Family Groups - Mothers - Converting to Islam for Family
When Jemima Goldsmith, the 21-year-old daughter of billionaire
Sir James, married Imran Khan she embraced not only the world's
most handsome sportsman but also the Muslim faith, taking
the name Haiqa. Here, in an exclusive account, she tells how
she journeyed from the glamorous society of London to the
austere religion of Lahore.
THE media present me as a naive, besotted 21-year-old
who has made a hasty decision without really considering the
consequences - thus effectively condemning herself to a life
of interminable subservience, misery and isolation. Although
I must confess I have rather enjoyed the various depictions
of a veiled and miserable "Haiqa Khan" incarcerated
in chains, the reality is somewhat different. Contrary to
current opinion, my decision to convert to Islam was entirely
my own choice and in no way hurried. Whilst the act of conversion
itself is surprisingly quick - entailing the simple assertion
that "there is only one God and Mohammed is His Prophet"
- the preparation is not necessarily so speedy a process.
In my case, this began last July, whilst the actual conversion
took place in early February - three months before the Nikkah
During that time, I studied in depth both the
Quran and the works of various Islamic scholars (Gai Eaton,
the Bosnian president Alia Izetbegovic, Muhammad Asad) , thus
giving me ample time to reflect before making my decision.
What began as intellectual curiosity slowly ripened into a
dawning realisation of the universal and eternal truth that
is Islam. In the statement given out a week ago, I particularly
stressed that I had converted to Islam entirely "through
my own convictions". The significance of this has been
largely ignored by the press. The point is that my conversion
was not, as so many have assumed, a pre-requisite to my marriage.
It was entirely my own choice. Religiously speaking, there
was absolutely no compulsion for me to convert prior to my
marriage. As it explicitly states in the Quran, a Muslim is
permitted to marry from "the People of the Book"
- in other words, either a Christian or a Jew. Indeed, the
Sunnah - which describes the life of the Prophet - shows that
the messenger of Islam himself married both a Christian and
a Jew during his lifetime.
I believe that much of this hostility towards
my marriage and conversion stems from widespread misconceptions
about an alien culture and religion. Not only is there a huge
gulf between the Western view of Islam and the reality, but
there is in some cases also a significant distinction between
Islam based directly on the Quran and the Sunnah and that
practised by some Islamic societies. During the last year
I have had the opportunity to visit Pakistan on three separate
occasions and have observed Islamic family life in practice.
Thus, to some extent I now feel qualified to judge for myself
the true role and position of women in the religion. At the
risk of sounding defensive, I would like to point out that
Islam is not a religion which subjugates women whilst elevating
men to the status of mini-dictators in their own homes.
I was able to see this first-hand when I met
Imran's sisters in Lahore: they are all highly educated professional
women. His oldest sister, Robina, is an alumnus of the LSE
and holds a senior position in the United Nations in New York.
Another sister, Aleema, has a master's degree in business
administration and runs a successful business; Uzma is a highly
qualified surgeon working in a Lahore hospital, whilst Rani
is a university graduate who co-ordinates charity work. They
can hardly be seen as "women in chains" dominated
by tyrannical husbands. On the contrary, they are strong-minded
independent women - yet at the same time they remain deeply
committed both to their families and their religion. Thus,
I was able to see - in theory and in practice - how Islam
promotes the essential notion of the family unit without subjugating
its female members.
I am nevertheless fully aware that women are
sometimes exploited and oppressed in Islamic societies, as
in other parts of the world. Judging by some of the articles
which have appeared in the press, it would seem that a Western
woman's happiness hinges largely upon her access to nightclubs,
alcohol and revealing clothes; and the absence of such apparent
freedom and luxuries in Islamic societies is seen as an infringement
of her basic rights. However, as we all know, such superficialities
have very little to do with true happiness. Besides, without
in any way wishing to disparage the culture of the Western
world, into which I was born, I am more than willing to forego
the transient pleasures derived from alcohol and nightclubs;
and as for the clothes I will be wearing, I find the traditional
shalwar kameez (tunic and trousers) worn by most Pakistani
women far more elegant and feminine than anything in my wardrobe.
Finally, it seems futile to speculate on my
chances of marital success. Marriage, as Imran's father has
been quoted as saying, is indeed "a gamble". However,
when I see that in a society based on family life the divorce
rate is just a fraction of that in European or American society,
I cannot see that my chances of success are any less than
if I had chosen to marry a Westerner. I am all too aware of
the enormous task of adapting to a new and radically different
culture. But with the love of my husband and the support of
his family I look forward to the challenge wholeheartedly,
and would like to feel that people wish me well. Whilst I
do appreciate the genuine concerns of many, I must confess
to feeling somewhat bewildered by all of the commotion.