301. MH Exclusive: Shannaan Dawda

SD

An Atlanta Native, Shannan Dawda is the CEO, Financial Coach and Founder of True Financial, a company dedicated to helping educate and train individuals how to build productive and positive financial habits.

MH: Can you tell us a little about your background and what got you into financial coaching?

SD: I was born in Atlanta, GA and grew up in Lithonia, GA, which is a city about 25 minutes East of Atlanta. My parents are originally from Accra, Ghana. Their story is phenomenal how they came to America with one suit case each and have made it this far, Masha’Allah. As a kid math was my favorite subject. I also liked the idea of business and all the aspects associated with it especially after seeing my Father be a successful business man. When I was child I witnessed a bankruptcy or two and promised to never put me or my family through that. I guess it stuck with me because when I attended Georgia Southern University I obtained a Finance Degree then decided to stay and complete an Accounting Degree as well to obtain a solid foundation of financial world. After graduating college in 2009 I went into the workforce as any individual would but it wasn’t until I went through my own financial empowerment process myself of cleaning up my finances did I realize that there was something here that I could share with people as I looked around at all the financial turmoil going on in our country. Alhumdulilah in 2013 I passed the CPA exam and the dream became a reality in matter of no time. It was as if it was my destiny for me to help people gain control of their finances because things just started falling into place quicker than I expected. Alhumdulilah today we have True Financial.

MH: Why is personal finance so important?

Personal Finance is so important because it is the one area people spend the least amount of time on but everything we do revolves around it. Well managed personal finance is the one thing that can give you true freedom allowing you to do things you never done before and capitalize on opportunities that you would have never been ready for. It makes life much easier and a lot less stressful. Studies have shown the individuals and couples who are in control of their finances tend to have much better relationships with people and better marriages. So it is very important that we understand how to win financially by equipping ourselves with financial information and philosophy that is guaranteed to win.

MH: Many people don’t know the basics of personal finance and get caught up in credit card debt, loans, and other financial burdens that end up in accruing enormous amounts of debt. What advice would you give for individuals seeking to educate themselves about the basics of personal finance?

I would recommend that they begin to seek help but not just any help but the kind of help where someone will educate them while guiding them down the right path to attain their goals. The area of personal finance can appear very complex due to all the products and messages being portrayed to the people. At True Financial that we not only coach our clients but educate them to make well informed decisions.

MH: Many Muslims struggle with the issue of interest and loans when purchasing homes, cars, and other products. What advice would you give Muslim college students to learn more about interest, interest rates, and loans?

Honestly I do not believe in debt so I would advise that they stay away from it and pay cash for all purchases. Debt cripples individuals and families by taking portions of their most powerful wealth building tool, their income, which could have been invested to build great wealth. If one has no debt than interest is not even an issue. However, I know home buying is very expensive in America so it’s the only instance that I consider debt to be okay. Even then I recommend a 15 year mortgage and paying of the house as soon as possible, ideally in less than 8-10 years.  I would recommend that they do a lot research on the Sharia’h compliant options that exist for Muslims. There are quite a few halal options these days when seeking to purchase a home than in the past.
MH: With the rising rates of college tuition many students are unsure how to fund their undergraduate education and graduate school education. What advice would you give to Muslim college students on ways to fund their undergraduate and graduate education?  

Ideally in this instance we encourage parents to start saving for their child’s college educations as soon as the child was born by putting away an calculated amount every month to reach desired college fund amount. Unfortunately this is not the case for most so I recommend three things. 1) Apply for in-state schools possibly even attending a community college for the first two years. It’s a lot cheaper and saves you thousands. 2) Apply to a lot of scholarships, I’m talking hundreds. There was a woman who applied to 1000 scholarships and only received 10 but she went to college fully paid for by those 10 scholarships. 3) Work while they are in college. Studies show that students who work while in college are more likely to graduate on time and perform better in the workforce than those who do not because they learn time management. Plus it puts extra money in their pockets

MH: What tips would you give to Muslim college students on how to save money during their undergraduate education?  

I would recommend that they eat self-cooked meals (cheaper and better for you), compare on campus to off-campus living cost, If they live off campus share a parking pass with someone who has classes on alternate days, work while in college, and buy used books online.
MH: What tips would you give Muslim college students who have college loans and debt to pay off to ensure they pay off their loans and debts in an efficient and timely manner?

I would recommend when they graduate and secure a job to stay accustom to the broke college student life and get on a detailed budget. Live on the bare minimums and attack that student loan debt with any income they have remaining after necessary living expenses. As hard as it is for many to move back home I highly recommend living at home with the parents though this process. It’s the only way to effectively eliminate you student loan debt quickly other than an employer paying the balance off or the joining the military.
MH: Are there ways Muslim college students can learn how to invest their money and make money while studying in college?

I don’t encourage students to get caught up trying to invest while in school. I want them to stay focused and to keep that money around to ensure they have enough money to finish school. The fact that they are looking to invest shows they are, I hope, debt free, and in a much better position financially than the average student. Now there are exceptions when a student has a come into a large amount of money, but they can contact me personally to discuss those instances.

MH: What resources are available to teach Muslim college students about the basics of personal finance, loans, investments and budgeting money?

At the end of the day it’s all about research, seeking a Financial Coach and being willing to think outside the box financial. 9 times out of 10 if you are handling your money differently than most people in around you then you are more than likely going to succeed because “Normal in America is broke.” Seek good financial coaches who are looking to teach you about finance. Stay away for those who are in it to sell you products because they are not worried about your wellbeing even if they say they are. They are just trying to make a sale.

MH: Where can people learn more about your work?

People can learn more about my work at http://www.truefinancialcoaches .com

MH Exclusive: Dr. Jaber Hassan

Jaber

Dr.  Jaber Hassan,  is a pulmonary and critical care doctor born and raised in Syria. He is part of a team of doctors who belong to the Syrian American Medical Society, make regular trips back to Syria to help with medical treatment of Syrian civilians.

MH: Can you tell us a little a bit about yourself and what got you interested in providing free healthcare in Syria?

My name Jaber Monla-Hassan, medical doctor, born in Aleppo Syria, American citizen by naturalization, specialized in critical care medicine which is taking care the eminent life threatening illnesses such as shock and acute respiratory failure. I have been involved in volunteering my country of birth for many years as part of the non-for profit organization SAMS. When the crisis in Syria erupted, I had no hesitance to continue my obligation toward fellow humans in even more dire need for help.

MH: What inspired you to go to Syria and provide free healthcare there?

The collapsing medical system in Syria which left an entire population in dire need for medical aids has urged SAMS members to render the maximum they can do to alleviate the escalating suffering of the population.

MH: What is the Syrian American Medical Society and what does it do?

