6 Women On Heaven, Hell & What They Pray About

“They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God”, wrote Zora Neale Hurston in her 1937 novel published just before World War II.

80 years later, the world is as plagued by war, death, disease, disaster, violence, hatred and darkness as it ever was.

Where, on earth, is God?

The UK is the seventh least religious country in the world, with just 30% of Britons declaring a faith, compared to 94% of people in Thailand, 76% of people in India and 75% of Palestinians. 70% of Americans, meanwhile, are Christian, 90% of Syria is Muslim (the other 10% Christian), 74% of Israel is Jewish, and 99% of the Gaza Strip is Muslim.

Is Britain's un-religion what makes us feel superior? Karl Marx famously said that religion is the opium of the people and this single phrase could be fairly used to sum up how many people in the UK feel about the matter. It is something for those of us who can’t cope with the real world. Something for the poor, the terminally ill, the idealists, the elderly, the unsuccessful, the less-educated, the extremists, the non-Western. Religion has caused wars; it is homophobic; it is anti-abortion.

Why, on earth, would you be religious?

Ahead, we meet six women who see it differently. They live in the UK, work in the arts, believe in a God and practise – to varying degrees – a religion. Wherever you stand on the subject, these interviews will open your eyes to the liberal people behind the word 'religious' who belong to fascinating cultures and believe in equality, freedom and peace.

In this city, we pride ourselves on being multicultural, open-minded and not just tolerant, but celebratory. And yet we rarely talk or read about religion unless it's attached to a war, a hate crime, a fight about abortion or wearing a hijab. We learn about each other's jobs, friends, sex lives, mental health, taste in film, music, art, but never about each other's religion. We don't know what it was like for our colleagues, acquaintances and sometimes even close friends growing up as the only Muslim, Jew, Sikh or Copt in their class at school. We don't know what they pray about, what they think heaven looks like, or what image comes to mind when they think of God. It's not considered polite to ask.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.

Ruqaiya, 23, Islamic Studies undergraduate student & writer

What's your heritage? Pakistani

What religion are you? Muslim

Were you brought up religiously? I was brought up as a Muslim, my parents taught me the basic tenets of Islam and introduced me to Islamic concepts of spirituality. They never really forced any religious obligations on me, like prayer or fasting, but they gave me a grounding in Islam that I later reconnected with in adulthood.

What parts of religion did you like as a child? I loved the idea of an omnipotent God that cares about me. It was certainly comforting in difficult times or when I experienced depression. I liked how my religion contextualised the trials and tribulations of the world, and gave me hope. I also liked the sense of identity it gave me, especially in a climate of Islamophobia and racism. It gave me a sense of belonging.

What parts did you not understand or not like? As a teenager, I began to feel stifled by the rules and regulations of Islam. I found it difficult to balance my "religious" home life and my desires and lifestyle outside. I wanted to experience all the good and the bad of the world outside beyond ideas of halal/haram (lawful/unlawful). I couldn't understand why my parents enforced certain rules that my friends' parents didn't.

Do you talk about your faith much? I write about my faith a lot; I think it's so important for Muslims to take back the narrative about Islam when so much negative press and outright lies are written about our faith, and who we are as people. I have had a lot of positive feedback from people who tell me I have changed their perceptions of Muslims in some way, especially their perception of Muslim women, which tends to be extremely narrow and one-sided.

But of course I have received a ton of negative responses and even in everyday life there are people who assume a million things about me because I'm a Muslim – they assume that I must be homophobic, or anti-semitic, or "oppressed", or subservient to men. A lot of the time, they really cannot see beyond that, and it doesn't matter what I say to counter their claims because they will always view religion as inherently destructive and wrong, and by extension they will always view me through this lens. So while I have no desire to prove my humanity to people, I sometimes like to engage with them and open their minds. Depends what kind of day I'm having!

