A letter to my Romanian family
By Mona Thwany
I was approached by a Romanian journalist to take part in an interview about my Romanian origins and background. Frankly, at first, I wanted nothing more to do with the press and I think I have said enough about my late husband, Taimour Abdulwahab's case in my nearly fifty minutes long interview with British journalist and author Yvonne Ridley.
However, I would welcome the opportunity to put the record straight after all the lies that have been said about me in the press, especially in the Romanian press. I wanted to say it in my own words, no interviews, no selections and no misinterpretations, just MY own words. I have much I would like to say to my Romanian family and to Romanians in general.
All that I would ask of you is: please read what I have to say first before you make your own judgment.
Allah is my only Judge
Without me saying even ONE word I have been labelled a “suicide-bomber’s wife”, a “fundamentalist”, an “extremist” and even ”brainwashed”. The worst allegation was claiming that I influenced (or radicalised to use the exact word) my late husband in his actions. Some sitting in judgment of me have also called me stupid for not knowing what my husband was planning.
The reality is, how many of us really know what is happening? In particular, I’m talking about working mothers who have to juggle raising children with running a job – in my case launching and developing a business. This is my reality and added to that I trusted my husband. I had no idea he was leading a double life. Taimour (may Allah have mercy on his soul) is responsible for his own actions, and I am completely and without any exceptions responsible for my actions. Allah (God Almighty in Arabic) is my judge and knows what is in my heart.
My Romanian origins
Back to my Romanian origins and background. I was born in Bucharest in 1982 to a beautiful and talented woman who spent her life looking after the wellbeing of her family. Mother, I will eternally be grateful to you. My father, Ali or Abdul for some, is an impressively intelligent Iraqi architect holding a Ph.D. from Romania in 1999.
However, dear father, I wish you could stop calling me “brainwashed”. Indeed, I had no knowledge of what my husband was doing but I wish you could realise that everything I have done is by pure conviction and I was not made to do anything against my will in regards to my religion. Of all people, you should know this since you raised me to be a free and independent woman.
During his Architecture studies in Romania, my father met my Romanian mother Mihaela and they soon fell in love and got married. And thirty years, three children and five grand-children later their love is still strong.
My mother and father raised us as Muslims and my mother even converted or reverted to Islam in the mid-eighties. She made this decision by her own free will and she would be the first to reject that she had been brainwashed or forced by my father to do this. He would also protest strongly that this was a decision not forced on her by him, but reached freely in exactly the same way that I rediscovered my Faith.
She never adopted the Islamic veil but she is always in my prayers as I wish that one day she will. Dear Mother, I wish that you one day consider practising more of the religion that is dear to more than a billion people around the globe.
Hijab- the Islamic veil
By saying this, I’m not bringing anything new to the table but it’s an important fact.
Millions of people have accepted Islam as their religion and way of life from the Americas to Europe, to the Middle-East and Asia and even as far as China and Australia. There are approximately 1,6 billion Muslims in the world and Arabs represent only around 20% of Muslims and people from Indonesia hold the largest Muslim community in the world (with over 200 million people).
Grandfather, as a history and geography teacher, I am sure you have knowledge of this. Hence, when I started, according to you, to “dress like an Arab”, you didn’t take these facts into consideration.
I am sure you know that I, and millions of Muslim women alike, do not dress like Arabs but the “hijab” (the “burka” or “burqa” is particular to Afghan women, by the way) is not only for Arab women but an aspect of the religion of Islam that I CHOOSE to follow.
I can understand that it must have shocked people that I dramatically changed from a tight-clothed, eye-liner loving, red lipped young woman to a more modest (showing only my face and hands), loose-clothed, and head covering “Arab looking” woman, in PUBLIC, I must emphasise. And, by the way, I still love my black eyeliner, IN PRIVATE! In private we, most Muslim women that is, make sure we dress nicely and beautify our appearance.
On my last visit to Romania in summer 2006, I tried my best I to explain to my Romanian family why I have adopted this attire even though I didn’t practice my faith until 2003. I didn’t convert to Islam in 2001 as it was said, as I have always been a Muslim, and I wasn’t married yet whilst being a student in the United Kingdom. There was no husband and no father to force me to cover my hair and body, it was strictly a choice I had made.
