A convert to Islam

February 28, 2012

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.

9 comments

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Nice story. I wish there was more to read, but i wonder about this topic – Muslim Converts – quite often. Thanks!

Posted by UnbiasAmerican | Report as abusive

Very nice story indeed and I also wish there was more to read. Thanks for this.

Posted by Asif_Dhaka | Report as abusive

very interesting

Posted by gkar | Report as abusive

Much is made about people converting to Islam but very little about muslims rejecting Islam. I follow my own spiritual path free of religious dogma and would hope that as I allow others to believe what they will, that they do me the same courtesy. But judging by what the CEMB (Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain) that doesn’t seem to be the case with Islam ie apostasy. It would interesting to know just how many muslims would take the opportunity to leave Islam if they weren’t afraid of the consequences. I’m just asking because articles like this don’t present a balanced picture of the situation, in fact it implies that the conversion traffic is all one way.

Posted by SolitaryBelief | Report as abusive

Great story, nice to hear something positive about the Muslim community.

Posted by islam1986 | Report as abusive

>>In an age where there is a lot of skepticism around Islam, empirical evidence has proved otherwise.

Posted by BajaArizona | Report as abusive

Sigh…Reuters comments pages are extremely buggy. Only half my post made it last time.

You wrote “In an age where there is a lot of skepticism around Islam, empirical evidence has proved otherwise.”

This sentence has so many problems with it I’m having difficulty knowing where to begin.

You do not mention why (Oh why?) would anyone think we live in an “age of skepticism around Islam.” Were your intention to compose a straw man argument, you’d still need to introduce a Mr. Straw here, say an unreasonable bigot with no ability to be objective. You don’t even make that much effort.

You then counter your non-existent straw man (thin air man?) by saying “empirical evidence has proved otherwise.” Whereas you do provide anecdotal evidence, you do not in fact provide any empirical evidence. Yes, empirical refers to observation, but only in the context of a scientific experiment whereby actual evidence is obtained.

I would like to conclude by assuring you that my diatribe is not directed at your faith, but rather your writing skills. I know and respect many Muslims, and I have lived in Muslim countries.

To become a better writer, debater, and yes thinker, please look to a search engine for the dozen most common fallacious arguments (you’ll find a definition of “straw man” among them).

Salaam.

Posted by BajaArizona | Report as abusive

its good to hear, Accepting or converting religion is not a bad thing its your own decision i personally research on different religion i also like Islam and the rules of islam because there is some logic but in pakistan now in these days minorities was forcing by some people to accept Islam and its not a right thing in last 3 days almost 75 families migrate to india just because ok kidnapping the girls and force fully convert the religion if you are doing this thing u r insulting your and other religion also because i know Islam and other religion didn’t teach us these things.

Posted by aroonk | Report as abusive

Why didn’t he want to be photographed with his wife?

Did he give a reason I thought Islam saw men and women equally?

If he s turned his life around for the better good on him.

Posted by jeztone | Report as abusive