How a Nightclubbing White Middle Class English Girl Became a Hijab Wearing Muslim
By Ameena Blake
“So, you decided to be a Muslim now?” Dad’s eyes twinkled bright blue when he glanced up at me from behind the crumpled Guardian. “It’s probably just a phase you’re going through.” He stated, rustling thoughtfully back into the education section with a wry smile.
I stood there in front of his gaze, fiddling with my hands and not quite knowing how to react.
It was 1992; Autumn if I remember rightly, with the trees turning golden and red in their annual shedding. A few days earlier, in a dusty converted church in Netheredge, Sheffield I, a normal English girl had taken the then abnormal step, took my Shahada (declaration of faith), and became a Muslim.
Dad, a wise Professor of English Language at Sheffield University, was used to what he referred to as my ‘phases’. I had been a mechanic for a while, a terrible double glazing sales woman, a hip hop girl and all manner of other teen peculiarities a white Middle class English girl could be.
But this phase was different. This was for life.
First I suppose I should take you back to the start…my rocky start in life.
Born on the 12th of October 1973 (incidentally the 15th of Ramadhan), I was the illegitimate and unwanted child to a seventeen year old Liverpool girl. The local authority took me into care where I remained for the first months of my life as an orphan. But this was just the first stage of an astonishing journey.
Meanwhile, Norman Blake, a young promising English lecturer in Liverpool, and his wife, Sylvia, had been yearning for a child for years. But it wasn’t in Allah’s plan. Sylvia’s body simply couldn’t conceive. Her womb was plagued by an aggressive endometriosis which had eventually resulted in a painful hysterectomy. So, in March 1974 they decided to adopt an unwanted baby scouser girl into their lives. Me!
My first step towards Islam had begun.
Dad and I had always been close. Even a particularly rebellious phase I went through as a revolting teenage beast had not affected our connection beyond repair. His calm demeanour and gentle mannerism had always won through the worst teentrums I could throw at him.
But that was Dad. A man who would do anything for anyone. The one who despite the world academic fame he had achieved and the scores of books he had written, would gently turn out at any time of the day or night to help others. Many a time I would find myself at hospices to visit his dying colleagues, nursing homes at Christmas to deliver a cheery smile to lonely pensioners or in airports as the sun just peeped over the horizon to collect tired travellers.
His heart was pure and clean and he expected not a thing in return for his sacrifices.
This upbringing, undoubtedly was my first tarbeer (learning and development) from Allah swt in akhlaq (politeness and values) and treatment of others.
Unknowingly, my non Muslim Father was not only following the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (saw) more closely than most Muslims do, but was also training me to do the same. I guess it’s similar to the upbringing of the Prophet Muhammud (saw) who was raised with the greatest of morals and values in a non Muslim environment; first by Halima and the Makkan Bedoiun tribes as a young child and later by his Grandfather Abdul Muttalib and Uncle Abu Talib; none of them Muslims.
We seem to emphasise the importance of a child being brought up in a Muslim environment, but nowadays we need to realise that being ‘Muslim’ doesn’t necessarily mean achievement of ‘Islamic’. What I mean to say, is that contrary to what many Muslims feel, the essence of Islamic behaviour isn’t limited to Muslim families. Morals and values are across the board regardless of family religion. The difference is the intention and ikhlaas behind the moral learning for a child. I mean the fact that in the UK 13% of the prison population are young Muslim men speaks volumes doesn’t it?
I often wonder, what is going wrong?
So, dear reader, I must now tell you how a nightclubbing white middle class English girl like me become a hijab wearing Muslim.
