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Posts tagged ‘Hijab’

Ramadan Karim :)

In sha’ Allah (God willing) there are 12 days left to the Holy Month of Ramadan. It is the month of the Islamic calendar when the Holy Quran was revealed to our prophet Muhammad (peace and mercy be upon him) through angel Gabriel (peace be upon him) over 1400 years ago. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset in an effort to abstain from worldly and material matters and focus on our spiritual growth and well-being. It’s the month of mercy, where we are asked to be even more charitable, generous, kind, loving and spread joy than on other days. It’s the month of less is more when it comes to worldly things and more is better when it comes to spiritual things! To me, it’s the most beautiful, festive, peaceful month of the entire year! If you, my dear followers, are interested in learning about this beautiful month, please check out this amazing resource. Later this week I will be posting pictures of our decorations and post more about how we celebrate the holy month in our family.

Ramadan Karim (Happy Ramadan) :)

Ramadan Karim (Happy Ramadan) 🙂

Today’s post is really an email message that I sent out last week to all my Muslim friends and acquaintances. I am accustomed to sending out season’s greetings every year and I usually keep the email nice and short. This year, however, I decided to send out a word of advice and a plea, hoping that everyone I sent the email out to will be on board and both, them and I, can benefit from the outcome. I got such wonderful feedback, al hamdulillah (Thank God), and so I decided to share it with you since it carries a message that ALL religions agree upon!

Al Salam Aleikom Everyone,

Our little family wishes you all a blessed and prosperous Ramadan, in sha’ Allah 🙂

May the holy month of the revelation of the Quran usher upon you and your loved ones peace, happiness and prosperity. May you be granted peace of heart and mind, forgiveness and guidance.

This year, please allow me to emphasize two points. The first concerns preparing for Ramadan and the second is more of a personal appeal …

Preparing for the Holy Month of Ramadan is not about getting your 30-day meal plan together, looking up “new” recipes nor stockpiling the ingredients you’ll most likely need! It’s not about counting how many hours remain till iftar (breaking our fast) nor thinking about what you will be having for dessert that night. Preparing for the Holy Month of Ramadan is more of a spiritual preparation. You need to have the right mindset, have your heart in the right place and your priorities straight before the Holy Month arrives. It’s about making sure you pray on time, spend time with your kids no matter how drained you feel, read as much Quran as you can and spend your time wisely. It’s about lending those less fortunate than you a helping hand, making du’a (prayers) for those who are having hardships and forgiving those you never thought you will be able to forgive. It’s about spreading joy, being kind and becoming generous. It’s about you and Allah (God), your connection, your relationship and your exchange of dua’ for peace, forgiveness and mercy. It’s about being the best Muslim you can be, even if it’s for a single month! If you are able to achieve all that, you will come out of Ramadan feeling like a completely new person and will be able to carry whatever you started on for the rest of the year and every year until it’s your time to leave. Let us all try to make this Ramadan different, don’t let it slip away like those before it. Set goals and stick to them, no matter how small 🙂

The personal appeal I’d like to make, and in which I hope you will participate, is to make one of your goals for this Ramadan to forgive all those who ever did you wrong! I know it may be a random thing to ask of you but I truly believe it is one of the BEST things I have ever done for myself in all my years in this life. I used to take that step on an individual basis but last April I made a pact with myself to forgive every single soul that has ever hurt or wronged me, regardless who the person is or why they did what they did … regardless even whether they deserve my forgiveness or not (I believe everyone deserves our forgiveness, it’s our ego that prevents us from forgiving others at times). On the day I made that decision I published this post on my blog, I sincerely hope you will find time to read it. This excerpt, in particular, is one I would like to share with you:

“I have decided to start with something that will bring me more peace than I probably ever had. It’s also one of the most beautiful lessons that my wonderful religion, Islam, teaches us but is shared by all religions as well. Forgive whenever you get the chance so that Allah (God) forgives you too. Over the past few months, I’ve received several correspondences from people who have wronged me gravely in the past. I am highly intrigued by the timing, since not all those people know each other, but I believe that it’s the timing chosen by God and I am grateful for it. Some wronged me through actions, some through backbiting and others through rumors. I, generally, forgave most of those people long ago, primarily to find peace within myself and be able to move on. Today, in appreciation for them having the courage and humility to reach out to me, admit their shortcomings, accept full responsibility for them and ask for my forgiveness, I would like to renew my forgiveness and assure everyone, whether they apologized or not, whether they are still in my life or not, whether I know of their wrongdoings or not, that I fully and wholeheartedly forgive them! I published the following statement on my Facebook page last night and I mean every single word, God is my witness:

I bear witness that I, wholeheartedly, forgive every single person who has ever wronged me whether knowingly or unknowingly! I forgive every backbite, every lie, every rumor, every heartache, every imposition and every other wrongful emotion, thought or action against me. Those sorts of actions served as lessons more than anything, teaching me about myself as well as others. So, thank you to all who wronged me, you helped me become a better person and helped me appreciate the good people I have in my life … a special thank you goes to those who had it in them to apologize for their shortcomings. I hope everyone I’ve ever come across can find it in their hearts to forgive me for anything intentional or unintentional I may have committed against them as well. May Allah forgive all of our transgressions. — Hebatallah Azmy

I also asked all my friends to forward/share my message so that it may reach as many people as possible. As a result, it reached people I had fallen out of touch with and now, I forgive them and they forgive me as well! Today, I ask you to do the same thing please. Forward/share this message, even if it’s to people I do not know, and then know you forgive them, have them forgive you … and, if by any chance, they do happen to know me then the same applies to me.

“Just as it is important to believe in the mercy and forgiveness of Allah, it is also necessary to base human relations on forgiveness. We cannot expect Allah’s forgiveness unless we also forgive those who do wrong to us. Forgiving each other, even forgiving one’s enemies is one of the most important Islamic teaching. In the Qur’an Allah has described the Believers as “those who avoid major sins and acts of indecencies and when they are angry they forgive.” (al-Shura 42:37) Later in the same Surah Allah says, “The reward of the evil is the evil thereof, but whosoever forgives and makes amends, his reward is upon Allah.” (al-Shura 42:40) In another place the Qur’an says, “If you punish, then punish with the like of that wherewith you were afflicted. But if you endure patiently, indeed it is better for the patient. Endure you patiently. Your patience is not except through the help of Allah (al-Nahl 16:126-127)

In one Hadith the Prophet -peace be upon him- said that Allah has commanded him about nine things. One of them he mentioned was “that I forgive those who do wrong to me.”” (source: http://islamawareness.net/Salvation/forgiveness.html)

Finally, I encourage each and every one of you to read this short but beautiful, beautiful article … it is truly life-changing!

I’d also like to remind everyone not to hurt others on purpose. Be it with a phrase, look or even a thought. You do not know what the other person is going through in the their life, no matter how close you are to them, you do not know as much as you think you do! It’s really simple, if you break a vase and then manage to glue the pieces back together as best as you could, the vase will still never really be the same … it’ll be different to the sight and touch and may possibly never be usable as a vase again because it’ll be too fragile. You do not want to be the cause of the equivalent of those cracks to another human being … so please, be kind to one another, give each other the benefit of the doubt, don’t jump to conclusions based on hearsay and don’t let your prejudices and ego cloud your judgment. If you have negative feelings towards someone, simply walk away … do it gently and kindly but do not do something you will regret in this life and even more in the next one. It really isn’t worth it.

May Allah forgive us all and turn our saye2at (bad deeds) into 7asanat (good deeds). May Allah fill our hearts and minds with nothing but love for Him, his prophet and all others. May we fall under Allah’s mercy and grace rather than his anger and reprimand. May we be granted clear vision and  help guide each other to the right path 🙂

Ameen (Amen)

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30 Days Till 30 … Day 26: Islam

One of the first things Prophet Muhammad said to the Companions was:

“Spread peace, feed the hungry, keep strong the family tie, pray when other people are sleeping, and you will enter Paradise safely” (Al-Tirmidhi). This has been interpreted to be a general exhortation, not just to Muslims.*

Prophet Muhammad had a Jewish neighbor who detested him and so used to throw his garbage at the doorstep of the Prophet’s home. The Prophet would then pick it up silently and throw it in the disposal area along with his personal trash. One morning the Prophet didn’t see any garbage at his doorstep but didn’t think much of it. The next morning he noticed the same thing. This went on for week, an entire week had passed without any garbage being thrown at the Prophet’s doorstep. So Prophet Muhammad got concerned and went to his neighbor to pay him a visit and check on him. As it turns out, the neighbor was sick and confined to bed. Our Prophet then started taking care of and checking on his neighbor until he fully recovered. The Jew, not long afterwards, embraced Islam because of our beloved Prophet’s high morals.

