My father was Egyptian, and my mother was English. I was born as a Muslim, and at the age of 19 I became very devout and committed to Islam. For the next 30 years, Islam guided every aspect of my life.
I completed a BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where I became President of the Islamic Society. After leaving university, I became Amir of a Da’wah group in North London with my brother, and edited an Islamic magazine called “The Clarion.” I wrote four books for Muslim children, and spent fifteen years as a teacher at Islamia School, which was founded by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens).
Around the age of 48, however, I began to suffer a serious crisis of faith. I started to question the beliefs that I had, for so long, taken for granted, and I started to look at Islam in a new light. This period of loss of faith lasted about 7 years. During this time, I learned a great deal about myself. Yes, I did have many doubts, and yes, there were things I couldn’t believe—but at the same time, I did believe in God, and I felt far more comfortable identifying as a Muslim than as an ex-Muslim.
I now use the label “Agnostic Muslim” because it embraces both my doubts and my faith. I believe and hope that there is something more than this material existence of ours. At the same time, however, I remain incurably skeptical. I believe it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God, but I nevertheless have faith, and I hope that there is something…call it God, if you will.
I identify with Islam because it is the religious tradition I grew up with, and I am familiar and comfortable within. It shaped me for half a century, and continues to be an important part of my life. I am able to express my spirituality through Islam. I instinctively reference sayings from the Qurʾān and Sunna, and I find comfort in prayer and fasting.
But I do not suppress reason in favour of dogma. I take that which I find valuable, and ignore that which I do not. I do this because I believe the Qurʾān is not infallible, but is a fallible human work. Although I believe Muhammad was inspired by God to utter the words of the Qurʾān, I believe this inspiration came through the mind and person of Muhammad, and that it was he who interpreted this inspiration according to his time, culture, and personality. He composed the words and phrased the sentences.
As a result, I believe that while the Qurʾān contains a great deal of wisdom, it is inextricably tied to its context and environment. Most important of all, it is fallible. While the Qurʾān is a source of inspiration, it must be subject it to human reason—and not the other way around.
31st December 2015