Conversion Story For Fahima MahomedPublished on 10 Jan 2020
Salamu alaykum. My name is Fahima Mahomed, I am currently working as a life coach and an NLP practitioner, and I have been doing this for the last couple of years. My background is really in business management and I worked in a law firm, but since then I've been married, having two children, and it's only recently that I've had the life coaching career. Previously, I have been raised and brought up in South Africa. That's where I was born, and my family are all from there from many, many decades ago. I have history, probably from my dad's side, who are from Afghanistan. A lot of South Africans, actually the Muslims, they come from Malaysia, Indonesia and parts of Asia.
But I consider myself South African, because we've been there for so many years. However, we grew up in a society that is of minority Muslims, but we have a very strong influence within the country. So we can hear the adhan, we can perform whatever rituals that we feel we can. So growing up as a Sunni, I was very much exposed to religion in a big way. Because the Muslim community in South Africa, even though they're in small numbers, they do practice and the Sunnis in South Africa, when I was growing up, actually did majalis and they did actually recognize the Ahlul Bayt. And for my family, it's quite normal.
So it's only when I actually came to London, when I was 11, that I realized the actual differences between Shia and Sunni, I never really heard of that too much growing up. And the curiosity started from when I was at college, when I was like, 16-17. I've heard bits and pieces of the Shia, people would mention that they're not really Muslim, or they don't believe in our Prophet (peace be upon him) because they believe in - the usual, you know - they just believe in Imam Ali alayhi assalam.
So that was my first understanding when I first heard of Shia Islam, when I was in college. And I met an Iraqi girl, she was my tutor when I was in college. And you know, we started talking, we were really good friends, and I questioned her about Shia, and so she gave me lots of books and information, and I met her family. And in my college, there was a group of Iraqi people, and so I just generally became friends with that group, and sort of hung around with them a lot. And especially her and her family.
And then when I read the books, I became more knowledgeable about it, and I was like, Oh, you know, this is what I've heard, that you're not really Muslim, and she started laughing, and then just kind of explained it to me. And just being curious, the kind of person that I am and being brought up in a family that allowed me to be curious, because even though we have our ways, I was lucky enough to be brought up in a family that actually allows me to open my mind and to study more, and be open to learning more than just what they have taught me. And that's why it's led to this.
As I read more about Shia Islam, it made so much more sense to me. It kind of answered questions that I felt I was never really told about before, and things in the past were very general or on the surface. Whereas when I studied more and read more about Shia Islam, it just sat naturally to me and it made so much more sense. And I've always prayed, and my family have always made me - like, when it's Friday, you know, when it's Thursday nights, when it's certain times of the week, the month, whatever, we had to pray, we had to do our salah, we had to read Quran, and we were brought up like that. So I felt that I always had the guidance and I wanted more.
So for me, this was like an opening. This was for me, a way of going into a path that was really what was meant to be. So even though I moved from South Africa at the age of like, 10-11, came here and did my high school, and continued with my family, still praying and never left our religion and our ways of being brought up.
When I was in college, I think that's when I really chose my religion. So it wasn't really about Shia, it was me wanting to know how to live. And at that age, I was curious about what I can and cannot do, and I'd ask my parents more questions about the meaning and the understanding of Islam. So when I read the books from the Shia sect, it gave me all the answers that I was looking for, very quickly. And it just made sense.
Just generally, I think about everyday life, and who to follow and the way in which the Shia - they have a certain way and understanding of explaining things generally, how to live, and whatever questions like the way in which we pray, and why we would pray on the turbah, for example, and obviously, reading the book Then I Was Guided, it was basically everything in there. That was a journey that I felt I was following and sort of living myself. And I didn't even know I was going to go into this path, because at the same time, I actually put the hijab on as well, because I wasn't wearing the hijab until the age of like, 17.
And I did it even before I left college, because I was almost finishing college and I could have done it thinking no one knows me, and I could start fresh at university. But for someone like me, the way I've been brought up, it's not about other people, it's not about doing things for anyone, it's really about doing it for me, because that's how I was brought up by my family. So, and I have a very strong personality, and I have a very strong backing on thinking like that. So for me, it's like, it didn't matter that I only had a few months left and then I could have started fresh and put the hijab on.