It is narrated by Abu Shurayh (R.A.) that the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said; “Whoever believes in Allah and the final day (Day of Judgment) it is essential that he does not harm his neighbors and whoever believes in Allah and the final Day it is essential for him to entertain his guest with kindness and generosity and whoever believes in Allah and the Final Day it is essential that he speak what is good or otherwise remain silent.” **

In the Quran (Surat El-Nissa 4:36) it says: “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet) and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.” **

There is a hadith (saying) of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, which goes as follows.
“Do you know what the rights of neighbors are?” asked the noble Prophet. And he went on to give a list:
• Help him if he asks for your help
• Give him relief if he seeks your relief
• Lend him if he needs a loan
• Show him concern if he is distressed
• Nurse him when he is ill
• Attend his funeral when he dies
• Congratulate him if he meets any good
• Sympathize with him if any calamity befalls him
• Do not block his air by raising your building high without his permission
• Harass him not
• Give him a share when you buy fruits, and if you do not give him, bring what you buy quietly and let not your children take them out to excite the jealousy of his children.”**

Given that I am a proud Muslim, I could not have possibly concluded my “30 Days Till 30” posts without talking about my beautiful religion! I am aware that some will disagree with this post and it may spark a series of hateful, negative comments but to tell you the truth, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, my religion is way more important to me than anything else to be left out of this series. I am also aware that the majority of people reading this are open-minded enough to at least listen and be respectful in their comments, if any, especially if they have been coming back to my blog for a while now and have got to know me and my thoughts a little.

It is no secret that Islam is being equated to terrorism these days. Between the behavior of Islamist extremists (notice that I chose to use Islamist rather than Muslim) and the ever-so-eager, and may I add highly selective, media I understand why that may be the case. However, I do hold all those who believe so accountable for their unreasonable view! It is every individual’s responsibility to educate themselves on issues that matter. If you have educated yourself, really educated yourself, through diverse, credible sources and that remains to be your view then I respect it and respect you for taking it up on yourself to do your own research. However, if no such research was done then allow me to point this out to you; if we all listen to some of the most influential forces around us, such as the media and politicians, we’d believe much more than Islam being a terrorist religion! We’d believe that all Hispanics are drug dealers, all African-Americans are thugs and murderers, all Asians are rice pickers who can’t speak “proper” English, all Eastern Europeans are drunkards, all English are stuck-up, all Australians are descendants of criminals, all Canadians are cowards, all Mormons are cult-like, all Christians are judgmental and all Jews are cheap!

I, for one, do not believe any of the above. And why so? Because I was raised not to judge, not to repeat what I hear without verifying, not to hurt other people’s feelings, not to assume, to research, to ask, to look for the good in others and to be fair. In other words, I was raised on Islam!

There is a HUGE difference between Muslims and Islamists. Muslims are everyday people like myself, who have embraced the beautiful, peaceful religion of Islam and who are trying to live their lives just like everybody else around them. Islamists, on the other hand, are not what the dictionary would tell you … supporters and advocators of Islamic fundamentalism … but rather those whose Islam is just a word describing the name of a religion they belong to on paper, not a way of life or a light in their hearts! If they really did support Islamic fundamentalism, they’d be the kindest, most understanding, most supportive, non-judgmental, peace-loving beings to walk this Earth. All radicals and extremists are Islamists, not Muslims. And I, as a Muslim, condemn each and every act of cowardice, hatred, assassination and terrorism they commit! Not just that, even any radical thought or idea is one I and my religion condemn!

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Religion is very easy, and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.” Bukhari:V1N38 ##

Every era has its terrorists and Islamists happen to be those of the one we live now. Think back centuries and decades ago. Were Christians not considered the terrorists of their time during the Crusades which took course over an entire century? Were Communists not considered the terrorists of their time during Marx, Lenin and Stalin’s rules? Were Nazis (and thus Germans) not considered the terrorists of their time during Hitler’s rule? Were Japanese Pan-Asians not considered the terrorists of their time pre-World War II? How about the African Americans who were the terrorists of the past few decades? How about Christians who kill others? How about Jews who kill others? It’s all relative, relative to when and where you live!

The act of an individual, a group, or a whole bunch of individuals or groups doesn’t make me generalize about others belonging to that same group. Every race, religion, ethnicity, nationality and color has criminal individuals. That’s a fact. Whatever those people commit is on their shoulders, not on those of all who belong to that identifying group. If we all generalized then we would all hate each other! Christians and Jews kill Muslims. Americans and Europeans kill Muslims. Even Muslims kill Muslims. And I can guarantee you that if I do the research I’ll find at least one person from every other religion and country in this world has killed a Muslim someday. So I, as a devoted Muslim, would have an obligation in that case to hate and prosecute every single person I meet, including Muslims like myself, because they are surely responsible for some heinous crime or another against a brother or sister of mine! And the opposite is true as well. Does that sound reasonable? I don’t think so.

The bottom line is, there are good people and there are bad people and both can belong to any faith, nationality or other identifier! I believe good people outweigh bad ones. I believe that a person’s actions speak louder than anything else. I believe that who you are as an individual does not reflect on all those who carry the same identifier as you do, even if you are good. I believe that we are capable of living in peace, it’s really not that hard, but we don’t want to.

“Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein, and whoever recommends and helps an evil cause shares in its burdens” Qur’an:4:85 ##

Concerning Islam, there are Muslim dictators just like there are dictators of other religions. There are Muslim terrorists just like there are terrorists of other religions. There are Muslim bigots just like there are bigots of other religions. There are Muslim radicals just like there are radicals of other religions. There are Muslim abusers just like there are abusers of other religions. It’s true, I am not saying they don’t exist, what I am saying is that not all of us are that way. Real Muslims do not condone violence, Islam does not condone violence. I repeat, real Muslims do not condone violence and Islam does not condone violence!

A friend of a friend, Amy Khan of Derby, Kansas, posted the following on her Facebook page two days ago with regards to the Boston perpetrators and it speaks my mind and heart exactly;

“I want to make something VERY CLEAR to everyone on my friend’s list whether I’ve met you in real life or not. I am a practicing Muslim. I have raised my children to be practicing Muslims. We are just as horrified as you are about what has happened and is currently in Boston. What these people have done is not representative of our religious beliefs and is NOT condoned in our religion. MANY Muslim organizations are speaking out against what has happened. Just because you don’t see it on the media does not mean that area Muslims or Islamic Associations are not speaking against it. Anyone that wishes to read those statements of commendation should feel free to ask me but I am not going to post every one I find on my wall because I do not feel responsible for the actions of these individuals nor do I feel I should because they have NOTHING to do with me, my family, or our beliefs. I will not apologize for them but I do want you to know that I do not agree with them and I want to see them prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I love each and every one of you and hope you feel the same about me.”

“God does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who have neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes. In fact God loves the equitable.” Qur’an:60:8 ##

Every word is true. The media is quick to show how horrible all Muslims are but fails to be as diligent when it comes to our condemnation of such behavior or how involved we are in our communities or how much we help all those around us! It’s not just the media, so many other agencies out there do us injustice deliberately. How many times have you heard or read about the number of soldiers or Israelis who were killed in some Middle Eastern country or another? Many times. OK, and how many times have you heard or read about the number of Muslims who were killed in those very same countries or incidents even?

Allow me to tell you a few facts about Islam, and please feel free to ask me any questions you have regarding any of them or anything else. I will do my best to answer you and provide sources alongside my response as well:

  • The word “Islam” in Arabic means submission (to God) and it’s derived from the word “Salam” which means peace!
  • You are not a true Muslim unless you believe in Jesus and his original message, Moses and his original message and all preceding prophets and messengers.
  • God is merciful; it is stated in the Quran that mercy is 100 parts, one of which is distributed here on Earth and the other 99 parts are in God’s hands to bestow upon us in the hereafter.
  • In Islam, it is clearly stated that we are not to judge others and if someone wrongs us we should think of 73 excuses for them to behave the way they did.
  • In the Quran; it is clearly stated that we, humans, were created as tribes and nations and that we are instructed to live together in peace and learn and benefit from each other.
  • Yes, women in Islam are to wear the Hijab once they hit puberty. It is meant to promote modesty and protect women from being perceived as sexual objects of interest. Hijab is not oppressive, it is extremely liberating. By wearing Hijab a woman has full-power over her body and her sexuality. It is she who decides who to show her body to and who doesn’t deserve such an honor. The Virgin Mary is depicted veiled in all her pictures. Nuns cover their hair. Christianity states that a woman should cover her hair or shave bald. Hijab is not the only veil out there.
  • No, we do not wear the Hijab at home with our husbands! We wear what most women wear outside their homes.
  • No, not every Muslim man is, or wants to be, married to four women. The whole point why Islam allows polygamy is that widows, older women, younger women and any woman who seeks a partner or protection can find such a partner rather than be left to fend for herself. It’s not a must, it’s a can-do to ease the suffering of others.
  • Yes, we use birth control too, the same kinds as everyone else!
  • No, Women in Islam are not oppressed or abused. Even during the time of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) women were warriors, entrepreneurs (his own first wife was his employer), nurses, writers and much more.
  • No, we don’t believe that all Christians, Jews or whoever are going to Hell! In fact, the Quran teaches us that such knowledge belongs to God and only God and so whoever utters such words has done himself a grave disservice.