What image comes to mind when you think of God? My concept of God is kind of defined by the fact that I can never truly conceptualise God! My Islamic understanding is that God is beyond anything we can ever imagine... beyond time and space... beyond what we understand as human characteristics. However, we have a small window of insight into the creator, through the creation. I believe that God is all-powerful and all-merciful, yet at the same time so far beyond our own ideas of power, intellect and mercy.

Do you believe in heaven? What is your vision of heaven?
Yeah I believe in heaven. The Qur'an gives us some insight into heaven using beautiful imagery of flowing rivers of milk and palaces for the righteous. But what really resonates with me is the idea of this place devoid of any ill-feeling or hardship. Being with our family and loved ones for eternity without any suffering. That's what appeals to me about heaven.

What’s been the biggest test of your faith? The biggest test of my faith has been my own desires, to be honest. People often assume that Islamophobia and this deep distrust of Muslims is the most difficult thing we face as Muslims in the West right now. But for me, it is my own willpower that is a constant struggle. My own propensity to indulge in self-destructive behaviour against my better judgement. My struggle to maintain a good character, to control my temper, to show kindness, to be patient. These things test me every day.

Have you ever been shown prejudice because of your religion? Of course. I have grown up hearing negative comments about Islam and Muslims ever since 9/11 really, which happened when I was a young child. From people at school/work/university. Everywhere. Most recently, I was doing an interview on online Islamophobia with the BBC in the park, and a random white guy would just not let me do the interview in peace. He seemed visibly agitated by a girl in a hijab talking to a news camera. He kept making snide remarks and when asked to stop he said, "We don't have Sharia law in this country" which was obviously symptomatic of his irrational fear of Muslims taking over the world or something that he projected onto me. It pisses me off that these older men always seem to target young Muslim women and expect us to say nothing. These people do not want a debate, they want to shout abuse and get away with it. Well, I gave him a telling off and responded to some of his misguided remarks... and the video clip actually went viral!

Would you say London, and the UK, is tolerant towards your religion? I think it's important to understand that London is not a microcosm of the rest of the UK. While I think London overall is quite tolerant due to its multi-ethnic population, this isn't necessarily a reflection of the UK. I've heard some awful stories of racist and Islamophobic violence and verbal attacks happening across the UK, some even resulting in death.

How would you describe your relationship with your God? Well, it's up and down! Sometimes I feel like I run away from God when I'm going through a difficult time. Other times, I feel closer to God than I feel with any human in my life.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.

Tilla, 30, artist

What's your heritage?

What religion are you?

Were you brought up religiously?
I was brought up with a very strong religious and cultural identity, but in a non-traditional household. My mum was part of the radical feminist movement and our household was very much part of that '80s left Stoke Newington scene. There was always a degree of balancing political and personal ideology with religious practice. To make keeping kosher dietary laws easier, we were vegetarian. I went to a Jewish primary school. We’d go on Friday to Ridley Road market to buy challah bread, and we lit candles and had traditional Friday night dinner to welcome in Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath), when I wasn’t allowed to turn on the TV or touch anything electric. As I got older and my mum left the more radical circles, we became more traditionally observant and moved to a more Jewish area of London.

What parts of religion did you like as a child?
I loved Friday nights, the combination of ceremony and food, the quiet intimacy of carrying out religious practice in your house. I loved it when we built a succah in our garden. Synagogue was different – I loved singing together in a community, the way the person leading prayers also responded and worked with us, creating a wonderfully dynamic and harmonious sound – and I loved helping! The community we were a part of was very nice and relatively liberal, so I always felt pretty at home there and like I was participating in the services. For me, spirituality is about your relationship with God, but religion is about your relationship with people. It’s how you build communities with shared beliefs and values.

What parts did you not understand or not like?
When I was young, our Synagogue was far away so on Saturday morning we’d drive to get there, which is not allowed (even though a large number of traditional Jewish people do it). It always felt odd – “Mum, can we put the radio on?” “No! It’s Shabbat!” “…but we’re in the car!”. I suppose it’s only when you become an adult you realise how much of life is about the compromises you make to get by.

