A Swedish Photographer Discovers Islam
A Photographer Finds Allah in Nature
I was born into an ordinary, non-religious Swedish home, but one that had very loving relationships.
I had lived my life for 25 years without really thinking about the existence of God or anything spiritual whatsoever, I was the typical materialistic man.
Or was I?
I still recall a short story I wrote in the seventh grade about my future life, where I portrayed myself as a successful games programmer (I hadn’t yet even touched a computer) living with a Muslim wife! OK, at that time, “Muslim” to me meant dressing in long clothes and wearing a scarf, but I have no idea where those thoughts came from.
Later, in high school, I remember spending a lot of time in the school library becoming a bookworm, and at one time, I picked up a translation of theQuran and read some passages from it. I don’t remember exactly what I read, but I do remember finding that what it said made sense and was logical to me.
Still, I was not at all religious; I couldn’t fit God in my universe, and I had no need of any god. I mean, we have Newton to explain how the universe works, right?
Time passed and I graduated from school and started working. I earned some money and moved to my own apartment and found a wonderful tool in my PC. I became a passionate amateur photographer and enrolled in photography activities.
One time, I was documenting a marketplace and taking photos from a distance with my telephoto lens when an angry-looking immigrant came over and explained that he wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to take any more pictures of his mother and sisters. Strange people, those Muslims!
More things related to Islam happened, and there are some things that I can’t explain why I did what I did. I can’t recall the reason I called the Islamic Information Organization in Sweden to order a subscription to their newsletter and to buy Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Quran and a very good book on Islam called Islam: Our Faith. I just did!
I read almost all of the Quran and found it to be both beautiful and logical. But still, God had no place in my heart. One year later, while I was out on a patch of land called Pretty Island, which really is pretty, taking autumn-color pictures, I was overwhelmed by a fantastic feeling. I felt as if I were a tiny piece of something greater, a tooth on a gear in God’s great gearbox called the universe.
It was wonderful! I had never ever felt like this before, totally relaxed, yet bursting with energy, and above all, totally aware of God wherever I turned my eyes. I don’t know how long I stayed in this ecstatic state, but eventually it ended and I drove home, seemingly unaffected. But what I had experienced left inerasable marks in my mind.
At this time, Microsoft introduced Windows 95 to the software market with the biggest marketing blitz known in the computer industry. The package included the online service Microsoft Network (MSN). I was keen to know what it was all about, so I got myself an account on MSN. I soon found that the Islam BBS (electronic bulletin board system) was the most interesting part of MSN, and that’s where I found Shahida.
Shahida is an American woman, who, like me, had converted to Islam. Our chemistry worked right away, and she became the best pen pal I have ever had. Our e-mail correspondence will go down in history — the fact that my mailbox grew to something like three megabytes over the first six months tells its own tale.
Shahida and I discussed Islam, and faith in God, in general, and everything she wrote made sense to me. Shahida had the patience of angels to deal with my slow thinking and silly questions, but she never gave up hope in me. She told me, “Just listen to your heart, and you’ll find the truth.”
I found the truth in myself sooner than I had expected. On my way home from work, I was riding the bus and most of the people around me were sleeping. I was adoring the sunset, which was painting the beautifully dispersed clouds with pink and orange colors. At that moment, all the parts came together.
I understood how God could rule our life, although we’re not robots. I saw it was possible to depend on physics and chemistry and still believe and see God’s work. It was wonderful: I experienced a few minutes of total understanding and peace. I longed so much for a moment like this to happen again.
And it did. One morning I woke up, my mind clear as a bell, and the first thought that ran through my brain was how grateful to God I was that He made me wake up to another day full of opportunities. It was so natural, like I had been doing this every day of my life.
After these experiences, I could no longer deny God’s existence. But after 25 years of denying God, it was no easy task to admit His existence and accept faith. But good things kept happening to me. I spent some time in the United States, and, at this time, I started praying and feeling and learned to focus on God and to listen to what my heart said. It all ended in a nice weekend in New York, about which I had worried a lot, but it turned out to be a success, most of all because I finally got to meet Shahida.
At this point there was no return; I just didn’t know it yet. Back in Sweden, God kept leading me. I read some more, and I finally got the courage to call the nearest mosque and to meet with some Muslims. With trembling legs, I drove to the mosque, which I had passed many times before, but had never dared to stop and visit.
I met the nicest people at the mosque, and I was given some more reading material and made plans to come and visit the brothers in their homes. What they told me and the answers they gave all made sense. Islam became a major part of my life. I started praying regularly and went to my first Jumu`ah Prayer.
It was wonderful. I sneaked in and sat in the back. I didn’t understand a word of what the imam was saying but still enjoyed the service. After the sermon, we all gathered together in rows and performed two rak`ahs. It was one of the most wonderful experiences I ever had on my journey to Islam. The sincerity of 200 men fully devoted to just one thing — praising God — felt great.
Slowly, my mind started to agree with my heart, and I started to picture myself as a Muslim. But could I really convert to Islam? I had left the Swedish state church earlier, just in case, but could I pray five times a day? Could I stop eating pork? Could I really do that? And what about my family and friends? I recalled what one brother named Omar told me, how his family had tried to get him admitted to an asylum when he had converted. Could I really convert?
By this time, the Internet wave had swept through Sweden, and I too had hooked up with the Infobahn. And there was tons of information about Islam out there. I think I visited just about every website that included the word Islam anywhere in the text, and I learned a lot from them.
What really made a change in me was a story entitled “Twelve Hours” of a newly converted British woman who had experienced feelings exactly like mine. When I read the story, I wept and realized that there was no turning back anymore; I couldn’t resist Islam any longer.
Summer vacation started, and I had made my mind up. I had to become a Muslim. But the start of the summer had been very cold, and if the weather was going to start getting sunny during my first week of vacation, I didn’t want to miss a day of sunshine and had to take advantage of the weather by going to the beach. On the TV, the weatherman had drawn a big sun right on top of my part of the country. OK, then I would convert some other day.
The next morning there was a steel gray sky, with ice-cold gusts of wind blowing outside my bedroom window. It was like God had decided that my time was up and I could wait no longer. I performed the required bath (ghusl), dressed in clean clothes, jumped in my car, and drove for one hour to the mosque.
In the mosque, I approached some brothers and told them about my wish to become Muslim. So after noon prayer, the imam and some brothers witnessed me say theShahadah. Al-hamdulillah.
To my great relief, all my family and friends have taken my conversion very well; they have all accepted it. I can’t say they were thrilled, but they didn’t have any hard feelings at all. Of course, they can’t understand all the things I do, such as praying five times a day at specific times or not eating pork. They think these practices are strange foreign customs that will die out with time, but I’ll prove them wrong, in sha’ Allah!
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