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Hijabi of the Month March - Nadiya Ahmed

Posted on March 10, 2014


This month's HOTM is Nadiya Ahmed! She was nominated by a friend who had this to say about her, "I'm nominating nadiya because she's a great leader, world traveler, extremely humble, compassionate, thoughtful, generous, and an amazing friend." 

Originally from Detroit, Michigan – Nadiya is currently living in Cairo, Egypt. School/work/personal passions have allowed her to live in a few countries over the past 10 years including Morocco, Singapore, Turkey and Egypt. She currently works at an international development bank which focuses on building up local economies of third world/emerging countries with her concentration being Middle East, Northern Africa and Eastern Europe. Outside of work, Nadiya is an aspiring calligraphist (currently studying thulith script), and a student of Arabic and tajweed. And if all of that did not take up her free time, she also is one of the Directors of Camp Al-Hilal – a week long Islamic youth camp based in Eastern Michigan. Often times she is asked: Which country are you moving to next? Her response – Wherever Allah takes me.

1) When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us a little about your journey!

I started wearing hijab my first day of university. I was getting ready in front of the mirror and was brushing my hair…when all of a sudden a thought hit me: If I truly believe in the Quran and the teachings of Islam, I should wear hijab. And with that 10 second thought process, I grabbed my navy blue hijab, put it on my head, and left for school. Yes, all it took was 10 seconds! I remember when I got back home, my mom saw me and looked confused and asked me, ‘You went to school like that?’ I replied, ‘Yep’….and I have been wearing hijab since.  

I didn’t become superhijabi overnight. I first started off with my neck uncovered while wearing 5 necklaces around my neck, and showed some of my ears to dangle out my big hoop earrings. I remember when I ran into 2 muslim sisters who wore hijab and jilbab full time, I was preparing myself for them to make a comment on how I wasn’t wearing my hijab correctly. Instead, they seemed genuinely happy for me and said I was doing a great thing. I left admiring those 2 sisters who recognized that it’s not how a girl wears hijab, but her intention behind it. I received a lot of encouragement and no one ever judged me over how/why I wore it. I slowly grew into my hijab and have realized that it is a dynamic tradition that has so many aspects that can guide and change you.

2) You are a world-traveler! What is your favorite country/city to visit and why?

WOW, this is a hard question! The world is such a magnificent place and to pick just one country/city does not do justice so I created a mini-bucket list of my favorite places, based on activity needs.

Nadiya at Mount Sinai in Egypt

Spiritual Revival – West Bank, Palestine

The West Bank is truly a blessed place that has so many holy sites which include Dome of the Rock, Masjid Aqsa, tombs of the Prophets and their wives (Ibrahim, Sarah, Ishaac, Yaqub, Musa and Yusuf), the cave where Mary gave birth, the well that Yusuf was pushed into by his brothers ...and the list goes on. Visiting these sites makes the stories of the Prophets, with their struggles and perseverance, become a reality - Something almost tangible that you can feel. For example in Surah Maryam the Quran says:

 ‘And the pains of childbirth drove her (Mariam) to the trunk of a date-palm. She said: "Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!" But he called her from below her, "Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream. And shake the trunk of date-palm towards you, it will let fall fresh ripe-dates upon you. So eat and drink and be contented’ (19: 23-26).

This spot still exists in Bethlehem! The palm tree has died along the way, but the root of it still exists. What a great place to visit and reflect! I also must mention that one prayer at Masjid Aqsa is worth 5,000 prayers (Tirmidhi) so it’s a great place to get your prayer on.

Adventouristas – Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia

Pristine jungles that have not been touched by urbanization or glamorized by the tourism industry; this spot feels like you have stepped back in a time that has long been forgotten. Seim Reap also has the famous temples of Angkor Wat which I will not attempt to explain, google image it and you will see for yourself. The other thing that sticks out about Cambodia is its people. Cambodians are only now emerging from the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. It helps to put life into perspective to hear them speak about it, and how they have survived and are trying to move on. I once read that you go to Cambodia to see the sights but leave remembering the people. Also, if you wear hijab, be ready to be greeted by all 1.6% of the Cambodian population that is Muslim. While I was there, I had people running across the street and then stop in front of me to say ‘AsalaamAlaikum’ (I got used to it after the 5th time it happened). One night, two Muslim taxi drivers got into a fight over who was going to us back to our hotel for free!   Muslim unity is in full effect in Cambodia. (Right: Nadiya learns how to cook Tom Yum Soup in a Cambodian cooking class!)

