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Selma Cook

 

lagosIsa was born in Lagos, Nigeria in a Christian home and was named Kristafar. He recalls some things from his early childhood: "I remember going out with my brother, stealing mangos, then running for my life. I remember witch doctors, military people, dusty streets, having no shoes, and few clothes."

 

Isa was never a sheltered child. As a religious and ambitious person, his mother played a pivotal role in his life. She left him and his older brother with her family in Nigeria while she and her husband went to the UK to study. Isa recalls: "We were with my mother's family in Lagos, then a family member from my father's side kidnapped us." Believing that the father's family was elite – descended from the Nigerian royal family – Isa's relative took the boys intending to preserve their royal identity. Isa tells how he learned much from his father's side of the family: "There I learned elitism and that elitism can give birth to racism. It's a bad attitude. Now I really dislike people who think like that. I'm a brother standing out for justice and equality."

 

Isa's mother was understandably upset when she learned that her sons had been kidnapped, but despite the danger, she returned, inspired by a mother's love and found them. Isa remembers: "My most inspirational memory was when I was playing in the street with my brother and I saw my mum come out of the blue! I said to my brother 'I told you she would come back'!" She cried happy tears that her son was confident and strong.

A strong woman herself, his mother had lived through the Biafran war and as a child she and her family had slept with machine guns under their pillows.

 

Isa, his brother and his mum escaped to the UK. At the airport in Nigeria he saw some strange and interesting things for the first time. He recalls: "I remember the suitcases and mum calling us and me running to her. I saw white people for the first time and was fascinated at their skin. I remember me and my brother pinching a man's skin to see if it was real but we got off with it because we were cute!"

 

Isa flew with his family to England in the 70s; a time of browns, purples and wide trousers. Isa was in awe and says that he still is. He began his education in South London and finally attended college earning an arts degree. A top student, he was always good at drawing and writing and through art found a way of expressing himself. As a teenager he would even paint a blade of grass, carefully including all the details. He remarks: "I was a mirror of reality, always admiring."

 

Family Break-Up

Isa's life changed at the age of five when his parents broke up. His father was a military man; a marine engineer working with the UN, and always busy. Isa witnessed domestic violence within his own family and thereafter lived with his mum. Even at such a young age he had a keen conscience and the courage to act according to it. When he saw his father hurting his mother, young Isa bravely grabbed his father trying to stop him. He recalls: "I wasn't afraid. It was a prelude of things to come. I just can't leave injustice go. It's in me."

 

A New Religion – New Tactics

After his parents' separation his mum joined the Moonies (the Unification church), believing that their leader was the reincarnation of Jesus and the true parents of humanity. Isa recalls that this religious turn gave him a moral grounding. His mother had tried different churches but this one helped them the most.

 

But Isa and his brother saw past the teachings of their mother's church and believed that charity starts at home. They observed that their mum was always busy in the church, giving away any spare money they had. Isa remembers: "My brother and I started stealing donations and we were eventually banned from the church. This was a big shame for mum. We reasoned that because mum gave everything to the church, the church should give to us!"

 

His mother is a spiritual person and had many dreams. She remembers one in particular that she often quotes these days. She recalls that many years ago she dreamt that Isa came into her house and broke all the idols and that she accepted him anyway.

 

To the Streets

But Isa's teenage years were a trial for his mum. While raising three children alone, she also became one of the first black women in the UK to earn a PhD in health and environment and became a university lecturer. During one of his mum's trips back to Nigeria, Isa and his brother and little sister stayed in the UK with a relative. However, his aunty became ill and they were left at home with no food and no money. Before his mother could come back, he and his brother took desperate measures to get some money. By this time his brother was already hanging out with louts on the streets and Isa was only 13. He remembers feeling really bad when he took part in his first robbery. He recalls: "The way my brother did it made me feel sick. He crawled around looking for a victim, then found a woman and crept up behind her and kicked her in the back. I was there so I was implicated. When he shouted telling me to run I had to run with him. We went down an alley and counted the money. It was without doubt the worst feeling I have ever had in my life. I hated harming someone without warning, especially a woman, and I remember the way she hit the ground. It went against my inner desire to remove injustice."