SAMS is a non-governmental professional and humanitarian organization consists of Syrian American medical professionals of various specialties which was formed 14 years ago and have been providing volunteering work all over the world and since the Syrian crisis erupted almost exclusively focusing on Syrian civilians trapped in the raging war violence. WWW.SAMS-US.net explains about its activities which includes and is not limited to supporting and building hospitals to serve the civilian population all over Syria, building mobile medical and dental clinics both inside and outside Syria to support the refugees and trapped civilians, dispatching medical professional inside Syria and in the camps to support the remaining existing health providers, conducting training courses for the purpose of improving the skills of the remaining doctors and nursing staff, delivering medical equipment and ambulances to the deprived areas among many other things.

MH: It is extremely difficult for most Muslim Americans and the world to see the ongoing atrocities occurring against the Syrian people. What are some practical ways people can help contribute to helping ease the suffering of the Syrian people?

Please support SAMS as all the donations are channeled very promptly and by its entirety to the beneficiaries without any administrative expenses as these expenses are being taking care by SAMS members.

MH: As someone who is on the ground and has seen the trauma first-hand, what are the current updates in Syria?

Worse every day as we speak as the International aids have been dwindling and sometimes non-existent in vast areas of Syria. Unless there is a massive move by all humanitarian and aids organizations millions upon millions of civilians are left to face even worse than war and trauma, which is starvation and disseminated disease.

MH: There has been an ongoing debate on intervention and no intervention internationally. What do you feel is the best course of action based on your experience and speaking to Syrian patients who you’ve spoken to?

The main intervention the Syrian are lacking is massive medical and humanitarian aids to alleviate their suffering supported by a true international pressure on all sides to force them to stop the violence and allow the civilians to catch their breaths and dress their open wounds.

MH: How can individuals looking to support or get involved with the Syrian American Medical Society and/or other Syrian relief organization?

Any individual can donate directly to SAMS on its website or by writing a check to SAMS foundation naming Save Syrian life campaign. They can name the specific program they are interested to support among the 9 program or just leave it generic.

MH Exclusive: Native Deen

Native Deen

Native Deen is an Islamic musical group from the Washington, D.C. area.

MH: How and when did Native Deen start?

The 3 of us started performing together in 2000. Although we did not actually come up with a name until about 2002. However, the seeds were planted through the project called MYNA Raps which started in 1992. I was on the first MYNA raps with other artists. Naeem and Abdul-Malik were on MYNA raps 2-4 with other artists. And all three of us were the only artists on MYNA raps 5. We performed songs from MYNA raps 5 for 5 years until we came out with our own album in 2005 titled Deen You Know.

 MH: What topics or themes influence your music, lyrics and content?

We all have different backgrounds. And our upbringing finds its way into out music. We have home school backgrounds, Islamic School backgrounds, public school backgrounds, military backgrounds, university backgrounds, marriage, children, etc. We all have different music that we prefer and those different styles of music finds its way into our style as well.

MH: What role does music have in educating and inspiring individuals to change themselves and their communities?

Its huge. Music is a language that speaks to people on top of their regular language. A song can do a lot more than a speech for the emotional well being of a person sometimes. Music is another tool used to communicate thoughts and messages to people.

MH: Some argue that music can be dawah and can educate people of other faiths about Islam and Muslims. Should Muslim artists create music geared only towards Muslims or make music that is relatable to people of other faith too?

Both. Every artist does not have to do both. However, I think the Muslim community needs artists that do both.

 MH: Native Deen is one of the pioneers when it comes to Muslim hip hop music. Have you seen an evolution and an increase in appearance of Muslim rappers and musicians?

Oh yes. Its good to see many more artists coming on the scene. Alhamdu-lilah we were able to push the envelope a little and open some doors for the artists coming now.

MH: Many of your songs focus on Muslim American identity. How important is it to create messages for Muslim youth to be proud of their Muslim identity?

It’s very important. Muslim identity is a growing concern for many American Muslim communities.

MH: Native Deen’s traveled internationally and nationally and your music has been universally accepted and been a crucial part of the development of some Muslim youth’s identity. Have you seen common challenges for Muslim youth in the US and internationally?

Gender relations is a common problem. Youth do not feel empowered to have proper relationships with the opposite gender. Identity is another common challenge. Muslim Youth are not aware of their history and sometimes they do not think of themselves highly. And may consider the West as the advanced society because of today’s reality.

 MH: Many people complain about the negative connotations associated with hip hop and rap and the messages promoted in the genre of rap and hip hop. How would you respond to individuals who say hip hop and rap shouldn’t be listened to (no matter who the artist is) due to the negative influence it has on the youth?

That is a very general statement. A person can make it even broader and put ALL music into that category. The fact is that music is a tool and hip hop is a style. The lyrics are a different thing. And there are many hip hop songs that are extremely positive. It would be better to teach youth to stay away from bad lyrics no matter what the style of music instead of keeping them away from hip hop alone.

 MH: Many Muslim artists like Lupe Fiasco have been critical of current trends in hip hop and amongst rappers and tries to promote positive messages in his music. How important is it for messages in music to be meaningful and positive?

Its very important. But I think its more important for it NOT to be negative. Meaning, a person can write a song about watching water on the beach. Or some experience they had. Another person may not find the song meaningful or positive. But they can recognize that its not negative.

MH: Is it possible for Muslim musicians and artists to go “mainstream” and still maintain the positive messages in their music?

Of course. I think the next generation will produce many more of these types of artists.

 MH: Have you seen an expansion of Muslim artists into different genres of music apart from rap?

I’m seeing Muslims artists coming up into every style of music there is. Reggae, Country, Rock, etc.

MH: Who are some of your favorite Muslim musicians or artists?

Since I can’t name them all, I wont name any. Because I know these artists. And I would not want to offend anyone by forgetting.

MH: If you could collaborate with any artists or groups, Muslim or non-Muslim artist who would you like to work with?

I would like to do a project with Lupe personally. I think Naeem would love to do a project with Yasin Bey (Mos Def).

MH: What advice would you give to aspiring Muslim artists and musicians?

Have a partner. Don’t do it alone. Even if its just a manager who is close to you. But have a partner.

MH: Where can we learn more about your work and follow you work?

Facebook and http://www.nativedeen.com

MH Exclusive: Hammad Aslam

Hammad Aslam

Hammad Aslam was set to start medical school in Augusta in the fall of 2009 when a car accident almost took his life. But paralysis from the chest down only delayed his plans by one year. Hammad has overcome many obstacles and is now pursuing his doctorate at the Medical College of Georgia.

MH: You overcame a pretty serious life-changing event in your life. Can you tell us more about it and how you overcame it?

