How does a middle-aged, white Scottish man living in the Scottish Highlands end up becoming a Muslim - especially when he hasn't properly met a Muslim in his life?
For me, it all started when I heard the call to prayer from a local mosque while on a beach holiday in Turkey. It woke something up inside me, and inspired me to begin a spiritual quest.
Back home in Inverness, I went to the local bookshop, bought a Qur'an and started to read. While reading, I always asked God to guide me on the journey I had set out on.
A lot of praying. A lot of time on my knees.
The Qur'an really shook me. It's quite a scary book to read because it tells you so much about yourself. Some things that I found out about myself I didn’t like. So I decided to make some changes.
I knew that I could stop reading the Qur'an and halt the process at any time, but I also knew that would mean giving up something really important.
And I knew what the end result of this process would be: I would be a Muslim.
So I kept on reading. I read it three times, looking for the catch. But there was no catch; I was quite comfortable with everything.
The difficult part in all of this was wondering who I would become. Would I become strange, dress differently, speak differently in the eyes of others?
What would my family, friends and workmates think of me?
Most importantly, what would I think about myself? Would I like who I became?
I would spent time conducting searches online, looking for the stories of people who had gone through this experience themselves. Nothing ever seemed to quite fit the bill - each person's journey, of course, is unique. It is good to know, however, that others have gone down this same path as you. Put simply, I turned to these resources when I became afraid I’d be seen as an oddball.
Online resources are great to find out how to pray in Arabic, to listen to the Qur'an read out loud or perhaps to listen to some Islamic music. For me, music was a great way of picking up some of the phrases I wanted to start to use.
Key in all of this, though, is that I questioned absolutely everything – as is absolutely necessary in a religious conversion. You question yourself. You question what you hear, and what you read.
If something doesn't feel right to you, then it's a clear indication that it's not for you. You have to listen carefully to your intuition and your heart.
Working through this process took me about 18 months. Some people take less time, some people more. And I was doing all this on my own, with no-one to help. I still hadn't met any Muslims.
After those 18 months, however, I considered myself a Muslim. I was praying five times a day, fasting for Ramadan, and eating and drinking only what was considered acceptable according to the teachings of the Qu’ran.
It was only then I found out that there was actually a small mosque in my town. I popped along, knocked on the door and introduced myself.
They were surprised to see me and didn't know quite what to do with me at first, except to give me the mosque door combination and to welcome me to their community. I was accepted from the very beginning, however, and am now a constant within the community.
I still had things to learn, of course.
What is Islam – and how do you divorce that religion from somebody’s culture? It’s important to point out that it’s Islam you have to accept, rather than any cultural specificities from out in the world. You always retain the freedom to define your own identity, so long as you stay true to the written tenets of the Qu’ran.
So I am now a white, middle-aged Scottish Muslim. And happy with it.
First published on The Independent