A Profound Experience


At 18 years old, it’s not a huge surprise that high school has served as the most profound experience I’ve undergone, specifically my senior year. To give you a sense of the nature of this final year, my use of the phrase, “someday we’ll look back at this and laugh” has become almost instinctive. More often than not, things don’t go according to plan, and the acceptance of this sobering thought has proven itself requisite to any sense of ease or amusement I can expect to experience.

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Before the start of this year, I scoffed at the repeated claim by one wistful graduating senior after another that some of their most meaningful friendships didn’t come together until their last year of high school. Looking back, I can confidently say that they were right. I have been lucky enough to watch each of my smaller, more exclusive friend groups expand and overlap, and this process has facilitated the introduction to people I otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to, and who I now proudly label my closest friends. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by more than just a handful of compassionate, supportive, hysterical, and hardworking individuals, and I don’t expect that I’d enjoy this year nearly as much as I have without their collective presence.

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Nobody warns you that the moments you’ll never forget are the same ones that seem so meaningless while you’re living them through. The night we spent cracking up over Pictionary and promising ourselves that this would be our final round, only to find ourselves repeating that promise four rounds later; the substance and hilarity we were consistently able to cram into our 45 minute off-campus lunches; the hours of scheming that came along with every surprise birthday party we begrudgingly agreed to help plan. I think it’s hard for me to come to terms with how attached I’ve become to the friendships forged and memories made throughout the course of my high school career because I’m not an especially sensitive or emotional person. I once bumped an old man with my car in the Publix parking lot and drove away mad at HIM. Point proven.

College acceptance season illustrated the truth in Tom Haverford’s belief that, “sometimes you gotta work a little, so you can ball a lot.” An unparalleled sense of fulfillment accompanied the arrival of those thick, emblematic envelopes and eagerly-awaited emails. We’d spent the past three and a half years laboring over single-page, impersonal letters that more or less decided our fates, and that final sense of validation deemed the experience entirely worthwhile. Well, that and the jealous responses of overwhelmed and overeager underclassmen onlookers.

The phase that followed college acceptance season can most simply be equated to getting a yellow star in Mario Kart. We’re invincible, for now; ignoring the inevitable challenges ahead and instead opting to go along with our every impulse, like waiting to study for an AP Statistics midterm until the class period before, or skipping out on going to Stat altogether…for a week. I’m living that phase right now, which explains why it’s 3:42am on a Sunday night and I’m pouring my heart into a word document rather than getting enough sleep to sustain myself come the irritating buzz of my phone alarm in just a few short hours.

Profound Experience 2

I’d say senior year has served as a testament not only to our academic ambition, but also to our strength. We experienced loss, and I’m not just talking about that one basketball game against PC. The deaths of our peers to suicide or unforeseen trauma were and continue to be incredibly difficult to process and accept, but the sense of community and togetherness that follows such upsetting news is sincerely uplifting. We watched helplessly as friendships we made freshman year were extinguished entirely because self-growth deemed our personalities no longer compatible and, compared to our innocent, 14-year-old selves, nearly unrecognizable. We learned to cope, to survive, and to advance.

Somewhere in between our apprehensive first-steps inside the inarguably transformative walls of Green Hope and our impending final jaunt across the convention center stage come mid-June, we grew up. This year has instilled in me the habit of self-reflection. I’ve learned to recognize the impact of my words on both myself and others, and the importance of identifying other people’s strengths and making a conscious effort to build upon them. I’ve learned not to take anything too seriously, because the most dramatic problems are usually what lead to the funniest stories. I’ve learned to accept criticism and learn from it, rather than allowing self-confidence give rise to narcissism. I’ve learned to chase after the things I’m passionate about, and to do more than just exist. I’ve learned to take pride in the person I am as well as the person I’m becoming. I’m stuck with my peers for four years, but I’m stuck with myself forever, and I’ve learned that there’s still so much left for me to learn.

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Here’s to hoping that the best days are still ahead. And that I don’t get arrested for admitting to the time I hit an old guy with my car. In my head, it’s still his fault, but I have minimal doubts that police authorities would disagree.


Growing up with a visually-impaired parent can affect a child’s life and development in many ways.  My father’s struggle with a hereditary degenerative optic disease eventually took away his eyesight.  This condition and the circumstances that it generated have definitely had a lasting imprint on my life.  It is fortunate, though, that such an impact has been an incredibly positive one.


My childhood memories of my father are dominated by his great sense of humor, gentle character, and countless gestures of love and care.  I also remember his regular visits to ophthalmologists and a consistent prognosis of inevitable deterioration that would lead to blindness.  I so vividly remember him gently holding my face between his palms and slightly moving my head to the left and the right in search for the perfect angle that allowed him a clear view of how I looked.  To avoid the awkwardness of such moments, he would always mention how my features so closely resembled those of his late mother.

Dad had a way of finding a good side to everything.  He often pointed out how his poor eyesight rendered his hearing a lot stronger.  He considered my reading the paper to him every day after dinner as a bonding experience, and always complimented my enunciation and the expression in my voice.  In public places and group outings, he maintained a pleasant attitude that engaged others through lively conversation and thoughtful remarks.

Being the positive gracious person that he was, dad compensated for his limited eye sight with remarkable organization skills that enabled him to find what he needed without much trouble.  I remember bringing him items from his closet or desk drawer by following the simple directions that he provided.  His graceful acceptance of a difficult reality was often reflected in his comments and jokes.  While he always talked about how much he loved and enjoyed his work as an agricultural engineer, he used to say that his plan B in case of a career change was to become a pilot.

