Thursday, October 30, 2014

Interview with an author

Masha Allah, there are so many amazing women out there who are using their talents in a positive and productive way. I have had the privilege of coming across one such woman, sister Robyn Abdusamad, who is an author of children's books with a difference. Here's my interview with her, I hope that you find it as inspiring and interesting as I have. 


1.    Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

     I am from North Carolina but my family recently relocated to Texas, the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  I am a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University with a Bachelor in Communications/ Public Relations and a Masters in Public Administration from National University.  I have over 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. I’ve also worked in the secondary school system in North Carolina. Right now, I am a stay at home mom.   In my spare time I enjoy volunteering in my community, traveling, shopping, and connecting with family and friends.

2.    Is this your first book? If not, what other books have you written and what were those about?

In 2013 I published my first book “Wahid and His Special Friend” (Authorhouse).  It is a cute rhyming book that is a quick read for children ages 0 – 7.  Rhyming is essential for children to comprehend and play with language.  It not only tells a great story but has great illustrations and great rhymes with a hint of mystery.  “You Are Beautiful” is my second book in my line of children books.   It is about two sisters who learn a meaningful lesson about ethnic diversity as well as the importance of compassion and unity. 

3.    What inspired you to write children’s books?

Being a mother who wanted to make sure that my children developed a love of reading introduced me to the world of children’s literature. As I began to purchase books for my kids, I noticed a lack of books that focused on the needs of Muslim children. So that void in the market is what inspired me to try my hand at children’s books.  So, with the support of family and friends, I took that leap.

4.    Your latest book, “You are Beautiful” is due for release this November, this looks like a very interesting book, please tell us a little bit about this book?

Yes. It is scheduled to be released November 28.  “You Are Beautiful” (Mindworks, 2014) is about two sisters who are saddened by a racial comment made by some of their peers.  It is a heartfelt and inspirational lesson that teaches young children how they can embrace diversity with knowledge and kindness. 

5.    What was your motivation for writing this book?

My motivation for this book stemmed from the injustices we all witness in society today. Additionally, when I worked in the school system I was able to observe, firsthand, the bias that children demonstrated toward each other. So my purpose with this book, I hope, is to give parents a way to engage their children in conversations about diversity, racism and other forms of bias.  As the late Maya Angelou once said, “When we know better, we do better.”

6.    It seems that your books are aimed at dealing with important social issues, do you see your writing as a form of social activism? Also, do you believe that writing has the ability to bring about real change?

Not all of my books have a social activist theme; however, “You Are Beautiful” could be seen as such because the storyline is about overcoming intolerance and embracing diversity.  As a writer I don’t set out to be a social commentator. But as a parent and educator, it is essential to educate our children about racism, prejudice, and respect for others.   Many parents may feel uncomfortable when discussing race with their children, but considering the racial climate of America, it is a much needed conversation. Children are keenly aware of racial background and differences in (color) and when we do not openly talk about it with our children, it becomes an issue that goes ignored for generations.  Part of having good character is to not pre-judge people.  As far as my writing bringing about real change, I think my writing coupled with the dialog that I mentioned earlier can help effect change in our communities.

7.    Who is this book aimed at? (Which age group?)

The age group is for ages 8 – 12 (grades 3 – 6). This is a children’s book so it is written for them as well as parents and teachers of any race, ethnic group, gender and religion that embraces diversity. 

8.    Where can this book be purchased?

This book can be purchased at in paperback and kindle format.  Pre-orders are being taken now through my publisher at you can receive a signed copy of the book when you pre-order it.

9.    Please share with us some of the ideas you have for upcoming books?

Currently I am working on two other children’s books; I have completed the drafts for “Zaynab’s Enchanted Scarf” and “Zakiyyah’s Flower Garden”.  Once they are published, I plan to write a book about balancing marriage and relationships. 

10. I’ll leave the final question open, please share some words of wisdom with us, anything you’d like to share.

Well, the one thing that comes to mind is the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are positive and uplifting.  Also, be supportive of those who are doing good things in our communities and treat others the way you would want to be treated.  Get to know people outside of your comfort zone despite the color of their skin because that could be the one person who enhances your life.  Keep peace in your life and know that Allah (swt) is always watching.

