Yasmin Malik, London, UK
My name is Mrs Yasmin Malik; however, my Danish name is Connie Birch Andersson. I was born in Sundby in Copenhagen in 1945 to Mrs Gerda Karen Birch and Mr Paul Alfred Andersson. I have a very small family, born an only child, my extended family consisted mainly of my one aunt, her husband and their child, my only cousin. I did have one set of grandparents who I would visit often and an uncle, but he was a telegraphist on ships and would mostly be out at sea.
To give some background, Denmark is a small country and is made up of many islands, four hundred and six in fact, and Sundby, where I lived until age thirteen, is a neighbourhood situated in the capital city Copenhagen which is located on one of the islands called Zealand. When I was thirteen our family moved from Sundby to a flat in Taarnby, which is also located on the outskirts of Copenhagen. I lived in the flat with my parents until my early twenties when I left to move to London, UK. Growing up, money was always limited; my parents’ sole means of livelihood came from a shop which they ran in Copenhagen where my father himself made, produced, and sold oil paints for artists. My mother also worked in the shop which they ran together until 1975 when my father sadly passed away at the young age of 58.
Although my parents were not practising Christians, they still had me baptised in the Lutheran Church, as was common in Denmark at the time. To give some background, Lutherans broke away from the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation many centuries ago. My parents were not regular members of the congregation but would attend Church for special occasions such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Although my parents would not attend the church for Christmas or Easter service, I however, used to attend Christmas service on my own and even sung in the church choir. Despite the relaxed Christian background of my family, I had always had an interest in religion from a young age. I was drawn to the church and would often visit it on my own as I found it to be place of peace and tranquillity. My mother would tell me that even at an early age she would let me go outside to play and upon seeing that I was not in the playground, she would find me sat in the church listening to the priest, Bible in hand, albeit upside down (since I was not able to read at that young age!) I also attended Sunday school regularly. Although I found peace when visiting the church, the teachings of Christianity did not always make sense to me. For example, I could not understand how the miracles of the prophets could have actually happened as described in the Bible. As a Lutheran Christian I was raised to take the miracles literally, for example that Moses (as) literally had the capabilities to part the sea with his staff, or that Jesus (as) had truly cured a person of blindness or of leprosy. This did not make sense to me and it seemed there was a discrepancy with what had actually happened and common sense. It also confused me immensely how God could let a prophet like Jesus (as) die on a cross as it was a very humiliating death to be hung with two robbers on either side. For a prophet to die for our sins for those who died before and after him also did not make sense to me, and it weighed on me heavily.
As well as the teachings of Christianity the status of priesthood also started to trouble me. I was brought up to believe that priests have a lofty station and are close to God, so whenever the priest would visit our home, everything would be cleaned and shipshape – clean towels in the bathroom, obedience, best behaviour, it was a big deal! Despite the priest having such a status, as a child I still felt able to ask him questions, but I was often left unsatisfied with the answers I received. He would have theological knowledge and would give me the facts, but he lacked any spiritual knowledge. I wanted to understand my faith but I found that the answers I received were always the same. They were clinical, not spiritual. I have never been a follower and wanted a faith that I could follow with true understanding and to feel a connection with God through. I was searching for answers and explanations to my questions, that I could understand and feel at peace with. However once I started doubting the I started doubting everything, my faith, Christianity, everything I had been taught as a child and this doubt continued to grow and deepen.
As I have already mentioned, I was raised to hold the priest in the absolute highest position. He was considered to be a person who is closest to God, our link to God and the pinnacle of the church. I was young when i started asking questions to the priest but even at a young age of around 11/12 his inability to answer my questions had an effect on me and made me question his status and the negative way he mixed and interacted with people in different situations made me feel uneasy. He did not meet my expectations which I had been taught to expect from a man of his station and I eventually came to the conclusion that a priest was not someone special or exceptional, or even virtuous, but a normal human being like you and me, with vices like you and me and was not someone I felt demonstrated a nearness to God.