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My mother played an integral role in making the best out of a difficult situation.  House rules were adjusted in ways that best supported dad’s needs and guaranteed his safety and comfort.  When his weakening optic nerve called for strong lighting, curtains were always drawn in the day time and large chandeliers and strong light bulbs became characteristic of every room.  Doors were never left ajar and coffee tables were eliminated from room centers.  We even had an unspoken rule about dad’s dinner plate so that he did not need to ask many questions or receive much instruction.  Resembling a clock, there was a consistent spot for each food category; protein at ten o’clock, salad at two, carbs at five, and vegetables at seven o’clock.

Dad’s sense of hope and optimism remained strong all his life.  He took two international trips in pursuit of the latest medical research relevant to his case.  He found as much value in receiving treatment as he did in participating in medical trials to benefit others in the future.  My father passed away at the age 83 and I do not recall him ever being sad, frustrated, or bitter about any of the limitations that he regularly dealt with.  As he was leaving to the airport for one of his trips, he bumped into a door that was accidently left ajar.  He sat calmly as we attended to the wound in his forehead and kept reminding us that stress would only further delay us.

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To my father, happiness was a decision that he made, a lens through which he looked at life and what it brought his way.  Joy came from his heart and then manifested itself into the various aspects of his life as well as the lives of those around him.  What was missing from my dad’s life was dwarfed by his focus on what he had, and by his determination to enjoy what is actually present in it.  I am still moved by how my father thought of his deprived vision as an opportunity to listen intently and focus on becoming a more patient person.

My father’s wisdom and valuable life experiences taught me a lot and continue to guide me until this day.  I am inspired by him starting his dream project of a small business at the age of 65 and working on it every day until the age of 82.  I am humbled by his repeated remark, “I learn something new every passing day, and sometimes it is the young uneducated office boy that delivers my daily lesson.”  The thought of my father marinating hope for a cure until the end makes it difficult for me to give up hope or lose enthusiasm about a dream.  My father’s journey with his impairment filled me with empathy towards those who struggle with ailments, and the hereditary nature of the disease is a constant reminder for me to capitalize on what I have and enjoy it to the fullest extent.

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I love and miss you dad!


A Valuable Possession


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Tanya is one of those cars that you connect with immediately. The day I bought her, I was deciding between her and a 2007 navy blue mini cooper. I finally settled on Tanya because the moment I sat in that driver’s seat, I felt an inimitable rush of ease and renewal and also because the mini cooper was way out of my price range. I named her Tanya on impulse. I’ve never met anyone named Tanya, but I imagine if I did, they’d be warm and inviting, and smell like a mixture of a gentle sea breeze and a musty old rug, just like my car. I took one look at that smooth exterior and those faded leather seats and decided that we’d be lifelong besties. Her lifelong though, not mine. If all goes well, I plan on outliving Tanya by a good couple decades.

She supports me in all my endeavors, both the righteous and the risky.  She listened Monday morning as I droned the 400 Statistics formulas I’d hastily scrawled on rumpled flashcards late the night before, and she listened the next day as I angrily cursed myself for failing the same Statistics test I had been so woefully unprepared for. She warmed our nervous butts the night we decided to explore the abandoned houses deep in the woods alongside Highway 55 and, though she knew there was a small chance we’d end the night in police custody, she didn’t try to dissuade us. Tanya, unlike my mother, respects that there are some things you gotta do just so you can look back and high five yourself for doing them.

My car is so much more than just a reliable mode of transportation; she’s the facilitator of dreams. When Cookout finally opened in Cary and my friends and I were in need of a late night milkshake, she welcomed us with open doors. When one friend who shall remain nameless spilled said milkshake on the peeling caramel leather of her backseat ten minutes later, she accepted the apology and moved on. She’s never been one for drama, but that doesn’t always end in her favor.

I’ve spent every day of the past four months telling myself that today, I’ll clean out my car. Last Friday, I finally did. I retrieved 3 empty bottles of chocolate milk, 6 CD cases, 9 pencils, 4 pens, an empty Tupperware with hummus residue that couldn’t have been less than 3 weeks old, the planner I’d long ago convinced myself was lost, a bouquet of dehydrated daisies that I’m pretty sure wasn’t intended for me, and 4 umbrellas. Tanya, next time, I strongly advise you to speak up before it gets this bad- if that was gross for me, I can’t imagine how it must have felt for you. You truly are too good to me.

This isn’t to say there haven’t been hardships, though. She’s been through a lot over the past ten years and, while I’d like to think her previous owner treated her with the grace and humility she so rightfully deserves, the steady groan she emits whenever I make a turn at more than 14 mph hints at a troubled past. Last month, I was driving home and noticed what smelled like burning rubber flowing from somewhere inside. Maybe she was trying to tell me to turn down my music, but I’ll go ahead and chalk it up to PTSD. A lot of what she says is open to interpretation.

Tanya has taught me numerous life lessons, but the most important of them has been to embrace my individuality.  The parking lot of a high school like mine is unwaveringly dull. There are more Mercedes’ than I care to count, and Tanya is often considered vintage in the presence of all the 2013 Jeeps and 2015 Lexus’. She never seems to care, though. She shamelessly flaunts every aspect of her outward appearance, from her smooth black finish to the left taillight she no longer has thanks to that one time I accidentally backed her into a tree. She’s flawed, but in a larger, less logical sense, she’s flawless.

My most valuable possession is so in both monetary worth and sentimentality. Tanya, if you’re reading this, bless you.