 

A Robin Hood in South London

But Isa eventually took to the streets and it became his secret second life. He notes: "Something inside me told me this is not right. Mum had brought us up reading the Bible. I always believed in God and Jesus was my hero."

 

Nevertheless, Isa started to lead a life of crime. He was a brilliant natural fighter and soon became famous. He notes: "I used to fight to put bullies in their place." Isa recalls this turbulent part of his life: "I was a professional street person but I had principles. I made a vow that I would never rob a female, anyone under or over a certain age, any poor person, and no black person. I was a modern day Robin hood!" That meant his target was able-bodied, wealthy white men! He felt it was an even-handed robbery. But his brother criticized him, Isa remembers: "My brother told me I would never be rich in this industry; I had too many principles!"

 

His mum sent his brother to the Moonies traveling around the world hoping to straighten him out and Isa found him self alone with his mum and little sister. Despite being very close with them, Isa felt the need to get away. He told his mum he was going away for three days, but he actually stayed away for three years. This time, he calls his 'ramblings'.

 

Ramblings

 

Isa made friends easily and learned early in life that in order to succeed you have to be willing to take a chance. As a teenager he joined the Rastafarians and was soon on the road, enjoying their music and their people. They saw something good in Isa and taught him their ways and how to become a person who runs things. He learned to be honest, loyal and ambitious. He travelled all around the UK, including Leicester, where he eventually found Islam.

 

One dark night in London Isa committed a robbery that was to change his thinking. An able-bodied, wealthy, white man, slightly drunk and wearing a tuxedo was walking at 1 am along a quiet street. Isa just could not pass up such an opportunity. The man said something that touched Isa's heart. Isa recalls: "The man had a glint in his eye, he was a good person. He asked me 'Why are you doing this?' I hesitated for a second but I'd committed myself and I told him to be quiet and give over the cash. He said he had no money, but I insisted. He knew I was serious. He brought out a fat wallet with wads of fifty pound notes. He asked me three times why I was doing this, and added that maybe he could help me. I looked at the bulging wallet and took out three of those notes then gave it back to him. I told him that was all I needed. I felt he was genuine." Just after Isa and the man parted company a police car passed by. The policemen obviously thought the situation looked suspicious: black man wearing a hoody, white man slightly drunk, wearing a tuxedo, dark street – so they asked him if everything was all right. The man looked toward Isa, and said: "Everything is ok, don't worry." Isa regrets taking that man's money and hopes one day he will see him again so he can return it to him. "I'm now trying to make up for what I did in the past," he says.

 

Still on his ramblings, Isa heard there was a carnival in Leicester so he went, even though he and his friends thought they were going to a country town to see the rag and bone man and a variety of farmers. But to his surprise he saw people whom he described as wearing 'ninja suits'. These people were, in fact, niqabis. He thought to himself at the time, "If that was me I'd be stopped and searched! I didn't know they were Muslims." He had heard about Malcolm X who became one of his heroes but that was all he knew about Islam.

 

There were no street cameras in Leicester at that time so Isa and his friends decided to stay there and 'make' some money. He remembers: "We thought we'd go back to London the richest kids on the block. We thought it would be easy to steal from people because there were no cameras but I soon discovered who my friends were and I ended up in trouble."

 

Isa Finds Islam and His Wife-to-Be

Isa met Muslims for the first time in Leicester and it was also here that he met his future wife. He recalls: "I met this woman and tried to chat her up but she wouldn't have any of it. I knew later that she was interested in me but she kept it well hidden. Her mother invited me to her home and told me later that she saw the Muslim inside of me. She gave me dawah and I was home free!" Six weeks later he embraced Islam.

 

Isa had many questions, including one he used to ask his mum: "I want to pray to the one that Jesus is praying to but no one could answer me." This woman in Leicester however, answered all his questions.

 

He eventually married the woman he had initially tried to chat up and now he has the family he has always wanted. Even his mum is really happy because her son is a Muslim and has dedicated his life to God. After all, she always used to tell him to never follow blind faith and just be the best of whatever you are. Isa has changed his ways completely and lives a good, clean life.

 

He is busy now working with the Muslim community in Leicester, trying to bring various groups together on common ground and work out the issues that face them all.


Journey to
Islam