As luck would have it: living and travelling as a Muslim woman in Ireland

By Safiyyah Sujee

Do you ever spend your time daydreaming, even if just for a moment, about things that will never happen? You’re certain they will never occur, but you humour your imagination and deeper-lying adventurer for that moment of satisfying dopamine flow, anyway. That is me, day-in and day-out, dreaming of the most unusual, odd and adventurous ideas that sometimes are not even humanly possible. Where would we be without the beauty of imagination, dreams and fantasy? One such fantasy of mine was the idea of roaming outside the country, experiencing new cultures, foods and ways of thinking. I always wondered what it would be like to travel, as I scrolled through social media and was always captured by the glorious imagery of the travel pages I tend to follow. I always listened with much enthusiasm and delight when friends and family shared their experiences of having travelled overseas. Although I enjoyed the imagery and the conversations, I never once believed that I would have that opportunity too.

Why would I believe that, you may ask? Well, for one, my parents were ordinary, hardworking people, always striving to give us the best life, always pushing us kids to get the best grades and make a life for ourselves. Travel wasn’t really on the cards when my parents diverted all energies and funding to education and other matters and we didn’t really expect it from them either. Also, I come from a conservative Indian family with typical thinking that until you are married, you qualify as a “children”. Therefore, I am a “children” and “children’s” can’t be travelling any old where until they legally tie themselves to another human being and then automatically get promoted to adulthood. So I knew my limitations, no “travelly” without a hubby.

As luck would have it, out of nowhere, a promising opportunity had come up to work and live in Ireland. Initially, I laughed it off. Don’t ask me how, but us brown kids are totally governed by parents, even if you’re 40. I’m not too sure how they got it right all these years, usually a soul-piercing stare and “because I said so” somehow seems to be enough to hypnotise and control us to their will. I knew I’d have a better chance of finding a leprechaun and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow than be allowed to leave the country on my own. And even if I did find a leprechaun, my parents would probably have asked if he was a good boy and if we should consider a marriage proposal. No travelling shmevvling just yet. So there was no prospect there. Somehow I guess, it was written for me. My fate was written there, my footsteps were meant to be crossing the green country of luck where there were lessons waiting to be learnt. I still don’t understand it, but with some turn of events, using a lot of psychology on my parents and a convincing friend here and there, I was actually allowed to go. It was the impossible becoming possible. I still don’t believe it actually happened; maybe someone drugged them into saying yes?

I felt no fear from my decision, as I usually do before I make any kind of crazy decision- like riding an ostrich, singing in front of an entire wedding congregation impromptu or the crazy stints I do on videos and public events- it always seems like a good idea until I get into the actual moment and then my common sense seems to kick in and I wonder, so was this really a good idea? As I stepped out of the airport in Dublin prancing in my t-shirt and jeans, lugging my heavy bags along, into the -1⁰C weather, it sunk in. I had come to a foreign country on my own. I knew no one, I had no idea where I was going to stay after my complimentary 2 week stay in the hotel, I didn’t know what to eat or how to use the transport system, I was pretty lost, also, I couldn’t feel my fingers and would probably be frost-bitten on my first day and be found 3000 years later by archaeologists and be put into a museum for people to gawk at. What even, I looked a mess. If I was found 3000 years later, at least my makeup should look on fleek, but I think it had frozen and fallen off too, at some point. And so I began my journey of finding answers to all my questions, figuring out my way as I went along, which was much more challenging because I had started working immediately on a high profile client, the very next day after my arrival. The bank of Ireland, it was. The blistering cold and odd hours didn’t make it any easier. At the time, sunrise was around 8:30 am and sunset around 3:45 pm. It was crazy, considering our standardised sort of hours in the sunny land of South Africa. Summer over there was the very opposite, with sunrise just before 5 am and sunset around 10:30pm. Don’t even ask me how I survived Ramadan in the summer and with my love affair with food, it was like an Olympics challenge. In fact, I think that love affair has gotten out of control nowadays. The other day a client of mine congratulated me, told me I would be a great mom and asked if I was having a girl or boy and all I could say in response was “It’s just food.” I think she was more embarrassed than I was, to be honest.

It’s not an unusual occurrence for me to be left amazed at God’s greatness. Somehow, somewhere and in some way, He comes through for us and it amazes me. Often, I find great comfort and awe in the verse from Surah Talaaq which roughly translates to state that- whosoever puts his faith and trust in Allah, He will create means for him from sources he could never imagine. Many a time I have seen this verse materialise, where things seemed hopeless and impossible to surpass, things beyond what I could have imagined, manifested. This is the trick to faith and prayer, don’t pray with a sense of scepticism in your mind and doubt, you have a Creator who loves you so much, who is willing to take over all the negativity from you and with pleasure. When you pray to God, let go and say, “You know, oh Great One, I hand the wheel over to you. Whatever happens, I know it’ll be ok, please just help me, I need you”. And that’s exactly what happened as the adventure unfolded.

There was an elderly Muslim couple who had discovered me somehow and invited me, a total stranger, into their home. They provided me with many of the initial setup items I required, without the slightest hesitation. Their kindness was overwhelming and they became part of my close circle and regular visits on a Sunday afternoon. Allah provides…

During one of my routine visits (it happened to be my birthday and the couple had other visitors as well) mom had called. Moms always have very strategic timing. It was to wish me a happy birthday and once everyone had caught on to that, there was lots of commotion. Then someone brought up the fact that there was a 87-year old Muslim man in the community who shared the same birthday, who lived alone and who we should include in our celebration. It took quite a while, but finally everyone got out of the house and filled the cars parked on the side of the road.