Earrings 10

A simple pair of earrings tops the list of my valuable possessions.  It is not the most colorful, the trendiest, or the one with the most craftsmanship of all my earrings.  It is not because it is made of gold either.  It is simply because this pair was given to me by an amazing person who gave me valuable friendship and awesome memories.  She also taught me a lot about life, love, and relationships.

My first meeting with my mother-in-law was in the summer of 1983.  I was eighteen and my family was just starting to know my, then, fiancé’s family.  A deep sense of peace was always around her; she was honest, genuine, and warm.  Over the next eighteen years, until she passed away in early 2002, her role in my life evolved from a respectable role model and a wise adviser to a close friend and trusted confidant.

After getting married, my husband and I were in the habit of visiting my mother-in-law’s house every weekend and spending at least one night with her.  In one of our regular weekend visits, I walked in and she was in her usual elegant appearance as she rested in the family room.  I made a simple comment about the lovely earrings that she was wearing and, without a thought, she started to take them off and insisted that I have them.  I explained how I was just admiring them and that she really did not have to do that but she insisted that I take them as a souvenir; which they have been ever since.

These earrings remind me of her generosity.  Giving was something she obviously enjoyed; she remembered all birthdays and anniversaries and always had gifts prepared in advance.  She dubbed milestones as special occasions and had a way of commemorating them.  A child’s wedding anniversary warranted a thoughtful gift for him and his wife, a grandchild’s first day of school called for pictures and a cake, and when we bought our home she handcrafted a beautiful canvas for the foyer.  My friends loved visiting me at her house and always spoke of her warm reception and lovely company.

My earrings remind me of how selflessness my mother-in-law always was.  On Fridays, she always cooked my husband’s and my favorite meal as we always had dinner at her house.  On Saturdays, she made sure that the meat was super tender and the chicken fell off the bone for her brother who stopped by sometimes.  When she came from Egypt to visit us in America, she was always busy with a long list of loved ones for whom she wanted to buy suitable gifts.  It is refreshing to remember how this list grew longer every day.

My earrings remind me how Aisha Abdelatif did not talk about patience much but consistently demonstrated it.  Having to live with a tracheotomy for more than ten years, I have seen her struggle with breathing problems, chest congestion, and pneumonia, but have no memory of her complaining or losing her lovely smile.  She never spoke ill of someone or made a negative comment.  If disappointed, she would just say, “May God guide all of us.”

I wear the earrings and remember her valuable advice on how to deliver unfavorable news.  “Ease your way into the conversation with regular talk and a nice cheerful introduction then select words carefully to avoid the shock factor.  Make sure to point out solutions or remedies to an unpleasant situation.”  I also remember her compliments on how I looked or what I did, and can honestly say that she was my biggest fan!  As we were leaving to the airport at the end of her visit in the fall of 2001, she held my hand tight and turned around as If to say a final goodbye and said, “I have a nice feeling about you guys and the way things are settling down for you.”

These lovely earrings bring to mind pleasant company, thoughtful gestures, honest advice, and a flood of good memories.  The considerate complements and caring expressions I consistently got from my mother-in-law always echo in my ear and I wish she hears my heart as it says, “I miss you every minute of every day.”

My Biggest Fear



When I first started running five years ago, I was inexperienced to say the least. Half a mile was exhausting, a mile was worse than a prison sentence, and anything more than two miles made me regret exiting my mother’s womb. Despite such an evident aversion of the sport, I decided to try out for my middle school track team and to no one’s surprise, I didn’t make it. They tell you Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team and first of all, I’d like to get that fact-checked. But secondly, that anecdote isn’t nearly as comforting as some would think. Bouncing back from the loss, my mom recommended that I sign up and train for a half marathon that was three months away and my naïve, seventh grade self excitedly agreed to the challenge. I printed out a training plan and followed it diligently, and come race day, I earned second place in my age group. When eighth grade rolled around, I tried out for the track team again and this time, I did make it. And while a lot of people are scared of sharks or spiders or getting buried alive, I came to realize that what I fear most is stagnancy.

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At this day and age, settling for mediocrity has become second nature. When I cut corners in my classes in exchange for more free time that I can spend watching a movie or scrolling through Twitter yet again, I’m settling. When I let deadlines get the best of me and make excuses for how busy I am, I’m settling. When I knowingly and deliberately waste my time, it loses its value altogether, and I’m settling. What’s alarming is that I recognize that this is an issue, yet it continues to happen. Even more alarming, however, are the people who don’t realize that the obsession with maintaining a Snapchat streak or choosing the perfect Instagram filter is, however simple, a form of settling. It’s settling for superficiality over substance, and it has become the new norm.

I tend to take rejection personally. When scholarship interviewers don’t select me, I no longer want to end up at their schools. If they don’t recognize my hard work and talent, why should I validate their prestige and reputation? On a more positive note, rejection also inspires action. When my coach didn’t pick me, I couldn’t wait to prove him wrong. If he had allowed me to barely skim through and make the team, I wouldn’t take running half as seriously as I do and I would have never risen to the challenge. I thought myself incapable of completing a half marathon until I felt the need to prove that I could. Though disheartening, rejection often combats stagnancy.

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Inadequacy and dismissal are not necessary steps to achievement, though. One of the easiest ways to prevent stagnancy is to find passion. Anything that incites curiosity or excitement is bound to inspire action, and it’s hard to set aside or step away from a subject that captivates. The hardest part of finding a passion is identifying it. What I have found especially uplifting is that passion and productivity don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Working with kids, for example, is an activity that I find both enjoyable and meaningful. For some, passion can be found in art; for others, in travel.  It won’t be found scrolling through Instagram, or by winging a test. Similarly, stagnancy won’t be defeated by lying on the couch or watching another episode on Netflix. Preventing stagnancy means learning to live beyond the confines of a hollow, inescapable reality and using disappointment as motivation.


