HOTM Hijabi of the Month May 2014 - Noor Ali
Posted on May 06, 2014
This months' HOTM is Noor Ali from Chicago, IL. She was nominated by a friend who had this to say about her, "I have only personally met her a few times but I find her to be such a warm-hearted person with such great wisdom and love. She is very active in trying to eliminate hate and racism in her community and is very open and honest about struggling as a woman, a wife, and a Muslim. I think a lot of us Muslim women could learn so much from her!"
Palestinian-Muslim American. Born Palestinian. Raised Palestinian-American. Muslim. Being Muslim to me is existential. It is something beyond myself. It isn't a choice I make every morning. It isn't something I "ascribe" to. It is merely something I AM. Often times when identifying as Palestinian-Muslim American, people question the order of those identities. For me, none of them exist without the other. I cannot say I am only Muslim. Palestine is in my blood. I cannot say I am only Palestinian. I was raised with many American ideologies, alongside my Palestinian values. Finally, I cannot say I am only American. After all, what does that even mean?
I am a social justice activist, a student affairs professional, a lover of fashion, a wife, a sister, a daughter, and much more. I am driven by Islam's calling to invite all people to unity. In that call to unity, Islam invites everyone to hold close to their own identities. To be different and integrate; not to assimilate. I get to be unique, and that is something I absolutely love. Islam also allows me to have my own connection with Allah swt. No hierarchy exists in my faith. When I am lost or I am confused, I literally sit down and talk to Allah swt. I feel very privileged to do so.
I come from a large, loud, loving family that is involved in every moment of my life. I have been blessed to find a partner that supports me, strives to make me a better person, and to make himself a better person as well. I am blessed and honored to be this month's Hijabi of the Month. I invite anyone who is interested in chatting to reach out to me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1) When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us a little about your journey, how you came to wear it, what factors were involved, etc.
I started wearing hijab when I was 18. One thing few people know about me is that I put hijab on when I was 16 first, and ended up taking it off. Throughout my childhood I had always said I was going to put hijab on when I was 16 like my mother did. When the time came I didn't talk to anyone, especially my friends, because I knew that they would make me question my decision. I ended up taking off my hijab 3 months later. It was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I know it was also the right thing for me to do at that time. I can't say I don't regret taking off my hijab, but I can't imagine being as strong in my hijab and my eman, had I left it on. Allahu a3lam.
Two years later, as I was starting college, my entire family was telling me to put the hijab on before I started this new chapter in my life. I was so afraid of taking it off again that I started without it, and really had no intention of putting it on anytime soon. I always felt that there were two things that you commit to and can't go back on once the decision is made: Marriage and Hijab. Since I had already failed at hijab once, I didn't want to fail again until I was absolutely certain. Similar to marriage, I felt that when I made the decision to wear hijab again, I had to "feel" it. I wasn't sure what either of those "feelings" were, but I knew I had to experience it before I made the leap of faith again.
Three months into my first semester of college career, I was at Friday/Jumah prayer. I had a hijab on for the salah, and for a split second, as the imam was giving the khutba/sermon, my mind wandered. For some reason, I was unable to remember why I took my hijab off the first time, nor why I didn't want to wear it again. It was only a split second. After that the reasons flooded my mind again and I remembered; wanting to look beautiful on my wedding day without worrying about hijab, wanting to have fun and dress any way I wanted to on my honeymoon, and not wanting my non-Muslim friends to judge me. But for that split second, I forgot. I finished my salah, and drove home.
As I was ready to take my hijab off when I got home, I felt this sincere resistance. Something in my heart told me that if I took it off at that moment, I would never put it on again. I realized then that that was my "feeling." I realized that Allah swt was reaching a holy hand to me, and if I denied it at that moment, I may never feel that love or support again. So I left it on that entire day. I paced back and forth in my home contemplating whether or not I was actually going to wear it regularly.
I had committed to speaking at a peace protest the next day on behalf of my university, so I called my instructor and told her that I had made the decision to wear hijab. She was a white, non-Muslim woman who taught me English. She was thrilled and congratulated me on taking such a big step towards my faith. "Alhamdulillah," I thought. This is a good sign. My little brother laughed at me for being home alone with him, and keeping a hijab on all day after prayer. Finally when we went to get some pizza for dinner that night, he asked me "So are you wearing hijab now?" "Yes, alhamdulillah," I said. Later that night my mother got home from work and asked me why I still had my hijab on. I told her I had decided to wear it for good from now on. "On one condition!" I said. "I get to dress how I want."
