by Reading Islam Staff
Let me introduce myself and my background. I was born in Tanzania in Dar es Salaam. My father at the time was a colonial administrator in the now defunct British empire. An empire that stretched once upon a time not that long ago over one third of the earth’s surface. Now the only thing left is some islands in the Falklands and that’s all that’s left there. How things changed! How the mighty have fallen!
This is a lesson that Allah the Almighty tells us in the Quran to travel the earth and see the consequence. See what happened to people who came before you, who were mightier in power and strength and see what’s left of them.
So anyway back to my father, a colonial administrator in Tanzania where I was born, and my parents named me Anthony Vatswaf Galvin Green. OK, I thought you were going to laugh! Vatswaf is a Polish name because my mother in fact is Polish.
A Catholic Education
And being Polish she is a Roman Catholic. And she intended that me and my brother Duncan (Duncan Charles Alexander Green) would be raised up good Catholics. So almost from the day we were born we were enrolled in what is a very famous Roman Catholic boarding school. In fact it’s a monastic boarding school. That means it’s also a monastery; a place where monks live and teach. This school is called Ampleforth College. It’s in Yorkshire in the north of England.
So when I was 2 years old we left Dar es Salaam. My brother was born in London. When he was like 8 and I was like 10 we were sent off to boarding school. So from the age of 10 I was sent to the preparatory school of Ampleforth College.
Before they sent us off to that school, I think that my mom decided it’s about time that she taught me some of the prayers of the Catholics and some of the things that they say she better prepare me a little bit for this life in the monastery, although she had married my father who was agnostic, which was not really allowed. She was only supposed to marry a Catholic but she went ahead and married my dad.
Anyway, she considered herself not to be a very good Catholic but she was going to make up for it by sending me and my brother to the school.
I remember one night she told me a prayer that’s used by Catholics quite often. It’s one of the frequently used prayers when they have a rosary on which they count a series of prayers and the main prayer is called “Hail Mary”.
It begins like this “Hail Mary mother of God, blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” It was the first bit when I was a nine-year child hearing my mother say “Hail Mary mother of God”:
I said to myself “How can God have a mother?”
God is supposed to be without a beginning and without an end. How could God have a mommy? And I sat there thinking about this mother of God and I decided to myself that well if Mary is the mother of God, she should actually be a better God than God. These were the first questions that arose in my mind.
I used to ask them “Why? Why do I have to go to you to confess my sins? Why can’t I just ask God to forgive me?”
As I went to school and as I began to think more, study more and research more, I in fact had more and more questions. We used to have to go to confession. I think, as far as I remember, we had to do it a minimum of once a year. And the priest used to say “You have to confess all your sins, if you don’t confess all of them, then confession is no good and none of your sins will be forgiven”.
Can you imagine? School boys aged 10, 11 and all the way up to 19 or 20, do you think we will be confessing all of our sins? Moreover confessing our sins to the very people who are our house masters; in other words they are in charge of us? I assumed to figure that this was a huge spike conspiracy in order to control people by going to confess their sins.
And then I used to ask them “Why? Why do I have to go to you to confess my sins? Why can’t I just ask God to forgive me?” After all according to Jesus, according to the Bible Jesus says that the only prayers you need is to our father (God) to forgive our sins so why come to ask a priest?
They said to me “Well, you can ask God too if you want to but you can’t be sure that God will listen to you”.
So I had a real problem with this. I also had a real problem with the doctrines of the church. I think also one of things I had a very very big problem with is the doctrine of incarnation “The idea that God became a man”.
Holidays in Egypt
When I was eleven years old, my dad took a job in Egypt. He became the General Manager of Barclays Bank in Cairo, and for the next 10 years of my life that’s where I spent my holidays. So I would be going to school in England and then come to Egypt for holidays.
You see western society indoctrinates us with an equation that tells us: Wealth = Happiness; if you want to be happy and enjoy your life, you need money because with money you can buy nice cars and TV sets, go to movies and holidays and buy all those things that you so desperately need to make your life happy. This is what they are telling us the whole time, yet in reality that’s not the case at all.
My eyes were being opened up to this. I began to ask myself as I went back to school, and I must say I didn’t really like school at all, I particularly didn’t like boarding school at all, so why am I at this place on the Yorkshire Moors, miles and miles away from anything and anybody, and here I am in this place.
Why?” I began to ask myself…
I used to love my life in Egypt, and when I went back to England I asked myself why am I here? And I began to ask these questions: What’s the purpose of life? For what reason do we exist? What do all these things mean? What does love mean? What’s life for? What is it all about?
I sat down and figured it and I said “Yea, I’m here at school in order to work hard so I would get good results in my exams, so I can go to a good university, so I can get a good degree, so I can get a good job that will make me enough money, so that when I get married and have kids I can send them back to that same expensive private school, and they could work hard and get a good degree so that they can get a good job so that when they have kids they can get enough money to send their kids back to that school”, right?