I was in a car accident with my family in May of 2009. Our SUV hydroplaned off the road and hit a tree. The tree fell on top of my corner of the vehicle, crushing me under the roof and glass. Thankfully, no one else was seriously hurt. My dad fractured a bone in his forearm and had a small neck injury. My mom had a minor injury to her ribs. My younger sister broke her leg and my youngest sister was untouched. My older brother was away at the time.

I am just blessed to be alive. I received a traumatic brain injury with a skull fracture and bleeding in my brain, nerve damage in my right arm, and a complete spinal cord injury. I spent a few weeks in an unconscious and semi-conscious state. I do not recall anything from this time period and I do not even remember getting into an accident.

I came consciously aware of things a few weeks later. At the time, I was in the traumatic brain injury unit of the Shepherd Center because my brain injury was so severe that the doctors all predicted that I would be permanently inflicted with mental deficits on top of my physical handicaps. I spent a few weeks in that unit before I was transferred to the spinal cord injury unit. I spent three months as an inpatient at the Shepherd Center and continued to come there for therapy for several months after I was discharged and living at home.

MH: How have friends and family helped you overcome some of the challenge you’ve faced?

I had and still have a very strong support system consisting of my family and friends. They have always supported any and all goals I have had. They have been there in my darkest of times, when I have been let down, when I have fallen and when I have failed. Thanks to my family and friends, it has been much easier adjusting to this new life and new circumstances. I was never really allowed to consider myself different from anyone else and I was never really given the time for any self-pity.

My parents and friends never let me feel that I was any different. I knew that I was placed in that situation for a reason. In fact, I was thankful to be the one lying in the hospital bed and not any of my family members or friends.

MH: Did faith play a role in overcoming your challenges, if so, how?

It’s very easy to blame and be angry at God or other people when we are in disadvantageous circumstances. It would have been way too easy to ask, “Why me? Why was I chosen for this?” Instead, I have been thankful. No one else who was in vehicle at the time was seriously injured like me. None of my friends have been injured like this. Thank God. I would never want to see any of them in this situation. I believe there is a reason for everything and that we are given only as much as we can handle. Therefore, I am thankful that I have been put in this situation and not anyone else. I know that this is all part of a plan that none us can foresee and that in the end, things will be alright.

MH: What inspired you to pursue medical school?

I have always wanted to go to medical school and become a doctor. After my accident, though, I knew I wanted this even more. It became even more apparent to me that my true calling was in the relief of the suffering of others. I have suffered a lot and I do not want anyone else to suffer like I have or suffer in their own circumstances, whatever those may be. Medical school was also a big challenge. I knew that people doubted me with many things so I wanted to prove to them—and to myself—that I could do it.

MH: What challenges did you face and have you faced on your road to medical school?

The first challenges in medical school included just adapting to living completely alone. I was stubborn and I somehow convinced my family to allow me to move away to a different city and live by myself, without any roommates or helpers. This was only a year after my accident and I was still adapting to my disabilities. Doing everything in a wheelchair for the first time took longer than I expected.

On top of adapting myself both physically and mentally to these new circumstances, I also found myself struggling in medical school. I was quite timid and had a significant inferiority complex. I felt like everyone was smarter than me. I was afraid to speak up during our discussions. I also found myself studying harder I ever had before and harder than anyone else in my class, but I was barely getting by. This was extremely frustrating and I was very upset about this. But I adapted. I knew I could do this, one way or another, so I adjusted by study habits to study both smarter and harder than ever before.

MH: You certainly have remained active in the Atlanta Muslim community. Tell us more about your work and what motivates you to serve others?

The first year after my accident before I started medical school, I knew I had to do something productive. I knew that it would be selfish of me to try and work hard only for the benefit of myself. So, I decided to immerse myself in different volunteer activities, especially since I wasn’t doing much at home. I knew that doing things in the service of others would in turn benefit me more than anyone else, in both the short and long term.

MH: What advice would you give to others facing the same challenges you’ve faced on pursuing their dreams and goals in life?

First off, I wish and pray that no one faces the same challenges I have faced. That being said, many people face their own challenges in their pursuit for accomplishing the tasks that they plan or of which they dream. As I stated earlier, it is too easy to blame our circumstances on God or on other people. It is too easy to simply accept our circumstances as “just the way God wants them to be”. Instead, I feel like people should not look at different situations as something from God and that must simply be accepted, but these situations should be looked upon as challenges. It is these challenges and the way we react to them—or fail to react to them—that define us.

MH: What advice would you give to those seeking to pursue medical school? 

I hear all the time about people who have plans to go to medical school. To these people, I propose that they do some self reflection and contemplate upon why they want to purse this profession. Are they doing this because their parents have been telling them their whole lives that this is a good idea? Are they doing this because they feel like it’s a noble profession? Are they doing this for the job security?

I knew that this was my calling and I knew the disabilities that I had been given would only help me and help others in the long run. Therefore, I was willing to work harder than anyone else I knew.

I suggest others really “get their hands dirty” in terms of learning about this profession. Learn about the ups and downs. Learn about life. Perhaps more importantly, learn about death. I have faced my own mortality and it has given me a completely new perspective on life. It was only after I had almost everything taken away from me that I was able to think clearly.

You can follow Hammad here on his blog: http://mindofhammad.blogspot.com/

MH Exclusive: Sakeena Abdulraheem

Sakeena

Sakeena Abdulraheem is one of the founding members of the Falling Walls Initative. She holds an BA in Spanish and International Studies from Meredith College, and an MA in Islamic Studies from the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences. She is currently completing her MA in counseling psychology with a concentration in trauma and crisis intervention. She has extensive experience working as a teacher, mentor, and consultant. Sakeena currently counsels victims of domestic violence as an interning therapist at the House of Ruth MD.

MH: Tell us more about your academic path that led you to pursue counseling.

 

My background was actually not in counseling.  In undergrad I double majored in Spanish and International studies.  By my senior year in college I was fluent in Spanish and I knew I wanted  to make a positive impact on a global level but I was still exploring career options at that point.  By the end of my senior year in 2002 I was hired by the defense department was waiting for my security clearance to go through and so I began substitute teaching and got involved in education before I eventually made my move to the Washington, DC area from the Raleigh-Durham, NC area.  After working for two years in government I decided that it was time to explore other fields with my skillet where I could see the impact of my contributions more immediately and directly. I had gotten my MA in social studies with a concentration in Islamic Studies from The Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences and I began entertaining the idea of becoming a teacher.  I worked for about 4 years in the educational system working with elementary school aged youth that had aspergers, autism, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.  I saw the various ways in which emotional well being, and mental disorders not only had an impact on the environment of the classroom, teachers struggled through curriculum working with children with complex behavioral problems that quite frankly they were not trained to deal with in an educational setting.  As a result, I immediately began applying to counseling graduate school programs because I saw mental health being the way in which I would be able to contribute towards and give back overall to the community.

