From harbouring a hatred towards Islam and Muslims to eventually becoming one, Chris’ story is one that is echoed by seekers of truth around the world. Chris attended iERA’s New Muslim retreat in 2017, which helped him not only solidify the foundations of his Islam but also motivated him to be involved in conveying the call in his local area.
Chris grew up in a predominantly Asian area of Leeds and had an idyllic childhood. However, everything changed drastically when he entered High School. A combination of heady teenagers with fresh testosterone coursing through their veins and a lack of understanding from either side would eventually lead to dangerous altercations between the English and Asian adolescents. Chris was stuck in the middle as a bystander during these skirmishes — which he tried his utmost to avoid — but eventually was swept up in the tide of melees. Through no fault of his own, he was singled out at School and especially on the way back home, which laid the foundation of his hatred towards Islam.
Fast forward a few years after leaving High School — in 2009, Chris was 19 years old and still baring emotional scars from all the past skirmishes. In the midst of the recession, the Far Right movement gained momentum across the West. It was a perfect fit. Chris found like-minded people within his area who were also harbouring ill will towards Asian Muslims. These individuals would voice their concerns about the ‘Islamification’ of Britain in their pub meetings. Chris decided to join the cause — fighting the ‘good fight’ — feeling a sense of belonging to ‘claim back Britain’ from the clutches of the fringe extreme elements of Islam disproportionately given the limelight by 357% more according to recent studies by the Mass Media. He would get involved in demonstrations informing the public about the Shariah Law and how it should be put to an end by any means necessary to save British culture from being eroded away.
Chris’ family did not have any knowledge about his deviant behaviour — the shame inside him forced him to keep his activities private, knowing that it would clash with the values of his family. One instance was when Chris went into his household holding a UK Independence Party (UKIP) banner — a lesser of two evils — his mother expressed her distaste and vehemently told her son to get out, making sure there was no place for racism in their home.
The Rise & Fall
After a while he became disillusioned with the movement, citing that there was no sense of purpose — being divisive and the hurling of racist abuse, based on the ignoramus concept of race — did not give Chris a sense of higher purpose. Members were unable to answer a fundamental question posed by Chris: “Why were we here?”
Along with the frivolous attitudes of local members and their leader leaving for ‘greener pastures’ (Quilliam Foundation), the group self-evidently became shambolic. Ironically, Chris still had Asian friends from College; he did not know at the time they were Muslim because they were not practising the religion — which was evident from their social outings. A Muslim passed away within Chris’ area, and he attended the funeral, he met the same Asian friends and realised that they were Muslim, the hypocrisy seeped in and he came to a realisation that life is too short — this was the end of his stint as an EDL member.
The Life-Changing Event
Making a habit of driving your vehicle at high speeds unnecessarily is never a good idea and will inevitably lead to disaster. Chris felt the full force of picking such a dangerous habit — resulting in a car crash culminating in egregious injuries — the severest of them being a broken leg. Being bedridden for nine months is such a life-changing event but strangely enough, it can become that initial trigger which can open the path full of blessings. Chris had time to reflect on the meaning of life and made him wonder why he was still alive. Chris was familiar with only one religion at the time and like many others – at a time of crisis, you go back to your roots.
Attending his local Church, Chris began to practise Christianity again, reading the Bible and enveloping himself with all the traditions and practises which came along with it. However, there one was a point which could not stick — the concept of the Trinity. No matter how the Trinity was packaged up as a metaphorical analogy — be it water in its multiple forms or the bucket example Chris could not find the logic — how can three be one? Chris concluded he could not rely on Jesus and decided to go back to his former Church — the pub!
Unsurprisingly, alcohol was unable to subdue Chris’ endless pursuit of that high — which satisfied him briefly but buried him deeper into a state of depression — he had also become dependent on prescription medication during his recovery from his car accident. However, his GP put an end to his prescription for the medication, and he began self-medicating. Chris found an expensive substitute and picked up a self-destructive habit of using cocaine. Chris’ use of cocaine made him even more depressed and he began to contemplate suicide, however, praise to God, he countered such urges and refrained from making such a commitment to ending his life.
