Katherine Bullock, Ex-Christian, Canada (part 1 and 2)
Heralding New Muslims:
A Personal Account
Of Revert Muslim:
An educated woman struggles between
what she has heard of Islam and what is really Islam,
as well as the actual existence of God.
By Katherine Bullock
Bullock, Ex-Christian, Canada (part 1 of 2)
What am I doing
down here? I wonder, my nose and forehead pressed to
the floor as I kneel in prayer. My kneecaps ache, my
arm muscles strain as I try to keep the pressure off
my forehead. I listen to strange utterings of the
person praying next to me. It's Arabic, and they
understand what they are saying, even if I don't.
So. I make up my own words, hoping God will be kind
to me, a Muslim only 12 hours old. OK. God, I
converted to Islam because I believe in you, and
because Islam makes sense to me. Did I really just
say that? I catch myself, bursting into tears. What
would my friends say if they saw me like this,
kneeling, nose pressed to the floor?...They'd laugh at
me. Have you lost your mind? They'd ask. You can't
seriously tell me you are religious. Religious...I
was once a happy ‘speculative atheist,' how did I turn
into a believer and a Muslim? I ask myself. I turn
my mind into the past and attempt a whirlwind tour
through my journey. But where did it begin? Maybe it
started when I first met practicing Muslims. This was
in 1991, at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario,
I was an
open-minded, tolerant, liberal woman. 24 years old.
I saw Muslim women walking around the International
Centre and I felt sorry for them. I knew they were
oppressed. My sorrow increased when I asked them why
they covered their hair, why they wore long sleeves in
summer, why they were so ill-treated in Muslim
countries, and they told me that they wore the veil,
and they dressed so, because God asked them too. Poor
things. What about their treatment in Muslim
countries? That's culture, they would reply. I knew
they were deluded, socialised/brainwashed from an
early age, into believing this wicked way of treating
women. But I noticed how happy they were, how
friendly they were, how solid they seemed. I saw
Muslim men walking around the international centre.
There was even a
man from Libya - the land of terrorists. I trembled
when I saw them, lest they do something to me in the
name of God. I remembered the television images of
masses of rampaging Arab men burning effigies of
President Bush, all in the name of God. What a God
they must have, I thought. Poor things that they even
believe in God, I added, secure in the truth that God
was an anthropomorphic projection of us weak human
beings. But I noticed that these men were very
friendly. I noticed how helpful they were. I
perceived an aura of calmness. What a belief they
must have, I thought. But it puzzled me. I had read
the Koran, and hadn't detected anything special about
it. That was before, when the Gulf War broke out.
What kind of God would persuade men to go War, to kill
innocent citizens of another country, to rape women,
to demonstrate against the US?
I decided I'd
better read the Holy book on whose behalf they claimed
they were acting. I read a Penguin classic, surely a
trustworthy book, and I couldn't finish it, I disliked
it so much. Here was a paradise described with virgin
women in it for the righteous (what was a righteous
woman to do with a virgin woman in Paradise?); here
was a God destroying whole cities at a stroke.
No wonder the
women are oppressed, and these fanatics storm around
burning the US flag, I thought. But the Muslims I put
this to seemed bewildered. Their Quran didn't say
things in that way. Perhaps I had a bad translation?
praying person I am following stands up. I too stand
up, my feet catching on the long skirt I wear; I
almost trip. I sniff, trying to stop the tears. I
must focus on praying to God. Dear God, I am here
because I believe in you, and because during my
research of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism,
Sikhism, and Buddhism, Islam made the most sense.
Bending over, my
hands at my knees, I try hard to reassure myself.
God. Please help me to be a good Muslim. A Muslim!
Kathy, how could you - a white western women who is
educated - convert to a religion which makes its women
second class citizens!
Muslims became my friends, I protest. They welcomed
me into their community warmly, without question. I
forgot that they were oppressed and terrorists. This
seems like the start of my journey. But I was still
an atheist. Or was I?
I had looked
into the starry night, and contemplated the universe.
The diamond stars strewn across the dark sky twinkled
mysterious messages to me. I felt hooked up to
something bigger than myself. Was it a collective
human consciousness? Peace and tranquility flowed to
me from the stars. Could I wrench myself from this
feeling and declare there is no higher being? No
higher consciousness? Haven't you ever doubted the
existence of God? I would ask my believing Christian
and Muslim friends. No, they replied. No? No? This
Was God that
obvious? How come I couldn't see God. It seemed too
much a stretch of my imagination. A being out there,
affecting the way I lived. How could God listen to
billions of people praying, and deal with each second
of that person's life? It's impossible. Maybe a
First Cause, but one who intervened? And what about
the persistence of injustice in the world? Children
dying in war. A just, good God couldn't allow that.
