Sister Maimuna, formerly Joan Dixon, was born into a non-church-going Christian family, but despite this, she developed a high sense of spirituality and religious devotion in her youth.
Unfortunately, an incident occurred after which she lost faith in God; however, she was guided back onto the right path, but could never again reconcile herself to faith in the church. She then started to study other religions and also visited a mosque, and she says that she instantly felt at home in this new atmosphere. After embracing Islam, Sister Maimuna travelled to Pakistan to experience life in a country where the majority of people are Muslims. (Al-Bukhari).
I was born into a Christian family who sent us to Sunday school for religious instruction. The existence of God was taken for granted quite naturality. We all had a sense of His presence as part of our lives, watching over us, whether we did good or bad.
In my teens I became fervently religious and seriously considered becoming a nun and entering a convent. I became ‘confirmed’ in the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, which encompassed all the ceremonials I so loved; statues, bells, incense, pomp and circumstance in a dimly lit setting.
I can recall my confirmation service, dressed in a long white veil and kneeling before the Bishop. I was genuinely devoted and practised regular prayer, meditation, fasting and self denial.
Then, all of a sudden, I lost my faith. Something happened to somebody for whom I had prayed. For the first time I felt that my prayers were not being answered. I had, in a childlike way, seen the world as good and belonging to God. Devastated, I viewed the world now with newly acid eyes, questioning everything I hitherto believed in Terminal illness, disability, earthquakes, plane crashes and even the fact that people needed spectacles.
I felt total emptiness, loneliness, and disillusion. It is no exaggeration to say that the world now had no meaning for me.
Without a higher power, I did not know how to continue, and I looked around to see if others felt the same. Alas, in the West, religion is often the last taboo and talking about it causes shyness, so I had no one with whom I could discuss my feelings, I could not as I now regarded them as conspirators in this con-trick and myth.
By chance, at school I studied some religious orders of monks and nuns for a sociology essay. I wrote to them asking hard questions, but expecting no answers. I wondered if they too were innocent “dupes”, living totally for God. Yet their utter dedication and sacrifice were apparent, and I thought that if God existed, they must have indeed found Him. Slowly, these monks and nuns in their hidden, contemplative lives, far removed from the material world, helped me to believe again.
They exerted no pressure or dogma, and seemed humble and at peace with life. In the stillness of their monasteries, seeing their absolute reliance on God, I somehow found Him again.
However, while faith in God returned, faith in the church did not. I still questioned the complex doctrines and ceremonies, and challenged everything. Why did Jesus, peace be upon him, and why did leaders live in palaces, as the Bishops and Popes did? What had God to do with bureaucracy and legalism? Equally damaging was the fact that I could no longer believe in the Trinity and related issues. I asked clergymen, if Jesus was somehow “God”, yet also His son, to whom did he pray? To himself? I was told that this was a holy mystery, taken on trust only.
I began to study other religions, from Judaism to the “Hare Krishna” cult. I was dismayed that the Jews saw themselves as the chosen people and rejected converts. What little I knew of Islam focused on media portrayal, satire, and stereotyping. I decided to visit the Regent’s Park Mosque, and the event was a real revelation and turning point.
The wonderful feeling of family pervaded the place, with all generations mixing together, and small children scampering over those at prayer. There was no solemn or false atmosphere, and I met hospitable people who became firm friends. I found that faith simple and true, and with the hospitable family atmosphere I at once felt at home. I started to study Islam and correspond with learned Islamic scholars around the globe.
Initially, I found the Arabic prayer exceedingly difficult and many other things required effort to adjust to. Dressing modestly as Muslims are meant to, was not difficult as I had always preferred such fashions. However, wearing the head covering scarf was a problem.
Somehow it attracted hostility, since I worked in a non-Muslim, secular environment, and people feared it. They visualize such an outward sign as connected to political upheaval, terrorism and so on. One is thought to follow a set party agenda, when in fact we are all individuals with different opinions.
My first visit to a Muslim country, Pakistan, was traumatic for me. Conditions there shocked and repelled me, the squalor and corruption. I quickly discovered that Islam as a religion is one thing, and a nation’s culture and practices are another. I have since always concentrated on following the inner life of Islam, by reading, studying and devotion, and have stayed away from ethnic, cultural or political opinions.
This has enabled me to carry on as a Muslim, never getting disillusioned with Islam, I pray that God willing I will always have this strength. (Courtesy Saudi Gazette)