Similarly, the University of Bedfordshire is also free from blame for my "radicalisation"! It was a choice made by myself, for myself.
Have you ever thought about the fact that our beloved and much respected Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus (Peace be upon them), is always depicted as a modest and pure woman covered up by a „hijab”? The real questions is evidently not why Muslim women wear the hijab but rather why women who claim they love the Virgin Mary don’t!?
Games of the Media
One of the most revealing aspects about the media in this whole experience has been the requests, and on one occasion the “insistence” that I remove my veil for better pictures. The reasoning behind this was because I had a “pretty” face and readers would want to see what I look like.
Surely, being judged on the content of your speech rather than how you look is far more liberating!
But no, this editor wanted me to reveal more because it would sell more of his newspapers. I asserted myself and made it clear I am not a commodity but an individual with self-esteem and not a woman prepared to be exploited by the media.
The fact that by continuing to publish my photographs in their newspapers and magazines has exposed my children and myself to dangers through hate crimes or a random attacker seems to have escaped them.
The copyright of all of those pictures (freely given or under pressure matters not) belongs to me. I would therefore ask the media not to use them anymore not only from a legal point of view but from a security point of view. I need to protect my children.
My grand-parents’ village
What strikes me the most is that, during my short stay in Bolintin Vale that summer of 2006, in the privacy of my grand-parents home and beautiful, forest-like garden away from prying eyes of non-relative males, I looked like an ordinary jeans and t-shirt girl. With open hair and lipstick, I was the same girl they’d always known.
The only difference was that I would cover up in public and in the eventual visit of a male stranger.
In Islam, there is a time and place for everything: a time and place for worship where we look modest, but also a time to have a good time during celebrations and parties, a perfect opportunity to look pretty and attractive. Muslim women do not wear their head coverings at all times: most Muslim women beautify themselves in front of their families, husbands and female friends.
Yet, a person in the family did not even hesitate making the following statement: “stop dressing like an Arab and start dressing like a civilised person”.
I am not even going to start talking about the history of civilisations and I will certainly not go into the history of the Arab and Islamic civilisation that lasted for a good thousand years while Europe was in its Dark Ages.
Furthermore, while in Romania that same year, I felt a huge difference between Romania and the United Kingdom where I freely walk in the streets and I do not get stared at, pointed at, laughed at or treated like an alien.
On the other hand, in Romania some people would say in a slow and loud voice “V-O-R-B-E-S-T-I R-O-M-A-N-E-S-T-E?” (do you speak Romanian?). Da, vorbesc româneşte (yes, I speak Romanian). I am Romanian yet I was treated like an Alien due to the way I dress.
Did you know that according to a very recent article by the Daily Express, there are thousands of British people converting to Islam each year as Islam has become the fastest growing religion in the world?
I personally prefer using the word "reverting" to Islam instead of "converting" as Muslims consider accepting Islam to be the simple "reverting" of the human being to the natural disposition of believing and worshipping the One God, Allah.
Do you also know that most of these reverts of Islam in the United Kingdom are free, independent, white, some with blonde hair and blue eyes, British women? Most of them eventually adopt the Islamic veil...are these British women then “uncivilised”, “forced”, “subjugated” women because they wear the Islamic hijab?
I think not! Just take a look at Yvonne Ridley, a British woman who reverted to Islam a few years ago, she’s an excellent example!
It is therefore, and with great pleasure, that I INVITE my family and the people of Romania to read and educate themselves about the quickly becoming the largest religion in the world: Islam.
You don’t have to believe in it, or agree with its teachings, or adopt Islam as a way of life, and you don’t even have to like it! Nevertheless, you OUGHT to have basic common knowledge about this religion.
Islam's main universal call concentrates on the worship of Allah Almighty ALONE without any partners and the belief in His Holy books (mainly the Quran as the Word of God), His Prophets (Peace be upon them all) starting with Adam and Muhammed (Peace be upon him) being His last Messenger, His Angels, the Day of Judgment, Paradise and Hellfire as well as Divine Predestination (or destiny): the good and bad both come from Allah.
Furthermore, did you know there are approximately 70,000 Muslims living amongst you, mostly in the area of Dubroja? Are they being treated in the same manner I was treated in Romania?