Amena Mama

Limited or lack of ability is what I fear the most at this point in my life.  I believe that we were each created to fill a certain void and accomplish specific goals that best match our respective abilities.  The world as I see it becomes a better place when our individual efforts intertwine and take everyone a step forward.  My biggest fear then becomes any issue that may get in the way of my contribution to this magnificent big picture.

Reading glasses are the mildest indicators of how physical abilities change with age, curbing what we can do in certain ways.  I look ahead and hope to continue caring for myself and for those around me for as long as I live.  Things seem a bit brighter when I think that every passing year should also bring more wisdom and added experience.  My body may need to slow down but I am determined to maintain an active mind and a vibrant heart; and that is quite comforting.

Even scary physical challenges and limitations can be blessings in disguise.  Looking back on my brush with cancer a few years ago, I can see how the experience added a lot of value to every passing moment, and shed a new light on various relationships.  My energy may have been reduced, but I enjoyed deeper thoughts and stronger emotions nonetheless.

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My tricky memory and occasional need to focus on one task at a time are simple reminders of how lucky I am to maintain strong mental faculties.  I fear a time that inhibits my ability to connect with my surroundings and contribute to them.  As I train myself to maintain a mild temperament and a positive disposition, I pray that they become constant habits and natural spontaneities in the years to come.

Psychological limitations are also daunting to me.  Emotional exhaustion shuts me down and getting too tired of a situation or too puzzled by a dilemma can significantly reduce my drive and compromise my focus.  It helps me when I counter the negativity that drains the energy with a positive attitude that inspires and motivates.  Faith prompts me to remain optimistic, and good company minimizes distractions and helps me with catching and correcting mistakes.

I consider myself privileged, and with that comes a fear of apathy, laziness, and selfishness as they make life shallow and worthless.  I hope to always remain connected with others, sharing their joy and feeling their pain.  I also vow to keep busy and hopeful because people tend to be wasteful when they get bored and act foolishly when they feel desperate; two monsters I work to evade.

Amena Tahrir

My ultimate fear is that of restrictions on my freedoms.  With a heavy heart, I think of my loved ones living under the ruthless coup that overtook Egypt more than two years ago.  Some voices, yearning to speak the truth, are permanently silenced as the oppressive regime kills without hesitation.  Other voices speaking the truth, seeking freedom, demanding equality and striving for justice are muffled by prison sentences, torture, and intimidation.  I fear a day when such basic rights are no longer among the goals that I have accomplished by moving to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The suffering of my loved ones did not seem too far away when the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Wednesday 02/24/2016 calling on the State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.  My heart sank as I asked myself, “Will there come a day when I will have to hide my respect and admiration for those who taught me most of what I know?”  “Will I need to dodge the question if asked about the foundation of my values and the source of my work ethic?”  “Will I see the day when hate and ignorance intimidate my thoughts and censorship restricts my expression?”







1 Year


It has been a year 3

Reminders come frequently. They come when I’m out with my friends and I get the prayer notification on my phone. They come when I catch myself halfway through saying something I know I shouldn’t be. They come as a text from my mom when I’m not home two minutes after curfew. And last February, I got one in the form of a phone call.

I remember February 10th because, looking back, the triviality of my worries shocks me. I had a Spanish 3 quiz to study for. I hadn’t talked to my sister in a while. My friends and I were trying to decide where to go to lunch the next day. Surah Al-Hadid describes the reality of the transient life of this world. Several descriptive words are used to reveal to us its true nature. Allah warns us to remember that the life of this world is nothing but a “deceptive enjoyment,” and that was something I had to be reminded of.

It has been a year 4

As Muslims, our every action has a purpose. The underlying call for social justice that accompanies Islam is not something that should be easily forgotten, and though unbearable sadness came along with the loss of Deah, Yusor, and Razan, so has unprecedented productivity. Countless events aimed at raising money for the homeless, refugees, or scholarship funds have been founded in their names. In just a few months, I’ve watched the Light House undergo an incredible transformation. With them in mind, it seems as if anything can be done. Losing them reminded me that this life is fleeting, and there are far more important things to be living for and worrying about than the proper conjugation of “nadar.”

It has been a year 10

There’s a hadith that says, “Live in such a way that if someone spoke badly of you, no one would believe it,” and Our Three Winners embodied this concept through and through. Countless acts committed on behalf of Deah, Yusor, and Razan have been popping up all over the internet in remembrance of them, and however small, memories like the time Deah stayed up late in the library to help one of his peers understand a concept, or when Yusor encouraged Muslim women to hold on tightly to their identities when times get rough via Twitter, or how Razan used her talent as an artist to raise money for Palestine, remind us of the genuine compassion that these three individuals let guide their lives. I didn’t know any of the victims especially well, but I remember that the night of Deah’s death, I had emailed him asking for details on the dates of the upcoming trip to Turkey. After hearing of my interest in journalism, he had raised the possibility of me joining the group and documenting the trip through pictures and blogs. Deah had a way of making anyone, even an under qualified seventeen-year-old, feel valued and appreciated, and that’s not something I will soon forget.

