For teenagers growing up in the West today, they see and experience things that many people in the Middle East haven’t even heard of. So at age 14, I thought I knew everything, and with this, I felt I had the world on my shoulders. I had an amazing group of friends, particularly two girls who I would like to tell you about as they have a role in my conversion. Their father was from Pakistan and their mother was English. We were best friends since we were four, we did everything together. Their father would make them attend madrasah where they would learn how to read Arabic very poorly and learn about making wudu and how to pray. I remember I would help them with their madrasah homework so that they could finish quickly and we could play. From this, I had a very basic, and negative understanding of Islam. I knew about fasting, I knew that women had to cover and that they would put strange wooden things in their mouth instead of toothbrushes! Unfortunately, maybe because of how their dad would force them, religion had a negative impact on them. They disliked going to madrasah and they disliked learning about Islam, which rubbed off on me. Though this just proves just how merciful and forgiving Allah is, that after I disliked and disrespected Islam, He, Allah Almighty, still showed me His mercy and guided me.
At the age of 14, I experienced my first death within the family. My granddad had passed away. I still remember it as if it was yesterday – people hugging each other and saying words of comfort like “Don’t worry, he’s in a better place now” and “He’s at peace now, we should be happy.” It seemed strange to me that all my life no one had mentioned God or Heaven, then suddenly when someone dies, everyone starts mentioning it. It made me question many things- ‘Where is this place everyone’s talking about?’, ‘Why will he now be happy?’. I found it hard to believe their words of comfort. I didn’t know where he was, and I wanted an answer but had no idea who to turn to or where to look.
Ten months had passed and everyone’s lives were pretty much back to normal. God and this magical place of Heaven were now forgotten, except for the odd, “Oh I bet that’s Granddad looking down on you” if something good had happened, or “Granddad is having a laugh” if something weird happened on what would’ve been his birthday. I remember thinking, not only am I meant to believe he’s in Heaven, but I’m also meant to believe he can control things and see me! The timing coincided with the aftermath of 9/11. All I really knew outside of my ‘own world’ was that America was thinking of going to war. At that time, my family and I were on holiday and news of bombs being dropping on a Muslim country had reached us. Whilst watching the TV reports, I found it very strange that my best friends, and just people in general, could be a part of this religion; but I knew my friends didn’t believe in these evil things being portrayed. Our holiday continued as normal, with the news not really affecting us or our holiday mood. After spending a whole day playing in the pool, I returned to my parents and found my dad crying his eyes out. I had never seen a grown man cry before, and now all of a sudden, my dad is hugging me in tears. He told me that his brother had taken his own life, he had committed suicide, he was in his 40s, married with a 2-year child. The news shook us all; we caught the next flight home so we could be with our relatives. Everyone was obviously upset, but this time more so than when my granddad had died. Amazingly, people were still saying the same things. “He’s at peace now” and “He’s not troubled any more”. But how did they know this? I was so young, and I had many questions and I just didn’t know where to get the answers from. Technically I did go to a Christian school, but even then, Jesus was mainly mentioned on Easter and Christmas. I had been given a bible from school, and it had been collecting dust on my shelf since the day it was given to me. I decided to open it and see if there were any answers. I started reading and reading but I didn’t feel a connection or enjoy reading it. To be honest, I remember feeling silly for turning to religion. I mean, how many 14-year olds turn to religion? Another very close friend of mine was going through a tough time at home and had also tried to take her own life. Again, questions came into my head ‘Where do we end up when we die?’ ‘Why are people so lost?’. Still, having no answers of my own, I became depressed. I didn’t know who to talk to, who could help me and guide me. When people get sick, they go to the doctor, and this is how I felt inside, I felt sick and empty. So, I secretly chose to go to the doctor. I had decided to write him a letter telling him how I felt depressed and lost and needed help. I wrote a letter because I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell him without crying uncontrollably. He took my letter and in return gave me some anti-depressants. I’m still bemused as to how they were supposed to help, maybe a placebo effect? Anyway, if anything I felt I would be ‘fake happy’ and silly for taking them. Instead, I started writing to my uncle and granddad who had passed away. I would write to them asking where they were and why did they leave me. I remember one day saying to my granddad, “If you’re up there, please let it rain at 10 a.m. on my 15th birthday, as a sign I know you’re there” … my birthday came, and the clock ticked, no rain. People told me they are looking down on me and helping me, but where are they? Why weren’t they helping me?