Do you talk about your faith much?
My current day job is in a Jewish organisation, which means that I have the privilege of not having to constantly explain myself or my religion to people. It’s often exhausting being in an environment where you have to explain why you can’t eat or drink certain things – why you have to leave early on Fridays, and why you are leaving earlier now it’s winter than in summer. Having your heart sink when you see that all the festivals come out on Mondays and Tuesdays, so that for a month you’ll be rushing to prepare for the festivals, catch up with the work on the days you’ve missed, and have to face the ire of people who think you’ve had ‘a holiday’, let alone suddenly becoming general spokesperson for everyone of your religion or ethnicity. And well-meaning curiosity is fine, but how deep do you go? There’s several thousands of years of stuff to explain, and a simple answer is often simply not accurate.

I cover my hair with a headscarf, which is quite a visual signal of my faith. It can act as a bridge and a barrier. It’s really great talking about and sharing points of commonality with my Muslim bus friends or in shops. It does mean I get asked where I’m from a lot, and when I say “Hackney!” they usually answer “Yeah, but where are you really from?” I’m pale but not quite English-looking and covered up and wearing a headscarf, so it’s essentially a “what are you?” question. Within the Jewish community, it often means people think I’m far more hard-line and closed-minded than I am, and they almost always assume that I come from a very conservative and conventional religious family, so I often have to openly signal my liberal credentials and to let people know that they’re safe discussing things with me.

How does your faith feed into your work?
My work centres on themes of identity and childhood, and as my religious identity is so much a part of me it can’t help but be expressed in my artwork. However, I don’t use my art to put across any kind of religious message or to inspire faith. It’s more like background which helps set a context, and the work is definitely more culturally Jewish than religiously so.

Have you ever been shown prejudice because of your religion?
Luckily I’ve never had anyone directly accost me, although I have had people pointedly interrogate me – I’m fairly good at diffusing that, and I have quite a BBC accent so it’s never escalated and I often end up making them laugh which turns things round. Mainly I just get mistaken for other headscarf-wearing Jewish women (because we all look alike, right?).

Would you say London, and the UK, is tolerant towards your religion?
I think London and the UK are in general very tolerant, although I am worried by the rise in racist aggression. However, even if levels of targeted incidents have risen and we feel less safe, it’s nothing like the tensions in parts of Europe at the moment or the developments in the US. I also think that, living in ethnically diverse parts of London, I’m more shielded than I would be if I were living in a remote or isolated community in other parts of the UK. I love the way the areas of London change as different immigrant communities move in, the culture and history they bring, and the bits of British cultural identity they represent. I chose to be photographed in front of the East London Mosque because for me, it represents what’s so dynamic about London – it’s been a church and a haven for the Huguenot refugees, then became a synagogue and the spiritual home to the immigrant and refugee Jewish community, and now it’s a mosque and serves the latest wave of new Londoners to come to the East End. My grandparents escaped from Nazi Germany in 1939 and came to the East End – London is the reason we’re still alive.

Which 'rules' do you abide by, which do you take with a pinch of salt?
Religions survive by adapting and changing over time. I think the thing I take with the largest pinch of salt is the idea (which many religions have) of their branch being the true, original and utterly unchanged truth. Even in extreme religious communities, they make rulings on new developments in the world. Even if you decide to shut something out, you’re responding to it and setting your systems in relation to it. We all have to run just to stand still, but to deny that the Earth is moving beneath your feet is dishonest.

If you’d like to get married (or are married), would you/ did you have a religious ceremony? And is it important to you that your partner is of similar beliefs?
I’ve been married for what will be 10 years this summer. We met when we were both 17, although that wasn’t my life’s plan! We had a traditional religious ceremony with all our family and friends, which was wonderful, but really my focus was on living together as a couple post-wedding rather than getting to wear a white dress. We are both Jewish but we have quite different backgrounds – somehow, at 17, we arrived at a similar place from two different trajectories and then moved off in tandem together into our future. Living with someone else for the rest of your life, really knowing and understanding and working with them and loving them is hard, and it’s hard enough without cultural barriers, without that person really ‘getting’ where you’re coming from. Having the same cultural and religious background meant there was enough common ground for us to concentrate on the other things we needed to work on. It was the difference between sympathy and empathy.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.

