Conversion Story For Hanan ChoulliPublished on 11 Oct 2020
My name is Hanan Choulli. I'm originally from Morocco. I was born in Morocco in a small city called Kenitra. I’m one of five children to my Mom and Dad. I lived in Morocco for 16 years. Then I got married and I came to England. Well, like I said, I'm the second eldest. I've got one brother he is older than me, then me, then three sisters. My childhood was simple I would say. My first memory of my childhood is being in the countryside. The house that we have in the countryside, every weekend, when we had school holidays, but Sunday mainly, and that was the best childhood I had in Morocco. And also playing outside with no fear, being a child being free. Knowing that neighbors, the whole community is like one family. That was my happiest childhood really. And my best memory is being with my siblings, being at home, being able to be a child, as seeing children today is different and that's why I feel sometimes sad, because today's children are not the same as how I've been brought up. I've been brought up playing with small stones, making your own doll, you know, create a game out of nothing, really, and make something out of nothing and we were happy.
I was brought up, I wouldn't say very strict, however, my mom and dad, they were strict in a way there were certain things we weren’t allowed to do and that is if I give you the example, we could have friends, friends could come over, but we were not allowed as girls, not talking about my brother, girls not allowed to go over and stay at their house or sleep over - things like that. We were brought up to study we were brought up to learn.
Ramadan was the best time. Ramadan was, you know, remembering it exactly like nowadays, long day, it was in the summer, we used to have Ramadan. And about studying or reading Qur’an or learning, you know about religion or about Islam. That was my Dad used to do that with us. Mom used to show us how to pray Dad used to taught us Qur’an and how to memorize the Qur’an and the routine we used to have it was quite he’ll wake up on Fajr prayer. And then we wake up. So we did a prayer and then we have to read Qur’an that was our routine when we were young. However, saying that, my dad was a very busy man. He was a Professor at University and he used to travel quite a lot. So it was down to my mom, and my mom as well, being a very strict woman, or maybe she didn't know much about Islam to teach us. She only taught us like the simple things. But the rest I would say that we've learned at school, when it comes to religion when it comes to whatever I knew about Islam, it came from school, and school itself, my memory of it then and what I know now, they didn't tell us - nothing really.
We only learned basic when I say basic its Arkan al-Islam, Rakat, Salah, things like that, but not a great deal when it comes to details of specific things. And that is to the age of 16. That's when I left Morocco at that age. Like I mentioned earlier, I was born in Medina, in a city called Kenitra lived there for six years, my memory of that city's not that great. However, from the age of six years, we moved to another city called Ksar El Kebir.
It’s like a big palace, and it was a very small city. It was when I say home, I'm going home it feels like home because everybody at that time you feel neighbors, you feel at school, you feel everywhere, that it's like a small community, but it's all connected. They were all caring for one another. They were all you wouldn't find what you find in a big city, like dressing. Even the language when you go to the big cities, they don't even speak Arabic, they speak French, most of the time and you do find yourself: ‘Oh am I in the Arab country? Or am I in France’ for example. But in […..], it wasn't like that. It was a proper my memory of it was a proper Arabic, Moroccan, traditional city. It's like any other city that you think because being small, you could go to the market. You know, it's only up the road, really, you don't have to travel miles. And everybody knew everyone else.
You could be outside and they know you're the daughter of so and so. another person yeah, he's the son of so and so or that person so that's how it was really in […..]. That was then, however, now it's changed. It's completely changed. And last time I've been there, which was last summer, I did feel a foreigner in my own city in my own country. I felt strange because the memory I have of it, it's completely now different. The children, the behavior of I would say the teenagers, the behavior, the culture changed in adults, and the way they bring their children. It's all about fashion. It's all about the latest song, it's all about the latest mobile, it's all about the plasma TV we have to have, it's all about material things as before. No, I don't remember. You know, […..] was like that. We were one of the houses in our community that had a phone line, a landline. And the whole of the community used it to call their families abroad. The number was given to them and then they would call and, you know, that's my memory of it. But now things like that don't happen, the caring for one another, it no longer exists. It doesn't exist as I was being brought up. That was then I could come from school my Mom is not at home, I go to next door neighbor, she would give me sandwich, she would do something, well, you know, look after me, until my Mom comes back, or vice versa. Her daughter, her children will come and my Mom would end up looking after them. That doesn't exist anymore.
