Saturday, August 11, 2007

What made an ex-BNP extremist turn to Islam?

The story of an unusual convert:
From a white extremist to a devout Muslim
Wednesday, 08 August 2007

"Once I was a 100% sure that I wanted to become a Muslim, I immediately felt better,” said British Muslim convert Muhammad Islam. There can’t be more amazing stories of people converting to Islam as that of British citizen Muhammad Islam, formerly known as John Ord.

Now a devout Muslim, Muhammad used to be an active member of the far-right anti-immigration group, the British National Party (BNP)."Growing up, I was never particularly religious. I only went to church for weddings, funerals and baptisms,” he told the Eastern Eye Online. Raised in north-east England, Muhammad joined the BNP when he was 16 because his friends were members. The white extremists’ group quickly deceived him into thinking that all Asians and black people were a threat to his way of life. He said there were “only two policies the BNP had at the time”, which were to “beat them up”, and “kick them out”.

Muhammad described how he used to go “Paki bashing”; harassing Asian people. "We would find them and give them a good kicking and say stereotypical things such as, ‘Why are you in our country and why are you taking our shops and jobs?’" However Muhammad later became frustrated with the BNP policies and left the party in his early 20s. Still a racist, he went to London and befriended like-minded people who falsely considered Islam a threat.

He said that he and his friends were asked by the police to provoke Muslims in order to get them into trouble and help the police arrest them. "We would always get a response to our statements and this gave the police a reason to arrest Muslims. Often the police would use this method to target those Muslims who were wanted by other countries,” he said.

But Muhammad’s life totally changed when he unknowingly bought a copy of the holy Qur’an. He said: "I bought the book because of the picture on the cover – it was the most beautiful picture I had ever seen, with the most gorgeous colours and a beautiful building. I thought I’d buy a cheap frame and ended up with a nice picture. I had no idea I had bought the Qur’an until I got home." Muhammad then decided to read the holy book to find things to use against Muslims. "My mind was telling me that like any book written by humans, it would contain errors and contradictions. I had this view of Islam being this great bad religion." But when he read the Qur’an, Muhammad realised that Islam was totally opposite to what society had led him to believe.

In 1992, Muhammad left London and returned back to the north-east in 1992. There, he met a group of Muslims and discussed with them issues relating to the Qur’an and Allah (SWT). "Not only were they able to intellectually prove that God existed but also that the Qur’an was the word of God,” he said. The group also challenged Muhammad to try to prove that Allah (SWT) did not exist and that the Qur’an was not his word. If he succeeded, they would become Christians, but if he failed then he would have to become Muslim. Muhammad accepted the challenge without hesitation. He said he used to meet the Muslims “with what I thought were convincing arguments but they would always have answers. Eventually I got scared and backed off."

Four years later, he decided to become a Muslim. He took his shahadah in November 1996. "Because I knew I was about to make a momentous decision that would affect the rest of my life, I felt as if a big rock was crushing me and that I couldn’t breathe… Once I was a 100 per cent sure that I wanted to become a Muslim and took the decision, I felt as if everything just lifted and I immediately felt better,” Muhammad said. Most people close to Muhammad were not shocked by his conversion to Islam. "I had made the decision to convert a year before and had told people that I was going to become a Muslim."

However, his family didn’t support his decision. "My sister stopped talking to me and still does not talk to me. My father did not want to discuss it because Islam was a totally alien concept and an alien way of life to him. My mother seemed more concerned about what the neighbours would think. Initially she said I couldn’t pray in the house and I told her I’d pray in the garden. But my mother is okay about it, now."

Muhammad has lost all of his old friends. "My friends were going out drinking and chasing girls and I had absolutely nothing in common with them anymore,” he said. Now Muhammad has no difficulty in practising Islam because he had made a number of changes to his lifestyle a year before becoming a Muslim, such as not drinking alcohol. "Although becoming a Muslim has been a big step, it has not been a massive step in terms of practical issues,” he said. Since converting, Muhammad has married a Pakistani woman and moved to the Midlands. He said he’d like to get involved in social work and focus on the Muslim community and tackle problems that community leaders are not aware of or are simply ignoring. "I want to try and deal with these social problems that especially affect the youth, with an Islamic perspective."