Noor speaking at the peace protest her first full day of wearing hijab the second time
I believe each young woman needs to come to hijab on her own. I also believe that being able to express her sense of style with hijab is extremely important. When I had hijab on the first time, I felt so much pressure to act older, dress older than my age, as well as be an ambassador and scholar of Islam merely because I wore hijab. It felt so foreign and difficult to breathe in, and ultimately came off. When I put the hijab on a second time, I wanted to do it on my terms, so I was able to be myself in it. I love fashion. I love colors. I love matching. I didn't think I had to give any of those things up as a hijabi. I also felt that through my fashion sense, I would be more approachable and be able to teach others about Islam. If not teach people about Islam, I wanted to dispel stereotypes merely by dressing in bright colors and expressing myself fully.
I realize fully that I was not wearing hijab properly that first year I wore it, and recognize that I still have much to work on. I am human, and improving myself for the sake of Allah is a lifelong goal of mine. On the other hand, improving myself so that society doesn't judge me is not. That said, I do my best to achieve the best caliber of hijab that I possibly can, and always hope that I am moving forward, not backward. When I first started, I wore 3/4 sleeves and tighter pants, and shorter shirts. Alhamdulillah I no longer do that. Now I do my best to make sure my shirts are loose, as are my pants, skirts or dresses.
Hijab, like faith/eman is a constant struggle. It ebbs and flows like waves in the ocean. Staying conscious of when my eman is weaker and improving it continuously is important. Being conscious of my hijab is the same way.
2) You're very active in your community, tell us what that means to you and what issues you're most passionate about.
I am originally Palestinian. I was born in Jerusalem because my parents wanted to have their first child in the homeland that was stolen from us Palestinians. I lived the majority of my life in the United States, I moved back to Ramallah in the West bank when I was 14. The four years I lived in Ramallah made a huge impact on me. Specifically between the years 2000-2002, when I witnessed the beginning of the second Intifada/uprising of the Palestinian people. During that time I witnessed bombings of my school and homes surrounding us, numerous checkpoints, being held at gunpoint, house arrests, being kicked out of our home, and much more. Experiencing such blatant oppression was extremely transformative. I went from being a young girl that loved a good sale and who's main struggle was choosing an outfit for the next day, to wondering why the rest of the world knew little to nothing about what was happening to me and my people.
Upon moving back to the states, I felt this intense sense of guilt for being able to flee the occupation while so many others were stuck there. I decided I had to be as active as possible to educate individuals about Palestine and the struggles outside of the U.S. As I got older and learned more and more about power, privilege, and oppression throughout the world, I broadened my scope from just Palestine, to all target identities.
Now as a Student Affairs professional, my goal is to be a resource for students to explore their identities. I love that I can talk to Muslim women about all kinds of topics. I also love being able to represent Islam the way that I do. I think as an administrator I have been able to learn so much, and be an ally to so many struggles. I take that home with me and bring it into my community in hopes to create a wider social justice network that allows us to create a more just world for everyone.
3) In your opinion, what would you say is the biggest problem facing Muslim women today?
I think one issue that is very prevalent in my experience is judgement from other Muslim women. Unfortunately I blame myself first and foremost for this. For awhile I would be the first among my friends to tell my friend that her sleeves were too short or criticize her for wearing tights with her hijab. At some point, I realized, no one likes that friend. I justified it to myself by thinking that by advising them I was fulfilling my Islamic duty. However, they knew what they were doing, and "outing" them or "criticizing" them was not helping. It only meant that I was judging them, when I had no right to do so. I remembered that I had gone through my own struggles, and loving them unconditionally was more important than playing Allah's helper. Allah swt knows what's in each person's heart. Instead I made du'aa for myself and for them; that Allah swt brings us closer to our faith, and higher in our eman. Unfortunately, I find myself slipping, but I think if we all checked ourselves before we criticized one another, we would all come to a much better place and become a much stronger Ummah because of it.
4) What is one motto or statement you live by?
"I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole." - Malcolm X
5) If you could tell your 17-year old self one thing, what would it be?
"This too shall pass." As I explained above, when I was 17 I had recently stopped wearing hijab, and was in a bad place spiritually. If I could talk to myself back then, I would want to hear that I wasn't a failure, and that I am worthy... worthy of love... worthy of forgiveness... worthy of success.
6) If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
I can't narrow it down to one but I would say the following: Everyone goes through it. It's very cliché, I know, but it's true. Hijab wasn't meant to be this vessel of logic. Many emotions are involved and it is a huge struggle. But if you ride the wave, you may find your salvation at the end of it. Be patient, it gets easier. Let go. Let go of all of the expectations. Let go of all of the criticism. Let go of the standards of beauty. Each person must FIND themselves in hijab. Unless you do that, it will always be just a piece of cloth on your head. Sit down. Do the reflection. Talk to Allah swt (like literally sit in your bed and talk out loud to Allah swt). Have faith that what brought you to it, will bring you through it :)