Finding My Purpose in Life
When I was a child, I had an overwhelming fear of the dark. With my family I lived on a small farm in Southern Tasmania. At night, with the lights turned off, the darkness was all-encompassing. There were no other houses, no street lights to provide a hint of the outline of things. Everything was covered in night. I remember very clearly how I would lie in bed with my back to the wall and the covers over my ears, repeating to myself, “Oh God, please protect me.” I felt that for as long as I said this I would be safe. I had total confidence that I was under the care of a higher power, although I had real comprehension of what I was asking for and to whom it was directed. In retrospect, the thing that I find interesting is that my family is not religious. At the age of seven or eight I still retained some of the fitrah into which I was born. This natural instinct to trust in God was slowly eroded as I matured and reached adulthood.
Since Almighty God made all human beings swear to His Unique Divinity and Lordship when He created Adam (“When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): “Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?”- They said: “Yea! We do testify!” (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were never mindful” – Qur’an 7:172) this oath is printed on the human soul even before it enters the mother’s womb. So when a child is born, it has with it a natural belief in God. This natural belief is called in Arabic “fitrah”. If a child were to be left alone, it would grow up aware of Almighty God in His Unity, but all children are affected by the pressures of their environment.
The Prophet Muhammad – the Final Messenger of God, may God bless him and give him peace, reported that God the Exalted said: “I created My servants in the right religion, but the devils made them go astray.” (Reported in Sahih Muslim.) The Messenger of God, may God bless him and give him peace, also said: “Each child is born in a state of fitrah, but his parents make him a Jew or a Christian.” (Reported in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim).
However my heart was not completely hardened. There remained a part of me that was filled with longing, a feeling that I clumsily describe as an ache or yearning for The Absolute; a need to surrender to something much greater than myself and my surroundings. I tried to dull it through losing myself in the Dunya (the life of this world)
“O men! Certainly the promise of God is true. Let not then this present life deceive you, nor let the Chief Deceiver deceive you about God.” Quran 35:5
Paradoxically although I was filled with unease, I was aware that hidden within this longing there was the possibility of peace and stillness. I was an insomniac and I would sit up all night enjoying the quiet. There was intensity in the night that attracted me. At 2 or 3am everything seemed more substantial, more real somehow. I felt a little closer to that elusive something which was out of my grasp. Now I am able to recognize that this longing was the product of our need as humans to have a relationship with our Creator.
The reason that I was filled with unease was because this call to worship was an unrecognized and an unfulfilled desire. Until I was able to look within myself and know that I had faith in God, the call to that which was Greater was unanswered. I had to be prepared to open my heart. It seems so obvious to me now that my longing was the residue of our need to worship – a need, which as an undeniable constituent of our human make-up. It refuses to lie dormant and will stir within us and demand attention. Either we have faith in and we worship God or we have faith in and we worship man-made systems. The first is done knowingly and leads to contentment. The second is usually done unknowingly and leads the individual on a deceptive path that is perpetually unfulfilling.
I was on the latter path for many years, continually searching for a means to dislodge the unease that I felt within myself. I was not necessarily unhappy on the surface but inwardly I struggled with an emptiness that I could not explain – a bewildering feeling of loss. The most obvious step, to believe in God was the most difficult step to take, it required that everything in my life be broken down and reassembled. I thought that people were religious only because they had been brought up to think that way. In my self-righteousness, it had never occurred to me to apply the same logic to myself.
Eventually one day I realized that we have to consciously choose our beliefs. I tried to step outside myself and view the world and our human existence with no particular bias. I looked within myself and realized that hidden within my longing, in an area intensely personal and ambiguous, were a few scattered seeds of what could only be described as Faith. This was a part of me, much more enduring than any of the ideologies that I had cloaked myself in previously. I took a deep breath and admitted to myself that I believed in God. Finally after years of searching I opened my heart to a reality that I think I had subconsciously always known. But what was the next step? How was this newly recognized awareness of the Divine Presence going to affect my daily life?
Years earlier my searching had taken me to the other side of the world, to Chefchauoen, a beautiful town in the Riff Mountains in Morocco. For the first time I was introduced to living Islam. There was a quality inherent in the people I encountered there that I found immediately striking and attractive; a generosity that amazed me. Even amidst the hectic activity of the busy marketplace I sensed a feeling of serenity, a sensation that everything that was occurring was in it’s rightful place. It has been suggested to me that my reaction was probably just naive romanticism; the responses of a young woman embracing a culture so different from her own; a flirtation with the exotic! After all I was studying Fine Arts, wasn’t it just typical for a young aspiring artist to fall in love with such a place? Perhaps! Or perhaps Allah Subhana wa ta’ala helped me to have such an experience in order to awaken in my heart a love for Islam. The enduring nature of my love for Morocco suggests to me that this was the reason.
When I returned to Australia I felt that I had been changed by my experience but it took six years for this change to be fully recognized. In Melbourne in 2001, I found myself talking to a Taxi Driver as I went home one night. We talked very openly and I was surprised by how comfortable I felt as I spoke to this stranger. I was usually very shy and reserved with people that I did not know. He interested me, I found his manner gentle and he was an Arabic speaker. I did not tell him of my love for the Arabic language with its beautiful sound and the grace of its script. I was too embarrassed as it felt like a childish obsession and besides it was inappropriate. We talked and he reignited my interest in Islam. At first it was a detached interest, but very soon, with a speed which shocked me, I began to feel as if my entire system of living was in question. I became obsessed and every spare moment I had I spent reading.
