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Face to faith - Confounding Expectations

Face to faith - Confounding Expectations

Issue 6 Jun / Jul 2004

First Published on July/August 2004

To access the issue page, click here 


From exclusive boarding school to deep contemplation, from atheist to Muslim, Christopher Bridges challenged his own world and found it wanting. He has just completed a Masters degree in Chemistry at Kings College, London and shares his story with Faisal Qureshi.

Christopher James Stanley Bridges comesfrom an upper middle-class family. The youngest of three brothers, his father is managing director of a large overseas multinational company and his mother is a special needs teacher. Coming from an affluent and academically driven background, his family expected him to be naturally successful in his chosen field. Having prepared and equipped him with a secular/Christian education to deal with modernity, what they didn’t foresee was a spiritual journey that would lead him to embrace Islam.

A look at Chris’ background reveals his grandfathers both fought on the beaches of Normandy. “My paternal grandfather stopped eating pork after his experience of looking inside the tanks where German soldiers were roasted by bombs - they smelt like roasted pork!”

Chris was an atheist as were his father and brothers. Surprisingly he hasn’t made any great announcements to his family about his new faith but “I think my brothers know,I’ve sort of mentioned it in a light-hearted fashion to them.” His mother and father are aware and are quite supportive and accepting of what he is: a courteous and considerate young man. “I went home during Ramadan,”he recalls, “and when asked to eat by my mum, I said I was fasting. She looked at me with interest and curiosity.”

His first encounter with a Muslim is filled with irony. “I was eight and my Nintendo game was stolen from me by a Pakistani lad.”Fortunately his perception of the Islam that was later to form an integral part of his life was not affected. He attended an exclusive boarding school in Birmingham where he first began to discover the meaning of Islam.“My knowledge of Islam was from what I had learnt at school and through the media, all the sources a white person would develop their opinion of Islam from.”

Chris, formerly a secular Protestant, was taught Islam by a Reverend. “I was baptised into the Church of England when I was one year old and my God parents said faithfully that I will be a good Christian.” His mother is a dedicated member of the Church of England and was determined Chris would have a Christian schooling. “When I was 15 I arrived at a point where I didn’t believe in Christianity and when asked to confirm that belief, having now come of age, I couldn’t do it.” He explains his disengagement from his faith. “I found it to be very ornate. I was nevertheless confirmed, to keep my mother happy, and would go to church on Christmas Eve with her to sing the hymns.”

At the age of 16 he started attending sixth form where mandatory attendance at the church chapel was a painful obligation. He successfully completed his A-levels and it was time to take that obvious step and go to university. He does, however, speak with regret about his first year at university. “I conformed to all the social expectations and would get drunk frequently. Once I ended up on the floor outside the Swiss Hotel and people threw money at me thinking I was a beggar; some even called an ambulance because they thought I was dying. I had to send back four ambulances! But people in Halls were really proud of me because that sort of thing was what they considered a great night out.”It was in his second year that Chris ’first significant contact with Islam took place. “I got to know another student called Mohammed Fazlee; we became good friends and I asked him many questions.” Chris was fascinated by the practical and simple way of life that Muslims propagated and felt

the desire to learn more. He bought himself a book called Teach Yourself Islam which inspired him to believe that “if there is a right religion, then this must be it.” This kindled his interest further and he began to reflect on the Divine Order of the Universe.

At this point Chris wanted to visit a mosque but was unable to bring himself to do it. “I was scared that I would do something wrong.” Things stayed this way for some time. Then through another close friend he arrived at a turning point. He studied regularly with a Muslim who answered some very important questions for him. “I had had questions about God’s omnipotence and freewill since I was a child. I was confused that if God knew everything – including what I would do next – then what was the point of making choices?” With answers that made sense came a contentment of heart and he stepped up his reading.

Chris interspersed studying for his finals with reading the Qur’an. It was at this time that something he read changed his spiritual state. “I had always argued that religions were just stories, fables, and I refused to accept any revelation. However, I was reading the Qur’an when I came across a passage in surah six which described these thoughts, described the veil on the hearts of people who say ‘This is nothing but fables of ancient times!’ Unexpectedly, something like a vista opened up in my brain - I then suddenly believed. I prayed for the very first time in my life; and with belief in God came acceptance of Muhammad’s prophethood. I said the shahada.”

The beginning of the next academic year Chris began asking deeper theological questions and eventually went with Mohammed to Regent’s Park Mosque in London. It was during this visit in Ramadan, that he experienced the vitality and true spirit of Islam. “Muzzy took me to the mosque. He prayed maghrib and I watched. I thought you had to have ablution to walk on the carpet so I asked Muzzy to teach me how to perform wudu. I went downstairs to eat. I felt like there were a million eyes watching me. I was given a glass of milk and some dates - I didn’t know what to do with them; I was really scared! I eventually relaxed and took pleasure in the visit. When I returned home I called my father and I told him about the whole experience. I was so excited.”

Islam has taken its place in Chris’ life. “I now feel that my heart is connected to the sky. Before, there wasn’t a connection, but now it is constant. Before, if my day started badly it would end badly. Now, even if I am having a bad day there is always my Islam to be happy about.”


photograph Taus Makhacheva  

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