    A funeral procession once passed in front of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and he stood up out of respect. When he was told the person in the coffin was Jewish and not Muslim, he said: “Was it not a living (soul)?” Bukhari:V2N399##

    Quran 5:69 says (Arberry): “Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabeaans, who so believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness–their wage waits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow.”

    In other words, the Quran promises Christians and Jews along with Muslims that if they have faith and works, they need have no fear in the afterlife. It is not saying that non-Muslims go to hell– quite the opposite.

    When speaking of the 7th-century situation in the Muslim city-state of Medina, which was at war with pagan Mecca, the Quran notes that the polytheists and Arabian Jewish tribes were opposed to Islam, but then goes on to say:

    Quran 5:82. ” . . . and you will find the nearest in love to the believers (Muslims) those who say: ‘We are Christians.’ That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud.”

    So the Quran not only does not urge Muslims to commit violence against Christians, it calls them “nearest in love” to the Muslims! The reason given is their piety, their ability to produce holy persons dedicated to God, and their lack of overweening pride.***

  • Even at times of war, Muslims weren’t allowed to wreak havoc as they wish! There were certain rules and guidelines to be followed.

    The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once saw the corpse of a woman who had been killed in a military action, and he disapproved of it and forbade the killing of women and children.Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad and his successor as head of the Muslim community, advised one of his military commanders: “Do not kill women or children or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place.” Al-Muwatta:V21N9-10 ##

  • Islam is a merciful religion, even the smallest acts of kindness are encouraged.

    The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “(God) will (question a person) on the Day of Resurrection (saying)): ‘O son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit Me.’ The person will say: ‘O my Lord, how could I visit Thee when Thou art the Lord of the worlds?’ Thereupon (God) will say: ‘Didn’t you know that a servant of Mine was sick but you did not visit him, and were you not aware that if you had visited him, you would have found Me by him?’(God will then say) ‘O son of Adam, I asked you for food but you did not feed Me.’ The person will say: ‘My Lord, how could I feed Thee when Thou art the Lord of the worlds?’ (God) will say: ‘Didn’t you know that a servant of Mine asked you for food but you did not feed him, and were you not aware that if you had fed him you would have found him by My side?’ Muslim:1172##

  • True Jihad has nothing, I repeat, nothing to do with what extremists are doing these days! Speaking up against injustice and something called Jihad Al Nafs (i.e. jihad against oneself), where you continuously try to battle the bad inside you and have the good overcome it, are what Islamic Jihad are about.

    The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The best (Jihad) is (to speak) word of justice to an oppressive ruler.” Sunan of Abu-Dawood:2040##

  • Charity is emphasized in Islam, again and again! In the Quran alone it was mentioned 150 times in total. Even a smile is considered a form of charity.

    The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” Narrated ‘Aisha [prophet Mohammed’s wife] -may Allah be pleased with her- : “I never saw the Prophet laughing to an extent that one could see his palate, but he always used to smile”.#

    The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “(Each one) of you should save himself from the fire by giving even half of a date (in charity). And if you do not find a half date, then (you can do it through saying) a pleasant word (to your brethren).” Bukhari:V2N394##

  • Prophet Moses is the prophet whose name was mentioned most in the Quran. Not Prophet Muhammad!.

I could go on and on citing examples from Prophet Muhammad’s sayings and doings and from the Quran to prove my point but I believe that I was able to convey it in the most concise and direct way I could. To sum up, Islam and true Muslims do not condone violence and terrorism in any way, shape or form. Islam and true Muslims have nothing against anyone embracing any other faith, especially Christians and Jews. Islam and true Muslims believe that we are in no position to prosecute others on this Earth, our judgment – all of us, Muslims included – is in God’s hands in the hereafter. Me, as Heba, if I love you then I love you as an individual for your actions and feelings towards me, nothing else. And if I dislike you then I dislike you as an individual for your actions and feelings towards me, nothing else. Some of my closest and most loyal friends are Christians. Some are Arabs like myself and others are Europeans. I am Muslim and Islam is the religion of peace!

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* Source: http://www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=RA1001-4060

** Source: http://www.turntoislam.com/threads/social-impact-of-islam-on-neighborhoods.74550

*** Source: http://www.juancole.com/2006/03/bigotry-toward-muslims-and-anti-arab.html

# Source: http://islamgreatreligion.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/even-a-smile-is-charity-prophet-muhammad-pbuh/

## Source: http://islamgreatreligion.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/quotes-and-wise-sayings-from-quran-islam-a-message-of-peace/

30 Days Till 30 … Day 15: Q&A

I would like to thank all my new and existing followers for coming back to my blog on a daily basis. Your comments and positive feedback mean the world to me and encourage me to keep writing. Over the past couple of weeks I received several emails that included numerous inquiries about me, my background and my likes and dislikes, amongst other questions. I responded to some of them but didn’t get the chance to do so for all of them so please do not feel offended if you have not received a response yet, I’ll do my best to address them all before the weekend.

I noticed that many of the questions were recurring and so decided to cease the opportunity to let all my readers get to know me a little better and maybe tell me more about themselves in the comments, if they wish to of course (please do ;)). Allow me to do so in a Q&A form to make it simpler and easier to follow. I will also paraphrase the questions to make them short and to the point.

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Q: What does your name mean?

A: My name is actually two parts and a connector, Heba-t-Allah. It means “a gift from God” in Arabic, “Allah” here being the one and only God Muslims, like myself, believe in and worship. Most people call me Heba (the short version of my name) and, although I love my full name very much, I do not mind it at all. Here’s a fun fact about my name, did you know that the English name having the same meaning is Godiva? Yes, the lady … and the decadent chocolate 😀

Hebatallah in Arabic

My name written in Arabic

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Q: Where do you come from?

A: I come from the enchanting land of Egypt. More specifically, I am from Maadi, a beautiful suburb in the southern part of Cairo. It lies on the east bank of the glorious river Nile. Maadi got its name centuries ago and is the plural for “Ma’ adiya”, which means ferries in Arabic! The suburb was named so after the ferries that operated on the river Nile, transporting people from one side to another. It has a character unique to it, lots and lots of greenery, serene atmosphere, historic villas in certain parts of the suburb, tons of roundabouts (which can confuse even the smartest of “outsiders”) and countless businesses and activities aimed at serving expatriates, since many of them prefer to live there. It’s the perfect blend of all three major religions sporting a number of mosques, churches and one of the few synagogues in Egypt. A number of embassies, international schools and libraries as well as the Egyptian Geological Museum and the famous Maadi Sporting Club (where many old movies were filmed) are located in Maadi. One cannot forget to mention the railroad as well, Maadi originally started as buildings around the railroad and then expanded into one of the top 3 suburbs in Cairo.

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Q: Where did you go to school?

A: That’s a tough question to answer! Eventually, I am hoping to dedicate a post to each school I’ve been to but, frankly,  it feels like such a daunting task that I keep putting it off. I’ve been to a total of 5 schools. Yes, 5 schools in a total of 13 years of education (I’m counting KG1 and KG2 here, or if you’re more accustomed to the American system of education then pre-school and KG)! Two of those were in Egypt, one in Ethiopia, one in Cyprus and one in Hungary. They all had one thing in common though, they were international schools that followed the British system of education. My parents strived to give us the best education and I believe, from all my heart, that they did just that and more. Their sacrifices have not gone to waste.

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Q: Where did your parents work?

A: Aha, I knew that question would come up at one point or another 🙂 My father is a retired Ambassador and my mother worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well but chose to take one leave after another, for the most part of her life, in order to direct her efforts into raising me and my brother and supporting my father on his diplomatic missions. We spent every 4 years in a different country, going back home for a single year in between travels.

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Q: What are your favorite past-times?

