It all began last summer when I decided, in solidarity with my Muslim friends, to fast during Ramadan. They had celebrated Christmas with me, so why not share in their festivities as well? I had been friends with many Muslims for years and found that the community was kind, giving and helpful. I wanted to understand them a bit better, so whilst fasting I read the Quran.
I was brought up more or less an atheist. Most people in my family don't believe in God and when I started showing signs of being more spiritual in my teen years, my family laughed it off as if it was a passing phase. I went to a Catholic school, which put me off religion with its very strict, old-fashioned manner of teaching, and by the time I was in my 20's, I had more or less come to the conclusion that life without religion was better than life with it.
But when, through my voluntary work, I began to meet more and more Muslims. I started to question why they seemed more at peace with themselves and more open to helping others than other people I had met. I found in many of them a kind of selflessness and sense of community that I thought in our fast-paced, modern world didn't exist anymore.
Fasting in the middle of summer in Northern Europe turned out to be more difficult than I expected, but there was a certain feeling of satisfaction when it came to gathering in the evening for Iftar. Every day I read the Quran, discussed it with friends and delved deeper into the history of the life of the Prophet (pbuh), his amazingly strong and powerful wives Khadija and Aisha, and his beloved daughter Fatima.
Was this the same religion I had seen so often in the news, linked with terrorism and oppression of women? The message I found in Islam was one of peace and equality. That there existed a man in the 6th Century who freed slaves, rejoiced as much in having daughters as in having sons, and announced in his last speech that everyone was equal, regardless of race or where they came from, was incredible to me.
I am a fierce feminist, so I never believed that Islam would be the religion for me. But reading the story of Khadija and understanding why the Quran placed rules in Islam for women - not to oppress them, but to protect them - made me realise that Islam was one of the first feminist messages in our world.