Rejoice Afebli now Dunu Rejoice Zainab is a Christian convert who went on to adopt the Niqab (veil) and memorised the Qur’an. In this interview with Daily Trust Saturday , the final year student of Pharmacy, University of Ilorin, with a Ghanaian father and Nigerian mother from Kogi State, shared the story of her journey to Islam, experiences so far and challenges that had come with it. Excerpts:
Give us a glimpse into your educational and family backgrounds?
I was born into a Christian home by a Ghanaian father, Mr Michael Afebli and Nigerian mother, Mrs Otaru Aina Florence, who hails from Ogaminana, Adavi Local Government Area of Kogi State. My dad owned a school which has since been sold and mum wasn’t working. Though she died when I was 12 years old, the last time I saw her was when I was 9. I was told she was sick and had to be operated on but couldn’t make it to the theatre. I attended Board of Glory Primary School and got to Primary 5 around 2008/09, then went to Covenant Junior High school and finished in 2012 before I proceeded to Anlo Senior High School in 2012-15. I got admitted to the University of Cape Coast (2015-17), all in Ghana, before I came to the University of Ilorin, in Nigeria, in 2017 till date studying Pharmacy. I speak Ewe, Twi (Ghanaian languages), Yoruba and English. In my secondary school days in Ghana, I was a very devote Christian and went out for evangelism because of my principle that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well, whether in academics or any other aspect of life. As a Christian, I used to believe that I would get to a stage where I will not sin again. When I commit a sin then, I will go to a place and cry myself out because of the resolve to serve God in truth and worship.
So how did you encounter Islam?
Though I have very few distant family members who are Muslims, my parents were strong practicing Christians. After my secondary school, I came to a family friend’s pharmacy in Nigeria to assist while waiting for admission because I love the medical field. But I never knew Allah had other plans for me as I became a Muslim through her. I loved the woman and the family so much. She was so submissive, of good behaviour and together with the children, dressed modestly. At this point, I was interested in knowing what is really in the religion and after some time and with conviction, I took my Shahada before I gained admission to the university in Ghana, Alhamdulillahi.
My family friends were very supportive. Actually, if my mum was alive, maybe it would have been a tug of war. It is something I feel bad about but I thank Allah for the guidance. My dad is educated and a very rational person even if he is not the regular church going type. At some point, his Christian friends queried why he would watch me and allow me to make decisions on my own to the point of converting to Islam. So, my father called me and wanted to be harsh but I told him to look at all his children and that of his friends, which of them can he compare to me in terms of academics and morals, among several other criteria. That was the last time he questioned my decisions. Apart from that, I didn’t really face much problem.
Have you had situations where some of you family members and friends who are Christians have tried to convince you to revert back to Christianity?
Yes, I have had such situations but when I was a Christian, I knew the religion because I used to go for evangelism. Some of the verses they bring to convince me, I know it more than them. It’s only now that I have forgotten some. See, I have studied Islam and can see the difference. At times, when we are having a conversation and some of them are not being rational, I try to avoid it.
When did the interest to memorise the Qur’an start?
It was after my conversion and admission into Cape Coast University in Ghana while I was studying medical diagnostics in 2015. I linked up with two female Muslims, a Niqobist who had completed memorisation of the Qur’an and her second who had completed more than half of the Holy book. This really motivated me. Also, I was eager to dress like them even though I didn’t really know much about Islam then. But I always put in my best in whatever I am doing and I took up the Niqob, Alhamdulillah. Interestingly, while in Ghana, I memorised from the 58th chapter, Juz Mujadillah to Nas, the end of the Qur’an which is 62 pages without even recognising alif or any Arabic alphabet. I just memorised it like music through listening and trying to follow the tune. It took a lot of efforts but Alhamdulillah. When I came to Nigeria, I started all over and got an ustaz who took me through Nurul Bayan, a book on how to learn Arabic. Now, I have completed the whole Qur’an at Assunnah Academy of Arabic and Islamic Studies, here in Tanke, Ilọrin.
What was your greatest challenge while you attempted to memorise the Qur’an?
It was very challenging and I had to sacrifice my 100 level, meaning not putting much effort in my academics in order to memorise the Qur’an. It’s not that I did not do well, but not as much as I know I can because of my focus. I am studying Pharmacy, that on its own requires a lot of efforts and it was not easy combining both. Also, finding a Qur’anic tutor then was not easy because I prefered a lady. But when you befriend one and establish chemistry and friendship, the seriousness will wane. For that, I had a lot of people who took me through my Qur’an journey. Although it affected my CGPA, I am grateful that the decision was for something better and Alhamdulillah, I am building it back up now in 500 level before my graduation this year. But it has not been easy combining university and attending Madrasah. I have female friends that I started together with who couldn’t continue. At a point, it almost affected me when I started to ask myself whether all these troubles were worth it, but with good intention, Allah directed other friends who advised me never to give up, that I can do it and here I am today. I am not the type that will sit down doing nothing but one who always wants to add value to myself with respect to the deen and the secular world towards attaining Paradise which is my ultimate goal. I can’t compromise that for anything.
What worked for you in your memorisation of the Qur’an?
One thing I have always wanted is to home school my children so that when they are speaking outside and are asked who they learned the deen from; they will proudly say their mother. That has been my driving force and the routine for me was to wake up early in the morning before Subhi and put in the effort I can and continue after prayer. That was part of why I sacrificed my 100 level. I also had a friend who had finished memorising the Qur’an that I used to go to their house during vacations because I know I will not have house chores to do, her mum understands. I will lock myself up in her room and after she reads some verses to me, I will go and memorise it. These were the little things that greatly assisted me.
Was money at any time a problem in your memorisation and academic journeys?
Not really, at some point when it wanted to be an issue, Allah was and has been very faithful. I don’t have a mother, sometimes my dad will fall ill and it gets hard, but Allah has blessed me in those situations through my guardians. They never make me feel I don’t have a mother and they have supported me financially.
How do you see yourself in the next five years, In Shaa Allah?
As a lady of substance who would have improved in reading the Quran which I so much cherish in terms of memorisation, Tajweed and Qirat (different renditions). I have just memorised the Quran in one rendition; I still have about 19 others to add. I want to be married, have kids and complete my PhD in Public Health or Pharmaceutics and Industrial Chemistry and make an impact in the pharmaceutical world because I love academics.
Do you have any regret so far?
Absolutely not, I still have a Christian home and my family members are educated and rational, whenever I go to Ghana for vacations, which I still do and when it’s time for Fajr, they are the ones that come to wake me up for Fajr, the dawn prayer. It was a friend who suggested the name Zainab after my conversion and was told that it’s the name of one of the prophet’s daughters, so I went for it.
I will not say it’s easy or you will have it on a platter of gold, but Allah has made it so for me and that is why it is important that you have a driving force that keeps pushing you. In my case, the fact that I will be among those most beloved to Almighty Allah (Ahlul Quran), if I memorised the Qur’an, was too powerful to ignore and then I will have the opportunity to train my children in the way of Islam and the Quran. When it gets a bit difficult or stressful, I will relax and then continue pushing. Women are the home and have to put in much effort to build themselves Islamically to be able to build the kind of home we envisaged for ourselves and families. With a lot of prayers, Allah will come to your aid.