By Anne-Marie Ionescu |
Picture the scene. A post-communist Romanian family living in East London. In 1989 the fall came and a daughter was born into a loving family where neither religion nor spirituality were discussed at the dinner table. There I grew and lived, the sole member of the family with any inclination toward God and the Divine.
“You’re going to become a nun if you keep reading that”, “Bible Basher!”, “You’re going to join a convent one day, for sure!”. My sister, fifteen years of age and I twelve. The teasing eventually got to me but my thirst for spirituality was there from a young age. It was actually when a childhood friend of mine and I were in our usual hang-out spot in the local park that a Baptist preacher approached us. He did a fine old job at putting the ‘fear’ into ‘God-Fearing’ during our short conversation, and though my friend, a Muslim, found this conversation amusing, I did not. I wanted to know the truth of the matter regarding things he had mentioned: death, God, life after death and so I began attending Sunday Mass and classes at my local Roman Catholic church. I had my own beliefs about the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) that differed quite drastically to the Roman Catholic, and general Christian, view. I never thought him Divine; I never thought of him as the Son of God in the literal sense. In my naivety, I assumed the Church’s view was the same, or at least similar to that of mine, but I was soon proven wrong.
When starting college there was a sea change in my friendship circle. Where my friends were previously all Christian, they now included Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Muslims. I began studying further into Christianity when it appeared as though, after a brief discussion with a Muslim friend, I didn’t really know much about my own faith. What I found both shocked and scared me, notably, the divinity of Jesus and the concept of Original Sin. My attendance to church began to drop and soon after I decided at the age of seventeen that I was no longer a Christian. After reading into other religions for a further two to three years, I was fed up. I had read into all religions at this point apart from Islam. Islam, however was the religion (as I saw it) of domination, subjugation, coercion—you name it. I decided to put aside my misgivings and research it anyway. After all, you need to know what it is exactly you are rejecting right?
I decided to read the Qur’an online. By the end of the first Chapter, Al-Fatiha, I was hooked. To this day it remains my favourite Surah because it summarises belief so beautifully, in so few verses and with such richness. In the Qur’an, quite unexpectedly, I came across similar names of the Prophets and as soon as I had finished reading, the first thing that came to mind were my parents.
“Oh crap. The truth is Islam” I thought. This isn’t going to go down well with the parents. Sure enough, it didn’t.
I took my shahada (declaration of faith) in April when I was 20 years of age, after I spent some time reading into Islam, its history and contemporary political issues.
I remained a Sunni Muslim for four years before considering Ahmadiyyat and taking my initiation. After briefly reading the differences between Sunni and Shia positions, I decided that I was most aligned with the Sunni perspective with regards to the four Rightly Guided Caliphs. My interaction with Islam Ahmadiyya was very limited and I hadn’t ever encountered an Ahmadi before and nor any of the teachings. Preaching is something I am not particularly amenable to and so whenever a person, from any faith background, begins to preach to me my ears magically close off. The cog wheels in my head begin to turn to try and find a way of escaping the conversation politely. Or sometimes impolitely as some may point out!
When an Ahmadi colleague of mine began preaching to me, it seemed whenever the opportunity arose, I wouldn’t want to listen in the least.
Three and a half years had passed since my shahada and throughout this time I had ups and downs with regards to connection in my prayers and my overall spiritual contentment. I was going through another such ‘dry spell’, which had remained for a significant period of time, when I began asking my friends for advice as to how I can overcome it. Most said “It is just a phase, it will pass. Carry on praying, there is no need to worry”. But I was.
At a similar time, I noted that the Ahmadi Muslim I knew had a connection with God that I envied. Was there something they had that I didn’t? I wondered. I started investigating Ahmadiyyat by discussing it with another Sunni Muslim convert who was herself investigating it. Through her I received The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam and my interest grew. The AMSA at my university also held some interesting talks and debates which I had attended and I had read several short books and lectures by the Promised Messiah (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad) at that point. The first book I read with a keen interest, however, was Invitation to Ahmadiyyat and this was truly an eye-opener. I had expected to disagree with a lot of what was presented but I found it well structured, concise and compelling in considering the points of difference between mainstream Sunni Islam and Ahmadiyya Islam. I had also read the biography of the Promised Messiah Ahmad the Guided One after following the footsteps I had learned when initially reading into Islam and reading the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). I would say these two books were pivotal in my accepting Ahmadiyya Islam. I had also realised during this time that my enjoyment in prayers had taken a turn for the better.
The most important lesson I’d learnt from my previous experience coming to Islam initially was that having a good structure in knowing what is relevant in assessing the truth of a claim is vital. Reading the biography of a Messenger will determine whether this person is truthful or not. I also knew what type of information is more likely to be accurate and reliable. This was important, given the degree of misinformation about Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh).
Many books, three lectures and a dream later, I accepted Ahmadiyya Islam.