It has been a year 6

Deah, Yusor, and Razan were cornerstones of our community, and, a year later, are more present in spirit than ever before. Though heavy hearted, I am forever grateful to them for allowing me to witness the inspiration that such young lives can bring into a context plagued with social struggles, and for the kind of comfort that comes from community solidarity in such difficult times. I am proud to have known Deah, Yusor, and Razan, 3 young individuals who serve as a daily reminder of the kind of character we should all be working towards.


In the fall of 2005, I moved to the Triangle area to work as the principal of the Islamic school where Yusor and Razan were seventh and fifth grade students.  The academics were not the only area they excelled in.  They were actively involved in every service or fundraising activity the school sponsored, and in community events and social gatherings, I was always impressed by their good manners and the lovely smiles that never left their faces.

Deah had already graduated from the Islamic school, but I got to know him as a friend of my sons and also through several initiatives and charity events that he led in collaboration with the Islamic Association of Raleigh and the Muslim Student Association at NC State University.  Deah, too, had a lovely smile that could fill up a room.  He, too, had remarkable manners and a demeanor that was simply uplifting.

It has been a year 1

The years have gone by, and today I find myself thinking of the school principal who has learned from her students Yusor and Razan a lot more than she could have ever taught them.  I also reflect as an aunt who feels fortunate to have crossed paths with Deah Barakat.

To these three lovely souls I say, you taught me that some people live long lives and others live wide ones.  Your years in this world were not long but they were definitely full.  You filled them with love, life, passion, action, achievement, and pleasant memories.

Deah, Yusor, and Razan, because of you, I can see how our physical presence has little to do with how we contribute to the lives of others.  While you were taken from us a year ago, you continue to inspire service projects, community gatherings, interfaith events, and a host of initiatives.  Deah, your dream of serving the refugees has reached far beyond what you had in mind for one year.


We want you to know that evil may have snatched you away, but it could not take away our love, our hopes, or our dreams.  We will not let hate and bigotry affect our good will or defeat the peace within.

If you were here, you would be proud to see how your parents have been grieving ever so gracefully while demonstrating patience and acceptance.  You would be pleased by how your siblings assert love and tolerance while reaching out to serve and educate.  You would be satisfied with how your loved ones band together and continue to push through.

It has been a year 8

I find solace in thinking of Judgment Day when each person will be held accountable for their actions and true justice prevails.

It is comforting to think of the Afterlife and how in Heaven people are united with their loved ones in eternal happiness.

There is great consolation in thinking that you are now in God’s hands and in His mercy.

Deah, Yusor, and Razan, I think of you and feel an urge to work hard so that I could answer the persisting question, “what am I leaving behind?”

Dolce & Gabbana



Dolce and Gabbana, a luxury fashion brand commonly recognized for its sleek styles and shock-inducing price tags, recently released a conservative, hijabi-friendly line of clothing, featuring loose, full-length dresses with long sleeves and headscarves, targeting Muslim shoppers in the Middle East. Muslim women have been gaining traction in the fashion industry for a while now, as proven by H&M’s September ad campaign featuring a hijabi model and DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger and Oscar de la Renta all producing clothing lines targeting the Muslim market, and every bit of progress is uplifting. Companies that make a conscious effort to be inclusive towards Muslims, especially at a time where there’s so much hatred and misunderstanding concerning Islam, are companies that I believe deserve recognition and support.

When I started wearing the hijab, finding conservative yet trendy clothes was not as big a challenge as I’d expected. Not only were vibrant maxi skirts and dresses easy to come by, but there was also no shortage of inspiration in how to style my outfits or scarves, thanks to the prevalence of fashion-conscious hijabi stylists and bloggers that can be found all over sites like Instagram and Youtube. These women have spent years proving to the world that it’s not necessary to compromise one’s personal style in pursuit of faith; the two can coincide. D&G’s new release is frustrating, however, in that the brand seems to be reaping far more credit for bringing style to the Muslim world than it deserves. Women like Summer Albarcha of Hipster Hijabis, or brands like Austere Attire and Haute Hijab are trendy, affordable, and conservative, yet receive little recognition for doing far more than D&G. These brands aren’t releasing a single, glorified line of Abayas; their entire collections are based on the premise of modest fashion.


However, these styles haven’t always been so accessible. When my sister started wearing the hijab sixeen years ago, a lot of her skirts were home-made, with trips to the fabric store and my mom’s expertise at the sewing machine put to good use. Progress in the field of conservative fashion is undeniable, and I appreciate Dolce and Gabbana’s effort to recognize the fact that Muslim women can be as relatable and fashion-conscious as anyone else. Personally, I put a lot of pride into maintaining an up-to-trend yet conservative appearance and it’s nice to feel supported and acknowledged by such renowned designers. Promoting Islam in a positive, relatable light contrasts with mainstream media’s consistently negative coverage of the faith tradition and ceaseless efforts to perpetuate of an “us vs. them” ideology. Promoting inclusivity within the fashion industry is a welcome step towards inclusivity elsewhere, and allows Muslims to feel like they’re an audience whose voice is finally being heard, rather than silenced.

When I first heard news of the line’s release, excited was an understatement. I finally felt represented, and by as distinguished a company as Dolce and Gabbana, no less! But after some thought, I realized that I look forward to the day when this becomes a regularity, when a clothing line targeting the Muslim market, valued internationally at 96 billion dollars, doesn’t make headlines for weeks, when Muslims playing as significant a part in the fashion industry as anyone else is no longer considered breaking news.


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News of Dolce and Gabbana’s collection for the Arab World taught me more about myself than I ever thought a casual news announcement would.

