By Saoirse Fitzgibbon
I recently came across a video of people experiencing colour for the first time. I watched it on repeat and I cried every time. I imagined living in a world without colour, without the hues and shades that uplift me daily, and was struck by how I have taken my ability to see colour, amongst so many other things, for granted. However, it was the reactions of the people in the video, as they gazed through their EnChroma glasses at a world previously hidden from their view, which moved me so deeply. A teenage boy asks ‘Oh my God… is this the real word? Is this actually what it looks like?’ before breaking down in tears. An elderly man jokes about his inability to see colour as he places the glasses on his eyes but as soon as he does he abruptly removes them and puts his face in his hands, overcome with emotion. A burly young man doubles over, as if winded, the instant he puts them on, exclaiming ‘Oh my Gosh! Are you serious?… I’ve been missing out on so much!’ He appears lost for words for a moment as he’s asked to identify the brightly-coloured balloons lined up in front of him, before rattling them off, to the cheers of the onlookers. The video closes with a boy of around ten years old, who just manages to utter a heart-wrenching ‘Thank you’ and then the word ‘colour’, in a tone of disbelief, through the tears streaming down his face.
The video stayed with me afterwards and caused me to reflect, not just on the blessings I take for granted but on my first experiences of seeing the world through eyes of faith and how that faith has given this life a whole new colour for me. When I took my shahaada I cried, from a sense of relief and homecoming but it wasn’t until I saw that video that I recognised another facet of why I felt such raw emotion. The words of the people in the video resonated with my experience of knowing faith in God for the first time… ‘Is this the real world? Is this what it actually looks like?’, ‘I’ve been missing out on so much!’ The years of needless sadness that I couldn’t identify the cause of, and the futile attempts to fill the emptiness within with all the wrong things, swam before my eyes as it hit home that this Faith had been here the whole time, yet I had been oblivious to its beauty. The emotions that washed over me were bitter sweet.
The next moment I was worrying about how I would learn to pray before the next Salah time came in, having ghusl and wudhu explained to me, receiving advice regarding keeping clean the ‘clean slate’ I had been granted, and struggling with the scarf I had tied awkwardly around my head before entering the mosque, wondering how I would ever manage to wear it and what reactions I would face at uni the next day. I couldn’t even bring myself to think about how relatives, friends and neighbours would respond. Over the weeks that followed the stack of books and c.d.s gifted by my well-meaning, well-wishing, new family-in-Islam grew on my bedside table, as did my sense of overwhelm. I panicked as I struggled over prayers, Arabic, and my new dress code, the expectations and the reactions and the matter of concealing my Islam from certain people, and the guilt and shame of doing so. The pervading sense that I was messing it up, doing it all wrong, failing, mounted all the while.
In the midst of my frenzy and the battles with alarm clocks, compasses and headscarves, I lost sight of that which had inclined me towards Islam to begin with. I lost sight of that thing inside me, my fitrah, which hearkened back to a covenant I made in a time and place I can’t recall, and had nudged me unrelentingly towards Him. I forgot the ecstasy I had felt in my chest every time the adhaan called me to my salvation and the longing I had felt to place my head on the floor in submission and adoration… the longing to immerse myself in only Him. I allowed myself to become burdened by the outward acts, my budding connection to my Lord paid the price, and I quickly backslid.
I still vividly remember the day after my shahada, lying on my bed with my head spinning, feeling like I had lost my identity, everyone I held dear, and the vague sense of God I had retained since childhood, which though flimsy at least had felt familiar. Looking back now, almost ten years later, I realise I had lost nothing, rather I had gained the only thing I truly needed. I wish I had known then to keep things simple, to turn to Allah with my fear and apprehension, as He had been guiding me to all my life, and to learn about Him through His beautiful names and attributes, developing my relationship with Him and growing to love Him, to keeping it between me and my Lord and not worry about what anyone else thought of my progress. Now I understand that whilst He felt remote and unfamiliar to me at first, in fact He already knew me better than I knew myself, and loved me unconditionally, and had no expectation of me other than that I do my best.
Alhamdulillah although I lost my way He never lost sight of me. He refused to let me slip away again and a period of tests ensued. He tested me, from His wisdom and love, to such a degree that I thought I would break. I was forced to call out to Him. I called out to my ever-responsive Lord, beseeching Him for His help, and He responded in ways I could never have envisioned. Through the hardship of my tests and the ease brought by His rescue my certainty in Him grew and I learned to trust Him and to place my reliance on Him. It took me longer than I care to admit to claw my way back to a place of forward motion and I still battle my ego and my human nature every single day but, Alhamdulillah, I battle it armed with faith now and that has changed my outlook on everything. Faith has allowed me to see this life through new eyes and to remain resilient in the face of difficulty, in the knowledge that I am safe in the protection of my Lord, and that I must hold tight to His rope at all costs.
‘And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favour of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favour, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided.’ (3:103)
About the author:
Saoirse is an Irish Muslim, who accepted Islam in 2009. She studied Persian at SOAS, University of London, before qualifying as a primary school teacher. She now lives in Ireland, with her son and daughter, and is studying Special Needs Education. She is passionate about faith, parenting and the pursuit of authenticity.