By Saoirse Fitzgibbon
When I was four, the girl next door told me thunder was ‘God moving His furniture’. When I asked my mum about God, I got vagaries about light and energy and an acknowledgement that she didn’t know. My parents were ‘spiritual not religious’, and although they raised me to the best of their ability and knowledge, I received no real spiritual upbringing from them as such. Whilst this gave me the freedom to discover my own course, it left me adrift during the formative years of my life. I had very little introduction to the concept of belief and during my teens, I longed for connection and attended the Catholic Instruction classes at school to address this. Discussions with my parents about why they’d left Catholicism added to my sense that it was better to follow the general teachings of the Prophets through their stories, as I knew them, than a man-made religion . As I got older belief gave way to uncertainty as to what it was really all about. At nineteen, I spent six months in Iran with my then Fiancé and his family where I rebuffed the one, tentative attempt to give me dawah, yet, when I woke to the sound of the fajr adhan, I would smile involuntarily in the dark, my heart soaring inexplicably.
My thoughts turned to belief again when I became pregnant at twenty-two. When my baby moved inside me I was humbled; I knew something beyond my comprehension had created this life. Recognising the extent to which my lack of spiritual upbringing had disadvantaged me, I was determined not to leave my child in the same predicament but knew I was ill -equipped to guide him.
A turning point came in 2009 during my final year at Uni, when I was given dawah by a classmate. At first he simply asked if I believed in God but I was forced to admit I didn’t actually know. He asked if I believed I had a soul and again I couldn’t say. Having always believed in God I was shaken by my inability to answer. He then queried where I felt joy and sadness and, when I wordlessly pointed to my chest, told me he believed that was the soul. This had a huge impact on me.
Over the following nine months I studied more about Islam. I went to my university Islamic Society for support and Alhamdulillah, I quickly became convinced Islam was the absolute truth. On a Sunday in October I went to Regents Park Mosque in London with Umm Raiyaan and, Alhamdulillah, I accepted Islam.
On reflection, there are seven lessons that I have derived from my tumultuous journey- lessons I may not have seen, recognized or appreciated at the time, but which I hope by sharing, may encourage you to reflect on the lessons you have learned in your journey…
1. Belief is just the first step on the lifelong journey to Allah
I cried tears of relief on uttering my Shahada; at the sense of homecoming, redemption and reprieve. I naively thought that belief alone would solve all my problems and, now that the truth had been revealed to me, that the void within would be no more and life would be easy. Little did I realise I had but taken one step, and that an arduous way lay ahead. I had unwittingly declared war on the ‘self’ that I had indulged all my life, and I had no understanding of how ill-equipped I was for this battle, how hard it would be fought or how heavy the losses I would incur; however, neither could I have imagined the enormity of what I was set to gain.
“So those who believe in Allah and hold fast to Him – He will admit them to mercy from Himself and bounty and guide them to Himself on a straight path.” (4:175)
Islam is easy, but taming the uncooperative ego is challenging. Learning to put Allah first in everything I do and in all aspects of my life has tested me greatly and is an ongoing process of development. Islam is not simply a religion but a whole new way of living and the journey to Allah is life-long.
‘There shall be no compulsion in (acceptance of) the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut (false gods) and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing’ (2:256)
2.Everything that befalls us in life is from Allah’s decree- everything for a reason, and a reason for everything alhamdulillaah!
My journey to belief involved twenty-six years of instability, uncertainty and searching. Sometimes my searching was conscious, and sometimes it was nothing more than a longing for connection, which tended to lead me in unhelpful directions and often resulted in error and heartbreak. At times, I feel sad- at the sins I committed, the suffering I brought on myself and the implications for my life of some of the mistakes I made in ignorance. However, over the years, I’ve come to understand that nothing that occurred in my life, and none of my circumstances are without purpose or meaning. My journey may have been painful at times but everything I went through was decreed by Allah, in His Wisdom, for my ultimate betterment and, so, all I can do is marvel at His perfect plan, which ultimately led me back to Him.
