Sister Jan Jackson
This is the story of my conversion to Islam.
Before I begin, let me say that I don’t believe my story is particularly special, in that there are many stories like it. However, as I believe that God wrought a miracle in my life (as He has in many others) then of course it IS special.
I guess there are two ways to tell my story. You could say: “I met a man who introduced me to Islam. I converted, and we married.” But that is a gross simplification.
You could also say it this way…
I am a 48 year old Australian. I was raised a Catholic and am still grateful for the religious upbringing my parents gave me. They were practising Catholics who imparted their faith to me and I attended a Catholic school. From this education I did gain a ‘version’ of God and a ‘kind of’ spiritual sense, but these were both so vague and inaccessible as to never touch my heart. The doctrine of Christianity never really sat comfortably with me. It was like a coat that doesn’t fit. I wore it but it never felt right and by the time I was about 20, I was happier taking the coat off. Sadly, I didn’t wear a coat at all for the next 25 years.
During that time I lived a comfortable, privileged life, in the ‘western lifestyle’ sense – financially secure, educated and trained, healthy, with no major crises in my life. I married. I worked. I travelled. I indulged myself. Food, wine,
entertainment, weekends away, fancy hotels, overseas trips. Eat, drink and be merry. Having no children, I had no real responsibilities. I sought mainly to entertain myself, and have a good time.
From where I am standing now, that period just seems like a life without purpose, and it’s truly painful for me to look back and see 25 years of a Godless life.
Then, about five years ago, God gave me the opportunity to reassess my life, alhamdulillah. My personal circumstances changed drastically. My beloved father died tragically, my marriage broke up painfully, my income was significantly reduced and I was living alone. I was forced to take stock, reflect and reassess my life. And I found myself in a thoroughly meaningless void.
Around this time I began to read all kinds of material on all kinds of religions. I tried to revive my Catholicism, but it was useless. It did not feel real or sincere. I felt no sense of connection.
At this time I met, and had a very important conversation with, a Muslim brother, my neighbour who later became my husband. At this time I knew absolutely nothing about Islam. All my reading (on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, etc) seemed to have taken me down every path EXCEPT Islam. So when I asked him about HIS religion he said: “It is a beautiful religion, a simple religion, part of life.” His quiet, composed, assured conviction struck me. Here was someone who was so quietly certain about his religion that it needed nothing more than these simple few words to provide an answer, an answer that seemed whole and complete. And here was someone who described his religion as “beautiful”. I had never encountered this before. Religion had always been a duty, or an institution,
something to be learned or endured, something burdensome and complicated and problematic – not something “beautiful”. It struck my heart in a way I do not really understand. But I have to say that it was one of those defining moments of one’s life – something irreversible happened.
So then it began. I decided to try and learn about Islam. I asked around, tentatively at first…… I bought books and read, I browsed websites, and I started to scan my environment for anything Islamic – not difficult living in Brunswick, Melbourne. I went to an information day at Preston mosque. I obtained a copy of the Qur’an from a book sale at the Islamic Council of Victoria. The more I read the Qur’an the more I became convinced of the truth of the Qur’anic revelations. I read books on the life of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and became convinced that he was the last in a line of prophets before him, and a true messenger of Allah. I tried fasting in Ramadan and saw it as a real test of whether or not I meant business. But the experience strengthened my intent. I discovered for myself the benefits, and I felt one with the brotherhood and sisterhood of all fasting Muslims around the world.
But the most powerful experience for me at this time was discovering the act of prayer. I bought a book which taught me how to pray….. and I have to say that from the moment I first bowed in prayer in the Muslim way, I felt connected to my Creator, for the first time in my life, and I wept with joy.
I’ve heard many new Muslims say what I’m about to say but it was so true for me. From the time I opened my mind to the possibility of becoming a Muslim, I kept encountering things that spurred me on. And it was as if they were put there especially for me. And one thing would lead to another. A newspaper article might lead to a website. A chance encounter
to a bookshop. A book to another book. A website to a conversation. This information gathering was such an important time. Because when I look back it was critical what I read and who I spoke to. I did not rely on my future husband to provide information. Quite the opposite. I was determined to separate my pursuit of Islam from him. I needed to be clear about my intentions - that I wasn’t pursuing Islam to please him or gain his approval. So I sought out other Muslims. One day I went to Friday prayer at Preston mosque. I was terrified. It took every bit of effort to get myself in that door. And there I met two sisters who were like angels planted there for me, who took me under their wings. I owe a great deal to them, and to every other Muslim I have met in the few years because all of them have inspired and supported me in the warmest and gentlest and most generous of ways.
