Dr Sumaye Fadimatu Hamza is the former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Women Affairs, Plateau State, Nigeria and presently the Executive Assistant to the State Governor on the Social Investment Programme. She also established a school in 2003, which serves as an extension of her humanitarian work.
Aisha Sadiq : What would you say was your inspiration in your journey for self-actualization?
Dr Sumaye: I was from a home that was steeped in high religious discipline and moral principles. My parents were very religious and they strove hard to teach us the prescient teachings of Islam. The zeal for scholarship was imbibed at a very early age. Growing up, I watched my mother be tutored at home by a mu’alim. He saw in my child’s eye, my fascination with learning, to be close to learning circles.
This prompted him to encourage my parents to enroll me formally into the madrasa that served the community. I was quite enthusiastic and at the age of 12, I had completed reading the Qur’an and was admitted into the junior secondary school. It was one step at a time and the rest is history.
In guiding us, my parents always corrected us based on Qur’anic injunctions and principles. I have formed a deep connection with the Qur’an, that I make it a habit to read it every day, even though I don’t understand all the translations. Sometimes, people are fascinated and ask why I’m so tied to it. I tell them that not reading it for just one day leaves me feeling empty. The Qur’an gives me peace, fulfillment, etc. Alhamdulillah, there is a lot of faidah (benefit) in it.
Aisha Sadiq: Did your background encourage or motivate you to be the best you could possibly be?
Dr Sumaye: Yes. I and my siblings had a lot of support from my parents. Interestingly, my parents were blessed with only female children. But they had no reservation in investing in our intellectual abilities. The society on the other hand viewed it a waste of time and resources to train female children; it all ends when she gets married.
My parents believed that since we (the children) had no brother to lean on, when the going gets tough, intellectually empowering us would grant us a pillar to lean on. Often, outsiders would look at my family as though there existed a gap, due to the absence of a son. But to my sisters and I, we felt no inadequacy whatsoever. We didn’t even understand what role a male child would have played differently that we weren’t playing or experiencing.
Aisha Sadiq: Can you relate your family’s experience to the story of Maryam (AS)?
Dr Sumaye: Yes indeed! That moment when people try to view their desired choices as needed, but Allah (SWT) in His infinite wisdom presents us with a choice; that though we may not appreciate it immediately, it holds the key and more to our needs. I remember vividly that my parents often said “We are not asking for male children, all we seek from Allah are blessed children; who would represent good, and be models in the society”. Those who sought to discourage my parents from training female children would often remind us later in life of my parents resolve in investing in our training, and what my parents used to say to them. And they would add “Your parents were right, now we and our kids look up to you”.
In seeking to educate us, my parents made us to understand that yes, Western education will help us achieve the Dunya bi-idhnillah, but the knowledge of Islam was the pivot of all other understanding; a means to achieve the Akhirah. A part of our upbringing is to give respect to whom it was due, even though they may not have achieved as much as we had; particularly spousal respect premised on the teachings of Islam. With Islam, we have a complete guide, a compass for our lives. Islam shouldn’t be tailored to suit people’s desires, but rather, our desires are to be tailored to suit Islam without compromise. Holding on to Islam means we can never lose out. Islam guides us to live in every time.
Aisha Sadiq: In your call of duty, what were the challenges you faced? Were the challenges directed at you being female, or your identity as a Muslimah?
Dr Sumaye: Sometimes being female, other times both (being female and Muslim). In a gathering of 50 people you may find yourself to be the only Muslim in their midst. In my call of service as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Women Affairs in Plateau State, someone once assessed me as “…dogmatically religious, but in spite of that, she relates with people”. This made me firm in my resolve to do what was right while seeking Allah’s (SWT) countenance alone. Because in seeking to please the Creator, He makes the creatures to be pleased with you. Some people view my good mien as an individual trait. But I am quick to remind them that most of my good traits are religiously rooted.
Illustratively, during one of the crises in Jos we were delegated to a community. I was the only one with an obvious identity of Islam (hijab). A colleague asked me if I felt no fear standing out the way I did. I said certainly no, let people know that they don’t live alone; besides them, there exists diverse groups of people with different beliefs than theirs and in that diversity the much needed unity that we seek could be achieved. I wanted to create the curiosity in them to ask questions – “Why is she dressed that way?” And in learning why, they learn to coexist with others. In the end we left safely.
While I was in the UK, my doctorate supervisor used to say, “Your mode of dressing is so protective”. To me that was the perspective she chose to interpret my hijab. Her point of admiration. She saw it as serving a purpose that her own dressing did not serve. Also, I had a friend from Taiwan who was not religious. We happened to share the same research room during my doctorate degree and while we were there, sometimes I prayed in a corner of the room when it was time for salah. She curiously asked what I did at those times and I explained the concept of salah and the principles of Islam to her. And the next thing she said was, “No wonder you are always happy”. I asked her what her way of life was but she had nothing to say. We had a conversation on religion and Islam precisely and she later asked me to teach her to pray which I did. The following day she told me she had got a copy of the translated Qur’an, and she began to feel an inner satisfaction from reading some ayahs of the Qur’an.
There are times that we are alone while in the middle of others who think we are odd. I don’t think we need ever feel intimidated. Stand out, be an inspiration for others, because there will always be people who are interested to know, to learn. There will always be an opportunity for us to enlighten others about this beautiful faith.
