By: Maggie Armstrong
Philip Flood (60, community worker with drug addicts)
I’m from Ringsend in Dublin, and I’m a Muslim 12 years now. I was a Buddhist for five years before I started to learn about Islam. I had been on a 12-step programme for addictions – alcohol and drugs. I was single at that time and I was never well enough to have a family. I worked part-time on the docks.
The 11th step on the programme was to search “through prayer and meditation to improve your conscious contact with God“, and I started to look at all the different religions through that. I got a higher power into me there.
Most people go back to the religion they were brought up in, but I was never happy with that. I never felt right with the Catholic teachings. My mother and my father were Catholics. I made my ‘First Holy Communion’, Confirmation, went to Mass, was an altar boy. I had and have good friends, priests and nuns. But I didn’t believe, especially with Jesus on the cross. I never felt it was right. I believed in Jesus okay, but not in the cross.
I went for a walk one Friday evening on Sandymount Strand and I met a Muslim couple there, from Libya. I was with the Buddhists at the time and I was telling them about Buddha and his teachings, and they started telling me about Islam. They brought me home to their flat, and we were discussing the different things.
I used to visit them, have a cup of tea and that. They brought me to the mosque. A few weeks before that I had bought a Qur’an in a Pakistani shop in the city centre where I used to buy food, and I could understand the Qur’an more when I was discussing it with them.
When I heard the adhan (the call to prayer) I think my soul connected with that. There was something very spiritual about it, and there were no statues in the mosque.
When I came into Islam I started to study the life of `Isa (Jesus, peace be upon him). I found that made more sense than the Catholic teachings. `Isa was just a prophet; he wasn’t God.
My Life as a Muslim
My family was just happy. They saw the change in me. I married a Muslim woman and have two young children. Part of the Islamic life is to get married and to have children. I went to Morocco on a holiday and I met my wife. About a year after that we got married and she came here. Our two kids are Mohammad and Isa (after the baby Jesus).
I pray five times a day, so that keeps me spiritually well. I visit the mosque as often as I can on Friday for prayer. God has made it easy for me – I don’t have to work on a Friday. I have a television station at home, the Arabic station, and I watch Mecca and Medina, the two holy places in Islam. I get a lot of peace from watching that.
I listen to the Qur’an on a daily basis, even just a small piece, and I read a bit of Islamic literature. I learned a lot of meditation methods with the Buddhists, so I do that quite a bit. It’s the way I live now, and I have the responsibilities of being a husband and a father. I live as best I can on a spiritual basis.
Rasheed (formerly Olegs) Tucs (33, sterile processing technician)
I’m from Latvia. I converted to Islam in 2010. My generation was raised to a certain extent in the Soviet Union. It was a system with its own ideology, in which religion was marginalized. People were discouraged from taking part in any kind of religious services. We were raised in a very rational environment.
In 2006, I met a woman who I fell in love with and I proposed to her. She told me that she had a condition as she was Catholic. She said, “The only way I’m going to marry is in church”. And I said, “I love you, I will do it for you”. It was a bit complicated to become a Catholic, but it gave me a new perspective on the world. My world had been very materialistic, very scientifically oriented.
We got married and the love story continued. But my wife became quite seriously sick with malaria. I started to pray, not like a Catholic because I didn’t care much – it was just a perspective, not a faith. I started to ask someone, something, to make her live and to make us go on. Thank God, she got well. This was the first time I really prayed.
We were going on holidays to Latin America and we had to change flights in Istanbul. On the plane, I got a severe eye infection, conjunctivitis. In two hours I couldn’t see anything. In the middle of a flight, it’s a bit scary.
We had to disembark in Istanbul and go to the doctor. I woke up in the early morning and heard something nice, which was the call to prayer. My antibiotics had worked, my eyes were clear. Then you start thinking, ‘What is it?’ I did a bit of research into all the religions, because I had a whole new perspective for seeing things. During this time, Islam was the message which seemed to me without conflict.
You have to conform to certain standards. In Islam, it’s said that the only purpose of humans is to worship God. At first you may think that worshipping God is praying five times a day. But actually, worshipping doesn’t mean only praying – it means being a good custodian of the planet. Recycling, buying local or fair-trade food is a way of worship because you are doing the right thing.
A very sensitive issue would be the prohibition of alcohol and all the mind-altering substances. In Islam, it’s said that God has given us a mind and an ability to think and an ability to make a decision, so if we deliberately impair that, we are denying the gift. I used to drink. Eventually, this wish to have a drink or a cigarette, it wore off.
I consider this time as being in search of something; a search for knowledge and a search for the way. It’s Islam that brought me here. I was an embryologist in IVF clinics in Nairobi, and the work was not compatible with the religion, so we had to look for something else.
In Ireland, there are a number of local mosques and cultural centres. In Latvia, there is only one mosque for the whole country. People are good here. Ireland is very friendly to outsiders. In Latvia, people from other societies are still looked at with great suspicion.