In Search of The Truth
Chris always believed in the existence of a creator and knew it wasn’t Jesus. As most people do, they begin searching online, jumping from random articles to online videos. His primary source of research was Facebook, more specifically finding videos produced by ‘The Merciful Servant’ centring on the topic of Jesus. Chris found this perspective of Jesus much more convincing and yet whilst accepting this information, he did not have a clue that this was the Islamic perspective!
Chris recalled a time when he caught a taxi to his home, during the journey he spoke to the Asian Taxi Driver about his latest passion — the ‘Merciful Servant’ videos — but to his dismay, the driver informed him that the videos are created by Muslims and based on Islam.
In a hazy state of confusion, Chris could not comprehend what he had just heard and angrily retorted: “But all Muslims are Terrorists!” Exiting the vehicle — with violent flashbacks from his past rushing back to him — expecting an altercation with the man he had just insulted. However, the driver just smiled and put his hand on Chris’ shoulder, without uttering a word. Chris was bemused and went away thinking, “Why would he just smile?” The arrogance within him convinced himself to think: “I’ll never be a Muslim and will never watch those videos again!”
After four weeks, Chris’ thirst for the truth prevailed, and he continued watching the videos. In a moment of self-actualisation, he deduced he was unable to stay away from Islam — he was furious with the schooling system, how it failed to teach this valuable scope of life in its true glory — lamenting the missed opportunities of learning about the truth earlier on in his life.
“You’re Telling Me Black Muslims Exist!?”
Chris found some stability in his life, avoiding the synthesised highs of life, he was able to focus more and was able to find employment at the local shopping centre as a security guard. He found himself working a similar shift pattern to Bashir, an older man of Nigerian descent. They would enjoy each other’s company and were able to humour each other to make their time at work more enjoyable. However, Chris did not know Bashir was a Muslim and Bashir did not have any prior knowledge of Chris’ search for the truth.
The work colleagues discussed meeting after work hours sometimes, and Bashir suggested exchanging numbers to confirm a time and a place. Coincidentally this was around the same time Chris’ melancholy began to seep in again and even contemplated suicide. Chris knew the positive strides he was making were for the better but his inner demons we calling him back to his erroneous ways, as he described it ‘the destructive life.’
Bashir actions at the time used to mean a lot to Chris, the way he carried himself, fulfilling his duties as a family man, keeping his word whenever he gave it, Chris respected Bashir’s honourable way of life, this form of indirect/subtle Dawah can be argued to be the most effective, turning to the idiom, ‘actions speak louder than words’.
During their meal out, the two friends discussed religious matters in detail and Bashir would explain: ‘If you can believe that Jesus is a Prophet, why can’t you believe Muhammad (saw) can’t be one also?’ By using this common sense, I came to the conclusion — that this was a logical progression.
‘No messenger have We sent before you [Muhammad] who did not eat food and walk about in the marketplaces. However, We have made some of you a means of testing others — will you stand fast: Your Lord is all seeing.’ [Qur’an Chapter 25, ‘The Differentiator’, Verse 20]
Friday 6th November — A New Lease In Life
A few weeks later, after Chris’ frank discussion with Bashir during their meal out — it was Bonfire Night 2015. After ten months of deliberation — of seeking the truth — Chris had to fit the remaining piece of the puzzle, for him to progress onto the next level. He called Bashir that evening and professed to him that it was a matter of urgency that he committed to the Shahada before he had a change of heart. An enthralled Bashir explained that the following day was a special day for Muslims — Friday also known as Jummah — and it would be an extra special occasion if he were able to commit to the declaration of the Islamic faith on that particular day.
This was the first time Chris was visiting a mosque, and he found it daunting. Chris spoke to the Imam, who answered a list of his questions, which had been festering in his mind over the months of research, but after their intimate discussion he found a sense of relief — it was the first time in his entire life his questions had been answered. This is what Chris found admirable about Muslims, they’ll usually have the answers to life’s problems and if they did not have the answer, they would admit to their lack of knowledge and will follow up on the unanswered question at a later date.
