Hijabi of the Month September - Noura Elsayed
Posted on September 27, 2015
This month's HOTM was nominated by her friend who had this to say about her:
"I cannot think of anyone more deserving than Noura to be the Hijabi of the Month. She constantly inspires me, and countless others, with her sincere heart and it's beautiful manifestation in the hijab. I met Noura in our first year of college, and have been in awe of her ever since. Her journey with the hijab is a testament to her strength and commitment to Allah (S). She was the only representation of Muslims in her high school; dealing with (sometimes cruel) ignorance and the pressure of being "the only Muslim" only solidified her faith. Her role in her Muslim community is equally impressive. She set a wonderful example for the younger girls of her community by working extremely hard in academics and being the first to enroll in a top university. Among our friends, Noura is the one who challenges us to improve our faith, to evaluate our intentions, and to think deeply about what we believe. We often to refer to her as "Mama Noura" for her soft heart and the way she takes care of everyone."
My name is Noura and I’m currently a 21-year-old Egyptian-American Duke University student. I am studying Psychology and Cultural Anthropology and hope to one day work in the mental health non-profit development sector. Along the way, I hope to get a PhD in Clinical Psychology so that I can learn how to develop evidenced based packages of care in low resource communities.
I am passionate about fixing homelessness (in it’s varied and multidimensional definitions and components), large data sets that lead to logistic regressions, literature reviews, and providing oxytocin to others. I’m really silly and dorky and in my free time think of bad jokes to tell people. This summer I was in Jordan and Lebanon working on research with refugees to inform my senior thesis in Psychology.
1) When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us about your journey.
I started wearing hijab when I was 12 years old. I can remember walking into the living room and telling my dad I was going to start wearing hijab. He offered me the piece of advice to think about my decision, and told me that he was proud of me regardless of what I decided to do. The next day, I officially started wearing hijab.
Interestingly, despite the fact that I was very young when I decided to wear hijab I feel like it is within the last year or so that I really feel like I’ve come to embrace hijab in it’s entirety. I feel like my journey has unfolded so that hijab has become less of an external symbol of my faith, to something that consistently reminds me to stay humble and to carry myself in a way that allows people to see the compassion, and intentionality that Islam can foster in a person.
2) What was it like being the only Muslim in middle school and the only hijabi in high school? Has it shaped who you are today?
In middle school, it was very hard to be the only Muslim. I can very vividly remember being bullied and sometimes being physically hurt by other students. I suppose that middle school is particularly annoying for everyone, but I think that being the only hijabi at my middle school probably heightened a lot of the pre-teen insecurities. It was honestly very hard being the only hijabi. I can remember feeling like I was always the odd one out, and there were times where I felt that others defined me by my hijab.
These experiences in middle school forced me to cultivate my voice and to stand up for myself. When I arrived to high school, I was so used to being the only hijabi that I wasn’t fazed. Unlike middle school, being the hijabi at my high school helped me to stand out in a positive way and helped me to cultivate my perspective and voice as a Muslim woman. In high school, I used the fact that I was “different” to try to be noticed in a positive way. I really did want to embody the ideals of Islam that I held near to my heart. I think this desire to stand out in a positive way was one reason I was as academically successful as I was in high school.
3) What's the best piece of advice anyone's ever given you?
I am without shame, an absolute daddy’s girl. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I would choose a piece of advice that my dad gave me. My dad once told me, “Not to try to prove anything to anyone but myself.” I carry this advice with me each day as I make decisions about my future and as I try to remember the importance of staying grounded on a day-to-day basis.
He was telling me this advice when I was telling him during my first year at University how I felt that I needed to prove to my peers that I was smart enough to be at Duke. My dad continually reminds me that I should not be in the pursuit of proving my worth to others, but rather should be in the pursuit of making myself proud and following the guidelines set forth by Allah (S).
It’s such an incredible important piece of advice to women because I feel that sometimes especially as women have this need to be “effortlessly perfect.” This means we feel the need to be academically and/or professionally successful, socially competent, active in our communities, physically fit, well dressed and to do all of this while not showing anyone how much effort staying this put together takes. I think this need to be “effortlessly perfect” comes from a place of feeling like you have to prove your worth to others. When I feel myself wanting to embody “effortless perfection,” my dad’s piece of advice is always a mantra in my head.
4) What is your favorite hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (S) and why?
This is a hard question. I have three favorite ahadith and depending on where I am in my life, I might slightly turn toward one over the other for guidance. For the time being my favorite hadith is this one:
“One day I was riding (a horse/camel) behind the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, when he said, ‘Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of God, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of God. If you need help, seek it from God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if God had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if God had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.'" - Tirmidi
The reason this hadith is my favorite is because it reminds me to have taqwa. It's so hard sometimes, when you’re caught up in the “do, get, be” lifestyle to forget Allah (S) in order to acquire some worldly thing. Currently, I’m preparing to graduate from college and the fear of what’s next sometimes makes me fall off track in trusting Allah (S) completely. This hadith always reminds me that ultimately Allah (S) is the creator of plans and I also find this hadith extremely comforting. It’s so comforting to know that Allah (S) is the decider of fates and that we can truly always turn to Him for help.
5) If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
As paradoxical as it sounds there is beauty in struggling with something that you believe in. I would and do push the hijabis I know struggling with hijab, to read a lot about hijab and it’s history and context, to really reflect on the beauty of hijabs' function and to evaluate the benefit of hijab in both a worldly and next-world manner.
I also think that the most dangerous path to walk on is the path of self-judgment. It’s okay to struggle with hijab! It means that you care about your faith enough to struggle with something in the faith. Be comfortable admitting your conflict with hijab and be comfortable being unsure of yourself. I myself have struggled with hijab a lot, and I think that like all practices of faith- coming out of the struggle has been deeply spiritually satisfying. The first step toward coming through that process however was learning to accept the fact that I was struggling and to not judge myself for it.
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