I am grateful to Allah (SWT) who gives us every opportunity to call upon Him in times of abundance and scarcity. He loves us more when we call on Him for His help, mercy and protection. We will always be in need from the One who is never in need. Can you imagine the number of people who call Him, day in day out, during the twilight of the dawn and in the darkness of the night? They forsake their beds to contemplate, reflect and meditate. Allah (SWT) answers the supplication of every supplicant without His gifts becoming depleted. The more you reach out to Him, the more He loves you and enriches you.
All glory belongs to Allah (SWT), who has fashioned me to be a Muslim woman. I thank Allah (SWT) for my Islamic rights, roles, duties and responsibilities. I thank Allah (SWT) that I live in a home where I can exercise my full-fledged rights, as long as the Qur’an and the Sunnah are my guides.
As Muslim women, we have the choice to work or not to work, depending on our circumstances. We are also encouraged to choose workplaces that are devoid of fitnah, if we decide to work outside our homes. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal society. This is the stark reality. Otherwise, Muslim women would be seen in every work sector. However, we can make things work for us if we are determined, steadfast and sincere in pleasing Allah (SWT) alone.
The last time I worked for pay was eight years ago as an undergraduate research assistant in a toxicology lab. My supervisor was a kind hearted Filipino lady, who took the time to train me on the job. As Allah (SWT) would have it, my time there was short lived. I left because I found out I was pregnant with my second child. The Toxicology department had an employee work policy in place; every female employee must report to the supervisor if she becomes pregnant. This was a requirement because a pregnant female employee could be at a high risk if her unborn child was exposed to the chemicals and plant toxins used in the lab. So, I had to say goodbye to my two-month-old job and embrace the homemaking profession.
It would be unfair if I failed to mention that full-time homemakers are always on the move, working day and night. Most of the time, they do not get paid. I always joke about it to some of my friends, who are also homemakers, that our paychecks are going to be given to us when we meet our Lord, insha Allah. Homemaking in itself is an overloaded, full-time, 24/7 job that never ends. However, I had always longed for something extra, besides my job in the house. I wanted to make an impact in my own little way, and I definitely wanted to relish my own, hard-earned money. As you may know, according to the shari’ah law, our husbands’ money is our money, and our money is our money – not our husbands’. This is one of our basic rights as Muslim women. We need to, and must recognise this.
I had been searching for a part-time job for quite a long time. So, when I came across a data entry nutrition job opening at one of the universities close to my home, I jumped at the opportunity. Although data entry was not my thing, I still went ahead and applied because of my nutrition background. A few days later, I got a response from one of the hiring managers. She invited me for an interview on Thursday July 19, 2012. I will never forget this day; it was the day I received the August 2012 SISTERS shipment, it was the last day of Sha’ban – a day before the blessed month of Ramadhan.
I was interviewed by the hiring manager and the administrative associate. After looking at my resume and asking me various questions about my volunteer work and published articles, the hiring manager told me about another job opportunity called the ‘Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More’ program (FFESMM). I had never heard about this program before, and I have been living in this city for over four years. She mentioned that my nutrition skills might be more useful in this program, since my articles focused mainly on health. However, she made mention of something that I would love to share with you, dear reader. She said she knew that there was a large population of the Muslim faith in our county. Yet, it is so unfortunate that our masajid have been missing out on state, private, and NGO health grants. This was because we had no voice, no representative on our behalf to lobby for all these free health grants that could be used to equip our masajid with healthy initiatives. We were visibly absent during any local and state board meetings. This piece of information struck me deeply. There and then, I knew I was at the right place. I did not know what the final outcome of the interview would be, but I felt a strong urge to do something for my community. I had been volunteering for a number of years and enjoyed it with all my heart. Yet, I wanted to do more. I asked myself, how long are we going to be living in a bubble? The non-Muslims are not the only ones affected by chronic and infectious diseases. We are feeling the pains too. Yet, we fail to navigate the health system and assume we are doing okay.
By the time I got home, I was all charged up. I quickly logged on my laptop and googled ‘Faithful Families’. What I found, was unbelievable. Here is a faith-based health education and promotion program developed collaboratively by local universities, public health departments, cooperative extensions and community stakeholders. The goal of the program is to educate and empower every faith community to make healthy choices, through eating healthy foods and staying physically active. This program also allows faith communities to link limited resource families with health education and empower them to adopt healthy eating behaviours.
On the fourth day of Ramadhan, I went for the second interview. This time around, it was with the program director of the program itself. Both of us connected immediately. We had similar academic experiences and my career dreams were very similar to hers. Her PhD was in Religion and Health, and that got us talking about religions, Islam among them. It was a da’wah style interview in the month of Ramadhan.
On the twelfth day of Ramadhan, I got a ‘congratulations’ email from the program director. I had been hired as a program assistant and health educator for the FFESMM program. As a program assistant, I would be helping the program director in the marketing and recruitment of participants, scheduling meetings with our Women’s Committee for support, partnering with health organisations and making sure that our masajid are incorporating policy and environmental changes that would enhance the health of its members. I would also be contributing to the FFESMM website, by writing about health activities and classes going on in our masajid. As a health educator, I would be teaching the concepts of nutrition, food resource management, food safety and moderate physical activity, to the Muslim sisters in my community.
Personally, what I really loved about this program was the focus on the connection between food, health and faith. Therefore, as a FFESMM health educator, I must teach these nutrition classes, incorporating the Qur’an and Sunnah. I must encourage my sisters to think deeply, realise, and acknowledge how their physical health is connected to the faith they live out daily. I find this work both amazing and intriguing. This job also allows me to choose my hours, and I even get paid for reading anything related to Faithful Families, be it journal articles on faith and health, public speaking skills and marketing strategies. This job has forced me to leave my comfort zone by turning me into a public speaker. I used to freak out when called to speak in public, even to women-only gatherings. In the western world, Muslims have to learn the art of public speaking for da’wah purposes and for other educational benefits. Surely, this is a blessing from Allah (SWT). I have to recruit participants and tell them about the FFESMM program, to reach out to them if they do not reach out to me.
To say I am deeply fulfilled, pleased and satisfied is an understatement. I have been calling upon my Lord for a long time, asking him to bless me with a flexible, family-friendly, part-time job. He has answered my du’a. I know Allah (SWT) chose me for this position because He wanted me to make an impact and help improve people’s lives. He presented this job to me when He knew the time was right for me to take up an additional task, besides my homely duties.
Now in my second month at work, I feel the contentment and enjoyment. I love the fact that it connects me with my own Muslim community, specifically the Muslim sisters. I love the fact that the Qur’an and ahadeeth are part of our educational resources in the classes.
I thank Allah (SWT) for my Ramadhan gift. It is, indeed, an answered du’a.
Maryam Funmilayo is a public health nutrition educator, living in Raleigh, North Carolina. One of the areas of her nutrition research is eating and drinking according to the Qur’an and Sunnah. She is super excited to be bringing in those practical skills to the Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More Program. To her, faith and health are twins. One cannot do without the other.
For more information about the Faithful Families program, check out EatSmartMoveMoreNC.com