Hijabi of the Month July 2015 - Nadia Janjua
Posted on August 01, 2015
July's Hijabi of the Month is artist Nadia Janjua from Washington DC! She was nominated by her friend Sara who had this to say about her, "So many dream of becoming artists and Nadia mashaAllah had the courage to make her dream reality. Her work serves as a reminder of Allah (S). My favorite pieces are her early Hajj series and a calligraphy of Bismillah Ar-Arahman Ar-raheem that she custom made mashaAllah. She also once did a commissioned work of the 99 Names of Allah (S) that touched my heart mashaAllah. Nadia has created artwork and spoken at events to help women heal from abuse inshaAllah. Her style is a as colorful as her paintings mashaAllah."
My name is Nadia Janjua, and I am an Architect, Visual Artist & Art Educator residing in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with my loving husband. I was born and raised in the beautiful, tranquil mountain town of Western Maryland with my other three siblings. My parents are originally from Pakistan and Kashmir, and throughout my life, I have enjoyed a generous bit of traveling to other parts of the world which has brought me a deep appreciation for culture, religion, history, and of course, art! My artwork can be viewed on my main site, an online shop, my blog, and facebook page.
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.
A month after graduating from college, my older sister and I enrolled in an intensive Islamic studies summer retreat hosted by the American Learning Institute for Muslims (ALIM) based in Ann Arbor, MI at the time. To help maintain the modest and respectful environment of the classes, every female participant was requested to wear the hijab throughout the three-week long program. I had always admired and respected my sister who had started wearing hijab a couple years before that, but I had never actually considered wearing it myself full-time, nor had I ever practiced wearing it for long periods of time, so I was hesitant, to say the least. My sister helped me feel lighter about this temporary change, however, and being surrounded by twenty-five other young Muslim women wearing hijab helped transform what I had thought would be such a physically challenging task into something that felt nothing less than a natural extension of myself. On one of the last days of our program, the sisters had requested we have some one-on-one time with our guest scholar, Imam Siraj Wahhaj. I can still remember every detail of the moment when it came to be my turn to ask him a question – we were sitting under the shade of a huge tree full of foliage blowing around in the gentle breeze that blessed us on that hot summer day. The shadows of the swaying branches danced across all of our faces as we sat on the soft grass, eager to be illuminated in the company of Imam Siraj. So I asked him, “In your understanding and interpretation, is it obligatory for women to wear the hijab?” He replied, “Yes, to wear hijab is to follow what the Qur’an says, and a women should wear it when she is strong enough to . . .” He continued on to expand further, but I felt like time had frozen in this moment and my heart lingered and became absorbed in those last few words; it was only in a matter of a few seconds that I had decided I would be “strong” and keep my hijab on even after this summer retreat, insha’Allah. I have been wearing hijab ever since then, fifteen years ago, Alhamdulillah, and though there have been many challenging times in the evolution and maturing of my journey as a hijabi, I cannot think of any better decision I have ever made as a young adult.
2) You are a very talented artist! Tell us how you got into it, what it means to you and what you hope to accomplish through your art.
Being an Artist is the first real thing I’ve ever known. My siblings were, and still are, my loudest, most supportive fan club! They would always encourage and applaud me for my artistic abilities since childhood, but it wasn’t until I was in graduate architecture school that I started showing my work publicly. I had my first solo art show in the student hall of our campus; all of my classmates attended, as well as the local Muslim Student Association student body. It was a modest event but it felt like the most accomplished thing I had ever done as an emerging artist at the time. Alhamdulillah, it’s truly been the encouragement and support of both strangers and friends who have come to my shows, exhibits, or booths over the years that have helped me gain confidence and persevere in working as an Artist and sharing my inner creative expressions on a continuous, daily basis. In 2011, I made the official decision to take a hiatus from Architecture to pursue being a Visual Artist on a full-time basis. Since then, I have been running my
creative business called Nadia J Art, which strives to inspire and enlighten the human spirit through bold, colorful, abstract visual narratives. My business features an original and retail line of art, and I offer all sorts of art immersion workshops and mentorship to help individuals connect with their most creative selves. In the past two years, I’ve begun to focus on youth empowerment through the arts, encouraging children from a young age to value their creative tendencies and allowing them to experience the personal transformative process that we undergo when we apply ourselves creatively. I believe that young people who are involved in making beautiful things need to know that we value them and believe in them; they will be less and less likely to turn to acts of aggression and more and more capable of creatively solving the world’s problems. I am so grateful that Allah SWT has led my personal and career path in this direction; it has deepened my faith and insha’Allah, also inspired others to experience life on a more spiritual level. It is my hope that others can feel their hearts expand in this way as well if they open their minds and hearts to more color, more art, and more awareness in their everyday lives.
3) The arts have not always been supported in our community, (despite our rich history in Islamic art), do you see that starting to change? Why or why not?
I feel that every Muslim artist will answer this question in a different way based on his or her personal experiences. Generally speaking, I tend to have an optimistic outlook on life and the challenges it brings, but especially when I look back to when I had my first booth at an Islamic conference, or my first art exhibit at a mosque, or my first painting commission from a young Muslim couple, I see a beautiful growth and evolution in the Muslim community when it comes to valuing the arts. Support for the arts has definitely grown just within the past ten years thanks to more public forums and spaces for Muslim artists and creative entrepreneurs to share their talents and services. I would even go as far as to say that there’s been growth in the mentality and mindset towards our Muslim youth pursuing the arts industry in a professional way over the years – sure, we have a far way to go, but the movement has begun, there are many more trailblazers on this path, and the opportunity for creative mentorship is becoming more and more accessible thanks to the ease of online connectedness with the larger, global artist community. I hope we can all work together to raise the spiritual and material value of the arts and artists – the more we do this, the more we make it possible for Muslims to legitimately pursue the arts and make a sustainable living from it.
4) What's your favorite art piece you've created and why?
My most recent painting which is particularly close to my heart is one I made earlier this year, titled “Ya Wadud; Love is a Give & Take.” Like so many in our global community, I was devastated by the tragedy that took the lives of the three young Muslims – Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, in North Carolina in February 2015. I directed my frustrations onto my canvas and found myself contemplating one of the attributes of God, Al-Wadud, or “the Ever-Loving.” Witnessing from a distance, the blessed souls who were Deah, Yusor and Razan, it wasn’t hard to see that the taking of their souls only brought more love and more solidarity amongst those of us whose lives they had touched simply through what we learned of their beautiful characters in the aftermath. The universe truly turns with the constant give and take of love, and my painting echoes in colors of love, a beloved name of God – the One who loves, for loss is not an occasion or an event, it is something that happens over and over again, but thankfully, so does love. May Allah SWT grant Deah, Yusor & Razan Jannat al Firdaus.
5) If you could tell your 18 year-old self one thing, what would it be?
Be lighter about life and the hurdles it throws at you because you may think you have a plan, but truly, Allah SWT is the best of planners (8:30). Have full faith in this.
6) If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
Please take it a day at a time. Every hijab experience is personal so try not to judge your experience against others. Find a way to make this journey yours and remember that it is not easy for most of us, but that you are strong and Allah SWT gives the most beautiful rewards if we strive in this way. Have patience. Be optimistic. Think beautiful thoughts from the inside so that they may become manifest on the outside. Surround yourself with positive, supportive individuals. Make sincere and continuous dua’a to Allah SWT that He makes it easy for you and strengthens you against the tests that it may bring.
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