Report of Meeting 20th May 2014
Rehanah Sadiq, Muslim chaplain to the University Hospitals Birmingham and the Birmingham Women’s Hospital.
Rehanah told us her life-story and her faith journey, beginning in Gujranwala in the Pakistani Punjab, where her father was from a muhajir family, one of those who emigrated from India to the new country of Pakistan at the time of the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. Muhajirs wanted to live under a Muslim government, not in Hindu-dominated India, and saw themselves as following the example of the prophet Muhammad in his migration from Mecca to Medina. However, Rehanah says that she can’t claim this of her parents as they lived closely and happily with Hindu and Sikh communities. Her mother still enquires after the whereabouts of her best Hindu friend to this day every time she comes across a new Hindu contact. Like so many families, it was natural to go along with their religious grouping.
Rehanah's father’s leather business did not go as well as he had hoped in Pakistan, and in 1959 he came to Sheffield to be a railway train conductor before becoming a bus conductor, his family following in 1961, when Rehanah was two or three. Her mother spoke no English at first, but learnt it side by side with Rehanah’s progress through school. She still speaks mainly English with her daughter, so that Rehanah has only sketchy Urdu and Punjabi.
She loved her Church of England primary school, St Barnabas, and did not realise for a long time that she came from a different culture. ‘I fell in love with Jesus’, she says. But at secondary school her trousers and very modest dress singled her out. She was over-protected, not allowed to go out to play, or stay over at a friend’s house after a party. She began to play truant, and falsified her school reports to make her parents think she was doing well. Unaware of her own talents and ill-served by a mere ten minutes with a careers officer, she did a City and Guilds course in order to get a job as a lab technician, despite ‘being a people person’. Falling in love with a white English non-Muslim supposedly ‘interested in Islam’, she married at 19 and was divorced at 22. There were no children.
She worked for Mothercare in Wales, and met an Iraqi woman who wore a headscarf and was a devout Muslim praying five times a day, yet was a fulfilled woman doing everything she wanted to do. Deeply impressed by her, Rehanah began to pray as she had never prayed before. Returning to Sheffield she began to work for Islamic Relief Worldwide as a volunteer, and to do serious study of Islam. She took particular note of the way the Qur’an speaks of women, and began to speak to Muslim women’s groups on women’s rights in Islam, eventually becoming a teacher in a mosque school teaching Qur’an and Islamic studies.
Encouraged by dreams and a special (istikhara) prayer for guidance she overcame her mother’s misgivings and married an English convert to Islam, and subsequently had four children. From teaching in a madrassa and engaging with Muslim youth, she joined Young Muslims UK that grew into the Islamic Society of Britain, and was appointed to her present chaplaincy roles, with the encouragement of members of the Muslim community and the pioneering work of the Christian chaplain, the Revd Stephen Barton.
Rehanah says ‘England is my home’. She felt a fish out of water on visits to Pakistan, unable to speak the language adequately, and identified as a foreigner even when she looked and was dressed like everyone else there.
Our meeting was a bit shorter than usual as Rehanah had to catch a train back to Solihull, so there was no time left for questions, but we hope she may come and talk to us again.