The Journey Home: Samantha’s Story
All my life I’ve been a deep thinker and dreamer, always wondering at my place and purpose in this world. My education and deep love of nature took me down a scientific route, but I’m also very creative and curious. It’s this part of me that was drawn to philosophical and theological matters during my teenage years and beyond. It matters to me to know why I am here, what my purpose is, and how this big, beautiful world came into being. When I look to nature, I can’t help but see miraculous, intelligent design. Science explains a lot for me, but where it falls short, God is the only possible explanation.
With this spiritual viewpoint, it surprises people to know that I grew up with no religion. Apart from a loose Christian culture in school, I was free to choose my own way. Some might think this to be rather liberating, but my soul was restless, and I always felt like I was searching for something. Looking back, it’s easy for me to see that I had a God-shaped hole in my heart that I was seeking to fill. My search took me on a long journey of exploring spiritual paths like Buddhism, Hinduism, nature spirituality and shamanism. I learned important things along the way, but none of these paths led me to any real understanding of the divine or brought me any sense of fulfillment. I avoided organised religion due to the influence of family opinion, but also because I was put off by the patriarchal overtones of Christianity, the dominant faith of my country. After all, I was, by society’s standards, a ‘modern, progressive, and independent woman’. I also knew that most Christian holy days were appropriated and absorbed pagan festivals and I didn’t like the inauthenticity. And so, while I was happy with my life, in spiritual matters I was totally lost and frustrated. I’d tried to understand the concept of God through the philosophical theories of polytheism, pantheism, and animism. I tried to know God as the ‘Great Spirit’ or the ‘Universe’. Anything to avoid the ‘God’ of organised religion. But deep down I was fighting hard to deny my feelings, and in my most vulnerable moments, I’d catch myself speaking or praying to God. I wanted to belong, to have a strong faith, and I remember feeling jealous of churchgoers. Those who had somewhere to direct their prayer, somewhere to gain comfort and a sense of belonging and peace. I even tried going to church, reading the Bible, desperately hoping for a lightbulb moment. But it never came. That is, until the pandemic.
In March 2020, as the seriousness of the situation became apparent, I was called home early from a holiday as country borders were closing. I remember sitting petrified on a cramped tiny plane, rattling through severe turbulence, desperately praying to God to preserve my life. At this point, a curious thing happened. A part of me seemed to step outside of myself and observe as I sincerely prayed and poured my heart out to God. That part of me questioned, “are you really going to keep denying that you believe and pray to God? Are you really going to keep denying Him?” And then slowly, I felt a deep sense of relief as I realised all I had to do was submit to this truth. Something inside of me shifted and settled then, like a puzzle piece, like a big sigh of “finally”.
After arriving home, I was faced with two weeks of lonely quarantine. A few days in, a Christian colleague brought me a home-cooked dinner. Another Catholic colleague brought me supplies, checked in on me regularly and offered me a prayer. Neither of these women had ever brought up faith in work, never imposed or tried to convert me. In fact, I didn’t know them well at all. Yet their acts of generosity, and their conviction and faith, even in the face of fear, inspired me and touched my heart. I thought to myself, “what is it about this faith that moves people to such kindness with no expectation of reward?”. And with the risks I faced as an essential worker on the frontline, I questioned myself, “if I die today or tomorrow, am I right with God? Have I done enough to ensure my place in the hereafter? Where will my soul end up?”.
A short time later, when thankfully Australia seemed to be avoiding the worst of covid, I met the priest of the local church. In a whirlwind of six weeks, I learned the basics of the faith, was baptised, and welcomed into the church. Initially I loved the sense of unity and comfort of going to church every Sunday, praying to God and being with people who were at peace in their hearts. I gained a lot of strength and comfort during this time, and I felt I’d taken the first steps in getting to know God. However, the same old questions and doubts kept coming up. While I remained steadfast in my belief in God, I became increasingly uncomfortable with having to pray to Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Mother or to various saints for intercession. Nobody could satisfactorily explain the concept of the Holy Trinity and instead, it was shrugged off as a mystery of faith that we just had to believe. The deal-breaker for me was the belief in Jesus as God. To me, he’d always been a great messenger and prophet of God, but also just a man. It felt so wrong to place someone else between me and God and I grew so troubled by this that I no longer recited the words during Sunday mass. Eventually, I stopped going altogether. No matter how hard I tried, I was a round peg trying to fit into a square hole and I had to accept that Christianity was not the right path.