And I then thought that’s it, that’s the purpose of life, that’s what it’s all for?
I said “No way, I can’t believe that’s all there is to life”.
Searching for Answers
And so I began a quest. It wasn’t like “Today I’m going in a quest to the truth”. It wasn’t like that. It was just I began to think, search and look through other religions, anything that I thought might give me an insight and an understanding of what’s the purpose of life and what’s it all about.
And you believe Jesus died on the cross?” I said “Yes”. He said “So you believe God died?”
Now, when I was about 19, something very important happened. In the 10 years that I spent on my holidays in Egypt, only one person ever really had a decent conversation with me about Islam.
I had many questions about Catholicism but when it came to anyone challenging me or questioning me, I would vigorously defend. I would become a defender of the faith, even if I didn’t actually believe in it but I suddenly became a defender of it. It was a strange paradox.
I had many questions in my mind especially with this Egyptian, I mean after all what does he know? I’m English, we used to rule this chap’s country some years ago.
“As if Mike Tyson Smacked me in the Face”
After this conversation had been going for forty minutes he asked me a few simple questions and they stuck in my head until this day; he said
“So you believe that Jesus is God?”
I said “Yes”.
He said “And you believe Jesus died on the cross?”
I said “Yes”.
He said “So you believe God died?”
When he said that, you know what? It was as if Mike Tyson smacked me in the face with his fist! I mean I was absolutely flabbergasted because I suddenly realized the irrationality and the, I have to say it, the foolishness of what I was believing and inside myself I said “Of course I don’t believe that God died. You can’t kill God”
And I realized that all these years I had been taught something, and I had been indoctrinated with something, and I always felt uncomfortable with it but you know it just took someone to spell it out for me in clear simple terms. If you believe this and you believe this, then you must believe that and I realized that “No, I didn’t believe that” but you know what?
I wasn’t going to admit that to him, I said “Ha, that has been really interesting, I have to go to my cabin now, OK? bye”.
I didn’t want to think about it and I went off and started smoking and having a coffee and writing and doing anything to think about except what the guy had been telling me. But it really had its effect. Because after that stage and as I said it was something I have always been uncomfortable with but that was a big changing point in my life.
You can say it was an epiphany. No one if you are in a spiritual journey in quest for truth, you would have never thought or dreamed of looking at Islam. And I didn’t. I looked at every thing so I reached the stage where I was basically a hippie.
So I was now about 19 or 20 years old and I was a hippie and by this stage I invented my own religion. This religion was bits and pieces of all the religions that I had studied and I took them together and I made my own religion.
And therefore I started to develop this philosophy of my own religion. But it didn’t take me long to figure that this was the worst bunch of rubbish that I ever come across. I mean of all the things I’ve been through it that was the worst.
Forget Religion: How to Make a Lot of Money?
Look at that, that’s interesting. No effort, maximum money. So there got to be something there
I said to myself forget it. Forget religion, forget spirituality, forget all this stuff, maybe there’s no meaning to life maybe there’s nothing more to life than being rich. Maybe my real problem was that I didn’t have enough money.
Now to show you what I was thinking of in terms of the money I thought I would need to make me happy I’m thinking here yachts and private jets that’s the stage I’m going to need to move up to so you can imagine my lifestyle before that.
So I was thinking to myself “How do I make lots of money with very little effort?” because who wants to work hard? Who wants to spend all the time working? You want money and then you want to enjoy that money. So less work and more money that’s what we need, that’s maximum enjoyment. So I thought to myself “let’s make a study of this: let’s start thinking of people who have got money in the world and let’s think how they got their money.
So I started thinking so let’s start with Britain. OK lots of money there no problem but too much work, what the industrial revolution? Oh no way, all those satanic mills, those dark mills and all that industrial stuff, no forget about that.
America and the American dream? What’s in the American dream? You are in the gutter and you struggle in a rat race and you make it to be a self-made millionaire so that’s definitely too much hard work.
The Japanese they got also lots of money but all what they do is work, that’s why these days they say that the Japanese are workaholics.
And then it came to me “those Saudi Arabians” they have been sitting on their camels going “Allahu Akbar” and they got all this money, that’s the one. Look at that, that’s interesting. No effort, maximum money. So there’s got to be something there.
Reading the Quran
I looked back and said to myself “If I have ever read a book that’s from God, this is it”
So I said to myself “OK, let me think about this; of course, what’s their religion, what’s their holy book, yes the Quran, let me have a look at this Quran, there got to be something interesting there and that was really what motivated me to go down to the bookshop and I took a translation of the Quran and I really believed it had to be that way because I was really just approaching the Quran out of curiosity just to see what I had to say.
I was coming with an open mind. I wasn’t looking for truth, I wasn’t looking for something like that. I was just curious to see what this book had to say. Was there something? That’s all, otherwise I think I would have never looked at it. So I took it down and began reading the Quran.
