Posted on Apr 26, 2017
This month's HOTM is Rowaida Abdelaziz. She is a Social Media Editor at HuffPost, where she focuses on reporting and distributing world news. Rowaida specializes in Middle East Politics and has written numerous stories on the refugee crises in Syria, Yemen and other parts of the Arab world. She also spearheads coverage of Muslim issues at HuffPost. Her goal is to provide guidance for diverse coverage of the Muslim community in mainstream media as a young female woman in the newsroom. Last year, Rowaida was a lead reporter for the Islamophobia Tracker, a project that documented the anti-Muslim rhetoric that spiked across the U.S. She also launched HuffPost's Tomorrow Inshallah, a community Facebook page that targets and amplifies Muslim voices and perspectives. Before joining HuffPost, Rowaida was at the Committee to Protect Journalists and Al Jazeera Arabic at the United Nations. In her free time, Rowaida loves to spend time with her family over a cup of coffee and a home-cooked meal. We caught up with Rowaida to hear more about her work, life, and journey with hijab.
When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us a little about your journey.
I actually wanted to wear hijab when I was about 9 years old. All my role models wore hijab and I was excited to embrace it, even though I didn’t fully understand the implications and responsibilities at such a young age. In fact, my mother was the one who told me to wait a bit longer. So I did. Fast-forward a few years later, after we temporarily moved to Egypt. It was the first day of Ramadan and I put on the hijab to take in the full month and its blessings. It was that day that I knew I wasn’t going to take it off, even after Ramadan. I just felt it in my heart. My cousins and friends who were born and raised in Egypt didn’t wear hijab at that point, so they were surprised to see their “American" cousin/friend put on the hijab before them. I laugh at it now. Alhamdullah, I was blessed to have experienced living abroad at the time because, in a way, it was easier to embrace hijab in a Muslim majority country. I wonder if my experience would have been different if I began wearing it here. Nonetheless, even after moving back to the U.S and every day since then, I've worn the hijab. The experience has been filled with a whirlwind of lessons and blessings for me and I’ve come to understand and love my Muslim identity and the hijab so much more because of it.
Covering Islam in the media during today's political climate must be exhausting work. How do you stay focused?
Lots of coffee and a lot of faith! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted, especially in a time where the Muslim identity has been politicized. A lot of my work involves making sure we are producing nuanced and complex stories about Muslims to reflect the richness of our community. It’s a lot for one person! But I’m blessed to be surrounded by supportive family, friends and really utilizing my prayers to reflect on what I do and how I do it.
What's it like being one of the few Muslim journalists working at HuffPost? What were some of your most challenging and most rewarding moments there?
Working at HuffPost has been such a thrilling experience. It’s been so rewarding to be at a place that is not just welcoming to my identity as a Muslim, but encouraging and appreciative of the journalistic work and insights I bring to the newsroom. One of the challenges however, that I feel is not just specific to HuffPost but to the industry as a whole, is the lack of Muslims in the field. This puts a lot of pressure on on journalists who happen to be Muslim, to serve as a Muslim guide of some sort, which isn’t always easy.
What is your favorite hadith of the Prophet (S) and why?
One of my favorite hadiths is one that really hits my heart during my toughest times. The Prophet (S) said that Allah (S) said: He who comes with a good deed, its reward will be ten like that or even more. And he who comes with vice, his reward will be only one like that, or I can forgive him. He who draws close to Me a hand's span, I will draw close to him an arm's length. And whoever draws near Me an arm's length, I will draw near him a fathom's length. And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running. And whoever faces Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, I will meet him with forgiveness nearly as great as that, provided he does not worship something with me.
This hadith for me reflects this concept of Allah (S)'s infinite mercy that is just humbling and reassuring in so many ways.
If you could tell your 18-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and feel that this one obstacle that you’re facing will define you for life. Of course, that’s not the case. Those moments only last as long as you allow them to. Remember that although it is important to process each experience fully, don’t dwell on what you could and should have done differently. You’re stronger than that.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
Sometimes it feels like the world is on your shoulders when you are a hijab-wearing Muslim woman and you’re expected to be perfect all the time. But don’t allow those outside factors force you to see hijab negatively. At the end of the day, it’s between you and Allah (S). Seek guidance in just talking to other hijab-wearing women. It feels good to know that there are other Muslim women who can relate to you because you’re certainly not alone. Take solace in your emotions, wisdom from your elders, and learn that there is beauty in the struggle.