Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 11 Hugh and Ismaeel

Ismaeel was Hugh before Hugh converted to Islam. Hugh was Catholic and had always believed in God as far back as he could remember. It was the image of God asking each person in the afterlife how they treated the poor and the hungry amongst them on earth, that drew Hugh to God.

Half Sri Lankan, half white, he’d always been somewhat of an outcast growing up in Harlesden, a poor, inner city neighbourhood also known as London’s Reggae capital. When he was 11 years old, Hugh was sent to an exclusive boarding school in the beautiful English countryside that offered tuition fees on a sliding scale. That meant that Hugh got to go for free because he was clever and poor, and it also meant he got to live.

It meant he didn’t get knifed in a London school, “I had a very quick temper when I was young and I used to get in a lot of fights. I would have probably been dead by now”. Instead he got called ‘darkie’ and was punched in the face on occasion.

As a teenager, he read about Martin Luther King and Gandhi, listened to Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. When he was 19 years old he went to India to walk in Gandhi’s footsteps and become a Hindu. He didn’t find the Hinduism of Gandhi on his travels. Instead he found a Hinduism that was caste and village based and one that wasn’t very welcoming of prospective converts. In India he bought a Qur’an, but never read it.

He returned to London and went to Law School where he opened the Qur’an, got scared witless and promptly put it back on the shelf. And then he fell in love with a Muslim. A Pakistani-American woman who told him he had to convert to Islam if they were to marry. So Hugh opened the Qur’an again and began to read. Their conversations about Islam led her to break off the engagement and go on pilgrimage, while Hugh was left in the middle of his quest.

He was convinced intellectually, but it didn’t stick in his heart. Until one of his friends took him to see their family Imam. “The problem you are having is that you don’t know who the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him) is”, the Imam told him. Hugh started reading about the Prophet Muhammad, his life and his teachings and that’s when Hugh fell in love, when Islam became alive to him and he became Ismaeel.

“Everything I do I try to do what the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did or would have done in my situation, doing so I remember him and by remembering him I remember God”. Dhikr, remembrance of God, replaced impatience and frustration.

Ismaeel recently graduated with a Masters in Islamic Law and Theology. He is an Imam and teaches at Hijaz College Islamic University in the beautiful English countryside.

‘Ismaeel’ means the fulfillment of a divine promise resulting from prayer being heard.

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