October 27, 2016

Former burlesque dancer ditches booze and converts to Islam after meeting toyboy lover

Transformed Nottingham mum-of-three explains how she's never been happier after giving up nipple tassels, alcohol-fuelled nights out and her beloved bacon butties

Before she met the love of her life, party girl and burlesque dancer Claire Birkill enjoyed nothing more than guzzling booze, twirling her nipple tassels and scoffing bacon butties in the morning.

But after converting to Islam, she has now overhauled her unhealthy lifestyle, swapping a 40-a-day cigarette habit for a five-times-a-day prayer routine.

Claire, who has changed her name by deed poll to Jameela, admits that her conversion has come at a cost, with some friends disowning her and locals in her hometown of Nottingham branding her a "terrorist".

But the 37-year-old insists she has never been happier since falling in love with her "soulmate", Sarif Jallow, 28.

PAJameela former name Claire Birkill of Nottingham who has converted to Islam to be with her future husband whom she met in GambiaFrilled with regret: Claire in her burlesque outfit
Speaking about her risqué past, the mum-of-three says: "I used to love weekly burlesque classes. I would strip down to silky corsets and do sexy dances. Now I am so ashamed of my past - I can hardly look at the old photos. I feel like I've been reborn."

Jameela, who now travels miles to her nearest Halal butchers, puts the transformation down to meeting Sarif.

She explains: "My eight year marriage broke down in 2013 around the same time as I decided to study tourism at college. A year later, as part of that course, I travelled to Gambia. That's where I met Sarif.

"It was love at first sight. He was a teacher - 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."

PAHeart and soulmate: Claire with the love of her life, Sarif
Back home, Jameela spoke to Sarif on the phone every night and he proposed just weeks later. After listening to him talk about his religion, she decided to research it on the internet.

"I immediately felt a connection," Jameela says. "It’s about peace, empathy, love and kindness, all things I believe in. I realised I needed to become a Muslim."

She converted in a special ceremony in June, where she read lines in Arabic and declared her love for Allah.

Jameela also began observing Ramadan, saying: "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."

The transformation was a far cry from her old hedonistic lifestyle, where bacon butties – strictly not Halal – were one of her weaknesses.

She says: "I travel ten miles to ensure I only buy Halal meat from a specialist butcher.

"I used to joke, ‘Don’t wake up in the morning unless you're bringing me a bacon butty and coffee’ – I’d never say that now. G

"iving up bacon has been the hardest thing but Halal prohibits it."

PAJameela former name Claire BirkillReformed character: Claire has now changed her name to Jameela
Jameela goes on: "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.

"I used to smoke 40-a-day. I was like a chimney and nearly always had a cigarette in my hand. I used to get through at least a bottle of gin every week too.

"I was a huge G&T fan and would relax with a few in the evenings. That was just a normal week. If I went out with the girls, I’d drink more. I loved cocktails and would work my way through the menus in bars.

"But I can't imagine ruining my body like that now. I'm so ashamed of how I behaved."

In the summer of 2012, Jameela – whose children are aged 18, 16 and six – started attending burlesque classes at her local dance studio.

She explains: "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. 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."

Speaking about how she revealed her past life to Sarif, Jameela says: "He was heartbroken but he knows how committed I am now and believes I’ve changed.

He’s my soulmate and without him I am nothing. He treats me like a queen and I have never felt love like it before. He is the man I was born to love. He tells me every day he loves me and I am his world, his reason for breathing, his reason for living."

In her old life, if Jameela saw 1.15am it usually meant a heavy night on the booze, but now it is for a very different reasons -  morning prayers.

She explains: "I pray five times a day including at 1.15am and 11.20pm, depending on the location of the sun and moon in the sky. I’ve also started reading the Koran in translation as I don’t not speak Arabic fluently."

But her transformation has caused her a number of problems socially.

Jameela says: "I’ve been abused. 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 laughing in the playground when I’ve picked my son up from school and been sneered at in Primark by teenage girls.

"People I know locally are pulling coats over their head and running round shouting, ‘I’m Jameela’. I’ve also been called a terrorist by strangers and even former friends."

However, for all the friendships she has lost, Jameela is happy to have gained new ones.

She says: "The Muslim community is very welcoming. I’ve been invited into their homes and made to feel more welcome by them then I ever was as a Methodist.

"I’ve never been happier or healthier than now. And that’s all thanks to meeting Sarif."

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