At first, I shrugged it off as a timely publicity stunt aiming to bring attention to the upcoming spring collection by using the recent media hype on Islam and Muslims.  I expected to see improvised outfits that remotely, if at all, resembled the proper Islamic attire for women, so I did not even bother to check it out.

I have to admit that the first thoughts that came to my mind were, “What would two western designers know about Islamic traditions? How much regard would they have for such details? And why would they target a market that could potentially put their brand at risk?”

Then, another newsflash about the collection came across and still did not get much of my attention, but my reaction to it did.  I paused at my skepticism of the fashion designers’ intentions and goals while I am one who believes that judgment is not my business.  I was surprised that I fell into the “us” versus “them” trap when I always work to bring people together.  I also questioned the fashion house’s ability for proper research and adequate representation.  Graceful, inclusive, and positive sum up the attitude that I choose to maintain, so I wondered what led me to shut down the way I did.

It is possible that the accusatory, divisive, or sarcastic nature of common talk about Islam and Muslims lately has resulted in a defensive reaction on my part.  I did not want something that is so meaningful to me to become a topic of contentious debates and spiteful remarks.  I already spend a lot more time explaining and justifying differences than exploring commonalities.  The need to expose lies and refute misconceptions clearly supersedes reflections upon remarkable expressions and symbolic actions.

It is also possible that I felt apprehensive about the fashion house taking liberties with a concept that is so meaningful to me, especially that some of the liberties that are commonly taken at the present time go far from the guidelines set by the Quran and the Prophet’s traditions.  It is not that I want to impose my views on others. It is simply that when an issue is linked to the Quran and its teachings, I believe that accurate information from credible sources has to be shared and details should be clarified before we each step back and continue to make individual choices and mind our own.

The Islamic attire for women is referenced twice in the Qur’an, one time as a head cover that extends to also hide the neckline or the chest, and another time as a garb that reaches as close to the ground as possible.  Islamic traditions complement this general description by stating that while the face and the hands can be optional, a woman’s appearance is always natural and simple.  Her attire is to cover the whole body in a way that is not form fitting, transparent, or flamboyant.

So I finally came around to browsing the Abaya Collection, and regardless of how closely my definition of simple, natural, form fitting, transparent, or flamboyant aligns with that of Dolce and Gabbana’s production, I noticed commendable effort to follow the guidelines offered by the tradition.  I saw a hand extending to the “other” with consideration for important concepts.

This experience served as a cautionary reminder that a better tomorrow would not allow us today to get impatient, exclusive, or judgmental.




What’s that thing on your head?


Amena and Shereen 4  Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Being a hijabi brings an element of unfamiliarity to my outward appearance that prompts a lot of questions. However trivial some may seem, I make an effort to answer all questions to the best of my ability and decided to dedicate a blog post to a few of the questions I’ve received over the past year and a half.

  • What’s that thing on your head?

This is the most basic question I receive, and also the one that I’m asked most often. The hijab as an article is just a head cover, but it represents an entire lifestyle. Women wear the hijab to project an image of modesty and self-respect, as well as to identify as Muslim everywhere they go. The hijab is a constant reminder of one’s commitment to Islam. Although the hijab is sometimes seen and depicted by non-Muslims as a tool of oppression, in reality it is the opposite. The hijab empowers women to embrace their faith, and even serves as a tool for feminism by encouraging people to focus on a woman’s character, personality, and words before noticing her appearance.

  • How many of hijabs do you have?

I usually respond to this question with a question. How many shirts do you have? See, you’ve probably never counted. The hijab is another article of clothing, and like any article of clothing, you accumulate more over time.  However, if you’d really like to know, I’d say I have somewhere in the 30’s.

  • If you shaved your head bald, would you still have to wear it?

Covering just your hair is not the most significant element of the hijab. It’s the part that stands out the most, but there’s more to the hijab than just a scarf.  The hijab is about conveying the idea that one’s personal image isn’t up for judgment. You can’t see my hair, but you also shouldn’t be able to tell whether I’m fat or skinny, if I have nice legs, or whether I’ve gained weight recently. I don’t want to be reduced to just “pretty,” I want people to recognize that I have thoughts and ideas worth sharing, and that the things I say are more important than the way I look.

  • Do you shower with it on?

No, I do not wear my hijab in the shower. That would be uncomfortable, soggy, and just all-around unnecessary. There’s really not much else to say.

  • Do you ever get tired of wearing it?

Honestly, yes. Whenever I’m having a good hair day, or on the days when I just got a haircut and want nothing more than to show off my new layers to the world, I have to remind myself that it’s all about priorities. Does my desire to get a couple of compliments outweigh my desire to maintain this image? Almost always, the answer is no.

  • Wait, so you can never take it off?

There are two ways to answer this question. If you’re asking about this hijab specifically, then my answer is probably going to come across as a little sarcastic. You saw me yesterday, wearing a scarf of a completely different color. Utilizing basic critical thinking, you should be able to realize that I would have to take that one off in order to put on a different one, but ignoring that minor detail, yes. I can take it off around girls and members of my immediate family. Basically, anyone that I can’t get married to religiously can see my hair. However, if you’re asking whether I can ever stop wearing the hijab altogether, the answer is also yes. I can choose to stop wearing it if I no longer see the value in it. Much like putting on the hijab, taking it off is a personal choice.


Amena and Shereen and Aisha

“What does your appearance signify?”  A question that could have as many answers as the times it is asked.  Over the past 36 years, I have responded to numerous inquiries about the way I dress, first in Egypt then in America since moving here in 1993.  As I think of my experience, I am intrigued by how my perception of my Muslim attire has evolved over the years.