MH: Tell us more about what got you interested in counseling and specifically in domestic violence?

While I was teaching full time in before and after school programs I started my graduate program part time in counseling psychology.  At the beginning of the program I was planning to concentrate and specialize in children and adolescents because of my work history of seeing mental illness in elementary school age children.  However, it was my study abroad trip at the beginning of my graduate program to Kigali, Rwanda, to study and learn about programs and non-profits working towards addressing trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the context of genocide that influenced my decision to change my specialization.  During my trip I had the opportunity to meet survivors that were working as educators and heads of non-profit organizations and professors in the department of psychology that spoke first hand of their personal experiences during the genocide in 1994.  I was also exposed to the cases of gender-based violence that were used as weapons against the tribe that was being killed at that time.  Rape, sexual assault, various parts of the female anatomy were being cut off during the genocide in an effort to terrorize and instill fear in the population and specifically the female population.  After the genocide many women were dealing with various psychological problems that would go untreated and many had to undergo abortions because they were victims of rape during the genocide.  Looking at all of these factors, I realized that I wanted to continue learning about Post traumatic Disorder under various context and I also realized that is was this particular type of population that I wanted to work with and that this was the area of counseling that I wanted to continue to pursue.  After returning from the trip I immediately changed my concentration from children and adolescents to trauma and crisis intervention.  Trauma and crisis intervention is inclusive of various population and victims of domestic violence are a part of this population.  I began interning as a therapists since last year for a non-profit organization, The House of Ruth MD that works specifically with domestic violence victims at their counseling center.

MH: Tell us more about the Falling Walls Initiative. What was the idea behind it? What do you plan to do?

Falling Walls is an initiative that was inspired by a research project led by one of the founding members Darakshan Raja.  The study looked at crime victimization in the American Muslim Community.  This study in particular highlights that denial is a major problem in the American Muslim community when it comes to addressing abuse, domestic violence, and victimization overall.  One of the main goals of the Falling Walls Initiative is to break barriers such as denial with the Muslim community by educating based off of experience from direct services, applied research, and through the dissemination of research.  The second goal is to bring awareness through various forms of social media.

MH: Do you feel there’s a stigma in the Muslim American community in regards to seeking counseling and/or help when someone is in need?

 

Yes.  I believe there is a HUGE stigma for individuals that seek counseling or treatment whether it is from a social worker, counselor, therapist, psychologist, or a psychiatrist.  A lot of this has to do with the lack of knowledge about mental health in general in the Muslim community.  If you ask some individuals what takes place during a counseling session many individuals in the Muslim community may give you a blank stare, some statement full of misinformation, or say that they do not know.  When the truth is counseling is for everyone, whether they are experiencing grief, need someone to talk to as they make a major transition in life, their family is currently experience a crisis, an individual is suffering from a mental disorder, or a couple would just like to work on ways they can improve their relationship.  As you can see I gave multiple examples of why some individuals decide to go for counseling which is a clear indication that counseling is something that everyone can benefit from, including the therapists themselves, and is very much a part of personal growth.

MH: What role does culture and tradition, if at all, play in preventing individuals from seeking counseling or help when they’re going through troubling times?

 

Culture has a tremendous impact in terms of looking at the way shame is used to maintain the cultural norms of the group and discourage individual member from stepping out of that norm in order to avoid bringing shame upon the family.

MH: A lot of Muslims in America and the world are suffering silently and are faced with a lot of psychological, emotional and even physical abuse. What can the Muslim community do to prevent abuse in our communities?

 

The Muslim community can start by actively supporting organizations that are already established and currently in the processed of being established whether it is through volunteering, sharing resources, sharing information, networking, and connecting others so that we can work more collaboratively to bring an end to these issues.  Supporting the local domestic violence shelters, Muslim, non-Muslim whether it be economically, sharing informations, or sharing resources.  I also think that men are in a very good position to address the issue of domestic violence in their own way.  Men speaking out to address the overall problem of the culture of violence and the various ways in which violence against women is accepted and expressed.  Educating men more on the issues of violence against women and the dynamics of the way in which unhealthy patterns of relationships and learn behavior play a role in abuse of women and all victims.

MH: Are more Muslim Americans becoming comfortable with the concept of counseling?

I believe that as more programs and platforms like Fallings Walls and other established organizations are supported that are regular initiatives, addressing the issues of denial and shame, it will make it clear that counseling is just another area of one’s health that we all have room to work on and improve.  When a person learns poor eating habits over the course of their childhood they go to a dietician.  When someone learns maladaptive behaviors and unhealthy ways of interacting with their spouse from family and childhood experiences they go to a Marriage and Family Therapist.

MH: A lot of Muslim say that Islam is not compatible with Islam and that private family matters should remain within the family. Is counseling compatible with Islam?

Counseling is an Islamic tradition.  The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a great source of knowledge and people frequently came to him for consultation for a variety of matters whether it was for major life decisions, mediation in settling marital and family disputes, etc.  Also counseling is a form of bringing about the process of emotional, psychological, and in many cases spiritual healing, helping others in a way that brings healing for any community is a purification for the soul and a form of ibadah.

MH: In recent times we’ve seen growing pressure and demand on imams to counsel individuals in their community. In your opinion, should imams be trained to counsel? What are the pros and cons?

 

I believe Imams are already conducting a form of pastoral counseling which is different from the counseling that an individual will receive from a mental health practitioner who is trained in how to conduct psychotherapy, diagnosis, assessment, therapeutic approaches, etc.  I think that imams should definitely be trained on how to identify when the issue and complexity of what may be happening with an individual is beyond the skills that they have as pastoral counselors.  Imams can gain this training through basic skills workshops that help them to become more thoroughly aware of issues related to marriage counseling, domestic violence, and how to appropriately protect the rights of the woman and not put her in danger in cases of domestic violence.

MH: Is pastoral counseling a growing field? Is there a demand for Muslim counselors in the Muslim American community?

 

I believe that Muslims can benefit from the various forms of counseling that are already available whether the counselor is Muslim or non-Muslim.  A key component that families should look for when searching for a great counselor are similar when searching for a doctor or dentist they like; do they make you feel comfortable, are they culturally competent and aware of the significance culture may or may not play in your life; do you find their adopted therapeutic approach helpful; how many years of experience do they have in the field; do they speak your language or multiple language; what is their expertise; do they have experience working with the population of the group you are a part of?….etc…

MH: In your opinion, how can Muslims learn more about how to create peaceful environments at home and learn about relationship-building, conflict resolution, communication and parenting?

 

Looking up local Muslim and non-Muslim counseling resources in their prospective areas and shopping around to find the best practitioner that they feel comfortable with, understands their concerns, and that they find helpful.

MH: What resources are available for people going through traumatic events in their lives?