A: I love, love, love to read. My love for reading goes back to when I was a toddler. My favorite books are novels; the bigger, the better! I am an avid reader and can easily go through a 700 page book in less than a week. It’s from there that my love of writing evolved. The use of colorful, rich words to invite others into my mind and paint a picture in their own has always captivated me. I started out by writing poetry and that evolved into short stories and then this very dear blog of mine. Another past-time of mine that not so many know about is that I like to draw using charcoal or charcoal crayons. I also enjoy gardening, walks on the beach and organizing.

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Q: Where do  you get the inspiration for your blog?

A: Everything I write about in this blog stems from my own life. I do not write fiction, until now at least. Topic ideas can come from my past, present or future aspirations. They may be inspired by a conversation with my spouse, a friend or something I saw or read. I don’t really have a single source of inspiration, anything that touches my heart or that I feel needs to be addressed or may be of help to others, I write about. Sometimes I am hit with a number of ideas all at once. When that happens, I choose the topic I have more to contribute towards or the one most pressing.

Q: Why do you mention your family and friends so much?

A: I am a grateful person by nature. I also like to give credit where credit is due, it’s only fair. My family is the most important thing in my life, in fact, they are my life. And so, they are an integral part of everything I experience and end up writing about. My friends are the best in the world! I truly believe so with every fiber of my being. Those girls are my rock and they inspire me to be a better woman every single day. I have such wonderful role models who give me so much to live up to. And so, they too are at the core of every event in my life.

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Q: Why do you abbreviate people’s names rather than give them full credit?

A: The reason why I only put the first name then an initial rather than the full name of an individual is to protect people’s privacy. It is out of respect that I do so not otherwise. I also never write about anyone and not let them know (unless they are deceased or I have lost contact with them for one reason or another). Anyone mentioned in a post is notified once the post is published. That way, I am not speaking about anyone behind their backs (even if what I am saying is positive) and at the same time it gives them a chance to relay to me any remarks they may have.

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Q: Where did the idea for 30 days till 30 come from?

A: The answer to this question will make much more sense to anyone who has read my “Intuition” blog post. I actually dreamed of this idea! I’ve been building up to my 30th birthday for a while, planning what gifts to get myself (this will be the first year I do so and I’ll write more about that later on), doing little special things for myself and taking things a bit slower in an attempt to enjoy the last few weeks of being in my 20s. But I also wanted to do something that will serve as a summation of all what I learned, well not all of it but you get the idea, and didn’t know what. Enter that dream with served as an “aha” moment. Not a bad idea, eh?

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Q: Where did you learn your style of writing?

A: I don’t have an answer to this one! I am sure that I have a style of my own but I hadn’t really thought about it nor even noticed that I do until I received that question. I asked the sender to give me more time to get back to them on this one and to help me out by telling me what they think my style of writing is. Everyone else is more than welcome to do the same.

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Q: Why do you live in the USA rather than back home? Is it because of the revolution?

A: We did not leave because of the revolution, if anything, we wanted to go back and participate in it once it started. After we got engaged, my husband received a wonderful offer in Kingdom of Bahrain and so he relocated there and I joined him after our wedding and honeymoon. We stayed there 4 years during which I started my own business and we had both our kids. A little less than 2 years ago, things started getting rough in Bahrain because of the protests and they got very dangerous, especially on the kids. As much as we loved living there, we felt it our duty to protect them and leave. We chose the USA since my husband was born here and it seemed like the most logical choice. Him getting a job offer here didn’t hurt either.

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Q: Are you with or against the Egyptian revolution?

A: My family and I support it 110%. Egypt is a beautiful country. It’s rich with its history, culture, resources and kind-hearted people. It’s the glue that holds the Arab world together, much like a mother embraces her children. It deserves the best and should get the best and so do its hardworking people. Anyone and everyone who does harm to it, doesn’t let it rise as much as it’s capable of, oppresses it and its sons and daughters deserves to be ousted. No one is bigger than Egypt and each and every ruler who is responsible for its well-being should know that. Egypt’s people will never give up on it and that should be the one thing that every ruler should always remember and fear.

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Courtesy: Hossam Saad Designs

Courtesy: Hossam Saad Designs

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Q: Do you plan on staying in the West, even after the way you have been treated because of your Hijab?

A: Humans are prejudiced, that’s a fact of life. The West is prejudiced against Arabs and Muslims. The East is prejudiced against the West. Arabs are prejudiced against each other. It’s just how the world is. Do I wish it were different? Yes, of course I do. My religion and upbringing both taught me that we are all equals and that we were created to live together in peace. It is our false sense of superiority that created all this hatred and bias … not to mention the extremists amongst us. I cannot change other people’s views of me, nor am I interested in doing so. I only care about God’s view of me, people’s perceptions say more about them than they do about me, if they reflect on me at all. I fought hard to wear my Hijab and I’m not about to let some closed-minded people change my mind. I am also a woman who has beliefs, principals and values and I am strong enough to stand by them no matter what anyone thinks. If I run away every time someone challenges or attacks me, what would I be teaching my children? To me, Hijab isn’t just a means to be closer to God or a mere dress code. It’s my freedom! It’s my freedom of choice, my freedom of speech, my freedom of expression. People say Muslim women are oppressed and brainwashed. On the contrary, if I were brainwashed then I wouldn’t have had to fight my way into wearing my Hijab. If I were oppressed then as soon as I had the chance I’d break free of this commitment. With all due respect to everyone else, women who blindly follow the latest fashion regardless whether it suits them or not and who steep into depression because they don’t look exactly like the “perfect” images of other women thrusted at them by the mainstream media and who let society dictate how they should dress, behave, talk and live are the ones who are oppressed and brainwashed in my eyes. I have the utmost respect for women who are unique, who are themselves and only do what they feel is right and suits them. A woman in control of her life is my kind of woman, not a woman that society controls her.

30 Days Till 30 … Day 4: Life Lessons

Every day we live, we learn. Maybe we don’t realize it, maybe it doesn’t really register in our minds that we did, but we do. It may be something trivial that we shrug off within minutes and it may well be a life lesson that will stay with us forever! No matter what it is, it’s something new and it’s something that did register .. in other words, it matters!

When that happens you change, you evolve. Sure, some transformations are more substantial than others, but even small changes are significant when it comes to one’s growth. In my personal experience, the more “out there” the situation is, the more you learn. The harsher and more painful the situation is, the more you learn. The simpler and less complex the person is, the more you learn. The more unexpected and sudden the experience is, the more you learn.

Courtesy: Rawforbeauty

Courtesy: Rawforbeauty

In fact, it isn’t really about the quantity but more about the quality of what you learn. Personally, whenever I learn new things about myself I feel like this new-found knowledge is more valuable than anything else. That mainly stems from the fact that up until my early twenties I don’t think that I knew much about myself at all! Sure, I know the basics about my personality and my character and such, but how much did I know about who I really am? Not much, if at all! I learned about my true passions, strengths, weaknesses, limits, dreams and goals during the better part of my twenties. Yet I do not regret waiting that long to learn. I believe that the timing was perfect. Had all this knowledge been bestowed upon me earlier in my life, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. I probably wouldn’t have even been able to comprehend most of it to begin with! The teens are such overwhelming years, so much goes on in your life and it all hits you at once. Is it really the right time for self-discovery? I don’t think so. In order to evolve you need to be stable first. You cannot build a house without foundation so how can you expect to use the building blocks of your very self on quicksand?

I am thankful that I figured “me” out! I am now able to handle a lot of things that I know I couldn’t have possibly been able to deal with 10 years ago. I am now more in control of my life and who I let in and who I show the way out to. I am now able to stand up for myself and my beliefs and not care what anyone thinks because I know that my opinion is the one that counts and that, as long as I am not doing anything to upset God from me, that’s the only thing that should matter. I am now more confident with regards to raising my children and teaching them what I think they will need in life and what they’ll need to lead them to God’s blessings after what I hope will be a long, happy, healthy, successful and prosperous life. I am now a woman, not a little girl, who is invincible!

So, in light of what I have learned so far (and I have still got a long, long way to go … if God gives me the time), please allow me to share with you the top 30 life lessons that I have benefited from most:

1- You matter! And if anyone in your life does not comprehend that then you need to re-evaluate their presence in your life.

2- Be authentic, no one can do a better job at being you than yourself. Being a copy of someone else or changing for someone else is the biggest disservice you could do to yourself and to the world, which will miss out on your awesomeness!

3- Hear everything that is said to you and that is being said around you but only listen to what your heart and mind tell you to listen to. Hearing is a passive activity, so take what you hear and filter it and only listen to the stuff that matters. Consider the rest to be white noise and discard it.