When I read about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), it seemed implausible to me that he was just a talented man as I had thought previously. How could someone write a book that was both an explanation of and guide for life and also so linguistically superb? I discovered that Muhammad (pbuh) was in fact a Messenger of God. Subhan’Allah. When I look back at this time, I am so grateful to Allah (swt) for starting me on his Straight Path and for helping my heart open to Islam with such speed. At the time however, I was very frightened. I realized that I must become a Muslim and the idea terrified me. I had only begun reading about Islam to satisfy an interest, I didn’t expect it to convince me. I felt that I couldn’t become a Muslim. If I did so I might lose my friends and be distanced from my family. I was so scared of finding myself alone.
However in the back of my mind I was aware that I had always been alone; that even my close friendships had never totally satisfied me; that I used to dream about falling in love with someone and knowing them and being known completely. But we can never really know what another person’s heart contains and it is only Allah (swt) who knows us completely. When I finally accepted Islam, I realized that I would never feel alone again, that Allah (swt) is “closer than the jugular vein” Qur’an 50:16.
But to reach the day when with my will I believed and I said the Shahadah (Declaration of faith), I had to first reach a crisis point. I had found that I believed in Allah (swt) and in doing so I had shattered the world as I had known it all my adult life. I was terribly confused and my faith fluctuated. I felt as though I was at war with myself. I knew in my heart that Islam was the correct path to take but my self, my nafs (soul), fought against this every step of the way. My heart wanted to submit but my will was not ready.
“Therefore, when there comes the great, overwhelming (Event) – The Day when man shall remember (all) that he strove for, and Hell-Fire shall be placed in full view for (all) to see, –
Then, for such as had transgressed all bounds, And had preferred the life of this world,
The Abode will be Hell-Fire;
And for such as had entertained the fear of standing before their Lord’s (tribunal)
and had restrained (their) soul from lower desires,
Their abode will be the Garden” Qur’an 79:34-41.
I was full of anger! Iit seemed to me that I was the only person in the world struggling with understanding of the meaning of our existence. I attacked myself for thinking about it! My cynicism told me it was adolescent, that we should ‘grow out’ of searching for the meaning of life. But I was unable to grow out of it, and it had become absolutely crucial to me to know my purpose in life.
One morning I woke up in tears, I cried all day and then for the first time since childhood I asked God to help me. I opened the Qur’an and I read:
“Allah! There is no god but He – the Living, The Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him Nor Sleep. His are all things In the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede In His presence except As he permitteth? He knoweth What (appeareth to His creatures As) Before or After or Behind them. Nor shall they compass Aught of his knowledge Except as He willeth. His throne doth extend Over the heavens And on earth, and He feeleth No fatigue in guarding And preserving them, For He is the Most High. The Supreme (in glory).” Qur’an 2: 255
It was at this moment that I felt myself submit and all my anger and frustration washed away. I knew in my heart that I was a Muslim and my will was no longer contradicting this. I felt total all-encompassing relief. Later I learnt that the verse I had read is called The verse of the Throne and it is one of the most important verses in he entire Qur’an. Subhan’Allah!
I saw on Islam-Australia (www.islam-australia.net) website that there was a series of lectures due to start at the University of Melbourne. The series was led by a male revert to Islam. I attended and it felt wonderful to be amongst so many Muslims. I said my Shahadah and I was very moved by both my own expression of faith of the reactions of the women surrounding me. I especially remember one young sister who held my hand and with tears in her eyes – she touched her heart. It was a beautiful welcome into Islam and Alhamdulillah I have now been a Muslim for almost two years.
* * *
My first year was very challenging. Several long term friendships of mine broke down and those that I retained changed their dynamic. My outward behaviour changed substantially and most of the people that I knew found it very difficult to accept these changes and this caused a distancing from people I had been very close to. I felt very isolated and although I did attend some classes and met some sisters who were very focused in their Islam and very kind, I felt out of place because I was not yet fully at peace within myself. I longed to make friends with other sisters but I was not yet ready to step out of my introspection. I had gone through such a great change and I needed to settle into my newly chosen life and to learn and feel comfortable with my role as a Muslim woman. So I stayed at home and in my spare time I read books and asked for help and guidance.
Subhan’Allah, during this time I had maintained contact with my Taxi Driver and I had grown to trust him completely. I had never met a man with so much patience. He endured a great deal with me during those first months! He supported me constantly and continually nudged me in the right direction. I discovered that I had fallen in love with him and I was overjoyed when he asked me to marry him. Alhamdulillah, we now have a baby girl, Ruqaiya Iman and she is a source of much happiness for both of us. I am so pleased for her that she has been born into a Muslim family and that she will know from the beginning her purpose in life. Insha’Allah I will be a good mother and wife. I am grateful that Allah (swt) took me out of my life as it was and guided me upon his Siraatal Mustaqeem. (The Straight Path)
“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds,
The Beneficent, the Merciful.
Master of the Day of Judgment,
Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help.
Show us the straight path….”
Glorious Qur’an – Surah Al Fatiha (The Opening)
I am now at peace with myself within Islam and I feel a completeness that I once did not think possible. All the unease has passed away into nothingness and the longing I once felt, has now been transformed into a desire to worship properly and to please Allah (swt). I feel incredibly fortunate and that is why I decided to tell the story of how Allah (swt) brought me into Islam. I read many revert stories when I was first
thinking about becoming a Muslim and they made me feel less alone.
My advice to people who are considering embracing Islam is to persevere! Some things may seem insurmountably difficult at the beginning, but Alhamdulillah if you persist in your search and earnestly seek Allah’s help then Insha’Allah the difficulties will eventually subside and you will find yourself in the most beautiful Deen (way of life), the only way of life in which our human potential can be fully recognized.
All praise is for Allah, Lord of the Worlds, The Awakener and The Giver of Peace.