A Briton’s Rediscovery of Islam in Practice
Every human mind has an instinct to seek the truth. Some curb this instinct and go in pursuit of their materialistic goals, while others follow their instinct to seek the truth. One journey of the latter type was that of Anthony Galvin Green – a journey in the pursuit of truth and the purpose of life, through which he entered in to the world of Islam wholeheartedly, for he had found the purpose of life.
Anthony Vatswaf Galvin Green was born in Dar-as-salaam, Tanzania in 1962 to a British couple. His father was a colonial administrator in the British Empire and was an agnostic, i.e., one who doubts the existence of God. His mother, on the other hand, was a devout Roman Catholic from Poland. The family moved back to UK, leaving Dar-as-salaam, due to that country gaining its independence from British colonial rule. Anthony was barely two years old then. In Britain, Antony’s father got a job in 1976 at Barclays bank international and was subsequently sent to Cairo, Egypt, to set up a branch of the bank there.
When Anthony turned ten, and his brother eight, they went to a Roman Catholic monastic boarding school at Gilling castle, London. Before going to the boarding school, Green’s mother taught her sons a prayer frequently recited by the Catholics. It goes thus: “Hail Mary, mother of God…” Every time Anthony said this, he would ask himself: “How could God have a mother? If Mary is the mother of God, then she must be a bigger God!” The boarding school’s confession box, where students confessed their sins in an annual ritual, further piqued his curiosity. He found it strange that he had to confess his sins to a cleric in the monastery, rather than to God Himself. So he asked the cleric: “Why can’t I confess to God directly?” The monk replied: “You can, but you may not be assured of forgiveness.” These peculiar rituals made Anthony even more desperate in his quest for the truth.
Green and his brother visited their parents every year in Cairo. Though initially Green hated the life in a third world country, he gradually began to enjoy his stay. The first Muslim that Green came across at that time was his cook, Ibrahim. A humble man with simple dressing, Ibrahim prayed five times a day – a routine to which the young Green was a daily witness. He noticed that the Muslim prayers were silently performed with full devotion and piety. This was quite unlike the Monastic church rituals, which had lots of pomp and show. Ibrahim’s way of worship greatly impressed the young Green’s inquisitive mind.
However going back to the monastic school, away from his parents and home, instilled a sense of maturity and seriousness in him. He often asked himself: “What is life all about? What is the purpose of life?” As he tried to analyze his thoughts, he reasoned that life was not all about educating oneself, find a good job and earning enough money to send one’s children to a good school for them, in turn, to carry out the same process again in their own lives. Surely, there was something more.
He was basically questioning the whole premise of western society. In no way did he wish to be the ‘Cog in the Machine,’ where the same process of life goes on, generation after generation. He then tried to find the spiritual answer for his question. He thought of Buddhism and studied it. He found it appealing to a certain extent and he followed Buddhism for three years. But as Buddhism advocates total destruction of one’s ego to attain ‘Nirvana,’ he found it impractical to follow it completely. Moreover, a fundamental Buddhist belief is that ‘life is nothing but suffering,’ which, of course, is not true for all circumstances.
So Green gave up Buddhism, and went on to experiment with drugs. He did this, not to intoxicate himself, but to find the truth. Perhaps, being the adolescent that he was at the time, he thought drugs could give meaning to his life. Still, the truth remained hidden from him, making him more desperate to reach out for it. This happened when Green was between fifteen and nineteen years of age. His turning away from Buddhism was not an act of impudence towards that religion; it was just that his quest for truth had not been quenched even after embracing Buddhism. It was about this time that there occurred yet another eye-opening episode in Green’s life. After about ten years of his on and off stay in Cairo, he met an Egyptian gentleman who happened to be a Muslim. They got in to a discussion on religion, which went as follows:
Egyptian: “Do you believe Jesus is God?”
Egyptian: “Do you believe Jesus died on the cross?”
Egyptian: “So you believe God is dead?”
This question struck Green really hard. He had no reply, but yet did not want to acknowledge the truth. Finally, he gave up everything that had to do with religion, and assumed the answer to the purpose of life as being wealth. He went back to the international notion that ‘Wealth equals happiness.’
However his motto to acquire wealth was this: ‘Minimum effort and maximum money.’ He believed then that life is not worth living, if one just keeps earning without enjoying the money he earned. This led him to a close analysis of world economics, through which he found Britons, Americans, Germans and Japanese to be workaholics. This was while the Arabs in Saudi Arabia were the ones who put minimum effort but got maximum wealth. So he decided to follow in the footsteps of the Saudis. And since Islam was the religion Saudis followed, he picked up a copy of an English translation of the Qur’an for himself and read it carefully. Green describes this moment as something that he would remember for ever. He gives a very distinct description of the moment:
“I was then working in a life insurance company and was taking the train to work. I sat by the window and read the Qur’an as the train passed by the river Thames. I said to myself: ‘If I ever got a book from God, it should be this. This is it; this is the book of God.’”
Though Green was an exceptionally fast reader, he was still reading the Qur’an even after two weeks. It was something he had never read before. He read and re-read the Qur’an several times. He tried to learn the Muslim prayer (Salah) and the way it is performed by himself.
Once, it so happened that he was in a part of the London he was not familiar with. He happened to bump into an Islamic bookshop with several books on Islam and prophet Muhammad (saws). As he was browsing through the books, a man approached him and enquired: “Are you a Muslim?”
Green was taken aback, but he replied: “What do you mean, ‘Muslim’? I believe in one God – Allah – and in prophet Muhammad (saws) as His messenger.” The man in the bookshop exclaimed: “So you are a Muslim! Let me take you to the mosque nearby.” Green accompanied the Muslim stranger to the mosque. The Muslim taught Green how to perform Wudhu. Green also made the formal testimony of faith – the Shahaada – in the presence of the Imam of the mosque. He recalls:
“It was probably a Friday; the mosque was full of worshippers who had come for the congregational prayers. After I performed my Salah, all the Muslim brothers greeted me and were eager to teach me something about Islam. As I proceeded out from the mosque, I literally felt like I had taken a shower and cleansed myself. It was an awesome experience.”
