one evening I finally said to my husband "I think I want to be a Muslim". I repeated the words of shahada after him, and that was that. A few days later he booked me a meeting with an imam in the mosque, because after reading somewhere that I might need a certificate if I ever wanted to perform Umrah or Hajj, I wanted to have the official piece of paper for the future. We went with one of his cousins as another witness for me, the imam made sure I wasn't coerced into anything and knew what I was doing, and the rest is history really!

That was in 2013. I've obviously learned to pray since, but I'm still not the perfect Muslim I thought I'd become. I dress modestly, but don't wear the hijab (I did for some time, but decided to stop). I don't regularly go to the mosque, and struggle to connect with other Muslims, but I'm generally anti-social nowadays so I struggle to connect with anyone really ;) I still don't read Arabic, often struggle with connecting in prayer, and don't get as excited about Ramadan as some people do. Throwing In Sha Allah or Alhamdulillah into conversation still doesn't feel natural. But this is the way of life I chose to follow, what I felt was the right thing to do for the future of our family, and beyond anything else that I believe in.

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