Allah swt says in a Hadith Qudsi: O My servants, all of you are astray except for those I have guided, so seek guidance of Me and I shall guide you. (Sahih Muslim)
3.We are all born on the Fitrah, with an inclination to seek Allah, because He wants us to find Him
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala created us with an innate awareness of Him because He loves us and wants us to return to Him. He knows the tests we need to face in order to remind us of our soul’s covenant with Him. Feelings of emptiness and being lost can serve to alert us and send us in search of meaning, setting us on course to our Lord. Commonly the journey to belief starts with going back to basics, reconnecting with the fitrah we were born upon, reassessing the things we once held true and following the Divine Guidance. Although during my journey, I reached a point where I could no longer fully ascertain if I even believed in God nor say with any certainty if I even had a soul, He knew I wanted to know Him and He didn’t abandon me to disbelief.
Allah swt says in a Hadith Qudsi:
I am as My servant thinks (expects) I am. I am with him when he mentions Me. If he mentions Me to himself I mention him to Myself; and if he mentions Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly greater than it. If he draws near Me a hand’s length, I draw near to him an arm’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.’(Sahih al-Bukhari)
4.Allah wants a personal connection with each one of us, and He is available to us at all times
Prior to becoming Muslim and even in my earlier years as a Muslim, I failed to understand the nature of Allah’s love for me. I was completely unaware of how valuable I am to Him or of the fact that He wants to have a personal connection with me. I was unable to conceive of a creator who knew me intimately, who loved me unconditionally and wanted me to call on Him. The image of God I had grown up with was distant and remote yet in reality, He was available to me at all times, had I only known it. Learning of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala’s responsiveness has brought me immense comfort throughout the most difficult periods of my life.
‘And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the supplication of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So, let them respond to Me (by obedience) and believe in Me that they may be (rightly) guided.’ (2:186)
5.Allah tests whom He loves, and the more I rely on Him the easier the test becomes
I have come to understand, through immensely painful tests of heart, soul and body, that my Rabb is with me always and I have no cause for sorrow or fear. His love for me is immeasurable and His Mercy incomprehensible. I have come to see, through the signs of Allah’s love and mercy in my own life, in particular in those times of immense hardship, that the more I rely on Him the easier the test becomes. The more I place my trust in Him; His word, His plan, the more I am assured of His love and protection. When we start to see the blessing in our tests we become grateful for the test itself and when even our tests are met with gratitude life takes on an entirely different colour. When we start to recognise those tests for what they are – reminders to turn to Allah subhnahau wa ta’ala – then with hardship we have ease.
‘And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger, and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we willl return.’ Those are the ones upon whom are blessings and mercy from their Lord and mercy. And it is they who are rightly guided.’(2:155-157)
6.Allah never burdens a soul more than they can bear
Our Lord has promised never to burden a soul beyond its capacity to bear, never to give hardship without ease and never to test us but from His love. He has taught me to be content with whatever He decrees. I have learned to draw comfort from my darkest moments because in those moments I know He is with me. If I’m tested with a thing it is because He knows I can handle it and if I can’t handle a thing Allah s.w.t. will never allow it to reach a point where it would break me.
‘From the perfection of Allah’s ihsan is that He allows His slave to taste the bitterness of the break before the sweetness of the mend. So He does not break His believing slave, except to mend him. And He does not withhold from him, except to give him. And He does not test him (with hardship), except to cure him.’ (Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah)
7.Rely on Allah
The life of a convert commonly involves a number of challenges and accepting Islam is often followed by a period of tests. As a new Muslim, I had no expectation that I would be tested and I did what I had always done when faced with a problem, which is to become frantic thinking about what I needed to ‘do’. I have learned over time and from experience that there is no cause to fear difficulty. Allah swt will take care of everything; all we have to do is place our reliance on Him. From the hardest tests I’ve been given has come the greatest of blessings in the form of the Tawwakkul Allah. I learned to place my reliance on the One who, from His mercy, guided me. The more I practice reliance on Allah in my most trying moments the easier it becomes.
‘For verily Allah loves those who place their trust in Him’ (3:159)
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.