Charlotte Bibby | Ruwaydah and Steven
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Ruwaydah and Steven

April 2017

 

Ruwaydah is a 24 year old British-Ghanian engaged (married in July 2017) to Steven, a 33 year old Brit born in Newcastle. Ruwaydah was brought up Muslim in London, and Steven converted after they began their relationship back in 2014. Ruwaydah posts regularl vlogs on YouTube as AbsolutelyRuwaydah.

 

Ruwaydah’s YouTube: @absolutelyruwaydah | Ruwaydah’s Instagram: @ruwaydahhh

 

Steven’s YouTube: @owaisintheplace | Steven’s Instagram: @owaisintheplace

 

Click below to scroll through extracts from our interview.

 

[When I was younger] I would say the people that were around me were Asian Muslims, specifically Pakistani and Afghan Muslims and I think they did see me as a Muslim, they respected me in a sense because growing up in 2004, 2005, they didn’t really link together being black and being a Muslim so they thought it was really cool, but they still tried to impose their views on me which they didn’t realise were more cultural aspects of their lifestyle as opposed to religious. So that was kind of weird for me, and it was hard for me to grasp what was Islam, what was them and what was what I was actually supposed to be doing, so I think growing up it was a bit of a weird time because I couldn’t really identify with who I was because of my culture, but then also religion clashing in a sense.

 

In Ghana it’s a bit of a weird one, you get people who are Muslim, they may pray five times a day but then you may also have muslims who may go to nightclubs, have a boyfriend or girlfriend or wear ‘revealing’ clothes. It’s different because people wouldn’t look at it as so bad, it wouldn’t be that much of a bad thing, because also culture plays a huge part in it. In my culture music is a really big thing, dancing is a huge thing, so segregation between females and males isn’t a thing, but then obviously you can go to the Northern parts of Ghana where people are more strict, and there are more villages and close-knit communities. It’s different. I would say for me, growing up now and being 24, I don’t think that people really see me in any kind of way because people are more open and exposed to different types of Muslims, different types of people that exist, whereas twelve years ago they were like “excuse me, Muslim? Black? How?” So now I think it’s settled in a bit more, and now it’s different.

 

[But], when I was about 14, 15, I went to a friend’s house, and she’d just started wearing the hijab, before that she literally would gel her hair, do all that kind of stuff, and then literally, bam, it changed one Monday and I was like “what is going on?” I went to her house with my cousin who’s a Catholic, who went to a Catholic school, and when we went there we were basically told by her sisters that we were going to hell and if we don’t start repenting now, that’s the end of us, in eternity and hellfire and all that stuff. We were so scared that we put on Niqabs, the full face veil, and then she basically told us go out into the streets, see how you feel, and if you feel ok then you should start wearing that on Monday. We were just so scared. She was showing us all these clips on YouTube about how people were dying, and how the angel of death was taking their souls away from them and we were so scared to the point where we went home and we cried every single night for months. But honestly that is the only time I’ve come across anything so extreme.

There was only one thing that I knew from when we started our relationship. I had said, I’m not here just to be here and go “hi, and let’s see what happens”. I knew and I said that I wanted to build something with her, and “do you want to come on the journey?” Ruwaydah had said, specifically, that her conditions were when our children are born, she would like them to be brought up to be Muslims, and because I’d put my cards on the table and said “look, we want to build something” that definitely played a part [in my conversion].

I have actually had a bad experience as a Muslim actually, in 2014 when I went to New York. I stopped off in Atlanta to fly over there, and I went solo travelling for two weeks and I was nearly not allowed into the country because I was a Muslim because of my name. They just thought I was dodgy and they had to go through all my stuff, they put me in a confined area. My flight was within that hour so I just got on the flight. They basically said that they thought it was highly suspicious, they wanted to know where my name was from, they wanted to know if I was born a Muslim, they wanted to know everything and when I asked someone else they just said “oh no, it’s not because you’re Muslim, it’s because we’ve never really seen anyone solo-travel and we’ve never seen a black person solo travel in their life”. I said “well, that makes sense, because why was that person asking me where my name originated from and is it Arabic?” Don’t try and lie. And it was even more bull because by the time I got to New York there were so many other solo travellers and they were like “yeah, well we came from Atlanta as well”, I was like, “exactly. Don’t lie”

Ruwaydah:

If someone does something, and it’s something that the other person isn’t doing, you’re like “oh my god, well done, it’s so great that you’re doing that”. Well, really, that person wants to do that, and if you really want to do that, you can also do that. You’re just not there. Everyone has different journeys in life and people really forget that. Like yes, you might be doing something that I’m not doing, but we didn’t grow up at the same time, we didn’t come from the same womb, we didn’t grow up with the same friends, we didn’t have the same experiences or even the same culture. So you can’t expect someone to make the same choices as you that hasn’t lived the same life as you, the same way you might like chocolate ice cream and I don’t, maybe it’s because I grew up and I had some really bad chocolate ice cream, so people need to just understand that. Everyone has their own journey, everyone has different things that they’re working with, or trying to get through, or trying to understand. I think in this day and age, everyone just tries to fit into a box so much, and I don’t even think it’s just to do with religion, it can even be sexuality, it can even be to do with disorders, it can be anything. Well maybe it’s about focussing on yourself and trying to better yourself and just not worrying about what that other person is doing, you know?”

 

Steven:

I think as well you could have somebody who’s a practicing Muslim and does something 100% of the time, exactly as it should be, and you could have another Muslim who does 100%, but then you could ask each Muslim, “who’s the better Muslim?” and that’s when it comes into the human aspect of it, as opposed to just the religious aspect of it, because there’s really two aspects of that, and they’re both going to say “I’m the better Muslim”. Why? Because that’s what you’re saying? Then that’s down to how you’re agreeing, and just as humans how you’re agreeing what is right what is wrong, and I think they both need to go “oh you’re doing 100% time, I’m doing 100% time, oh, we’re both good, we’re both just trying…” But that little bit there is what’s lost. There’s not that “let’s just be even with each other.

 

Ruwaydah:

Even in life, though, what is good? What is a good person? What makes a bad person? You can’t measure that, it’s not fact, it’s opinion. Therefore, that’s why, for me I don’t even concern myself with certain things anymore because I feel like “who are we to judge?”. As we say, we all believe in God, or we’re from the same religion, so leave it to God to decide what’s right and what’s wrong and that’s not for us to decide on.

This isn’t particularly a difficult time, but I would say in the sense of growing up and being adolescent, I think Islam really did help me shape myself, even as a woman, because a lot of people do think as a Muslim woman as suppressed, you can’t do certain things, but I think it gave me a lot of self confidence to know what I want in life, how to not be mistreated by a silly little boy who may want something that I’m not willing to give. I feel like it really did shape me as a person growing up. It wasn’t really a hard time, but at a time where obviously people are experimenting and doing things, I knew within myself that my religion helped me keep my morality and not do certain things that I may have wanted to do if I wasn’t a Muslim.

So obviously Steven converted into Islam and I was born a Muslim, so for me I’ve kind of always been confused as to how I wanted to portray Islam or how I wanted to implement it into my life, and what I’ve decided more recently is being a good Muslim is one: being true to yourself, and being true to God, and also practicing as much as you can at that present time. Because a lot of people think that they’re a good Muslim because they pray five times a day, which is fantastic, but also with that being said, you have to be a good person and if you aren’t a good person doing those things within Islam is not going to make you a good Muslim. So I think you need to be true to yourself and you need to know realistically what you want to do within Islam or what you want to implement into your life to make yourself a good Muslim.