December of 1979 stands out in my memory as the point when I decided to follow the Islamic guidelines for women’s dress.  I was fourteen, and had developed an interest in understanding the Quran and practicing the religion for a little over a year at that time.  It is truly fortunate that my teachers and mentors have all understood and explained Islam for what it really is, a way of life.  The Quran is consistently referenced as the constitution for our lives, and the details of Islamic practices are given as much attention as the major principles.

Dressing in the Muslim attire was not a big decision, and it was not separate from several other choices that I made at that time such as timely performance of the five daily prayers and active involvement in charity organizations in my area.  These were personal decisions that paid little or no attention to how others would perceive or react to them.  The Quran painted for me a beautiful and detailed picture of what a purposeful and rewarding life is like, and the appearance represented a small piece of a puzzle that may not do much by itself, but without which the picture remains incomplete.

As I grew up, I started to realize how many people around me viewed Islamic practices only as part of social customs and cultural traditions.  Religious sermons were necessary introductions to formal marriage proceedings, and Quran recitations were more associated with funeral services than anything else.  I hoped for my appearance to serve as a reminder of the comprehensive, structured, and consistent lifestyle of the practicing Muslim.  Motivated by love and care, I set out to gain religious information, then find ways to highlight deep evocative perceptions of beliefs and practices.

The move to America brought about the duties of a teacher and the responsibilities of a change agent.  My Muslim dress led to a sense of representation, and before long, my look put me face-to-face with my role as an ambassador who is dedicated to asserting the admirable role and the honorable status of women in Islam.  In my opinion, appearance guidelines in Islam place more responsibility and set higher expectations of confidence and courage for females than their male counterparts.  After all, Muslim women are the ones constantly demonstrating their identity, even at the risk of possible negativity or criticism.

Then came 9/11, which put me, and many others, on the defensive as the whole religious tradition fell victim to blind generalizations and baseless claims.  Curiosity was no longer the main reason for people to ask questions and engage in discussions.  In some situations, the Islamic attire seems to raise suspicions, aggravate ignorance, provoke animosity, or even instigate aggression.  I started to feel responsible to speak for my faith tradition in the best way that I can, broadening my knowledge base and diversifying the ways in which I present it as I answer questions and refute false claims.

A deep sense of responsibility made it impossible to get scared, step back, or even feel offended.  Islam is worthy of accurate representation, and my community is worthy of learning the truth.  In approaching people and situations, my face as they see it symbolizes the mind and senses that are ready to engage in constructive efforts, and my hands symbolize all my faculties as they are available to build, serve, and collaborate.

My Islamic attire is a lot more than a scarf or a head cover; it represents who I am and clearly states the focus of my life.  Not unlike a loyal sports fan or students proud of their alma mater, my dress signifies a connection of love, commitment, gratitude, and a lasting bond that shapes my perceptions and plans.

Déjà Vu


Little Hijabi

I think I speak for most American Muslims when I say that déjà vu is not an unfamiliar feeling. After 9/11, we were devastated to know that the perpetrators declared their allegiance to Allah while murdering thousands of people. After the repeated terrorist attacks performed on behalf of ISIS, we have been consistently struck by the same sense of frustration and disgust. And again after last month’s Paris attacks. Now, after last week’s San Bernardino attack, that same feeling has returned, and before the last incident has even had a chance to fade out of news cycles.

One of my friends recently asked me how I feel about the reference to ISIS as the “Islamic State,” and I’d like to answer his question with the following analogy: ISIS is to Islam as the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church are to Christianity. Members of each group identify as followers of a certain faith, but have abandoned religious guidance and replaced it with their own interpretations, thus distorting the peaceful messages of said religions. Any text can be subject to different understandings that depend on the reader’s personal disposition. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and nearly 1.6 billion of these Muslims have never planned, committed, or supported a terrorist attack. As a Muslim, I feel seriously misrepresented by how I am now placed under the same category as a terrorist group like ISIS. Being unjustifiably isolated from the rest of the American population reminds me of an American History lesson that teachers have always been quick to condemn: the discrimination against particular identity groups like Japanese Americans during WWII. Why does it feel as if history is repeating itself?

This year’s republican presidential candidates have taken notice of the fact that denouncing Muslims as terrorists does good things to their poll numbers. Donald Trump, who is currently leading republican polls by over ten points, was quoted in an interview by the New Yorker in saying, “The Quran is very interesting. A lot of people say it teaches love … But there’s something there that teaches some very negative vibe … Now I don’t know if that’s from the Quran. I don’t know if that’s from someplace else. But there’s tremendous hatred out there that I’ve never seen anything like it.” Right wing politicians are now primarily concerned with rallying political support by animating xenophobia against a Muslim other than that which is threatening their civilization and in that effort, they are succeeding.

I believe that the already-widespread fear and distrust towards Muslims that is on the rise is largely due to media irresponsibility. Outlets like Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN have facilitated the release of irresponsible, insistent, and inflammatory coverage of the San Bernardino attack and previous ones, providing first-hand accounts that perpetuate the notion that “no Muslim can be trusted.” In an interview with New York Daily News, the landlord of the couple who carried out the San Bernardino shooting spoke of Syed Farook by saying, “There were no red flags anywhere in his application.” The insinuation that your typical Muslim community members are all capable of successfully hiding such a barbaric side of themselves is being wrongfully emphasized and will, without a doubt, have adverse effects on the inclusive, friendly image of Islam that the majority of Muslims work so hard to project.  I myself have already observed these results first-hand.

