Posted on Jan 20, 2015
This month's HOTM was nominated by her sister who had this to say about her,
"To know Sharifa is to love her. She has always been a spitfire, a bit of a "tomboy" as a child wearing my (male) cousin's soccer jerseys and beating the older boy's at the game, never afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what she believes in. Over time she has transformed into a beautiful, strong Muslim woman. She has since traded in her cleats for heals and has impeccable, hijab-appropriate style. She is an occupational therapist and works with special needs children. Although this is a full-time job, she finds time to volunteer to help at-risk youth as well. She inspires me in so many ways."
My name is Sharifa Bilbeisi. I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I graduated with a masters degree in Occupational Therapy four years ago and have been working as an occupational therapist ever since. I love my big family, fashion, playing sports, and giving back through volunteering and striving for social justice. As an American Muslim who’s roots come from Palestine, I contemplate identity a lot and how it impacts a persons view of themselves and the world around them. Just as I think most Palestinians would agree, I believe your homeland doesn't have to be on a map anymore to constantly be on your mind and held in your heart.
1) When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us a little about your journey.
I started wearing hijab my freshman year of high school, a month after I turned 14. Although I come from a big family of girls (I’m the youngest of 6 with only one younger brother) and although they all wore it I don't remember talking to them about their experiences. It wasn't until after I started wearing it that they became my go to consultants, borrowing clothes and ideas from one another. They have been my greatest support through wearing it and growing up as a muslim girl in general.
2) As an occupational therapist working with special needs children, tell us how you knew this was your calling and what it means to you.
Growing up, besides being a professional soccer player, I never had one consistent career dream. I was influenced by movies or books about people with fun looking careers. Anything from traveling, detective work, fashion designer, photography, and journalism. In high school, I went to a technical middle college so I was able to take a lot of extra classes of my choice. I tried different routes and ended up with an associates degree in liberal arts and a certificate in entrepreneurship and health care. I knew in the end I wanted to do something that would help people. Occupational therapy seemed like the perfect mix between medicine and teaching as they help individuals become independent in participating in everyday activities and life roles. Alhamdulilah, I love what I do. Working with children (3-26) with disabilities is definitely rewarding but could also be challenge. You have to be ok with not getting the verbal praise from clients like you usually would from different populations and at the same time know you're making a difference even if it takes a while to see results.
3) What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem facing Muslim women today?
One of the major problems I feel muslim women face is that we are constantly having to prove ourselves. As a woman you face some of these problems and as Muslim you also experience other challenges. We wear our religion on our head and represent Islam wherever we go so it’s important to represent it to the best of our ability while still sticking true to who we are and letting it show in our own individual way. We often think we need to justify our decisions to the rest of the world from something as simple as answering questions like if you’re gym tee that reads “State Prison” is a political statement when in fact it was just on sale for $2, or if we were forced to wear our scarf, to bigger things like pursuing a career, our opinion on the latest news story, or how we chose to raise children. To other hijabi’s we may not be modest enough or not hip enough, to non hijabi’s we may perceived as holier than thou or doing it as a trend.
4) If you could tell your 17-year old self one thing, what would it be?
1. Know your worth. 2. Keep the dream alive. 3. Don't put a timeline on your life based on others expectations or experience. The rest could be summed up in some lyrics from Tupac’s: Me Against the World.
The message I stress to make it stop study your lessons
Don't settle for less even the genius asks questions
Be grateful for blessings, don't ever change, keep your essence
Always do your best, don't let the pressure make you panic
And when you get stranded and things don't go the way you planned it
Remember one thing, through every dark night
There's a bright day after that
So no matter how hard it gets, stick your chest out
Keep your head up and handle it
5) What is one statement you live by?
"No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of worrying can change the future. Go easy on yourself, for the outcome of all affairs is determined by God’s decree. 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." – Umar bin al Khattab R.A.
6) If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
Sometimes it gets difficult to wear a hijab just like waking up for fajr or fasting 16 hour days can. Although we strive to always be the best we have to remember that just as we as humans aren’t always perfect, our hijab could be seen in the same light. It’s not necessarily an all or nothing. I often hear talk from people who may not approve of the way others chose to wear their hijab. They suggest that they might as well take it off or that it doesn't determine your relationship with God etc, but I disagree. Subhanallah, I don’t think the purpose of hijab is simply just the typical simplified answer “for modesty.” There is so much more to it and more that I’m sure we are unaware of. Of course, we all get tempted to go out when we’re having a good hair day or even when you just want to be a bum in a hoodie but still make it look cute with a high bun. The hijab puts us in a state to always be ready for prayer, identifies you as a muslim, and is a protection for yourself and reminder for your actions and for that you will also reap the baraka, inshallah. You don’t have to be a perfect Muslim to wear a hijab and struggling may just mean a greater reward just as those who have difficulty, stammering or stumbling through the verses of the Quran are promised a greater reward.
Do you have someone you'd like to nominate for our next Hijabi of the Month? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org!