Everybody's scared of what might happen to your kids, if they don't play outside because it's the kidnap of children. It's become something normal, it happens you hear it every day. The bad things the drugs as well. You hear so many young, this young generation, they’re addicted to drugs, they're addicted to certain, you know, to some stuff, you know, drug misuse, or it could be alcohol misuse. And it gets you to question why, where did that come from? It was never like that. But that's the changing. That's my memory of it then, and what I see now, it's a big contradiction of how it was, how it is now, how I come about to come to England, I got married. My husband came, asked for my hand and then families dealt with that, they talked to one another, and then I got married to him. And that was in 1988 and that's when I came to England. I was 16 at the time when I came here. And it was a shock at 16 years old, used to read about the city of fog, Medina at-dabab, a story I’ve read about when I was 13. And then you have a memory of London, in England. And then you come to the city. And it was to me, it was a big, big shock. I think it's the change of how you perceive things in your memory and how you hold things in your memory and then you see it for real and you see the people, you see the culture you see even the upbringing with what I saw in here, it was quite a big shock. But I came here in 1988. And that's where I started my journey here in England, in London. It was in New Barnet, that's where I moved first. And if I'm honest with myself, to start with, I did not like it.
It took me quite a few years to adapt to how paltry people are here. I felt like there is no al-haya that there isn't people with children or the upbringing of the children or the upbringing of the generation. You see, it's wrong. You see there is something's wrong. Even meeting the Moroccan families here, it was completely different than how I knew Moroccans, because I've just left Morocco, and came here. Yeah, I didn't like it to start with. But being married and you have to work at that and that's how I come to get to England. Well, when I first came to England, I didn't speak one word of English at all I only had Arabic and French. That's what I've studied in Morocco. So that's when I had to learn the language, the English language. At that time, my partner, he would not let me go to college, or study or just learn English he wouldn't. So I become a wife, a house, you know, then I felt pregnant with my first son, I had my son, and then life goes on. Then I had more children. Then they started to get to the school age nursery age. By that time, I've started to understand English I've learned, you know, I understand if someone speaks to me, I could reply. And I'm the sort of person I like reading. So I used to read anything, it could be a newspaper, it could be a magazine, it could be anything. Sweet raw power would read what's inside of even if I didn't understand. And I used to have a dictionary as well, to translate the things that I didn't understand. That's how I've learned English. I taught myself and my partner at the time his Arabic wasn't good. So he spoke Arabic, but it was a broken, as I call it so from him as well, I've learned a lot, but just how to speak it. Didn't know how to, you know, I could write it but I wouldn't be able to make a sentence.
Then my son started nursery. He was three years old, he started nursery because I have twins after him. He started earlier than normal in those days. Then he start to bring this small books A for Apple, B for Ball, D for Dog. So that's how I become to study English with my children. So I've started to as they grow older, I was helping them with their homework, I was helping them, teaching them and teaching myself. Then I had my fourth child. And then things I never studied, never went to college and never been to school never. But I've learned with my kids. As I taught them English, I taught myself English and then go to the library as well find a way of understanding certain subjects or because doing homework with children, it was quite hard for me, because English is not my first language and I'm still learning with them. But I did not let that beat me. So if I don't understand something, I would go to the teacher and I’ll say we need help with this for this homework to be done.
After that the kids start, you know the normal school age, coming from year one, year two, year three, I started working at their school, which was in Colindale in London as helping classroom assistant, it was just a few hours, it was voluntary. Just few hours, whenever I have spare time, I'll go and volunteer. That got me to know more about or it gave me an access to more of what I wanted to learn. So I had done, my spoken English got better. My written English started to get better. But I worked hard at it. So that was the start of how I learned English. Then the marriage broke up in 2001. At that time, the kids were still young, they were 11, the twins were nine ,and the little one she was four. And I had to move from London and go to women refuge in Watford. And that is due to domestic violence that I've experienced with their father lots of problems, lots of ups and downs. I try to hold on to the family not to separate the family. I've tried to take everything that if it's happened to me even though it was wrong. But you cope, you find somehow you coping for the sake of your kids, so you don't separate the family. And I did my best not to separate the family. But when it got to the point that my life was in danger, if I stay with this person, I left and I end up in a women refuge in Watford. Then another cycle began for me totally different.