Jazak Allah Khayr to sister Robyn for this interview. I would recommend that you get a copy of Robyn's latest book as well as her previous one. This seems like a Must-have for every children's library. 

To Sister Robyn, I wish you all the best for the future, May Allah keep you in peace always!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The meaning of True Sisterhood

On Saturday I had an amazing day, Alhamdulilllah (All Praise is for Allah). We hosted a ladies workshop. Through the mercy of Allah, I learnt far more than I could ever teach and the experience left me feeling humbled and in awe of the perfect system of Allah and the beauty of Islam.

The group of ladies that attended was diverse and multi-cultural and naturally this meant that we got to hear a variety of experiences. I can’t tell you how beautiful it was to hear sisters talk about Muslim sisterhood and how they feel they belong. The cherry on the top for me was when a sister who reverted two years ago said that she loves us all for the pleasure of Allah and she spoke about how Islam has changed her life and how amazing it is for her to be part of the Muslim sisterhood.

Now let’s not paint a perfect picture here, because there is no such thing as the perfect picture, flaws are always inevitable and mistakes are going to be made without a doubt. It was saddening to hear some sisters speak about their negative experiences when greeting other Muslim sisters with the greeting of peace, As-salaamu alaykum, these experiences including being ignored and snubbed.

The negativities will exist of course, people are human and we are thus prone to weakness, but we need to have reminders such as these, reminders of how Allah Almighty actually intended it to be, because this will clarify our understanding when things are flawed or imperfect, it is our human error and weakness and by no means is it a reflection of Islam or how Allah intended things to be. If we understand our wrongs then only can we change it.

This all got me thinking about the true meaning of sisterhood in Islam. You see although I am a born Muslim, I wasn’t always a part of this Muslim sisterhood that I speak of. There was a time when I felt very far removed from Muslim sisters. Coming from a different cultural background from majority of the people I grew up with and went to school with naturally made me somewhat of an outsider. We shared the same religion, but unfortunately many people tend to mix culture up with religion and when I was growing up people tended to connect more on the basis of culture than religion. So since I couldn’t identify with girls on a cultural basis, this obviously made me averse to the Muslim girls around me, feeling that I was and never would be the same as them.

I recall when I began wearing hijab, one of my biggest issues was that I didn’t want to be the same as all the other Muslim women. My reasoning was that I had never fitted in with them and I disagreed with their way of seeing things in so many ways, so I didn’t want to be seen by others as the same as them. I laugh now at how I made an attempt to wear my hijab differently to how everyone else was wearing it, just so that I didn’t seem the same.

Allah had a different plan for me though, of course a better plan. Somehow through my field of work I was pushed in to working with Muslim women, and finally Allah allowed me to meet amazing sisters who valued themselves based on the religion of Islam and not on the culture they came from. Whereas before I always felt unable to connect with other women, now I began to find it easy, and this was simply only because we had common ground and a common goal and intention and that was Islam and reaching closeness to Allah Almighty.

SubhanAllah (Glory be to Allah), over the years I have been blessed to connect with many women in this way, purely for the pleasure of Allah and I have formed bonds with women in a way that I never thought was possible. I have experienced real love between sisters, not blood sisters, sisters in Faith. So this is why it moves me so much to have experiences like I did on Saturday. This is why I feel honoured to be present when a Muslim sister who has met other sisters for the first time is able to openly proclaim her love for them. I feel humbled, because Allah Almighty has allowed me to understand the true meaning of sisterhood and I know that I can connect with any sister when our vision and mission is the pleasure of Allah Almighty.

My reminder on Saturday was that Islam is not about culture, people have cultures, that’s what gives order and understanding to their everyday practices, but Islam surpasses cultural beliefs and when Muslim sisters get together, they should be able to connect with each other on a real level, heart to heart, soul to soul, all working and striving to earn Allah’s pleasure. This is sisterhood, the bonds that have been forged by none other than the Ultimate Creator. We can look beyond everything else and feel mutual love and care, we can cry with one another and laugh with one another, we can feel at home and like we belong even though we’ve only just met. We can listen to each other’s stories with patience and understanding and genuinely care for each other. This is true sisterhood and the beauty of it, the reality of it is that Allah Almighty’s pleasure is central to it. We have no need to backbite or slander each other, nor do we have the need to compete or show who is better. We understand that in the eyes of Allah we are all equal and if we truly love Allah then we will easily love each other. SubhanAllah (Glory be to Allah) over and over for allowing us to experience this true sisterhood and my prayer is that Allah allows the bonds of true sisterhood to be strengthened so that all Muslim sisters can identify with each other as one and we can stand together when we really need to do so.

