My passion is service-based interfaith activism: working with people from different faith traditions on community service projects or other meaningful activities that build social capital.
Who are you?
I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness (small sect in Christianity) in a very interesting but unstable family. We moved around a lot. I was born in Washington and I’ve lived in Nevada, California, Texas, Utah, New Mexico and North Carolina. I came back to Texas when I was in my early 20’s and settled in Austin. I’ve been here ever since.
I embraced Islam in 1999 after leaving my parents’ church, and spending a few years searching. Islam spoke to me because it was so simple and straightforward. I have a bad tendency to live with my head in the clouds, but Islam gave me some very practical tools for worship and serving humanity. It has been a wonderful, albeit sometimes extremely challenging journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything, masha’Allah.
I live in Austin with my husband of 14 years and my 11-year-old twins. My husband is an immigrant from Pakistan so I have a large circle of Pakistani friends I’ve met through him. This, along with my mother-in-law living close by, really helps me keep my children in touch with their cultural roots, and gives us a wonderful community in which to celebrate life’s milestones.
I became an ‘accidental’ activist after 9/11 when there simply weren’t people available in our city to go out and talk to various groups about who Muslims are and what we believe. Over time I grew to love this outreach work, and also became involved with interfaith activism. My passion is service-based interfaith activism: working with people from different faith traditions on community service projects or other meaningful activities that build social capital.
What else? Well, I like cats and tacos and political humor. I eat vegan and like to fancy myself a runner. I love jazz and coffee (often at the same time). I’m happiest when I’m barefoot and at a beach.
Give us your favorite quote and tell us why it means so much to you:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
As someone who has, 1) had the opportunity to choose my own religion as an adult, and who 2) actively and publicly speaks and writes about the causes and issues that are important to me, I can’t think of anything more inspiring to read than the First Amendment. It has occurred to me more than once that my life would be much different had I not had those guaranteed rights to fall back on.
What Ayah of the Quran do you hold close to your heart? Why?
“And We revealed to you the Book, with truth, confirming the Scripture that preceded it, and superseding it. So judge between them according to what God revealed, and do not follow their desires if they differ from the truth that has come to you. For each of you We have assigned a law and a method. Had God willed, He could have made you a single nation, but He tests you through what He has given you. So compete in righteousness. To God is your return, all of you; then He will inform you of what you had disputed.” – Qur’an 5:48
This ayah reminds me that pluralism is God’s will. We don’t have to convince everyone to be on the same page—we should all do what we know is right to the best of our abilities, and it’ll all come out in the wash.
What Hadith do you wish more non-Muslims knew about? Why?
“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
—An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith
I love this hadith because it’s a form of the Golden Rule—which is a principle that is taught in every major world religion. We all have this in common, and it’s such a beautiful, simple idea that on it’s own—without any other teachings—could change the world if we all practiced it.
What is your favorite book?
There are so many excellent books I’ve read that it would be an exercise in futility to try to name one as a favorite. So, I’ll just mention the first book I ever read: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. That’s the one that kicked off my love of reading and I still read it. I especially love to read it out loud. I do different voices and ‘perform’ it for my kids.
2. Who inspires/inspired you?
My mother and my mother-in-law are both amazing women who have lived their lives to the fullest. They are strong, independent and passionate about their beliefs. I am constantly inspired by both of them.
3. What is the best lesson your mother/mother figure taught you?
The best lesson my mom taught me (among many great lessons) is to stand up for myself. I don’t owe it to anyone to let him or her use me, abuse me, or take me for granted. This wasn’t an easy lesson for me to learn, by the way.
4. What advice would you give your 13 year old self?
Just relax. There will come a time when you will laugh at the things that worry you the most right now.
5. What are your hopes for your daughter and son?
I have one of each and I have the same wish for both of them: I want them have the confidence to explore the amazing, unique gifts each of them have been born with, and then find a way to use their gifts to make the world a better place.
6. What is the biggest trial you went through in your life and how has that changed you?
The biggest trial I’ve been through is the process of leaving the religion of my youth, searching, and then finding a new spiritual path (Islam) and figuring out how to adopt it in a way that made sense to me. This took several years, and it caused me to question everything—especially my own sanity. I keep thinking one day I’ll write a book about it, but honestly, I’m still not sure how to articulate the enormity of what I went though. The result, however, is that I’m a stronger person—mentally, emotionally and spiritually. But wow, what a ride!
7. Any regrets? What’s something that you wish you’d thought about more before you did it?
I don’t regret most things—not even big mistakes. That stuff is for learning and growing. But I had this boss years ago that was a total lunatic and a pathological liar. I worked there until I couldn’t take it any more and then one day just decided I’d had enough and never went back. Since then I’ve regretted not going in one last time just to give him a piece of my mind.
8. How do you stay grounded in your work and/or spiritually grounded?
Man, I don’t know. I really need to work on that.
9. How do you bring about real change?
I try to spend as much time engaged in real world, on-the-ground, in-person activities that support the things I believe in, as I do talking or writing about them.
10. What do you hope to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as someone who walked the talk, and who was unafraid to continuously evolve throughout my lifetime.
Video message from Amanda:
More about Amanda: