Surrounded by so many miracles, every day we seek miracles to prove that Islam is the right path. We usually fail to see several brothers and sisters who choose Islam as miracles. They are modern interpretations of the Holy Quran where it says, ‘As for those who strive in Us, We surely guide them to Our paths …’ (29:69)
Mardiyyah Taylor, the British revert sister, is another miracle of Islam who inspired me with her words.
How did you live before coming to Islam?
My Islamic name is Mardiyyah. I am nearly 52 years old, married with three children and two grandsons aged 4 and 2. I say now that I have three children unfortunately my youngest son was killed in February 2005 at the age of 23 in a car accident. I guess there is really no need to mention him but I still can’t say I have only two children it is like denying his existence so you will have to bear with me. I converted to Islam just six years ago in April 2002.
I was brought up as a Methodist (a non-conformist Protestant Christian); Protestant, being non Roman Catholic, non-conformist being not Church of England. I am the eldest of three daughters from a very close extended family. My great grandfather helped to build a Methodist Church in his village breaking away from his family’s belief in the Church of England, so I guess I am taking after him. I was sent to chapel (church) each Sunday and at the age of fourteen became a Sunday School Teacher. I always enjoyed Religious Education and passed all my exams, however even then I remember not being entirely happy with Christianity. For one reason I couldn’t accept that God had a son. I lived in a small town and never had contact with non-Christians or people from other countries. I do remember going on a Church Outing to London and seeing women wearing Niqab and was told that they were forced to dress like that. I found that hard to accept even then. I don’t remember anyone ever telling me about Muslims or Islam but somehow I knew the name of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), I knew that Muslims prayed 5 times a day, I knew their church was a mosque, etc.
Anyway I eventually met my husband who told me he was an atheist and when we married I used this as an excuse to stop going to chapel. When our children were born we did however have them christened I guess because of family pressure but also because we had a good upbringing to respect our elders and to be honest, etc. and we didn’t know what else to do. Life carried on like this for many years.
How did it happen to seek the truth about Islam with such a strong Christian background?
Gradually over time I would read articles in newspapers about other religions and other cultures. I would often stand up for other people if family or friends criticised their customs. I figured that they should be allowed to live their lives in their way without interference or criticism from anyone. I remember being particularly annoyed when there were news reports of British/European/American people being punished under Shariah Law in the Middle East. I figured if you went to a foreign country and broke their laws then you had to accept their punishment. I still believe this very strongly but it also has to apply the other way and if people from abroad break our laws then they have to accept the consequences. Anyway about 18 years ago now I started reading much more I would read anything and everything I came across about Islam I watched every news item I could see I loved looking at books of Islamic Architecture I loved looking at Muslim women in books and on TV and thinking how peaceful they looked I could never see the oppression that everyone else saw.
In 1999 I decided to do something I had wanted to do for a long time and that was to go and work in London. I now found even more time to read. I would spend my lunch hours in the big bookshops there with a cup of coffee and read and read. Let me say at this point I was a very normal western woman interested in Music, Fashion, looking after my home etc. To socialise my husband I would go to Pubs, Restaurants, theatres etc with our friends. It was quite normal for me to go for a drink (alcohol) with workmates before going home - I had quite a stressful job. Anyway gradually I found myself changing I would stop drinking alcohol for a time, I dressed rather more discreetly i.e. longer sleeves, longer dresses then I would realise what I was doing and would tell myself not to be stupid, that I wasn’t a Muslim, that I could sympathise with Muslims but I was a Christian, I wasn’t A Muslim and I would go back to my old ways.
A Muslim friend who I had met some years earlier bought me an English translation of the Holy Quran. (This spurred me on to finding out more about Islam as I believed this person to be quite a poor Muslim, Astaghfirullah. I knew they didn’t pray, they ate pork, they drank alcohol, in fact very Western.) So many things in the Quran that couldn’t possibly have been known when it was given to the Holy Prophet fascinated me. And of course I realised that Prophet Issa (as) was just that a Prophet and not God’s son and that Muslims believed in all the Old Testament Prophets. I then bought myself a book called Teach yourself Islam. One day I decided to pray, “as Muslims do”. Wow! The sense of tranquillity and feeling of peace is still with me today.
What consequences had you to bear as a new Muslim?