They are Romanians, they breath the air you breath, they speak the same language you speak, they eat the same food you eat and they even look like you do and yes they have been Romanians for many centuries!
Likewise, one of my good friends in the United Kingdom is a Romanian revert to Islam from a Romanian mother and a Romanian father who live in Moldova.
There are also over eighty Mosques or Masjids in Romania, why don’t you visit one of them and maybe grab a Romanian translation of the Quran? Go to the source in order to learn about the religion of Islam and not to the mainstream misconceptions about Islam.
If this knowledge doesn’t benefit you, it certainly will not harm you!
My dear Romanian grand-parents, although revealing my personal life to the media and showing pictures of my family, my children and myself without my consent have been very detrimental to our lives, I forgive you. Yes, you have my forgiveness.
Nevertheless, I am taking the security of my children very seriously even if that means not contacting you anymore.
I have always tried to keep in touch with you either by phone, letters, and by sending you pictures of us and of my children. You are my blood, and my beautiful religion demands of me to keep ties of kinship even with my non-Muslim relatives. You will always be in my thoughts and prayers.
However, I cannot omit the fact that other relatives have always supported me in all my decisions and always said “do whatever makes you happy”. And they know Islam makes me happy and brings peace to my soul even though they are not Muslims and they have a very different lifestyle to mine.
I therefore thank you for being the kind and supportive relatives you are. I live in the hope that one day our children will have the opportunity to play together and that you see my little Princesses and my little Lion, Osama (this is what Osama means, by the way).
Osama is, in my opinion, a beautiful name, and is sported by thousands of people, especially in the middle-East!
I am proud of my origins
So the main question is...how do I feel about being of Romanian origin? I will tell you how I feel about my origins.
I am PROUD of my Romanian origins. Yes, I am proud of being Romanian in the exact same way I am proud of being Iraqi!
Unfortunately, I was never made to feel “Romanian”.
And it’s with great surprise and AMUSEMENT that, after 28 years, I am finally considered a ROMANIAN by the press!
Since I was a small child, I have been called “Araboaica” or “the Arab” even though I spoke like a little Romanian, I acted like a little Romanian, and I even ate the Romanian “Sarmale” and “chiorba de perisoare ” not to forget my grand-mother’s tasty “chiftele” and “zacusca” to name a few.
Similarly, when I went to the Romanian Embassy in London a few years ago, I was looked at from top to toe, scrutinised by the consular staff in Great Britain asking me with disbelief written all over their faces: “Are YOU Romanian?”. “Da, sunt Romanca” (yes, I am Romanian) was my reply, even though I knew they didn’t believe me.
Don’t get me wrong, I was never made to feel Iraqi either especially since I have never lived in Iraq. It has most of the time been said about me “yes...but her mother is Romanian”. I hope, even so, I get the opportunity to visit Iraq one day, the country of my father thus even my country.
I am proud, not to be confused with arrogance, of my origins and being part of the “melting pot” that the world has become.
However, I am a MUSLIM first and foremost because Islam is a religion for all mankind, regardless of country, ethnicity, physical appearance, skin colour or economical status.
I am proud to be a Muslim as Islam has accepted me UNCONDITIONALLY.
All Praise be to Allah, my Creator, whom without I wouldn’t be what I am today.
A great trial
I would finally want to thank some of my family and friends for their help and support and also to tell my acquaintances and some of my relatives: if you do not want to help me in my ordeal, it’s completely understandable, all I would ask of you is not make things more difficult than they already are.
Also, please do not believe everything you read in the press!
Personally, I would have preferred to have had this conversation privately with my family and friends, but they chose to make this a very public affair and so I have now chosen to respond likewise. Now that I have shared these concerns, I hope it has made things clearer than they were before.
Truthfully, what people call me has no real importance: my priority is my children and their wellbeing. I will also try to protect them as much as I can and to provide for them the best life I possibly can, with the help of Allah of course.
I hope now we can be allowed to grieve in private. The children have lost a father and I have lost a husband.
Coming to terms with that loss is going to be a huge challenge which I hope we can overcome with patience and gratitude. I would therefore kindly ask you to give us the privacy and respect we now need to mourn quietly and in peace, insh’Allah (God Willing).