Looking back, I can see how confused I was. Thinking dead people could control the weather and control actions. Thinking they’re always watching us. Life continued as it does, but I do remember one night specifically- I was feeling so down and alone, I was crying so much that I put my head on the floor and fell into prostration and I said to God “If you’re there, please help me.” This is how I spoke to God the first time. I didn’t praise Him or even acknowledge Him properly, I literally challenged Him by saying ‘IF you’re there, help me!’ Nothing amazing happened that night, like in the movies. My feeling of despair remained the same. The next day my friend called me saying that there was a women’s gathering and that her dad was forcing her to meet the imam’s wife. Being best friends, I happily went along to support her. It was quite funny really; she made me wear a huge oversized black skirt, with a matching black khimar. We both looked dreadful, but it was funny laughing at each other. We arrived at the house and sat down, having a bit of a giggle and looking at all the strange people there speaking Urdu. Then the imam’s wife took me and my friend out of the room into another smaller room. There was a lady waiting to meet us, she had been Muslim for 10 years. I didn’t even know there were people that would choose to become Muslim, I thought we were all just born into our religions. They brought us food and cake and sat down and spoke with us. She spoke about Islam and becoming Muslim, and what it’s like. Then out of the blue, the imam’s wife turned to me and asked- ‘Do you want to become a Muslim?’ As random as her question was, I simply replied “Yes.” To this day I can’t understand what made me say yes. I had no intention whatsoever to become Muslim. Yet there I was, sitting in a room, feeling a big urge to become a Muslim. The imam’s wife then asked me to repeat after her, and I had said my shahadah– I had become a Muslim! My friend surprised me with her happiness, she grabbed me and hugged me and had tears in her eyes. We hugged and everyone congratulated me. That was a feeling of happiness around me. I never imagined I would leave my house that day and become a Muslim, Allah had a different plan for me. Even without hardly any knowledge of His religion, I still felt comfort that day and I did feel blessed. Armed with a ‘Muslim Names’ book, I was advised to change my name (now, 15 years later, I don’t recommend this!). So I did as I was told and searched for a new name. I was excited, it was the beginning of a new me. After scrolling through many names, I decided on Na’eema. The book said it meant comfort and blessing. This is exactly how I felt the day I became Muslim- comforted and blessed, looking back, I wish I could have chosen a more Islamic name such as Khadijah or Fatima, but I didn’t know of these great women at that time.
Sadly, after I became Muslim, I was kind of just left on my own. When I asked my friends about the religion they would laugh and ask if I’m being serious. No one taught me anything, no one showed me how to pray, and one thing that still upsets me is that no one taught me how to love the Holy Prophet ﷺ. I started to research on my own using the internet and I printed off how to pray and I even made a hijab out of on old pillowcase so that I could pray. I then met a sister online who helps reverts. She sent me many books about Islam and gifted me with Arabic perfume, a prayer rug, prayer clothes, and an English Quran. After two years of talking to this sister and all the help she had given me, she invited me to Abu Dhabi. Coming to the UAE was a hard decision for me- I was reluctant and scared but I felt I needed to go to learn more about Islam and be around Muslims. So at 18, I flew to my first Muslim country, looking back, it was the best decision I had ever made. I had made good intentions and I feel Allah blessed my trip because of this. It is when I met Arabs for the first time that I started to learn how to love the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.
 Islamic religious school.
 A long head-covering that also covers part of the body.
 The testification of faith that one verbalises to become a Muslim.