Conversion Story For Sabina KananiPublished on 21 Apr 2020
My name is Sabina Kanani and I'm originally from Mombasa, I was born in Mombasa. I have very fond memories of Mombasa. I remember my early childhood there, a very happy childhood. I remember the schooling there. I was in Mombasa till about standard four before I immigrated to the UK. It was probably the first flight I got on, from Africa to UK. And the move was.... I think it was very young. So I had one year of primary education in the UK, and then obviously did all the secondary education in Birmingham, and have been living in Birmingham ever since.
My parents are no more at the moment, but I've got four brothers and I had one sister, which, unfortunately I lost three years ago. I had a very loving relationship with my family, we were very close, because I was the second youngest out of the siblings, and because obviously, I was a mischievous one. So I had a very nice upbringing, and very, very nice childhood.
Before I got married, after leaving school, I started working as a dental nurse. I qualified as a dental nurse and worked as a dental nurse for a few years, and later, after getting married, I changed my career and became an Asian mental health practitioner. So I started up a career in counseling for the Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Trust, and I've been working for them for 25 years.
I was very passionate, because with my own personal experiences, I felt that there was a gap where I didn't have that support and that service which I would have benefited from. So it naturally attracted me to that career where I felt there was a need for talking therapies where people could ventilate, people could talk about their emotional and psychological issues.
I was born as a Hindu, and my parents... I was brought up in a very religious environment, especially my mother was very religious. I, too, practiced Hinduism, religiously and fully. But from a very early age, I had some very sort of bigger questions about life, and always felt that I didn't get the answers in Hinduism. And when asking the questions, I was always told that just believe, and don't ask too many questions. And this happened from very... in fact, when I was in Mombasa I used to get really attracted to the adhan being recited. There was a nearby mosque where I lived. And although I couldn't understand Arabic, or anything at that point, but I used to just love the adhan being recited.
And then there were experiences when I was in my teens, in Birmingham, where I would speak to people of other religions, like Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christian missionaries, and would invite them in and speak to them about wanting to know about their religion, and what the beliefs were and what the practices were. So I think, there was a time in my life, when I was looking and searching for something more, and didn't feel that I was fulfilled.
In Mombasa, I just had a neighbor who was a Khoja Shi'a, but didn't know a lot about the practices. But the only thing I knew was, we used to have a house with two balconies in and people used to come in and just use our balconies, because the julus used to go past our house for Ashura. So when they used to have the julus passing by, obviously, we were Hindus, so my mother, we respected all religions at that point. So she would take a coconut, and she would crack the coconut, and give the coconut as fatiha for people who were there. So it was a sign of respect for Islam. That was only what I knew about Islam at that point.
But then, when I came to the UK, it was in school, I had a few Khoja friends. But again, it was like, I think the only thing that I related to Muslims were like Pakistani, you know, in inverted commas. So that's what I knew, I thought that was just Pakistani Islam. But didn't know much about it whatsoever, or just thought that yeah, it's somebody who's practicing a different religion, but not really getting sort of taking it on board. Until I obviously came in contact with my husband. And that's where everything sort of took a turn.
First of all, I knew my husband from school days, but then we sort of didn't see each other for six years. I mean, there was nothing in school. Six years later, he sort of just turned up at the surgery that I was working at, and brought his mother there. And we just got talking and saying, like, oh, you remember the school days and things. There was nothing there at all, sort of relationship wise or anything. And then he said, well, you know that we can't have a relationship because we have different religions. So I said, yes, obviously not. So he said, you're going to marry a Hindu when you get a proposal and that. And I said, yeah fine, that's how it is and obviously nothing can happen between us.
And then, suddenly, it's my family. To this day, I don't know how they found out, because we weren't together or anything like that. But one day, my brother phoned me at work and said, I'm coming to pick you up. So, because obviously they were very protective of me, my family, and I was under sort of very restrictive environment. And my brothers were always, because I was the second youngest, very protective of me. So he came to pick me up. And then from that day onwards, he sort of said, look, this can't happen, it's not possible. Because I know, you just talking, we were just talking, he would just come and we would just talk and things.