He was a very aged man, skin hanging and wrinkled, very thin. He wore a knitted, oversized jersey; he had a prominent nose, and had minimal hair spanning from the middle to the back of his head. We began chatting and happened to realise how much we actually did know one another. He and my grandfather had studied together many years back, right there in Ireland.

‘Is your grandfather Dr Yousuf Jhavary?’ he asked. I replied in the affirmative, and he was shocked.

‘I can’t believe it. You really are his granddaughter?’

‘Yes.’ I responded.

‘You grandfather left a legend here, you know that? In fact, anywhere he goes.’

‘He is a good man.’ I replied. ‘He would never hurt a fly, wise beyond imagination. But what makes you say so?’ I asked curiously.

‘Your grandfather brought Islam to Ireland. During the time of apartheid, many of us had come to study Medicine here in Dublin. He started the first Islamic Society in Dublin. There was no trace of Islam here before. Today there are 45 mosques around. It all started because of him. No Jumuah salah was being performed either. He gathered a few men together and they would pray in the hostel room, it then grew much more, so we moved salah to the cafeteria, it then grew further and we used to use a dancing hall and turn all the pictures over to pray. He left after his studies were complete at Royal College of Surgeons. Things continued to grow thereafter. Some students, together with the help of the King of Saudi Arabia raised money, bought a church and converted it. It was the first mosque around here.’

I was so proud. It was so beautiful that a man, who was my own blood, started something good by simply being an example, and people followed.

‘Come sit here next to me.’ The old man then said.

I don’t know if he felt prouder, or if I did. He then turned to his nephew and asked,

‘Wouldn’t you like to marry this girl?’

Suddenly all the pride I was feeling, was replaced with hot blood rushing to my cheeks. I was so embarrassed, especially since his nephew was to be spoken for, soon. That momentary time of embarrassment passed as everyone, all the different guests- South African, Irish, British, and Mauritian- tucked into some kebabs for dinner and then prayed Maghrib together, in the lounge. That man has now passed away. He passed away during my final days in Ireland. His name was Dr Yusuf Vaizie. He, himself, a dentist, ran the madrassahs and Quran schools around Ireland. After having read the obituaries I realise that he was a wonderful person, having sacrificed much for the greater good. It was an honour to have met him and been in his company before he left this world. May he blessed and honoured in the hereafter.

Besides learning a little of my history, and the good people of this world, I learnt much about fending for myself. Doing my own shopping, living an Islamic life in a foreign country and finding halal food (which was actually far easier than I imagined). Islam has spread widely and Muslims can be found on every corner of the globe. I learnt how, in many ways, South Africa is a world-class country and is not lagging behind as much as we think it to be. However, there are many ways in which we could improve as a nation. I learnt how to navigate around the city and the country itself, the transport systems, the different accents, the history, the culture. It was beautiful. More than anything, I will eternally be grateful for the friends I made during my stay.

I was blessed with friends who understood me and my humour, who cared for my well-being. There was pure love and connection. We kept in touch day-by-day, meeting in Dublin city where we stayed. On weekends we travelled the rest of the country together. We visited numerous sights and landmarks, including the Cliffs of Moher which are magnificent, majestic sea cliffs spanning 14 km and are 214 m high. The view, the atmosphere and wildlife are something you need to experience in person. Wow, is all I can say.

We went through to little towns and cities and mingled with the locals, the pure Irish who were friendly, traditional, modest, inviting and altogether lovely. We experienced the city life in Dublin but also the outstanding greenery, the gorgeous ocean towns and my favourite part was the wild-growing, exotic and colourful flowers that spanned the landscape. That’s the one thing that fascinated me about Ireland. One minute you could be in the cold, concrete jungle of the city, the next you’d be surrounded by crystal blue oceans, bobbling boats, lighthouses and sea-life.

One my favourite places was Powerscourt Estate- dubbed by National Geographic as the third most beautiful garden in the world and it certainly lives up to that title. 19 hectares of pure splendour- horses, trees, fountains, lakes, a Japanese garden and a landscape with every type of flower. Any nature enthusiast’s dream come true. If you head a few kilometres out in another direction, you find yourself in the mountains. What a sight! Often there are tours all over Dublin for different things. Comedy bus tours, tea bus tours, ghost tours. They had a tour in the mountains as well, about a haunted house- definitely one of my more enjoyable experiences. Probably my favourite encounter of all was our trip to Dingle as part of the “Ring of Kerry” tour. Dingle is a small town in County Kerry. The town is known for its friendly dolphins, particularly for a dolphin named Fungie. We boarded one of the dolphin tours and got way more than expected. The boat trip was breathtakingly beautiful and between mountains and hills and greenery, we had a dolphin swimming side-by-side us, frolicking in the waves. It was one of the most contented and beautiful moments of my life.

I returned half a year later, a different person, more grown up, more experienced and ready to take on other challenges. And here I am now, sharing this all with you. Experiences I never expected to encounter before my last breath. I sit here wondering, what sits in my path in the year to come. Maybe I’ll be somewhere else, maybe I’ll be promoted to a “big girl” you know “an adult”, maybe I won’t even be here. Who knows? Life is an adventure and we need to stop grasping so tightly to what people will think, trying to control everything that isn’t in our hands. Let go, enjoy, be you, thrive and make a difference in this world. Be you, that is your super power.

 

About the author: Safiyyah is a CA, radio personality, paper columnist, public speaker, vlogger and writer

Instagram handle: @safhappens

 

 

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