4- Don’t be afraid to speak up. Even if you are the shyest person to ever exist (my friends used to call me “Tamatmaya”, which means “Tomato” in Arabic, because I blush ALL the time … it happens less now but still happens way too often), have faith in yourself and speak up whenever you need to. You’ve got it in you. You have the courage, you just don’t know it yet.

5- Give second chances, and third, and fourth! But only to the deserving. To the people you truly care about, to those you believe deep down inside are good enough, to those who hit rock bottom and need it, to those who need someone to believe in them. Don’t make a fool of yourself in the process though, and don’t allow anyone to hurt you. Know when to step back, evaluate the situation and, possibly, walk away.

6- Don’t be afraid to walk away. The first step will be the hardest, but a few years into your journey you will look back and thank your courageous self for taking that step.

7- Be kind and give, always. Did your friend talk about you behind your back? Did the love of your life let you down? Did your superior throw your efforts to the wind? Did the cab driver drive right past you? Did that kid make fun of you when you were 7? It doesn’t matter, simply because it says more about them than it does about you! So, be kind, don’t let their harshness change you … be kind. Give whenever you can. Call it charity, call it giving, call it gifting … just give. The act of giving is rewarding on so many levels. The act of giving is an act of kindness!

8- Forgive and let go whenever you can so that God would forgive you in the hereafter. Do it for you, not for the person you are forgiving. Don’t you deserve the peace of mind? Of course you do! Don’t forget though, remember the lesson you learned, never forget that.

9- It’s OK to show people the way out of your life, or even let them find it on their own. Poisonous, hateful, arrogant, egotistical, closed-minded, cold, unsympathetic, back-biting, lying, conniving and ill-wishing people have no place in my life anymore and shouldn’t have a place in yours. It took me 28 years to convince myself that it’s OK to let certain people go, and boy does it feel great! If they take away from you, if they don’t appreciate your presence in their life, if they try to break you then why have them in your life? Leave them on good terms though, or at least try, that way there will be no bitterness associated with the relationship that was.

10- Make “me” time. Having me time is important for your overall well-being. You need to slow down, forget about your responsibilities and worries and focus on recharging yourself. You need to nurture yourself and reward it from time to time. I always put others and their needs first but I, only recently, came to understand that if I don’t take care of myself properly there is no way I’ll be able to take care of those who need me and love me (thank you Charlotte W., Dina S. and Yasmina H. for that lesson). Having even a few minutes to yourself every day is essential and you’ll feel and see the results reflected immediately on yourself and those around you.

11- It’s OK to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean you failed. It doesn’t mean you are weak either. It means you are human! Asking for help is normal, what’s abnormal is doing everything on your own. You’ll be surprised to see how much those around you actually want to help you, only you weren’t letting them! Delegating will alleviate some stress off of you, which will in turn allow you to do more. It will also make others feel useful and needed, and who doesn’t want to feel that way?

12- When it comes to your faith and your principles, don’t compromise. Being sworn at, having made fun of, being stared at, having a can of soda thrown at and being treated with disrespect and outright aggression didn’t make me reconsider my faith or my choice of Hijab … not even for a split second! If anything, it made me proud of who I am and of being a Muslim because it showed me how beautiful my religion is. We are instructed by God and our prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) not to hurt others, speak good or remain silent, help others, never judge, live peacefully amongst others and practice tolerance. I am better than those who choose to treat me the way they do, so why back down? And when it comes to my principles, they are the foundation of my personality, character and manners … if I compromise them I, essentially, cease to exist!

13- Work hard, really hard, even if no one is watching. In my religion, work is worship. Do you want to worship God half-heartedly? Of course not. Do you want to take the money you are paid knowing that you earned every penny or do you just want fast cash? Do you want the money you earn to be blessed or do you want to spend it on something like illness or other bad circumstances? Do you want to be proud of yourself and your achievements or do you not care?

14- Don’t do or say anything in secret that you would not do or say in public. That includes not talking about anyone in a way that you wouldn’t right to their face. Don’t be a fraud, even if no one else knows it, you will!

15- Practice empathy and compassion, every single day. We all have our struggles, we are all fighting our own battles. No one in this world is passing through life as if it were a breeze, so keep that in mind when someone wrongs you or lets you down … you never know what’s going on in their lives.

16- Don’t envy anyone and don’t be jealous. Jealousy is like a flesh eating bacteria! It will literally poison you, body and mind. Those you envy may very well be envying you back for something that is completely skipping your mind. No one has it all, if someone has something be 100% sure that there is something else that they are lacking. As Islam says, we all have 100% because God is fair but how those 100% are distributed in our lives are not exactly the same for each and every one of us. Your neighbor has that humungous bank account? You’ve got the laughter of your children filling your house and they don’t! Your sister has a ton of friends? You’ve got a few but they are loyal to you. Your colleague got promoted? You have better health than he does. Rest assured that somewhere out there someone else is thinking that you have it all too, so don’t envy anyone.

17- Choose your battles wisely and fight them till the end. If it’s something substantial, something that needs a stand then go for it. If it’s something that can be resolved otherwise or even completely let go of, don’t bother. Never let anyone else fight your battles for you, they won’t be able to do the job like you would.

18- Don’t be in someone’s life if they don’t have a place for you. How many people are or were in relationships where they had to, literally, fight for their spot? I’m not talking about romantic relationships only, no, friendships, kinship, partnerships, whatever sort of “-ship”. If someone doesn’t have a place for you in their life then they don’t deserve you. It doesn’t matter if they are the air you breathe, you deserve better.

19- Don’t kill children’s innocence. Way too often do I see parents screwing up their own children thinking that they are helping them be cool or classy! Remember that children were born innocent for a reason, sooner or later they will grow up and be as wise (or even wiser) than you. Don’t rush children into an early adulthood, that’s not what’s supposed to happen. Cherish their innocent moments, get down on your hands and knees and be silly with them. Hear their problems and take them seriously but never burden them with yours. Let them choose their outfits but be their protector and make sure they are age-appropriate. Have faith in them and teach them to be independent but keep your protective eye on them.

20- Friends come and go, except for the real ones. I have friends who I haven’t seen in 15 years. We actually fell out of touch when we turned 14 and each of us left to a different country and got reunited when we turned 29 (thank you Facebook)! We love each other so much to the extent that we feel like those 15 years were 15 hours, absolutely nothing changed with regards to our friendship and feelings towards one another. I also have friends who I met 4 years ago and love them just as much and trust them just as much! It has nothing to do with the number of friends or how long you’ve known them … it has everything to do with their quality. I’d rather have a single friend who I share mutual honesty, trust, love, care and kindness with than a hundred that I don’t!

21- Family is everything. Even if your family members don’t feel the same way sometimes, deep down inside they know it too. Yes, your friends are important and so are your career, money, leisurely activities and another thousand things. But who will be there for you during hard times? Who will be there for you no matter what? Who will be there for you when you are 70, with a bad back and no teeth? Family, especially your immediate family, is everything so make them a priority in your life.

22- Respect, respect, respect. ALWAYS treat people with respect. Don’t love her anymore? Tell her. Don’t like his outfit? Tell him. You talked about them behind their backs? Apologize. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, treat others with respect and they’ll appreciate it, eventually 😉 I’d rather hear truth that hurts than be lied to. I’d rather lose someone I love then have them in my life but feel nothing. I’d rather someone not agree with me and respect me than agree with me and laugh about me behind my back. It’s simple, respecting others means you respect yourself.

23- Take the high road. Never stoop down to the level of others if their level is beneath you, you are better than that!

24- Take charge of your life. Never ever let anyone tell you what to do or how to live your life. Take advice, yes, absolutely … be manipulated, no, never. If anyone starts bossing you around or harassing you into doing, saying or changing anything that you do not agree with, turn around and walk away. Don’t lose yourself and your identity in order to please anyone, no one is worth it and those who are would never allow themselves to do that to you.

25- Treat your elders the way they deserve to be treated. Your forgetful mother isn’t dumb. Your technologically-challenged father isn’t ignorant. That lady at the nursing home who keeps reiterating the same stories over and over isn’t boring. That old man who keeps asking you for the same thing over and over again isn’t annoying. They are old, they’ve aged but they are the same people that raised you, the same people who tried to create a better world for our generation, the same people who if you listen to attentively could help you become a better person. They are living their last days, and maybe so are you, so cut them some slack … you never know when you’ll need people to cut you some slack.