My flatmates knew that I fasted on Mondays and Fridays, so sometimes they would buy me fruits to break my fast with. Once when I wanted to send pictures home one of my flat mates felt embarrassed to snap one with her skimpy clothes on. She scurried around trying to cover up her bare stomach “in order to at least look responsible”. (smiles)
Aisha Sadiq: How do the stories of our pious predecessors resonate with you?
Dr Sumaye: Names motivate. My real name is Fadimatu (Fatimah), and each time I remember the stories of Fatimah (RA), I am moved by her deep faith, resilience and firmness in upholding truth, in her dedication to the less privileged. The sahabiyyat were exceptional in their iman and their taqwa translated into actions.
Aisha Sadiq: What has been the price of your patience?
Dr Sumaye: I have achieved a whole lot of things through patience: intellectual growth, a healthy family life, personal self-realization, and career growth. There was a time that my entitled promotion at work didn’t come through, even after some of my juniors were elevated ahead of me. I prayed, persevered and then just by Allah’s (SWT) decree I got an admission to proceed for my doctorate degree and people were shocked. Eventually, my promotion didn’t just come through, but with an icing on the cake – I had completed my doctorate degree as well.
I often tell my kids that I won’t be there all the time, but Allah (SWT) is always present and so they need to be conscious of Him always. The Qur’an and Sunnah serve as a perfect guide. Patience indeed has brought me and my family this far. In my family life I have seen more than enough of Allah’s (SWT) favour. Each time I pray, He gives me more than I sought for. I had often stressed the need for my kids to remain firm on the primary purpose of life rather than be carried away by peer pressure, and material glitters. In the end we are all accountable to Allah (SWT). There are a lot of distractions, but every day I pray for them to remain steadfast.
Aisha Sadiq: As an advocate of social change, what could you say are your dreams for the future; what do you wish to see in place in the next couple of years?
Dr Sumaye: What I would love to see in place, especially in our Ummah is first, for parents to awaken to their responsibilities towards their wards; rather than leave them to the streets. There is an active and passive endorsement of lewdness in relation to the girl child. In this vein the story of Luqman (AS) often comes to my mind. He would often admonish his son with words of wisdom. Parents are meant to serve as a guide to their children by getting involved in their lives.
When I look around me, I see a lot of disoriented youths. They have taken pop stars, celebrity figures as their role model, rather than our pious predecessors who had sound, wholesome morals. In a nutshell, these youths’ identities have been eroded, they are clearly confused. This is where we come in as parents or guardians, so we can shape their lives for the better by Allah’s (SWT) leave. But unfortunately, some of these parents just look on and say it’s zamani (the times), rather than take the responsibility to guide and correct their children, they let them be. Whatever adds no value to our life is not worth adhering to as far as I’m concerned. I want to see a time where Muslim kids are truly Muslim kids by action and not by name alone, and parents are parents, not just because they sired those children, but because they are discharging the responsibilities placed on them by Allah, Azza Wajal.
Aisha Sadiq: In being a driving force for social change, is there any particularity to your work? Is your focus on the youth, women and children or is it generally concerned with vulnerable people?
Dr Sumaye: Yeah, it is general, although there is a special emphasis on female empowerment. Because in equipping a girl child with a sound educational background, economic independence, etc. we are preparing a fertile ground for the growth of not just an individual, but whole nations. But if we fail, we are also impacting on generations to come. I would want the girl child to be given adequate opportunities in education; both Islamic and western, as well as skills acquisition. I would also be glad to see a better society, where the vulnerable are well cared for. Where the affluent have empathy towards the non-affluent, and embraces the humanity that binds us all.
We’ve had instances where young homeless girls (late teens) are brought to my office, sometimes pregnant. We offer them counseling, besides financial and emotional support. The state of vulnerability of these girls often begins at a point when they and a second or third party beneficiary were getting what they wanted. Until the relationships waned and the second or third parties felt that the young girls had suddenly became liabilities that they were not ready to shoulder; thus the girls were thrown into the streets. Another point to note is that more often than not, these girls are from broken homes. The counseling we seek to give them is long-term based. There has to be proper rehabilitation if we wish to break the cycle of relapse. We sometimes persevere up to the point of getting them settled in matrimony and keep encouraging them to be positive about life, so they in turn serve as inspirations to others who think it’s impossible to turn over a new leaf.
Aisha Sadiq: What is the most fulfilling aspect of what you do?
Dr Sumaye: Besides personal achievements, it is touching and enriching the lives of others. It gives me a lot of fulfillment and satisfaction. When I retired from work, I resolved to dedicate more of my time to humanitarian works. A brother, Sheikh Dr Khalid, sends me text reminders, and the latest he sent was on istighfar, sadaqa, and service to humanity. Every now and then, that text message comes to mind as a reminder for me to do more than I am doing.
Allah (SWT) has granted us life and death, as is stated in Surah Al-Mulk; to see what we will do, as a test. Life is a privilege that no one is entitled to. People die young, people die old. The question remains: what have we done? Have we shared, corrected, learnt, changed, taken correction, and reflected?
Aisha Sadiq (Umm Imran) is a daughter, sister, wife and mother to two LoVeS and a pretty sweet RoSe. She is an ESL teacher, writer, and indulges in diverse life enhancing activities. She loves all things ennobling and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org