Thursday, February 22, 2024

Why I converted to Islam: Tamil Nadu activist Fathima Sabarimala

Fathima Sabarimala

Alhamdulillah, Every stage I speak, I start by glorifying God. God is Great. The reason for saying God is Great now is different.

I am a woman who wore the traditional maala and visited Sabarimala in this same Kerala for five consecutive years. During the sixth year, my father got ready to visit Sabarimala and they refused to take me along with him. He said that girls above ten years of age could not visit Sabarimala. My journey of search begins on that day, thereby leading me into Islam and in this same Kerala, I have given my sermon in almost 120 mosques. Three years ago, I came to this same Kerala as someone unaware of Islam. I came here searching for the birthplace of a woman named Nangeli. Unlike men, women have breasts and there was a ruling in this same Kerala, around the Kanniyakumari region, where women were forced to pay breast taxes to the dominant castes. Women who paid breast taxes were allowed to cover them, while those who could not pay their taxes were made to live without any upper clothes. Only Brahmin women could wear upper clothes. A woman named Nangeli raised against this order. She pronounced that the dress code was her right to exercise. She refused to pay tax, despite the dominant castes’ threatening to behead her. In the very plantain leaves, the taxes were paid, Nangeli ripped off her breasts and threw them to the dominant castes. This revolution against the barbaric practice of breast taxes happened right here in this land.

I visited Cherthala, where Nangeli lived. I registered at that locality and took myself an oath. “Even today, the same practices of slavery are being implemented upon us by a dominant group. I will find a solution against all such domination and return to Kerala” was that oath that I took three years ago. Today I have entered this land, with Islam as the solution. I am proclaiming this to the world. Eminent personalities have been seated on this stage. Speaking in front of an Ambassador from Palestine is a great honour for me. Muslims are being killed there just because they practice Islam. A small kid from Palestine said if you oppress me for practising Islam, I will practise Islam more to liberate myself from your oppression.

I stood before the Kaaba and prayed to Allah for the well being of the two countries – Sri Lanka and Palestine. Allah will grant these two countries with victory. I came back from Kaaba with this faith.

I am a no one. I don’t have any political party or movement behind me. Many have been questioning this, “Who is behind Sabarimala? We have to find out those who are behind her.” The pain that I met all along my life is the only thing that I have behind me. I don’t want any other woman to suffer the same that I went through. This idea is behind me. This is what has been pushing me forward. I stand as an ordinary soul in front of such eminent personalities.

When I was born, my mother didn’t hold me in her hands. Because she was worried about giving birth to a female child. But Islam teaches that those who give birth to two female children and grow them with utmost love and care will be promised heaven. When I had my first menstrual cycle when I was 13, I was happy. But when I said this to my mother, I was called “Unholy” and taken away from my place. I was made to sit outside the house for three days every month all my life. There was no answer when I questioned these practices. This problem has not occurred to me alone. Recently, during the onset of the Gaja cyclone in Tamil Nadu, a girl studying class 7, was forced to sit out in a temporary makeshift hut. After the cyclone, over 1 lakh coconut trees were found uprooted and one such coconut tree crushed the girl while falling over her hut. She was found dead that morning. The only reason they say is “Unholyness.” Even today, women are not allowed inside their homes for five days every month. There have been cases where women who slept under trees were killed by snake bites. I have cried myself out loud during the protests against these practices.

I started carrying out a legal battle against all these practices. But Islam taught me that the menstrual cycle is not “Unholy” and discrimination against women during menstruation was banned by prophet Muhammed even 1400 years ago.

My doctors have been asking me to get a voice rest. But when my people are raising voices against their oppression, I can’t keep my voice down. Whatever happens, let it happen on the stage where I am talking. This is how I have been proceeding with my journey and I am not worried about it.

While fighting against these issues, my mother started saving jewellery for me. It was for dowry to get me married. Islam taught us, dowry is prohibited and to marry a woman, a man must provide the Mehr the woman desires. This is a revolution.

