2 September 2018
After what almost seemed like a plot in a movie, having fled from Kenya, I returned home downtrodden. A close friend of mine, who had also gone through an extremely rough experience, gave me sanctuary in her house while I recuperated and secretly hid away from the world and from the possibility of being tracked down by my Arab ex-husband, whom I had not seen again to this day.
I slowly came out of my shell and moved back in with my father, who had remarried a woman. They were so much in love that she decided to leave her then husband and family to be with my father, having caused much consternation from her family and the Muslim community in Johannesburg at large. It seems that changing one’s mind about one’s spouse is taboo in our community, even though the scripture gives guidance on these human experiences. With my dad, however, it would have been received more harshly than most. He was severely criticised by many Muslims for his Sufi practices. Having come from a checkered and controversial past, his turn towards an esoteric aspect of Islam was unpalatable for many. He was labelled a charlatan by some and accused of black magic by others. He never wasted his time either defending or trying to disprove anything but continued his path of tassawuf (Sufism) relentlessly. So, when a woman left her husband to marry my father, it reinforced these negative perceptions of him. Those close to him were similarly disparaged by association.
Many people did not know about my second marriage and divorce and I was keen to keep it that way. As much as I was not swayed by people’s opinion, having been on the wrong side of it most of my life, I was so ashamed of my latest experience that I hid it from the world until I started blogging last year. I thought I was strong, yet I had allowed myself to be dominated and victimised almost like a hostage and I couldn’t really face my own shame. When I returned to my father’s house, my depression and shame turned to anger. I had tried to do the right thing, find a path to God with a man who I thought would allow me to do something useful with my life. Instead, I was met with the bitter possibility that my true intention may not have been pure, or I would not have failed so dismally in my choices. Perhaps the reason for the turn of events was to show me that my purpose was in a completely different direction. At that point I was too angry to find out or to redirect my efforts. In rebellion, I started partying with my friends. I let loose again, almost forgetting how that didn’t work out for me before. Perhaps I was repeating my mistakes until I was ready to yield to the pull of my soul towards the Divine. Perhaps I was angry at God, again! Perhaps I was angry at myself, again! What can I say? I’m a repeat offender and a slow learner.
This time, I compartmentalised my relationship with the God, sustained prayer and devotion at certain times and pursued more frivolous activities at others. My father never stopped me or forced me into anything, thankfully, but continued to guide me towards my truth, sometimes subtly and at other times compellingly. He often pushed me harder than anyone else to face my deepest darkest fears, including my childhood molestation. My father became my closest friend, and mentor. He explained deep concepts of Islam and Sufism and embellished the tool kit of life that he had handed to me. I could ask him any question and he would answer with acuity. We’d have discussions and discourse on a variety of topics, often talking late into the night, sometimes to the break of dawn in time for the morning prayer. We spent a few months in Cape Town while he was treating a difficult patient. We frequented the different religious sites. I recall our midnight trysts up the 99 steps to the shrine of Sheikh Noorul Mubeen, with the wind howling through the trees. We frequently visited all the Karamats in and around Cape Town where we made thikr (prayed) and he taught us (myself and a student who lived with us, who remains a dear friend), many beautiful aspects of higher learning. At the time I felt like I was in an alternate universe. I was steeped in an esoteric deeper experience of learning and at the same time experiencing internal disquiet, while I internalised the concepts and tried to reconcile all I was taught, with my unsettled life.
When we returned he started a Madrassa (Islamic school) for adults who wanted to learn about the principles of tassawwuf (Sufism). His sage teachings were matched only by his infectious booming laugh and uncanny sense of humour. He often used jokes in his teaching to provoke thought and introspection. Our modest little house was always full of people. Patients seeking assistance with an array of spiritual ailments, students hungry for his esoteric knowledge, wayfarers and friends seeking his solace or just his company. My father had created a sanctuary of safety and learning. Some students stayed with us from time to time in the small outside room that we had. His enemies despised him, his students adored him, his patients depended on him, the poor benefitted from him, and to me he was a pillar from which I drew strength, knowledge, wisdom and unconditional love. I was still seeking companionship but having been severely bitten in this arena, I never got seriously involved with anyone. I had become more hardened and aggressive, an older version of the little head girl in primary school. My iron fist was back with a vengeance, almost as if protecting myself more fiercely from predators.