I did it there and then, so those current friends could see me and my changes. And it wasn't about anyone, it was about my belief. I constantly felt that I wanted to wear it, and I didn't like the way I looked and I didn't feel good about myself, because everywhere I went, I saw people with a hijab and like few years - like 15 years ago, it wasn't that, you know - in the area that I live, in Richmond in Surrey, you don't see that many, maybe now more, but even still. So it was always in front of me, like as if it was a sign for me to put it on.
And at the same time having my friends around me who were Shia, and then I went to the Khu'i, that was the first mosque that my friend took me with her mom, and she's quite old, and I'd make sure I'd sit next to her and get a chair for her and I'll sit by her feet and she'll explain to me what was being said, and the a'mal, and everything made sense. And we'd go for Muharram, and I went for even the March for the Arba'een and the 10 days, and it was just amazing in London.
And I remember it being so hot, wearing all black, but everyone was there marching. And the feeling was unreal, it was just - it was this place that I needed to be and it felt that this is Islam, this is the way, this is how life should be living as a Muslim.
And as for my family, at first, when they saw me put the hijab on they were like - they didn't think I was serious, because I was quite young. They never stopped me, they just questioned me, are you sure you know, you want to do this? And because my mom doesn't wear it and at that time, my younger sister obviously didn't wear it. So it was only me, so it was a big step. And I was like, I'm putting it on. And that's it. And that was a decision. I never looked back with regret or anything, even though it was slightly difficult, but I made it work. And I just went with it.
So it was... it's an age where most people sort of rebel, but I went the other way because I felt I needed stability, in my mind, in the way I was living. So when I put the hijab on that was the first step, and then I read so much. I read about Karbala, I read so many books, don't ask me the names, I read loads and I need to go back and re-read. But when I did read those books, it was just so inspiring.
It helped me understand who I was as a human, my reasons for being here. We have the Quran, we have the translation, we have all the stories that we hear from the imams in the mosques, but when you just read books from the Shia sect, for me, it opened up so much more meaning and understanding about everything.
And questions generally are like, why are we here, why are we doing what we're doing, the inspiration of all the characters that are mentioned. And just generally the stories, it just made sense. It was like chronologically, from the time of our Prophet (peace be upon him), as well as the family and the stories of even the companions and everything, it just - sort of like the puzzle just came together. And it just made sense.
It wasn't surface, it wasn't just talk from picking hadith from this book or that book, everything just was solid. That's how it felt. It was just really solid information. And even as I'm growing up, at a certain age to choose a certain marja' to follow, that for me, also gave me like, Islam being current, because I could go somewhere, not just follow some imam or someone that's just given a fatwa or whatever it is on certain rulings. It was really - how can I say, it was just very current, it was modern, because this is Islam.
It's everyday living, it's about issues that we're dealing with in this current situation. And I could go and get answers. So that's why I felt that, now I truly understand my religion, now I truly understand what Islam means. And things I've heard growing up, it kind of made sense now.
And my family, they didn't really say much about me being Shia because for me, I just prayed, I did what I did, and I just - I learned how to pray in the Shia way. And it just really happened so smoothly, and they probably didn't notice, but what they noticed was the fact that I was changing to be someone who was much more responsible, anyway, much more focused.
And to be fair, my dad always lectures us as a family after Friday prayers, and he'll come and tell us what happened in the khutbah, and whatever it was, it always related to what I was going through, in anything in life. So he's done that up till today, he's my life coach, and my mom's always like, you have to pray, you have to dress a certain way, you have to have respect, whether you wear hijab or not, you have to have manners, akhlaq, discipline, everything, respect...
So the combination of my parents was the foundation for me to actually grow. And the way in which they taught me Islam is that I'm open, and when I told them and explained to them about the Shia, in the fact that it's something that we did in South Africa as well, but only it's limited. And the Shia, it's a whole body of exactly what Islam should be, from beginning to end.
So they didn't really isolate me or think I was strange or deter me from being in that direction, they just let me be, but we do have our debates about certain things. And, now it's a healthy debate because it's just us sharing different ideas. And we are respectful. And it's strange because my children and I, we will pray differently, we will have different Eid, but we'll go maybe travel, so we can, you know, break our fast to celebrate with the rest of the family, which most Shias would do, some even between the families.
And sometimes it might annoy my mom, because she's like, Oh, everyone should be the same, and this, that and the other. But at the same time there's a lot of respect for the fact that I have been brought up with my family being Sunni, and me taking on being Shia, and we still make it work. They haven't isolated me.