Chris confirmed that there was no other deity worthy of worship other than Allah and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is his final messenger. He received all the hugs from the numerous locals — who attended the busiest prayer of the week but there was a significant issue — he still resented them! When it came to the congregational prayers, he has been advised by the Imam to recite to learn the prayer in English and recite what he can but physically standing shoulder to shoulder with his fellow worshippers made his skin crawl, his xenophobic tendencies had not left him.
Retrospectively reflecting on his mentality at the time, he felt his prejudices were fuelled by his arrogance and for him to have any chance in flourishing in this new lease in life, he had to let go of his previous grievances, recognising forgiving one another for our shortcomings otherwise he will never find the inner peace which he so ardently sought after.
“. . . and let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that God should forgive you? And God is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Qur’an Chapter 24 ‘An-Nur’, Verse 22]
What To Gain As A Revert Going To The iERA New Muslim Retreat?
Becoming a New Muslim can be a perplexing at times — and can be further exacerbated when one’s primary source of knowledge is the ‘Rabbit Hole’ of the Internet — searching up topics such as ‘Qur’an vs Hadith’, ‘Differences between Sunni and Shiasm’, ‘Why are there Four Schools of Thought’, ‘To join the feet or not join the feet during the congregational prayer?’ or even ‘How To Pray’. With so many questions, along with the differing viewpoints, how can New Muslims be empowered enough to encroach the shackles of their lack of knowledge and be able to practise the basic tenants of the Islamic faith minus the confusion.
Chris came across iERA through a Muslim friend you shared the link with him on Facebook. He learnt about and attended our four-day retreat at the end of 2017. Chris’ main takeaway was the sense of unity he experienced — especially around the congregational prayers. In his local masjid, the congregational prayer consisted of turning up to the obligatory prayers, and voila, there was no mingling before and after with fellow worshippers.
Whereas at iERA’s retreat, this wasn’t the case, the congregational prayer wasn’t as individualised. There was an actual purpose and community to it, the exchange of ideas, accepting one another for each their differences — and that’s how it should be — solidifying the sense of unity. Also being amongst other reverts was a form of assuagement — you could call it a ‘New Muslims Anonymous’ of sorts — where you’re able to hear from fellow attendees about the pains and struggles of practising this new way of life and let it all out.
There were also gaping holes within Chris’ prayer. During the Retreat it was pointed out to him that he needed to learn the Tashahhud properly, which he was able to do so and incorporate into his prayer. Another aspect of the Retreat which elevated Chris’ understanding of what it takes to be a Muslim is the sessions lead by iERA Founder, Abdurraheem Green. These sessions covered the rights expected of a Muslim; from your parents to the environment, the complete opposite of the ‘Pub Culture’, which Chris had become accustomed to. For example the ‘Pub Culture’ dictates in times of a ruckus it’s a case of every man for himself, whereas, on the contrary within Islam, Muslims are advised to suppress their anger, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advised refraining from it altogether: “Anger is a burning coal, (it burns) in the heart” [Al-Tirmidhi] [Al-Tirmidhi]
The Blind Leading The Blind
Chris empathises with the people who join Right Wing activist groups, all they want is their ability to vent their frustrations. However, as Chris aptly put it, it’s a case of the ‘blind leading the blind’. The leaders of such groups know as much as their followers about the real Islam — which is very little — and not the distorted version the media shines their spotlight on.
In most cases, just being a presence in public settings and following the Sunnah — such as smiling and being polite — surmounts to the best possible public relations for Islam. Uncovering gems such as Chris is only an encouragement and a stark reminder that the staunchest of opponents to Islam will have to succumb and at a minimum respect the faith for it represents but this can only be done by serving Islam in its real light which can only soften the heart with the permission of Allah (swt). One of the issues Chris faced as a revert was the lack of togetherness and loneliness at times. However, at the New Muslim Retreat, everyone was there for the same reason, to better themselves as Muslims. If you are a New Muslim looking to brush up on the basics or looking to meet like minded individuals then please register your interest for this year’s Retreat.