Club to Truth
Wednesday night was ladies night at Josephine’s in Sheffield. I had been clubbing since I was 15. My friends and I had always been the ones who made a grand entrance through the plush lobby at 1am – entering the masses freshly made up, black mini skirts (what my mother would call ‘belts’), balancing on four inch stilettos and sober as the local vicar (I hated the taste of alcohol). This was my time to strut: The time when most other girls were sprawled on faded pink velvet couches; blotchy and panda eyed, with never to be seen again one night loves. There were of course the rejected ones. Most others, who didn’t find the one night love of their lives would have left in a cab, or be slumped in dark corners looking vacant or half unconscious in a pool of their own vomit.
Over the previous few months, the flashing lights I danced in that had once made me feel glamorous, now made me feel like a rabbit in the headlamps of a car. Trapped. The thudding base of Michael Jackson drowned out any conversation I yearned to have with others and that frustrated me. It was a place empty of humanity yet full of human beings. The leering drunks who once made me feel like I was beautiful, glamorous and sexy now made me feel like an object for lust: a Barbie doll.
One of the revellers I would go nightclubbing with was a Muslim. She was a pretty girl in her late thirties: stuck since teen love in a terrible relationship with a married Pakistani man, who used her as a child would use a toy; plying her with expensive gifts and broken promises of marriage. In her bid to escape the constant heartache, she had developed an alcohol problem which she used to disguise with vodka in an ice deep glass of Coke. But she was my friend; and despite her challenges in life, had a heart of gold. When I was sick she would care for me in her plush, spotless flat.
I still make du’a for Allah to reward her for what she did.
One day, while getting box of tissues from her bedroom, I noticed a heavy looking navy blue book, adorned with strange gold writing sitting on the window sill. Something drew me towards it. I gently picked it up, opened it and found pages and pages, columns and columns, full of the old fashioned English I had read in the Bible as a child and ornate Arabic writing. I was transfixed.
‘in the Name of Allah, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful’
A gentle hand touched my shoulder bringing me back into the room.
“It’s the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book.” She whispered. I hadn’t seen such relaxed love and tranquillity in her face before. “It’s a way of life. I turn to it and randomly open it sometimes to get messages and comfort from Allah.” She perched on the bed beside me.
I wanted to know everything about this blue and gold book. I wanted my questions answered.
Was this Qur’an really the word of God? Could this strange foreign sounding faith prove to be the truth?
My mind was swarming. I had always believed in God having been brought up as a Christian, but had questioned my faith which I found had simply told me to blindly believe because I felt it in my heart. The Bible, which I loved with its stories of the Prophets and kindness, was hard to believe. I mean It wasn’t even written at the time of Jesus (as) and that disturbed me. How could anyone possibly remember what hadn’t been written at the time when I couldn’t even remember what I had for dinner two days ago!? It didn’t agree with science. It didn’t even agree with itself. So early on, I had decided that until something proved to be truth I would simply be a believer in God without any religion. So, as a teen, I would whisper silent prayers when I arrived home past my parents strict 1030pm curfew, “Please God, don’t let me get grounded!”
Although my friend didn’t have the answers to my questions, there was someone who would hold the key for me. Her next door neighbour was a young English man who had converted to Islam a few years previously. I thought that he was a little strange with his fluffy ginger beard, pointy green hat, loose pyjama suit and soft voice (and yes, he was called Dawood). But he seemed nice enough and out of desperation to answer my now constant flow of questions about Islam, my friend had knocked at his door and asked for help with the answers.
So, one evening, I found myself perching nervously on a soft dusky red sofa, surrounded by the thick aroma of incense sticks and the quiet chant of the Qur’an coming from a rickety old tape deck. Dawood calmly regarded me with my skin hugging jeans, black polo neck top, then looked at the floor. I threw a swarm of questions at him:
What was this Qur’an?
How could he prove it was really God’s word?
What about scientific facts?
I was astounded by the answers. All taken from the Qur’an, each question was neatly boxed and packed away in the context of science and spirituality combined. We sat long into the night exploring the scientific detail of embryonic development (23: 12 -14) described 1500 years earlier by an Illiterate man in far away deserts; the geological roots of the great mountains (78: 6-7); the expansion of the universe (51:47) …
However hard I tried, I just couldn’t deny that it was the truth. But the time wasn’t right for me to take the leap just yet. I needed that one last push; the push of spirituality.
