What would I want you to know about me? I’m an emotional person, sometimes my emotions bother me, and it shows, so whatever I’m going through, those around me go through it as well. I’m compassionate, I cry easily. I think this is good, but not always. It sometimes interferes, especially when I love someone very much and I know they’re suffering, it hurts me very much, it’s almost as though it was happening to me. I get upset very easily, this is a bad trait, but I also forgive very easily. I’m working on my patience, that’s my greatest challenge right now. I’m a work in progress. I love children, and people in general, people who treat me well, I care for them, and those who treat me badly I just avoid them, I don’t hate them.
I’m now teaching English at the Arabic school, most of the time I’m trying to educate myself, through instructional videos, so I can incorporate more technology in the classroom and I can make my classes more interactive, more student-centered, rather than having me lecturing and the students simply having to absorb my knowledge. Kids don’t like traditional classroom teaching styles, it’s boring. It’s better for them to participate more. I’m also trying to raise my daughter, and I’m learning to be a better parent as she grows. Whatever my parents did to raise me isn’t popular any more, so I’m learning, just like she is. The challenges of raising a Muslim child in a non-Muslim society are of course on top of that, so that’s big.
Libya isn’t a healthy environment right now, but if it were, I believe it would be slightly easier to raise a Muslim child there. Right now at home we have to correct all the small things that she learns outside. Alhamdulillah (thank God)I like how she picks things up. For example, she was in a group and they were asked to draw something about the holidays, and everybody drew about Christmas, and she did the same. When we came home I didn’t make a big fuss about it, but I asked her when she saw a decorated Christmas tree at home, because we don’t do that. She said “Yeah, but what do we have?” so I told her we have Eid. And she said “Oh, ok, so what am I going to draw?” and I reminded her about what we do, how we go out, and meet family and friends, and she receives presents. So the next time she went to class, she had to draw a celebration, and she said she would draw Eid. The teacher didn’t know what it was, so she came to me and asked me how you say Eid in Serbian, and I told her Bajram, and she was so proud, she said to her teacher, from the door, and everyone could hear her “Yes, we don’t have Christmas, we have Bajram” and I was laughing. She’s really expressive. She doesn’t know that there might be something uncomfortable about being so open about our beliefs. I want her to be proud, but I don’t want her to suffer the consequences.[Talk about double consciousness!] Sometimes it’s daily issues, sometimes it’s more complex things, but we’re trying and adjusting as we need to.
In Novi Sad, where we live, there are a lot of Libyans, so there are quite a few Muslims around, but in general, there aren’t many Muslims. And when you wear hijab (headscarf) you are noticeable in Serbia. Alhamdullah, in Belgrade there are a lot of Arabs, not just Libyans, you don’t stand out a lot as a hijabi (someone who wears the headscarf), but in Novi Sad you do. Sometimes I’ll be walking around forgetting that I have it on and wonder why people are staring at me, and then I remember it’s because of the hijab. I feel like it’s a silent dawa (invitation). Recently I came across a blind person, they couldn’t see that I was wearing hijab, but she could feel that there was a presence near her, and she asked if I could help her to get onto the bus. I don’t know why or how, but the talk somehow went onto the signs of the Last Hour, so she asked me what Church I belonged to, and I told her I don’t belong to any Church, I’m a Muslim. She was very surprised and told me that her husband is Catholic and she’s a Jehova’s Witness, and she believes that it doesn’t matter how we practice, we all belong to the same God. Subhan Allah (God be praised), when we parted she said a lot of blessings to me, and I thought “Look at that, when Allah wants you to feel ok about yourself, He will send you someone, even from another faith to tell you that you’re ok.” In Yugoslavia, Novi Sad is one of the most multicultural places, it has more than thirty nations represented in it, I don’t know how many religions, I think almost all. It’s a big mix.
When people allow themselves to get to know you, they realize “Oh you’re such a nice person, you’re so easy to talk to or to relate to, you’re the first Muslim that I ever talked to… you’re really not that scary!” I’m like well… we’re trying not to be scary. For example, when I go to my dentist, she always locks the door, so I feel comfortable taking off my hijab, and as soon as I do she feels relieved, I asked her why and she said “well you know, I have this idea that women are suppressed, and all that” so I told her “nobody is telling us, we’re just obeying Allah’s command.” I told her about miswak (a wooden toothbrush), and how Muslims have been brushing their teeth with it for centuries, and in the Middle Ages people used to say when they saw Muslims using it “Look, here come the Arabs, they’re sharpening their teeth so they can eat you,” and all it was is miswaq.
There are a couple of regrets I can think of, off the top of my head. The earliest one is probably in my studies, I wish I decided earlier on that what I was taking wasn’t for me, instead of almost finishing the program and then switching. I found some subjects very hard, but I kept studying and pushing forward, but the more I did the more it felt like a chore, I wasn’t into it any more, I lost my passion for it, and when I got to the practicum I realized that I wasn’t even applying what I was studying, it was very different in the field from what we were learning in books, I didn’t do what I thought I was supposed to, I didn’t get the feedback I longed for, so I simply switched to languages, because languages are easy for me, alhamdulillah. Later on in life, I regret complaining so much about having to take care of my mother in law. It was hard, but I think I ruined some of my ajr (credit, blessing) by complaining, I should have just done it and taken it. It’s better to clear your heart and get, with pure intention, the result of the work and the reward, but I feel I was destroying the reward with my complaining. Then, I regret that I was in such a state of fight with myself, hard, and stubborn with my family when I first converted to Islam, because I think I put them off. After that I softened, but I think it’s too late.