My journey had started at a very young age and by the time I reached my early teenage years I realised that neither a priest nor Christianity had the answers to the questions that had plagued me for so long. I was searching for God but couldn’t find the way to Him. Christianity had the theory but lacked the spirituality I was yearning for. It left me with a horrible feeling that my whole understanding of Christianity – especially priesthood – had crumbled and that I was left with no one to ask or to turn to.
As you may be aware, in Denmark Christian children get confirmed at the age of fourteen. This is a Christian rite whereby children who were baptised as infants confirm their belief and faith as Christians and commitment to the church. When it was time for me to get confirmed, by this age I had already become disillusioned with the status of priests and Christianity, and so I told my mother that I did not want to go ahead with the ceremony. Of course, at that time, in 1959 everyone got confirmed and to choose not to would mean you would be called a heathen and negative gossip for you and your family would follow. So despite not feeling satisfied I agreed to be confirmed for the sake of my mother, but as I grew older still, I started searching for answers and continued my search for God. I started studying and exploring other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and even Scientology, but none of them had the answers I was searching for. Nothing felt right.
I trained as an accountant in Denmark, and in 1967, when I was twenty-two, the British insurance company I worked for, called Aug Borgen, sent me to London for two months to learn marine insurance, (how to insure ships). At the time I was also an active paying member of the United Nations, I used to attend meetings, take part in demonstrations against the use of nuclear weapons and campaign for equality for all races. Whilst in London I met with a Danish friend who was also a member and it was through that connection, whilst in London, I met my future husband who was an Ahmadi Muslim. This meeting proved to be a miracle from Allah and would change the course of my life forever. Previously, my only contact with Islam came when I visited Yugoslavia, but having learnt of some very strange customs they had, such as not being allowed to take pictures of women lest their souls leave them and enter the picture, or the reason behind why the men wore Turkish shalwar was because they believed one day a man would give birth to a child! I therefore did not pay much attention to Islam!
As it were, I got married in London UK, and at that time I did not know anything about Ahmadiyyat but later from my husband, learnt that Ahmadiyyat was a denomination within Islam. I know it was a blessing for me and it reminded me of something that happened before I even converted to Islam, when my mother told me something very interesting. She told me that there was someone in India who claimed to be a prophet and she believed that he was truthful in his claim. Having therefore learnt about the Promised Messiah (as), the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, it reaffirmed that I was on the right path.
I later found out that my husband’s father, Hazrat Malik Nadir Khan (rh) was blessed to be a companion of the Promised Messiah (as) . In 1897 at the young age of 18, my father-in-law, whilst living in Kenya where he was working at the time, sent a letter of allegiance to the Promised Messiah (as) and later in 1901 travelled to Qadian and took the bai’at at the hand of the Promised Messiah (as) on the rooftop of Mubarak Mosque.
Nonetheless, my husband took me to all the events at the mosque, and never pressured me to convert to Islam, but instead, bought for me all the books that were published in English. I attended question-and-answer sessions with the local Imams, these sessions were truly a blessing for me. I felt so content because all the answers I received from the local Imams to those same questions that I had asked the priest made sense to me and I realised that I was on the right path, Alhamdulillah [all praise is due to Allah]. Islam Ahmadiyyat had all the answers. Interestingly, I came to learn that the Ahmadi belief regarding Jesus (as) is actually written in the Bible, but people do not see it because they are only reading the Bible from one point of view, that Jesus (as) is alive and is coming back. I spoke to Imam Bashir of Fazl Mosque regularly and had discussions with many scholars of the Ahmadiyya Community. All these discussions showed me the truth and further convinced me that I was on the right path.