Life went on, and a few weeks later the brother sent over a video – The Message. As we sat down to watch the flickering 1970’s picture with Anthony Quinn, I marvelled at the connection between my Christian roots and this foreign sounding Islam – ‘Allah is God and God is Allah.’ The crisp male voice said. My eyes widened in surprise. But the film was long; too long for an impatient eighteen year old to sit through. I would bounce in and out of the room as the scenes progressed. Finally I settled, leaning nonchalantly against the glossed kitchen door frame.
Then I experienced the sound that was to change my life completely – the sound of the call to prayer, entered my ears.
Every hair on my body stood up like a soldier on parade and what I can only describe as a warm tingle embraced and enveloped my very core with a feeling I had never experienced before. It was the sweet feeling of Imaan flooding my soul. It overwhelmed me.
The sweetness of Imaan is enough to melt the harshest of hearts in an instant. Many of the Sahaba who had previously strived to put an end to Islam and even murder the Prophet Muhammed (saw), on hearing the beauty of the Qur’an would love and embrace it. Following a strong du’a from Muhammed (saw), Umar Ibn al Khattab (ra), the fiercest man in the Quraish, melted with Imaan on hearing Sura Ta Ha recited in his sister’s house. Then, after swallowing his cultural pride, he immediately went to the Prophet (saw) and took his Shahada.
I knew now that Allah was God and that He had guided me to this new faith; this Islam, and although I had no idea where life would take me, I now knew for sure in my heart that it would be as a Muslim.
“That’s it!” My throat tightened and tears pricked at the back of my eyes. “I want to be a Muslim now. A happy tear trickled down my cheek.
Taking the leap of Faith
The following Thursday, after taking a bath at my friend’s house, heart in my mouth, I parked my rusty gold Maestro outside the imposing Victorian church; now the local Sufi centre. As I pushed open the heavy studded doors, the smell of incense and polished parquet floors flooded my senses. I didn’t know what to expect; certainly not the carpeted hall I entered. The men, dressed in white robes and wearing the same little pointed green hats I had seen Dahood wearing, smiled and raised their hands in friendly waves; the women; some wearing colourful dresses and scarves ties behind their necks came across with warm greetings. We sat on the carpet. The imam, a brother I believe called Noah, sat cross legged in front of me.
‘So, you want to be a Muslim?’ He had the same soft voice as the other brothers.
I nodded silently, feeling awkward and out of my depth.
He patiently explained the process of becoming Muslim; having the belief in Allah, the One God; following the five pillars and believing in the six articles of faith.
Then it was time to repeat the declaration of faith – what was in my heart already I would now share with the world – my hands shook with anticipation as I repeated:
“Ash Hadu an la ilaha IlAllah, wa ash hadu anna Muhammed ArasulAllah.” (I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah).
The words were foreign; alien, but even though my English tongue struggled; I felt a light flood my soul and tranquillity enter my body. I had been gifted a new start in life. All previous sins wiped away. Noah smiled as a chorus of congratulations and hugs flooded the hall. “What will your Muslim name be?” He enquired.
I shrugged, unsure what to answer. I didn’t really know what Muslim names were but I knew that my original name, Dorinda, sounded very much like a Hindu name. I had never really liked the name. Kids at school had bullied me because it was unusual.
“How about Ameena?” suggested Noah thoughtfully. “ She was the Mother of our beloved Prophet (saw) and it means trustworthy.
So I agreed, and on that day, Dorinda became Ameena and my new life began.
A couple of days later, I knocked at my parent’s door with one thing on my mind. To tell them I became Muslim.