Sarah, 29, writer/ editor

What's your heritage?
My dad is Egyptian, my mum is English.

What religion are you? Coptic, which is the Egyptian Christian religion, it's quite like Catholic. Most people in my church are Egyptian, but there’s also Sudanese, Eritrean, Ethiopian, European and British.

Were you brought up religiously? Yes. I was baptised as a baby in what looks like a jacuzzi in a Coptic church in Kensington with beautiful stained glass windows and almighty chandeliers. I went to this church every Sunday until I was about 15. Now I go about every 2-3 months.

Do you talk about your faith much? Rarely. Although I’ve just got a tattoo on my forearm that says “Lord have mercy” (Kyrie eleison) in Coptic, so I’m having to talk about it more now! People are usually surprised when I say I have a religion because I don’t behave like a religious person. When I was growing up I felt so embarrassed by it, I thought it was the least cool thing ever, but now I feel proud of it. It’s where I came from, it’s what I know, and it is pretty weird, but it’s also completely fascinating – this ancient Egyptian religion with all its idiosyncratic traditions and intense belief systems like heaven, hell, sin, repentance, condemnation – it makes you think very deeply from a young age about life, death, and what you choose to do in between. Although that type of thinking can give you a heavy heart.

What parts of religion did you like as a child? I always liked the community aspect of church. I felt at home with the smells of incense and the sound of the singing and the symbols and the triangle – most of the mass is sung in Arabic or Coptic by deacons who play these instruments to keep the beat. In Egyptian culture, everyone is your aunt or your uncle, and they’re warm, generous people. You grow up surrounded by people who aren’t your parents looking after you, kissing you on both cheeks to say hello, telling you off for talking during the service, trying to feed you at every opportunity. Everyone knows each other’s families, and there’s a real sense of care.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.
How about as an adult? I like seeing the people I’ve grown up with marrying each other and having children who now run around the church hall as we used to. That’s not what I’ve chosen for myself, but I see a lot of value and absolute trust in those relationships, which can be hard things to come by.

Do you pray? What about? I’ve prayed every night since I was old enough to talk and it’s a habit that’s stuck. I used to get very scared and worried as a child (it didn't help that I was taught about hell and evil spirits on a Sunday!) and saying a prayer soothed me. It still does. So I put my hands together and say thanks for all the happiness in my life and pray for particular people, and for peace. My generation’s obsession with mindfulness and meditation and yoga can be essentially summed up as the search for peace – I think we’re all looking for the same thing. I must say I don’t actually think prayer changes anything – if it did then terrible things wouldn’t keep happening – but I get something from it nonetheless.

Do you believe in heaven? What is your vision of heaven? I have one cute idea that children in heaven paint the sky every morning and that’s why it always looks different. That’s as far as I’ve got with heaven. If there is a heaven, I’m pretty sure I won’t get in because I’ve done a few really bad things in my time. Although my parents are exceptionally good people so they might be able to get me in – it's all about who you know.

What’s been the biggest test of your faith? I’m not a practising Christian – I don’t abide by most of the rules – but even as I’ve broken them, I’ve always believed in God. It’s just in my brain – as much as I believe that I’m sat at my desk right now, I believe in God. Maybe something awful will happen that will take away that belief but, as I said, I don’t believe the good that happens on this Earth, or the bad, is by the hand of God, therefore I don’t think I’ll ever not believe in God as a result of something bad happening.

Have you ever been shown prejudice because of your religion? I haven’t personally. But there is a long and violent history between Copts and Muslims in Egypt, and a few years ago in Egypt they did terrible things to each other, burning down churches and mosques and hacking each other up with machetes. Some of this tension exists in the UK, but hardly any.

If you’d like to get married (or are married), would you/ did you have a religious ceremony? I wouldn’t have a Coptic wedding unless I was marrying a Coptic person as I think a wedding should celebrate you as a couple not as individuals.