There are lots of problems around us. The State, the armed forces, people against our political ideology and many others pose problems to us. There are a lot of Islamophobic elements around us. These are those things that could be talked about externally. But there is something that can not be spoken about loud. It is called Domestic violence. As all of those who gathered here are my brothers, I want to talk about domestic violence. During arguments, there will be an unexpected slap from the husband. This is still happening all around us. But Islam says that a man can be called modest only if his wife acknowledges it and without her acknowledgement, a man cannot be modest.

The next thing, I want to talk about is protecting female children. When I was introduced to this stage, it was said I stood against the NEET exam. A girl named Anitha from Tamil Nadu who scored 1174 out of 1200 marks in her board examinations killed herself after being denied with medical seat due to the NEET examination. She hailed from the oppressed Dalit community. I, as an individual, started a hunger strike as a protest in front of the Police. I was an individual. But there were lots of Police, lots of media and lots of threats. “My children are dying for not being provided with the education they desire. If my 1 Lakh Rupees salaried Government job is a hindrance against protesting this justice, I don’t want this job’, I said and continued my protest. Can’t you live on this earth without a job or money? My bank balance was zero.

When I entered to look for the society, all I could see was sexual abuse against women everywhere. A nine-month female child, who is still breastfed, was sexually abused and killed in our country. A seven-year-old female child in Kashmir was sexually abused by seven men. She was abused only for her religion. She was kept confined for four days and abused. The perpetrators invited their friends from other places to abuse this child. Bones around the hip of the child were completely crushed. When the perpetrators planned to crush her head with a rock, one of them asked along with themselves that he may abuse her for one last time. Only those who gave birth to a female child would entirely feel the impact of incidents like this one. What will be the punishment for the perpetrators in this land? If this land was ruled by prophet Muhammad or Khalifa Umar, the perpetrators wouldn’t have their heads on this earth. This is how judgments should be produced.

To campaign against the evil practices in this society, we lose everything. We lose money, job, time, children, and family. I am ready to lose them all. I came out of my house to raise my voice against these evil practices. I feel saddened on seeing the Jimmy Jib cameras here. I spent all my money and around 10 years of my life making public speeches so that I could make a change in this society. They said “Sabarimala doesn’t look beautiful. She is dark. Her speeches are not up to the mark. She can’t succeed in her speech. To talk on satellite television channels, she has to talk more hilarious.” I listened to these all my life and when I stood in front of Kaaba, and pronounced the Kalima shahadat, announcing my official revert to Islam. That video went viral throughout the world, in almost many languages. When I finished my Umrah and started my travel back, a woman from somewhere spoke to me in English. She said, ‘You are so beautiful to my eyes all over the world.” This is Islam.

When I left everything in my life, pondering about the future of my next generation of female children, I decided not to be afraid of criticism and even of, death. After reverting to Islam, I dealt with the worst criticisms. Still today, I have been criticised. It has been paining inside my heart. When prophet Muhammed was hit, both by words and stones, in Taif town, he sat down with blood at a place over there. I visited that place during my Umrah and it pained me. As someone standing in the field for the next generation of children, it pained me a lot. But God is Great. Despite losing everything, despite my friends and family leaving me, despite my parents rejecting me, for accepting Allah as one true God, I was rewarded by God. I want to share that with you all. Despite losing everything and becoming a zero last year, by this year I have got millions of brothers and sisters all around the world, including the Kerala audience in front of me right now.

Many people cried and sought blessings for me. Apart from saving yourself and helping for the survival of your family, when you start thinking about the well being of society, God will think about your well being. I heard the word Islamophobia which was being used multiple times at this stage. They (Islamophobes) call all of us terrorists. They say that we have women as slaves. These beliefs form the core of Islamophobia. They say that the women in Islam are ignorant. When a Muslim girl wears a hijab to her school, it stresses them. They are afraid that these girls would be educated and could become big personalities. This is bothering them. But remember, Sabarimala, who belonged to the oppressed community that was restricted access to education and punished cruelly for getting educated, has now become Fathima Sabarimala. Same way, remember, the Muslim women, whom you prohibited education, will be one day educated and elected as legislators to the Assembly and the Parliament. There will be a day when our women will enact our laws very soon. There will be a day when our children become the Supreme Court judges to amend the laws that provided injustice to the sexually assaulted seven-year-old Kashmiri girl.

