بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
From when my housemate-turned-best-friend AlHamduliLlah [we moved into the same house in October 2022] embraced our beloved religion.
It is an ordinary Monday in Cambridge, England, and three friends are meeting at the local mosque, aiming to get there before 3:30PM. One of the friends is missing a Theology class for this: she has quickly emailed the lecturer:
As Salaamu ‘alaikum Dr Harvey,
I hope you are well In Shaa Allah. This is to let you know that I will not be able to attend today’s class since my close friend is taking her Shahadah today at 3:30 and has asked me to be a witness.
With Salaam and Kind Regards,
Essentially, she had been missing a Theology class – and, on Thursdays, while they wait for our recently-acquired extension to our intimate college grounds to open, next academic year, they have their classes in the upstairs hall of their neighbouring Church – in order to witness ‘Theology in real life’, as it were. An active embrace of it, hugs, cake, gifts and all.
The second of the friends arrives at the mosque, wearing her characteristic long pastel-pink puffer jacket, and her matte ____ [I-forget-the-colour] headphones. She, Tas, is currently living in this city since she is studying for her Master’s degree in __________ [okay, so I know it’s in Education, from a Philosophical standpoint. Knowledge, Power and Politics or something?] here, at the world-famous University of Cambridge, at which she has procured a scholarship. She, Tasnim, arrives with a bag of gifts: a personalised prayer mat, emerald-green, and a book about Islam. For the third friend, whose entire life will be shaped by the proceedings of today.
A new Muslim officially accepts Islam when they utter the words of the Shahādah, the Bearing Witness, or Faithful Testimony. Sasha, the third friend, and after having been practising Islam for maybe a month now, having learnt how to pray and so on through means including YouTube videos and Tik Tok, is going to officially state her declaration of faith today. Sadia, the first friend, has a box of cake from a local Turkish patisserie in her hand. Cherry and chocolate. She made sure to check that the café’s food is Halāl: so, no alcohol. Halāl animal products only, if any. And: no pork. Sasha is vegetarian anyway, and so ensuring that her diet is Halāl, from now on, shouldn’t prove too much of a difficulty.
Sadia jokes that the cake is only for those who accept Islam. The box has three plastic forks sticking out from it. The three friends spend some time outside, in the garden area of the masjid [meaning: place of prostration, in Arabic. Anglicised: mosque]. And then, they go inside to the Education Room, also known as the Conference Room, in which there are exhibitions, behind glass, about Muslim influences in the fields of astronomy, medicine, and so on. The room is set up in a particular way, since, as we find out from the Imām, a wedding – a Nikkah – has taken place there recently.
We are invited to sit at the front table, by Imām Zakaria, whose wife, Halima, a lovely person (and a qualified pharmacist), is studying at the same Muslim College as I do.
It is clear that the Imām recognises the gentle, and weighty, significance of what he is here to do. He speaks solemnly, humbly. As one of the leaders of our community, it is clear that Imām Zakaria feels a great deal of authentic care towards the members of his spiritual constituency, so to speak. He mentions something about the “honour” we have been Gifted, for us to be allowed to witness this, and later we see him walking around the masjid’s prayer space, reciting from the copy of the Qur’an (Mus-haf) in his hand.
He asks Sasha if she has any questions before she goes ahead with this, and makes sure to clarify with her that she is not being coerced into doing this. [Does the offer of cake count as something like coercion, or bribery? Hm.] Sasha says she does have a question: a theological one about human souls before the beginning of time as we know it.
And then the words are uttered, a moment. And the sheer weight and Truth and beauty and goodness of them:
they echo, God-Willing, into the unimaginable depths of eternity.