Food for thought
New Muslims are often encouraged and even sometimes pressured by others to change their names as their ‘old’ names are deemed as ‘kafir’ or ‘jahilleyah’. What it’s important to consider is that the companions did not generally change their names on becoming Muslim even though they often came from backgrounds of idol worshipping. Although it can help new Muslims to establish their new identity, it’s important to remember that by changing names, this can cause non Muslim families a lot of pain. When parents name their most precious thing in life, their new baby, it is with love and affection; a gift which if changed can cause huge pain to parents who often feel rejected. It also makes Islam feel much less foreign for non Muslims if names sound familiar – my surname has raised so many good da’wa conversations.
Salwaar Kameez and Da’wa Disasters!
It was the Saturday after the shahada and the ‘new me’ was on fire! My Mothers eyes widened in surprise as I paraded, proudly clad in my badly fitting salwar kameez (to this day I can only imagine what was going through her mind)!
My friend’s sister in law, a lovely lady called Parveen, had donated a couple of her salwar kameez to a good cause; me!
So, following well meaning advice from my Pakistani friends that I ‘needed to be a Pakistani now’, I had ceremoniously placed all my mini skirts, skinny jeans and crop tops into a black bin bag and dumped them outside a local charity shop; proudly embracing my brand new Muslim look. Unfortunately, because of the 4 inch height difference between myself and the kind hearted Parween, the salwar kameez, a shade of mustard yellow nylon with three brass buttons ended a good three inches above my ankle. No matter how much I adjusted the cord, they either fell down, or rested precariously at that level. I then perched the wafer thin Dubatta over my hair and was ready for action!
“Guess what!” I exclaimed enthusiastically to my astonished Parents, “I became a Muslim.”
“Why on earth would you do that?” Mum looked inquiringly at me. “You’ll end up trapped in front of a kitchen sink, oppressed by some Muslim man and walking ten paces behind him in the street.” Her brows furrowed in worry.
I raised an eyebrow. This wasn’t quite the reaction I had expected from my usually liberal minded parents. In fact, I hadn’t really thought things through much but I thought they might at least be happy for me!
“Can you imagine that I will ever walk in the shadow of any man.” I laughed, meaning every word.
I had always been a tomboy as a child. I had hated the pleated tartan skirts I was sometimes made to wear to insufferable clicky dinner parties where I was expected to sit making polite conversation with prim pigtailed girls and their false high pitched giggles. My idea of fun was to be out racing up and down the street on Raleigh Choppers from dawn to dusk; climbing trees and falling off ponies. Indeed, on leaving school at 16, instead of pursuing the anticipated A Levels and university, I had joined the YTS scheme as a trainee mechanic, spending my days oily handed under car bonnets. I certainly wasn’t the type to be oppressed by any man!
Mum simply shrugged, and I sensed that was the end of the conversation. To them, it was a silly phase.
It was at that time I lived in a bed and breakfast hotel; a dingy Victorian building housing a hotel bar and shabby upstairs bedrooms containing referrals from the local housing office. Needless to say, it was not the nicest of places. At night, the passages would be filled with the staggers and belches of middle aged drunks on their way to sleep. But it was a roof over my head. Alhamdulillah.
It seems that da’wa was in my blood right from the start.
Now, dear reader, you are maybe having visions of a hijab clad sister giving gentle da’wa to elderly Christians in a church hall over a friendly cup of tea! Not even close. I didn’t yet even know what a hijab was. In fact, I was told again and again this is an Arab thing.
Working as a bouncer in the hotel bar was a thick set West Indian doorman who would sit beside the double doors; too well dressed for the squalid surroundings in his smart black suit, crisp white shirt and bow tie. One night, as I sat at the bar chatting to the landlady with my glass of coke (I had no idea that Muslims shouldn’t go in bars – I mean I’d seen so many Muslims in nightclubs, I figured that I just wasn’t allowed alcohol!!), he looked across at me.
“You’re white!” He observed kindly, “Why are you dressing like a Pakistani?” His mouth formed a quizzical smile.
