A convert to Islam
By Danish Siddiqui
London to me, as a photographer, is a uniquely diverse place to capture on camera in terms of its people and their stories. It amalgamates a lot of complexities that make for compelling narratives.
A couple months back I went to London from Mumbai as part of a short assignment, to get some experience out of my usual domain. I worked closely with the Reuters UK team and specifically Andrew Winning on the production of a multimedia piece that would tell the story of young Muslim converts in London.
In an age where there is a lot of skepticism around Islam, empirical evidence has proved otherwise. A study, for instance, has suggested that more than 100,000 people converted to Islam in the last decade. London is one such melting pot. And the city made for an interesting background to follow the life of one such convert.
But it wasn’t easygoing from the start. People in London aren’t that forthcoming, especially if there is a camera involved. The contacts that Andrew had lined up for me backed out without warning. Upon landing in London, I’d have to start all over again.
After a few days of futile negotiations and making new contacts, I met Jason Thomas, a Muslim convert re-christened Hussain Thomas. Raised by a single parent and subjected to a rough teen life, Hussain joined a gang at a very young age and was involved in robberies, drugs, etc. Due to this, he spent the next few years of his life in and out of court probation, community service, police stations and jail.
“One day in jail when I was bored like every other day, I picked up a Quran and started reading it. One sentence hit me… ‘Is there any one more misguided than the person who makes his desires his God?’” says Hussain. He converted to Islam after a few months.
Hussain allowed me to photograph him inside his house and with his daughters but didn’t agree to being photographed with his wife. I spent the next few days following Hussain’s life.
One day we went to a neighbourhood in south London where he grew up. Hussain became a bit emotional when speaking of his past life. On another day we were walking down an underground subway and suddenly he ran down to help an old lady who was carrying a lot of bags. After helping her, Hussain remarked jokingly, “At least this old lady won’t think that Muslims are terrorists.”
It was a poignant statement that summed up my project for me. Here was a non-Muslim who’d chosen the path of Islam for the good values the religion propagates, and was content despite the raised eyebrows he encounters over his decision on an everyday basis.
Being a Muslim myself, I identified with the glances that you get on a day-to-day basis. In such a climate, the courage to imbibe the virtues of a religion is commendable. Of course, my experiences were based on the background I come from. Shooting in London, I saw a new facet to the same experience that I’m so familiar with.
Turning this story into a multimedia project was an interesting experience for me. I was telling one man’s story through my lens and I had the responsibility to do justice to it.
Now every time I go back and listen to Hussain’s tale, I connect with it. Multimedia surely adds a human dimension when the character himself reaches out and speaks to you. I’m glad I had the opportunity to tell Hussain’s story and I hope there will be many more who will share their faith in the good of Islam.