There are various resources available for individuals experiencing a traumatic event which include hotlines, suicide hotlines, online counselors, crisis counselors, domestic violence counselors, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, and practitioners trained in conducting psychological first aid, etc. such as the following:

MH: What resources are there to learn more about Islam and counseling?

Peaceful Families Project, Muslimaat Al Nisaa, Project Sakinah are among some of the stronger programs that have been discussing the misinterpretation of the verses from the Quran and the way in which the religion is misinterpreted and used as a form of spiritual abuse.  They also have great resources listed on their website as well.

MH: What advice would you give to someone seeking to pursue your career path?

Research and explore the various areas of psychology and really investigate and visit various programs that you feel are tailored to meet the needs of your professional goals and interest.  This type of profession is not made for everyone so visiting various programs and getting work experience before starting graduate school will also contribute in helping you to make your decision.

MH:How can we learn more about your work and support your work? 

 

You can learn more about the work we do by going to our blog:

(www.fallingwallsinitiative.wordpress.com) and staying tuned for the launching of our website that we hope to have completed and launched by April.

MH Exclusive: Noor Tagouri

Noor

Noor Tagouri is a 19-year-old college student wanting to become the first Muslim hijabi anchorwoman in America. She was the youngest commencement student speaker at Prince George’s Community College in 2012 at the age of 18 and spoke at the 53rd Commencement Exercises of Prince George’s Community College. Noor is currently attending the University of Maryland and is majoring in Broadcast Journalism and minoring in International Development and Conflict Management.

MH: You recently became the youngest commencement speaker at Prince George’s Community College at the age of 18 years old. Most students are graduating high school at that age. How did you get to become the youngest student speaker at Prince George’s Community College?

During my junior year of high school, I was taking a college course in the evening and had tested into the honors program at the community college. I decided to homeschool my senior year of high school that summer and start in the program that fall. I took summer and winter classes as well in order to graduate within a year and a half, and finished at 18, alhamdulilah. 

 

 Tell us more about your experience being one of the younger students in your school. What challenges did you face? What was your experience like?

I’ve always been one of the youngest in my classes because of my late birthday, but being the youngest in my crowd of college friends was never a challenge, it was a blessing. I had a plethora of mentors, advisors, and “older school siblings,” that were constantly looking out for me. The Honors Program at Prince George’s Community College really is like a school family. I loved being the “baby” of the group. There was never any animosity or negativity in our friendship circle, and I was even nicknamed “Little NoNo.” Man, I miss them!  

 

 MH: You’re attending the University of Maryland College Park. How do you feel about changing universities? What are your expectations of the university and of yourself?

I’m glad I can finally taking only courses that are towards my major and minor. I’m excited to learn more and gain the skills I need for my field! UMD has one of the country’s top journalism schools and has an incredible international development conflict management program (my minor.) So, I’m really learning a lot and am just trying to soak in as much as possible.

 

 MH: Recently, you’ve begun a campaign to become the first Muslim American hijabi news anchor on television and have inspired a lot of Muslim American hijabis. What drives you to become a journalist?

I’ve always wanted to be a broadcast journalist or tv personality. I’ve always loved asking questions and telling stories. It was the only career I wanted since I was 8. I think it’s important for people to have their voices heard to the masses. But, when going through national television stations, you don’t see too much diversity. I’m going to change that, inshallah. 

  MH: What is your dream job and where would you like to work?  

Honestly, that’s a tough question. What first comes to mind is something like GMA on ABC, or a show on CNN. Possibly my own show on the OWN Network, since Oprah is one of my biggest inspirations and Lisa Ling kept telling me how amazing it is to work for Oprah! And when I’m older, possibly something like The View? We’ll just have to see what God has in His plans for me. 

 

 MH: Have you spoken to other Muslim American hijabis or Muslims who work in media? What advice have they given you?

I’ve spoken to few. They tell me it’ll be tough for me to make it, the field isn’t too friendly for hijabis. The Muslim women who know me personally that have advised me throughout my life and work in the media are my mentors. And have constantly encouraged me and helped me get to where I am. They tell me it’ll be hard, but they’re certain I can do it.

 

MH: What challenges do you feel women who wear the hijab in media-related jobs and entertainment? How can we as Muslim Americans overcome them?  

I think the challenges vary amongst the women. Some challenges would include the limitations between the opposite gender and others would be obviously be maintaining modest dress.

MH: You’ve met a lot of famous celebrities and high level celebrities. How did you get to meet them? Who have you met that made the biggest impact on you? What advice did they give you?

A lot of the prominent journalists I’ve met and talked to were as a result of attending the right events, networking, and being persistent…Anderson Cooper, Lisa Ling, Ted Koppel, Wolf Blitzer, Martha Raddatz. The artists I have met were as a result of working at one of DC’s biggest radio stations WPGC….Lupe Fiasco, Alicia Keys, Nelly Furtado, Big Sean, Trey Songz, OAR, Ashanti etc etc. I’d have to say the best encounter was with Lisa Ling because I met her on my 19th birthday for my birthday dinner and we talked a lot! She gave me a lot of advice and insight on her career. We still keep in touch.

MH: You’re still early on in your career, but what advice would you give those Muslim American hijabis seeking to pursue your career path?

Don’t be afraid to speak up about your dreams. Stay confident. Let your passion be your fuel. Stay positive and ALWAYS put your trust in God.

MH Exclusive: Ibtihaj Muhammad

Ibtihaj Muhammad is an American sabre fencer and member of the United States fencing team. She is the first Muslim woman to compete for the United States in international competition. She captured a bronze medal in the women’s sabre team event at the 2011 World Fencing Championships held in Catania, Italy, competed in the 2010 World Fencing Championships in Paris, France and attended the 2011 XVI Pan American Games where she won the gold medal in the women’s sabre team event.  She is also a 2-time United States National Champion.

MH: Not a lot of Americans are familiar with the sport of fencing. What got you into fencing?

Early on, my parents always encouraged us to participate in sports. They felt that engaging in sports provided us with opportunities to be physically fit and also be active and social in a productive and halal way. I was involved in different sports, including track, tennis, softball, and even volleyball. When it came to uniforms, it was a constant struggle. My mother always had to tweak my uniforms to make them more modest and appropriate for me to wear. My parents saw my desire to compete and wanted to find a sport for me where I could be fully covered.

I discovered fencing for the first time when I was about 12 years old. My mother and I were driving past a local high school and we happened to see the fencing team practicing through the windows. I was attracted to it because I noticed the attire of the players and how they were fully clothed. Fencing presented a unique opportunity for me where I could feel comfortable in my values and participate in sport. I was 13 years old when I joined my high school’s fencing team and from there followed this pursuit to where I am today.