May Allah Almighty guide me and forgive me and always give me the ability to see the truth wherever it exists.

Image 1 from here 

Image 2 from here

Monday, October 13, 2014

The best decision making skill ever

Have you ever been at a place in your life when you have to make an important decision and the outcome could go either way? I’m sure all of you know those moments, moments when you wish you paid more attention to decision making skills; Moments when you know that following your whims and desires just won’t do it; Moments when other people may give you advice till they are blue in the face, but you know in the end that you are going to have to decide by yourself, and the decisions you make is something that you will have to live with.

It sounds very daunting, doesn’t it? - Just the thought of having to make major life changing decisions is sometimes enough to make me want to lock myself up. But then I remember that I don’t have to do that, because I am not alone, I am never alone and I will never be alone. I have my Creator, and Allah is there all the time to guide us and help us on our life path, but we have to seek that guidance and ask for that assistance. SubhanAllah (Glory be to Allah), one way of seeking out guidance when decisions need to be made is through the prayer of Istikhaarah.

I can’t express my love for this prayer properly. It makes me feel like nothing in the world matters, everything is easy, and things will go the right way because I have asked of Allah. Of course, the right way may not be understood by me at the time, but I know that in time I will understand that the outcomes of my decisions have always been right, even when it didn’t make sense. This is only because I have been given the best decision making tool in existence.

I can tell you that there are many different ways of making decisions. In my field of work we’ve been teaching decision making tools and skills for ages, we start doing this from the time children are young. Yet, still it seems that people remember very little of this, they find it boring and unnecessary, and most times people only become interested in learning decision making tools after they've already made many bad decisions.

So I have a confession to make, I have never really used the different decision making skills out there, mainly because I have never believed that it was okay for me to make important decisions based only on my limited knowledge and experience. Relying on the One who knows the past, the present and the future just makes so much more sense to me. Not only does Allah Almighty know about all events in the world, Allah also knows every single person in the world, better than they even know themselves. Bearing this in mind, isn't beautiful to have Allah Almighty assist you in making decisions.

Perhaps I need to share exactly what the Istikhaarah prayer is at this point. Basically you perform salaah and then make the following prayer thereafter and trust that Allah will guide your heart towards the correct decision:

O Allah, I ask You the good through Your knowledge and I ask You to grant me ability through Your power, and beg (your favour) out of Your infinite bounty. For surely, You have power and I have none. You know all and I know not. You are the Great Knower of all things. O Allah, if, in Your knowledge, this matter be good for my faith, for my livelihood and for the consequences of my affairs, then ordain it for me and make it easy for me and bless me therein. But if, in Your Knowledge, this matter be bad for my faith, for my livelihood and for the consequences of my affairs, then turn it away from me and turn me away from it and ordain for me the good wherever it be and cause me to be pleased therewith.

Isn’t this the most beautiful prayer? This just so perfectly encapsulates the reality of our lives. It is only Allah who is the Great Knower, and only Allah who knows what is best for us! SubhanAllah!

I don’t know what I would do without this prayer. I can imagine myself being totally at a loss, confused and uncertain, never knowing if I have made the right decision and possibly always wondering what would have happened if I had chosen differently.

Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah) I am so thankful for this blessing of Istikhaarah.

If this prayer is too long, there are other shorter ones that we can make and Insha Allah we will still receive correct guidance. One beautiful one that I recently learnt of was shared by a fellow blogging sister, you can read about this here.

What I have learnt is that the major decisions in life should never be made hastily. We need to take time out for reflection and prayer before we decide on things. In the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the Companions would ask for Allah’s guidance for all matters, both big and small, so this reminds us that decisions made without thinking, contemplating and of course praying for guidance, is nothing but a lazy way out of things, and this usually results in regret, amongst many other things.

May Allah always guide us in all our decisions and help us to make full use of the bounties Allah has given us.

Image 1 from here 
Image 2 from here