|Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir Ahmed and his wife Nancy Wanyonyi,who converted to Islam after their wedding and took the name ‘Noor. Shakeel encourages Asians to inter-marry with other communities. [PHOTOS: COLLINS ODUOR AND FILE/STANDARD]|
Kenya: The floodgates — it seems — are opening on proclamations of love by inter-racial couples. Just one month after Sarika Patel and Timothy Khamala professed their undying love in the young man’s mud-walled hut, Kisumu West MP Shakeel Shabbir Ahmed has given a candid interview about his marriage to a Bukusu woman.
His cheerful wife, Nancy Wanyonyi, whom he married seven years ago, also talks happily about her marriage to the two-term MP from Kisumu, and the challenges they have faced and overcome.
After remaining publicly silent about his relationship with Nancy, Shakeel solemnised the union at the Chief Kadhi’s office in Mombasa in 2008.
Buoyed by the public support of the Timothy and Sarika love affair and newspaper photographs of the lovebirds in Nangina Village of Bungoma County, Shakeel, 55, spoke in detail about his union.
“My wife was a Catholic, but converted to Islam on her own volition,” says Shakeel, who is grateful that his religion allows polygamy.
“This conversion is allowed in Islam, but a woman cannot change from Islam to Christianity,” he says before he speaks of the anguish he has had to face because of marrying an African woman.
Not only have some members of his Asian community shunned him, many have called him a traitor. His first wife left him two years ago, and now lives in India.
His second wife has adopted the Muslim name Noor, and insists she and her co-wife get along quite well.
“She even used to take me to India to spend time with her there,” the 32-year-old says, although she admits that racial intolerance sometimes gets to her.
“Her children, a son and daughter, who live with me, are also happy with our marriage,” Noor adds, bringing her step-daughter, Mariam, into the conversation.
The 21-year-old university student has a philosophical view on race relations: “I mix freely with students from all races and I don’t expect my parents to tell me whom to marry.”
But the picture of family bliss appears stained whenever the subject of Shakeel’s first wife comes up.
“I don’t want to talk about her now,” says the MP. “She left me two children, Mariam and Umar, who is 26 and studying in the UK.”
Shakeel’s view of race relations has been from first-hand experience. He is pained when his relatives snub his wife. “Sometimes, when my wife and I go to family gatherings, some Asians will shake her hand then ignore her therafter,” he says, while acknowledging that racial intolerance, especially among Indians and Africans, has gone on for too long.
“It is a disgrace that even though the Asian community has been in Kisumu for a century, some still discriminate against black Africans and describe them in derogatory terms.”
This intolerance surprises him because the people of Kisumu have been very accommodating, electing him mayor in 2000, then after his four-year term expired, voting him in as MP for Kisumu Town East in 2007 and Kisumu West in 2013.
The MP’s grandfather moved to East Africa from Punjab in Pakistan in 1916 to work as a clerk during the construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway. Much of Shakeel’s early schooling was in Kisumu, before he joined Middlesex University.
“I am a chartered accountant and marketer, and worked as an accountant for eleven years after I returned home from Britain. I got my first degree and MBA from Middlesex University. I also have a Master’s in Political Science from Maseno University and an Executive MBA from United States International University (USIU),” says Shakeel, who believes that education is a great equaliser. “My former wife has two Master’s degrees.”
Noor, on the other hand, has a degree in Human Resource Management from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Despite his optimism about his own marriage, Shakeel does not think the relationship between Timothy Khamala and Sarika Patel — the two lovebirds who put inter-racial relations in the public domain for much of last month — can be sustained because of their different education backgrounds. Sarika, the educated daughter of a rich Asian, fell in love with one of their workers, and spent some time with her lover in his rural home, taking fellow villagers by surprise.
“This is why Sarika’s parents cannot accept that she is married to a Luhya. They plan to take her to India and will never allow her to come back to Kenya,” says Shakeel, who, however, does not explain how he became privy to this information.
He explains that such views are common among Asian parents. Because Hindus and Sikhs respect the caste system, Shakeel says they get offended when Asian women get involved with African men, but he worries that the Asian society is too harsh to women who date black men.
“There are many cases where Asian women have been impregnated by African men. When this happens, the pregnancy is often terminated and the girl taken to India where she lives in seclusion.”
But his greatest anger is directed at Asian men who use women as sex slaves: “In Britain, they use white women, in some other places they use Filipinos, and in Africa, they use African women. This is demeaning.”
Shakeel believes Muslims have more open race relations. “Asian Muslims re more open these days, and embrace mixed ethnic relations. Men can marry from other races and religions.“As a leader, I encourage other Asian families to encourage mixed race relationships because we are not living in a colonial society. Let us encourage mixed marriages so that we can have more people like Julie Gichuru, whose mother was Pakistani.”