I knew then I was no longer a tourist in Islam but a traveller inside the Ummah, the community of Islam that links all believers.
At first I wanted the feeling to go, and for several reasons. Was I ready to convert? What on earth would friends and family think? Was I ready to moderate my
behavior in many ways?
And here's the really strange thing. I needn't have worried about any of these things, because somehow becoming a Muslim is really easy
- although the practicalities are a very different matter, of course.
For a start, Islam demands a great deal of study, yet I am mother to two children and work
full time. You are expected to read the Koran from beginning to end, plus the thoughts and findings of imams and all manner of spiritually enlightened people. Most people would spend months, if not years of study before making their declaration.
People ask me how much of the Koran I've read, and my answer is that I've only covered 100 pages or so to date, and in translation. But before anyone sneers, the verses of the Koran should be read ten lines at a time, and they should be recited, considered and, if possible, committed to memory.
It's not like OK! magazine.
This is a serious text that I am going to know for life. It would help to learn Arabic and I would like to, but that will also take time.
I have a relationship with a couple of mosques in North London, and I am hoping to make a routine of going at least once a week. I would never say, by the way, whether I will take a Sunni or a Shia path. For me, there is one Islam and one Allah.
Adopting modest dress, however, is rather less troublesome than you might think. Wearing a headscarf means
I'm ready to go out more quickly than before. I was blushing the first time I wore it loosely over my hair just a few weeks ago.
Luckily it was cold outside, so few people paid attention. Going out in the sunshine was more of a challenge, but this is a tolerant country and no one has looked askance so far.
A veil, by the way, is not for me, let alone something more substantial like a burka.
I'm making no criticism of women who choose that level of modesty. But Islam has no expectation that I will adopt a more severe form of dress.
Predictably, some areas of the Press have had a field day with my conversion, unleashing a torrent of abuse that is not really aimed at me but a false idea of Islam.
But I have ignored the more negative comments. Some people don't understand spirituality and any discussion of it makes them frightened. It raises awkward questions about the meaning of their own lives and they lash out.
One of my concerns is professional. It is easy to get pigeonholed, particularly if I continue to wear a headscarf. In fact, based on the experience of other female converts,
I'm wondering if I will be treated as though I have lost my mind.
I've been political all my life, and that will continue. I've been involved in pro-Palestinian activism for a number of years, and
don't expect to stop. Yet Britain is a more tolerant country than, say, France or Germany.
I'm well aware that there are plenty of Muslim women who have great success on television and in the Press, and wear modest but decidedly Western dress.
This is hardly a choice for me, though. I am a newcomer, still getting to grips with the basic tenets. My relationship with Islam is different. I am in no position to say that some bits of my new-found faith suit me and that some bits
There is a more profound uncertainty about the future, too. I feel changes going on in me every day
- that I'm becoming a different person. I wonder where that will end up. Who will I be?
I am fortunate in that my most important relationships remain strong. The reaction from my non-Muslim friends has been more curious than hostile. "Will it change you?" they ask. "Can we still be your friend? Can we go out drinking?"
The answer to the first two of those questions is yes. The last is a big happy no.
As for my mother, I think she is happy if I'm happy. And if, coming from a background of my
father's alcoholism, I'm going to avoid the stuff, then what could be better?
Growing up in an alcoholic household with a dad who was violent, has left a great gap in my life. It is a wound that will never heal and his remarks about me are very hurtful.
We haven't seen each other for years, so how can he know anything about me or have any valid views about my conversion? I just feel sorry for him. The rest of my family is very supportive.
My mum and I had a difficult relationship when I was growing up, but we have built bridges and
she's a great support to me and the girls.
When I told her I had converted, she did say: "Not to those nutters. I thought you said Buddhism!" But she understand now and accepts it.
And, as it happens, giving up alcohol was a breeze. In fact I can't imagine tasting alcohol ever again. I simply
don't want to.
This is not the time for me to be thinking about relationships with men, either.
I'm recovering from the breakdown of my marriage and am now going through a divorce.
So I'm not looking and am under no pressure to look.
If, when the time came, I did consider remarrying, then, in accordance with my adopted faith, the husband would need to be Muslim.
I'm asked: "Will my daughters be Muslim?" I don't know, that is up to them. You
can't change someone's heart. But they're certainly not hostile and their reaction to my surprising conversion was perhaps the most telling of all.
I sat in the kitchen and called them in. "Girls, I have some news for you," I began. "I am now a Muslim." They went into a
huddle, with the eldest, Alex, saying: "We have some questions,
we'll be right back."
They made a list and returned. Alex cleared her throat. "Will you drink alcohol any more?"
Answer: No. The response - a rather worrying "Yay!"
"Will you smoke cigarettes any more?" Smoking isn't haram (forbidden) but it is harmful, so I answered: "No."
Again, this was met with puritanical approval. Their final question, though, took me aback.
"'Will you have your breasts out in public now you are a Muslim?"
It seems they'd both been embarrassed by my plunging shirts and tops and had cringed on the school run at my pallid cleavage. Perhaps in hindsight I should have cringed as well.
"Now that I'm Muslim," I said, "I will never have my breasts out in public again."
"We love Islam!" they cheered and went off to play. And I love Islam too."
Lauren Booth, 43, the sixth daughter of actor Tony Booth, now works for Press TV, the English-language news channel of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
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