When I went back to South Africa, though, to be fair, a lot of people were alarmed by the fact that I was vocal that I'm Shia but I was quite proud to just share the information that I know, and whatever they thought, that's their opinion. But I'm strong only because of my belief in my faith, and my values. So, if people don't like it, then that's their thing. And I haven't had any one to one, real aggression, I was quite fortunate in that way. I don't know what the future is going to be like for my children, being in a family that is mixed like that.
And obviously, nowadays it's slightly more testing and challenging, but at the same time I have brought them up to understand that this is the way forward and I want them to also take on the journey that I have, and learn and read more. Because Reborn is not just about Sunni to Shia, it's so many stages in life.
And even being brought up as a Muslim, as a Shia, you really have to go out there and search, you really have to take your religion for yourself, not just because your family have given you that gift or you're blessed in that way, you really have to take it upon yourself and choose for yourself your religion, even if it means the same, but take that responsibility of learning and educating yourself so that it's not just given to you and you're just following it blindly. And then I think that everyone will be reborn, because they've taken it upon themselves to do.
I was married to an Iraqi for over 11 years. And I didn't wear the hijab for him, I didn't become Shia for him, I was all of that before. And people nowadays they choose after, which is also fine, as long as you're strong to know that it's something that okay, you love that person, you want to be with that person and you want to follow their way. But I think it's more important to choose because of the love of Allah.
And I think it's important so that whether that person's in your life or not, you've got to carry those values and beliefs, regardless, and especially when there's children, then they're not going to be confused because you're not confused. So I chose to marry a Shia because I felt that that's my way of living. People can choose and say it doesn't matter whether Shia or Sunni, and no, it doesn't matter.
We're all Muslim, we have the basics and the foundations, but the way in which I live my life, it is part of my life, my religion is part of my life, the way I pray, the mosque that I go to, I would go to different mosques, but the way in which I choose to pray, the way in which I choose to follow certain rules and regulations, and I want my kids to have that influence, then it's easier for me to have someone of the same understanding and belief. So I chose to marry someone who was Shia. And that was the first attraction to marry, and he happened to be Iraqi and we were married for over 11 years, have two beautiful children. Unfortunately for me, I was betrayed and we ended in divorce not very long ago, about a year and a half ago.
And that was another journey for me and another challenge for me because I was kind of reborn again. First hijab, and then you know, change of sect, and then having children is a challenge and coming into a new community, Iraqi, everyone sticks to their own. It's not just Iraqis, the Pakistanis, everyone, and being South African and being in the minority even again in England, there's not many Muslim South Africans here. And I was in a crowd of Arabs, mainly Iraqi from college. And I felt like I sat with them quite well and I love the culture.
And for me, it wasn't so much to do with Arab, it was more to do with the Shia, and I blended with the going to the mosques and meeting those sort of people. And I made friends personally. But being divorced was a real challenge for me, because I'm playing both roles, mom and dad. Even the dad is present but when you're not in the house, you're not in the house, and it's not the same and you can give all the financial backing and you can come however many hours a week, it's not the same as being there 24/7 and taking on the responsibility, what your kids are going through.
So, my faith really came in then, because a lot of people, they will fall and crack and break. Even though I felt it inside I didn't show it, because that's when my belief really, really shined. Because I knew that this was a test and a challenge. So, and it's from Allah. And it's only a blessing.
Actually, we mention a lot of the Imams and we have inspiration from them. But just the other day I was talking to somebody, and you know, people are like we don't have time to learn about these things. But sometimes you just question someone, like who inspires you and he told me a story of the seventh Imam, Imam Musa al-Kadhim alayhi assalam, and he was imprisoned for most of his life, I think 34 years altogether.
But the way in which he looked at it was the fact that he thanked Allah for the fact that he was in prison because it gave him the opportunity to actually be like - he looked at the prison as a sanctuary. So that he can pray within those four walls. And that sort of touched me because I felt that, in life we have so many challenges and we look at it as like, Oh, we're being punished, and we cannot handle it, and what did we do wrong? And why do we have to go through this, and we don't deserve this.