How would you describe your relationship with your God? In the words of Kanye West: “I want to talk to God but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long.” Though I pray every night, I worry that I’m too far gone (on the sin spectrum) to be heard.

Favourite religious verse? “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”
Photographed by Annie Collinge.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.

Jasmine, 33, international partnership manager

What's your heritage? I'm British Asian and I grew up in the Middle East.

What religion are you?

What do you believe in? I believe in one God. In my opinion, Sikhism is about seeing all human beings as equal and rejecting discrimination on the basis of race, gender, caste, creed or colour.

Were you brought up religiously? No, not really. I was brought up with a very linear view of religion, that we go to the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) every now and then, pay our respects and that’s about it. I didn’t even know what we were supposed to do in the temple if we stayed there for more than five minutes! My mum taught us some prayers and we said them every night, but we never really understood the meaning of them or the implication/impact they could have on how we live. I think my parents always wanted to learn more about being Sikh but they didn’t really know how to – also, living in Saudi Arabia where freedom to practise religion does not exist made it more difficult for them and they taught us the same ‘Sikhism’ they were taught when they were younger. Everything changed when my parents met an incredible person who had the time and patience to teach them the true meaning of being Sikh, including how to practice Sikhism through Simran (meditation) – he was probably the first person who didn’t judge my parents for drinking alcohol or eating meat or make them feel bad about their decisions (which is very common unfortunately!).

What parts of religion did you like as a child?
I loved the singing of hymns (Shabad Kirtan) and taking part in Seva – selfless, charitable, volunteer work that serves to kill the ego. I didn’t realise the value or meaning of Seva when I was younger, I think I enjoyed being part of a community.

What parts did you not understand or not like?
I never understood why we had to wake up so early to pray (5am, sometimes 4am!). When I was much younger I always thought that if I wanted to be a Sikh I would have to give up 'fun' things like listening to English music or wearing western clothes – which is completely inaccurate.

How about as an adult? I love the kindness and love that comes with being part of the Sikh community. In my experience, some of the most giving, charitable, non-judgemental and loving people I have ever met have been those who practice Sikhism. Also some of the most successful, which provides an interesting dynamic for me that it is possible to be both religious and ‘successful’ in the eyes of modern-day society and expectations.

My religion gives me faith in the life I lead and the decisions I make. In the grand scheme of things I am a very uneducated Sikh – my journey with my religion is only just beginning, but I already feel that I am a calmer, more rounded person because of it. My religion gives me an inner strength.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.
My biggest frustrations with Sikhism today are based on how the religion seems to have blended in with the culture and some practices are being implemented that are completely against what Sikhism is all about. For example, women have played an absolutely critical role in the creation and evolution of Sikhism, and gender equality has been promoted throughout, starting with Guru Nanak Ji’s wife, Mata Sulakhni all the way to Mata Sahib Kaur and the creation of the Khalsa. It pains me to see that still, in this day and age, some women in the Sikh community are being treated in an unequal manner. Additionally, the thought that some people in this day and age still believe in the caste system is beyond comprehension.

Do you talk about your faith much? Yes and no. As I have gotten older and become more confident with my beliefs, I do have the courage to bring it up when I feel it is appropriate. When I was younger and not fully understanding what it was that I believed in, I generally shied away from mentioning it, as I felt embarrassed.

Do you pray? What about? I do pray. There are five ‘set’ prayers a day but I think the great thing about Sikhism is that it is possible to pray through meditation, called Simran (repetition of God’s name) and that is generally what I try and do every morning (either at home or during my commute!). I do also find myself meditating throughout the day.

Have you ever been shown prejudice because of your religion? Growing up in Saudi Arabia was very difficult as practice of any religion apart from Islam is banned – religious freedom does not exist. Moving to the UK was a wonderful thing. I do not feel as though I have experienced prejudice personally, but it was very upsetting to hear about the Sikhs that were targeted after the 9/11 bombings.