I said my shahada in Ramadan in December 1999, just before the new millennium ticked over.
Around this time I was introduced to the Revert Support Group, operating in Melbourne, which has been a great help and support to me, as a source of information and a sharing of knowledge and experience, and a way of meeting other new Muslims.
Increasingly I learned the value of prayer. I learned that to worship God regularly strengthens one’s commitment and sense of connection. It helps to set up an ongoing dialogue with God, a consciousness of God that starts to become more frequent, more natural, a remembering or mindfulness of God throughout your day. Prayer acts as a reminder that you are a part of God’s creation, and only a tiny part at that. You are reminded of your place in time and the universe. You cannot pray without feeling humility. It is impossible. I also learned that the frequency of
prayer forces you to monitor your actions more closely, makes you more vigilant of your behaviour, and helps you to keep the concerns and preoccupations of everyday routine in perspective.
So why Islam over Christianity? (as my Christian friends ask)…
Throughout my Christian upbringing, despite the emphasis on Jesus Christ, I never really conceptualised him as God. I thought of him as an historical figure only, not a divine being. And I had great difficulty with the concept of the Holy Trinity. This concept for me obscured the path to God. On the other hand the concept of Tawheed in Islam, the oneness of God, is a concept that I can fully embrace.
For me Islam is a beautiful religion because it is simple and clear, and woven into the fabric of everyday life. For me, it is not bogged down in the doctrines and dogmas of other religious traditions. I was so impressed by the fact that to actually ‘become’ a Muslim you need only believe it in your heart and make the declaration of faith – no instructions, no indoctrinations, no sacraments, no initiations, no tests.
Islam is full of ritual as we know – but I love the fact that the ritual is incorporated into simple acts of everyday life – in eating, washing, speaking, praying (not high ‘pomp and ceremony’ ritual). When I first started mixing with Muslims I loved to keep hearing the word ‘Allah’ on everyone’s lips, and with no self-consciousness. You can go weeks, months, even years in a Christian community and never hear the word ‘God’ mentioned! Here’s a story that illustrates that. Around the time I first started to explore Islam I went with my mother to a Catholic function. It was an informal forum with speakers and discussion, entitled “God in our society”. I listened for three hours and not once was the word “God” actually spoken! except when a nun got up at the conclusion of the night to say “thank
you to our speakers and thanks be to God”. This was the only time I heard the word and the evening was over. As everyone clapped, I wanted to shout “Wait. Aren’t you missing something here?!”
Another aspect of Islam that draws me to it is that Islam is a “bigger ask”, more demanding. By that I don’t just mean that it is more demanding in its discipline and its ritual, in its prayer and fasting and dietary requirements (abstinence from alcohol, etc). Rather I mean it is larger and more demanding in its focus, its vision, its scope.
Personally speaking, I find the Christian message of love one another to be something of a “given”. It goes without saying that we should love one another. Whilst I would not wish to offend any Christian readers, or make a generalisation, but in my own experience I have found the Christian way of life today (increasingly) to be simply a kind of humanitarianism which allows the person to customize or tailorize their religion to suit themselves – love one another, don’t hurt anyone and do your own thing – and it seems to concentrate on this life, narrow its focus to this earth and this existence. For me the Islamic message has quite a different emphasis, and is something way beyond this – it is attention to God – love your fellow man, of course, live as well as you can, of course – but use every bit of your limited capability to try and understand, comprehend, love and know and serve God. Islam demands that we focus on more than this life, and beyond this life.
I found this “bigger ask” in the Qur’an as well. For me the beauty of the Qur’an is the scope that it encompasses. It insists that we try and contemplate time and beyond, the universe and beyond, creation and beyond. It asks us to reflect on creation, the prophetic revelations, destiny, the beginning of life, the end
of life and the day of judgement. In so doing, we try to grasp the hugeness of everything beyond ourselves, the magnificence of God.
I feel so happy and so blessed to have had my life transformed. In committing to the Islamic way I have found meaning and significance in everyday life, and a consequent peace that follows from this. And I feel I have experienced the miracle of seeing myself as part of creation and time and God’s plan, and the consequent joy that follows from this. I thank God. Alhamdulillah. And I praise Allah Subhanallah.
Holy Quran 56:95