I am a second generation Afghan-American Muslim woman…I am also a freelance writer and editor and lecture on various Islamic/spiritual topics.
Who are you?
I am a second generation Afghan-American Muslim woman. I was born in Afghanistan and moved to the United States with my family when I was two years old. I am currently a stay-at-home mom two little boys under 5 years old. I spend my extra time managing a website I co-founded with my cousin Dr. Nafisa Sekandari, called Mental Health 4 Muslims (www.mentalhealth4muslims.com)
Give us your favorite quote and tell us why it means so much to you:
My favorite quote has to be a saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which follows: “Be merciful to people on earth and God on high will be merciful to you.” I love the universality of the message in that mercy is extended to all people regardless of class, religion, age, sex, race, etc. I also love the strength of the message despite its simplicity. It reinforces the idea that to receive God’s grace one must go beyond acquiring knowledge or individual practice and ritual, but actually display mercy and kindness to His creation.
What Ayah of the Quran do you hold close to your heart? Why?
“Say: O My servants who have transgressed against their own souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Surah az-Zumar 39:53)
I love this particular verse because of the strong message of hope it reinforces and the healing it offers. God is not only acknowledging our human tendency to err but also our tendency to despair over our wrongs. And then He extends His compassion and mercy to us without any admonition. I truly believe that anyone, regardless of what they have done or what their self-worth is, can find immense hope in God by reflecting on this beautiful verse.
What Hadith do you wish more non-Muslims knew about? Why?
Anas ibn Malik reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Make things easy and do not make things difficult. Calm people and do not arouse their aversion.” – Bukhari
I wish more non-Muslims knew about this hadith because it is a clear testament to the message of peace found throughout Islam. We are advised to be people who bring expansion and ease to others not constriction and difficulty. We are advised to be peace-makers not warmongers the way we are unfairly portrayed so often by media and other nefarious forces.
1. What is your favorite book?
Aside from scripture, one of the books that I found immensely beneficial was “Purification of the Heart” by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. He touches on spiritual realities that are part of the human condition and contribute to so many of our every day problems. He also forces the reader to examine him/herself in an incredibly honest and critical way on the journey to self-improvement.
2. Who inspires/inspired you?
My teacher and mentor of nearly 20 years, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf.
3. What is the best lesson your mother/mother figure taught you?
My parents always taught us to work hard but never become attached to material things we acquire along the way. Miserliness was always frowned upon and generosity, selflessness, and consideration of other people was always encouraged and rewarded. I am eternally grateful for their lack of materialism and their love of God, family, and tradition.
4. What advice would you give your 13 year old self?
Never judge yourself through anyone else’s eyes. We are all humans and have biases and/or flawed/limited understandings. Rather, judge yourself according to what God expects and ask yourself at every point, would He be pleased with me?
5. What are your hopes for your daughter(s)?
I do not have any yet but if God wills that I do, I hope that they identify with the rich legacy of female leadership in Islam and are strong, intelligent, hard-working, and focused individuals who spend their life working on improving their inward state more than their outward appearance.
6. What is the biggest trial you went through in your life and how has that changed you?
I lost a very close friend almost over night and had to face the sober reality of death in the most raw way by being a part of her ritual washing and burial. She was my age and so young and beautiful with her whole life ahead of her and in one night she was gone. It really made me reflect a lot on the nature of this world and how important it is to make use of our time here.
7. Any regrets? What’s something that you wish you’d thought about more before you did it?
I began committing to Islamic practice when I was 19 and did it with very little knowledge and understanding. As a result, unfortunately I fell into the wrong “group” where I took on a very self-righteous and exclusive attitude. I feel I may have pushed a lot of people away during that time and wish I had read and studied more before taking on certain practices and attitudes.
8. How do you stay grounded in your work and/or spiritually grounded?
I always remember that God is the one who guides and misguides and that nothing is definitive except for death. We do not know where or how we will die but as long as we remain humble we have a better chance of having a good end.
9. How do you bring about real change?
Sincerity, conviction, and a real willingness to do the hard work. We all have ideas and given some power can easily delegate work to others but I think real change requires one’s willingness to get their hands dirty in the process.
10. What do you hope to be remembered for?
I really hope that when I pass people will remember me for being a healer, one who removed people’s burdens and troubles and did whatever possible to help others when they were down.
Message from Hosai:
My Dear Sister in Islam,
One of the many challenges before you is to learn how to pave your own path and set very clear boundaries around it. You see, even though God is the one who created you and told you exactly what you are capable of and what is expected of you, there are many, many people in this world who believe that by virtue of your gender you are simply unable to think for yourself. They will discourage you from creating your own path by making you doubt yourself and then they will encourage you to follow their path. They will tell you what size you should be, how you should dress, how you should walk, how you should talk, how long or short your hair should be, what color your skin should be, what you should or shouldn’t eat, where you should go to school, what you should or shouldn’t study, when you should get married, who you should marry, where you should live, how many kids you should have, how you should raise your kids, who you should or shouldn’t trust, and on and on and on.
This will go on for the rest of your life, and unfortunately there isn’t anyway to stop the constant stream of unsolicited advice that you will receive. What you can do however is learn how to use the intellect that God has equipped you with and the sources He’s made available to you to learn how to be an independent thinker. You should start by examining the Qur’an and Hadiths and the countless verses and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that deal with the individual rights and responsibilities of every Muslim. Once you understand exactly who you are in the sight of God and the potential you have, you will not lose yourself on someone else’s path, rather you will firmly plant your feet in your own.
You will learn that your body is sacred and must be protected, your mind is a machine and must be used, and your tongue is a tool and must be useful. You will also learn that your first priority is to please God and His Prophet (peace be upon him) and to judge every decision you are ever confronted with according to what would please them. Whether it is a worldly matter or a spiritual one, when you learn to put your trust in God above your trust in everyone else, including yourself, you will develop a very strong sense of identity and self-assuredness and no one will ever make you doubt yourself again.
May God fortify you with wisdom, strength, health, perseverance, and high aspirations in all that you do for His sake.