“I’m a Muslim,” I replied confidently looking him straight in the eye. I believe the Allah is the One God and the Muhammed (Saw) is the Messenger of God.” My voice trailed off as that was really all I could remember.
He came and perched on a wooden bar stool.
“I’m a Jehovah witness.” He settled into his place and reached into his bag for a copy of the Watch Tower magazine, handing it over to me. He was in for the duration.
Hours flew by as I sat and debated with him. My knowledge was limited. My methods clumsy, my wisdom close to zero but my intention, was pure.
Following my reversion, The first months of the new Muslim me were passing. Like many new converts, I was a thorn in the side for many. I had suddenly transformed into a Muslim Evangelist. Annoyingly enthusiastic about my newly found faith, I talked ceaselessly about it to anyone who had ears to listen.
I would show up at my parent’s house with one thing in mind – save them – guide them – bring them to Islam. It was my greatest wish for them and everyone else around me to feel the wonderful light of deep faith that I was feeling. You could almost see their eyes roll in frustration when I produced yet another reason why they were so wrong and I was so right. When I did manage to draw my Father into debates, his wisdom would generally outweigh my ignorant enthusiasm and I would return home frustrated.
Little did I know I was alienating my parents with my enthusiastic ignorance and over the months I saw them less and less.
But the hotel bouncer was different. He had years of training behind him and I had none. So our debates, although they taught me a huge amount Alhamdulillah, generally ended with me feeling defeated and frustrated at my lack of knowledge. I knew that Islam was the truth but I simply couldn’t explain why. I thirsted for guidance, knowledge. I was desperate to learn; to know how to pray.
The Months passed and I moved on. I regularly fell to my knees and pleaded with Allah, ” Please. Help me to be a proper Muslim…”
Food For Thought
Often New Muslims do a lot of da’wa damage through well meaning preaching to family and friends. We should always remember the first principle of da’wa is one of quiet good example, being patient with any aggressive or negative reactions, and building the bridges of trust, not aggressive talk of Fire and Brimstone! Following this Sunnah will change hearts and your family will come forward with questions when they are ready. Remember, The Prophet (saw) and the Sahaba tolerated far worse than most of us and still remained patient – Allah (swt) tells us in Surah Furqaan ‘And when the foolish speak, return it with peace.’
Devils, Phones and Frights
After a few months, I was blessed with a small bedsit in a council block. The stairs stank of urine, the carpark echoed with the sounds of drunks singing at night, the side roads were lined with heroin laden prostitutes plying their trade; but it was home and I was grateful for a roof over my head.
A young Pakistani friend and her Mum, had adopted me into their family. I would sit cross legged in their living room as the ladies of the family would chat; inhaling every morsel of knowledge that I could. They diligently stood, teaching me alongside the little girls how to make roti (which I could never get quite round), and would giggle as chilli loaded delights would make my eyes stream with tears. I asked my friends to teach me to pray, but they would say ‘Insha’Allah’ and I was left frustrated when nothing happened.
On seeing me coming out of the bathroom one day, my friend looked at me with her eyes wide in horror.
“You didn’t cover your head in the bathroom?” She exclaimed! “ Astaghfrillah (May Allah forgive me).”
“What did I do?” I was confused. “Did I do something wrong?”
She looked me in the eye. “Don’t you know the Shaytaan (devil) urinates on your head in the bathroom – you have got to cover it!”
I went home with fear in my heart and determined to prevent the Shaytaan from doing this disgusting thing to me: But how?
I played with a few ideas. I didn’t want to wear my dubattas into the toilet – they were too long and flowing and I wasn’t good at controlling them. I glanced at my umbrella sitting in the cupboard then dismissed the idea – too awkward. Eventually I hatched the perfect plan. I entered the bathroom, tore off precisely one sheet of toilet tissue and balanced it carefully on top of my head; then, keeping my head perfectly upright I would try and complete bathroom tasks. Of course, this was a complete disaster. The tissue paper would float off at each tiny movement I made, and I would spend my time guiltily chasing it around and putting it back; seeking repentance when I came out. I practised this for months until I became quite the balancing expert. It was only later that I learnt this practise was a cultural practise and not a part of Islam.
