Hijabi of the Month February - Sedija Arslanovic & Samra Sahbegovic
Posted on February 08, 2014
February's Hijabi of the Month are two best friends from St. Louis who were nominated by a friend. Here's what she had to say about them, "Their fierce passion for their heritage is so inspiring. These two beautiful ladies carry themselves in such individually unique, but equally inspiring ways. Samra is bright and easily the sunshine amongst any crowd. Sedija is feminine, soft, and incredibly caring. The two complement each other very well, and they are some of the sweetest girls I've ever met!" You can follow Samra on facebook or on instagram @sam_rah and you can follow Sedija on instagram @sedijaa.
Samra comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina, but was born and raised in Germany. She's a senior at the University of Missouri - Saint Louis pursuing a Bachelors of Arts degree in Psychology, minor in Biology and a certificate in Trauma Studies. Her dream is to travel and explore the world, give a helping hand as much as she can and show those around her their true potential.
Sedija is 21 years old majoring in biology and minoring in psychology also at the University of Missouri - St. Louis. She has a curiosity for nature, philosophy, travel, history, humanity and all things unique.
1) When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us a little about your journey.
Samra: I started wearing hijab when I was eighteen. The transition started for me in high school. The older I became, the more I discovered the importance of modesty. I always felt that a woman’s beauty was more than just outward appearance. I realized that hijab meant that a woman could show her inner beauty, which is far more precious and everlasting than anything on the outside. My lovely mother had always taught me the importance of modesty and humility by being the best example to me. She portrayed such beautiful strength and character by showing me to have pride in being a Muslim woman. However, like many girls, I struggled to finally decide to wear the hijab. It was the first night of Ramadan, and the strong feeling to wear it came to me unexpectedly. I had always given thought to wearing the hijab before, but I never believed I would have decided to wear it so suddenly. I had gone the whole day without even giving a thought to the matter, but then around nighttime I could not get the idea out of my head. I stayed up the whole night till dawn researching more about hijab. The strongest feeling had taken over me, and for the first time in my life I was so sure this is what I wanted. At that time, I had made one of the best decisions of my life. It was such an empowering and liberating moment. Being surprised by my own abrupt decision to wear it, I remembered that the month of Ramadan truly does bring miracles along with it.
Sedija: I can just say that I was blessed with people and experiences that inspired me to choose to wear hijab. My fascination with it started from a very early age because of someone I really looked up to at that time who, to this day, still holds a very special place in my heart. She was our neighbor and we lived in the same double family home; we were two Bosnian immigrant families helping each other adjust to a new world. This young woman was my role-model in so many ways, but most of all Islamically; she was the first Bosnian hijabi I was exposed to and she carried herself so beautifully. She taught me many things and I honestly feel as if this early exposure played a significant role in my later curiosity and love for Islam (although I do have to give my mama credit too!). So for some subconscious reason I always knew that I'd eventually want to cover, but I later just never focused on it too much and continued thinking along the lines of "I'll start wearing it when I get married," or "when I finish school." Later I met Samra and our love for hijab was mutual- we'd always talk about it and ask ourselves what was holding us back. My ultimate decision with hijab, though, came a few years later and was rather spontaneous. During my freshman year of college, our university's Muslim Student Association held an event in which women, Muslim and non-Muslim, could wear hijab for a day, and I decided to participate. That day I attended all my classes in hijab and later all of the participating women gathered together to share their experiences. Although I always kept a more modest dress, that day showed me the difference a simple fabric on my head could make- I noticed an immediate change in the amount of respect I received from others; it felt so empowering. But what struck me the most were the positive stories that the non-Muslim women shared; they all loved the experience as much as I did. It was then that I started contemplating about how wonderful it was that a non-Muslim could feel that way and I thought to myself how there really shouldn't be anything holding me back. That was the moment of realization that I finally wore hijab full-time, alhamdulillah.
2) Tell us a little about your background.
Samra: I come from Bosnia, but was born and raised in Düsseldorf, Germany. My unique background is the result of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the horrific genocide that followed it. My city, Zvornik, and my family had been deeply affected by the ethnic cleansing the Bosnian Serbs were committing against the Bosnian Muslims. My parents boarded the last and final bus that was leaving the city for Germany. Shortly thereafter, I was born. We decided to stay in Germany for some time with other family members, and start our lives there. My childhood days were spent in Germany, and the times spent there are some of my best and fondest memories. I can’t help but imagine what would have happened if my parents had not taken that last bus, or worse…missed it. Even though our hearts ache for our lost loved ones and the situation back
Samra (left) and Sedija (right) in Turkey
home was terrible, Allah has truly blessed us by keeping us alive. Growing up, the tragic stories were a big part of my life. However, faith and belief is what kept my family going and so strong. As Allah (swt) tells us in the Quran, “And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, ‘They are dead.’ Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not.” [Al Baqarah, 2:154]. After living in Germany for seven years, the German government decided the Bosnian refugees living there had to go back home. This caused a lot of distress for many Bosnians, and ultimately became the reason my family decided to move to the USA. Saint Louis had become the hub for Bosnian refugees, and provided Bosnians with resettling agencies and job opportunities. Not only did this Midwest metropolitan city greet us with a warm welcome, but many times it did feel like home because there were so many Bosnians coming to live there.