Would you say London, and the UK, is tolerant towards your religion? Yes – I have lived in Gravesend, London, and now I live in Birmingham, and all have large Sikh communities.

If you’d like children, would you bring up your children religiously? Yes I would like to but ultimately it will be their choice how far they want to go with it.

If you’d like to get married (or are married), would you/ did you have a religious ceremony? I married a Sikh man. My upbringing has been in a very middle class ‘white’ environment and it was important to me to marry someone who understood my religion and my culture. It was an amazing bonus that the man of my dreams was a Sikh.

Photographed by Annie Collinge.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.

Meita, 29, fashion student

What's your heritage? I have a little bit of Sundanese and Minangese from my mum, and my dad is Javanese.

What religion are you? Muslim

What do you believe in? I believe in God and God as the higher power. This may sound very tacky but I also believe in doing good – in other words, karma. I think this is universal, it doesn’t matter what background you have or what religion you are, you get what you give.

Were you brought up religiously? My mum is a religious person so we had praying lessons every Friday, where we would learn to read the Qur’an and also learn the meaning of the Qur’an and each prayer, and we were also taught the meanings of Shalat and how to do them. My sister and I also participated in fasting since we were young. My mum was pretty liberal about teaching us religion – she never forced it and we were always allowed to question it.

What parts of religion did you like as a child? Ramadan has always been and will always be my favourite part. I’ve always found the meaning of it beautiful; how we need to rid our emotions and learn to be patient. It’s a time to be thankful and reflect.

What parts did you not understand or not like? My dad passed away when I was four years old. I remember asking my mum about him a lot. She would give religious answers and I never understood what she meant. What did "he’s in a better place with God" mean to a little kid? Or "God intended it that way". It took me a very long time to fully accept that God would take things from people. I never understood it when I was young – this concept of good and bad and that there is a reason why things don’t go the way we want in life. But another thing I also live by is that we are all temporary; we belong to God, he gave us life and will take it back when it’s time.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.
How about as an adult? I am still questioning why a Muslim can’t marry someone that is non-Muslim. Personally, I never judge anyone on his or her religion. I remember my mum reminding us in high school not to date a boy who's not Muslim. That was a period where she lost her vote against us! I just don’t understand why it’s forbidden. If I married someone who is also a Muslim but then my marriage ended up in a divorce because that person isn’t good for me, would that still be okay? Rather than me marrying someone who is non-Muslim and having a happy marriage.

Do you talk about your faith much? I don't talk about it when it isn't required just because Islam can be seen as something bad, something strict and disciplined, maybe even threatening. I remember talking to a few people here [in London] and when they found out what my religion is, they began asking questions about terrorists and all the violent things "Muslims" have done. There was also a time when I talked about it while I was having a glass of wine, and that person immediately judged me, saying that according to my religion I am not allowed to drink alcohol.

Maybe I don't like talking about it too much because of the outcomes that I've experienced and how Islam was / is perceived. For example, I know a lot of my friends are having a hard time applying for visas when they have an Arabic name, like Muhammad. But having Muhammad in the beginning of a guy's name is extremely common in Indonesia! When I travel overseas and people know I'm Muslim from my name, they just have this look.

With everything going on, Islam is commonly associated with something negative and I read newspapers or articles about kids being bullied or adults harassed for wearing hijab. I think it takes courage to stand up for your religion. I get scared sometimes when people ask what my religion is. But that is who I am and I should never be made to feel intimidated because of it.
What image comes to mind when you think of God? Everything. God is formless. God isn't a man or a woman. I believe He is in every act that we do – whether good or bad. When I see a breathtaking view, I see that as God because it is His creation. When I see the news about a natural disaster, I also see that as God, because that is God's act. It can be as simple as when I feel incredibly happy – I see that as God too. Or when I'm having a rough day and someone pops up out of nowhere and helps.

