Account of Jonathan Butterworth
My lifestyle before converting to Islam was a traditional lifestyle of a young man.
I first converted to Islam in December 2010 and then to Ahmadiyyat Islam in July 2011. I am currently serving in the Jama’at as Additional Secretary Tarbiyyat and Waqfe Jadid for New Ahmadis, and also on the editorial board of Review of Religions and a Director for MTA International and host the programme ‘Press Point’. I was also the chairman of the Al-Nahl Tabligh Committee, which is the think tank within the MKA, but no longer due to other commitments. I try to serve the Jama’at whenever I can.
My full name is Jonathan Charles Butterworth. I was born on the 3rd of July 1986 in Newcastle. My mother and father, who are still together, raised me. My mother is agnostic herself but increasingly spiritual by the grace of Allah. She doesn’t really know what spirituality is right now, but she is really drawn towards Islam. My father his background is Christian, but he doesn’t really believe that Jesus is a Trinitarian God, but he thinks that this is very relevant and believes in one God. He is also very positive about Islam. I have two brothers one older and one younger brother and a sister. I went to school in a Christian School, but I never really believed in Jesus being the Son of God. I wasn’t really an active Christian, but I still went to the Chapel when I was young.
I went to school in York. I studied law in Kings College in London. I then did my Masters in the University College of London.
In 2008 I became interested in Buddhism, which I practised for about a year in the years of 2008 and 2009. But later I gave that up and became agnostic again. What attracted me to Buddhism was that at the time I wanted to know and understand life, which I couldn’t get from the western culture. I also wanted answers to deeper questions such as why do I exist? and what is the meaning of life? but also a method which I could attain spirituality. At the time I didn’t really know what spirituality was, but I felt that it was something more than just 9 to 5 work and materialistic life. It was also a quest to become a better person and more compassionate and less selfish and egoistic.
I went to stay in India in a Monastery in Tibet and I was meditating, but I felt very disconnected from humanity and society. So even though I had become a Buddhist, I felt more selfish and disconnected. I felt that this was not achieving any sort of spirituality, so this was what made me want to move back to living an agnostic life again.
What bought me to Islam was that, as you know I have already mentioned, that my upbringing was agnostic. I was always trying to seek happiness, but I couldn’t really find it.
I also wasn’t able to answer any question about my purpose, which I began to ask myself. Essentially I started to write poetry and when I did, I realised that I couldn’t write poetry because I didn’t know what the sense of life was and I felt that was important to write poetry. So that took me on a journey of questions, which I didn’t have the answers to.
It was purely and strongly a pure conviction that God exists, God is true and that God is here
At that time I didn’t know what the best spirituality was and how to find it. I was not going to go towards the church because of the traditional British apathy towards the Church. Islam completely seemed irrelevant to me at the time. So I thought to myself eastern spirituality seemed like a good idea because they didn’t have any rules as such and there is no concept of God. So I thought that Buddhism was the best option. Therefore I went towards Buddhism. All praise belongs to Allah that this experience was very beneficial because the rules of Buddhism are very self-centred. Because there is no concept of God and you attempt to lose your ego through the self. Which is very contradictory and impossible. So eventually I gave this up and went back to my traditional lifestyle.
Jonathan Butterworth (UK Secretary for New Ahmadis) with Huzoor
At this point I really did realise that I had to find to the meaning of life and the purpose of life. I had investigated eastern spirituality, which had failed so I thought I’d open up and give all spiritualities a chance. So I listened to some friends who belonged to different religions. I asked them all what they believed in? and they all said that ‘they believe in God and they pray’. Therefore I thought to myself that I would also attempt to pray. So I prayed to God and said to God that ‘I don’t think You exist‘ but once I said that, I knew I did believe in Him, because there was a sort of fear inside of me after saying that. I prayed for God to show me that He existed. After about a week’s time I was given a very strong response to my prayer, which gave me complete conviction in the existence of God and the belief in God. The answer to the prayer was essentially that I went for a walk in the countryside, because at the time I was living in Cambridge. I was standing in a field praying and the response I got was a physical one, an energy, which rushed from my head to my toe and back and forth and all the hairs on my body were standing, because of this electricity feeling I was receiving. I was also very emotional and this also shocked me on a very deep level, this emotional feeling. Once I got home I asked myself, what this was? The answer I got from a very deep level was that, this is your Lord, you have met your Lord and this is God. This was an internal conversation I was having but this in no way a rational voice and this was in no way a rational answer based on any logic or equation. It was purely and strongly a pure conviction that God exists, God is true and that God is here. From that moment onward I believed that there was a God.
But still at this point I didn’t believe in any religion. So I just had a belief in God but I wasn’t part of any religion and I didn’t really feel a need for religion either, because essentially I felt that religion was manmade. So I just ignored religion and I just enjoyed this new relationship I had with God and wrote poetry to God. But after about three months I felt that I might have been really unjust to religion because it was religion initially which prompted me to build this relationship with God. I felt that if I leave religion and just take God I might be being very ungrateful. So this was when I started to investigate into religions.