26- Smile, laugh, have fun and fall in love. But not at anyone else’s expense. Smiling alleviates physical and emotional pain and is plain beautiful! Laugh because you can and because you have so many blessings that, if you really sit down and count, will make you realize how lucky you are. Have fun because taking life way too seriously benefited no one. And fall in love because it is the most serene and rewarding feeling you will ever have. It would be perfect if the other person loves you back, loves you as much, but life isn’t perfect. Loving someone in itself brings on immense pleasure and will overcome you with warmth. The saying, “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is absolutely true.

27- Follow your passions. Not many of us are lucky enough to discover where their true passions lie. If you are one of the lucky few, nourish them, let them grow and in turn they will nourish you back. My passions are writing, sketching, spending time in and admiring nature and spending time with my lovely children … not once have I done any of those things and not felt fantastic afterwards.

28- Travel, if you can. Even if it’s to the next town. You will learn so much from others and you will see how alike we all really are. You will learn so much about yourself and the world as well.

29- Take risks. Well, not the life-threatening kind but rather, the hit-or-miss kind. Some of the best moments of my life resulted from taking risks and taking that leap of faith.

Courtesy: Rawforbeauty

Courtesy: Rawforbeauty

30- Be thankful, always. Every minute of every day. Whether it be to God or others. And the more you express your gratitude the better, not just for the recipient but yourself as well. Me thanking others for their kindness towards me, no matter how small their act was, feels so rewarding because I know that I am making them feel appreciated and loved.

There are tons of other life lessons that I learned, but they can all be summed up under those 30 points, one way or another. What are the life lessons you learned so far? Which ones are you hoping to expand on? Are there any that you pass on to your loved ones? Think about it, contemplate your life so far, and I guarantee you that you will realize that you have grown so much within a short period of time.

My Peaceful Hijab … Part IV: Life After The Blessing Of Hijab

For anyone just joining my blog, this post is the final part of a four-part series about my personal experience with wearing the veil (Hijab). Please feel free to read the previous posts dated April 11, April 25 and May 16, 2012.

So, as I had mentioned in my previous post, I made my final decision and wore the Hijab on Friday, July 20th, 2001. I remember that day as if it were yesterday! The real test came two days later though. I remember waking up on Sunday and picking out my first outfit, it was a thigh-length baby blue top and loose white pants along with white shoes and purse. For my veil, I decided to wear a white and baby blue chiffon floral patterned square scarf. It took me over an hour to pin the scarf right (I thought) and make sure it concealed all my hair. I could see myself in the mirror in our living room but my mother sat on a sofa behind me in order to direct me as to the back of my head. I remember feeling that, although I had 4 pins on to secure the scarf, it was going to fall off any second and I’ll be “exposed”! Now, it takes me 5 minutes to put it on and I secure it with two pins only … who knew? 🙂

Although I was notorious for being prompt, I remember heading to class earlier than usual that day to make sure I’m the first to arrive. I didn’t want to walk into class after my colleagues got there and deal with whatever looks they were going to give me. It’s not that I was ashamed or scared, I was just a shy person and felt extra self-conscious that day.  Sure enough, I was the first person in and sat in my usual place, front row, 5th seat from the right (yes, I do remember that)! As my colleagues started coming in, I occupied myself by texting my mother, back and forth. One by one, I started receiving warm congrats from some of my classmates and absolutely nothing from others. I was delighted that people didn’t give me a hard time or gave me “the dirty look”, as my friends and I call it. Well, maybe a couple did but who cares, right? I even had a couple of people come up to me after class and tell me that they didn’t understand why people were congratulating me since the Hijab suited me so much that, in their mind, they felt like I was always veiled to begin with!

A couple of the girls sitting way in the back of the class noticed that I was checking my scarf all the time and sort of fiddling with the pins. One of them was veiled and the other was not. I didn’t know them that well, but that day they came up to me after class, congratulated me again, told me how beautiful I looked, and asked me if I needed any help. The veiled one, my lovely sister Amira M., told me that my hair was showing a bit of a shadow in the back and gave me tips on how to overcome that. She introduced the ideas of wearing an opaque scarf under any chiffon one, using the rectangular scarves rather than the square ones since they are longer and so offer better coverage and just adjusting my hair under the scarf in a way that helps me stay comfortable yet insures that nothing is showing. Until this day, my heart warms up and I pray for her and her lovely daughters every single time I remember this incident. She then took me to the girls’ bathroom and helped me fix and secure everything.

My other friend, Reem Z., wasn’t veiled at the time but she knew how hard this step must have been and knew it takes a lot of courage to go through with it and so offered to stick with me for the rest of the day if I was feeling uncomfortable or too self-conscious. I really loved that she did that, it made a world of a difference to me. Sure enough, we stuck together for the rest of the day and she introduced me to her group of friends. We ended up hanging out together for the entire following semester.

Overall, life changed drastically for me after wearing the Hijab. Although I chose to wear it in the blazing heat of summer, I felt cooler than I usually did during that time of year. It was a pleasant surprise really, since it was one of the things I was dreading most with my choice of timing. I also noticed changes in the quality of my skin and hair, they were much healthier than before and my hair was growing more rapidly than ever. Other truly pleasant surprises were the fact that I felt more self-confident, outgoing and calm from the inside. It was the first time in a very long time that I had inner peace and felt really good about myself. It also made me feel really safe and really close to God (Allah). I knew that Allah was helping me cope, putting such kind people as Amira and Reem in my path to help me out and was giving me this sense of peace, calm and confidence as a reward for doing the right thing.

The most important thing that Hijab did for me was empower me and show me my own strength! Contrary to popular Western belief, Hijab does not oppress women, not one bit. What is oppressive about choosing to cover yourself rather than display yourself like a cheap piece of meat to anyone and everyone? What is oppressive about being in control of what others do or do not see with regards to your own body? What is oppressive about demanding and ensuring that others treat you with respect even if it is by the slightest of actions, like a look? What is oppressive about being proud of  your faith and wanting everyone to know that it is your choice and you couldn’t be prouder of it? What is oppressive about giving only the closest people to you the privilege of seeing more of you? What is oppressive about maximizing your beauty while also taking better care of your health by avoiding things like direct sunlight on skin, air pollutants and general damage to your skin and hair? What is oppressive about being modest and down to earth? What is oppressive about being a strong woman who fights for her right to choose and be who she wants to be? What is oppressive about being your own person and choosing to stand out in your own way, literally from head to toe? Tawakel Karman, the Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2011, summed it all up beautifully when she was asked about her Hijab by journalists and how it is not proportionate with her level of intellect and education. She responded saying,“Man in the early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times.”

Does that mean that I look down on unveiled women or non-Muslims? Absolutely not. In our religion, wearing the Hijab and taking it off is worse than not wearing it at all.  That’s why I always tell my non-veiled friends, if you are not ready then don’t do it because it’ll impact every single aspect of your life, more than you can ever imagine, and you need to be going in to it wholeheartedly otherwise you’ll break down. Also, modesty is the whole idea behind Hijab. To me, a non-Hijabi who is modest is a thousand times better than a Hijabi who is immodest. Hijab isn’t a fashion statement, it’s a window to your soul and what’s within you. As for non-Muslims, again, contrary to misconception in Western culture, Islam doesn’t look down upon them in any way. Actually, the Quran tells us that no Muslim is a true Muslim unless (s)he believes in Jesus, Moses and all the other Messengers sent from God and their Holy books! So how can believing in other religions be essential to me being a true Muslim yet I look down upon them, mistreat them or belittle them in any way? Some of my best friends, some of the closest people to my heart and some of the people who have ever supported me over the years are Christians! The majority of which aren’t Egyptians even. Another big sin in Islam is saying that X or Y will go to hell for whatever reason. Only Allah gets to decide who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell and only He knows for sure. Quran and Sunna (the teachings of Prophet Mohamed, PBUH) tell us that the smallest deed can land you in either of those, so who are we to go around saying who will go where? For all I know, I could be going to Hell while someone I perceive as beneath me be going to Heaven, it’s as simple as that.

As for strength, do you think it is easy to be veiled? Forget about the clothing itself, think about its implications. How easy do you think it is for me to be a veiled woman living in the west? Do you know how many times I’ve been called names, yelled at from cars, cursed at on the street and at other places right there in front of my kids? How many “dirty looks” I endure on a daily basis? How many times people would literally remove themselves and drag their kids from the shopping isle we’re in at the grocery store? How many times I’ve been called a terrorist while waiting at a cashier or just crossing people waiting for the bus at the bus stop? How hard it is for me not to break down when all this happens and stay strong and make sure that my kids don’t get affected by it? I don’t even want to imagine what will happen once I go back to work!

