Posted on Sep 22, 2014
This month's HOTM is Athkar Hussein who was nominated by her best friend. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago with two B.S.'s in Psychology and Biology and minors in Neuroscience and Asian Languages and Literature and is currently pursuing graduate studies!
I'm very humbled to have been nominated as the September HOTM as I think the lovely who nominated me is more deserving of it. I yearn to be knowledgeable, love going on adventures, being in nature, playing sports and traveling. I enjoy deep conversations and reflections. I have a blog called TeaPromise that I co-write with my best friend Isra. We share reflections, our monthly themes, creative writings, and other insights from our experiences to better ourselves inshallah. You can follow us on Instagram @teapromise or on our blog.
1) When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us a little about your journey.
I started wearing hijab when I was 12 and a half years old. I was very young and my mom wasn't sure if I should wear it at that point, however I grew up learning about hijab and I insisted on wearing it immediately. Hijab was not something sprung up on me, rather I was prepared for it mentally early on. I knew this was the right thing for me to do. My mom took me on a shopping spree for new hijabi clothing. I remember that week I went to a huge family picnic and many of my extended relatives were surprised why I was wearing hijab. They thought I was too young, but it didnt affect me. I still played and had a good time. I had also attended an Islamic private school so it wasn't too difficult alhamdulilah. Nonetheless, I was still involved in other activities outside of the Muslim community such as martial arts. When I first started martial arts, I wasn't wearing hijab, and then after I wore the hijab I continued to go. My martial arts master and peers were all confused as to why I was suddenly wearing hijab when they had just seen me the day before not wearing it. I remember a boy told me, "What's that thing on your head?" Although still young, I pointed to my hijab, and I said, "You mean my scarf? I'm wearing it because I believe in it and its part of my religion." He just shrugged and didn't really care. I remember that day in martial arts I kicked and punched extra hard and felt like I needed to show that I was still the same or even better, and completed all the routines the best in the class. My master even allowed me to lead the class and I felt even more powerful. In martial arts, there is a lot of self-discipline as there is with wearing the hijab. As I grew and progressed in my faith, it became part of who I am. Knowing that is a commandment from Allah, I see it as a means to come closer to my Creator. It's very empowering to practice what I believe in and do it proudly knowing I will attain the pleasure of Al-Wadud, The All-Loving.
2) What are some causes you are most passionate about and what/how would you like to see the Muslim community involved in them?
I am passionate about life. Each day is a gift that we have been blessed with and we must take advantage of the time we are given and make the best of it and share that with others. In college, I was really involved on campus with the women empowerment and Palestine solidarity movement, fighting against oppression, advocating justice and liberation. After I graduated I started working with the youth more. I was always involved in some sort of progressive movement. I guess I would summarize it by saying I'm really passionate about developing and building people and society. As Muslims, it is not enough for us to just live our daily lives and worship on our own. We must realize that this is about the ummah--to build people, make dawah and bring people closer to Islam. Dawah doesn't have to be preaching, but it's about practicing Islam in the best way possible and being a good example in society. I believe in investing in the youth to aid in their development, so that they may be spiritually and mentally equipped to take onthe world and help build a better society. The prophet (PBUH) invested in the youth, gave them leadership roles, and developed them to be the best of the ummah. The youth then spread the message of Islam to all different parts of the world and developed that community. I would like to see the Muslim community involve the youth more and for the youth to take more of an initiative to change something they don't like in the community. Do something about it. Contact your local masjid, MAS Youth chapter, or other youth group and present to them your idea. You cannot do everything on your own. Islam is community based so go help out with what is lacking in the community and take action from there, inshallah.
3) You are currently enrolled in a program to help you memorize the entire Quran (mashallah!) what advice would you give to those who yearn to memorize Quran, but find themselves struggling to do so?
At first I didn't want to answer this question because this is very personal for me and something I still struggle with. But I decided to change my mind last minute and share this so that it can benefit others and make it known that anyone can achieve this too. I always thought that memorizing the entire Quran was impossible and only geniuses can do it. I never thought that I can do it myself. Then I heard of a program starting where you can memorize the entire Quran in 5 years and I really wanted to join it. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. It was very difficult for me starting out. The year I started the Quran program was the year I started graduate school. I struggled so much during the first year and a half, always behind in Quran class, and I could never catch it as easily as everyone else. In my class, people could memorize so easily on the spot and it would take me an hour to memorize just one ayah. I cried countless tears and felt like quitting several times. I thought I was the only one that struggled so much. Then I read a quote from Imam Suhaib Webb saying how he broke down and felt like he couldn't do it anymore. His teacher then said that if we didn't feel broken down, then we haven't fully understood what it meant to need Allah and to memorize the entire Quran. His teacher said that memorizing it in its entirety is not easy and that all students of the Quran will experience that at one point. That really resonated with me because I thought I was going to get kicked out of the program because I was so slow. But quitting was not part of my nature. In the beginning of this program, I also took an oath with God and I did not want to fail Him. So I did as much as I could.