God didn't make sense. God couldn't exist. Besides,
we evolved, so that disposed of a First Cause anyway.
We kneel down
again, and here I am, sniffing, looking sideways at my
fingers on the green of my new prayer mat. I like my
prayer mat. It has a velvetty touch to it, and some
of my favourite colours: a purple mosque on a green
background. There is a path leading to a black
entrance of the mosque and it beckons me. The
entrance to the mosque seems to contain the truth, it
is elusive, but it is there. I am happy to be
beckoned to this entrance.
When I was much
younger I had a complete jigsaw picture of the world.
It fell apart sometime during the third or fourth year
of my undergraduate study. In Kingston I had reminded
myself that I had once been a regular churchgoer,
somewhat embarrassed, since I knew that religious
people were slushy/mushy, quaint, boring, old
fashioned people. Yet God had seemed self-evident to
me then. The universe made no sense without a Creator
Being who was also omnipotent.
Leaving church I
had always had a feeling of lightness and happiness.
I felt the loss of that feeling. Could it be that I
had once had a connection to God which was now gone?
Maybe this was the start of my journey? I tried to
pray again, but found it extraordinarily difficult.
Christians told me that people who didn't believe in
Lord Jesus Christ were doomed. What about people
who've never heard of Jesus? Or people who follow
their own religion? And society historically claimed
women were inferior because Christianity told us it
was Eve's punishment; women were barred from studying,
voting, owning land. God was an awful man with a long
white beard. I couldn't talk to him. I couldn't
follow Christianity, therefore God couldn't exist.
But then I
discovered feminists who believed in God, Christian
women who were feminists, and Muslim women who
believed Islam did not condone a lot of what I thought
integral to their religion. I started to pray and
call myself a ‘post-Christian feminist believer.'
Bullock, Ex-Christian, Canada (part 2 of 2)
I felt that
lightness again; maybe God did exist. I carefully
examined my life's events and I saw that coincidences
and luck were God's blessings for me, and I'd never
noticed, or said thanks. I am amazed God was so kind
and persistent while I was disloyal. My ears and feet
tingle pleasantly from the washing I have just given
them; a washing which cleanses me and allows me to
approach God in prayer.
God. An awesome
deity. I feel awe, wonder and peace. Please show me
the path. But surely you can see that the world is
too complex, too beautiful, too harmonious to be an
accident? To be the blind result of evolutionary
forces? Don't you know that science is returning to a
belief in God? Don't you know that science never
contradicted Islam anyway? I am exasperated with my
imaginary jury. Haven't they researched these things?
Maybe this was
the most decisive path. I'd heard on the radio an
interview with a physicist who was explaining how
modern science had abandoned its nineteenth century
materialistic assumptions long ago, and was
scientifically of the opinion that too many phenomena
occurred which made no sense without there being
intelligence and design behind it all. Indeed,
scientific experiments were not just a passive
observation of physical phenomena, observation altered
the way physical events proceeded, and it seemed
therefore that intelligence was the most fundamental
stuff of the universe.
I read more, and
more. I discovered that only the most diehard
anthropologists still believed in evolution theory,
though no one was saying this very loudly for fear of
losing their job. My jigsaw was starting to fall
OK, so you
decided God existed. You were a monotheist. But
Christianity is monotheistic. It is your heritage.
Why leave it? Still these questioners are puzzled.
But you must understand this is the easiest question
of them all to answer. I smile.
I learned how
the Quran did not contradict science in the same way
the Bible did. I wanted to read the Biblical stories
literally, and discovered I could not. Scientific
fact contradicted Biblical account. But scientific
fact did not contradict Quranic account, science even
sometimes explained a hitherto inexplicable Quranic
verse. This was stunning.
There was a
verse about how the water from fresh water rivers
which flowed into the sea did not mix with the sea
water; verses describing conception accurately; verses
referring to the orbits of the planets. Seventh
century science knew none of this. How could Muhammad
be so uniquely wise? My mind drew me towards the
Quran, but I resisted.
I started going
to church again, only to find myself in tears in
nearly every service. Christianity continued to be
difficult for me. So much didn't make sense: the
Trinity; the idea that Jesus was God incarnate; the
worship of Mary, the Saints, or Jesus, rather than
God. The priests told me to leave reason behind when
contemplating God. The Trinity did not make sense,
and nor was it supposed to. I delved deeper. After
all, how could I leave my culture, my heritage, my
family? No one would understand, and I'd be alone. I
tried to be a good Christian.