A few nights ago at the gym, I made eye-contact with a man that I see regularly. He was walking the track, and the woman in front of me had just smiled in his direction, and was immediately smiled back at in return. When I saw his familiar face, I too smiled in his direction, and did not expect to watch his face fall into a disgusted scowl in response. As simple as this exchange was, it confirmed the fact that these misleading accounts are being taken seriously by viewers everywhere, and my town is no different. Furthermore, the effects of Islamophobia are not always as minute as in this scenario, as proven by the Muslim taxi driver that was shot in Pittsburgh, the gun-toting protestors that held a demonstration outside of a mosque in Irving, Texas, and the Muslim high school student who was instructed by her parents to stop wearing the hijab for fear that it would generate possible harassment or attack, all of which have occurred within the past month. The Anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States is real and it is growing, a reality that can no longer be denied or overlooked. Muslims, politicians, and unaffected bystanders alike, all share the responsibility of working towards an inclusive America, an America that recognizes hate speech and bigotry for what they are regardless of who speaks them, an America that gives unbiased media coverage of terrorist attacks despite the identity of whoever stands behind the trigger.



One question I have been asked frequently in recent years seems to stir more emotions and provoke more thoughts than any other.  “How do you feel when violent crimes are claimed to be committed in the name of Islam, or carried out by individuals born in the Muslim faith?

In the wake of such tragedies, five distinct feelings seem prominent in the sea of emotions that engulfs my heart: a sense of loss, sadness, gratitude, hope, and resolve.

I mourn the loss of innocent lives, all lives, and the destruction of property anywhere and everywhere.  As an integral part of society, Muslims face as much risk as anyone else but not many people seem aware of that.  We suddenly have to be on the defensive as we deal with stereotyping and suspicion.  People are not the same after watching havoc and bloodshed.  Places are altered, having been marked by painful memories.  Peace of mind is replaced with fear, accusatory looks replace casual smiles, and the flow of life is tainted by stress and disrupted by apprehension.  A lot of time and energy are also wasted as we attempt to make sense of irrational behavior or understand lunacy.

I pity those who are so consumed by anger that they lash out and harm indiscriminately.  They end up hurting the very people they say they are defending.  They miss out on the true peace and deep comfort that result from serving the real causes of this great religion which are love, care, and human solidarity.  The Quran teaches that “Whoever kills an innocent person, it is as if he has killed all of humanity.” 5:32 Even in warfare, Prophet Mohammad instructs that no harm should extend to civilians or their property, not even plants or livestock.  He promotes a level of respect that includes all forms of life.  When Muslims have limited knowledge and shallow understanding of their own tradition, they become easy prey to manipulation or brainwashing.

Instead of balanced coverage and accurate portrayal of Muslims, the media machine shamelessly manipulates the public in its wild pursuit of advertising sponsors and competitive ratings.  It is sad how ignorance has a way to affirm lies, spread fallacies, and make blind generalizations.  It is also unfortunate how a whole industry is blind to the fact that it is dominated by bias and double standards.  It is disappointing that some people find professional success or personal satisfaction in telling half-truths, presenting selective information, or making wild accusations and hurtful statements.

I feel grateful for an understanding of Islam that allows me to enjoy every minute of every day in belief and practice.  Tragedy reminds me how fortunate they are, those who have the knowledge that separates fact from fib, and the ability to identify credible information and reliable resources.  Misguided thoughts and hurtful actions make me think of my social circles and feel grateful for thoughtful questions and purposeful discussions.  I feel fortunate for a work environment that is beyond respectful and supportive.  I also appreciate how civilized my neighbors are, even the ones who choose not to interact.  My life in America has opened my mind and heart to others as we connect through interfaith circles and learn about each other’s traditions.

A tight grip on optimism seems necessary in facing the ugly mix of ignorance and anger.  I hope that Muslims will be motivated to learn more about their religion in order to shield themselves from confusion or manipulation.  Added knowledge and deeper understanding allow for truthful representation and the sharing of accurate information.  The day will come when people realize that no one person or group can represent an entire faith tradition and that individual actions have to ultimately be measured against the standard rather than becoming the standard themselves.  Even those who prefer mud-slinging; they will realize that it can happen both ways but would yield no winners.  I look forward to a day when the lives of average Muslims like myself, with their hard work and contributions to society, are worthy of valuable airtime.  I have no doubt that advocating love and peace will ultimately win over hate and violence.

A sense of duty seems inescapable through all that pain.  I feel responsible to represent Islam as I believe it really is, a religion that values all lives and condemns all violence against the innocent.  I am on a mission to promote true Islam, a religion where individuals are not supposed to judge others as they know that judgment lies only in the hands of the Creator.  “God is the one who knows what is in the hearts” Quran 39:7 I aim to always model the good character and honorable behaviors that Islam promotes.  One of my goals is bringing attention to how Islam sometimes gets reduced to checklists of dos and don’ts, and when we do that, we restrict the valuable impact that spiritual experiences can have on our lives and limit their possible manifestations into our actions.

So what is a good resolution?  I believe it benefits everyone to learn more about Islam, the context of religious text, the reasoning behind rules, the practical applications of principles, and spiritual value of religious practices.  This will safeguard Muslims against manipulation and trickery.  They will enjoy the meaningful experience of a comprehensive way of life.  Non-Muslims would not be so easily influenced by sensational publicity.  They will ask the right questions, make informed decisions, and quickly realize how any text can be taken out of context and that any words can be twisted away from their true meaning.  People will connect as humans first, and respect will dominate.  Communities will thrive as people trust each other and move forward.  Peace will prevail and love will win it all.