A former party-lover has given up cocktails, cigarettes and burlesque dancing and converted to Islam after falling for a Muslim man nine years her junior. In her days of burlesque dancing, she would parade around in nothing but knickers and nipple tassels.
UK DAILY MAIL Mother-of-three Claire Birkill, 37, from Nottingham, overhauled her lifestyle after a trip to Gambia in January where she met fiance, Sarif Jallow, 28.
But since converting, she now covers up in a hijab and says she is ashamed she was once such an exhibitionist. She’s also changed her name by deed poll to Jameela. She said: ‘Before I enjoyed weekly burlesque classes. I would strip down to silky corsets and do sexy dances. Now I’m so ashamed of my past, I can barely look at old photos. I feel like I’ve been reborn.’
Jameela, who has three children aged six, 16, and 18, met her fiance, Sarif, following the breakdown of her first marriage and said it was love at first sight. She explained: ‘My eight-year marriage broke down in 2013 around the time I decided to study tourism at college.’ As part of the course last January, she travelled to the Gambia, West Africa, where she met Sarif.
‘He was a teacher and nine years younger than me but it was love at first sight,’ Jameela said. ‘He was so intelligent and kind. On the last day of the trip in March he told me he loved me. ‘As I left the airport I cried and cried for three hours straight.’
Back home, Jameela, then still Claire, spoke to Sarif on the phone every night and he proposed weeks later. She used to be a Methodist but after listening to Sarif talk about his religion, she decided to research it on the internet and ‘immediately felt a connection’. She said. ‘It’s about peace, empathy, love and kindness, all things I believe in. I realiZed I needed to become a Muslim.’ (Wait’ll they tie you down to perform genital mutilation)
She converted in a special ceremony in June and changed her name to one that’s traditionally Muslim. She has not asked her children to convert, leaving them to make their own decisions on whether they want to follow a path of religion.
She also began observing Ramadan, explaining: ‘It’s a month-long period of prayer, fasting, charity-giving and self accountability for Muslims. It was difficult but incredibly fulfilling. Romantic thoughts are forbidden during Ramadan, so I banned myself from talking to Sarif in daylight hours because I got too turned on by his voice.’
It’s a far cry from her former hedonistic lifestyle. As a young woman, she had a weakness for cigarettes and alcohol and was often promiscuous. She said: ‘Before becoming a mum I’d think nothing about bringing a man home after a night out. Normally it was alcohol-induced but I’d never do it now.
She’s also now given up her hobby of burlesque dancing, which she started in 2012 after signing up for classes at a local dance studio. ‘I wanted to improve my body confidence. I would perform routines, starting off fully dressed and ending up in just silky pants and nipple tassels,’ she explained. ‘I’d never dream of doing it now.
‘Looking at pictures of me in a pink silk basque I see it is very un-Islamic. Islam believes a woman’s body is just for her husband.’
The way she eats and dresses on a daily basis has changed dramatically too. ‘I travel ten miles to ensure I only buy Halal meat from a specialist butcher. I used to joke “don’t wake me up in the morning unless bringing me a bacon butty and coffee” – I’d never say that now. Giving up bacon has been the hardest thing but Halal prohibits it.
‘I always cover my legs as requested to by Islam. I found the headscarf quite restrictive at first. But now I wear it tighter because I want to.’ Jameela said Sarif was ‘heartbroken’ when she told him about her past but she said: ‘He knows how committed I am now and believes I’ve changed.’
Sarif is still living in Gambia and the couple will continue to have a long distance relationship after they marry because Jameela does not want to disrupt her youngest son’s education.
She is often mocked or abused when she goes out in public wearing a hijab. She said: ‘Some friends don’t want to know me anymore and others are refusing to call me by my new name.
‘In the street one person asked why I wasn’t wearing a letterbox, meaning a burkha. It’s so disrespectful. I’ve heard sniggering in the playground when I’ve picked my son up from school and laughed at in Primark by teenage girls.
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