By Ataul Wahab Ahmad Rybinski
My name is Ataul Wahhab Ahmad Rybinski. The name Ataul Wahhab means ‘Gift of The Bestower’ was given to me by Hudhur. I was born on October 9th 1980 in Warsaw, Poland. Shortly after taking my A-level exams (or rather Polish equivalent) I faced the necessity of working full time in order to support myself. I am a Jack-of-all-Trades in a sense that I was working as a bartender,decorator, promoter, stage technician, light engineer, sound technician, construction worker, bouncer, porter and chef, not necessarily in this particular order. I came to the UK, to Bradford to be specific on September 1st 2006, like most Eastern Europeans in a search for a job. I plan to start my BA in Modern European History this October.
1. Tell us about your journey to Islam/Ahmadiyyat.
For most of my adult life, or rather conscious life – from adolescence or salad days until 2006 when I came to the UK, I was an Atheist, also a very militant one. That did not mean that I didn’t want to learn about the spiritual or religious side of life, which is precisely why I thought that coming to the UK is a perfect opportunity to learn about Islam. In Poland, where I’m from, Muslims are a minority and a very, very small one and I always knew that I can’t trust the western media or even historians to paint a fair picture of Islam. I arrived in the UK in September 2006 and almost straight away started to read whatever I could about Islam – globally and locally you might say, because I wanted to know a thing or two before I would contact any sect or branch of Islam present in Bradford, where I live. Alhamdolillah, I established a very friendly relationship with Abdul Latif sahib from Bradford Jama’at and his son Muhammad Tufail with whom I worked in one of the many warehouses located in Bradford. Through them I’ve learned about the Ahmadiyya Jama’at, about the Promised Messiah (as) and about Islam generally. In 2007 after one of the Jama’at’s (Community) Q&A sessions Abdul Latif sahib introduced me to Naseem Ahmad Bajwa sahib, the regional missionary for the North East region at the time, but now is the Imam of the Baitul Futuh mosque in London. It was through the long hours that I spent with Murrabi (Missionary) sahib that I came to the conclusion that in fact, I am a believer. And since even before that I’ve stated on many occasions, after due consideration of course, that ‘If there’s a God then Islam is the proper way to worship Him’; as a consequence I needed to admit to it and start changing my life. But it wasn’t until November 2008 that I was ready to sign my bay’at form though. So you might say that I needed over two years of learning through both actual studying Islam and Ahmadiyyat and through certain events in my personal life to finally make the decision that now seems to me more instinctive and natural that it would appear even a year ago.
2. What were you perceptions of Islam/Ahamdiyyat before you accepted Islam/Ahamadiyyat and how have those changed since?
See, I didn’t really have any pre-conceptions. I was quite sure that Islam is not presented fairly in the mainstream media of Europe and that I shouldn’t look at any religion through the lenses of Roman Catholicism which is the predominant Christian denomination in Poland. Since one of the first books about Islam that I read was “Caravan Of Dreams” by Idries Shah, who is a Sufi, the very first impressions that I have had were that Islam must be a multi-dimensional, rich religion with a spiritual side even more developed than its social or moral end of things. Then after a while, when I started my journey to Ahmadiyyat, from the moment I heard this name for the first time, I was surrounded by Ahmadis that I must admit were and are so firm in their belief that I had to take whatever I was learning from them, however difficult it was to process or accept, very seriously. Perceptions that I had, didn’t necessarily change that much, beside the fact that now I know that my religion is so deep, rich in meanings and complex that I can’t possibly judge if it’s over or under developed in any respect – simply because this is the perfect, final stage in religious development.
3. How has accepting Islam/Ahmadiyyat changed your life and what benefits have you gained?
I’ve gained something that most of the non-Muslims and non-Ahmadis spend their entire lives searching for: a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging and that peculiar variety of kinship with others, in this case with other Ahmadis that is never a burden, always a way to improvement.
4. What challenges have you faced as a convert to Islam/Ahmadiyyat and how did you overcome them?
Technically not too many. At least not from the directions that one could suspect to face challenges from. I think that, like many converts I forgot about the ‘outside world’ in the initial stage…What I mean is that after the major shift, like in my case from carefree Atheism to Islam and Ahmadiyyat, we tend to go deep into the waters of what we know is good and true, but we tend to forget that it is merely the beginning of the journey, not the end. So sometimes we go too deep with too little training and preparation. But Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala is the Most Gracious indeed – we are a community, so there are people that went through similar stages, or difficulties before, and we have ears to listen, eyes to watch and minds to learn, and mouths to ask questions obviously. ‘No soul is burdened beyond its capacity’. In short, through the grace of the Almighty whatever I found difficult at one time was in fact an opportunity to learn and improve.
5. What has been the reaction of your friends and family to your conversion?
Thankfully, people that I consider my friends are people free of prejudice or hatred which just proves how blessed a person I am. The worst reaction I came across was indifference. Which is, again a blessing. It goes without saying that Tabligh opportunities thus created are yet another one. As far as my matrifocal family is concerned (my father is out of the picture for over 10 years) they were also quite understanding, with my Mother being, and I quote, ‘very, very happy’.
6. How has being a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community helped?
For some reason I find this question difficult to answer. I feel that me being an Ahmadi is just a fulfilment of Allah’s wish, so I honestly can’t evaluate my membership as something that helped or not. It’s how it supposed to be, it’s how it should go so I might phrase it like that: I do feel that I belong, that I am, where Allah wanted me to be. Again, I know that now I do have a solid base, people that I can count on – but it’s only the decree of Allah that sanctions it.
7. How have you found integration into the Community?
It took me quite a while to decide to join the Jama’at (Community). Which means that I had opportunities to meet and get to know some Ahmadis before I actually ‘signed in’. Which in turn just made the integration process so much easier than anyone could expect. It’s probably a terrible cliché what I’m about to say, but Ahmadis are simply good people, so I can’t imagine that integration would be difficult for anyone.
8. What events or activities would you like to see taking place?
I am a Khadim (literally meaning servant and also Ahmadi youth) and I need to admit that the Khuddam (youth) calendar is really busy: Taleem (education) classes, various Tarbiyyat (moral training) forums and symposiums, quite a lot of Tabligh activities and of course Ijtemas (gatherings). What I’d really like to see is some sort of educational project that would deal with the history of Islam. ‘Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it’… I’d like to see a course, or series of lectures, presentations that would deal with the ‘practical’ history of Islam: Al-Andalus, the Ottoman Empire, interactions with Christians and Jews in the Holy Land… These are fascinating times, stories that can teach us how the vast political entities of the Islamic world worked, how they declined, ergo- ‘what went wrong’, how we could avoid making the same mistakes etc.
9. What advice would you have for your fellow new converts into Islam/Ahmadiyyat?
Your trust in Allah has to be unshakable and firm. Some of us had to make sacrifices, for some of us the moral and spiritual transition can be very exhausting. But the stronger your faith will be, the less obstacles you will see in your way. Take every opportunity to learn and be as active in Jama’at works as you can and above all remember that this is merely the beginning of your journey, not the end.
10. Finally, as someone who has found Truth, what advice would you have for any seeker after Truth?
Be patient in your search. Be honest with yourself – the worst you can do is to try to convince yourself that yet another piece of information you just collected is irrelevant, when your heart and mind tells you something entirely different. And above all – listen more than talk.