Back in the early 1990’s, the mobile phone was a brick sized yuppie toy; unaffordable for most of us. This meant that the only method of communication really was email (if you were rich enough to have a computer and internet), letter or phones. My only way of communicating with others was to nervously run to the isolated red phone box on the corner with a pocketful of ten pence coins come rain or shine. Late one damp night, as I stood at the phone box, shivering in my wafer thin salwar Kameez, I noticed the man in the phone box staring intensely at me. He was over six foot, mixed race, dressed in street type clothes and he wasn’t smiling. I paced from side to side, trying to avoid his stare and look unconcerned. I was terrified and cursing myself for coming out so late. Just a few weeks earlier a girl had been assaulted in the very same street.
I slowly backed away preparing to make a run for home but the glass door shot open and he came halfway out pointing the handset at me.
“Are you a Muslim!?” He barked; his gaze unmoving.
“Yes.” My voice came out as a small squeak; my heart pounding making me feel dizzy.
“Wait right there!” He ordered, retreated back into the booth and dialled furiously.
Now, dear reader, your logical minds are probably yelling ‘RUN NOW! IT’S YOUR CHANCE!’
But I couldn’t and didn’t. Something ordered me to stand and wait. My legs wouldn’t move a single inch. Moments later the man emerged once again, pointing the phone like some lethal weapon.
“Here. Talk to sister Tracy.” He gestured for me to come forward and surprisingly my legs obeyed. He moved aside and I grasped the warm plastic.
“Hello.” I whispered nervously, the man still staring intently at me.
“Hi. I’m Tracy.” The warm friendly voice made me feel immediately at ease and I felt my tense body relax. We talked for a few minutes and arranged to meet for a cuppa the following day in the city centre.
I gingerly replaced the handset, came out and thanked the man who turned out to be a revert brother called Mustapha. May Allah bless this huge hearted brother who runs an Islamic shop called Al Noor in Sheffield and has dedicated his life to helping reverts like me.
And so my constant du’a for knowledge was being answered. I met sister Tracy, and English revert like myself in town for the very first time the next day.
The next stage of my journey had truly begun but a tragic incident was soon to change my life forever…
Food for thought
Often, when people begin to practise Islam, one of the most confusing aspects is working out the difference between culture and genuine Islamic practise. Many cultural practises are actually opposite to Islam: for example forced marriages or women being second class citizens. If something doesn’t feel like it is logical and fair, or you feel uncomfortable doing it, ask a person who has Islamic knowledge and that you trust to explain it to you. It might be that you learnt culture and not Islam.
Tears of Sorrowful Light
Late one summer night, the phone drilled rudely into my sleep. Bleary eyed and slightly annoyed I crawled out of bed to answer.
“Assalamualaikum Ameena.” My friend, the Pakistani sister sounded worried and her voice choked as she spoke, “It’s my Uncle… he’s in the Northern General Hospital. He had a heart attack!” The phone went dead.
As I rushed my clothes to be by my friend’s side, my mind strayed into thoughts about her Uncle: Mohammed. I had been a regular visitor to their crazy happy family house over the past year or so. The family consisted of 7 beautiful daughters, ranging from an intelligent, sensible 18 year old who I would chat to for hours; to an adorable, chubby, toddler who’s wide eyes would peek curiously through the door at this strange looking English woman who dressed like a Pakistani.
The Father, Uncle Mohammed, was a devout and kind man in his fifties. Every day, he entered the house at just after midday like clockwork. After kissing his little daughters, he would make wudhu and quietly pray, face still glistening with traces of water, in front of the old gas fire. I would watch as he moved in and out of sujood (prostration), wondering how on earth he remembered all those moves. A comfortable serenity would envelope the house when he would pray and even the smallest of the children would quit their play and sit quietly.
