Hijabi of the Month July 2014 - Zaynab Salman
Posted on Jul 16, 2014
This month's HOTM is Zaynab Salman from Michigan who was nominated by a friend who had this to say about her, "When thinking to myself who a Hijabi of the Month should be I thought of characteristics that would make someone an amazing Muslimah - someone who is modest, humble, God-conscious, hardworking, dedicated... and I don't know anyone better than Zaynab to fulfull that description. If she's not at work teaching high school history in a public school, then she's at home being a mom of two. In addition she's in a masters program at a local university and working for Islamic organizations around the US helping them with their curriculum. When she's not doing the above she makes time for local youth groups and conducts halaqas. She is truly one AMAZING hijabi!"
Zaynab graduated from the University of Michigan, Dearborn with a degree in Secondary Education with a focus on History and ESL. She's worked as a teacher for the past seven years, going into her eighth. Zaynab studied religious studies at the Rihla programs as well as in Damascus, Syria. She is involved with the Deen Intensive Foundation RIHLA Program, Rabata.org and other organizations, and leads halaqas in her community. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children.
1) When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us a little about your journey.
My beginning with hijab was not necessarily profound or an 'aha' moment. Coming from a religious family, and going to Islamic School, it's just what everyone did. We all wore hijab, we all covered and that was it. However, as I was growing up, went to a public middle and high school, I realized that I have to do this because I want to do this. By the grace of Allah, we had strong support systems within our community (which was far smaller than it is now), and with youth group events, MYNA, halaqas, it was helpful in maintaining what I always used to do.
Zaynab with the University of Michigan MSA & Ta'leef Collective
However there was a certain point during college when I had a crisis. A moment of, "why am I doing what I am doing?" I had met a lot of converts in my life by that point in time, and I saw the fervor in their conviction. I also had been attending various Deen Intensive summer programs led by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf-- and I realized that I cannot take this religion, this hijab, this identity for granted. I had to "convert." I had to take that step to consciously affirm what I believe in, hijab included. It was an internal struggle I was facing, and at the end of it all (by the immense Mercy of God), I realized that I have a purpose for keeping this on. It represents me, what I aspire to be, and represents the most important part of my life- my Islam. I pray that it will aid me along my spiritual journey in this temporal world.
2) You are a high school teacher at a public suburban high school. What insights have you gained? What have you learned, and what, if any, are the reactions of your students to your hijab?
Wow. Well, I'll preface this by saying that I have been teaching high school for 7 years now. I was teaching at an international high school in Kuwait for some time, then came back to Michigan and began teaching in the public school system. There are tons of Muslims in the district I'm in, a strong Islamic school, great masjid-- but there wasn't that older Muslim presence in the high school. I was fortunate to be hired along with another Muslim female teacher (who also wears hijab). The reaction from students is always interesting. The vast majority of them have never interacted with an adult Muslim. I teach world history, and when we get to the section on world religions they definitely do ask more questions than normal. They notice all my hijabs and clothing -- colors, prints, styles, skirts, dresses -- and will tell me what they like, what style works and what doesn't, and I embrace it all. I love that they notice I dress modestly and have no problem with it at all. Overall, because I do wear my religion on my sleeve, my daily interactions with students, colleagues and superiors has really made me conscious of my character. In the Muwata of Imam Malik, there's a narration that says: Yahya related to me from Malik that Muadh ibn Jabal said, "The last advice the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, gave me when I put my foot in the stirrup was that he said, 'Make your character good for the people, Muadh ibn Jabal!'"
Community Youth Girls Bonfire
3) You're very active in your community, tell us what what that means to you and what issues you're most passionate about.
May Allah accept our "activity" and inspire us with pure intentions. Active is such an interesting word. My parents and spiritual teachers have always inculcated love of Allah and love of the Prophet (S) in our lives. When those two are present, one can overcome anything. One of the biggest issues I see in many communities is that we are so disconnected from Allah and the Prophet (S). Many don't know who Allah is, what the goals are and where we are going. My passion is to let people know that whatever struggle they face, whatever hurdle they approach, whatever challenge they encounter-- there is a God. And that God is Merciful, Gentle and a Loving God. When that reminder is given and emphasized, a whole new world opens up. That's what I guess I'm passionate about: inspiring others to love, want, need, seek and have God in their lives.
As a teacher, education is so important in understanding what was mentioned above. I love assisting in anything that can educate people of the world we live in, religion and so on. And finally, I'm passionate about trying to leave something that others can benefit from when I leave this world. We will all leave with the actions we have done, and I pray that I can do something that will be counted positively in my scales in the afterlife.
4) In your opinion, what would you say is the biggest problem facing Muslim women today?
Women have always been an important part of our tradition. In fact, there's mention of Maryam alayha Salam over and over in the Quran. Her story has an entire chapter in the Quran. Women were active in the Prophet's (S) community! They were teachers, narrators, advisors and more. Historically women have always had a really important part of society-- we know of Aisha Al Ba'uniyya, Fatima al-Fihri, Nana Asma'u, Fatima of Cordoba, Shaykha Bahiyya, Maryam Bint Bwayba and more. Women run entire movements, even today! My point is, women are not told how much they can do, how valuable they are in society, how integral they are in Da'wah and religious work, how raising righteous children who will be contributing members in society is so important. I think the problem is that we don't know how much we can do, and focus on the minor restrictions that our religion graciously places upon us, or focus on what those who don't know anything about our religion say about women. Everyone has the potential to be an amazing woman. Connect with God and let that reality manifest.
5) What's the best piece of advice anyone's ever given you?
"Knowledge without action is vanity, and action without knowledge is insanity" - Imam al Ghazali
6) If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
Hold on to your five daily prayers and add a portion of your day for dhikr and reflection. Strength during a struggle must come from somewhere, and struggling towards goodness is a regular part of our life. Surround yourself with people who will help you get close to God, and be cautious around those who do not. And as one of my teachers, Anse Tamara Gray, always says, "think in triangles." What does that mean? Consider yourself on the bottom 45 degree angle, parallel to you is anything in your life - any struggle, goal, aspiration, relationship, speech, etc., and above you is God. These things should bring you closer to God. If any one doesn't, then consider leaving it-- and Allah will replace it with something better. Finally, the sweetness of an act is not always immediately felt. Practice makes perfect, and one day you will see the benefits of your hijab. Don't give up.
Ps. The person who nominated me inspires me more than she knows.
Do you have someone you'd like to nominate for Hijabi of the Month? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org!