As much as I knew certain things, but I didn't know about the law of the country, I didn't know what help existed at that time. I was scared, having no family here. My partner at the time, his family everybody was busy with their own lives and following whatever they were supposed to be doing. I felt trapped. But at the same time I was free from where I was. Because one thing I didn't want was my partner at the time, his idea of bringing the kids up was totally different than mine.
When a partner forbids you to speak Arabic at home, I was forbidden to speak Arabic or started teaching them Arabic as well. How to read it and write it wasn't allowed. It become really hard. And it's almost I was in war between what I want and what I'm facing! Or how, how am I going to go forward with this to make it to make a positive outcome? Really. Yeah, that was when I went to Watford. That was a new beginning. I see it as a new beginning for me. It was very hard, it wasn't easy with four kids, single parent and not knowing the system not knowing about help. However, I did find good people at the women refuge, which helped me, directed me, in different ways how to get about and how to get help. I stayed in that women refuge for about three and a half months, then I was given a temporary accommodation with my kids. And I was still in Watford.
Then because of the problems I had with my partner, he started my name was on the property that he had. And because of that, that caused a lot of problems for me to get anywhere to get a property. That lasted for quite a while from 2001 to 2005. Then an opportunity came for a job and I applied for that job. And then I got the job as a family support worker for this company that works with children. So what they do is any involvement with the kids, they are there. So that could be assessment, it could be supervised contact, it could be viability assessment, it could be helping a child being arrested and you go and be the adult for that child. It could be delivering a child from A to B from one. So I started that job, which means I had to move from Watford because the company's based in Dunstable. So I moved to Dunstable and that's where my career started. I started as a family support worker doing everything that like I said, involved kids doing spot checks as well. Doing respite for autistic children, help autistic families to understand their children. And at the same time, as I was doing this, I've taken […..] in childcare, I've taken a diploma as well in childcare. I did a lot of in-house training and courses as well, which is safeguarding, health and safety, managing contact, First Aid, the things that you need to be able to deliver really. And from 2005 to now I feel like it was very hard with four kids and you have to still be the parent to those kids and at the same time you have to work and to be able to bring the kids up.
And not having a family, I would say that was the hardest for me. Because you do feel alone, you feel like apart from Allah that was with me, I didn't have no one. And everything that you want is you have to work hard for like I said and at the same time, I was still coming backwards and forwards to court with the partner. He wouldn't leave me alone. He made our lives really, really hard. And at the same time, I felt my family didn't understand as well. When I say my family, my parents, didn't understand. Why didn't I just leave the kids with him and go back to Morocco. That was a struggle for me. And that caused me, emotionally, a lot of problems. Because how can I just leave four kids that I brought to this world. And it's my responsibility and leave them with someone in my eyes, he needed help. I'm not going to say more than that, as someone that really truly needed help and I leave my kids with him. That, to me was a big risk to do. So that meant I have to rely on me or Rabbil Aalameen. Bas, and that's it.
And this is the saddest part. When working in the field I'm working at, I see lots of families, I see lots of families from the same religion as me, Muslims, and idea of just separate from the father, use any excuse just to leave the father of their kids, so they can be free so they can go and live their lives as they call it, their life, that's mean going out whenever they want, doing whatever they want. It hurts because for me, I didn't want that. I wanted my family to be a proper family, I wanted a family of Mom, Dad, children. I’ve worked really hard to not to make that separate, or to disconnect. But in the end, I had to make that decision for the sake of my children. Because if we stayed, I would have done more harm to them than, if I left, really. It's not an ideal I wouldn't wish it to any woman to go through what I've been through.
So like I said, it was it was hard. But then again, we had good days, happy days, we had sad days, and days that we didn't have nothing. Days when, you know, as long as I managed to get food for the children, when they finished then I eat what’s left. It's hard to imagine that happening nowadays, in this country. But it does! It does when you start from zero, you start from nothing, you don't have nobody you’re waiting for, you know, for, I guess a miracle to happen. But miracles do not happen just like that you have to work hard at it. But I never gave up. I didn't give up and I'm not the person that would give up easily I’ll fight for what's mine and I’ll fight to the to the end for what's true. And I’ll fight for what's correct. I’ll fight for what's you know, belongs to me.
