British wild girl Heather Matthews sees wisdom of Hijab.
'Islam is about real love, not just lust', says the party girl who's embraced a new life as a Muslim convert.
Her conversion from Ibiza party girl to hijab-wearing Muslim woman in barely three months may well raise a few eyebrows – and she admits that her friends probably think it’s another one of her fads. But trainee teacher Heather Matthews, 27, says Islam has brought her ‘love and happiness’ that she never found in her old ‘shallow’ lifestyle. The mother of two converted to the faith four weeks ago – two months after returning from a holiday in Ibiza. And she says that the photographs of the ‘old her’ taken on that trip show all that is wrong with Western images of beauty. She said: ‘I thought I needed to act and dress in a certain way to feel good about myself. I see girls now and think about what image they are portraying to other people, especially men. It is about self-respect. If you dress and act in a certain way, rightly or wrongly, you’ll be treated in a certain way. ‘Islam has taught me about real love, not false passion and lust. I can even see the logic in arranged marriage.’
Heather earlier this year on the party island of Ibiza.
She says it shows everything that is wrong about Western beauty.
Heather Matthews after conversion to Islam in September 2012, with daughters Ellah, 5, and Halle, 2.
A study by multi-faith group “Faith Matters” found the number of Muslim converts in Britain has now passed 100,000, doubling in ten years. The report estimated nearly two-thirds of the new converts were women, with an average age of 27 – like Heather Matthews.
At first Heather thought Islam was wrong. She was ‘very suspicious’ of the faith, and began reading up on it to support her arguments. As she continued to learn about Islam, she identified with it more and more. Then in September 2012, she accepted it as the truth. She said: ‘I underwent the Shahadah ceremony of conversion to Islam by repeating a declaration of faith in front of the Imam at my local multi-faith centre. I had several Muslim sisters with me and they bought me a hijab and Islamic books to celebrate. It was wonderful.’ But she admits that her friends have been shocked at her conversion to a religion which is often seen as being oppressive towards women. ‘People are probably thinking “Oh, it is just another one of Heather’s fads”. It isn’t. It is what I’ve been searching for during the times I’ve been filling my life with instant gratification,’ she said.
Heather Matthews, who is from Preston UK, has also had a cautious reaction from her family. But it is the response from passers-by that surprised her the most – especially the effect of her headscarf. ‘No men try to chat me up. It is an idiot repellent. When I’m wearing the headscarf I can smile at people without them thinking it is a sexual advance. I definitely agree with Islam’s principles of not having sex with someone you’re not married to and to save your beauty for your husband. So I think my next partner would need to be a practising Muslim to understand. It is easy for me to say this now, with hindsight, having made the mistakes, but I think I would have been better off with partners who my parents thought were suitable, learning to love them through friendship first.’
Heather Matthews has given up alcohol, sticks to a halal diet and plans to fast during Ramadan. She has an English-language Koran which she reads daily, and wants to learn Arabic so that she can recite prayers five times a day. ‘People think I must be oppressed but I’m a strong, confident and free woman. I know I’m one of the most unlikely people to revert to Islam. It astounds me. But I’ve done it for love and happiness and it has completely changed my life.’
“I was teaching hundreds of children about Catholicism. That’s why I find it such a miracle that I converted to Islam!” [Irish American convert Cheryl Dacey.]
"My name is Cheryl Dacey. I live in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I was born into an Irish Catholic family, and I went to Catholic school from first grade to college. I got married and had four children.
I believed very strongly in what I believed. I was a Sunday School teacher. I was teaching hundreds of children about Catholicism. That’s why I find it such a miracle that I converted to Islam! People argued to get their children into my Sunday School class!
Initially the first time that I got quite a bit of literature, which I read, and when I got to the point that Jesus wasn’t God that was it: I could believe everything else.
When Muslims told me we believe in the same God, I thought they were crazy because I said “No, of course we don’t believe in the same God”. I thought it was totally a foreign type of religion from what I believed in. I didn’t realize that we have the same prophets and that much of the information that we have been taught is actually the same as what Muslims were taught. So I really didn’t know much about Islam.
So it was very hard to not believe that, because I believed my whole life. And what happened I think is truly a miracle. I couldn’t sleep.
I knew that it was going to be so hard because it’s not really that easy to change your religion. You have to consider your family, how they are going to take it, and it’s very frightening.
I read that Muslims claim that the same God and the same message came down over and over again to the different prophets. And they put Islam, Christianity and Judaism in a sort of timeline frame as the same God but different prophets. And I thought of looking at it that way and I believed many of the same components, like Mary is the virgin mother of Jesus, but just Jesus in not God.
The best example I think is by attraction rather than promotion, when they see good Muslims, and they see them behaving well. I do think there are more people open to Islam but the way you approach them is very important."