Finding Faith for Me (Part 1): 1997

Finding Faith for Me

“ Whooo-ooo-ooo do ya think you are!” I belted out into my invisible microphone,
as I skipped between the playground benches, showing off my brand new shiny,
electric blue platform sneakers. I was obviously Scary Spice – it had been decided
silently yet unanimously amongst my friends; I was the one with the big, frizzy
hair after all, and the mouth to match.

My best friend Karen strutted forward, a genuine mini Sporty Spice, and dropped
to her knees as she squealed, “…do you think you a-are!”, her voice so high-
pitched that it broke off at the end. The 5 of us fell about in fits of giggles – just a
bunch of normal 8 and 9 year old girls playing out our dreams of being just like
our favourite pop-group, in the primary school playground.

I’d never seen myself as any different to the other ‘Spice Girls’ in my friendship
group and they’d never made me feel different to them – yet… I was the only
brown face; I was the only one that spoke three languages; I was the only one out
of the five of us who was picked up at the end of the school day by someone in
shalwar-kameez who used ‘a-salaamualaikum’ to greet me, rather than ‘hello!’.
I still didn’t see myself as any different though, until the day that everything


I sat cross-legged on the heavily carpeted floor in my own shalwar-kameez,
headscarf on my head, tightly tied under my chin. Four wooden benches, which
we used to place our Qur’ans onto, formed a tight square, with the mosque
‘Aunty’ sitting at the front, watching over us as we monotonously repeated line-
after-line of Arabic. ‘Aunty’ was more deeply engrossed in an Urdu book rather
than paying attention to us, so I took this as an opportunity to whisper to the
friends sitting either side of me about how excited I was to be attending my best
friends birthday sleepover in just over a week’s time,“Yeah, Karen said we’re
going to go the waterpark in Bolton and then we’re gonna stay up all night and
watch scary movies!”

They both smiled awkwardly and looked a little sheepish, as the friend to my left
muttered, “That sounds nice Sabah, but you do know we’re not supposed to be
friends with white people?”
I stopped in my tracks, the excited smile sliding slowly down my face.
“What do you mean?” I asked, genuinely confused about what she had just said.

The friend to my right piped up, “Yeah she’s right. Even my mum told me that.
We’re not allowed to be friends with people that aren’t Pakistani like us.”
I sat there, struggling to understand what she meant. Why were they saying this?
My best friend was white; my favourite schoolteacher was white; the lollipop
lady who helped me cross the road to and from school and snuck a little sweet in
to my hand every single day was white – what was wrong with white people, and
why couldn’t I be their friend?

Never one to shy away from asking questions, I put my hand up defiantly and
said, “Aunty Sakeena, I have a question.”
She looked up from behind her glasses and over the top of the book she was
reading, and smiled gently. “Yes?” she asked.
“Why are we not allowed to be friends with people that are white?”
She put down her book. Pushed her glasses back up on to her nose. Adjusted her
flowery printed headscarf. And then she spoke quite matter-of-factly and said,
“We are not allowed to be friends with Kafir (non-believers). It says it in the Qur’an.
A lot of white people are Kafir, so we shouldn’t be their friends. It is for our
betterment; it is to protect us from the hell-fire.”

I looked at her, a silent whisper of an “oh” escaped my lips as I quickly averted
my gaze to my hands, and then a single a tear – a mixture of confusion and
frustration – fell on to the open Qur’an that lay before me. My friends sitting
either side of me looked smug. And it was then that I realised, at the tender age
of just 8 years old, that I didn’t have to believe everything that I was told –
especially when it didn’t sit right with my heart.

Written by Sabah Ismail

Instagram: @sabah_ismail_
Twitter: @SabahIsmail_
Facebook: @SabahIsmailOnline

Sabah Ismail

Sabah is a storyteller, visual artist and all-round creative, exploring humanity, spirituality and consciousness through her work, while encouraging people to live their best, most joyous lives. She currently lives in London with her husband and 2 young children and strives everyday to live by her life mantra, “be the change you wish to see in the world”.

  1. A

    July 7, 2019 2:01 pm

    “O you who believe! Do not take the jews and christians as friends; they are friends of each other; and he who bears affinities to them from amongst you, then he is from them; indeed, Allah does not guide a transgressing people.” [Holy Quran 5:51]

    • Ouiza

      July 7, 2019 5:47 pm

      Like 👍🏻

  2. Irum Mannan

    July 7, 2019 2:36 pm

    Hey, just a suggestion but maybe add that the Quran doesn’t actually mention that we shouldn’t be friends with kafir. Your friends were wrong, so was your Quran teacher unfortunately. What the Quran actually says is we shouldn’t be friends or companions of people who make fun of our religion, who mock it and take it for granted. Do some research on the verse 5:57 ad you’ll know what I’m talking about. We live in a day and age, where so much of Islam is taken out of context, please don’t be another source for people who’re looking for excuses to say LOOK MUSLIMS ARE MONSTERS

    • EM

      July 7, 2019 8:29 pm

      verse 5:57 says the ones who make fun off plus the non-believers.

  3. Shakila

    July 7, 2019 2:47 pm

    That is really well written, Sabah. My daughter is 8 years old and she has to listen to this rubbish, I’m not having any of it. She can be friends with whoever she likes x Thank you

    • Umm Ismail

      July 7, 2019 7:31 pm

      This came off as one of those tell-all misery memoirs that feed into the “us versus them” notion which not only Muslims, but non-Muslims have. I don’t believe this was the author’s intention, but this piece doesn’t showcase much nuance. It’s well-written but really confusing for readers who might be curious about Islam. There’s no reflection, no exploration. Just “Muslims believe in this thing I don’t like, so I’m not going to follow it.” I agree with the commenter who says this ended abruptly. What’s the take-away here?

  4. Ouiza Djoudi

    July 7, 2019 3:14 pm

    The closing statement about not believing everything that doesn’t sit right with your heart; does that imply that further research into Islamic matters is not necessary if at first it makes you feel uncomfortable?

  5. T

    July 7, 2019 4:38 pm

    This started off well and ended so abruptly…

    • Sabah Ismail

      July 7, 2019 5:07 pm

      Hey! Thanks for your comment. This is actually the first post in a 6-part series, so it will make sense when it all comes together.💛

  6. Almedina

    July 7, 2019 5:18 pm

    Interesting story, however, she could have elaborated that culture and religion are often incorrectly mixed, rather than misleading people into thinking that religion teaches us that particular premise of “not being allowed to be friends with non-Muslims” which is obviously incorrect. PEople have mixed culture and religion for years, which leads people to believe that the weird, incorrect teachings are linked to religion. We are obviously allowed to be friends with non-Muslims, in fact we are encouraged to portray the best form of ourselves in front of them to convey the real message of Islam. The Prophet PBUH, showed great charcter to both muslims and non-muslims alike, he pbuh, never mistreated any human regardless of his or her beliefs. ” To you is your religion, and to me is mine”. We are to respect one anothers belief

  7. Hasina

    July 7, 2019 6:18 pm

    Love this article. How would add to that if you study the context and all the stories behind the verses then surely we should feel at ease.

  8. Danielle

    July 7, 2019 8:19 pm

    I truly believe God made our hearts in a way that we can sense right and wrong, and I think this passage is a good example of it. If we blindly obey whatever we learn growing up without using our God given sense of judgment and reason then we could find ourselves believing and obeying in ideologies that are actually not what God wants us to follow. The passage was talking about non-believers that were disrespecting the religion and not just every non-believer. For me reading this, I felt so frustrated. I wouldn’t have learned anything about Islam or even cared to know if it wasn’t for my Muslim friends.

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