But the reason why I have my career is only because of my belief in my religion. I look at life coaching because it's so easy for me because I have been taught to live that way, from my belief, and this story has inspired me and I'm like, it's how I've taken on my challenge because I'm like, Okay, I'm in this situation where I'm divorced, I'm left with my kids, and it's not a nice situation, the opportunities are not the same. But at the same time, I know there's a reason for this and I'm going to grow from this, I'm going to be stronger, I'm going to evolve. And I don't know how I had the strength - well I do, I prayed, and I cried, not just in front of my family and friends when I needed to, but in my salah, when I'm talking to the one person that I have the most connection with, and at the end of the day you only need that.
I think you have to know yourself very well. If there is a gut feeling for you to go out there and search, for you to go out there and find out, just do that. Read a lot, and talk to people. People give you advice by not even giving you advice, by just sharing their own experiences. I learn a lot from people and, they say that if you're clever you'll be experiencing things for yourself, but if you're wise you'll learn from other people's experience, you don't need to go through certain experiences, you don't have to go through everything in life to say that I've learned because I've been there, I've done that.
I watch people, I take it in good and bad. And you have to be open to exploring, you have to be open to being uncomfortable, you have to be open to facing a little bit of discomfort. Because when we are just so used to the same old routine and life and it's easy, and our family did it this way so we're just going to follow it this way because that's the right way. It's kind of like a really - it's a cop-out, it's kind of like a very simple way of living. And when people like that live, they do tend to be very unfulfilled and unsatisfied and actually unhappy.
When you go out there living life because you're passionate - and you can be passionate about any job. It's not about having the top job, it's about making that job top because you feel and you look at it as a calling. It could be however low or high in whatever people look as certain professions. But even I know, my car battery ran out the other day and I met this guy from the AA and we had an amazing conversation. And he looks at his job as being something as helping people, it's a service, whereas others will be like, Oh, I'm just fixing someone's car. So it's how you look at life, it's how you perceive things. You can make anything passionate, you can make anything beautiful and wonderful. If you feel that whatever you're doing is a service, it's a calling, and you look deeper for whatever it is that you're in. And yes, we all aspire to the norms of being on top of whatever game we're at, but I think by being where you are and making it the best is the most powerful way.
And if you want to search for more and if you want to read more, don't be scared of jumping into the other side of things, don't be scared of reading something or sharing something with somebody. I think that we just all want to conform, we all want to fit into certain societies and communities. We don't want to be individuals. Even I teach my children, people are like, Oh, how are we going to teach them not to do certain things because everyone's doing it. I'm like, So if everyone's doing it doesn't mean it's right. It's because you are making them feel that whatever we think everyone else is doing, that we have to do the same thing.
You see, we need to step back and learn how to live life as individuals. And we have to learn how to bring up our children as individuals, even from our own families, because that's what got me to where I am. And we have to be also aware that they're going to make mistakes, and we have to be there to be that support system and that influence and we've got to build that rapport, we've got to build the trust with the people in the family around us so that if they go astray, they're still going to come back to you and you're going to still have that impact on them, which is stronger than their friends, because you've got that trust and they know that they're going to trust what you say.
So you have to build your character. The only way you build your character with strength is to know yourself, is to have personal development, not in courses, not just that. These courses are just a foundation of you going and searching and seeking what you are. I don't get influenced that easily, I will learn from different books, I will read and get and do so many courses. And people will just go like a cult, and follow that particular way because it makes sense.
I take bits and pieces and I make it into what I know, that conforms to what my values and beliefs are, and that for me is my religion. That for me, is the way life should be lived. And our religion has all the answers. It's just that when you go to different courses, when you learn about mindfulness, when you learn about meditation, when you learn about all the different things, it's already in our religion, it's just that we don't know how to read it properly.
But it's all in our religion. So everything I've learned, even psychology and being positive and existentialism, about philosophy in life, and how to be... It's all in Islam. But people are going to courses and they are making it like that's the way of living, which is fine because I want to attract all crowds, from all backgrounds. So I need that language, I need to articulate it in a certain way. But it's all within me anyway.
Because if you're brought up in the proper Islamic way, it's all there. The key is there. The treasures are there. And even if you don't have all the knowledge, if you have the belief that you want something and you pray and you ask sincerely, there is no way that it's not going to come to you. Absolutely none and I guarantee that.
This video was first published on 29 Sep 2017 by ABTV Reborn as Reborn - South African Sunni embraces Shia Islam. We are grateful for their cooperation.