Hijabi of the Month December - Hoda Abrahim
Posted on Dec 17, 2014
Our HOTM December is Hoda Abrahim who was nominated by her sister who had this to say about her, "Although she is six years younger than me, I've been able to learn so much from her as she has grown over the years. I have had the pleasure of witnessing Hoda flourish from an energetic and bubbly young girl, to a smart, kind and confident young woman. She started wearing hijab at the age of 11 and has never looked back. One of the qualities I admire the most about Hoda is her ability to empower and wish the best others, particularly girls her age. She views other girls not as competitors, but as sisters in Islam. An attitude I believe is needed amongst our youth."
My name is Hoda Abrahim, I am 20 years old and was born and raised in North Cackalacky (That’s north Carolina for any non-southerners) I am an Egyptian-American, although I have only been to Egypt once when I was 8 years old. I’m currently obtaining my bachelors degree in nutrition at North Carolina Central University. Health is very important to me, not just physical health, but mental health. I believe our bodies were a gift from God and it is our responsibility to respect them and treat them with care. My passion spreads through many things- social injustice, sports, fashion, reading, politics…anything, I love to learn and plan to learn about anything I can for the rest of my life.
1) When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us a little about your journey.
I began wearing hijab when I was eleven years old; it was the afternoon of my last day of 6th grade. The minute the school bell rang and I came home I declared that I was now a hijabi, and have been wearing it ever since. I remember being extremely eager to wear the hijab in the months prior to that day, and everyone around me telling me to wait until I was actually required to put it on, but of course I didn’t listen. It was an easy decision for me Alhamdulillah. Because I was so young, I didn’t have to face many of the struggles women face when putting on the hijab. I carried the same group of friends with me from elementary school through high school, and by that point they were all very informed about my faith and what it required of me. They had already known about my five daily prayers, about Ramadan and my inability to eat pork (all of the obvious tasks of being a Muslim). Being friends for so long and most of them being my neighbors, they had met my mom and my sister and knew that one day the hijab would be a part of my life too. Because of this, Alhamdulillah, acceptance from others was something I never had to worry about. Since I was such a tomboy at that age, the only qualm I had was whether or not this would affect my ability to play sports. I’ve always been very active and enjoy doing extreme sports like snowboarding or cliff jumping and alhamdulillah, 9 years later, I can honestly say the hijab has never limited me from doing any of those things, and that is because it doesn’t have to. I think there’s a preconceived notion that once you wear the hijab, you have to change everything about yourself and stop doing the things that you enjoy- but in fact, wearing the hijab should only enhance your positive qualities, and if its limiting you, that’s because you made a choice to let it limit you. If anything, it made sports and any other physical activities even more enjoyable. Initially, wearing the hijab gives people the impression that you won't be good at sports or won't have a competitive edge, so I always had that surprise element and the perks of being the underdog working for me. I loved being able to show people that girls wearing the hijab can possess all the same skills as those that don’t, and that wearing it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to be a shy or reserved person. Hijab definitely becomes a part of who you are, but it isn’t intended to hijack your life and personality. People always ask me if it was difficult to wear it at such a young age, and when I reflect I am so thankful that I did. I’ve gone to public schools my entire life, and being surrounded by so many non-Muslims definitely tests your values. Naturally, especially in high school, you want to “fit in” and at a young age it’s hard to know where you want to fit in because you’re still discovering yourself. Going through adolescence, many things begin to change. For girls, I know that you may start to have insecurities about your appearance or your talents, among many other things. Personally, I started to care more about fashion and make-up, and with that it became more difficult to uphold the physical standards of modesty that are required of you (loose clothing etc). The one thing that helped me get through this period was simply the fact that I had already been wearing hijab for such a long time, so it already felt like part of my identity, instead of this thing that was limiting me and making my life more complicated. Had I waited to put on the hijab, I know I would have struggled more with it and would not have been as confident in myself wearing the hijab, as I can thankfully say I am now.
2) What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem plaguing the American Muslim youth of today?
In my opinion, the biggest problem plaguing the American Muslim youth of today is the lack of sincerity in what it actually means to be Muslim. I feel we’ve become an Ummah that focuses so heavily on the outward qualities of what being Muslim “looks” like. What I have noticed in my community, and I think other communities face the same issue, is that everybody feels they have the right to judge some ones “conservatism” or “religiosity,” and the criteria they use to make these judgments are much less significant than the things we should be focusing on. Being a “good” Muslim now means, “oh they don’t talk to boys/girls, or they don’t wear xyz, or they don’t drink.” And although I agree these are important things we should keep in mind, they are not the most important. From my observations, a significant amount of the youth don’t keep track of their prayers. On the Day of Judgment, the first thing Allah (S) will ask you about is your prayers- not who you were hanging out with or what you were wearing. I feel we have become a nation of “for show” Muslims, we live our lives to please the creation, and not the Creator. As Muslims, we are taught to hide our sins and the sins of other people…not to hide our sins and to expose everybody else’s. The qualities a Muslim should possess are compassion, kindness and honesty, among many other things. Yet we are filled with jealousy and hate and judgment. Where is the emphasis on these positive qualities? If you are going to judge, (which you shouldn’t) why aren’t you judging people based on the characteristics that matter? If we held people to the standard that Allah (S) and the Quran holds us to, many of us would be considered “bad” Muslims.