By this time I was on my second job in London this time working for a Theatre Producer of top Broadway (New York) shows. I knew it would be difficult for me to say that I was a Muslim there but I knew I wanted to find good Muslims to have contact with and to tell my family. However, one lunch time I was sitting reading and having coffee when my daughter phoned to say a plane had crashed into the twin towers. I knew my telling people would have to wait. I spent quite a lot of time in the next few weeks defending Muslims against criticism from family, friends and colleagues. In the January of 2002 I lost my job. The tourism industry in London was badly hit after 9/11 and we had shows that closed. I took the decision this was a sign from Allah that I should concentrate on learning about Islam, so I got a job near home and only part time. I contacted two websites both of which answered and offered me help. I decided to make contact with people from the nearest to my home. One Saturday I took myself to this town and was met by the Brother, who had answered my enquiry, he introduced me to some sisters and I went to my first Tawheed class.
Now in my ignorance I thought I could be “just a Muslim”. I knew there were Sunnis and Shias but didn’t understand the meaning of the words. I knew Shias were in Iran and had been responsible for the American embassy siege and in the Iranian embassy siege in London. Let me say I hadn’t really paid much attention at the time of either; I had just accepted our press version of events. I remember seeing footage of Ayatollah Khomenei returning to Tehran and hearing that he would “cause all manner of problems” but I remember thinking that he looked calm, peaceful and honest but everyone else was saying he was evil. Little did I realise that less than 20 years later I would be standing in his shrine. Anyway it quickly became apparent that what these sisters and brothers were teaching was fine in some ways but in others I was very confused. Why were they so pleased with Ayesha but nothing or very little was said about Lady Fatimah? Who was Abu Bakr? Why did they keep saying he had followed the Holy Prophet? What had happened to Imam Ali (as)? I was very confused. I decided to meet with the sister from the other website, hence my introduction to Sister Zaynab (who introduced me to you) and her husband. They sat with me and answered questions some very basic about etiquette and practise, prayers, etc. and then one day I said, “I don’t get it. I thought this happened.” and they said but they are the beliefs of Shias. They still tease me about the look on my face even now they laughed and said, “Oh yeah. We are the trouble makers, aren’t we?” Alhamdullillah from then on I knew I was on the right path. Six years have passed since then and my only regret is that I did my Shahada with the first group I met who actually turned out to be Wahabis.
How do you feel now as a Muslim?
Life can be very lonely at times because even though my family have been very accepting of decision, I have no one to share it with on a daily basis. I have come to rely on my many new friends (Sunni, Sufi and Shia) to help me. I love my family very much and they accept that I wear Jilbab and Hijab and won’t do certain things and I think my husband in particular is wonderful as it must be very difficult for him as when people see me they automatically think he is Muslim and he has to explain he isn’t, that he doesn’t speak Arabic etc. Saying all this, his beliefs are very similar to most Muslims and mine but he however believes that religion causes problems and we should keep our beliefs to ourselves.
Was there any supernatural event, such as a dream, effective in your conversion?
I have to be honest and say I don’t think so. I have no recollection of anything and certainly had no idea until after I converted that Muslims pay so much attention to dreams. As far as I am aware my conversion came about over many years from an interest in religion and dissatisfaction in Christianity.
There are various sects within Christianity, especially within Protestants where you came from. How did you feel when you came across various sects within Islam? Did it cause you confusion?
When I converted I knew of Sunni and Shia and had heard of Sufis (but wasn’t sure how they fitted into Islam). However, I thought I would be able to be ‘just a Muslim’ and live by the 5 pillars but when the Sunnis with whom I did my Shahada started telling me to accept certain things such as, amongst others, that Abu Bakr was the legitimate leader after the Prophet (pbuh) and that he (the Prophet (pbuh)) had not said that Imam Ali should be the next leader, and then also that Shias make ‘such a fuss’ (their words not mine) during Muharram because they (the Shias) killed Hussein (as), I realised life was not going to be that easy and I remember feeling a great sense of disappointment rather than confusion. I had felt that I had found the perfect religion and someone had just spoilt it all. It took me quite a while to realise that I had to stand up and say I am a Shia. This wasn’t easy as at the time I was volunteering at an Islamic nursery run by a Wahabi/Salafi Sunni, who was soon to offer me a full time position as Bursar/Admin Manager not only in the nursery but also in the Islamic School- but I did!
What’s your job now?
I am the Human Resource & Training Manager for a Care Agency. We supply care staff into residential and nursing homes. We also supply staff to local government day care centres. I am very lucky that my boss is Muslim and the husband of a friend. I am lucky because it is easy for me to pray at work–which isn’t always the case in the UK- and I can dress as I wish, again this isn’t always the case.
