How Sinead O'Connor's search for spirituality and peace was reflected in her music

The Irish singer’s lyrics always found her asking questions about faith and love

Sinead O'Connor performs at Akvarium Klub in Budapest in 2019. EPA
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When Sinead O’Connor converted to Islam in 2018, it marked the end of a long journey in search of spiritual fulfilment.

She uttered the shahada – the Islamic declaration of faith – at the Islamic Centre of Ireland alongside Shaykh Umar Al Qadri, chief imam of the organisation.

Aged 51 at the time, the singer responsible for such hits as Nothing Compares 2 U and The Emperor's New Clothes went on to announce her embrace of the faith on her social media channels, as well as changing her name to Shuhada, Arabic for witness or martyr.

Video footage of her giving the shahada, uploaded to YouTube, gained heart-breaking prominence with the news of her death on July 26, aged 57.

O’Connor was found “unresponsive” at her home in Herne Hill, south-east London, on Wednesday. Police called to the residence said her death was not being treated as suspicious.

According to Al Qadri, despite O'Connor's reported struggles, her devotion to the faith will leave a legacy as important as her body of work.

“She spent the last years of her life as a Muslim woman and phenomenal artist," he said.

“A hijab-wearing woman who represents the very diverse and inclusive world that we are in today. I think that she should be remembered for that.”

As for O'Connor herself, she described her embrace of Islam as the “natural conclusion of any intelligent theologian’s journey".

It was also a journey O'Connor recorded in song.

Songs of faith

Faith and spirituality abounded O’Connor’s three-decade body of work, with the singer taking her inspiration from various spiritual texts, including the Bible.

Her lyrics were often written from the viewpoint of a seeker, whether of love, salvation and acceptance.

Her eclectic 2000 album, Faith and Courage, had her grappling with her beliefs in an increasingly cynical world.

In the gentle opener, The Healing Room, O’Connor whispers over minimal electronic beats: “I have a universe inside me / Where I can go and spirit guides me / There I can ask oh any question / I get the answers if I listen.”

While over the lush keyboards in Hold Back the Night, O'Connor croons "I want to walk into the light / Day has turned cold / So hold back the night".

O'Connor was more forthright in her acoustically driven 2007 album Theology, a collection of songs inspired by the Psalms of the Old Testament.

If You Had a Vineyard is based on passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah, while Whomsoever Dwells contains lyrics from her favourite, Psalm 91.

“Whatever I may say about religion I actually love religion,” she said in an interview with the website Cross Rhythms. “I'm very inspired by love in the different religions and so if I critique it, it's not from the point of not liking it - you know what I mean? But I think that sometimes the nature of the God character can be portrayed perhaps inaccurately, in a way which can be off-putting to a lot of people.”

O'Connor's search for inner peace, which she spoke of in her work and which eluded most of her troubled life, began to bear fruit in her final album, I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss.

Released in 2014, it was by far her most optimistic and sprightly collection of songs in a decade with its lyrical themes of self-love and redemption. This was best encapsulated in her radio-friendly single, Take Me to the Church, in which, over driving guitars, she declares a newfound artistic vision.

“I'm gonna sing songs of loving and forgiving/ Songs of eating and of drinking/ Songs of living, songs of calling in the night/ Cause' songs are like a bolt of light/ And love's the only love you should invite.”

The success of that album resulted in O'Connor making her debut performance in the UAE in 2015.

In her potent interview with The National, O'Connor said she was a fiercely minded individual who says what she means.

This can, perhaps, put to rest any suggestions that her embrace of Islam was nothing other than a considered and deliberate decision.

"I think everything through before I act,” she said.

“I think it comes with being Irish – we are opinionated people and not the kind to keep our mouths shut, so it would be against my nature to not speak out.”