 

MH: What advice would you give someone whose pursuits may not embrace his/her religion as well as fencing did for you? For instance, someone who may want to pursue a career as a news reporter and faith/wearing a headscarf alienates her?

Had I been discouraged by the lack of minorities involved in fencing when I first gained interest in the sport over a decade ago, (Allah knows best) I wouldn’t be where I am today. I always try to encourage people to set their bar high. Never allow bias to your religion, ethnicity, or your gender hinder you from following your dreams and doing what you love. Anything is possible with hard work, determination, and prayer. Hold tight to theses and you shall not fail with the will of Allah.

 

MH: Did you ever face any obstacles as a Muslim competitor? As a woman? Which one was a bigger challenge?

Of course, I cannot deny that I have faced discrimination and obstacles throughout my career. However, I feel that comes with being an ethnic and religious minority in the United States. People an be apprehensive when dealing with a Muslim American fencer, but I don’t let that deter me from my goals. I constantly remind myself that I am not only doing this for my self, but Inshallah this will also be beneficial for the Muslims and minorities who come after me. Inshallah I am paving the way for others.

 

MH: Tell us a bit about your experience with the Peter Westbrook Foundation. What drew you to them?

When I first begin high school fencing in New Jersey, I was one of few African Americans. I remember a parent suggested that I check out the fencing club in Harlem where “black kids” fenced. Initially, I was offended by her remarks. Was I so different from the other NJ fencers that I had to go to NY to find fencers who looked like me? Though I am not sure whether or not her suggestion was meant to be offensive, it did awaken the desire to find African American fencers. As much as I wanted to feel a sense of normalcy in the fencing world, there was the constant reminder that I was a minority.

When I was 17, a senior in high school, my mom took me to the Peter Westbrook Foundation in New York City. It was the premiere club in NYC, where all the elite level minority level fencers trained. Though I was amazed at the level of talent exhibited by so many of the clubs athlete, it was the comradery and strong sense of family that drew me in.

 

MH: Do you feel a certain amount of responsibility to Muslims around the world to be a role model and to spread your story in order to counteract the misconceptions many people have of Muslims?

My journey through my fencing career has undoubtedly brought a significant amount of attention to Muslim women in sports. It was never my intention to be a role model, but I have been presented with an unique opportunity to provide other Muslim women courage and the foundation participate in sport. Muslim woman are not common in the sports arena. I hope to break misconceptions and make hijab and sports a common thread of discussion in both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

My hijab brought me to a sport I never would have discovered otherwise. I was exposed to a sport that gave me a foundation to become who I am today. I pray my story reminds Muslim women and youth that nothing should hinder them in their pursuit of reaching their dreams.

MH: In an interview, you mentioned that some people in the fencing community don’t know how to react to you because you are different from them. How did you deal with that?

Alhumdulillah I have been able to accomplish a lot athletically while wearing my hijab. I found a sport that embraces my religious beliefs and my desire to wear the hijab, breaking several stereotypes by excelling in a sport not typical to minorities or Muslim women. I have earned my spot on the United States team and my “seat at the table.”

Earlier in my career off comments about my race and religion might have upset me, but now I know that purpose is much bigger than me. I wear my hijab because of my love for Allah and my commitment to Islam.  In such a racially and economically static sport, I am constantly mindful that what I do is for the Muslims and minorities who come after me.

 

MH: You talk often about your defining principles of hard work, determination, patience, amongst others. Do you think your faith instilled these values in you?

I do believe that Islam instilled values if hard work and patience. Allah (swt) loves that if one does a job he perfects it. I challenge myself everyday to be a better Muslim, daughter, sister, and athlete.

 

MH: Do you think the biggest problems facing Muslims come from non-Muslims perceptions and treatment of Muslims or are the most imperative issues created within the Muslim community?

I believe the issues Muslim face comes from both non-Muslims and within the Muslim community. It is important that we work together as an ummah to combat the negative stereotypes we all face everyday.

 

MH: What advice do you have for girls who wear hijab who want to pursue sports but receive backlash from both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities?

For me, my hijab has become an integral part of who I am as a person. It is extremely important to be confident in yourself and in your faith. Never allow someone else’s misconceptions about you hinder you from reaching your dreams.

 

MH: Do you feel the focus on the hijab by the media on individuals who do wear it and are successful takes away from their achievements?

Not at all. My hijab has brought much attention to the sport of fencing and awareness in the United States. As the first Muslim woman to represent the United States in international competition, I pray that my story reaches as many people as possible and encourages them dream big. I am thankful every moment of every day for each experience I have had.

 

MH: When people hear your story, what do you hope they take away from it?

I want other minorities and Muslim women and youth to believe that anything is possible through perseverance. I hope my story inspires them to dream big and never allow their religion, gender, or race to hinder them from accomplishing their goals.

MH Exclusive: Imam Hassan A. Amin

Imam Hassan A. Amin is the Executive Director and Founder of the Muslim Social Services Agency, Inc. of Maryland and the Director of Social Services of Muslimat Al-Nisaa’s Muslim women and children homeless shelter.

MH: Tell us more about yourself and how you got involved in activism in Baltimore and growing up Muslim in America.

I had gotten involved in becoming a change agent in the community around the Masjid because the community around the urban Masjid needed to be changed. The community is flooded with drugs, crime, grime and high unemployment. So, as a Muslim, I am mandated by Allah and the Prophet (SAW) to look after the needs of our neighbors. Therefore, because of this mandate, I, inshaAllah, try to provide, yearly, resources and services to community members that would improve upon their quality of life, such as, providing for the homeless, low income and poor, hot meals, clothing, hygiene kits, free healthcare screenings, drug rehab programs, job training/job referral information, etc. Regarding growing up Muslim in America it has been great! In America we had the freedom of religion, to practice whatever religion one wishes to practice. After the terrible event of 9/11 many people in America wanted to band the Islamic faith here and suppress Muslim’s rights to practice their faith. The American constitution and other federal laws prohibited such a prohibition to Muslims’ rights to practice their faith freely and openly without any type of suppression or discrimination, it’s the law! Therefore, America is a great place to practice one’s religion and no one has the right to impede upon Muslims’ ability to practice their faith.

MH: You have a fairly rich background in activism in your community, how do we encourage those in the Muslim community to become more active and be less apathetic to the issues facing our community and the United States?

