A former British Catholic Priest
accepts Islam after reading the Quran and his
interactions with Muslims.
By Manal Abdulaziz (from The
men in enmity to the Believers wilt thou find the Jews
and Pagans; and nearest among them in love to the
Believers wilt thou find those who say "We are
Christians": because amongst these are men devoted to
learning (priests), and men who have renounced the
world (monks), and they are not arrogant. And then
they listen to the revelation received by the
Messenger, thou wilt see their eyes overflowing with
tears, for they recognize the truth. They pray: ‘Our
Lord! We believe, write us down among the witnesses.'
(Surat Al-Maida 82-83)"
This was what
happened to the former British Catholic Priest Idris
Tawfiq on reciting Islam's holy book, the Quran, to
his students at a school in Britain. And this was one
of the important steps in his journey of conversion to
During a recent
lecture he gave at the British Council in Cairo,
Tawfiq made clear that he has no regrets about his
past and what he holds in regard to what Christians do
and his life at the Vatican for five years.
"I enjoyed being
a priest helping the people for some years. However,
deep inside I was not happy and I felt that there was
something not right. Fortunately, and it is God's
will, some events and coincidences in my life led me
to Islam," he told a packed hall at the British
important coincidence for Tawfiq was his decision to
quit his work at the Vatican, a step followed by
making a trip to Egypt.
"I used to think
of Egypt as a country of Pyramids, camels, sand and
palm trees. I actually took a charter flight to
Shocked to find
it similar to some European beaches, I took the first
bus to Cairo where I spent the most wonderful week in
This was my
first introduction to Muslims and Islam. I noticed
how Egyptians are such gentle, sweet people, but also
Britons, my knowledge about Muslims up to that time
didn't exceed what I heard from the TV about suicide
bombers and fighters, which gave the impression that
Islam is a religion of troubles. However, getting
into Cairo I discovered how beautiful this religion
is. Very simple people selling goods on the street
would abandon their trade and direct their face to
Allah and pray the moment they heard the call to
prayer from the mosque. They have a strong faith in
the presence and will of Allah. They pray, fast, help
the needy and dream to have a trip to Mecca with the
hope of living in heaven in the hereafter," he said.
"On my return I
resumed my old job of teaching religion. The only
compulsory subject in British education is Religious
Studies. I was teaching about Christianity, Islam,
Judaism, Buddhism and others. So everyday I had to
read about these religions to be able to teach my
lessons to the students, many of whom were Arab Muslim
refugees. In other words, teaching about Islam taught
me many things.
troublesome teenagers, these students set a good
example of what a Muslim could be. They were polite
and kind. So a friendship developed between us and
they asked if they could use my classroom for prayers
during the fasting month of Ramadan.
room was the only one with a carpet. So I got
accustomed to sitting at the back, watching them
praying for a month. I sought to encourage them by
fasting during Ramadan with them, even though I wasn't
yet a Muslim.
reciting a translation of the holy Quran in class I
reached the verse:
"And when they
listen to the revelation received by the Messenger,
thou wilt see their eyes overflowing with tears, for
they recognize the truth."
To my surprise,
I felt tears welling up in my eyes and I tried hard to
hide it from the students."
A turning point
in his life, however, came in the aftermath of the
terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001.
day, I was taking the underground and noticed how
terrified the people were. I was also afraid of the
repetition of such acts in Britain. At the time, the
Western people started fearing this religion they
blamed for terrorism.
previous experience with Muslims took me to a
different direction. I started wondering ‘Why Islam?
Why do we blame Islam as a religion for the action of
terrorists who happened to be Muslims, when no-one
accused Christianity of terrorism when some Christians
have acted the same way?
"One day I
headed to the biggest Mosque in London, to hear more
about this religion. Getting into London Central
Mosque, there was Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer,
sitting in a circle talking to some people about
Islam. After a while, I found myself asking him"
‘What do you actually do to become a Muslim?'"
that a Muslim should believe in one God, pray five
times a day and fast during Ramadan. I interrupted
him saying that I believed all this and had even
fasted during Ramadan. So he asked, ‘What are you
waiting for? What is holding you back?' I said, ‘No,
I don't intend to convert.'
"At that moment
the call to prayer was made and everyone got ready and
stood in lines to pray.
"I sat at the
back, and I cried and cried. Then I said to myself,
‘Who am I trying to fool?'
ended their prayers, I headed to Yusuf Islam, asking
him to teach me the words by which I announce my
explaining its meanings to me in English, I recited
after him in Arabic that there is no God but Allah and
that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah," recounted
Tawfiq, holding back his tears.
Thus his life
has taken a different course. Living in Egypt, Tawfiq
wrote a book about the tenets of Islam.
he penned his book Gardens of Delight: a Simple
Introduction to Islam, Tawfiq noted that everyone is
saying that Islam is not a religion of terrorism and
isn't a religion of hatred, but no-one tries to
explain what it is.
"So I decided to
write this book to give non-Muslims an idea about the
basic principles of Islam. I tried to tell people how
beautiful Islam is and that Islam has the most
extraordinary treasures, the most important being
Muslims' love for each other. The Prophet says ‘Even
a smile to your brother is a charity.'
Tawfiq told the
Gazette that he is working on a book about the Prophet
Muhammad [may the mercy and blessings of God be upon
him] which he thinks will be different from the many
books already written about him.
He thinks that
the "best and fastest way" of acquainting the world
with the true image of Islam is to set a good example
in real life.