What is Modern Muslimah Achievers?
Moderm Muslimah Ahievers is the brain child and effort of “The Ideal Muslimah” to motivate, spread awareness and educate Muslim Sisters throughout the world about Muslim Female Achievers. A sincere effort to connect our Muslim sister audience to the sisters who have achieved a stand and stance in life. A minor memoir of the struggles, ideals, inspirations, advice and hard word that pushed and molded our Achievers into who they are today.
About Sister Maryam Amirebrahimi
Maryam Amirebrahimi has a strong background in leadership and is a passionate advocate for social justice. In high school, she acted as the Associated Student Body President and was personally recognized as Student of the Year by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In college, at San Jose State University, she served two consecutive years as the MSA President. Upon graduating with a BA in Child and Adolescent Development, Maryam partook in an eleven month study abroad program in Cairo, Egypt, where she studied the Holy Quran and learned and became fluent in classical Arabic. Upon returning from Cairo, she entered the field of education, earning her Teaching Credential and Master’s in Urban Education from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Currently, Maryam is pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies. Maryam speaks regularly in conferences and events, holds a second degree black belt in tae kwon do, speaks four languages and writes for the popular online blog, suhaibwebb.com. She is an outspoken proponent of women’s rights and justice for communities of color.
Number and Names of Books published:
Publish articles on www.suhaibwebb.com
Name of the organization you work for/started:
Describe the day in the life of (an activist, hafidha, counselor, public speaker, writer, teacher or whatever fits). How do you end and start your day?
This question always changes depending on what stage of life I’m in. While I was completing my teaching credential, my busiest days would include rushing out after fajr to teach students in a public school almost an hour away, attending my own graduate class after teaching all day, getting home around 7 or 8pm, heating up and eating a quick dinner (would have already cooked it a few days prior!), memorizing my 2 pages of Quran for the day, calling up the Shaykh to recite Qur’an to him, and then knocking out exhausted! My less busier days were easier as I got home a few hours earlier and had time to do homework, housework and errands.
By the time I started my Master’s, Alhamdulilah I had completed my memorization of the Qur’an but continued working on review while additionally incorporating online classes in Islamic studies. My schedule depended on the day, but I would usually begin my days with online Islamic studies classes after fajr, head to teaching one class at a high school or finishing my classwork for my degree, and then heading to a meeting for work or my Master’s class in the evening.
In both scenarios, any spare time was spent with the love of my life, my supportive and understanding husband. I don’t think I could have maintained this schedule if we had kids, nor would I encourage anyone to do this if they do!
Finally, as much as we can, my husband and I begin and end our days with fajr and ishaa in the masjid.
What keeps you consistent in your work?
It’s easy for me to be consistent when I have a goal I’m working towards. If I have a specific breakdown of what I need to accomplish and by what time, it makes it easy for me to focus my energy towards achieving those objectives and remaining consistent. However, if I have some broad goal (i.e: Become a scholar) without any idea of how to achieve it, I quickly succumb to wasting time and doing nothing I feel would help me accomplish my goal. Also, it always helps me to have someone to whom I must answer as well, who will help keep me accountable.
As a woman how do you balance work and family life?
All praise and thanks be to God, I’ve been incredibly blessed with a supportive, goal-driven husband. Before we got married, he clarified that he was seeking someone who was going to focus on being active and working towards greater goals. I also made it clear that I was looking for someone doing the same, and we agreed we would support each other in doing such (lesson: make sure you are very clear about your life-objectives with the person you want to marry, and make sure they agree supportively! If you do not discuss those things beforehand, you could easily end up stuck in a relationship where you are stagnating and regret your decision. If you’re already in that situation, seek counseling and figure out how to move forward.).
We also discussed the importance of maintaining our relationship and our home while being involved in community activism. So we decided we would choose what we would be picky on and what we could compromise. For example, we are not picky with food, and this saves a ton of time. We cook a larger quantity of food once or twice a week and we help each other take care of smaller home chores during the week so that we can focus on our work outside the home as well.
Additionally, we make sure to spend specific times together for our relationship; we try our best to begin our days with going for Fajr in the masjid and end them by praying Isha in the masjid. Some weekends, we carve out specifically for spending time together and running errands, declining any community or outside familial engagements so we can focus on our relationship.
…Now, reminder, I don’t have kids! I highly respect anyone who does and hope to learn how they balance life with children, God willing!
Who is your inspiration?
Aside from the obviously best person who walked the face of the earth (peace be upon him) and the great heroes of Islamic history, my real life inspirations are my parents, my husband and his parents. My mom is a feisty, hard-core Muslim woman’s rights activist. Yes, it rubbed off big time. My dad is a lover of knowledge who supports me seeking knowledge in any way possible. My mom in law has keen insight on life, self-improvement and relationships and my dad in law is a very practical, objective-driven person. My husband has higher standards of honesty and integrity for himself than in anyone I have ever seen. May God bless each one of them. Put all those things together, I pray I will be blessed with having all those qualities meshed into me!
What was your turning point in life?
Going to Makkah when I was in high school and reading the Qur’an in the English translation. If God had not honored me with those experiences, I fear where I would be now.
As a Muslim woman, have you faced any difficulties – whether it was donning the hijab/niqab or discrimination in the work place or anything else? And How did you overcome/deal with it?
Of course! Almost anyone experiences difficulty, regardless of background. For me, the most difficult time in my life was when I was figuring out what it truly meant to be a God-conscious Muslim woman and how that was supposed to translate into my character and actions. I’m a really loud, passionate individual and I had to figure out if I needed to stop being who I was in order to be “modest” or “pious.” That journey took 7 years to figure out, but Alhamdulilah, in the end, I realized that Islam does not aim to mute our personalities, rather, to enhance us. If we become unrecognizable to our own selves, we need to think critically on the messages we are accepting into our lives.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not train people to warp into who they are not. Rather, he built people to become better versions of themselves. This is especially the case for us as Muslim women.