Still at this point I had great problems because I practiced Islam in Cambridge and I used to go to both an Ahmadi Mosque and a Sunni Mosque
I started to read all the Holy Scripture of all the mainstream religions, for example, I read the Holy Qur’an, The Holy Bible and the Bhagvat Gita etc. at this point I had already read some Jama’at literate which a friend had given me earlier. I felt that potentially if the claim of the Promised Messiah was true and the central point of view of Islam and of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is that all religions are one and that all the prophets come from one source, which is Allah. So I thought to myself that if this is true, then I can be religious. But I felt that I needed to investigate this and that was one of the main reasons why I read the Holy Scriptures of all the religions. When I did read the books I felt that this claim was most definitely true. So I essentially chronologically accepted all the prophets in order. I started to pray more and more as my conviction in Islam started to grow. In December 2010 I was praying the Fajr prayer, when I can’t really describe it, but it was the same type of feeling that I had in the field while I was praying which was this overwhelming experience, which was not at all a rational experience. It was just an absolute spiritual compulsion and a feeling of being spiritually blessed on such a very deep level, which I could not ever comprehend or ever do justice to, which was the opportunity to accept the Holy Prophet, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him. This moved me a very great deal and for almost half a day I was breaking into emotion. The brother I was spending time with at the time found this to be very confusing that I was like that. But it was at a very deep level that I was convinced that it would be my great honour that I would become a follower of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. So at that point I considered myself to be ready to take Shahadah, but I wanted to take it with my older brother, because he had become a Muslim before me. Even though my path had not involved him at all, I felt that it would be a great to make him feel closer to my spiritual path and perhaps to engage in Islam more. So I asked him to take the Shahadah with me. I didn’t really do any of the ceremonial things, which I should have done in terms of taking a bath or doing the ablution. This was the point where I publicly announced that I was a Muslim and that was how I became a Muslim.
But still at this point I had great problems, because I practiced Islam in Cambridge and I used to go to both an Ahmadi Mosque and a Sunni Mosque. The reason why I done this was that I just wanted to purely follow Allah because I didn’t know at that time whether the Promised Messiah, peace be upon, was true or not. So I had to investigate with an open mind. Because I thought to myself that maybe I won’t believe in the Promised Messiah, peace be upon, so this was why I kept going to both of the mosques to pray and I spoke to both brothers in the Ahmadi mosque as well as the Sunni mosque. When I spoke to the Sunni brothers, they didn’t have an adequate reason for me not to believe in the Promised Messiah, peace be upon him, they would tell me that the Jama’at was an Israeli front and that they were supported by the British, but these were points I didn’t give much thought to. Later they raised deeper points regarding the death of Jesus, peace be upon him, and the concept of Khatam-un-Nabiyyeen so that made me very intent on investigating the truth and also very concerned if that was true. I started to read other books and a book that had a deep impact on me was ‘The Beacon of Truth’ which is a book with all the references which prove all the Jama’at’s points. This for me was great because I wanted to essentially look from an impartial perspective looking at the early Muslim saints and the companions of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Once I did this, I rationally felt very convinced from an Islamic perspective that the Promised Messiah, peace be upon him, was the Imam of the time.
Now there was the final question whether Allah wanted me to spiritually accept Ahmadiyyat. So I started to read a lot. I read Tadhkira and quite a few other books, which convinced me a lot. After this I did the Istikhara prayer. I tried this and the first night I attempted to do this, while I was reading Surah Ya-Sin, I fell asleep because I was so tired. I felt very bad about myself and went to bed. When I went to bed, I had a dream in which I saw that I took out my smartphone, which I had recently purchased and put my headphones on and through the headphones I heard someone saying to me that, the Promised Messiah Sallah-hu-alaihi-Wasalam and I threw my phone in the air in my dream and then I stood in this place. It was a dark place and seemed like I was in space and it seemed like there was no end to this space and I stood there and I just contemplated on what I should do. This was when I woke up. But this was very useful for me because I had already accepted the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and the question I was asking was whether the Promised Messiah had come and is Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, peace be upon him, the Imam Mahdi and The Promised Messiah? This dream was meaningful for me because in my dream I heard the Promised Messiah Sallah-hu-alaihi-Wasalam, which was the very concept the Promised Messiah spoke about that he is the Burooz, the shadow of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. This was very important for me and in the Jalsa Salana that year I prayed and said to God that, if this is the time that you want me to do this, then I will. I remember particularly I went to the parameters of the Jalsa site, where I read the book Our Teachings which is written by the Promised Messiah, peace be upon him. When I came to the final paragraph, which I will paraphrase, that now is the time to strive in the cause of the religion, which you proclaim to profess. Once I read this I realised that I couldn’t be a true Muslim unless I honoured the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and I couldn’t do that unless I accepted his Messiah, and that Islam is not dead, but rather a living religion, and that Allah has not left Islam and that he would not leave us. So this was the point when I told myself that I was going to take the Bai’at, but still I was very fearful because I kept telling Allah that I am doing this for you and not for anyone else. This was when I took the Bai’at.
My perception about Islam before I converted was nothing considerable. Because it wasn’t really relevant to me and at the time there were a lot of other things in my life that were of higher priority.
I personally never really faced any challenges whether social or family. There was a slight challenge from Sunni Muslims when they found out that I was an Ahmadi Muslim, but that is the Jihad that every Ahmadi has to face. This in itself is the sign if the truth of the Promised Messiah, peace be upon him.
One of the biggest ways that Ahmadiyyat has changed my life is through Huzoor, may Allah be his Helper, just by his being. I think that he is the greatest blessing that this earth has and to come close to him is like coming close to Allah. I can’t thank Allah enough that I am able to pray behind Huzoor, to write to Huzoor and this might sound strange to my western brothers, but it is something that I can only describe to as living at the time of Moses and Jesus peace be upon them. His greatness is very high. But the thing is that it is not because we worship him, but it is because he empowers us. Just like any Prophet or Khalifa empower his people.
My relationship with the Khalifa is a very mysterious one because when I first took Bai’at I was very confused by Huzoor, may Allah be his Helper. I felt very alienated by Huzoor and I didn’t know what it was to love this Khalifa, but then I started listening to the Friday sermons and I specifically remember one Friday sermon just after Ramadhan and Huzoor was talking about the converts to Islam and I still to this day don’t know why, but that really emotionally broke me to listen to Huzoor talk. This was the same thing as I have no idea why I love so much but I just do.
This was my journey to Islam, Ahmadiyyat.