Eid Special – How a convert overcame substance abuse, strove for the truth and found Islam! Mariam Saeed reports from the UK
I met a Niqabi sister at the sisters’ Halaqa at the Masjid. Her life struck me because she overcame substance abuse through Islam. She is now a strong Muslim woman who enjoys climbing, hiking and camping. She rides her motorcycle, volunteers, indulges in horticulture and creative recycling. She also enjoys video gaming, reading and has recently started playing golf as well!
When did you realize that Islam is the Truth?
It all began during the coronavirus pandemic, when the UK went into nation-wide lockdown in early 2020. I had been in mental turmoil for quite some time, struggling to find any reason to hope that things would change amidst people suffering.
Religion provided so many members of my family solace. My mother is non-Muslim, but she is very religious herself, and I remember as a child, when I felt most incredibly helpless, I would also turn to our Creator seeking help under her guidance. Subhan Allah, we had lost so many people dear to us during the pandemic, and yet I survived? I did not want to waste any more of my life. I was determined to leave lockdown as someone who could do more good than bad.
So I started reading, watching and listening to learn more about this beautiful Deen and even observed fasting. I had not been looking to revert at the time- I just had a curiosity and was drawn to learn more. Eventually I came across a video of an interfaith panel discussion between an Imam, a Rabbi and a Reverend from 2018 which convinced me that Islam had the answers. I started learning about the history of the Prophet Muhammad (SA) and found his life deeply engaging and motivational. When I started to incorporate Islamic rituals and practices into my life, I began to see benefits multiply.
How had you perceived Islam before your interaction with these texts?
My prior understanding was scarred by ignorance. The dilemma around rights of women confused me and I had certainly misunderstood the delicate crossover between cultural norms, and well-sourced Islamic guidance. My views had been fuelled by the fear in people around me and media portrayals which would show Islam as this destructive and negative force. Subhan Allah I even held a lot of hatred for Muslims during that time.
My father was the first to teach me that what the media shows is not the Islam in the hearts of the Ummah. My father knows a lot about many faiths and he’d also read the Quran before so during the lockdown. I asked to borrow his own copy to study from. He always encouraged me to study more and at least learn the facts before holding all this hatred and fear in my heart.
Do you think you are a different person after converting to Islam?
Alhamdullilah, yes! I truly believe I have changed for the better after I finally accepted Islam and the Shariah. I was self-destructive and my lifestyle caused rifts between myself and my loved ones. Earlier, I lacked purpose and ambition in life but now I have Akhirah-oriented goals and I am trying hard to rebuild bonds with my family and fix relations with those around me.
Is there anything that Islam particularly helped you with?
One of the most impactful things I gained from accepting Islam was the strength and guidance to finally stop substance abuse. My addiction to alcohol lasted around a decade, worsening over time till I began carrying alcohol around with me most of the time and taking sips throughout my day just to feel ‘right’.
I tried not to see people if it required any driving because that would prevent me from drinking freely. I started cancelling plans, turning down opportunities and lying because I’d rather be at a pub or at home drinking.
My social and home life deteriorated dramatically. I even took risks that could have lost me my job at that time. I had been an avid volunteer for an organization I cared very much about, but eventually I started missing more and more volunteer dates due to being hung-over, or too far over the limit to drive (I had a Breathalyzer which I had to use constantly just to keep my driving license).
Finally, during one Ramadan about a year before I took my Shahadah, I decided I needed to leave alcohol behind completely. I just managed to abstain for nearly the whole month, with extreme difficulty. Fortunately, I had not been drinking large amounts to start experiencing the physical withdrawals one can go through when quitting cold-turkey like this, but the mental challenge was exhausting. Eventually I was able to give it up completely. Going sober improved my life many times over.
What do you think the Hijab embodies for you?
The Islamic code of dress for both men and women, was one of the reasons I once feared Islam. I wrongly thought the head covering was to hide and oppress women. During lockdown, I read about how how non-Muslims have such a different approach to a covered Muslim woman versus a nun in her habit. That really got me thinking! I looked into the historical significance of head covering throughout Abrahamic religions and also listened to stories of the various reasons why Muslim women choose to cover their heads. Of course, in some cultures, there is still some difficulty regarding the compulsion of wearing Hijab.
When I started dressing modestly, I gained some self-respect back, I learned to stand up for myself, and be firm in my decisions.
I also learned to be more critical of a society where people would buy drinks for me when they knew I was trying to quit, and my ‘friends’ would tell me they preferred me in tighter clothing, with my hair down. I understood then, how empowering it feels to say firmly: “No. I actually like dressing this way and how I look isn’t dictated by you.”