I despaired at this point because it felt like I was back to square one. But the solution to my problem came about almost immediately. A few Egyptian doctors had come to work in our intensive care unit. It wasn’t my first experience meeting practicing Muslims, but my knowledge of Islam remained at the basic level of Religious Education classes at school. I’d dismissed Islam as inaccessible due to what I incorrectly perceived as cultural and language barriers. So, when a conversation with one of the doctors turned to faith, and my spiritual predicament, this was the response I gave when he asked if I’d ever considered Islam. The seed was planted however, and I continued to ask lots of questions and receive, what I now know to be, dawah, the invitation to Islam.
I began reading introduction books alongside the Quran and I was shocked by what I read. I couldn’t believe that this faith had existed and that I hadn’t studied it before. So many of my questions were answered, so many of my beliefs affirmed, and so much of what I read aligned with my values. I noticed little synchronicities; little signs that I took to mean that I was on the right path. For example, I’d ponder a question, and then it would be answered in my reading later that day. Or I’d open the Quran and feel like it was speaking to me directly. I remember one rainy afternoon, reading the words “The thunder glorifies His praises” (13:12) when suddenly thunder began to grumble outside.
I was taken aback by the beauty and eloquence of the Quran and marvelled at all the references to nature. I also learned about the linguistic, numerical, and scientific miracles featured throughout, along with its authenticity and strict preservation since its revelation some 1400 years ago. These were undeniable proofs to me that left no doubt in my mind that the Quran is divine in origin. Even my short time as a Christian wasn’t wasted as there were so many similarities. In fact, I found it facilitated my understanding of Islam. Besides, the fundamental message was the same – to do good, avoid sin, and worship God. But the key difference in the Quran was the clear message of strict monotheism and emphasis on the oneness of God. There were no confusing concepts, no Holy Trinity, Jesus was honoured as a prophet, not a god, and there were no other intermediaries like saints or priests. Instead, every Muslim has immediate and direct access to Allah through prayer. The message was simple: “Your God is only One God. There is no god worthy of worship except Him – the Most Compassionate, Most Merciful” (2:163). To paraphrase Yusuf Islam, better known as Cat Stevens, “at the centre of Christianity was Christ, but in the centre of Islam I found only God and that was exactly Who I’d been searching for”.
Just a few months later, I found New Beginnings and enrolled in the Firm Foundations course. It was such a beautiful and gentle introduction to Islam. Not only did I gain a deeper understanding of Islam, but I also found a new level of gratitude and love for my Creator. From the first spirituality lesson, I just knew in my heart that my soul was coming home. I completed the course in February 2021 and, a month later, made the declaration of faith, and began my new life as a Muslim.
It has now been just over a year since my shahada and I’ve never been so happy or more at peace. Islam has become my way of life and looking back, I can appreciate how much I’ve achieved in such a short amount of time. I’ve celebrated every milestone along the way like learning to pray, fasting during Ramadan, going to the mosque, wearing hijab, and meeting other Muslims and making new friends. I’ve been so warmly welcomed by the Muslim community. I continue to push myself with further study and I am so grateful to Allah for guiding me and placing wonderful teachers in my life. Most importantly, I feel content and fulfilled, and my heart is at peace knowing that Allah is at the centre of my being. I feel so incredibly blessed, none more so than when I was able to go to Mecca and perform umrah earlier this year. No words can describe the feeling of seeing the Kaaba for the first time, performing tawaf and praying directly in front of the House of Allah. The whole experience felt like an intimate, loving dialogue between my Creator and me and it’s a feeling I will never, ever forget. A feeling that now dictates my every act of worship. A feeling that allows me to have the conviction and faith I longed for all my life. It allows me to trust that whatever happens in my life, Allah will always take care of me. Alhamdullilah.