An Unlikely Letter from Kashmir

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During one of his numerous travels to India, Igors, a European entrepreneur, visited Kashmir, where he accepted Islam. Following is the letter he wrote to his wife on the day of his conversion.

Kashmir, May 19, 2008

My dearest wife,

Today was one of the most beautiful and wonderful days in my life!

After having breakfast at eight, I headed to the old town on my bike. As I cycled along, I noticed and photographed a Hindu temple.

I kept on cycling around till about two in the afternoon. I reached the oldest mosque in Sirnagara and wanted to go inside. When the guard said that only Muslims could enter, I said I was a Muslim and went inside. The prayer had just concluded and people had begun to disperse. I sat down on the side. As I sat, my thoughts wandered towards home, where I saw you and our son David. I was overwhelmed by an incredible feeling of happiness. In order to seal or preserve this moment somehow, I bowed and placed my forehead on the floor, just like the Muslims do in prayer. The feeling was truly wonderful!

As I stepped outside the mosque, I noticed that everything had changed a little. Upon seeing me, people smiled.

I cycled back to a small roadside shop and bought two drums, which cost me seventy-five rupees. I gave them one hundred. She had only fifteen to give for change. I said that it was alright, but she insisted that I should wait and sent her son to exchange the money. I felt like I was in another world. In Tallake, everybody tried to cheat the foreigners, just like they did with Din, the Englishman, who was requested to pay fifteen thousand rupees for a one night stay in a hotel! But here she was not letting me go, until I got the exact change.

When the drums were packed into my backpack, the shopkeeper lady invited me for a cup of tea. I did not refuse. We had some tea and biscuits. The conversation was not going very well since Ramika (the lady) didn’t know any English. Her son, who was in grade seven, knew some. So that’s how we spoke – she in Kashmiri and I in Latvian. The main topic was families.

I was treated also to some local sweets, which resembled Halvah. I tasted a bit and gave it back. Ramika refused and said to bring it home for my little son. When Ramika’s son asked me what religion I belonged to – Hindu or Christian – Ramika, pointing at my prayer beads, which I had been gifted in another mosque, said: “No, he is a Muslim.” I did not object. I said good-bye and left.

Since the sun was already setting, I could not photograph any more. At some house, a man from a high-up window called out to me to take a photo of him. Sure, it was no problem. He also invited me for tea. I did not refuse. The setting of the home was poor but very clean and neat. This time, I was treated to the salty Kashmiri tea. I really loved it.

Two women came upstairs. One of them was the old man’s (Noor’s) wife, while the other his sister. Again, the talk turned to our families. Noor showed me photos of his sons. I could show only the one picture of little David I had with me. We talked about my impressions of Kashmir. After some more conversation, I said good-bye and returned to my guest house.

At five, Gulam arranged for me to meet his friend, Sikander, who worked in a tourism agency and was well-versed in Islam. When I arrived, he was sitting on the prayer rug busy in prayers. Everything that followed seemed to be happening by itself, somehow detached from me.

I told Sikander what a fun day I had had. I told him about my visit to the mosque and Gulam said, through laughs, if things were to continue in the same manner, I would soon become a Muslim. I had said that I was a Muslim twice, and had felt good after the visit to the mosque. With a smile, I answered that I was already a Muslim. I took all of this as a mere joke. To this, Gulam happily said: “Super! Then we should only give you a new name and you would be a Muslim.” Since he knew a young and well-educated Imam, he suggested visiting him in the mosque close by.

When we arrived in the mosque, the prayers had just ended. Upon entering the mosque, Gulam loudly announced: “Hey everybody, here is a foreigner who wants to revert to Islam!” I had not expected such a turn of events. Since I didn’t want to explain everything, I just went with the flow. And then something unexpected happened – all those present came up to me, smiling, hugging, and shaking my hand; many of them with tears in their eyes. They were crying. At this moment, something broke inside me. Tears started streaming down my face…

After returning to the guest house, Gulam and the Imam gave me instructions as to how I have to prepare for accepting Islam. When all of that was done, I went to the big room. All of us sat on the floor. The Imam recited something in Arabic and I repeated after him: “Ash-hadu Al-laa Illaaha Illallah, ash-hadu anna Muhammadan rasoolullaah.” Then everybody shouted loudly: “Allaku Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” It seemed just like in a movie.

When we got up, everybody congratulated and hugged me. I still needed a new name. The Imam went off alone, got down on his knees and started praying. We left the room. After a few moments, the Imam joined us and announced that he has the following name for me – Noor Muhammad, which means the light of Muhammad or the light which comes forth from Muhammad.

That’s how I became a Muslim and got a new name – Noor Muhammad.

My European friends sitting next door looked somehow perplexed. Everything happened so fast. That same morning I had not expected to be a Muslim in the evening. Rimi, one of my friends, said that I should have been more critical. Eriki, the other friend, asked, if I knew that I would not be able to denounce Islam, to which I replied that I would never want to do it. Muslims simply have to believe in God, His last Prophet (sa) and have to do good things. Why would I leave the good to do bad things again?

We returned to the mosque, where I saw a crowd of men with smiles on their faces. When the Imam came, all of us arranged ourselves into a straight line. Gulam said to look at him and repeat whatever he did. The Imam started to recite the prayer.

Gulam later explained to me that there was an angel behind the right shoulder of every person who urged them to do good deeds. If anybody does something good, the angel records it. Behind the left shoulder also was an angel, who tried to prevent the person from doing the bad, wrong deeds. If we still don’t listen and continue with the bad deed, he records it. This is how we are held accountable for our deeds. With a smile on his face, Gulam added that now, after accepting Islam, all my old sins were erased and I was as if I was a newly born. Honestly, that’s exactly how I felt.

The prayer was over. Everybody came up to me, hugged and congratulated. We went outside. Gulam paid for tea for everyone. We took photographs. Everybody wanted to be in a picture with me. Gulam was telling everybody how things had happened that day. My actions had encouraged him to come to the mosque for prayers. He admitted that he had not been to the mosque for a very long time.

I went back to the guest house and again played cards with the Europeans. Then, I went to sleep. Even though I was extremely tired, I could not fall asleep for a long time…

P.S. My dearest wife, I know that everything you just read seems a bit strange to you, but I’m perfectly alright – I have not gone mad. I have just become a little better.