Farida is a tall, thin woman in her mid-forties. Radiating positivity, she could easily pass for ten years younger. She is the type of person who makes uncomfortable gatherings enjoyable, the type you love to sit and chat with for hours, wishing you could be in her circle of friends. Read on to learn how she came to be this confident, captivating woman.
“I was born in Egypt. My mother is from Holland and my father is Egyptian. When I was about 16, I spent two years in Dubai, where I achieved my O levels. I returned to Egypt after that. I fell in love with a colleague of mine from university. Our marriage lasted for three and a half years; I was only 29 when we divorced.
My major work experience has been at a Spanish petroleum company, where I worked for 11 years as a public relations manager. I was responsible for almost everything for the expats, from travel plans to finding schools for their kids to helping them with translations. Because I dealt with them so much, I decided to learn Spanish. When the Egyptian branch of the company closed, they offered me a position at the main headquarters in Spain. I was there for about a year. I enjoyed it greatly and could have continued, but I chose to come back because I hoped to start a family […] and I wanted it to be with a Muslim having a similar cultural background to mine.
I’ve been at the Italian petroleum company where I’m currently employed for over six years. I’ve recently been promoted to Manager of External and Internal Relations. I speak Arabic, English, Dutch, Spanish, and now I’m learning Italian.”
[Hend] It’s so interesting that your mum is Dutch and your dad is Egyptian. How did your parents’ mixed-marriage affect you?
[Farida] I think as a child I was confused; I felt neither Egyptian nor Dutch. But as I grew up, probably during university, I started accepting the good qualities from each of the cultures I came from. From the European side, I adopted the qualities of being disciplined, respecting time and being responsible and from the Egyptian side, I took being sociable, having compassion and caring for my family.
[Hend] What effect did your divorce have on you?
[Farida] When I was younger, I didn’t have much self-confidence and my marriage just made it worse. The divorce was a bad surprise and it devastated me, but it turned out to be the best thing. I have never regretted it! During my marriage, I was anti-social. I lost weight, and when my colleagues asked if I was okay, I always said, “Yes, I’m fine.” I think I was in denial; I never realised that I was unhappy. After the divorce, I spent about a month in Holland just crying it off. But when I got back, I was determined to make my life better. I had a little piece of paper and on it I wrote all the things I wanted to do. I wanted to play sports, I wanted to take a modelling course and I wanted to read Qur’an. I feel as though my life started over again at that point; I did everything I wanted. I went from not exercising at all to running two marathons. I play tennis, and I’ve become pretty good. Sports are great because they make you disciplined, and when you see your progress, it increases your confidence and gives you a sense of satisfaction. The modelling course also helped me with my self-confidence. During the six months following my divorce, I read the Qur’an nine times. My mother was skeptical to see me always carrying it with me, but I told her that I was searching for peace and the Qur’an gave me that peace. I’ve gained confidence, and I’ve become positive and grateful for all my blessings.
[Hend] How did your divorce change your view of marriage?
[Farida] I’m not sour about it, but now I’m smarter in my choices. You know, right after a divorce, people try to set you up, but I told them I didn’t want that. I took three years to heal, to find myself and to get peace. After that, I was ready to meet new people. I became engaged once, but it didn’t work out. I would like to find someone nice.
[Hend] What advice would you give to someone in an unhappy marriage?
[Farida] Well, Allah (SWT) blessed me in that the divorce was a decision my ex made. But I do think that if I had realised how unhappy I was, I would have asked for a divorce. So, I would tell people that life is too short. And don’t be afraid; divorce is NOT the end of the world. If you do your best and it doesn’t work, then it’s better to get out. Be kind to yourself.
[Hend] You said your mom was skeptical to see you always carrying the Qur’an. Do you ever wish she would accept Islam?
[Farida] I try to explain to her what’s right and what’s wrong, but that’s all I can do; I don’t try to make her change because that may do more harm than good. I have a very strong relationship with my mom; without her I would not have achieved anything. She has not had an easy life, but she is very patient and it doesn’t take much to make her happy. And who knows, maybe in time her heart will change. Allah (SWT) can make anything happen.
[Hend] What advice about accepting oneself would you offer to younger generations?
[Farida] I believe that Allah (SWT) created us in the best image. I don’t believe in hair dye, botox, plastic surgery, and the like. I would tell people to accept the way God made them. And don’t rush; think before making any decisions so you’re not tempted into the harmful. But the number one piece of advice: make people proud of you as a Muslim Middle Eastern woman. When I worked overseas, people were proud of me. I never did things that are haram, so they enjoyed getting to know me. It’s easy for people to get the wrong idea about Muslims from the media. It’s not enough to just say we’re not bad, mean people; we should show it with our actions.
[Hend] What are some goals you have for the future?
[Farida] I want to continue being active and keeping healthy. I’d love to do charity work, not just donate, but volunteer with my own time and my own hands. After I retire, I want to enjoy life. I want to continue to live in peace and happiness and acceptance of what I have, not feeling I have a need for anything.
Sometimes it takes a painful shock to make us aware of the condition of our spirit. In Farida’s case, a divorce that could have crumbled her led her instead to improve herself and her life. May Allah (SWT) grant us all the same conviction and determination to turn bad situations to our favour.
Hend Hegazi is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in both print and online magazines. She graduated from Smith College (USA) with a degree in biology and currently resides with her husband and four kids in Alexandria, Egypt.