Mahvish Razzaq talks to artist Sahima Imaan about how losing her best friend drew her to drawing
Dealing with loss is not easy for anyone. Whether it’s a family member, pet or friend, life is never going to be the same again. For Sahima Imaan, a 33-year-old elderly and paediatric care worker from Coventry, the past few years have been filled with challenges. From the break up of a relationship to the death of her beloved grandmother, she’s been on an emotional rollercoaster, the peak of which was losing her best friend last November.
Sahima explains: ‘Razia Khan was my best friend for 17 years, the happiest years of my life. We met at college and clicked straight away. Aside from studying we were like any other typical girls, we loved shopping, holidaying together, going to the cinema, eating out and restaurants – we did all the normal things that best friends do.’
Then out of the blue, their friendship strengthened to a level neither of them could ever have imagined. Razia found a lump in her neck. She dismissed it as nothing serious, until Sahima advised her to get it checked out. It turned out to be one of the most important conversations they ever had. Soon after, Razia was diagnosed with Parotid Gland Cancer, a rare cancer that affects the neck.
Sahima was devastated but knew she had to stay strong for her friend. She explains: ‘I thought that if I stayed positive for Razia she would stay positive too and then nothing could happen to her. It made dealing with the problems ahead easier, but still, nothing can prepare you for the sadness, pain and trauma that is to follow.’
The tumors spread quickly through Razia’s neck and she under went both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The hope was the cancer would be killed, but instead, it came back, even more aggressive and she under went multiple operations – nine in six years. Sahima reveals: ‘The worst moment was when Razia turned to me and said ‘This will be the end of me.’ Tears welled in my eyes, I realised that despite all the love and encouragement I had tried to give to my best friend, I couldn’t do any more. We both knew her time was coming, I wasn’t ready to lose her but I had to start preparing.’
As her suffering increased, Razia could not take any more. She eventually refused an operation that would have resulted in doctors having to remove her ear (the tumour had caused swelling and deafness), which would have meant she would be fed through a tube going through her neck. While she came to terms with her illness, Sahima was experiencing her own personal troubles but unlike Razia, she didn’t have the support of a friend by her side when she needed it most.
Instead, she found solace alone, in art, a medium that she realised she could express herself in. It became a way for her to re-direct the pain and grief of the loss she was experiencing. Sahima threw herself into drawing and took her inspiration from Islamic architecture. She explains: ‘I had visited many Muslim countries - Turkey, Egypt and Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Whenever I entered a mosque I felt at peace as if the call to prayer eased my heart.’
Sahima works in a simple medium – charcoal but her sketches are intricate and full of rich details. She recently showcased her artwork in Coventry and donated all the money to charity. Next month she will be exhibiting her collection as part of Saudi National Day at the Regents Park mosque in London.
But that’s not her only project. Sahima has found a way to find further blessings from the hard times she’s been through and is committed to leaving a legacy that celebrates Razia. She explains: ‘Razia’s dream was for a water well to be built in Palestine, something she never had a chance to do so I intend on fulfilling that wish.’ Sahima is currently organising a charity dinner on November 25th to raise money for that well. It is a gesture that she hopes Razia would be proud of.