Beach Side Relaxation – Zanzibar

In equal amounts add Arabic, Indian and Swahili African culture, mix it in a pot and put it on an exotic white sanded tropical island in the Indian Ocean: and you have Zanzibar! The water is warm all year long and is so clear and clean that you don’t really need snorkeling gear to see the water life below. If you are into architecture, Zanzibar will wow you with the three fusions of architecture styles. Zanzibar is also a Muslim Island so at night, it is very common to pass by a mosque and hear children reciting Quran in unison... all while you are sipping your freshly squeezed passion fruit juice with the ocean breeze to cool you.  

Hidden Gem – Sanliurfa (‘Urfa’), Turkey

Have you ever been to a place where you are so amazed, and you wondered why more people don’t know about it…this place is Urfa. I know many people visit Turkey to go to Istanbul, and YES, Istanbul is indeed phenomenal. If you have time, catch a flight on one of the budget local airlines to Urfa which is located in the south-eastern most region. Urfa has a Kurdish and Arab feel to it with two main things that are a must see 1) The Abraham Complex which is said to have the cave in which Prophet Ibrahim was born and a Mosque located on top of the infamous site where Nimrod had Prophet Ibrahim thrown into a fire and Allah revealed in the Quran, ‘O fire, be coolness and safety upon Abraham’ (21:69), and 2) The cave of Prophet Ayub where he went after his body was covered in diseases and was shunned by society. While in the cave, Allah (S) commanded Ayub to strike the ground with his heal and a spring came forth where Prophet Ayub washed his body and was healed. This spring flows to this day and you are allowed to bottle up the water to take home with you. There are many other things to do in the nearby areas so definitely a must visit site if you have the opportunity.

Nadiya in Khiva, Uzbekistan

3) You run a Muslim youth camp called Camp Al-Hilal. This will be your 8th year doing the camp. What brings you back year after year?

My main motivation is the growing concern I have that many of our youth are being bombarded by this world and losing their sense of Islam. I feel Camp Al Hilal is a great platform where we bring in counselors/speakers who can be role models for our youth and create a sense of pride towards Islam and in being Muslim. As well, we have incorporated activities that allow the kids to use their creativity, have fun and bond. My most favorite activity at Camp is at the end of day when we all put on our PJ’s, take out 10 pounds of candy/snacks, and chill on the bunk beds with the girls talking about….everything! I encourage any sisters out there that if you have the free time, volunteer to initiatives like Camp Al Hilal in your community. Even spending one night of quality time with the youth, you will see the impact. Also, it is a lot of fun working with kids! (Right: Nadiya running archery at Camp Al-Hilal)

4) If you could tell your 17 year old self one thing, what would it be? 

I would sit my 17 year old self down and tell her: Our great Caliph Umar once said, ‘If something is meant to go elsewhere, it will never come your way, but if it is yours by destiny, from you it cannot flee.’ This may make you think that you have no real power over life and where it could lead. Perhaps it may ultimately be true, but the one power you do have is power over your emotions. This sole power alone will take you places. Use it wisely and don’t be frivolous (getting overly angry, wasting it on things that don’t have meaning or situations you have no control over) or greedy (unforgiving, stingy, or malicious) with them. Use your emotions towards things that empower, bring you happiness and lead you to your goals.

I would then hand her the prayer of Prophet Yunus, There is no God but You, Glorified be You! Truly, I have been of the wrongdoersand tell her to read it every day to remind her to stay humble and remember that all success is from Allah. I would then go find myself a pack of Big League Bubble Gum because they are hard to find in 2014 ;)

5) In your opinion, what is the biggest problem facing Muslim women today?

This may not be the biggest problem, but one that I am seeing time and time again. We are so bogged down with what role women should/should not have within society, family and work. Family, culture and stereotypes are all heaped into one pile which often times, leave women conflicted. We need to go back to the best examples of women that we should be following; those whom surrounded the Prophet (S). Khadija was the most beloved wife of our Prophet and at the time, owned the largest caravan of Quraysh. She was a successful business woman whose caravans would travel to Syria and Yemen. The Prophets’ other wife Aisha is one of the key people who aided in the early scholarship of Islam by narrating around 2,000 hadiths. She was known for being politically involved and an active scholar and teacher within the Muslim Ummah. Umm Nusayba, during the battle of Uhud, saw that the Prophet was left unprotected. She joined the ranks of the fighters and held off the enemy with her sword and bow and arrow. It was narrated that the Prophet said about Nusayba afterwards, ‘Wherever I turned, to the left or the right, I saw her fighting for me." The believing women were fierce! We should not let go of that sentiment.

6) What piece of advice would you give to someone struggling with hijab?

Whenever you see a statue/picture of Mary (AS), her head is always covered. She is one of the most revered women on this planet. Artists throughout the world have made statues depicting Mary, and out of respect, cover her head. Isn’t it amazing that we are part of this legacy as well?

Is there someone you'd like to nominate for Hijabi of the Month? E-mail us at [email protected]!

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