But subhnallah, had it not been for this Quran program, I probably would not have memorized as much as I did now, let alone read the Quran as frequently. Soon I was able to read better and memorize faster. My arabic language was getting stronger and I was becoming more efficient and other struggles started to smooth over. It made me stronger in my faith and stronger as an individual. It taught me patience, love, strength and to understand the true power of Allah. Memorizing the Quran also saved my life in many ways that first year. Quran is a shifaa for the body, mind, heart and soul. It is a light that fills your heart to allow your face to glow. The Quran is comforting and eases all your worries and regrets. I'm also very much into science and liked the fact that the Quran also keeps your brain active, building more neurons and connections. I want to be with the people of the Quran inshallah. May Allah raise us in status to be closer to Him inshallah.
The advice I would give to you is to find a Quran program or teacher to memorize under. Alhamdulilah I have an amazing Quran teacher and group that motivates me and explains any questions I have. I don't recommend completing this on your own because you need support and you need the right understanding. It can be very dangerous if one interprets something incorrectly and may lead one to leave Islam. Your teacher is there to encourage you, help you memorize and explain anything you do not understand. Another piece of advice is to just start, even if you think you are not ready. Memorizing the Quran is not a one time thing. It is a life long venture that is applied to one's everyday life. No matter how long it may take you, just start. If you don't start now, when will you? Make your right intention and Allah will make it easy for you, inshallah. Life will always get in the way and there will always be a million things to do. My teacher always says that the busier you are, the more you memorize and the more free time you have, the less you memorize. Because even when you are busy, you have a dedicated set time to memorize versus when you are free you don't have a set schedule for yourself and will get busy with random things. Even after your memorization completion, you still go back to the Quran. After you start your program, stick to it, set yourself a specified time and schedule. Hang in there. Remind yourself why you put your intention to memorize Quran. You are not the only one who is struggling. Remember that you were chosen by Allah to complete this memorization, so you are special. Take it slow if you need to, but never let go of it or give up on it. May Allah make it easy for you to start this journey. Please keep me in your duaas to complete this journey as well.
4) What's the best piece of advice anyone's ever given you?
"It is not enough to just follow your heart, but you must check your mind as well." My mother told me this in 6th grade and I still adhere to it. In movies and pop culture, they always emphasize following your heart and your emotions. I think it is irrational to make decision based on emotions alone. Although I think consulting your heart is very important, we should take time to think about it and reflect. As I grew older, I also understood the value of istikhara, consulting the All-Wise Allah.
5) In your opinion, what's the biggest issue or problem facing Muslim women today?
I think Muslim women should should redefine the feministic movement. I've always been a firm advocate of women empowerment, especially having attended an all-girls Islamic school and being raised in a practicing Muslim family alhamdulilah. Also during college, I was a Gannon Scholar which was awarded to only 5 incoming freshwomen. From all my experiences, I gained a lot of leadership skills and felt very empowered as a woman alhamdulilah. I was discovering feminism and exploring that further in college. There are many waves and definitions of feminism and we usually get sucked in what is known as the western feminist movement. However, in all that I sort of got lost in trying to see where I fit in as a Muslim woman. So I would like to tell Muslim women to embrace their Muslim feminist side. How do you do that? Be the best Muslim you can be. Being a feminist is what Islam is all about, so do not limit yourself to what the western definition of feminism means. Islam is a religion that upholds Muslim women in the highest regard, granting us so many rights. Read the stories of women companions of the Prophet, the women scholars, etc. Be everything you want to be. Don't set the bar low by comparing yourselves to men or others, rather be the best you--the best Muslim woman. Achieve all your goals and do not let anything limit you. Research and explore what it means to be a Muslim feminist, which is understanding your faith in what Islam has to offer for Musilm women. How can Islam empower you as a Muslim woman? What can you do with it? We had women warriors, scholars, doctors and more at the time of the Prophet. Go free the world, be leaders, activists, scholars, revolutionaries, academics, lawyers, philanthropists, and doctors NOW too.
6) If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
Ask yourself why you pray. Is it not a commandment to pray 5 times a day to Allah? Hijab is also a commandment from Allah that too should be followed. Get close to Allah, hold your prayers close, and make duaa in your sujud. Constantly make thikr and reflect on your day and yourself. Surround yourself with good friends who support your hijab. Are you where you want be in your faith? If you want to know where you stand and your position by Allah, ask yourself where does Allah stand in your heart. Hijab is a means of getting closer to Allah and for Him to be pleased with you. Change your frame of thinking of how you view hijab as difficult and make it positive and easy. It's all in the mind and heart. If you think it easy, inshallah it will be. Take it as a challenge to overcome and inshallah Allah will make it easy for you. "Indeed with hardship [will be] ease." [94:96].
Is there someone you'd like to nominate for HOTM? E-mail us at email@example.com!