When Faith Rings True: Bahrain Story #37


#100 Bahrain Stories is the beautiful brainchild of Tanzeel Jabbar-Khadir. As an Australian writer with Indian and Pakistani heritage, Tanzeel relocated to the small Gulf island of Bahrain several years ago and embarked upon a personal project to interview 100 people from all walks of life in her new home. TCK TOWN is proud and excited to be able to share the stories from some of the 100 inspiring people that were interviewed. These stories have even been published as a book. Take a look at the end of this article to find out where you can purchase it. We hope you enjoy this series as much as we do! 

"I was introduced to the Middle East early on in life by my mother, a champion of Arab causes in post-war UK. Perhaps due to that early exposure, I always felt that I had an emotional and intellectual connection to the people of the Middle East. As a student in the 1960s, I spent a few months living in Cairo and travelling to vibrant cities like Beirut, Baghdad and Damascus. These places were the centre of gravity in the Middle East in those days. No one had heard of Dubai back then.

My career path has also reflected my deep interest in the region. Graduating from Oxford University in 1964, I began working on daily newspapers in London’s Fleet Street. By 1965, I was appointed Editor of the weekly Middle East Economic Digest (MEED).

I first visited Bahrain in 1968 as a guest on the British Overseas Airways Corporation’s inaugural non-stop flight to Bahrain. As the new VC10 aircraft circled above, glancing out of the window I remember being struck by the beauty of the carpet of green palm trees that lay below. Even back then, I knew there was something about the spirit of Bahrain. To be here was all at once powerful, lonely, beautiful and magnetic.

During that visit, I went to a silversmith in Manama souk to find a gift for my mother. Looking through the shop, I was quite taken by a ring with Arabic calligraphy on it. Encouraging me to buy it, the elderly Bahraini silversmith read out the phrase on the ring; it said, “Masha'Allah”. As beautiful as it was, I put the ring aside, not comfortable purchasing an item with an Islamic phrase on it when I wasn’t a Muslim myself. When I finally selected a gift, the gentleman surprised me by wrapping the ring as well. “It is for you,” he said, “One day you will wear it”. I appreciated and accepted the gesture. At that stage in my life, I had no real interest in Islam.

Born during the air raids on London, as a child with Irish ancestry, I always felt as though I was living between two seas. Whilst London was my home, there was a sense of disconnect. Religion did not feature prominently in my upbringing as my parents were agnostic. By the time I was in my 40s, I felt the absence of a spiritual connection. I realized that I had been devoting my whole life to work and it wasn’t giving me the satisfaction I craved. By then a major shareholder in MEED, I sold my shares in 1987 and devoted myself to charitable endeavors. It was then that I started turning more towards Islam. Mine was a slow and gentle progression towards faith. Over time, I realized that Islam’s primary focus on God-consciousness gave me peace of mind. It was what I had always been searching for.

I became a Muslim in 2002. I’ve moved house many times in my life and lost many things along the way but one thing I never lost was that ring from the Bahrain souk. I put it on my finger the day I made my Shahada and it has stayed there ever since. I often think of that silversmith and his prophetic words.

After my conversion, I decided that I wanted to live in a Muslim community where I could practice my faith in comfort. Of all the places my wife and I considered, Bahrain was the one that attracted us the most. I knew Bahrain well by that stage, having visited regularly to research and publish several books about the Kingdom. In 2005, I came to set up an Institute of Journalism, but that project was cancelled and I have since written and edited for two Bahrain-based publications.

My wife and I have fallen in love with the Bahraini people and the history and diversity of this nation. I go to London to spend time with family, but I see Bahrain as my home now – I always say that you’re going to bury my bones in the ground here. At this time in my life, there is nowhere else I would rather be."

Interviewee: Abdullah Jonathan Wallace from England, Bahrain & Ireland. Living in Bahrain.

The #100 Bahrain Stories book is currently available at Neo Books and Coffee and all Jashanmal Bookstores in Bahrain. If you are not in Bahrain and would like to order a copy, please email: storiesbahrain@gmail.com