Do you pray? What about? I pray for my family. I worry a lot, and ever since I can remember it’s always been just the three of us girls (my mum, my sister and me.) Especially now that we’re far away from each other, I sometimes feel like the only thing I can do to help is pray. Mostly I pray that God will always look after us. I pray for our health in mind and body, and that whatever is given to us is for the best and at the right time.

Do you believe in heaven? What is your vision of heaven? I do believe in an afterlife. I believe that heaven exists and that hell exists. I don’t have an exact vision of what heaven looks like but I just imagine that heaven has different versions depending on each person.

Have you ever been shown prejudice because of your religion? I consider myself lucky that I've never experienced an extreme prejudice. I've only had the occasional people asking why I don't wear a hijab or why I dress "normally". I remember thinking to myself how funny it was that how Muslims dress isn't "normal".

Would you say London, and the UK, is tolerant towards your religion? I’m not sure because I haven’t lived in London long enough but, over the past few months, it seems tolerant because there are a lot of Muslims living here.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.
Photographed by Annie Collinge.

Debbie, 32, ASOS insider

What religion are you? Although I prefer the word faith, I am a Christian.

Were you brought up religiously? I was brought up attending church with my family but if I’m honest I was not a true believer. It was more out of routine that I attended. Church aside, my mum did not enforce Jesus on me – she taught me to pray and know God but pretty much allowed me to be a teenager.

What parts of being religious trouble you today? How unaccommodating the world/ people are of Christians (in certain arenas). There is so much everyday offence and judgement against Christianity but the same would never be allowed of other faiths. And it annoys me that people who have had a bad experience with a church or a Christian decide that all churches and all Christians are bad/ hypocritical. Churches are full of people – imperfect, hurting people – which a lot of people forget.

Do you talk about your faith much? It depends on the situation. In the context of work, I never came to ASOS to tell everyone I was Christian. But if I'm having a conversation with someone and I feel prompted to share my faith, then I will. It is something that has taken a me a long time to do as I never want to Bible-bash or offend but I have come to learn that sharing my personal experience and beliefs is usually the best way people listen. Some of my experiences have been painful and tough – so allowing myself to be open and vulnerable does much more than telling someone to go and follow Christ!

What image comes to mind when you think of God? It’s not so much an image but I think of how loving and forgiving He is of me. I mess up almost daily but yet He still chooses to love me and show me grace.

Do you pray? I do pray. I’m learning that prayer is a way to communicate with God and to be honest so I tell Him everything – from the serious (presidential elections in US, affliction, healing) to the not so serious (a new pair of designer shoes I’m wanting!). Prayer is also about listening to God – which many times I don’t do.

Do you believe in heaven? What is your vision of heaven? I believe in eternity and heaven is just a part of it. My vision of heaven is God at the throne and nothing but a continuous joyous praise party full of all the people who made it in.

What’s been the biggest test of your faith? The painful seasons of my life. The “God, if you love me why are you allowing this to happen?” times. There have been many of these times, including heartache and dealing with my mum’s depression. I’m still being tested now – but somehow it’s bringing me closer to God.

Would you say London, and the UK, is tolerant towards your religion? In some arenas, yes, London has been tolerant of Christianity, especially in comparison to other faiths, which is sad. However, more and more, I see Christians and what we stand for being discriminated against and our beliefs taken less and less seriously.

Which 'rules' do you abide by, which do you take with a pinch of salt?
Haha I would not call them rules! Personally I do try to abide as much as I can, but I struggle with some.

If you’d like to get married (or are married), would you/ did you have a religious ceremony? And is it important to you that your partner is of similar beliefs? Yes! I have tried dating non-believers and it adds unnecessary strain because of the clash. I hope to get married and yes will have the ceremony in a church.

How would you describe your relationship with your God? Like any regular father/daughter relationship: I confide in Him, run to Him, ask Him for things, learn from Him, cry to Him and also get put in my place by Him.

Favourite passage or saying? Psalms, chapter 23: 'The Lord is my Shepherd which will forever be in heart." It holds sentimental meaning because of a childhood experience.

Photographed by Annie Collinge www.collinge.com @anniecollinge

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