Back into the routine of his life, however, and like many other Muslim reverts, Green too found himself, caught between the ‘clutches of relationship’ and the ‘most sought after religion.’ Unfortunately, Green picked relationship over his new-found faith. In order to save his relationship with his girl-friend, he gave up practicing Islam. By doing this, he says, he entered the most terrible phase of his life. He further says:
“To know the truth, and not practice it, is the worst thing that can happen in life. Life was soon a mess because I knew what I had to do, but yet never had the guts to do it.”
Despairing, and thinking it the better way out of his problems, Green left London for Portugal where his parents were residing after their retirement. In fact, his decision to leave London proved to be a major turning point in his path to practicing the basics of Islamic living. In his anxiety at this self-imposed separation from his girl-friend, he vowed to restart his five daily prayers if matters improved in this regard. Incidentally, matters did improve – for a while, at least – and it was during this period of grace that, true to his promise, Green took up his daily prayer (Salah) routine seriously. The passing fancy with his girl-friend soon ended, but not his attachment to Salah, which has remained with him all the years since that time. It was then around two years since he embraced Islam – a reasoned out belief that he was yet to fully put into practice. He would later describe these two years to be the worst phase of his life.
Slowly, but steadily, he proceeded on the path of Islam, divine providence guiding him, as it were, to make the right decisions. He changed his name from Anthony Galvin Green to Abdur Raheem Green. Besides his illegitimate relationship with his girl-friend, he also gave up all other practices that went contrary to the teachings of Islam. As the years passed, one issue continued to fester in his conscience – the issue of his parents’ disbelief in the faith that he had chosen for himself. To be sure, almost every person who newly embraces Islam – but whose parents remain in their earlier traditions – goes through this inner turmoil born of the desire to bring his, or her, parents as well to an acceptance of Islam.
Ever since his own Islam, Green too had been inviting his father to the same. In so doing, he soon exhausted all means available to him for the purpose. He decided, in the process, to give the best example he possibly could, of how Islam should be lived and how Islam teaches him to respect his parents. But, unfortunately, his father would not budge from his own position. Green lost all hopes of bringing his father into the light of Islam. However, in the end, his patience and persistence bore fruit – a full 20 years after Green himself embraced the faith.
When Green’s father became terminally ill, Green went to Portugal to see him. When he saw his father in the hospital, Green was almost certain that his father would pass away any moment then. He decided thereupon that he would not forgive himself if he did not try and tell him something convincing about Islam. Although he had tried all means of inviting his father to Islam previously, he wanted then to make this one last effort. Green, thus, spent a long time thinking about what, and how, he could say that something in a way that did not distress or upset his ailing father. Of course, it was difficult for Green to contemplate over the consequences of his father rejecting even this last-minute invitation from his son. Worse still, what if his father did, indeed, make the testimony of faith (Shahadah) and entered into Islam, only to turn apostate after a possible recovery from his illness? To Green, these thoughts were simply too intimidating to even consider but, then, he also had to do what he had to do.
Green supplicated to Allah (swt), since he believed strongly in the power of supplication or dua. He asked Allah (swt) to help him find something beneficial to say for his father. Then, as his father lay on his death-bed, Green started off with: “Dad! I’ve got something really important to tell you. Are you listening?” By that time, his father could not speak very well, but he nodded his head. Then said Green: “I’ve got something to say, which if I don’t say it, I’m going to regret it.” Continuing further, he said: “On the Day of Judgment, a man will come in front of Allah and he will have scores of evil deeds as far as he can see, and in every direction. And Allah will say to him, ‘You have something that will outweigh all of that.’ And the man would say, ‘What is that, my Lord?’ To this, Allah replies: ‘A written statement that you made: There is no God except Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.’”
On hearing all this, his father said: “Give me something easy to do.” Green tried convincing his father saying: “Dad, this is the key to Paradise; this is the success in the life to come! What do you think?” At that point, not only did Green’s father nod his head, as if in affirmation of his son’s statement, he followed his son in declaring the testimony of faith: ‘I testify that there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad is His messenger.’
By then, it was time for Green to leave the hospital, for the hospital rules did not allow him to stay any longer. When he visited his father the next day, his father did not remember anything from what had happened the previous day. However, that was exactly his condition towards the end: he was unable to remember anything, even hour to hour. About three to four days before his father passed away, when Green visited him in the hospital, his father was moved to cry out to him: ‘Help me! Help me!” Green did not know what he could do. The touching conversation which then ensued between the two went thus:
Green: “Dad, what do you want me to do?”
Father: “I don’t know! Give me something easy to do.”
[At this point, Green remembers a hadith of the Prophet (saws) which states, ‘There is something that is light on the tongue, but heavy on the scale’]
Green: “Dad, if I were you, I would keep on repeating the Shahadah over and over.”
Father: “Yes, that’s what I want to do!”
And they spent the next half an hour going over and over with the Shahadah on their lips. Soon thereafter, Green left for UK and, reaching there, he heard the news that his father had passed away. Truly, Allah guides whom He wills to a path that is straight.
Today, it is twenty-five years since Green embraced Islam and, by the mercy of Allah, he is well-known for his Da’wah work all over the globe. He is a renowned speaker at London’s Hyde Park, and is the founder of the Islamic Educational and Research Academy (IERA), London – a center where every new Muslim convert is taught the basic tenets of Islam. He also appears as a speaker on several Islamic TV channels like Peace TV.