Sedija: I was born in war time Bosnia. After the war, my family briefly moved to Germany but destiny had us cross the Atlantic to America to join the Bosnian community of St. Louis. We've been living here since 1997.
3) When did you two meet? What does your friendship with one another mean to you?
Samra: I met Sedija in middle school. The first time I met her, I did not think we could ever become as close as we have. At the time, we seemed much different from one another. By eighth grade, and well into high school, she became one of my best friends. I don’t even refer to her as a best friend, but as a sister of mine. Throughout high school, we shared the same perspectives and values. A lot of my other friends fell into peer pressure and started to engage in risky behaviors. Sedija was one of those friends that always stayed away from these destructive behaviors, and focused on more important things in life. I loved the way she modestly carried herself, and was so proud of who she was. Sedija and I helped each other in the transitioning of hijab, and it makes me very happy to say that she came to wear it three months after I had decided to. Aside from her amazing character and true spirit, she is one of the silliest people I know. Her friendship means more to me than I could ever explain. Not only has she been there for me all this time, but she really does know how to make everyone around her feel loved. I am so beyond blessed to have her, my soul sister, in my life.
Sedija: This is probably the most special part to this whole piece because my friendship with Samra isn't just a friendship- it's a sisterhood and it holds a very dear place in my life. I don't really know how to begin this part, nor would I know how to end it properly, and I feel as if even the smallest things should be included because they all hold some kind of meaning to our friendship. And it's funny because as I'm writing this, I text Samra to ask her whether she's written up her piece for the blog yet and she responds "I'm on the part about you!" and then we of course continue with one of our typical silly conversations and about how we're being really "cheesy" writing about each other. It's moments like these that remind me of how blessed I am that my path crossed with such an amazing individual. Samra and I have been friends since middle school and ever since then we've grown together through our shared experiences and frequent philosophical conversations, and she's inspired me in a countless number of ways. Her caring nature has uplifted me whenever I needed a bit of hope in my life, regardless of the reason. We also share many of the same passions and our own journeys to hijab intertwined together; I can say we've really been positive influences on one another. She's one of those rare individuals that I know will always be present in my life, insha'Allah, and venturing out half way across the world together made me realize that our friendship truly has no boundaries.
4) What is one motto or statement you live by?
Samra: This is a hard question for me to answer because with every day comes new challenges and statements that I live by. I’m one of those avid “quote-seekers” with quotes all up on my wall, and saved through my phone. If I did have to share a motto right this moment it would be, “Verily, with hardship there is relief” (Quran 94:6). Each and every person will experience hardship, no matter how perfect their lives may seem. This verse has come into my life as a source of light because it holds the truth – there will be relief. The greatest point to make is that no matter how many good things may seem to be going on in our lives, it is always important to be thankful and stay humble. All growth requires struggle. To be the best version of ourselves, we will be tested many times with hardship, and it’s important to find solitude in Allah’s promise while exerting patience.
Sedija: "There are only two ways to live your life- one as though nothing is a miracle, the other as though everything is a miracle." In my opinion, when you choose the latter you'll see beauty and wonder even in the smallest things and you'll live a life of fulfillment.
5) If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
Samra: Improvements come from small steps, and it’s important to always keep moving forward no matter how slow you may feel you’re going. Hijab does come with struggles for many, just like praying and staying on the right path do. The important thing is to remember that these struggles don’t last forever, and that you will get stronger with them. Accept yourself first, and others will learn to accept you too. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and it is only when we accept who we are that we will truly succeed. I had always heard that wearing hijab brings so many blessings in this life and the next, but to live and see that is the greatest feeling.
Sedija: I feel as though deciding on hijab is so much more easier when we look at the most fundamental reason for wearing it. Yes, hijab is about modesty and being a positive symbol for Islam, and this is important especially in a non-Muslim society. But becoming fully aware that you're wearing hijab because of Allah swt and to know your intention is to please solely Him is more empowering than all of the other reasons put together. This state of awareness will instill you with a confident, optimistic attitude while wearing it, and your positivity will radiate onto each individual that you encounter, insha'Allah.
Would you like to nominate someone for Hijabi of the Month? E-mail us at [email protected]!