A Muslim girl Fathima Latheef was institutionally murdered in IIT Madras. Another police officer Sabiya, whose mother was a cleaner, was killed only because she was a Muslim and she refused to be corrupted. She was stabbed around fifty times and her body was mutilated completely. If she had accepted the offer to be corrupt, she would have been alive. She is a student of Khalifa Umar. She stood against corruption. She challenged it despite whatever may come to her. Let Allah bless her with the title of Shaheed in the afterlife!

IIT Madras student Fathima Latheef )who was found dead after she faces Islamophobia and institutional discrimination,) her father Abdul Latheef and twin sister Aysha Latheef [from left to right]. Photo courtesy to Aysha Latheef.

All of us cried. I cried. Yet I purchased tickets to Delhi, as a debt. I met Sabiya’s mother. We couldn’t understand our languages, but I saw her mother crying. I didn’t need any language to understand her tears. I didn’t even have money to pay my housing rent. Yet I prayed to Allah to get me around ten lakh rupees to donate to her. The funds were raised and now the victim’s mother has a roof over her head and has been having food every day. God is great. God looks at us whether we ask Him for help or not. When we seek help from Him, He helps even before we pronounce to finish seeking help. I am honoured to be given a space on this stage by the Solidarity Youth movement. I have been praying to Allah, to show me the selfless youngsters who are working for society. Allah has approved my prayer and he has showed me hundreds of youngsters in this Solidarity Youth Movement meeting and many cadres from the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind movement. I have faith in these youngsters that they would sow a very large change in this land of Kerala. On your behalf, I want to applaud all the youngsters here. With my current situation, all I can do is applaud, congratulate and share my faith with you all.

Even your wives and children might not help you on the Day of Judgment. But the youngsters gathered here for the society, the Youth movement and those who have been working for the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind movement have higher chances to be considered as greater assets in the Afterlife. That is the reason to love these youngsters more than others. I say that the youngsters here from Kerala will one day become the greatest factor for change in India. This is because when I visited Kodungallur Cheraman Masjid this morning. Allah chose Kerala to have the first masjid in India. I consider this a big victory and development and this proves that anything that was started from the coasts of Kerala has not gone kaput. Visiting Kodungallur Cheraman Masjid, India’s first mosque today, I met the youngsters and have been addressing you all from this stage. Not everybody would have understood my language. But still, I see the hearts of those who consider that Sabarimala here is speaking for Islam and we must pray for her too. I have no doubts about it.

I might forget many of your faces those I met here. But I will remember you all in my prayers with tears. I felt like an orphan and I have lost everything. But Islam adopted me and has bestowed me with all these friends and family for me, thereby giving me a victory in my present life in this world. I want to pray for you and your family. When we all stand together as the slaves of God, even a mighty opponent cannot defeat us. We must have faith that God is with us. That faith must fuel us to stand against every evil practice prevailing in this society. Islam is the antidote for all the evil practices. In the afterlife, we all will be around prophet Muhammed near the stream of Al Kawthar, drinking water from it. I complete my speech with this faith.

Assalamu alaikum. Love you all. Love you all for Islam. With tears, kindness and gratitude, I want to say you all are my family.

(After slogans)

Allahu Akbar. I haven’t seen a crowd or stage or happiness like this in Tamilnadu. But people from the neighbour state, Malayali people invited me here and have given me such respect. We all are together in this. Let Allah accept all our prayers.

Fathima Sabarimala is a popular motivational speaker and social activist based in Tamil Nadu. This is the full text of her speech in Tamil at the state conference of Solidarity Youth Movement Kerala.

The full speech was transcribed and translated by Ilyas R Muhammed.

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