I learned more.
I discovered that Easter was instituted a couple of
hundreds of years after Jesus's death, that Jesus
never called himself God incarnate, and more often
said he was the Son of Man; that the doctrine of the
Trinity was established some 300 odd years after
Christ had died; that the Nicene Creed which I had
faithfully recited every week, focusing on each word,
was written by MEN at a political meeting to confirm a
minority position that Jesus was the Son of God, and
the majority viewpoint that Jesus was God's messenger,
was expunged forever.
I was so angry!
Why hadn't the Church taught me these things. Well.
I knew why. People would understand that they could
worship God elsewhere, and that there, worship would
actually make sense to them. I would only worship one
God, not three, not The Father, Son and Holy ghost;
not Jesus as Lord, nor the Saints, nor Mary. Could
Muhammad really be a Messenger, could the Quran be
God's word? I kept reading the Quran.
It told me that
Eve was not alone to blame for the ‘fall;' that Jesus
was a Messenger; that unbelievers would laugh at me
for being a believer; that people would question the
authenticity of Muhammad's claim to revelation, but
that if they tried to write something as wise,
consistent and rational they would fail. This seemed
true. Islam asked me to use my intelligence to
contemplate God, it encouraged me to seek knowledge,
it told me that whoever believed in
(Jews/Christians/Muslims/whoever) would get rewards,
it seemed a very encompassing religion. We stand
again and still standing, bend down again to a resting
position with our hands on our knees. What else can I
say to God? I can't think of enough to say, the
prayer seems so long.
I puff slightly,
still sniffling, since with all the standing and
kneeling and standing I am somewhat out of breath. So
you seriously think that I would willing enter a
religion which turned me into a second class citizen?
I demand of my questioners. You know that there is a
lot of abuse of women in Islamic countries, just as in
the West, but this is not true Islam. And don't bring
the veil thing up. Don't you know that women wear
hijab because God asks them to? Because they trust in
Still. How will
I have the courage to wear hijab? I probably won't.
People will stare at me, I'll become obvious; I'd
rather hide away in the crowd when I'm out. What will
my friends say when they see me in that?? OH! God!
I had stalled at
the edge of change for many a long month, my dilemma
growing daily. What should I do? Leave my old life
and start a new one? But I couldn't possibly go out
in public in hijab. People would stare at me. I
stood at the forked path which God had helped me
reach. I had new knowledge which rested comfortably
with my intellect. Follow the conviction, or stay in
the old way? How could I stay when I had a different
outlook on life? How could I change when the step
seemed too big for me?
I would rehearse
the conversion sentence: There is no God but God and
Muhammad is his prophet. Simple words, I believe in
them, so convert. I cannot, I resisted. I circled
endlessly day after day. God stood on one of the
paths of the fork, tapping his foot. Come on Kathy.
I've brought you here, but you must cross alone. I
stayed stationary, transfixed like a kangaroo trapped
in car lights late at night. Then one night, God, I
suppose, gave me a final yank. I was passing a mosque
with my husband. I had a feeling in me that was so
strong I could hardly bear it. If you don't convert
now, you never will, my inner voice told me. I knew
it was true. OK, I'll do it. If they let me in to
the mosque, I'll do it. But there was no one there.
I said the Shahada under the trees outside the
mosque. I waited. I waited for the thunderclap, the
immediate feeling of relief, the lifting of my
burden. But it didn't come.
I felt exactly
the same. Now we are kneeling again, the world looks
so different from down here. Even famous football
players prostrate like this, I remember, glancing
sideways at the tassels of my hijab which fall onto
the prayer mat; we are all the same and equally
humbled before God. Now we are sitting up straight,
my prayer leader is muttering something still, waving
his right hand's forefinger around in the air. I look
down at my mat again. The green, purple and black of
my prayer mat look reassuringly the same.
The blackness of
the Mosque's entrance entreats me: ‘I am here, just
relax and you will find me.' My tears have dried on
my face and the skin feels tight What am I doing
here? Dear God. I am here because I believe in you,
because I believe in the compelling and majestic words
of the Quran, and because I believe in the Prophethood
of Your Messenger Muhammad. I know in my heart my
decision is the right one. Please give me the courage
to carry on with this new self and new life, that I
may serve you well with a strong faith. I smile and
stand up, folding my prayer mat into half, and lay it
on the sofa ready for my next encounter with its
velvety green certainty. Now the burden begins to