By Fatima Haffejee

My childhood is rife with memories of a revert who filled our home with enthusiasm and laughter, a woman who was the proverbial shoulder of support in my mother’s time of need. She radiated with positivity and her passion for Islam was conveyed through her love for her children and her narratives of conversations she had had with God.

When I was 17 she passed away from cancer, leaving behind five children and a legacy in our home that can never be forgotten. Interviewing Dhaakirah Sikwaila, a revert, has made me reconnect with these memories as well as revive my faith in Islam.

Dhaakirah Sikwaila has been a Muslimah for 3 years now. She currently works and resides in Centurion. She is married and has one son, Yahya.

Q: What were your religious affiliations whilst growing up?

A: My parents are from Pretoria, but I lived most of my life with my grandparents in Bekkersdal in the west rand. I attended boarding schools from grade 2 so, since then, I’ve pretty much been on my own. I never really went to church nor was I a religious person, even though my grandmother was. When I attended the University of Johannesburg (UJ) I went to church every now and then. After completing my degree I moved to Johannesburg. I couldn’t identify with the people around me. I kept looking for God. In my eyes, those around me who had found their spirituality, always seemed peaceful.

Q: Give us a brief idea of the incident/s that led you to Islam?

A: One day, whilst visiting Pretoria’s CBD, I saw the Metro musjid on the old Du toit Street. I think I arrived there at Zohr time because I waited until three’o clock to speak to the Imam. He started telling me about Islam and how it’s not just a religion, but a way of life. Despite the fact that I didn’t get to speak to him a lot, he gave me a lot of literature on the religion and referred me to his wife Aisha if I needed to ask any other questions. The one mind-changing question he posed to me and which I remember vividly was, “Why is it that when it comes to bad things we often (as human beings) don’t hesitate, but when something is calling us towards that which is good and peaceful we tend to ponder on it forever?” It was at that moment I decided that Islam was something good for me. Right then and there, I said the Shahadah (The Muslim profession of faith i.e. There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his final messenger)

Q: What made you choose the name Dhaakirah for your Newfound Identity?

I reconnected with an African friend of mine from UJ before my conversion to Islam, by the name of Raheema. At the time I was reading up on various religions. We started corresponding via email and I asked her about her name. It did not sound African and I was curious why. She told me that she was Muslim and perhaps it was the stereotypical perception I had at the time about black South Africans, but I was surprised. She began telling me about Islam and how to pray. Then one day she said to me, “The name Dhaakirah (derived from the arabic root word ‘Dhaakir’ meaning one who constantly glorifies God) reminds me of you. I’m going to start calling you that” And it stuck.
Q: How did your friends and family react to your conversion? Did they desert you?

A: My friends deserted me. I wasn’t that girl anymore who wore skimpy clothes or who partied until the early hours of the morning. My family on the other hand were very supportive. They have been amazing. My grandfather, even though he was very sceptical initially, made an effort to find out a little bit more about Islam and my mother was also very encouraging.

Q: Ultimately, what drew you to Islam?

With Islam I found tranquillity. I was lost for so long going from church to church, but with Islam it just felt like the right fit for me. I respect all other religions and I did a lot of research into the many different faiths, but none claimed my heart and soul the way Islam did. It was my calling.

Q: Where you concerned about some of the challenges of being a woman in Islam?

A: One of the first books I purchased was, ‘Women in Islam’ (Author: Mohammad Mazheruddin Siddiqi). It was basically a comparison of women’s status and rights in Islam to women in the west.. I didn’t carry on reading this book because I felt very uncomfortable.
Islam and more specifically women in Islam, are propagated in a very negative light by the media. I sometimes wondered why some sisters would wear a veil and others not. I often questioned whether or not married women were compelled to wear the veil at their husband’s request. I recall my grandfather’s negative perception of women in Islam as disempowered housewives with very little say. This viewpoint is often exacerbated by the media and cultural preferences. It all led to some form of confusion initially. I believe that embracing Islam is a step-by-step process. For example, I still find fasting and learning Arabic a challenge but God-willing, someday, everything will come together and I will be able to read the Quran fluently.
Right now I make sure that I surround myself with other Muslim women to make the transition easier. I also come across many people who ask me questions like, “How do you wear the veil, don’t your ears hurt being covered that way?” or “Are you Tanzanian or from another African country?” Some even go as far as saying that I am an insult to black people because I am following the religion of the first slave owners. When I come across such individuals I just keep in mind my grandmother’s wise words, “ ‘f you’re so passionate about Islam, if you feel it’s the truth, if you want to welcome people into your religion, then you cannot be be hostile every time someone has a misconception of your faith, you just have to be patient and explain it to them”