Your conversion must have aroused a lot of questions about Islam, especially about wearing Hijab, among your friends and family. How do you answer their questions? How did your replies change their minds?
Surprisingly it didn’t raise a lot of questions. Like a lot of English families mine do not discuss religion. It is, like politics, something that in many homes is thought best kept to ourselves. My husband although is beliefs are very similar to my own fervently believes that religion and politics if discussed or expressed openly highlights differences and causes problems.
One or two people did try to appear interested but made sure I know that I shouldn’t try to force my beliefs and opinions on them. So long as I do this they are prepared to respect my beliefs. For example, most of my friends and family are happy for me to pray at their homes, my parents and daughter will buy halal meat, others will ensure there is either a suitable fish or vegetarian dish for me at meals. My sister who is a hairdresser and has her own salon will make sure she has no male clients when I am going for treatments and so on.
I do try and have meals for them at times like Eid when I attempt to explain about the occasion. My husband was quite happy when I did prayers for my son when he was killed. I attempt at times like Christmas to explain that this is a date that was just plucked from the air by early Christians and to coincide with pagan mid winter festivals and that really they don’t know the real date of Jesus’ birthday. I also make sure they know that Issa (as), Musa (as) and Abraham (as) are revered Prophets in Islam.
I think possible the Hijab issue is one thing they have learnt, that Muslim women are not forced to wear it. Obviously being married to a non-Muslim this is one thing I can really highlight.
I do have a certain amount of guilt about some of the above and actually having to write this for you has made me more aware of this. I do feel I have neglected my responsibilities as a Muslim to explain Islam to non-Muslims and I certainly feel now that my son is not with us that I failed him in not talking to him when I had the opportunity. May Allah forgive me.
Why is the number of women converting to Islam larger than that of men?
Women in the west are told that they can have everything- they can have a wonderful career, they can be the best mother, the best wife, they can look like a supermodel etc. etc. We are encouraged to look glamorous at all times to wear clothes that make us obvious and attractive to all men regardless of whether we are married or not. Too much is expected by us and from us. The pressure is immense. Many women are beginning to realise that yes, we can have a career but there is also nothing more important than being a good mother and wife. Why do we need to make ourselves attractive to every man we meet? Why do we need to feel the need to put on our best make up, our best clothes and to laugh and joke with men–just for a job interview? Women have started to look for fulfilment elsewhere and Islam teaches amongst other things that ‘mothers are the best of creatures’-why be ashamed of it?
Men in the west do not have these pressures on them and are in the main happy with their lives-they have good jobs, they have their children, they have their wives to run their homes and to take out and show off as a ‘trophy’. They have not yet found the need to look for something else. Please do not think all men and women are as described above; they aren’t.
What do you think to be the strengths and weaknesses of Muslim Women?
Muslim women through the ages have been a great example to their families. Women from the time of the Prophet (sawa) and the women with Imam Hussein (as) showed more courage than any other women in history. The horror they saw and the humiliation they were subjected to was immense and yet they never allowed this to damage their belief in Allah or in Islam. Muslim women today are often persecuted sometimes by their own people such as in ‘forced marriage’ something the Prophet (sawa) spoke out against and yet it does still happen; something very different to a mutually arranged marriage between a man and a woman and sometimes by so called liberators of their countries. Certainly remembering the strength of the women of Karbala helped me when my own son was killed.
As for the weakness of Muslim women, I think the main weakness here in the west is our failure to stand up and say the men do not persecute us. So many people here believe that women are forced to cover, forced to stay at home and look after their families and homes, that given the chance we would all run away and go drinking and clubbing. Most of us –and I include myself in this fail to say, “I do this for Allah; this is how He instructed me to dress. I am not ashamed to say I am a wife and mother. There is no more important job than bringing my children up to understand and practise Allah’s religion.” I am a Muslim woman practising my religion and yet living with a non-Muslim husband; who is forcing me?
How do you compare between a Muslim woman’s role in her family and bringing up the children and a non-Muslim’s?
I can only speak as a Christian mother (which I was, my children were all adults before I converted to Islam). In that I see very little difference and I think we have very similar values. My children were brought up to be honest, truthful, hardworking and loyal to their family and friends, all qualities I am sure any Muslim mother anywhere would recognise. As a Christian I brought my children up to go to Chapel (church), I brought them up to know who Abraham and Moses were and who Jesus was. Of course now if I could I would go back and tell them who he really was-a revered Prophet of Islam and not the Son of God. How a mother speaks and educates her children is so important; it is the basis for their adult life and all mothers want the best for their children but they also have to know when to let go –‘to let go of the apron strings’ as we say in England.