Everyday we draw closer to our graves and before we know it it’s time to be placed in our graves. At that time, it will be too late to do anything, regarding helping others. Matter of fact, at that point we can not even help ourselves! The only thing that will benefit us at that time will be our good deeds. Helping our neighbors is doing a good deed; picking up trash is a good deed, showing kindness towards others is a good deed, etc. The Prophet (SAW), Abu Bakr , Umar, Uthman, Ali and other companions were always involved in helping others.  Perhaps Muslims and others should read the stories of these great people and learn from their stories and emulate their kind and giving behavior. We as Muslims are to ask Allah for the good of this world and the good of the next and save us from the Hellfire. Helping others in need may be just the act that may save us from the Hellfire, where just men and stone keep it burning! Allah said every soul will have a taste of death, we just do not know when, where or how we are going to died, but for sure we are going to died. Muslims need to remember this and let no apathy obstruct them from becoming more act and involved in changing the communities that surrounds them, instead of walking by the community problems or closing their eyes to the needs of others.

MH: Do you feel that Muslim Americans are challenged now more to practice their faith and hold on to their Muslim identity more so than when you were growing up?

The access to the internet and other information is greater now than during my earlier years as a Muslim, living in America. Information influences people, both Muslims and non-Muslim alike. This is both good and bad. It is bad because of all of the negative information on the internet like for example, pornography, incurring of same sex marriages, people dressed but undressed, positive promotion of sex outside of marriage, etc. All of the above is presented as being okay and positive, but each of those things go against Islamic principles. Therefore, this increase of access to information can cause a Muslim to question their faith and agree that the above is okay and that nothing is wrong with them and that there is something wrong with Islam, which prohibits every one of them. On the other hand, greater access to information provides for the Muslims and non Muslims greater access to Islamic information. It gives Muslim an opportunity to learn more about their faith from the comfort of their home.

 MH: You live in Baltimore and it’s been reported that it’s a city with one of the highest crime rate in the US. What is the Muslim community doing to assist in reducing crime in Baltimore? If not what can it do?

We do have some Muslims, in Baltimore City, involved in encouraging community members to take better care and responsibility of their communities. Some Muslims are volunteering to go into the public schools in Baltimore City and talk with the students, teachers, counselors, school police and parents about stopping/preventing gang violation and bullying in schools. Some Muslims are approaching drug dealers and encouraging/warning them not to sell drugs in the community.

 MH: Tell us more about the challenges that face the Baltimore, MD community and how the Muslim community is rising up to face the challenge of homelessness, hunger, poverty, and other social issues.

Yearly, my organization Muslim Social Services Agency, provides free of charge resources and services to the greater community to help them improve upon their quality of life. We focus on helping the hunger, those in poverty and the homeless with helping them to change/improve the quality of their life. Each year we look at the people in need and how can we help them to satisfy their needs. How can we help make their situation better? We also encourage our local youth to get involved in helping of others. We have college students and children as young as seven years old assisting us with providing food and other items to the needy.

 MH: You mentioned in your biography that you know martial arts that’s pretty unusual for an imam to have that skill, how’d you get interested in pursuing martial arts?

Allah has blessed me with well over forty years of martial arts skills. Allah knows best when one will need to use those skills to protect one self or others. Also, men are the protectors and maintainers of the women. The Prophet (SAW) was a great wrestler and he (SAW) use to have foot races against his wife. We as Muslim are encouraged to be fit and well groomed. Therefore, my martial arts skill is in keeping with the above encouragements of my Islamic faith.

 

MH: You mentioned your biography that you served in the military, specifically your service in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, when did you serve and  what motivated you to serve in the military? What was your experience like?

I had served in the US Army from September 13, 1973-September 13, 1976. Two and a half of those years I had served as a paratrooper in the Army’s elite 82nd Airborne Division. I am a Vietnam era veteran. What had motivated me to serve in the military was I wanted the experience of being in the military, protecting our country and receiving help with financing my college education. The experience in the military was a great one. I was fresh off the streets from being a member of a gang in Philadelphia so I already knew the importance of following orders, being focused and discipline. The army provided me with additional skills for understanding a mission and seeing it through to its completion. The military also took advantage of my martial arts skills and I had provided karate training to many of my fellow soldiers in arms.

MH: You’re the Director of Social Services of Muslimat Al-Nisaa, a shelter for homeless women and domestic violence victims and children. How has your experience been with Muslimat Al-Nisaa? How important is it for the Muslim community to develop shelters and resources for impoverished, homeless and neglected in our own communities? How can the Muslim community best address this in your opinion?

My experience with Muslimat Al-Nisaa had been interesting. It has opened my eyes to the trauma that these victims, women and their children, go through at the hands of the one who claim to love them! As a board member of Muslimat Al-Nisaa, Imam and licensed social worker I only want to wrap a blanket of protect around these victims and make sure that they receive no further harm, inshaAllah. It is very important that the Muslim community and others provide financial support for those providing resources for the impoverished. In Baltimore City we have three homeless shelters owned and operated by Muslim women and most of the time each one of them has a waiting list of Muslim and non Muslim women needing a place to stay. What I would like to encourage both the Muslim and non Muslim communities to do are to give financial support to these non profit homeless shelters. These shelters only exist on donations, they have no other income in which to pay their bills, buy food and other shelter needs. The women in these shelters need our support and assistance and we need not to forget them in their time of immense need. Their love one has neglected and turned their back one these women and children. It is my hope that the Muslim and non Muslim communities do not do the same!

MH: Tell us more about Muslim Social Services Agency, Inc. and what it does.

The focus of Muslim Social Services Agency is to provide resources and services to the poor, low income and homeless families and individuals in order to improve upon their quality of life. The services and resources that we offer are very length and the best place for others to find out more about Muslim Social Services Agency is to visit our website at www.muslimsocialservicesagency.org. There they can take their time and review our services, programs, initiatives and resources.

MH: How can Muslim Heroes readers learn more about you and the work you do? How can individuals support your causes and organizations?

Again, readers can visit the above website and the can visit the Linked in website: www.linkedin.com and enter Imam Hassan A. Amin and they will learn a little more about myself and my work, inshaAllah. Furthermore, I will answer questions about myself via my email address at imamhassanamin@verizon.net or enter Imam Hassan A. Amin on Facebook and I will consider them becoming my friend and we will communicate via this social media, inshaAllah. How readers can support and help our cause? Presently, we are trying to raise money to buy our own building, furniture, etc., in which to operate from, inshaAllah. We estimate the cost to be about 1.5 million dollars. The giving towards this effort may be a form of sadaqa for the giver and may benefit them in this world and in the next, inshaAllah. There is no amount too small or too great to help us in the above effort, inshaAllah. So, we encourage readers to visit our website and donate whatever they can towards the effort to help others help themselves. I also like to mention that readers should donate to the Muslim Heroes website. This is a great thing that you all are doing and I believe you need others to support you in your efforts.

 MH: What advice or tips would you give to individuals who would like to pursue the same career path as you?

My advice to anyone who is interested in pursuing the same career path as me would be that they pray that the choice that they are making is right for them and that it will make them happy. If the work of helping others does not make one happy then one should be in a job where they are not happy. Helping others makes me happy and I am happy because I am following the footsteps of some of the great ones, Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali.