And being in the job I am at as well. It helped help me to go through my circumstances, because I used to see families and I used to say Alhamdolillah I am a Muslim. Alhamdolillah I was born a Muslim. Because some families when I see the way they are, their society, I would say they’re completely disconnected from God from any belief really, because they are so busy in whatever they are busy. They’ve forgotten about the morals they’ve forgotten about the responsibilities they’ve forgotten about what comes first. Because having kids, it's not.. anyone can have children.. but it takes a real person to be a parent to that child, it takes a strong person to make sure to deliver that child to the age that when they can make decisions for themselves. So I feel like yeah, my work did help me through the difficult times that I was going through. But when I see other families I appreciate what I had, I appreciate what Allah gave me I appreciate the help that I got from Allah I appreciated the doors that's been opened from nowhere. Sometimes things happened and it is shocking, because you think I didn't expect this. But Alhamdolillah things did happen to me. As much as it was hard but it was easy, as well, because of the belief and the strength I got from Allah, it kept me going. And in shaa Allah He will keep me going.
Growing up from zero to 16 in Morocco, never, ever heard of Shia. In my lifetime, when I was in Morocco, didn't even know something existed called Shia. When I came to this country, again, I didn't hear about them when I was with my partner at the time, because they only knew Moroccans, they were sticking to the community, Moroccan community really.
However, when I separated, and I started my journey, the new chapter I would call it, you start meeting up people and I've met a few people, they were Lebanese and they told me they are Shia because that was the question that I was asked, ‘What are you? Are you a Sunni or a Shia?’ I was puzzled to be honest with you because to me, as I said, I'm a Muslim. It didn't mean anything to me, Sunni or Shia I didn't understand it. Then I’ve asked few questions, what does it mean Shia? But the explanation that I was given, all the answers that I was given, it wasn't satisfying then. And I'm talking this is about maybe 10 years ago, eight, nine, maybe 10 years ago. But I never questioned it really, to the point that I wanted to understand it and that is due to the load, I was dealing with myself. I did not have time to even you know, sit down and make my own decisions or make a research to find out what's the difference between the two.
And through my work as well. I've worked in one particular community and always the first question they will ask you, ‘What are you? Are you a Sunni or Shia?’ Then that started to raise a question in my head. Is there a conflict between the two? Is there something wrong with one or something wrong with the other or the two don't get along? And I didn't understand this, to be honest with you. Then through work again, I've met someone and that particular person answered all my questions because then I went in depth because I had time. My kids were older, I could find out for myself and what was shocking is - the books are out there. The technology nowadays, it's available to you in every house, I would say, and even on the phones you have internet if you want an answer.
But when you are brought up in a particular way, understanding particular things it's almost like, not forbidden, but you're not allowed to ask certain questions, I guess. And I'll give you one example is Moharram. Ashura, to me growing up in Morocco, it's a big celebration, it’s when families give gifts to the children, there’s music playing, there’s cakes making, you know, streets decorated with lights and decorated with you know, with this lovely, you know, stuff, and it's a big huge celebration. Last year, I got to know what Ashura is about and it hurts. It really does hurt so much, because for years, my understanding was this, like, we celebrate Ashura, but there's no explanation why do we celebrate Ashura? What was the reason behind it that we celebrate Ashura? Why all this festival that is being making it into a big festival of Ashura? But there’s at school my memory does not I don't have any memory or any explanation, but it's Ashura and that's what we do in Ashura. That's it.
But last year, I came to London and I got to hear for myself there was Ayyam Moharram, Yaum Ashura, the meaning of Ashura and what was behind it, and what happened and the sacrifice, the people who sacrificed their life, their families. It was a shock to me, to be honest with you, it was a big shock to the point, you start to doubt everything that happened throughout in the years, because if all of this, it's in the books, it's in ahadiths. When you do research about any question that I had, you find it, we've got it! I mean, even in Morocco, I could have found that out. But it was something you don't talk about, because if it's not mentioned, safe it’s not mentioned you don't know it, what you don't know you're not gonna question.
For the first time, I would say, in my life, I felt peace when I got to know about Ahlubayt when I got to know about the stories. I felt peace in a way that I found out the truth. And I didn't go by just hearing from people. No, I had evidence as well. Any question that I had in my head regarding anything that I didn't understand, I was given an explanation and I was given evidence in paper from ahadiths from Aqwal Rasool alaihis salat o salaam such that, as much as I wanted to know, I got to know.
