Harry Fear is a TV journalist, filmmaker and speaker who became Muslim after filming a documentary about Islamophobia in the UK and reporting on the war in the Gaza strip in 2012.
Harry was born and grew up in Oxfordshire, in the South East of England, not far from Oxford University. He attended a small private school where teachers encouraged their students to discover and pursue their own interests. As an only child, Harry speaks lovingly about his parents’ dedication and support.
In an interview with Nilly Ilgüy from Journeying Stories, he explained how reading books sparked his interest in Palestine:
“There’s one book in particular that stands out, ‘Freedom Next Time’ by John Pilger – this book alone really put the seed in me to visit Palestine at some stage in my life. I went to Gaza when I was 22. I wanted to go since the age of about 18 or 19. I’d been reading about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and it was like, the epitome of outrage.”
“I always wanted to see and stand in solidarity with Palestinians, and so through making friends on Facebook who were living in Gaza at that time, they sort of said “Come, you should make videos here.” By that point I was working on a documentary on Islamophobia and other small video projects. So in the summer of 2012 I went to Gaza – through Egypt ..
People were extremely kind in Gaza. Especially when a people have been besieged for so long, there’s an openness to see people from the outside, people are incredibly open in a loving way… You notice that every 400-500 metres there’s a building that’s been destroyed. You notice every building you have just passed has flags on them for different political parties, and you notice there are martyrdom portraits of people killed, everywhere.
Then you’re able to see that it’s not how you initially thought. I felt like I was in an extraordinary place and the way I’ve described it before is that: I felt like I was closer to the core of the earth. It feels like everything is much more alive, richer, and more profound. You feel that in social interactions and in the environment.
After the first time I left I was profoundly changed by it because I was so inspired by the people I met, the hospitality and steadfastness and the resilience of the people – incredible. It’s a beautiful resilience. It’s well-intentioned and well-practiced among most people and that’s really inspiring, it’s incredible.
When I left I felt like the work I was going back to in the UK wasn’t as meaningful in comparison. There’re Palestinians in Gaza who were struggling to survive and hold onto everything and anything. It was a “good” fight, a rich life – in the sense that it had meaning and depth and a struggle. I felt drawn to go back quite quickly and felt life in the UK wasn’t that meaningful in comparison to working on something to do with Israel & Gaza. So I planned to go back quickly and I went back a few months later in November for a few weeks.”
That November 2012, Israel launched a military assault on Gaza. So Harry witnessed the horrors of the war firsthand. He says “I felt so inspired and so activated by the experience. I felt like little else mattered in life except fighting for the Palestinian cause. And that’s how I felt for a couple of years.”
One of the things that he realized after going back to the UK is the following: “You can have people in Gaza who have perhaps some of the strongest faiths in the world, personal faiths, religious faiths, and that beautifies them and strengthens them and gives them the ability to live better lives. You can have someone that’s living an incredibly secure lifestyle in the city of London but they don’t know God and they don’t know themselves and they have an internal torment; so let’s be realistic about what really matters in life, this is the point.”
When asked about his reversion to Islam he said: “It happened related to trying to understand Islamic theology towards Islamophobia. So what does Islam say in its doctrine about the fear of Islam by non-Muslims?
It was this question that I had that was my intrigue and I started to find answers quite quickly through searching online. But then it led me to think: well, this is very logical and beautiful in its sense of logic and continuity. I grew up in a Christian community, though not very religious. In terms of soul searching what answers does Islam have in my not believing in the trinity, for example? And I was absolutely convinced once I’d found the answer in a matter of minutes. Allahu Akbar.
And then over the next few weeks I tried to find more answers and it became clear to me quite quickly that, intellectually speaking, it was sensical. It was like I knew the answer, but I can see it now. Like an intellectual ‘returning home’ kind of process. Things becoming located rather than dislocated. This is how it was at the mind level.
The mind and heart level changes happened at different times. Like at the heart level, I think I had a draw to Islam at the age of 13, I was always curious about it. And it managed to manifest in odd ways over the years. It definitely was something that developed at a different pace.
It got to a stage where at one point I was filming segments about Islamophobia in the UK, so I was filming in mosques and filming people in ‘itikaf* at the end of Ramadan and these things really turned my heart. To see the people’s hospitality and devotion and to see it not on webpages but to see it lived. And also in the UK. So that’s what turned my heart and then really after 6 or 7 months after this process, that’s when the light bulb went on. And for me it was… really – it’s difficult to put it into words – you know it’s too kind of abstract to codify – one of the things that really turned the light bulb on was I’m not really living for anyone else apart from myself, in respect to my relationship with my Creator. It was that kind of liberation from social constructs, from social pressures (even my own pressures I’ve learnt along the way which weren’t really mine) – like not of the soul but of the nafs. That for me was like the opiate so that’s what really did it for me.
I started to learn to pray, learnt wudhu. After 2–3 months I converted. I went through a stage where I’d accepted it in my heart but not fully into my identity yet, even though I was still dabbling in prayer; even fasting. I didn’t know how ‘that’ was going to become me. I had to kind of resolve that and in the end I wasn’t able to resolve it and I had a Muslim friend of mine saying: “This is ridiculous, you prayed with us in congregation, obviously you are Muslim. You just have to let go of whatever is holding you back and think that if you get hit by a bus on the way home, you’re going to die as a non-Muslim instead of a Muslim. So you’re in denial about something, so you need to clean up your act and shake yourself up.” And that kind of wet-smelly-fish-around-the-face did it and khalas [done]! Within 2 weeks I took the Shahada.
I was entrapped with a part of the nafs like holding onto something. [It was] more about control I think. There were different elements. I was aware that once I do the Shahada, my slate gets wiped clean and cleared and I was afraid I wasn’t in the right place to take it [yet]. I felt like my heart wasn’t pure enough; I felt like I wasn’t in control.