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How homelessness and 'dark times' brought city man to Islam

From battling alcohol and drug addiction to homelessness, a Peterborough man has shared his story of starting his life afresh - for which he is grateful to the Muslim community.
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Musa Wood, 55, from Peterborough shares his story of embracing Islam after experiencing 'dark times'

According to a Freedom Of Information request, Peterborough City Council currently has 2,917 households with children registered on the Peterborough Homes Housing Register.

Since March 2020, the average wait for a household with children who were entitled to a three-bedroom home was 1,177 days.

I was working on an article to highlight the plight of this crisis when I was introduced to Musa, who was formerly known as Michael Wood. 

When I asked him to share his story, he said:  "Oh, how much time do you have? This won't be a quick interview then, I am afraid."

Over the last five years, Musa said he had been through a lot including being imprisoned for four months, and he had “experienced some very dark times”. 

The father-of-four became homeless after his marriage broke down. 

He recalls believing he was going to die while sleeping rough on a very cold winter night on the steps of the Town Hall in Peterborough city centre. 

He has come a long way since then. 

The 55-year-old is currently staying in a council-managed hostel which he is grateful for and is looking forward to getting back into work and doing more to support local charities.

During this journey, Musa says he found “hope and light” after embracing Islam. But he feels more support should be in place for people coming off the streets so that they do not end up there again. 

This is his story.

“I went to prison for four months in 2017 and when I came out of it, I was back on the streets. 

“I was living in doorways, tents - [I] wasn't getting any support. I survived winter. 

“I had never touched drugs before but being around crack addicts, I got into it. That interestingly stopped my alcohol addiction. 

“But I felt like there’s no help out there really - mental health support, addiction support, there's nothing out there. 

“It’s a dark world out there – I particularly wouldn’t wish any female to be homeless after the horrible things I have seen them go through.

“I went and built a camp in Cardea and lived in a bush. I used to go begging outside Morrisons - they barred me. I did it for nine months. 

“Aldi had more security to keep me away from their shop. I had started being a nuisance. Police came in, security would come in. 

“When the council started getting complaints about me being a nuisance, they offered me help." 

So how are you now? 

“I was always a Christian. I had my Bible with me on the streets. But I reverted to Islam during the course of my journey. [Many Muslims use 'revert' to mean 'convert'.]

“People who know me are amazed at my decision. I was a victim, humiliated, isolated all these years. So all the people I perceived as my enemies were the Muslims. All that I heard about them and saw in the media was completely different to my experience. 

“In the city centre, Muslim sisters fed me, gave me clothes, gave me money - people from this community were so generous and amazing. 

“I had turned into an animal living on the streets - I am lucky I am not serving a life sentence. 

"What I have been through in the last four years has really scarred me. I have seen people die in front of me from drug overdose.

"Very few are lucky to get out of it on the other side. I am lucky to come around. I don’t drink alcohol anymore, don’t do drugs anymore.

"But I feel like there isn't enough efficient support for people in hostels or people coming out of these dark times. We need a better rehabilitation structure, need more encouragement to do better in life, get a job, sort ourselves out. 

“There’s another world – an underworld in Peterborough that exists that people don’t see or perhaps don't want to see – drugs, violence, poverty. Charities can do their best to combat these issues but it just seems like a never-ending cycle.

"In my case, these people [the Muslim community] brought me back – It wasn’t like they were talking about the religion or anything but just their actions inspired me. 

“I was sleeping at the Town Hall steps one winter - it was so very cold. I was freezing. I felt like I was dying and I said God help me. And he did. It sounds dramatic but a group of Muslim people involved in charity came with food and fed me and gave me warm clothes and that changed my life. I saw light that day that pulled me to Islam. 

“Five years ago I wouldn't entertain Muslims or Islam and now this has changed my life. I can't explain the feeling - it was given to me. This group of people came in the middle of the night fed me hot food. And for someone who is homeless and hopeless, I was moved. 

"I feel like people in this community don’t get enough credit for the work they do.

"Just coming back to the social housing situation, authorities should be ashamed of themselves. It’s dire out there.

"The hostels – they are drug-infested, some of them feel like prisons. I appreciate they are better than nothing but people in them need support. We need support for our mental health issues, addiction issues. If you put people like us in a house without the right support it's honestly not effective and we will be back to square one.

“In this town we have houses that are rented out privately, but a lot of the time they are money-making schemes. They are disgusting – they are not fit for living purposes, especially for families that are moved into them.

“In my case even getting shared private housing is not easy. You have to get [a] deposit, guarantee, references. It’s very hard. In the hostels younger people are having to mix with people like us because there’s a lack of housing. They are being exposed to people with mental health issues, addiction issues and I think it’s just messed up."

What's your aspiration for the future?

"I hope to share my story. I have been asked to write a book - I have had a very colourful life and now to embrace Islam, people want to hear it. 

“One thing I realised as I started the new chapter in my life [is] that I don’t want money. I realised it makes you complacent and selfish. I realised a lot of homeless people believe in God because every day they see the evil, the Satan. I have seen it, I walked on that side.  

“But once you get woken up, your life will be so different, you don’t want the money, the wealth, the fame. I was knocked down to the bottom and I see Islam as a gift which helped me turn around and make a fresh start. 

“I want to get back into work. I used to be a bricklayer. And alongside [that] would like to get involved with more charitable work in the future and help others.”