There were a few suitors, who thought fit to approach my father and he graciously waved them directly to me, smiling knowingly. One staunch Indian family, who knew my grandfather offered me the choice of one of their three unmarried sons. This was unheard of with a woman who had been divorced, even once. We chuckled about it, joking about how I would go about making the selection. All this attention was hardly due to any of my charms but seemed to have been related to my father’s status as a Sufi Sheikh. Some may have thought it would bring them closer to my father. Others may have sought a stake in his bloodline. Whatever the reason, I was not inclined towards any of the proposers, save one of his students, a few years my junior, who had a kindness about him and who himself didn’t seem to care about my father’s status. Although he was prompted by his father to initiate a union with me, he seemed genuinely interested in me, and he peaked my interest. I was almost thirty and was willing to find a partner who I at least liked and could have children with. I was yearning to start my own family. That relationship didn’t work out and I was alone again. In desperation I engaged in a brief but intense relationship with an old flame, much to my father’s irritation. I knew it was going nowhere, but I somehow hoped I may find something lasting, but alas I was locked in a cycle of commitment fear and continued to anchor my safety under my father’s protection. I constantly sought his approval and didn’t realise how I used it as an excuse to not move forward in my life. I didn’t pursue my legal career. I worked instead at a diamond company and waited for weekends to go out with my closest friends. Although I eventually stopped partying, I was always looking for something to entertain me and take my mind off the prospect of moving out of my father’s house and living my life. I wasn’t ready to use the tool kit.
There were times I wished death would overcome me rather than face the abyss of what life had to offer. I almost got my wish. One of my closest friends, who had also become a student of dad and I, planned a trip to Cape Town once, and were greeting my dad, when he took off with me for some or other bad decision I had made. I argued with him and said that I’d rather die than submit to whatever it was. We had more or less resolved the issue, he bid us farewell, and my friend and I left for the trip, stopping in Lenz, to drop my car at my Mom’s house first. It was late at night as we were exiting Lenz, my friend was driving, I sat in the passenger seat and her son was in the back seat. We were suddenly intercepted at a stop street at a T-junction by a beat up old sedan. It was surreal, and time seemed to slow down for me. Three men jumped out of the car, one of them ran to the driver’s side, pointing a gun at my friend through the driver’s side window. I spontaneously screamed to her to reverse. Wordlessly, she deftly and without hesitation, reversed and passed by the surprised gun toting man. Startled he exclaimed ‘huh!’ and move back slightly. They all rushed back to their car, jumped in and, as they reversed to position the car to follow us, they left a small gap. ‘Go forward!’ I shouted. I’m still not convinced that she hadn’t gone for a “secret advanced driving course”, because she sped forward through the gap, and passed them before they could block us off again. Having never lived in Lenz, she didn’t know the roads. I kept shouting out for her to turn left and right, planning to drive to the police station, but, before we reached the cop shop, she ‘kamakazied’ until we lost them. Neither of us thought it appropriate to back out of our planned trip. Shaking with adrenalin, our breathing slowly returning to normal, we both decided to continue, drove to Cape Town and had a wonderful holiday. She remains one of my closest friends.
I dallied aimlessly for a couple of years. By the time I turned 30, I was so desperate to fill the void that I contemplated artificial insemination to conceive a child. I even did an interview with a local Imam on the religious implications on my weekly radio slot called ‘Legal Talk’ on a community radio station in Johannesburg called ‘The Voice’, where I volunteered. One evening, after one of my shows, I came across a distinguished man with salt and pepper hair, a lean face framed by a goatee. He had the most beautiful sea green eyes surrounded by splashes of hazel around the pupils like mini explosions on the shiny spheres sea-green. He was filling in for the usual sound engineer on the show before mine and we crossed paths. He had a quiet dignity that commanded attention and respect, yet he personified an uncompromising gentleness of spirit that permeated even the air around him. He was lean and tall and his face radiated light. I was instantly mesmerised and I feverishly quizzed two of my friends about this magnificent man. One of them was my lifetime friend with the kamikaze skills and the other was her cousin. He was older than me, so I feared he must have been married and if not, I fervently prayed that he was not gay. The next week, I dragged my friends with me to the studio to scout. One of them went ahead of me to spy and reported that when he heard my voice, he removed his fez and smoothed his hair. I was enthralled at his apparent interest. I discovered that he was part of the Muslim activist organisation that owned the radio station and spent a lot of time there. He was also unmarried and there were no apparent signs of homosexuality. Whoop Whoop! I watched out for his blue Mazda when I drove through the streets of Mayfair and my heart skipped a beat if I spotted one and crashed in disappointment if it wasn’t him. He was constantly on my mind and I waited anxiously for my weekly radio slot to ‘bump’ into him. I discovered that many young and a few not so young women in the community had their eye on him, either for themselves or their daughters. They would woo him with ‘koesiesters’, (Cape Town style no less), and other treats at the radio station, especially during Ramadaan and judging by his thin frame, it didn’t seem the obvious path to his heart. The station hosted a Women’s Day event in August that year. Two memorable events happened for me that day. I met Aunty Fatima, an incredible woman who was my first ex-husband’s mother in law. (I feel like a collector of exes!). We bumped into each other as we were making ablution for the afternoon prayer. Aunty Fatima, realising who I was looked at me almost sensing my loneliness said to me that she prayed that God would give me a good husband that I would be happy with. She was so warm and sincere that I smiled with appreciation. Later that afternoon, Ouma, a wonderful lady who worked full time at the radio station, having spotted the chemistry between myself and the man who had me aflutter, played cupid and arranged for him and me to stay behind and do the cleaning up after the Women’s Day event. That day was the beginning of the rest of my life with Shafiq.
More next time, God willing
With love and Thankfulness, Radia❤️