Posted on Sep 30, 2018
This past week was a tough one for me. Ahmed and I are in the midst of fundraising for the company, (which, in and of itself, is a full-time job) in addition to the regular travel, speaking engagements, oh, and running an entire company that's on my plate. It's safe to say I've been spreading myself way too thin. Since we started growing our team this time last year and putting out big launches like our Luxury Collection, Silks, and Underscarves in between our weekly new collections, I've been working overtime and telling myself that now is the time to grind. It's ok to work 12 hour days regularly. It's fine if you never take a day off. Of course you have to work on weekends. Forget going on vacation - you have a company to build! All these thoughts came naturally to me – until this week.
This past week I was invited to attend a very private dinner at an elite ivy league institution. Needless to say, it was a pretty high-brow event. In attendance were politicians, professors, the dean, top business execs, even a celebrity was in our midst! We all came together to hear from Khalida Brohi, the author of "I Should Have Honor," an activist working to eradicate honor killings in Pakistan. It was an absolute honor to meet her and I'm excited to finish reading her courageous story. Apart from the inspiration of hearing her speak, what unfolded that night ignited something in me that I haven't quite been able to extinguish.
As you can imagine, the conversation around honor killings in Pakistan quickly turned to the state of Islam and Muslims today. It was asserted that, "Most Muslims don't know what the Quran says," "It's blasphemous to translate the Quran into any language outside of Arabic," "Why isn't there a movement, some contemporary discourse in popular culture that sheds a positive light on Islam and its teachings?" If you're reading this and shaking your head, then you understand how I felt at that intimate round table. My blood was boiling.
It took a lot in me not to say, "I don't know, perhaps it's the multi-million dollar industry promoting misinformation, fear and hatred of Muslims that's eclipsing any real effort to promote the truth about Islam." It took everything in me not to inform these highly educated and influential people that myself and literally millions of other Muslims do know what the Quran says and have translated Qurans in their native tongue. But – something in me fell silent. For one, this was an event to celebrate Khalida, and I didn't want to distract the attendees from her message. Second, I didn't want to be that angry, defensive Muslim and give anyone in attendance the satisfaction of confirming a stereotype they've heard. I got out what I could, smiled and nodded politely, thanked the hosts, and left.
The second I got in the car I called my Dad. My Dad has ignited the activist in me for as long as I can remember. When I came home in 3rd grade and told him that my friends taunted me at school and wouldn't play with me at recess because, "I'm Araaaabic!!!!" he told me, "Be proud of who you are! Tell them, 'Yes, I am Arab and I'm Muslim too, and I'm proud of it!'" I told my Dad about my frustration and how disillusioned I was by these elite liberals who were supposed to understand. Aren't they supposed to be smarter than that? My Dad reassured me the way he always does, "Don't expect anything from anyone. It's your job to educate." Despite hearing the words I needed to hear from my Dad, I felt sad. Heaviness grounded itself in the pit of my stomach and for the next few days, I found it hard to smile.
What I realized was, in the past year I've spent buried in my company, I've lost touch with the activist side of myself that would have dealt with this experience in a better way. Maybe I didn't speak up because I wasn't confident I had the right thing to say. What I knew for sure was that the lines between 'Melanie Elturk' and 'Haute Hijab' were blurred. I asked myself, "Who am I outside this company?" What do I have outside of my work? What do I do for myself that nourishes my heart, mind and spirit in a way my work can't? I foolishly assured myself that my work did fulfill me in all aspects of my life. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Semblances of this notion have been creeping up recently. It's the impetus behind these Musings - the fear that I'm slowly losing my writing ability. What I realized this week, however, was that I needed to make a real change. While I know that for the time being, I have to put blinders up and continue to grind away until we're the global brand I aspire it to be, I still need to carve out time for myself. I can't wait until some undisclosed time in the future when our company is so large that it can basically run itself to take care of my self-growth and nourishment. In the past year (or more), I've let go of my physical health (I may be thin, but I'm not physically fit), I've lost touch with friends, my spiritual state has taken a hit and I don't even want to think about what would have happened to my marriage if I didn't run this company together with Ahmed.
Needless to say, I'm going to make some changes. I'm committing to attending Tuesday halaqa at NYU (Suhaib Webb gives a halaqa not even a mile away from me every week and I'm not there?!), finally take advantage of the gym in my building (YES, it's in our building... AND we have a Lifetime Fitness across the street, [insert facepalm emoji here]), take actual time off and make sure I carve out time to re-energize so I don't burn out, and of course, continue to write. Although this is only the second musing I write, I'm feeling better already. As always, let me know what you think – if you've been in a similar situation, how did you deal with it? Let's kick it in the comments and I hope you're enjoying reading these as much as I am writing them. Xoxo,