How A French Jewish Nudist Sparked Tim's Journey Towards Islam
Timothy Winter was born in an elite British family, his dad was an architect and his mom an artist. He attended Westminster School and graduated from Cambridge university with a degree in Arabic in 1983. He says about his journey towards Islam:
“In my teens I was sent off by my parents to a cottage in Corsica on an exchange with a very vigorous French Jewish family with four daughters. They turned out to be enthusiastic nudists. I remember being on the beach and seeing conjured up before my adolescent eyes every 15-year-old boy’s most fervent fantasy. There was a moment when I saw peach juice running off the chin of one of these bathing beauties and I had a moment of realization: the world is not just the consequence of material forces. Beauty is not something that can be explained away just as an aspect of brain function. That was the first time I became remotely interested in anything beyond the material world… So I can say, I think, that I was validly converted to Islam by a teenage French Jewish nudist.”
He had already grown dissatisfied with Christianity, in part because his “school chaplain failed to explain to our sneering, skeptical young minds the basic teachings of Christianity, the incarnation and the Trinity, the blood atonement. None of it made any sense, and [the chaplain] admitted that it was something that should just be accepted on faith and didn’t have any biblical or rational basis.”
His strong interest in understanding the nature of God and humanity, took him on a journey to study the world’s religions. He first explored the religions of “the Far East” then turned to Judaism in search of something that “aimed ultimately to embrace the world.” Finally, Winter came across Islam, which at the time, was “something you’d encounter when you were serving with the colonial office or as a missionary, but otherwise not there on the English radar, for good or for ill.” He was familiar with the faith due to his Arabic course, and when he began to study Islam, “things started to snowball.” Winter says he quickly realised Islam does “check the boxes” that Christianity did not. Islam even made him feel closer to Jesus than when he was a Christian. He became Muslim in 1979, at 19 years old while still a student at Cambridge University.
After becoming Muslim Winter moved to the Middle East and lived in a few Muslim countries. He studied at Al-Azhar University in Egypt before finally coming home to England in the late 80s to study Persian and Turkish. After so many years abroad he says he found his home country had changed a lot but he was more comfortable with his identity than ever, “Despite all the stereotypes of Islam being the paradigmatic opposite to life in the west, the feeling of conversion is not that one has migrated but that one has come home… I feel that I more authentically inhabit my old identity now that I operate within Islamic boundaries than I did when I was part of a teenage generation growing up in the 70s who were told there shouldn’t be any boundaries.”
Timothy Winter is now known as Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, he is a Lecturer of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust, director of The Anglo-Muslim Fellowship for Eastern Europe, and director of the Sunna Project, which has published the most respected versions of the major Sunni Hadith collections. In 2010 he was named one of the world’s most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre which wrote about him as “one of the most well-respected Western theologians his accomplishments place him amongst the most significant Muslims in the world”.