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