How are non-Muslim women familiar with Lady Fatimah Al-Zahra (as)?
I think most non-Muslims have no knowledge whatever of specific Muslim women not even Maryam mother of Issa (as). They are always very surprised when they learn that she is so highly revered in Islam. Most, I believe see Islam as a religion dominated by men and are really surprised when they learn how Lady Fatima (as) delivered sermons and how treasured she was both by her father the Holy Prophet (sawa) and by her husband Ameer ul Momineen (as).
If you mean women in general there is so much they do not know and understand. Most still see them as being dominated by men, being forced into marriage, and imagine that they are all uneducated and being forced to wear Hijab and drab clothes. At the moment all reporting of Muslim women like Islam in general tends to be from a negative viewpoint. Although we have Islamic lifestyle magazines that are great, I doubt very much if they are read by non-Muslims. No articles are ever written about Muslim women in mainstream publications.
As a western Muslim woman, how do you get close to Lady Fatimah (as)?
As a Muslim woman first and foremost I try to put my belief in Allah first in my life, not always successfully, I hasten to add I am not Hazrat Fatima (as). After that my husband, family including my parents come next. To pray, always think of others; I try to remember how Hazrat Fatima (as) cooked and cleaned for herself some days so that her slave girl had time to pray and do things for herself; to give to charity-to remember how Hazrat Fatima(as) and members of her family would often give what little food they had to beggars- to remember how she observed Hijab – that its not just necessary for us to wear a scarf but to understand why we wear it and to understand the Inner Hijab which is also necessary-averting our eyes, not listening to things like “Pop Music” which in this Internet society is a definite drawback, etc.
Having been to Majlis for the Martyrdom of Hazrat Fatima and listened to the lectures about her, as a Muslim I fail to see how we cannot help but be drawn close to her. However for non-Muslims and even for Sunni Muslims who are really not interested in hearing about her if I am honest I do not know how they can feel close to her. I guess the one criticism I have of Shias (in England at least) is that they are not particularly good at going out and explaining Islam. They wait for people to come to them and I believe this is the one reason that converts in the west get to drawn to Sunnis, Salafi and Wahabi in particular because they make it their business to go and stand on the streets with leaflets, etc. and give “Da’wah”.
Have you ever made a trip to Iran?
I came to Iran in May 2004 with an Iranian born friend and three Iraqi ladies. I had only been a Muslim for about two years and hadn’t really thought seriously about making any trips except for praying that I would one day get to go on Hajj. Anyway one night I had a dream which I really didn’t understand- in the dream I was somewhere I didn’t recognise, there were many women sitting around pools with fountains when I suddenly noticed one man sitting there, everyone else seemed oblivious to him. I asked what he was doing there as everyone else was female and he said “but I belong here”. I decided that I would ask the opinion of some friends what they thought the dream meant. The following weekend before I had a chance to ask, my friend said she was thinking of going to Iran purely for her own benefit (she frequently takes groups to Iran and Syria) but wondered if I would like to accompany her. I jumped at the chance and was really pleased that the first time I was to fly and leave England would be to go to Iran.
We went on to the shrines of Shah Abdul Azeem and from there on to Qum and the Haram of Lady Masoumeh. We spent a few days there going on the Tuesday to Jamkaran Mosque and on the way back to Tehran airport for our flight to Mashhad we went to the shrine of Ayatollah Khomenei. By the time I arrived in Mashad I was quite ill and I continued to get worse. Although I went to the Haram and performed the Ziyarat of Imam Reza, and heard Dua Kumayl recited on the Thursday evening I decided I was being unfair to my companions and decided to change my flight and fly home alone after just one week, something I now really regret.
My visit to Iran was definitely memorable. Whether my dream was of any significance I’m not sure; many places have the pools and fountains of my dream, so….
Please write some sentences on/to Imam Reza (as).
I remember after trying to explain how difficult it is sometimes trying to live as we have been shown by the example of Ahyul Bayt in this day, being told by Sister Zaynab’ husband that a saying of Imam Reza (as) was “This world is a prison for the Mu’min and a paradise for the unbeliever”. If I could spend the rest of my life truly feeling that I was in this prison continually, Alhamdullillah I would be truly happy but I fear I keep getting parole!
What is your message to Muslim (especially Iranian) Women?
To continue striving to become more educated, and to play an increasingly important part in the lives of their countries, alongside their most important role in life of wife and mother. Doing this though they must ensure they do not compromise their beliefs in Islam and its teachings.