Share a funny or embarrassing moment you faced during the course of your work or dawah.
Once, a bunch of sisters and I were studying in the university library and it neared closing time so we were getting onto an elevator to leave the building. At the same time, a group of brothers who had also been studying on the same floor decided they wanted to get into the elevator as well. There was plenty of space for them, but I could not just stand there and see brothers and sisters getting into the same elevator! So I said firmly to the first brother: There is not enough space in here for you. He laughed and started stepping inside, assuming I was kidding (he didn’t know me enough to know I would not kid with a guy lol). So then I increased the harshness in my tone and said, “Really. There is no room.” (Close elevator doors).
All the sisters laughed because they knew I was the only one who would do something like that and be serious about it. But one sister was like, “That was really messed up.” And it took me four years to get to a point where I looked back on the incident and agreed that it was completely messed up of me. When I look back at it now, it’s an embarrassing moment because I really had no idea what Islam really is about. I ask Allah to forgive me and hope that brother will forgive me as well!
Recently Scholars like Dr Akram Nadwi have written about the lost female scholarship, how do you think we can empower woman to attain the same status, dignity and leadership as was present in our rich history?
On an individual level: Study! Study, study, study! With solid scholars who can be mentors to us, who are familiar with the culture in which we live and who know the reality of women’s rights and status in Islam! Take ourselves seriously and set goals which include female scholarship and leadership in society. If we see issues in our communities, step up and be the force that creates change rather than complaining about the lack of opportunity. Yes, it may seem almost impossible in some communities but over time, God willing, with knowledge and strategy, things will change when we consistently work for it.
On a community level: We need people in key leadership positions to work on getting more women in mosque and organizational leadership positions to help provide spaces for women’s narrative to be a part of the mainstream. Then, we need to make way for women of knowledge to be a part of the educational function of the community as a whole.
Who supported you the most throughout your life?
My parents and brother first, then my extended family and relatives. Also, when I got married, my husband and his parents and family, may God bless them all.
How important is education according to you?
One of the most important blessings in life, yet one easily misunderstood. A degree does not necessarily need to signify education; sometimes life provides more enrichment than a degree ever could. What is important is that we recognize that everything can be an opportunity to grow, to never be closed to the possibility of learning new things and being humble enough to understand that the lessons taught by a child selling corn on the streets of Egypt may be as or more important than research presented by an Ivy-League professor.
What would you advice Muslimahs studing in Universities/Schools/Colleges?
Stay grounded in your connection with God through maintaining your daily prayers and reading a small amount of Qur’an in a language you understand daily. Make sure you have a solid support group; whether living at home or near campus, ensure you have clean-hearted friends who would encourage you to maintain your moral obligations while having a blast.
What steps do you think the male counterparts/Imams/Shuyooks/
Where women’s voices are not heard, help create the organizational and political spaces for them to be heard, but also to take on integral roles for the progress of the community. Be available to teach them without making them feel awkward and like they are the ultimate temptation simply because they seek knowledge from you. Be their mentors, accept them as mentors, and work together to train men and women who can help transform the community into one in which both genders work mutually towards success.
Success requires hard work – Reality/ Myth?
Absolute reality. People contact me and say they want to memorize the Qur’an or they want to learn Arabic or they want to pursue a degree and when I follow up with what steps they’re taking right now to reach those objectives, they sometimes do not have anything in the works. Sometimes someone will complain to me that they have already been memorizing the Qur’an for an entire two months and they still haven’t come close to being a hafidh! Allahu Akbar! Have patience! And work consistently, persistently, and hard. Becoming a scholar doesn’t happen through posting 50 ahadith a day on facebook, like becoming a doctor doesn’t happen by watching a medical show all day. Yes, you might learn a little about the subject in both cases, but those “methods of learning” often will leave a person more confused and without any personal, comprehensive understanding and development. Work hard. Be persistent. Be consistent. And remember to take breaks to relax and help yourself re-focus. God willing, you’ll be successful. God is with the patient. But that’s the key: have patience when working hard for success. It will come, inshaAllah, but perhaps not in the way or not on the day you were expecting it.
What is your advice to our sisters about their dreams/aspirations:
Take yourself seriously, figure out what steps you need to take to reach your goal and work on doing those things consistently. Network with people who can help you reach your objectives and support you through the process. Always remember that Allah is your closest aid and friend and that He can make anything happen, so beg Him in the middle of the night to make things happen for you.
a) For the ones that are still deciding and are in their teens or pre-teens: Speak to people who are older than you to figure out what may be the best course of action you should take. Reach out to career counselors at schools or in your city to help you figure out what you areas you should focus on to help build your skill sets. Make lots of dua.
b)For the ones who are married with kids and couldn’t make their dreams come true – is it too late? I would, of course, say that it is never, ever too late to reach for one’s objectives, with God’s help! I know of women who wanted to begin memorizing the Qur’an in their 70s and completed in their 80s. I know of women who waited for their children to become adults and then pursued their master’s or PhDs and started working full time after having spent the past decade being a full-time domestic engineer (ie: Mom!). However, I can’t say that I have any personal advice in this field since I don’t have kids so who am I to speak on the subject?
Is it better to have kids or not have kids with the consent of your husband to achieve your goals in life? What would you advice sisters who want to delay pregnancy till they complete their hifdh or Studies or Phds etc
I have no idea because I’ve never had kids before, nor am I a counselor who knows about goal-setting and life situations!
♦ Interviewed by Shamsiya Noorul Quloob ♦