3) What imprint do you want to leave on the world?
The imprint I hope to leave on the world is that of confidence. I hope to inspire people, especially women, to be confident and happy with who they are. Our society breeds people filled with insecurities and teaches us that we have to change ourselves in order to be accepted, and this is simply not true. Of course, we should always work towards being the best versions of ourselves, but we should never work to fit into a mold that society has created for us. Each and every person is special, and possesses unique talents and qualities that nobody else does. We should not have to measure our success and abilities to an unrealistic standard that somebody else has set for us. This mindset has manifested itself in us in so many ways, and has made room for other toxic habits to occupy our brains, such as comparing ourselves to other people, and thinking that the only way to build ourselves up is to knock other people down. As women, we should empower each other and shine a positive light amongst one another. We should be standing up for one another, and helping each other overcome adversity. If we focus all our attention and efforts on other people and the things they are doing, it sends the message that we give importance to other people over ourselves…and if you aren’t prioritizing yourself and your well being, then who is? I hope to show people that the only way to be happy with yourself, is to start focusing on yourself and the qualities that you love about yourself, instead of focusing on the qualities other people possess, and wishing it was you who was in their shoes. You should never strive to be someone else, you should always strive to be the best you, and along the way you should be encouraging others to do the same.
4) What/Who was a positive influence you had growing up?
I think my older sister was one of the most positive influences I had growing up. Even though she’s six years older than I am, we’ve been able to spend a lot of time together and she has indirectly taught me so much about what it means to be a Muslim woman in America. We shared a room for 14 years, and of course this led to many “sister fights,” (usually over something stupid like turning the light on in the morning) but it led to more moments of bonding. If you’ve ever met my sister, you’ll know how social and outgoing she is mash’Allah. I think a lot of Muslim women feel that you have to be a little bit reserved and tend to shy away from meeting new people or being outspoken, but my sister has shown me that is not the case. She’s shown me what “girl power” really means, and taught me to embrace myself and to be outgoing and social and show people who I really am, instead of retreating to a lonely corner and having people make assumptions about who I am. She’s been married and living away from home for the past 5 years, so that leaves me with my three brothers, and being the only girl its easy to lose that sense of “it’s a blessing to be a woman and we are capable of so much” but she’s always been there to reinforce the idea that women can be just as strong and capable as men can be. I thank God every day for blessing me with an amazing older sister to guide me through this life and share her wisdom with me and make my journey a little bit easier.
5) What's the best piece of advice anyone's ever given you?
I think the best piece of advice anyone has ever given me, would be the saying, “You can make it your excuse, or you can make it your story.” A friend brought this to my attention at a time when I was struggling and felt like certain things were working against me- a position I’m sure many people can identify with. I know this can be interpreted in numerous ways, but what this means to me, is that we have to accept that there will always be roadblocks standing in between us and what ever goal we hope to achieve. Sometimes, these roadblocks may seem like mountains that you will never be able to move…but you have to do the seemingly impossible, and use the force that limits you, as a motivator. The way I see it, you have 2 options: You can either bow out early, knowing that you didn’t do everything It takes to make what you want happen, and face the regret that comes with knowing you let something get in the way of your success and your passions- or, you can keep pushing, and inshallah one day have the satisfaction of saying, “Yeah I did it, despite all the things working against me, I made it happen.” I think it's wise to always choose the latter, because your story changes from, “I was never able to do it because this thing stood in my way,” to, “I was able to overcome this and I made it happen.”
6) If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
I think the advice that I would give to someone struggling with the hijab is the same advice I would give to almost anyone that is struggling with something, and that would be: Be confident in the hijab and in your decision. I think most people struggling to put it on fear they will be viewed or treated differently, and most of the time that doesn’t have to be the case. I think what you believe other people perceive you as is usually just a reflection of your insecurities and how you perceive yourself. If the message you are putting out to the world is that you are uncertain and uncomfortable, then the message you get back from the world will be just as negative. But if the message you put out is that this decision was right for me and that I can rock this, then you will get that same message back. Hijab is a big change and definitely takes a lot of adjustment, but my advice is to, “fake it till you make it.” It's likely that you wont be 100% comfortable and confident in your hijab right off the bat, but you can take steps towards that. Even if you aren’t totally sure, try acting as if you are and see what happens…eventually you will internalize that attitude and you are no longer “faking” it.
Have someone you'd like to nominate for Hijabi of the Month? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org!