My name is John Haggai and I was born a Christian. I am an orphan, my parents died while I was young. I came to Kaduna while I was young in search of opportunities. Life was hard for a young orphan like me. While I was brought up a Christian, I must confess I wasn’t particularly religious while growing up, perhaps due to the loss of parents, and no one bothered to see if I was brought up the Christian way. This is the story of how I was a Muslim once and a Christian twice.
Curiosity killed the cat they say. But that doesn’t bother a little kid like me back in the days. I was always intrigued by anything new. I was particularly intrigued by how Islamic rituals like the daily prayers were performed. I dare not voice out my fascination loud for fear of facing a backlash. Already, life was hard due to the loss of both parents at a young age. The last thing I needed was another problem to add to my already growing troubles. My curiosity was thus kept a secret.
That all changed when I moved to Kaduna when I was 14. Now compared to the moderate city I was brought up, Kaduna was a large metropolitan city with lots of activities going on. There was much for a 14-year-old to take in. The busy life of the city. The buildings. The way both Christians and Muslims interacted in harmony. For the first time in my life, I became in close contact with my object of fascination. For one who was brought up in a strictly Christian community and contact with members of the other faith is minimal. This was pretty a big deal for me. To cap it all, I was attached to work for a Hausa Muslim household.
My boss and his household were kind and generous towards me. He encouraged me to learn—pushed me even. He answered my questions on some of the Muslim rites patiently, perhaps sensing my curiosity. He invited me to the local mosque where I watched from afar how Muslims pray. It is safe to say my fascination with the religion grew at the moment. I started to mull the idea of joining the religion. My boss urged me to take all the time I want, but also encouraged me and supported me all the way. When the inevitable came, he took me to the local mosque where I pronounced the Shahada (Islamic declaration of faith.) I still remember the thunderous Takbir that greeted the mosque when the imam changed my name to Abubakar—after the famous companion of the prophet and Caliph after him— and all the smiling faces I encountered afterward. I was ecstatic and beyond myself. I was eager to start my journey in my new religion. But then it all came crashing down.
Life was hard initially. Where I was welcomed with smiling faces, I was now treated with cold disdain. Where I was tolerated while I was a Christian, I became barely get acknowledged. My Salaams (Islamic salutations were returned with hisses. Initially, I thought it was something that will wane with time. Yet, it persisted. Hate words were hurled at me when I pass. I was looked down with disgust. I was labeled a “tubabbe“ or revert in gatherings. I was dumbfounded. Where was all the hospitality I was given when I converted? Where was the reception I was to be accorded as a new member of the Islamic community? Didn’t Prophet Muhammad and his companions (S.A.W) encourage new Muslims with kindness and even gifts? isn’t it true that when I become a Muslim, all my past “sins” are forgiven? Then why the hate and spite?
It might have been true that I didn’t possess any Islamic knowledge, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The only knowledge I received about Islam was the brief reminders in the mosque, Friday sermons, and the discussions we have with my boss. Yet, I always strive to attend all the daily prayers—including the early morning prayers— alongside my boss, who encouraged me and stood by me all the while. I might have been better than most members of the community who don’t even observe the daily prayers on time, which I was meant to believe was the first pillar of the religion. Then why the hate and despising? perhaps it has to do with the fact that I wasn’t born a Muslim and was a revert. For that, I wasn’t accepted fully into the community because that revert tag has stuck.
Ultimately, I came to realize that I wasn’t alone in my predicament. Many others have the trouble of getting accepted into the community simply because they weren’t born as Muslims. This discrimination was done by mostly the dominant Hausa tribe in the region who felt they are custodians of the region. This fact has chased away many converts or those willing to forsake their religion for Islam. No one should be made a pariah simply because he wasn’t born with something. If we are treated as outcasts by the community that was supposed to welcome us, what about those who were rejected by their families for forsaking their religions? How will they feel? I was lucky I wasn’t in this category.
As for myself, I ultimately left Kaduna aged 26, when I got a job elsewhere. I remained a Muslim for 2 more years before I denounced it for good. My Christian brethren welcomed me without showing me any spite—with joy even— nor did they hate or antagonize all through my years as a Muslim. Sometimes when I think about my sojourn as a Muslim, and it devastates me the experiences I went through. I don’t hate or blame all Muslims for what I went through as I know the religion doesn’t encourage such behavior. In fact, most of my friends are Muslims and I still have a good relationship with most of them. As for reverting to Islam, I think it is out of the question. I don’t want to go through that experience again. Once bitten twice shy they say. I just hope those with this kind of attitude will fix it and that others won’t go through the same ordeal I went through.