MH Exclusive: Alexis York Lumbard (Author, The Story of Muhammad: A Ballad for the Young)

Alexis York Lumbard is the author of The Conference of the Birds, her first published children’s book. Alexis recently published a storybook about the story of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):The Story of Muhammad: A Ballad for the Young. Alexis is the proud mother of three children and lives with her husband and children in Massachusetts.

MH: You mentioned in your biography that your father was in the US Marine Corps, how did your family moving frequently impact your passion to write and the content of your children’s novels today? Do your travels impact your inspiration for your children stories?

Yes, most definitely.  In my early childhood my father was stationed out west on Whidbey Island, Washington State.  I remember vividly riding the ferry back and forth to Seattle and watching with wonder the many seagulls in flight.  It is interesting then, that my first published piece is an adaptation for children of the Persian classic The Conference of the Birds (Wisdom Tales Press, Sept. 2012).  Later on my father was stationed at the Pentagon in Washington D.C, an area that is culturally and ethnically diverse. Most writers draw upon their own experiences, in addition to their imagination, to craft a story. My childhood, as well as my experiences a parent, play a huge role in what and how I write.

MH: Tell us more about your first book, The Conference of the Birds. How did it come about? What sparked the idea?

My husband is an academic and Sufism is one of his specialties.  One evening he causally suggested that I read a translation of the original Persian masterpiece.  I bought the Penguin classics version and immediately cracked open the book.  What an extraordinary story I thought to myself.  I knew within a few pages that I wanted to capture the essence of the original in a way that was accessible to young children.  For they are denied, in so much of what they see and hear today, a sense of the sacred. So strange too, since children a naturally spiritual.  They live in the moment.  They find joy and wonder in nearly all things.  In some ways they are much closer to the fitra that are we, and so, I book such as this can indeed have a strong impact on their inner lives.

MH: You seem to have had a great time in Amman. Tell us more about your husband’s job as an Interfaith adviser in Jordan. What did you do exactly? How did he land such a great position? How is interfaith work abroad? Is it the same as in the US?

My husband was teaching his second year at the American University in Cairo, when he received a phone call from Prince Ghazi of Jordan who wanted to offer him a position as “Special Advisor to His Majesty for Interfaith Affairs.” I remember this very well as I was the who answered the phone.  Prince Ghazi was very polite but did not introduce himself as “Prince,” so I had no idea who was calling!  What a shock it was! What happened you see, is that their first choice declined the position due to family reasons (he was caring for an elderly family member and couldn’t leave this person’s side).  And this person, also a Western trained scholar of classical Islam, referred my husband.  And that is how my husband came to be known as the “Mustashar.”  It wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds, but he had a wonderful time. As one of the speech writers, my husband often traveled with his Majesty King Abdallah.  Interfaith work in Jordan is similar to that in the United States.  However it differ in that there is also an “intrafaith” dialogue–the Jordanians are doing wonderful work to build bridges between Sunnis and Shiite, as well as Muslim and non-Muslim. Our precious year in Jordan definitely planted the seeds for my upcoming book Everyone Prays.

MH: Tell us more about Everyone Prays and what it’s about.

“Christians, Jews and Muslims all pray.  So do Hindus and Buddhists.  Many others pray too,” so begins Everyone Prays a concept book for children ages 5 and up.  My hope in writing this story was to present religion through the simple act of prayer and to show that prayer, though experienced differently by different people, is a beautiful and universal act. As a Muslim American and mother, I am acutely aware of how poorly understood Islam is in America.  At the same time, however, many Muslims know little about other faiths.  If we want to be better respected as a faith community then we must show the same regard towards others.

MH: Do you feel the Muslim American community is lacking in quality children stories and books? How can the Muslim American community appreciate the art of story telling?

Yes!  I say, shouting at the top of my lungs!  I cannot tell you how many times I have picked up a book at a mosque library or Islamic store and well, put it back down.  Astaghfir’Allah (Allah forgive me), I do not mean to rude, but I believe our children deserve the highest quality literature.  We need books that uplift, educate and inspire, in both picture and prose.  Are there ways for Muslim Americans to better appreciate storytelling? Yes, definitely! Go to the library with a big old bag and fill it with books, especially from the fable and folktale section, for while there might not be many stories written specifically for us (though we are seeing more), there are thousands of excellent children’s books with universal messages that we as Muslims, may also use to educate our little ones.

MH: In your opinion, what can the Muslim community do to create educational and fun reading material for Muslim children?

As parents we need to support children who want to become artists.  There is a trend in the community to push our children towards medicine or business, but we also need to value the arts. Only then will we have our own Caldecott or Newbery award winners.  So let us strive to be the very best (and not just for Muslim children, but all children).

 MH: You have a new children’s book about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)’s life story, The Story of Muhammad: A Ballad for the Young tell us more about it. How are you presenting his story for little children to understand and appreciate?

The Story of Muhammad: A Ballad for the Young,” is my upcoming book app for children.  This is the first manuscript I wrote, some five years ago.  You see I wanted a story about our beloved Prophet that would capture the imagination of a very young child, as little as age 4.  Written as a “story within a story” it tells the essential aspects of Muhammad’s experiences as a Prophet by a mother cat to her three kittens during bedtime.  I chose cats because not only do children love animals but I’d like to think that were animals telling their young stories, the lives of the Prophets would be foremost!  Did you know that there is a beautiful legend which says that Muhammad (peace be upon him) had a favorite cat named Muizza?  She was once sleeping in his prayer robe with the adhan sounded.  Instead of waking her up to retrieve his robe, he cut out the sleeve and left her sound asleep.  I love this image!  So you see my hope is that by crafting the story in this light, children will not be engaged with the story, but find it sweet and reassuring.  The Prophet’s life has many facets, so I keep the inner story very simple—but my hope is that children will finish this story feeling as though they know our Prophet personally and therein develop a deep love for who he was.

MH: How can people support your recent book, The Story of Muhammad: A Ballad for the Young and also where can we find more of your work?

Allahu kareem!  I recently finished a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to bring this story to life as a bookapp and ebook.  We had people coming in with generous pledges from all over the U.S, U.K, and in a few Muslim countries.  I will post updates on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/alexisylumbard.books) as soon as it is available for purchase.  I also have a website called www.childforallseasons.com wherein one find other great books for Muslim families.

MH: What recommendations, tips or advice would you give aspiring authors of children books who would like to pursue a similar career path as you?

First rule, READ!  As much as you can as often as you can. Secondly join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Authors also known as SCBWI.  They will hold your hand along the way.  Lastly, follow my three P rule: be patient, professional and persistent.  It is not an easy to get your foot in the door of publishing, but if you love the art of storytelling, then God willing a door will open!