I’m a pretty fast reader and I remember very clearly I was in a train. I was going from where I was living across the river Thames to Victoria train station. I remember very distinctly I was sitting in the train next to the window and reading this translation of the Quran. I looked out of the window.
I looked back and I said to myself “If I have ever read a book that’s from God, this is it” and that really I could say was the moment that I realized and I believed that the Quran was from God. It was always my habit that I just didn’t read about things but I tried to practice them as well. You can read all the time like you look at an apple that looks and smells nice but you don’t know how does it taste. You have to taste it…
So that was it. So I used to go home and I used to try to pray, I didn’t really know how to pray. I remember seeing our cook in Egypt I used to remember see him pray. I sort of try to remember what he used to do.
I remember he really used to impress me, this simple man and the beautiful way he used to pray comparing it with the rituals that Catholic church used and I was always impressed by it so I tried to imitate it and this went on for a while.
And then one day I found myself in a bookshop that was part of a mosque with all these books on Muhammad and prayers. I was looking to all this and I thought “Wow fantastic, look at all this stuff” and a guy came and asked me “Excuse me, are you a Muslim?”
I thought “Am I a Muslim? What does he mean by that?”
I said to him “Listen, I believe that there is only one God which is Allah and Muhammad is His messenger”
He said “You are a Muslim!”
I said “Oh, thanks!”
He said “It’s just about time to pray, you want to come and pray?”
It must have been Friday prayer because the mosque was full in the mid of the day and I didn’t know about Friday prayer then but I went and prayed and I was pretty confused and I thought I was doing the moves wrong all that time.
But I remember afterwards that everyone was surrounding me and everyone there wanted to teach me the whole of Islam in five minutes! I remember walking out of that with a feeling literally like I have been given a shower in the inside, like I was walking on the clouds. It was quite fantastic.
In spite of the fact that I already entered into Islam then, it really took me another two years before I was really able to start practicing properly. It was really actually very hard to give up my former way of life and the things that I used to do. Allah taught me some hard lessons and I don’t regret them. I look back now and learn some very good lessons from these days. But they were the two most miserable years of my life.
What really changed me brothers and sisters was a very simple thing: I started to pray five times a day
Because I knew the truth and I wasn’t following it. Actually, that’s the worst condition a human being can ever be in, because if you are ignorant, they say ignorance is bless. Actually ignorance itself isn’t bless but it means when you don’t know something you stay in a state of innocence. But when you know something and you don’t live according to what you know you can’t live with yourself. It’s terrible. It’s a horrible condition.
That’s what happened to me for about two years but alhamdulellah I came back to Islam. I would always say that I’m Muslim but people didn’t take me seriously. I was there in a party, drinking wine and telling people about Islam! And they say “Yea? Really? That’s fantastic, tell me more”
And I would say “No, I can’t I’m tired” I was drinking too much and then I would black out. That’s my condition that I was in. But alhamdulellah Allah walked me out of that and guided me.
What really changed me brothers and sisters was a very simple thing: I started to pray five times a day. I promised Allah that I would pray five times a day, even if I don’t know that I would do any thing else, but I would do that. And I took it really seriously. The prayer when it’s said properly is something that itself will change your life.
Now I know you are going to ask me another question and actually there are two questions that you are going to ask me so I will answer them before you ask me.
The first question is: How does it feel to be a Muslim?
Compared to how it was like before. I would tell you honestly how it’s like. Imagine you find yourself in a building and like any building it’s full of obstacles like chairs, tables, lamps, stairs all in this room, and then if we made it pitch-black that you can’t see a thing and we left you here and you started to find your way out, imagine I try to find my way out. I’m going to bang myself, hit myself, fall over, you are living in this dark place.
This is like disbelief. This is like the state where you are out of Islam. You are in this dark place. You don’t know really where you are going. You don’t know where you come from and life is full of obstacles, and it keeps throwing things at you and you don’t really know how to cope with them. Islam is really like you opened the door, then you stepped outside and you are in the light. Suddenly you could see, understand and everything is clear. This is what it’s like.
You could also say it’s like the difference between death and life, between really being alive and being dead because this is Islam. It brings the light, the peace and tranquility to the heart, so it’s a beautiful thing. This is how I could really compare Islam.
I know the other question would be: What did your parents say?
I have to say honestly that me and my parents alhamdulellah have a better relationship now that I’m Muslim than we ever had before. I mean if you really would be able to get them to be honest and tell them how they really feel, they would have admitted without a shadow of a doubt that Islam has given me responsibility. It has ordered them to treat me with so much respect and they would have to admit that Islam is something that’s been good for me and also good for my relationship between me and them.
We get on really well alhamdulellah. (T/R-022/R-006)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)
*OnIslam.net is an independent website that emerged out of an initiative by the team that created and run IslamOnline.net for the past 10 years, after the idea had been embraced by a group of people with experience in the field of civil society work in Egypt. This project was launched in August 2010 (Ramadan 1431 A.H.) under the umbrella of Mada Media Development Association, a non-profit civil society institution born in Egypt with a global outlook.