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Na’ima B Robert (born Thando Nomhle McLaren; 19 September 1977) is an author of multicultural literature and founding editor of the UK-based Muslim women’s publication, SISTERS Magazine. Born in Leeds to a Scottish father and Zulu mother, both from South Africa, Robert grew up in Zimbabwe and attended university in England. She converted to Islam in 1998. Currently Robert divides her time between London and Cairo with her three sons and two daughters. Her husband Henry Amankwah died in April 2015.
Robert’s family moved from England to Ethiopia when she was two years old and then four years later relocated to Zimbabwe where Robert received her formal primary education. Robert had a typical middle-class childhood with her younger brother and sister in the suburbs of the capital city Harare. As well as being immersed in Zimbabwean culture, Robert’s parents instilled in the children their South African roots and a strong political consciousness. Her father, Robert McLaren, was a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe and her mother, Thembi McLaren, was an entrepreneur. After graduating high school in Zimbabwe, Robert returned to England for university and earned a first-class degree from the University of London.
During her university studies Robert travelled to Egypt as an amateur musician and singer playing traditional Zimbabwean compositions at a music festival. Her initial reaction to the hijab-wearing Muslim women was to be “appalled” but finally asked an especially beautiful Egyptian woman why she would choose to cover her beauty: ‘Because,’ she said, ‘I want to be judged for what I say and what I do, not for what I look like.” After their exchange Robert says, “I began to think about my life, about my own self-image and how I wanted to grow and develop.” Robert returned to London and began reading the Marmaduke Pickthall translation of the Quran, learning about Islam and Islamic law, and she gave “dressing modestly a try.” Over the Christmas holiday that same year Robert travelled to “Muslim Africa, to Guinea” where she found that “As someone still steeped in the ideals of Black nationalism, these Muslims appealed to my own African identity and my sense of Black pride.” In Guinea Robert began making the Islamic five daily prayers, fasted during Ramadan and upon her return to London announced her shahada (declaration of Islamic faith) in 1998.
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