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Face to Face With British Anti-Terrorism Laws

Selma Cook

Newly-Converted Cerie BullivantCerie Bullivant, now known as Kaleem, was born in Yorkshire and his parents are from Ireland. He grew up in London’s East End as an only child living with his mother. Since he was young he always wanted to work with cameras; not in front of it as an actor, but directing and producing. His household was not particularly religious but his mother taught him good morals like being tolerant, accepting and thoughtful of others.


He remembers, “Mum doesn’t adhere to any particular religion but she is a moral person. I remember her telling me to treat others how I’d like to be treated.” He was always interested in God and curious about organized religion. “I found religion interesting but I wasn’t spiritually motivated to join any one in particular. I enjoyed the closeness of the community, with everyone looking after each other and celebrating but I didn’t have a feeling of peace.”


Introduced to Islam


Before accepting Islam Bullivant admits that he spent a lot of time working and having fun. “I was working as a bar man in a night club. I was party oriented at that time of my life; just having fun, going out and being a bit crazy,” he remembers. However, at the back of his mind he was aware of the existence of God and was always willing to strike up a conversation about religion.


At the age of twenty-two Bullivant bumped into an old friend from school and they started talking about Islam. He had learned about the Abrahamic religions; this was just a part of his general knowledge and he put things together. As he learned more about Islam he became aware that Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was, from the Muslim point of view, a prophet, and that he came with the same message as all the other prophets. Bullivant recalls, “Speaking to this brother I began to understand that Islam is a comprehensive religion, that it answers all the questions and that the answers work together to build a foundation from which everything else comes.” Bullivant was overjoyed to learn that Islam was more than just a one-day-a-week religion; that it was something which could develop you and create a good character. The moral teachings of Islam settled on his heart and made sense to him. “I realized that the strict rules and restrictions are there to protect us and that if we take it in context with everything else, we will see the mercy of Islam. When all this came to me, Allah guided me,” says Bullivant.


Accepting Islam

It took a few months from the time he spoke to his friend until he accepted Islam.

At first his family was shocked when they knew he had converted. They had heard some horror stories about people who had converted to Islam. However, as time passed, they saw that Bullivant had become a more caring and moral person and soon accepted him and the changes he had made in his life. He comments, “Since becoming a Muslim I have kept ties with anyone who wants to be friends with me. I still have one very good friend who accepted my conversion for what it is and respects me even though he is not Muslim. However, the majority of my old friends moved away from me; I didn’t move away from them. The trouble is that they couldn’t imagine how I could be their friend if I didn’t go to the pub with them. They said I wasn’t one of them. They couldn’t see beyond the shallow aspects of what makes a person.”


Trouble Brewing

Bullivant wanted to learn the Arabic language and had been told that the best place to learn it was in Syria. He was also inclined to go to this country because he could earn his living by teaching English while helping out at orphanages, which is something he has always wanted to do. However, he never got to Syria. British authorities initially held him at Heathrow airport for nine hours. They alleged that he was involved in terrorist activity and was on his way to Iraq via Syria. Despite finally being acquitted of all charges, for the next two years he was on control orders and even spent some time in prison.


“I was accused of being involved in terrorist activity even though I was dressed like a regular guy and was even clean shaven at that time. What happened is that one of my mum’s friends was drunk one night and phoned up an anonymous hotline saying that her friend’s son was going to travel and that she thought there might be something behind it,” recalls Bullivant. The legislation behind control orders meant that the evidence and allegations against Bullivant were, and are, kept secret. Even after being cleared of all charges, he is still not allowed to see his file.


Still Wants to Integrate

Since going through this very trying situation from the early days after he accepted Islam, he still says that he can and will integrate into British society. He comments, “I believe when things like this happen, you have to find a way to move on and learn from your experience.”


He has always had friends from all kinds of backgrounds. One of his friends wants to join the royal marines. “That’s not the sort of thing I’d like to do, but I accept him for what he is. I just try to follow the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), because even when people were bad to him, he was still nice to them. I see Islam as a ‘live and let live’ religion but within bounds,” says Bullivant. He also believes that everything in life has limits. He recalls how people have spat on him when he was walking down the street. He remembers, “This happened a lot especially when I came out of prison, but I have managed to move past all this.” He adds that if he ever saw someone attacking a woman, he would not let that go. “There are limits. One of the beautiful things about Islam is that it protects everyone from oppression,” he says.


Goals for the Future

Bullivant has studied film making but realized that most of what he was learning would not help him practically in the world of independent film-making today.


“I’ve always been a hands-on practical person, so I didn’t finish my degree. I actually learned a lot more working in the field of film making,” he says. Bullivant had networked with independent film makers and was a runner for a production called ‘Time of Her Life’. He was also involved in ‘Dance Star’. These were all independent films. He says proudly, “‘Time of Her Life’ made it to the Cannes film festival. It was a brilliant experience. I learned the trade hands on.”



When asked about his goals for the future, he comments with a smile, “What I would like to achieve apart from winning the Cannes film festival, has more to do with my own personal life. I’d like to get married and start my own family. I’m 26 now, time is moving. I want to find the right person. At the same time, I’d like to do something to help develop better images about Islam.”


Bullivant is not sure how much one person can do to help alleviate the problems the Muslims are facing nowadays. He notes, “I’d like to be able to say that I did my personal best to help but actually where that path takes me only Allah knows. I hope it’s a path I can do well in. I have a feeling it will be film-making.”


How to Gain Islamic Knowledge


Bullivant has listened to many Islamic scholars but one in particular stands out in his mind. “There is a Yemeni scholar who was born in America, named Anwar Awlki. When he speaks on any subject he goes into depth and detail and makes it relevant to modern-day life. I like him because he advocates Muslims getting out there and being proactive. He encourages them to live Islam and get involved.”


He notes that this particular scholar is widely accepted by the vast majority of the Ummah and does not affiliate himself to any one particular group and this, he adds, makes him insightful and beneficial to Muslims today.


How to Make Positive Change

Bullivant says, “The world is in one big rut, and many people are asking how we can make positive change. I think the major problem is lack of understanding and a lack of empathy. Non-Muslims don’t understand why Muslims do what they do because they lack empathy and vice versa. This includes every day life as well as the wider world context.” Bullivant cites the Danish cartoons as an example of how people try to make change. “People should try to understand that Muslims hold the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in high regard and so such things hurt them. As with any community, there is going to be a strong reaction. Some will call for the heads of the people who did it, some will want to discuss and talk, and in every large group of people there will always be different reactions,” says Bullivant.


Sadly, this lack of empathy can be seen from the Muslims as well. “Also Muslims do the same thing back to the non-Muslims. Obviously after 9/11 the US wanted to attack the people they believed had done this to them. We may not agree but we have to try to understand why they did it but many people don’t do this. The problems between England and the IRA were finally solved through agreement. Most times, fighting and violence gets us nowhere. There must be willingness from both sides to agree so there can be a resolution.”


Bullivant finds that film making is a good opportunity to get this message out. He believes that generally speaking, young people are aware of how to use the media, because they have grown up with it. He notes, “As practicing Muslims living in the West and growing up here, we understand both cultures. It gives us insight. We are in a good position to act as a catalyst of change. If we can do anything towards achieving this goal, that would be amazing!”

British Convert Cerie Bullivant Needs a Break