But still, I'm sad about how I have been brought up not knowing how still people out there, not knowing that the real truth about our religion, really. It's been a year, a year and a half now. But Ashura, just made it. It almost answered all my questions that I had because how can we celebrate something that is really the heart heart of pain, I would say, but we were celebrating it, I got to know how things happened to those people, Ahlulbayt, and how much they suffered, how much they went on days with no food, no water. But yet again, the other side, they were celebrating those days, that when they should be you know, they should be sad really, because it is painful. It's really painful.
To start with, because I had the questions and I didn't have the proper answers. But the people I had, you know, they were answering my questions because they had the knowledge. They had, you know, the knowledge of Islam, the knowledge of al-Ilm, and al-Fiqh. And step by step I felt myself I'm getting closer to be drawn to this side, than to others, and that came just before Ashura, but after Ashura I felt peace I felt no this is the right path for me. This is hundred percent a right path for me. Me moaning about my life, me saying I had a hard life, me saying that whatever I've been through that was hard. No, that was not hard. What they’ve, Ahlulbayt, been through, what they suffered, and the tragedy that they've been through, that was hard. It made me appreciate what I had and what I've been through because it wasn't a drop, you know, to what they've been through. Yes, it was hard to come out from one side to the right path. Because of the questions you know, I had, however, a lot of the questions it was the answers - it's all common sense really. You read, and if you read the answers are there.
But how come I didn't do my own research before someone else telling me. I got really disturbed and upset with me, because I didn't get to find that at that time when I was with those friends that maybe the lack of their knowledge, they couldn't answer certain questions that I had for them at the time. And I felt like I've wasted those years, when I could have knew then. But I didn't. I feel it opened my eyes to a lot of things. It opened my eyes to the hidden knowledge that is not shared with thousands of Muslims out there. It opened my eyes to - if you want to find out, you can find out, but it's up to individual. And we are as a nation, I would say we follow easily, you could easily follow. But when you've been brought up in such a way that you go to school, you hear the same thing, at home, you hear the same thing, on TV you hear the same thing, it's really hard to go and find out about something that you don't know. So therefore, for me, I feel like I found the right path and Alhamdolillah that I did. And I'm very grateful to the people who helped me to get to where I am now.
And even with me, I was determined to find out if there's a question mark on something I want to know and I will not give up. And I made my own decisions. No one had any influence of making me make the decision. I made my own decision. And I'm so pleased that I made this decision to the right path.
What changed in my life and in me, I start to see things in a different way. I don't just believe something if I heard it, do my research, then I believe it. If someone comes and tell me, which is nowadays there's a lot of you see videos you see, you know, the scholars they’re, you know, from all different parts of the world and each one of them come up with a different fatwa to the other one and that was confusing as well. However, what changed for me, if you really want to know, the answers are there. But you need to work hard to get the answers.
Regarding my kids, my youngest one she's 18 Alhamdolillah, she's the same path as me. But the older ones, I don't want to force them because same as me, they have questions that they want to find out. So we've been brought up all these years, you've been telling us you know, certain things should be certain way and now certain things - it's different, I mean, it's not a huge difference. But there's one thing - I never celebrated Ashura in this country by the way. Never, since I came here to England – never! And also in Morocco, which got me to doubt maybe my father is the same. He's a Shia, you know, from Ahlulbayt. But he's not saying it to everyone because at home we never celebrated Ashura, it was outside. He never bought toys for us and like other parents, but we never understood why my Dad as a youngster, you think well, you know, he's just a stingy father he doesn’t want to, you know. But through my discussion with my father last summer, when I went to Morocco, and I've told him in my heart I feel like he is as well. But he's just not telling everybody it's not something he's broadcasting to everyone. Because certain questions that he asked me I never heard from him before and his wide knowledge of it as well. It really got me to understand maybe he is, but I didn't have that courage to ask. But he never questioned Why? Why did I do it? He was pleased, he was happy. And I think I feel at peace with me, my religion, with the things that I'm doing now. I feel like the only way I can describe it I see the light I've seen it and I'm following it and that's the right path. That's the light I should be following. Alhamdolillah, I strongly feel I haven’t done anything to upset Rabbul Aalameen or anything that is bad, but we are full of mistakes. And if I do make a mistake, I try to correct myself by not to repeat the same mistake. I feel at peace with myself.
This video was first published on 3 Feb 2015 by ABTV Reborn as Reborn - We celebrated Ashura not knowing the truth. We are grateful for their cooperation.