I had to fight my own family and overcome their emotional war against my decision in order to get to where I am today. I had to live with the guilt of overloading my mother psychologically when I wore the Hijab almost 3 years before she did (till she went to Hajj – pilgrimage) and she felt ashamed of herself every time she’d go out with me yet at the same time she still didn’t feel ready to take that step. I had to deal with people telling me that I’ll be alienating so many great men by taking this step and attracting less suitors, possibly of the wrong kind. I had to give up some of my favorite outfits and forget about showing and styling my hair on a daily basis. I had to completely forget about my dream wedding gown and that beautiful tiara that I had always dreamed of. I had to stand alone, totally alone, in order to take this step and be able to stick by my decision to the present day. So yes, I am a strong woman and I know it.

Hijab has been the greatest blessing in my life and the decision I am most proud of making till today. My only regret is that it didn’t come to me sooner in life. I respect myself, feel my strength, understand and trust my abilities and instincts better after wearing the Hijab. I am proud to be a role model to my children and can only hope to be the mother they deserve. If I could go back in time, I would do it all over again albeit a few years sooner.

My Peaceful Hijab … Part III: The Birth of My Hijab

For anyone just joining my blog, this post is part three of a four part series about my personal experience with wearing the veil (Hijab). Please feel free to read the previous posts dated April 11, 2012 and April 25, 2012.

We left off, in my last post, with me waiting to see whether I’ll be accepted to the Faculty of Pharmacy at Cairo University or to The American University in Cairo. As I waited, I was hoping that I’d be lucky enough to get both and be able to make my choice, I didn’t really have a clear preference in mind yet. Sure enough, weeks later I found out that I was accepted at both esteemed universities. I was ecstatic yet felt like I really didn’t want to make that choice. On one hand, I was strongly inclined towards joining the Faculty of Pharmacy at Cairo University for personal reasons. I wanted to be with others who I loved dearly and knew were accepted there as well and had asked me to join them. On the other, I had a strong passion for Computers and Computer Science and knew that I’d feel more at home if I went to The American University in Cairo. I was even crazy enough to contemplate going to both! It isn’t unheard of, so why not? Then I came to the realization that I’ve been pushing myself to my limits my entire life, always going above and beyond, so it was time for me to make a choice, one single university, one single faculty, one single future career path. I finally decided that I should do what will make me happy and help me achieve my goals and make me feel fulfilled rather than just follow others … and hey, if anyone wanted to stay in touch with me, there was nothing to prevent them from doing so, right? This was an opportunity too precious to waste, the opportunity to choose rather than have things predetermined for you. And so, I went with my heart, brain and most importantly, Istekhara prayer (a prayer Muslims do to, essentially, ask Allah to help guide them to the correct, righteous choice when they are not sure what path to choose amongst many) and decided to join my beloved AUC.

From the very first moment I stepped on campus, it felt right! So right. I felt like I have reached my destination (education-wise), like I was capable of achieving great things, that I have found the first stepping stone on the path of my future. Just being there made me feel so fulfilled although I was still getting to know the place, trying to understand how the courses work and things were generally in a state of chaos. I had no problem with my adviser (although everyone was complaining about theirs), no problem finding a spot in the courses I wanted and no problem registering in the very classes I had hoped for! Things were working out perfectly, to my utter surprise.

I had a blast that year, academically of course 😉 I registered for the most amazing courses, from The Foundations of Art and Design to Scientific Thinking. From Introduction to Sociology to Philosophic Thinking. Not to forget of course the very important Calculus, Computer Programming and Physics courses that were essential for my eligibility to declare my desired major, Computer Science. I discovered that I had a particular interest in Philosophy and wouldn’t have minded at all to continue down that line, but I saw no future for me in it career-wise … besides, I didn’t want to live my life questioning the existence of everything around me … or myself for that matter!

I had made a few friends but pulled away from them during my second semester because they were just not my type. When I wasn’t in class, I would be found sitting in the quietest area of the Main Campus, in the shade under the “big tree” behind the cafeteria. Almost no one sat in that spot since most people would go through the cafeteria and didn’t even know this area existed. I loved how calm it was, how I could hear the birds chirping, how I could concentrate if I wanted to study and how I could just lose myself in my thoughts if I wanted to wander off with my mind.

But something happened while I was seated in that spot, on a daily basis, something I never saw coming. I found myself observing and passing judgement on the other students around me! This was something so foreign to me, I was never that kind of person. Sure, I always had an impression regarding people I meet, but when it’s someone that I don’t deal with in a direct manner, it never mattered to me to form an opinion of them. What was even stranger was the fact that my judgement didn’t stand alone, it was mixed with fear! A very tangible, very dominating sense of fear. I saw how my colleagues were behaving, whether on their own, with their friends or with the opposite gender. I saw how they dressed, walked and talked. I saw how they discussed issues, had debates and sometimes even had fights. It was as if I had suddenly become aware of my surroundings, maybe even engulfed by them! And somehow, this experience struck me with fear.

I realized that the majority of my peers were too westernized, the way they did everything and the manner in which they conducted themselves didn’t necessarily match their Egyptian background and roots. It wasn’t just that, they also seemed to have some sense of pride in being this way. People would boast that their Arabic isn’t that good or they’d curse as if that was a socially acceptable thing to do or miss prayers on purpose because they wanted to “hang out” with their friends longer, it was unbelievable. Suddenly, it felt like being abroad but worse. See, the thing is, I knew that abroad certain things that happen are actually permissible and in fact expected, so when people do them they aren’t being vulgar or obscene or ill-mannered in anyway, they are just being “normal”. But for an Egyptian (an Arab and/or Muslim in general) to act this way in a society like ours was just absurd. Suddenly I feared for our country, for the generations to come … are those the future mothers and fathers? Are those the ones who will raise the coming generation? Are those the same people who will instill principals and integrity in their youngsters? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that everyone around me was that way, I just saw that the majority were and that scared the wits out of me!

(Years later I discovered that, depending on which campus you were spending your time at, you’ll meet a certain type of people since different social cliques, if you will, hung out at different areas of the university.)

And from there, little did I know, the seed of my Hijab was planted. I felt a need to be a better person, to become the best person I can possibly be, to protect myself and my future kids from the ever-changing world and make sure that our beliefs and principals do not become extinct in no time. I looked at my life and came to the conclusion that I have always been a good student; achieving the highest grades, loved and respected by my teachers and looked up to by my peers. After talking to my mother, brother and grandparents, I realized that they loved me very much and always felt like I was there for them and I never let them down … they were proud of me and believed in me, there was nothing more I could do in that department except keep it up. On the social front, sure I didn’t have many friends because I was never the kind of girl to go out on mixed-gender outings or have a boyfriend or even have a late curfew (my curfew was 8 p.m and got upgraded till 9 p.m. when I went to university – till I got married in 2007 actually) but the friends I had were the most amazing ones anyone could ever hope for. I always wished I had more friends and wished that I wasn’t so shy around the opposite gender and made a promise to myself to work on those things in the coming years. The other aspect that I felt lacking in was the religious front. Sure, I always tried to adhere to the teachings of Islam; being honest, truthful, helping others whenever possible, be respectful of the elderly and be modest whether in the way I act or the way I dress, and that was the main reason why I gave up wearing swimming suits 3 years earlier and shorts the past summer. But I still felt like something big was lacking. I never wore sleeveless tops, short skirts or dresses or anything too revealing. I never liked makeup and only wore it at weddings since I was blessed with fair skin that I loved and always got complimented on. That’s when I came to the conclusion that I want to wear the Hijab, it was the logical next step and I absolutely loved it! The weird thing is, the issue of Hijab never ever crossed my mind before. Sure, my grandmothers, my aunts and a couple of my older cousins wore it, but no one ever talked to me about it nor tried to convince me to wear it. If anything, I remember the entire family waging war on my cousin Rania A. for wanting to wear the Hijab during her last year in university, if I remember correctly. Whenever I pictured my future wedding dress, it was an off the shoulder side draped satin and lace dress with long satin gloves … oh and the tiara, ever so important! I looked at pictures of tiaras far more than I ever looked at those of wedding dresses … being a princess on that one night is what it’s all about for a girl after all, isn’t it? So no, the issue of Hijab was never at the back of my mind even.

