When Lutfunisa Khandwalla traveled to Kenya in August 2019, leaving her family in the UK, it was all about a vacation on the beaches of Mombasa.
Her close relative offered her a place while she was in Mombasa and she accepted as they both came from the small Memon community of Muslim Indians.
A relative and niece later introduced her to a madrassa near Msalani Mosque in Mombasa, where she met and befriended a spiritual leader.
“In this madrasa, the spiritual leader became her spiritual healer,” said her brother Imran Admani.
The mother-of-three began shunning family members and has refused to return to the UK.
“I remember she was telling me crazy things like Nabi PBUH (Prophet Mohamed) had told her that she could not leave Kenya because Jini (demons) would kill her and that she should go to the Madrasa for protection,” said the brother.
“We didn’t know that the spiritual leader and everyone around her also believed in this stuff.”
Khandwalla, who was 44 years old, also stopped visiting public places and confined herself to the madrasa.
“Every time my sister wanted to leave the madrasa, the leader told her that these thoughts were from Satan. He influenced her to stay,” the brother said.
Family members and friends, Khandwalla said avoided answering calls from those who understood them. She also spent nights with her spiritual guide, which caused a stir within the Memon community.
Close family members said she told them that the leader was casting out demons during this time.
According to reports, more than 200 members of the madrasa believed that only the spiritual leader would take them to paradise, and they funded his activities.
“She would agree to return to the UK but always changed her mind at the last minute,” the brother said.
It is alleged that the madrasa members tracked her movements and took their phones to see who she was talking to.
Madrasa members said that in June 2020 their leader told them that Khandwalla had become a devil and was dangerous to them.
She began donating her belongings and buying clothes in which to bury her.
“She even told my parents not to cry when they lose someone close to them,” the brother said.
As of August 1, 2020, neighbors said they heard her screaming throughout the night.
“On August 2, 2020, my niece’s spiritual leader sent a message that she had passed away. They called me. It was painful,” said the brother.
“We (family) called him immediately but he ignored our calls.”
The brother said she died just a day after refusing to return to Britain when family asked her to.
She was hastily buried in Memon Cemetery the next day before her closest family members arrived.
Her brother was in Dar-es-Salam, Tanzania while her husband was in the UK.
The matter was not reported to police and family members came forward two years later, prompting a judge to order an exhumation.
“The urgency with which our sister was buried after the family was notified of her death raised suspicions,” the brother said.
A few days after her death, the spiritual leader is said to have started flirting with Admani’s nieces, who are already married. Members also started collecting their stuff from people who said they were bewitched.
“He told them how much he missed them and wanted to hear their voices,” the brother said.
The brother claimed that after Khandwalla’s death, many people started leaving the madrasa to explain to the family what had happened.
“We started digging and found that his teachings and beliefs were wrong and a lot of people started coming forward with evidence of foul play,” he said.
A video later surfaced in which The spiritual leader confessed that he had tried to heal her. In the video, now owned by The Standard, the leader admits he was trying to turn off the devil that lived inside her.
According to the people we spoke to, the leader made the rules as well as the curriculum for his students and taught them to obey him alone.
Our calls to the spiritual leader discussed in this story went unanswered, while current and former members we spoke to preferred not to be named.
A letter dated August 19, 2022 from the Ulamaa Panel of Kenya said it had been made aware that the spiritual leader was committing adultery.
In the statement, the ulamaa claimed he ignored them and that “unfortunately, some of his activities cannot be recorded.”
“We deny his teachings and claims. It is with great concern, therefore, that we urge the Muslim ummah to be careful and keep themselves and their loved ones away from this man.”
The letter was signed by 19 Maulanas including Maulana Yaseen Haji, Maulana Arshad Khandwalla and Maulana Bilal from Nairobi.