A Christian Student in the UK.
A Muslim Teacher in Italy.
What could possibly unite these two people?
Well, they both happen to be snapshots of my own life. My past and present. I was raised as a Christian in the UK and converted to Islam just over two years ago while living in Italy.
I wouldn’t say I had a particularly dramatic conversion. Yes, there were some tears of the I-don’t-know-what-I-believe-anymore! variety. That’s to be expected when your whole belief system has been turned on its head. I didn’t have a huge bust up with Christianity though.
I was a minister’s daughter with both of my parents working as leaders of a church. I sang in choirs, looked forward to Summer Bible camp and even flirted with the idea of becoming a minister myself.
Then curiosity got the better of me.
I met a Turkish man and realized to my dismay that my knowledge of Islam was shockingly poor. I signed myself up for a module on “Women and Islam” to rectify this embarrassing lack of knowledge.
Although I was initially intimidated by the only two hijabis in the class (based purely on my own negative preconceptions), I soon found myself hanging on their every word. Their descriptions of faith and Islam were challenging, moving, and incredibly beautiful. Their seamless integration of faith and modesty in their daily life was inspirational.
Meanwhile, the young Turk (now my husband) decided that he wanted to practise his faith rather than being what he called, ‘a cultural Muslim.’ Ironically, he had found renewed faith in God after meeting and speaking with me, a Christian, about my own belief in God.
These interactions with Islam, both in my personal life and at university, meant that it was a constant presence on my mind. My belief in Christianity began to slowly unravel while the same thread began to weave itself into a new faith centered on Islam. During the process I realized that Islam allowed me to better express a faith in God that I’d always held as a Christian but had never been unable to fully express.
I’ve seen many converts cut off from their Christian past and want nothing more to do with it. I can see why. A new religion means a fresh start after all. But this wrenching often causes a lot of pain. Especially if it involves cutting ties with friends and family members.
When someone converts to Islam, we expect them to share their experiences and teach family and friends about their new faith. We’re often so busy and excited looking forward that we dismiss what came before. We draw a line under it and move on. In doing so, we miss an incredible opportunity to help fellow Muslims better understand the faith tradition we came from.
Converts are in a unique position to clarify misconceptions. They have crossed the invisible frontier between two faiths and have experienced both in a very real sense. They know all too well the criticisms hurled at each religion. No doubt they’ve asked themselves the same probing questions as they patrolled the in-between spaces. Interrogating their faith in the illuminating darkness of the night.
Despite living in a world defined by labels, our hearts transcend arbitrary categorization. Familiar Biblical reference points can sit comfortably alongside the new and expanding roll of Qur’anic verses, many of which are yet to be indexed. A hybrid heart juxtaposing all that is precious from the Abrahamic religions.
Rather than burning bridges behind us, we can help others cross the gap of misunderstanding and mistrust between people of different faiths. Weaving communities together with the thread that runs from the past into our present.