When you’re married to an Arab, you don’t just marry your husband, you marry the whole family. I thought they would have to adjust to me, but I had to learn that I had to adjust, too. For example, when you want to go out, they need to know where I go, because they are responsible for you if your husband isn’t around. That was hard for me. I guess I was a rebel without a cause. When you get married to someone from a different culture, you each bring your values to the relationship, and it’s up to you how you make it work. With others, if they see that you have a harmonious relationship, they will try to calm down and not be that harsh, but sometimes you have hard cookies, I’ve had friends who had a really hard time, and I didn’t understand why they were being so harsh, but then I realized that if they didn’t act that way, they wouldn’t have any say at all in the marriage or in any other situation. If you show that you have spine, you have to keep that strong image, even if or when you’re not actually feeling very strong at all. Inshallah (God willing), when you’re an adult, you know what you want, and you know how to communicate, people will understand what you want and you can come to a compromise, but if everyone is stuck in their own ways nothing will come out of it.
I think I was most surprised that I would be ok with not being able to have my own biological child. I always thought I would have children, I always loved children, and it just never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t have any of my own, it was my dream since I was six years old, I thought I would have two or three of my own and another one or two adopted ones. So what surprised me wasn’t so much that I couldn’t have kids, but that I was ok with not being able to have them. I was grieving the fact that I was ok with this. Hana filled this gap, and I really believe that she’s mine, and what surprised me is that you can love a child that didn’t come from your womb, as though it had. When I talk about her, I say my Hana, and that’s what I feel. Another thing that surprised me is how homesick I was of Serbia, but also how strong I was to keep on going every day. You know, with the International group, they all go through the same struggle like you, and you see that if they can do it, I can too. That was another surprise.
When things get hard I always say “This too shall pass” I always think that when difficult times come, the good will also come in the same hand. When things are good, maybe I’m a bit on the pessimist side. I try to be realistic, when things are good I pinch myself because I know a big imtihan (exam, test) is coming. I’m not afraid, I just try to prepare myself. I think you absorb things a bit better this way.
What do you value most in friendship?
Honesty, first, and of course kindness, and mutual desire to work on and nurture the friendship, it has to go both ways. But first of all honesty, and knowing how to keep a secret, not betraying that amana (trust). I can come to you and drink a cup of coffee and talk about whatever, and it stays between us, and Allah (God, glorified and praised).
What was the best advice you were ever given?
I’m going to have to mention my friend Fauzia from Janzour, Libya. She told me “Don’t tell people what you don’t want to hear about yourself, and if you cannot tie your tongue, tie your legs.” This means that if you can’t stop talking, the best thing is not to go out too much, where you might be tempted to talk. In Libyan it’s “Kana ma tigdreesh turbty lisaanek, urbty rijlayk.” I loved this, because it’s true. Whatever hurt me, it always came from my mouth, it started from me and did the rounds and came back to me, and hurt me, so this piece of advice was really masha Allah (worthy of praise by Allah).
What are the most decisive moments in your life?
The most decisive moment that comes to mind is deciding to become a Muslim, deciding to wear hijab, to come to live in a Muslim country, and to marry an Arab. There were a lot of defining moments, but maybe these are at a whole different level. I feel that they totally directed my life to a 180 degree course, especially in the last sixteen years.
Do you think that there’s a recipe for the perfect life?
I wouldn’t say there’s one unique recipe for life. I believe everyone has to try to find their inner peace and calm and find things that make you happy. We should all try to better ourselves. I found that doing good things for people, not just with money, just doing something good helps: when you see that happiness in someone else, it makes you feel so good inside. I wouldn’t say it’s a recipe for life, but a way to better myself, still, it’s a work in progress. I’m trying every day, sometimes it’s better than others. And try to live in accordance with Allah’s laws, because I know when I don’t, I feel the effect, and I know it comes from me, I did that to myself.
How would you like to be remembered?
I would like people to remember that I was trying to please God, and that I wasn’t a weirdo. I had different stages in life, alhamdulillah (praise God) I found my path. But what I want them to remember is that I was just trying to please God and be a good human being, not just a good Muslim, but really, a good human being.
What do you think would be the single most valuable contribution to humanity?
I wish we were able to provide a more peaceful and stable world for future generations, the world that we’re living in right now seems to be getting more chaotic every year. I wish the hate would disappear, that people would listen to each other instead of politicians or the media. I wish the power was in the hands of honest people, not in the hands of liars. I think the ideal society would look like what Libya was like right after the Revolution, in 2012-2013, with added peace, security, economic and political stability, Muslim values, and without social ails.