And from then onwards, it became sort of very difficult because I spoke to my husband, and what he did was he said, look, I'll come and speak with your family and see. And we were sort of, all of a sudden, it became like from nothing to we have to get married, all of a sudden, that was the only option. So because I think there was a lot of pressure from my family, that there's something more, there was a lot more read into what wasn't there at the time. So this sort of carried on for a few months, and my family started becoming very, very strict on me to a point where we had these conversations with his family. And they just basically said, look, you can't see each other, and that's it, they stopped me working.
I was under house arrest for 10 months. So my family actually locked me up in the house for 10 months, so that I wouldn't meet him or have a relationship or actually even talk to him. So for 10 months, I was in the house, where it was literally lock and key. I was always accompanied by my sister in laws, either my brothers or other family members.
And I had to give up my work as well. So I literally spent most of my days just praying as to I don't know what is happening in my life, and I don't know why it's happening. And I just need some answers. And I think by the end of like 10 months, I was getting very, very emotionally and also mentally quite... it was getting difficult because I wasn't allowed to go out and see friends, I wasn't allowed to go out anywhere. So it started becoming very, very difficult.
And then one day I spoke to my husband, and what he said was, look, I still care about you. And the only way it's going to happen is you'd have to leave home. Because otherwise, you can't get your family to understand, they're not going to understand. So at that point, I was confronted with either going into an arranged marriage, which my brothers were saying there were proposals that were coming for me, and also, they were saying we'll go to India and get you married off. Or taking this step, which I took at that point where I just left home with two pairs of clothes, and not knowing where I was going, what was going to happen in my life.
But just before leaving, I remember praying so much. And saying specifically that, God, I don't know what your name is, what to call you, or whether you're a Hindu god or a Muslim God or whoever you are up there. I don't know, I'm taking this step, if Islam is the right religion for me, then make me successful in what I do, and let things work out and guide me. But if for whatever reasons, it's a mistake, and I'm wrong in what I'm doing in my decision, then I will come back to Hinduism and practice wholeheartedly Hinduism. And if it's Islam, then I will practice Islam and be faithful to that religion for the rest of my life.
And I think the challenges were because it was people that you love, it was your brothers, your immediate family, your blood relations. So there were a lot of turmoil, with emotions. Also the outer community, people from outside. And they were obviously... there was this fear of what will people say, how do we explain this, because we are going back 20 years, and at that time it was very, very difficult thing for Hindus and Muslims to get married.
He gave me... there was one Know Your Islam book, which, during the 10 months, that I went through and read. And also, for that year, which I was at home, I fasted in the month of Ramadhan as well, under taqiyyah for that month and it felt very right for me, even though I didn't know where it was leading.
But after marriage, I had a lot of opportunities to research, to do courses, to do a lot of training, find out more about the Ahlul Bayt. And Shi'aism which has been an ongoing journey, even now, which we say, knowledge never stops from cradle to grave.
I think it was... obviously my husband was the medium, because he was a Shi'a from the Khoja community. So there were obviously conditions at that point that you would have to convert and obviously become a Shi'a Muslim at the time. So that was, I think it was a medium for me to come via the marriage into the religion. So came straight into Shi'aism. So at that point, it wasn't researched into, it was later where I started looking into other sects. I still feel that I'm right replaced.
I think with I immediately I'm all right with my parents. Because my parents, from the time where they would cross the road if they saw me, to the time where when my father passed away I managed to go, I'd see him. And also when my mother passed away, she actually resumed contact, well, I resumed contact with her. And I think she was quite satisfied and quite sort of happy with the person that I turned out, because she said, any religion can't be bad if you've turned out the way you've turned out, because obviously she saw me grow from who I was to what I'd become.
I changed tremendously, because I think it was a total adapting a new identity, which came from a name to the way I dressed, to the way I related to people, embracing new community members, new friends, because everything that I'd left behind had to be replaced into this new religion and the new community. And it took me through the journey of becoming a wife, daughter in law, sister in law, there were quite a few roles within, as a community member. And finally, a very honored mother of two boys. And through those roles, I still maintained to follow the duties and obligations as a community member as well as a family member.