After a few weeks of contemplation, I was sure I wanted to wear the Hijab. I considered all the consequences (including giving up my dream wedding dress … believe me, that was heartbreaking and I took a long time to get over it) and how my parents would feel about it and whether or not I’d ever take it off. I didn’t even need to pray Istekhara, simply because I was so sure. I finally told my parents, my dad was abroad at the time so I told him on ICQ and I had a sit down with my mother and brother before then and told them. My brother thought I was too young and it’s a huge decision but if I am sure I will not take it off later on then I should go for it. My mother wasn’t for the idea, she said she’s proud of me for thinking of taking this step but I am too young and should wait till I am married then make the decision. Like most parents at the time, they feared that an unmarried girl wearing the Hijab will have less suitors than one who doesn’t. That belief stemmed from the fact that back in the day, when they were our age, no one wore the Hijab except for women of the lowest social class in society or when a classy woman got older. She even asked me if someone I liked at university was encouraging this decision! My dad was a whole different story. He was really upset and although we discussed the matter for hours, he wasn’t convinced one bit that this decision was stemming from me and me alone. He then proposed a solution to the problem, if after getting married I still felt this way then he’ll let me do it!

My dad was so upset that I was genuinely worried about his health, so I decided to postpone the matter for a few months and then try again. I waited for 3 long, miserable months. I wasn’t sleeping well, felt generally down and everything seemed really tasteless, including my studies which I loved. Finally, on Saturday July 14th, 2001 I asked my mother to take me shopping because I made my final decision and will wear the Hijab next week. She supported my decision and said she’ll tell my father. When she told him, he was very upset but didn’t try to stop me. So we went shopping and I bought what I thought I needed (turned out to be the tip of the iceberg) and on Friday, July 20th, 2001, in the middle of Egypt’s summer heat and 2 days before my Summer Session Physics finals … I was blessed to be a young lady, willingly wearing her Hijab 🙂

My Peaceful Hijab … Part II: Me Back Home, The Final Years Leading To The Birth Of My Hijab

For anyone just joining my blog, this post is part two of a four part series about my personal experience with wearing the veil (Hijab). Please feel free to read the previous post dated April 11, 2012.

As I had mentioned in part I, going home in 1996 turned out to be one of the toughest experiences of my life! I absolutely loved being close to my relatives and childhood friends (Deena S., I love you loads). Going over to visit my maternal grandparents every Friday felt great. They showered us with treats and grandma (may Allah rest her soul) would always go out of her way to make us happy and was the only person in our life who prayed for us every time she opened her mouth! Something we came to truly appreciate only after she passed away. Visiting my paternal grandma (may Allah rest her soul) was always interesting as well. She had all those pictures of my dad 20+ years ago and many of the books he had left behind, it was really great seeing all this history and getting to know our father on a completely new level.

But the experience of going to school was nothing like I had imagined it would be. We went back to Orouba International School, “our school”, in Maadi where we lived. The school itself didn’t change much since I was last there in 3rd grade but the students were completely different. On my first day I was able to recognize some of my former peers and when I reintroduced myself to them they all remembered me … that was a huge relief. Some of them didn’t even wait for me to introduce myself and recognized me right away, which made me feel great. But something was different, they’ve all been in the same school for so long that they were so comfortable amongst themselves and I became an outsider. However, they never shunned me out, they tried to help me fit in but we were just too different. My childhood best friend, Deena S., was in a different class and she had her own group so I never imposed but we still got to hang out a lot at Maadi Sports Club.

However, a few weeks into the school year things started to get ugly. They noticed that all the teachers who teach the Arabic subjects were more patient with me since my Arabic wasn’t as strong as theirs. I don’t know if they thought that I was being arrogant or what, but my classmates started to act in a mean way towards me. They’d call me names, wouldn’t want to spend time with me on the break and started to circulate some of the worst rumors imaginable about me. It broke my heart that no one ever came to my defense, especially those closest to me. But I understood that if they did, they’d be shunned too and they probably didn’t want that. However, all this made me start to realize how different things in school are than when I was abroad. Classes were huge (usually around 40 students per class) as opposed to the 10-15 students per class I’m used to. Teachers would come in and head straight to the blackboard, not establishing much of personal link with their students (and how could they with so many students per class and so many classes a single teacher teaches?). There were 10 lessons on each school day, that’s usually a subject each, which meant we have to carry all those books to and from school on a daily basis. And there was a schedule, the teachers had to finish a certain portion of the textbook by a certain date, so students couldn’t go at their own pace (this cost me 2 years of my academic life where I was placed in the 8th grade although I was 2 years into my I.G.C.S.Es abroad). The students were very different too, they didn’t resemble me much and seemed so eager to form cliques and make sure they’re popular. So all in all, the experience of going back to school there didn’t meet even a portion of my expectations, but for some odd reason I still loved being there!

By the time the mid-year exams were up, I had found out that my father had exempt my brother and I from all the Arabic taught classes but never told us so that we would do our best to learn! I respect that now, but at the time I felt like he placed too much unnecessary stress and burden on our shoulders by doing so. Things started turning around during the second term. Some of my classmates started to show me support against the rumors that were circulating about me (thank you Rania S., Walaa N., Mohamed A. and Mohamed N.). I had made wonderful friends on the school bus (Shahdan A. and Eman E., I love you girls very much and really miss you) and they had introduced me to their friends, who were equally amazing. I also made friends at Maadi Sports Club (Maii A. I miss you and hope you and your family are doing well), where Deena S. and I and our families used to spend so many wonderful evenings and weekends. Things started to turn around and I LOVED it. Eventually, before the finals were upon us, I had stopped hearing any rumors about me and the “mean” people had stopped harassing me. Everything was falling in place and I loved my school more and more with each passing day.

At this point I’d just like to pause for a minute and extend a big “Thank You” to ‘Am Salah, our school bus driver. I hope he is well and pray that he and his family are safe. This man was always smiling, always happy to see my brother and I and always praising me for being a good person and good sister to my little brother. I remember him fondly and will always cherish his kindness towards us.

That summer vacation was amazing. I spent most of it in Marsa Matrouh with my dad’s side of the family and it was great fun. It also happened to be the last year I’d ever wear a “traditional” swimming suit (something I never saw coming since I was a pro). I’d become so self-conscious, especially with all my cousins who were on the trip being males (may Allah rest Karim’s and oncle Hamdy’s souls) that I decided it was immodest to go on wearing swimsuits from then on. I did continue to wear shorts though for a couple more years, nothing too revealing of course.

I was also looking forward to the upcoming academic year. I knew I’d be starting my I.G.C.S.Es and moving to a different department than my Secondary School Certificate colleagues and was excited about the new step. I also knew it was a defining phase concerning my future. How well I did in those classes would dictate what university (and faculty) I would join 3 years later, which in turn defines my entire future career! Such pressure for a 15 year old, yet who doesn’t go through the same experience?

I loved everything about the I.G department! Classes were small again, the professors were fun (except for one who I thought was quite a grouch, sorry, she also happened to be the only foreign one but I don’t think that had anything to do with it), we had our own little library and the head of the department was an amazing mentor and like a big brother to all of us (thank you Mr. Atef, you have truly impacted our lives in so many ways beyond imagination). I didn’t care for one thing though and, although I do understand the need for it at the time, it still wasn’t fun … and that was the bathroom passes 😀 Yup, bathroom passes … we were allowed 2 passes a day to go to the bathroom (which we had to leave our designated area for) and we  had to pass by the department’s secretary to ask her for them! It was unbelievably embarrassing but was much needed since some “mischievous” colleagues of mine were abusing going to “the bathroom” in order to go see their friends in the other section of the school, several times a day. Other than that, I had no complaints. A very important blessing that I took away from my experience there was making some amazing, life-long friends (Sherine A., Dina G. and Yasmina M. … you girls truly rock and I love you from the bottom of my heart). The type of friends who, even if you don’t talk for years, you know have your back, love you and always remember you in their prayers and you them in yours.

As the years went by, I fell more and more in love with the education I was getting. Finally, I was feeling like I was at the right place. School was great, the professors were amazing, my colleagues were a lot similar to me and those who were different weren’t mean or anything, we were all mature and civilized people. The most exciting point for me was that I was choosing my own subjects and basically, planning my future all by myself. My parents trusted me enough to let me make my own choices only advising me to keep my options open whenever I can. I enjoyed every single day of my experience in high school and loved every single moment. I also discovered a lot about myself. I discovered that I am stronger than I thought I was, more resilient too. I discovered that my love for learning is a permanent thing and defines a big part of who I am as a person. I discovered that my favorite subjects are Biology and Computer Studies and that I have a genius (ma sha’a Allah) second cousin right there with me in class for 3 years and didn’t even know it (Ahmed A., who would have thought?) … and much much more.

Then came the wait, to know what university I was accepted to and what faculty I was placed in. I was waiting to see, will I go to the Faculty of Pharmacy at Cairo University or Computer Science at The American University in Cairo.

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