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Face to Faith: Against all odds

Face to Faith: Against all odds

Issue 3 Jan / Feb 2004

photograph: Maeve Tomlinson
words: Rajnaara Akhtar

Sumayah Samani, now 25, reverted to Islam from Hinduism at an early age and has spent many moments since then struggling against all odds to hold on to her religion. Now a teacher at an Islamic school, she has finally found the ‘peace’ in Islam.

“I accepted Islam when I was 14 years old. My sister had paved the way as she converted to Islam when I was still a child and it was with her that I took the shahada (declaration of faith).


My earliest encounter with Islam was one a playground when I was six years old. My friend Omera asked me a profound question: ‘what do you pray to?’ I was unsure what to say so turned the question back to her instead. She said she prays to one God and He was like ‘light’. Hearing that answer, I felt struck by something, maybe some recognition of God. She asked me again, and I responded that I prayed to idols.

When I was bout 12 my sister was already Muslim and we had endless discussions about Islam. She was at university and used to bring home books on Islam. More often than not, I would root through her bag and find the books and read them before she had. Even at that young age I was drawn to Islam and the beautiful stories I had read.

My sister’s conversion nearly tore my family apart. My parents are very strong in their Hindu belief, especially my mother. They rejected my sister and her new religion.  Without my sister around, I felt complete bewilderment. There was no one there to guide me and the pressure coming from my parents was great. I was forbidden from reading about Islam or having any involvement in anything even remotely Islamic. They did not know that I had already accepted the faith until many years later.

I suffered great emotional distress at home because of the anger my parents felt towards Islam. Looking back, I wonder how I managed to stay sane. It was a strain and the pressures were immense. I had no direct support or contact with Muslims, and Islam was NEVER to be mentioned. It was like living in a prison. I was a Muslim in secret, and only learnt about Islam when I was away from the house.  Unfortunately, many of my Muslim friends were not practicing the faith. As with most teenagers, their pre-occupations were boys, clothes and make-up. So their company did not provide the solace I needed.


Fearing that I would not follow the same path as my sister, my mother took extra steps to instill me in the Hindu beliefs. I was made to sit for hours before the idols that she prayed to. But instead of praying to them I would recite the few words of Islam I knew such as ‘la ilaha illal-lah’. My mother also sent me to a Hindu Sunday school where I never fitted in and was clearly the odd one out.

As a result of the tension at home, my GCSE’s were a nightmare. I was so lost that I went to the Samaritans for help. I didn’t know what else to do. It was at this stage that I really started to try to connect with Allah because I realized that my confusion was so great, not only because of my family life but also my lack of real identity.

My life changed when I started college to study A-levels. I attended a college situated close to a university campus, and the university had a student prayer room which I used to visit every day. I met the most wonderful Muslim girls there and that really had a profound impact on me. Even today, I see that prayer room as a haven. I learnt a great deal about Islam and was free to read and discuss issues to my heart’s content. I met other Muslim reverts and learnt how to pray with one of them. But things remained the same at home, there was still to be no mention of Islam.

It was at this stage I think my mother started to that there was something going on. On one occasion she found books about Islam in my bag and was furious. I felt crushed, torn in two, because I loved my religion, but equally, I loved my mother and did not want to hurt her.

During the month of Ramadan, Allah came to my aide. I fasted as best I could. My mother was suspicious when I got up at suhur time to eat and pray, but she thankfully didn’t understand enough about Islam to realize what I was doing. But then she had a dream. It was dawn, and she saw a bright white light come towards her and eventually engulf her. Three huge white horses came down from the sky towards her and then she heard the call to prayer. She couldn’t understand it, so I asked someone to interpret it for me. I was told that my mother would have three Muslim children.


At that stage, she had two, one whom she knew about and one whom she suspected. It was not until six years later that our brother because a Muslim. This dream changed my mother, and her approach to me was softer and gentler than I could remember. But I was still not allowed to practice Islam at home or confess my religion. However, I had received a gift from a virtual stranger which made my life easier. While I was at the prayer room, one of the sisters gave me a pocket sized translation of the Qur’an. I kept this with me wherever I went. It made me feel light and reading it brought me closer to God. I was in awe of this little book and it really brought me in to the folds of Islam.

D-day arrived when I was 18 years old. I didn’t come back from college at the usual time. I was feeling lost and confused and could not bear the burden of my secret any longer. When I finally went back home, my parents were in a complete state. They had rung the hospitals looking for me. I myself was crying uncontrollably and finally told them the truth- I was a Muslim. I dreaded their response, but at the same time the relief felt indescribable. Finally, a great unbearable weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Their reactions were anger as expected, but there was also confusion, sorrow and some self-pity due to it being a repetition of what happened with my sister. But for me, I felt a glow in my heart as I had overcome the final hurdle and finally let go of my fears. I told them that Islam was the best thing that ever happened to me.

My mother did her best to come to terms with it. She suggested I could be a ‘khoja’ which was someone who is part Muslim and part Hindu. I was thankful that at least she able to accept half of me being a Muslim! In the years that followed, dealing with my parents was very testing. Their reactions would vary from moderate to extreme in their opposition to Islam. There was no consistency with the attitude I would have to face.

The next stage in my life was university. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of travelling to the East of England over a hundred miles from home to a university with a minimal Muslim population. It was intended to be a great escape. But the test of my faith continued. I was isolated and away from Muslim people and somehow I drifted away from Islam and lost my knowledge.

I always had a great interest in art and nature. I painted and sculpted as a means of escape. The greatest hurt I was feeling was due to the difficulties I was having with my mum. I loved her dearly and would do anything for her. My ups and downs were directly linked to her feelings. If she was happy with me, I was happy. If she was angry with me, I was upset. It was a hard chain to break.

Thankfully, during my final university year I drifted back to Islam. I set up the Islamic Society and managed to ear a reputation for being an ‘active’ Muslim, i.e; one who promotes Islam. It was a wonderful feeling. That is also how I met my husband, Ferman. Getting married was a struggle and we were forced to wait a year by our families. Mine didn’t want to marry a Muslim at all, and his didn’t want him to marry outside the family. He was born into a traditional Asian family where marriage partners were often pre-ordained by the elders. But I fought for him because I was convinced that God had intended for us to be together.


I had a dream a year before I met that I was walking across the university campus on a misty day and I walked past a tree in the centre to find a stranger standing in its shadows. I felt so serene and peaceful, it was almost heavenly. I had never experienced feelings like that before. The first time I met Freeman, I was walking past that very tree, and he was standing beneath it.

Our lives have taken us all over the country but finally we are settled. My job is the most fulfilling as I teach young children in an Islamic school. Part of the curriculum is Islamic studies, so I give them the guidance I never had. I am also working on projects within the Muslim community and am finally realizing the dream of being a true believing and free Muslim, alhamdu-lillah (thanks God). But I am most thankful for one thing, that is that I did not lose my mother. She now accepts me for who I am, although she still has not accepted my outer expression of Islam through the hijab (head covering) and niqab (face veil).

Her dream of many years ago became complete last Ramadan. I had been speaking to my brother about Islam for many months. One day when I was getting out of his car, I left behind a translated copy of the Qur’an. He found and read most of it within days, and then embraced Islam before a full congregation at our local mosque. Hearing the words of his declaration of faith brought tears to my eyes, but it was tears of happiness this time.”

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1 Comment


Aicha Massini

26 Nov 11, 13:44

Beautiful story Mashallah, very inspirational.

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