I suppose we have all heard stories of converts before. They are, praise be to God, becoming very common, and growing in their number every day. But still, I can never forget how it feels to know that another human being whom you know personally has chosen to accept Islam.
I do not wish to embarrass my friend, so I will refer to her as Rita, which is not her real name.
I first met Rita in Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates about three or four years ago. At that time, she was the girlfriend of a friend of mine. She was not exactly a paragon of virtue. Her activities with other men were less then respectable to put it mildly, she drank in excessive amounts (even by 'Western' standards). In short, her life was worse than that of a typical 'free' woman in the West. Her mother was also prone to heavy bouts of drinking and her father was no longer alive. Her mother was a nominal Christian Canadian.
However, as the saying goes, God works in mysterious ways. Even during this time, she was interested in religion, and had spent a bit of time studying Islam. Needless to say, it did not exactly play a significant part in her life; but nevertheless, it was in the back of her mind. And that is probably all she needed.
Of course, I did not approve of her ways. However, I did not agree that I should alienate myself from my friend or her because of my disapproval. Today, I am glad that I stuck by that view.
During the course of the next two or three years, I spoke with Rita on quite a number of occasions. Our talks involved all scopes of philosophy, and almost always moved onto religion. I say this from her point of view, because as far as I am concerned, philosophy, law and religion are all one.
Time passed, and eventually, she left Abu Dhabi, as did I. By the time I had left, she had already stopped her relationships with men, stopped drinking completely and started to dress less like a 'tart' and more like a woman of virtue. Still, she was not a Muslim.
She did not stop her investigation into Islam whilst away from Abu Dhabi; indeed, she became much more in tune with Islam. She continually thirsted for knowledge and whenever I heard from her, she was sending me more material of things she had investigated regarding Islam.
This past winter, I was in Abu Dhabi again. As was she. I spoke to her very sparingly this time; the first time had been to greet her and I noticed that she had now developed a strong distaste of the alcoholic habits of her mother. She had also started wearing only long dresses and full length jumpers. I remember commenting on that occasion that I did not believe that you could judge a woman by her hijab since many women in the East wear it only as a symbol of status and that a woman should only wear it if she is genuine in her desire to.
Before I left, we met again and on that occasion, I attempted to teach her how to pray. She wore the full scarf and complied with even the strictest Muslim jurists with regard to the dress code. I told her, "What is the point of all this? Admit it to yourself who you are."
I then returned to Britain, thinking that I had left her still wandering. I was mistaken. A few days ago, I received a letter from her, postmarked from Canada. She had decided to leave her mother's home and live in Canada, her country. She had taken the Shahada. She was now dressed in full hijab, according to tradition, and was praying.
This from a girl who came from a drinking house, was a heavy drinker herself and not a woman of particular chastity.
She now goes in public wearing an item of clothing that provokes a hostile environment (one woman actually spat at her in the street) and talks with people at any chance about Islam. Although I do not believe that the donning of a cloth is virtue in itself, her determination to show people, "I am a Muslim woman and I am proud of it" is something that I respect her for.
We seem to be pretty judgmental nowadays of those who are not Muslim. And in doing so, we alienate ourselves from those who may be potential Muslims. In doing that, we may stop ourselves from spreading Islam in the only real way possible; through example and through peaceful ways.
I take no credit in regard to Rita's reversion to Islam. It is to her credit alone and through God's will. If I was a small guide, it was insignificant compared to her own determination and will to seek truth.
She found it. And God willing, more people will follow in her path.
6 March 1998
[When this article was written] Hisham Zoubeir is at the University of Sheffield undertaking a multi-disciplinary degree in law. He has lived in Abu Dhabi, Cairo and London. His main interests delves into peace, equality, righteousness and spirituality.]