One of the benefits of being in the Khoja Shi'a community, it's a very thriving, very active community where there's a lot of access to education, be it lectures, seminars, constant majalis, so it was right from day one. In fact, we actually got married just after Muharram and Safar, in the eighies.
So, since then, onwards, I've been attending regularly, majalis, courses and training and things and where I've, that's where the research has come from, and also having friends who are from a different school of thought, to be able to speak to them, and, obviously, having the curiosity, because you're a convert/revert into a new religion. So I think it's been a sort of ongoing journey, even now, I'm still learning and finding out more about, I mean, not just Shi'aism but other schools of thought, because I'm doing a lot of interfaith work within the community.
I saw a gap, I felt that there weren't enough support for converts and reverts coming into the community or into the religion. So that's one of my future initiatives that I would like to look into starting up a support group or something, where I thought that maybe I could have had more support or others could have had more support, I want to be able to offer that to other people.
The hijab concept, I think, initially, it was very much a sort of a traditional custom, which was expected because you'd married into a family, okay, now, you are wife, so you're a role model, so you have to wear it. So I think initially, I started wearing it, sort of, on and off, it wasn't continuous. But it was an expectation rather than something which I understood and chose to wear it at the time. Although, I don't think to this day, there is anything that I've had a disagreement or felt that no, I shouldn't do this as far as the practices are concerned. But having having said that, there are also some things where now you challenge, and you ask more questions as to why do we do this, or what's the rationale behind this?
So I think with the hijab, I did wear it sort of on and off, but I started wearing it permanently... I was blessed to go to the ziyarat of Imam Husayn alayhissalam in 2011. It was a life changing experience, and it was very, very spiritual for me, because everything that I'd heard over the years or from the mimbar, I actually could relate to it and see it. And, whereas they were just stories, now they weren't stories, it was all real. And when I prayed at the harams, and there was.... at that point, when I came back, I was asking myself as to, I've submitted to Allah, I'm following the religion, I'm doing everything, why am I still holding back, wearing the hijab full time. And at that point, I decided to wear it full time.
As I said, we're in the process of looking at support for converts and reverts to the community. But I think I was very fortunate in a sense that because I had an identity when I came into as so and so's wife, or so and so's daughter in law, that support they could relate to me as a person because I was already somebody in the community. But had I come through on my own, I think it would have been difficult. And there is still room for improvement, as far as the acceptance of converts and reverts stands. I feel there's a lot more.
But as I said, for me, the community welcomed me with open arms. And I think I've been supported in all the things that I would have liked to do as a community member, and work together. So I've been very lucky, I think. From from my experience, I feel communities can... I think it needs to come from both sides where converts and reverts need to have a certain way of trying to fit in and try and get that belonging that they seek within a community. And on the other side, for the communities to be able to... because I think at the moment it is difficult for communities to... I still get asked, I get stopped and asked, what made you change your religion, what made you convert? Because I think it's still difficult for people to actually understand why people do it. And also the fact that I don't think communities sort of understand the sacrifices and the pain, and sometimes there's a lot of things, painful trauma involved for the converts and reverts when they're coming to a community. And I think if the community actually had more awareness around that, that would go a long way, because at the moment I think it's difficult to have that communication.
I think, basically, I feel that you just need to follow your heart and really ask those bigger questions. The questions that I asked myself in the early years is still... what is your purpose in life? Things like, just attaining material things in life and just eating, sleeping and getting a career didn't seem enough for me. I knew there was something much more that we are created to do in the realms of spirituality. And I just think that people need to, rather than just researching outside, look within themselves. Because the inner journey is the most important journey because the answers are within yourself. So look into yourself, listen, meditate and prayers in order to be able to connect with yourself and Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala.
This video was first published on 12 Jun 2017 by ABTV Reborn as Reborn - My Hindu family kept me away from my Muslim Husband. We are grateful for their cooperation.