Monday, 22 November 2010
Scots nurse who converted to Islam insists she has no regrets despite being abuse over her faith
For Gillian Amin, a trip to the supermarket can often mean abuse. Last week, a passing shopper called her a "f*****g Paki" and she is regularly told to "go home to Arabia".
In fact, Gillian is a Scot and has no desire to go to Pakistan or Arabia.
It is eight years since the 29-year-old student nurse converted from Catholicism to Islam - and, although she tires of the hostility, it is a decision she doesn't regret.
Gillian said: "The white converts are stuck in the middle.
"I see us as a bridge between the Muslims and non-Muslims. You form a community in itself because you know what you are up against on both sides.
"You won't always be accepted on the Muslim side and on the non-Muslim side there can be racism, but I have never regretted becoming a Muslim."
New research has shown more women convert to Islam than men - in fact, they account for 60 per cent of conversions.
One of the most high-profile examples is Tony Blair's sister-in-law Lauren Booth, who recently announced she had adopted the faith after a trip to Iran.
For Gillian, like Lauren, there was no bolt of lightning and no vision of a deity that made her want to convert.
Instead, she had been working in a computer factory when she saw a male Muslim colleague kneeling in prayer in a side room.
She said: "I saw him out of the corner of my eye as I passed. It was something that just touched my heart.
"When I saw his forehead touching the ground, to me, it was the most humble position for any human being to be in. To do that - to pray to someone you can't even see - just stirred so much emotion in me."
A week later, she decided she wanted to convert.
She said: "It seems so absurd. I hadn't read a Koran. I knew nothing about Islam but I absolutely knew that I wanted to become a Muslim."
Gillian insisted she didn't conform to a stereotypical tale of a lost soul searching for fulfilment.
She said: "It's not as if something bad was happening in my life. I was 21 and it was a happy time.
"If there was something missing, then it was Islam. When I converted, there was an overwhelming feeling of peace and contentment."
She asked the man she had seen praying to guide her through her conversion.
He taught her one of the first important steps, reciting the oath called Shahada, which is a public declaration of faith that there is only one God, Allah.
Later, as she spent more time with him, an attraction grew between them.
Gillian said: "It wasn't as much love but more a deep care.
"Perhaps I was vulnerable and felt that it would make me more a part of the Muslim community to marry a Muslim."
They did marry and have three children together.
Her mother was no longer alive but the rest of her family were fiercely against her conversion and refused to accept her decision.
Her grandmother believed: "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic."
Gillian said: "They didn't really want to know me any more."
After a year, she adopted the headscarf, aware that it would provoke racist comments.
She said: "A lot of it was telling me to go back to Pakistan or Arabia. They called me a terrorist and Bin Laden's cousin."
The windows of their home in East Renfrewshire were smashed and graffiti was sprayed across the wall.
She said: "A lot of people just see the scarf and don't see the person. They think I am an Arab because I'm white.
"Last week in the supermarket, a man called me a 'f*****g Paki'. I told him he was wrong, actually, and he heard my accent and scurried off.
"I would never be rude back but just because we have a headscarf on doesn't mean we are little women with no voice."
Whenever there is a well-publicised terrorist attack by Muslim fundamentalists, the aggression intensifies.
Gillian said: "There is an expectation that all Muslims should apologise. These people are extremists. I condemn what they have done but why should I apologise? "I would never have apologised before for the actions of some crazy Catholic."
And she has never hesitated to fight sexism in the Muslim community.
Gillian said: "Women are hugely respected in Islam.
"The Prophet Mohamed cleaned the house and he swept the floors, so it is unfortunate that a lot of the men forget that and don't follow the teachings of Islam."
Her marriage didn't last but her relationship with Islam did.
When she divorced, her grandmother contacted her, assuming she was "going to dump the scarf and stop this nonsense".
Gillian said: "It hurt a lot. It is a very lonely feeling when your family departs from you.
"I felt low but I never once considered leaving my faith after my marriage broke up. A lot of Muslims and non-Muslims assumed I would.
"A lot of people do become Muslims to get married but I think it is a decision that needs to come from the heart."
Gillian maintains a bond with her ex-husband's family, even though she has got married again - to an Egyptian Muslim, a PE teacher called El Sayed.
She said: "It's ironic that they still have a relationship with me and my own family don't."
She believes the conversion of Lauren Booth will have a positive impact, despite claims that it is just attention-seeking.
Gillian said: "I don't think it will encourage people to convert, unless they idolise her, but I think that it will educate people and make them more interested in learning about Muslims."
Gillian gives talks at schools - not as a conversion exercise but to dispel some of the myths surrounding Islam.
And she has many friends, from all religions, who accept her for who she is.
Gillian said: "They don't see the scarf. They only see me. I am still me. I am still Gillian."