I pulled open the rusty door of my ancient Ford Fiesta, turned the key and it spluttered into life. Screeching into the hospital, I dumped the car in a bay that I probably shouldn’t have, and sprinted into the A and E department. It was empty except for a grumpy looking receptionist and a few people scattered around in chairs. My friends weren’t there. They must be in the back area.
‘Scuse me’ The receptionist glanced up raising a perfectly shaped eyebrow. ‘I’m Looking for Uncle Mohammed Akhbar….he was brought in a couple of hours ago.’ She tapped on the computer keyboard, then looked up again and her face softened.
‘Sit there a minute. Someone will come and get you.’ She gestured at the row of straight backed plastic chairs.
After literally a few seconds a young male nurse came through the double doors and took me through into a small room with the words ‘Relatives Room’ written in bold black on a small metal plate.
‘I’m sorry. He said quietly, ‘Your Uncle passed away an hour ago from a massive heart attack.’ As I walked heavily out of the room, tears welled up in my throat. I didn’t have the words to explain to the nurse that this man wasn’t really my Uncle; that I barely knew him. My friends had all gone home to grieve. I was too late.
A few days later I found myself sitting in a room stuffed full of Pakistani relatives and friends of the family ready to send Uncle Mohammed off to his Janaza (funeral).
It was completely different from deaths I had experienced in English culture. When the eerie phone call had come announcing my own Grandfather’s death as a child, it was almost completely hidden as though shameful like a dirty secret. As the adults went off, black clad, straight faced and whispering to the funeral, myself and my cousin were left with a neighbour. It wasn’t considered appropriate for children to be there.
As I entered my friend’s sitting room, now cleared of all the brightly coloured sofas and coffee tables, women looked up at me in shock as my friend and Mohammed’s daughter led me in. In the middle of the room, on a cloth covered trolley was a simple wooden coffin; ladies crowded around it; crying and wailing loudly. Some would strike at their chests. Others would collapse, caught by their companions (afterwards my friend explained how forbidden this wailing and beating behaviour is in Islam and how it distresses the soul of the deceased).
My friends pulled me, heart beating, into the crowd. I was truly terrified. I didn’t know what to expect. What actually seeing a dead body would be like… every ounce of me wanted to break away and run. But I had to be there for my sister in Islam; my friend, so I allowed myself to be led, eyes tightly closed gently to the side of the coffin. I opened my eyes and looked down at him and my body immediately relaxed. Rather than the wide eyed, suited grey corpse I had expected to recoil from in horror, he was shrouded in pure white shining cotton. His face, was simply sleeping; a peaceful smile adorning his lips as though dreaming the most beautiful of dreams. That moment, the wailing and crying of the ladies melted into the background and it was just me and him. All I could see was his face, flooded with noor (light), with the traces of wudhu; prostrating in front of that old gas fire. My heart flooded with Imaan and awoke. I knew immediately why this dead man I looked down on was smiling, his face still full of light. His prayer was the reason. And I wanted the same. I wanted to return to Allah with that smile on my lips.
Alhamdulillah. From that moment on until now, almost 22 years later, I don’t believe I have ever missed a prayer; and, as Uncle Mohammed was the one who inspired me to begin, every Salah (prayer) I make, every whisper of Tahajjud, every prostration I did in front of the Kaba, is Insha’Allah also his reward too. May Allah reward him with the highest of Firdous.
But learning the prayer was hard and fraught with cultural barriers. My journey as a practising Muslim had truly begun.
About the author
Ameena Blake is a British public speaker and student of knowledge. She is currently the Director of Eden Houses UK, a Muslim welfare house. Prior to this she worked as Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English Studies and a Master of Arts in Islamic Studies.