I remember the early days when I felt strongly compelled to cover my head but still found myself in some difficult environments where I was scared to wear a scarf. Back then I didn’t know any better and would tuck all my hair into a hat, or even a short synthetic wig sometimes! I look back on all those days with fondness now, and my scarf is a very important reminder to watch my actions because I represent my faith
Has becoming a Muslim restricted your social life?
This is so untrue! I actually was more attracted to a lifestyle where I could live like a Catholic nun, and sought Islamic evidence to support this preference – but I found none. Islam asks us to be active and engaging in our communities in the name of Allah (swt). Even smiling at your neighbours is considered spending in the cause of Allah (swt). The wonderful Muslim women around me are testament to this fact and lead by a great example.
Whilst it can be different in some other countries due to cultural norms and outdated laws, how can you ever look at the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (SA) and believe that women must live confined and restricted? In Islam, there’s actually a very strong focus on education for women. Around me, many Muslim women are teachers, doctors, journalists and solicitors – and in their spare time often volunteer in their local communities.
Islam teaches us to seize our life and make the most of it – everything in moderation – as long as it is not prohibited and we follow the laws prescribed in the Quran and Sunnah.
What do you do to protect your faith?
Firstly, I find my Hijab is a big reminder to watch my actions at all times, because it is so clear to people that I am a follower of Islam. It also helps protect me from many unwanted things. For instance now that I’m fully covered, people are more understanding when I explain that I do not drink and do not want to gamble.
Secondly, I try to incorporate as many small Sunnahs into my daily routine as possible like saying Bismillah before eating, being kind to neighbours, using Miswak, smiling at people, partaking of black seeds and Ruqyah.
Thirdly, I fast. It helps me remain focused and grateful for Allah’s (swt) blessings. Lastly, I am so grateful that I have access to a wonderful Masjid, with lots of educational resources and classes available for sisters that help me learn more and support practicing Islam! Gathering together for the sake of Allah (swt) brings so many rewards, and I always leave the classes feeling like I’m floating!
What is your relationship with the Quran?
The copy I first started reading was loaned to me by my father and the introduction was very helpful in clearing up a lot of what would have confused me otherwise! Initially, I could not read any Quranic Arabic at all, so during my first Ramadan as a new revert in 2021, I would listen to the recitation of each Juz while I read its English translation. Now I can read basic words from the Arabic text, and I try to practice as much as I can. I still do not understand the meaning of more than just a handful of words, so I have to read the English as well, but I’m pleased that some slow progress is being made, Alhamdulilah.
How has the Prophet (sa) Seerah helped you?
Charity, cleanliness, generosity, devotion, loyalty, honesty – these are just a few of the beloved characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad (SA) I discovered and that brought me closer to Shahadah. I too hope to embody them over time
I initially connected to his Seerah by watching some videos made by researchers on the internet and I cross checked them. I understood the importance of Sunnahs when I finally heard some of them set against the backdrop of the history of early Islam, amongst the ambushes, the family life, widows and orphans, and the migrations. I understood why people called Islam a religion of ‘peace’.
Hearing about the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (SA) was especially powerful, as I soon realized that women in Islam actually held significant roles and were respected well for their authority on many matters. I am also inspired by how the Prophet (SA) struggled and how his faith was tested over and over, yet his belief in Allah (swt) prevailed.
How did your family react to your reversion?
I was particularly worried about my mother’s reaction. She is from Southern Philippines and witnessed a long enduring battle by Muslims for their autonomy. Some reverts I knew had faced backlash from their families. Some others had reverted in secret, almost having to live a double life for fear of their family’s reaction.
So I know I was incredibly blessed that my family took it so well. My mother was pleased I had taken up a strong faith and my father seemed happy I finally understood the message of Islam – he even asked me to keep his Quran as my very own now, as a gift! My mother had some reservations but we discussed them openly. Both my parents are very supportive and even celebrate Eids, and my mother is keen to see my regular Masjid soon In sha Allah. The majority of our family resides in the Philippines and they have shown me great kindness and acceptance. It was others in my original community that were not as accepting but things are improving slowly.
Any closing remarks?
Initially, I did not have any Muslim community support and it was hard to leave behind so many bad habits alone. But Allah (swt) is the Best of Planners and I accepted Islam at my own pace, and gradually left some long-term addictions. I wasn’t really alone- I had His guidance all the time and now I have the Muslim sisters’ support at my Masjid. Their stories continue to inspire me.
Islam is still helping me to change many habits, such as backbiting. The work on self-improvement is ongoing and it isn’t easy. I have only been able to accomplish this through the will of Allah (swt), the strength Islam gives me and the encouragement and support of the Ummah.
All Praise and Glory to Allah (swt) Who Guides His slaves from darkness to light. Hiba magazine prays for Jannat ul Aala for our dear sister and a gratifying life in Dunya! Ameen.