I researched and learnt about Ahmadiyyat for around three or so years and finally took the bai’at [oath of allegiance] in the early 1970s, roughly sixteen years after I began my search for answers when I was a young girl. I no longer felt restless but at peace and had finally found my way to God. After my conversion I saw many dreams, I studied the Holy Qur’an and even learnt how to read the Holy Qur’an in Arabic. After taking bai’at I was blessed to work first with Imam Bashir and then after with Muhammad Zafarullah Khan whom I served in a variety of roles such as, taking dictation, noting his thoughts, ideas and references. Zafarullah Khan lived next to Fazl Mosque and with his straightforward manner lived a very simple life. Living with very few pieces of furniture, a tiny kitchen, a divan to sleep on and a desk. He ate simple food and dressed simply. He would offer to make me tea when I arrived which would embarrass me, a man of his stature offering to serve me! His memory was out of this world. I would often go home and upon typing up the notes he had dictated I would invariably have missed something, when I consulted the book, he had been referencing I would be amazed at how exact Zafarullah Khan remembered the reference, even down to the placing of the comma and full stop! Muhammad Zafarullah Khan would also answer many of my questions and would guide me on how do Tabligh effectively, by living a life according to the Qur’an as this would serve to attract people toward the teachings of Islam.
I also attended many mulaqats [private audiences] with the Fourth Caliph Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh) during which His Holiness (rh) would answer the many questions I had. The answers I received from His Holiness (rh) always made me feel enlightened and I would return home feeling excited about what I had learnt and eager to learn more. His Holiness (rh) would interpret many dreams I had, about my late father or the time I visited both Heaven and Hell in my dream. During the time when I converted, in the early 1970s, there were very few new converts and even less who came from a working European Christian background. So, I faced many challenges, trying to learn a new religion whilst being immersed in two new cultures, English and, as the majority of the members of the UK chapter were Pakistanis, Pakistani culture, as well as maintaining my own Danish culture. This led to many challenges as I would often receive guidance from people about Islam that conflicted with things I have read in literature of the Community, such as, after converting to Ahmadiyyat, if I was required to dress modestly or were there certain clothes I should wear, such as the shalwar kameez [traditional attire in the Indian subcontinent] for example? Were there certain foods I should learn how to cook or languages I should learn to speak? I posed these questions (among many others) to the Fourth Caliph (rh) during my mulaqats and His Holiness (rh) would always reassure me and guide me on the importance of following Islamic teachings instead of Asian cultural practices. He would often ask me if I was happy being an Ahmadi and would reassure me that what I was doing was correct. At this point I would like to also mention and give credit to my late husband for never putting pressure on me to wear a certain type of dress or cook certain foods, he always supported me throughout my journey and defended me in every way.
Alhamdulillah, I have been an Ahmadi for over 50 years now and have served the Community in many different roles for example, as well as serving both Muhammad Zafarullah Khan and Imam Bashir, I also trained the Lajna [women] how to use computers, serving as local tabligh [outreach] secretary, assisted the new converts in their bai’at process. I also helped run study circles for both tabligh contacts and for Ahmadis from European background. I have also translated some books from Danish to English and from English to Danish, and have even written a book of my own on the topic of comparing religions, although it was never published. I have visited Qadian the birthplace of the Promised Messiah (as) and Rabwah, the blessed headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Community. I have also performed waqf-e-arzi [short term dedication] in a Special Needs School in Rabwah, Pakistan, Alhamdulillah.
By the grace of Allah, I am also blessed to be the first Danish convert recorded to have taken bai’at in the UK. In any case, I feel very blessed and that throughout my life God Almighty has always provided me with everything I ever needed. So I have always felt it is important for me to pass this on to the future generations. I feel blessed that my children and grandchildren are actively serving the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. My elder daughter, despite living far away in America, is a long serving member of The Review of Religions sub-editing team and is the local umoor-e-tulaba [student affairs] secretary, and her children (my grandchildren) serve as local health and fitness secretary as well helping in other roles in the auxiliary organisations. My daughter in London serves in the national amila [executive] in Lajna Ima’illah [women’s auxilliary organisation] as the new Ahmadis secretary and her children (also my grandchildren) are actively serving in Muslim Television Ahmadiyya, the community’s official TV station.
Despite facing many challenges on this journey, and even losing contact with family members due to my acceptance of Islam, my faith has never wavered, not even for a moment. Had I faced such challenges for any other reason, I would perhaps have given up a long time ago, but not for my faith and trust in God and in Ahmadiyyat. This is something I have always strived to inculcate in my children, and to teach them that when you hold firm to God Almighty, He will never let you down.