The sister who inspires me is Hana Khatib, whom many of her friends here in Southern California lovingly call “Superwoman.”
Hana is the kind of extraordinary Muslimah who somehow manages to “do it all”. She makes Islam the guiding principle of her life while maintaining a spotless home, exercising and eating healthily, planning fun and educational activities for the local Muslim community – all while homeschooling three sons and a daughter!
If you drop in to her home unexpectedly (as I have done on occasion), here is the scene you will likely find: Hana and her three older kids will be happily immersed in an educational activity at the kitchen table, or perhaps they will be outside, burying compost in the garden. The toddler will be nearby, stacking organic wooden building blocks on the immaculate living room carpet, while the fragrance of homemade cinnamon rolls wafts from the oven.
Hana will be the first person to admit that not every day is as idyllic as that. She has her ups and downs like the rest of us mere mortals. However, in a super-hero-like way, she does manage to have more productive, wholesome and well-planned days than anyone else I know. Everything she does, she manages to do with style, intelligence, warmth and generosity, masha Allah.
While growing up in Huntington Beach, popularly known as “Surf City, USA”, Hana was surrounded by the very environment one typically associates with Southern California. Sunshine, palm trees and tanned, beautiful, partially-clothed people were the backdrop of her youth. Nevertheless, Hana chose from adolescence to cover her own natural beauty for the sake of Allah (SWT). Her hijab did not prevent her from living life to the fullest. She was a popular and successful student (and the only hijabi) at her local public school. She ran track and cross country and swam in the Pacific Ocean fully covered. One day at the beach, a surfer saw her modest clothing and commented, “Dude! Sun block 100!”
These days, as a busy wife and mother of four, Hana is dedicated to breastfeeding and attachment parenting and has supported innumerable mothers in the community with her knowledge and expertise in these areas. But she doesn’t just stop at giving lessons! When a friend who desperately wanted to breastfeed her infant could not produce enough milk, Hana volunteered to be the baby’s “milk mother” and nursed him herself!
After four pregnancies and extended breastfeeding, Hana, like many women, had to delay some of her Ramadan fasts. But, subhanAllah, she is very disciplined and makes up her fasts at the first opportunity. While many of us procrastinate in this important act, Hana is an inspiration in her determination to make up any missed fasts as soon as possible.
The month of Ramadhan, for my children and many of their friends, would not be the same without Auntie Hana’s weekly iftars. At these events, she opens her inviting home to dozens of mothers and children. Everyone loves the colourful decorations and especially the delicious iftar menu that reflects Hana’s own eclectic background: samosas and chai that she learned to make from her Pakistani mother-in-law, mansaf in honor of her Arab father and pizza puffs that reflect her native California cuisine.
Hana’s Ramadhan parties also include meaningful and entertaining activities like Islamic quizzes for older kids, Qur’an recitation and crafts for the youngsters. Every child can look forward to a special, wrapped gift from Auntie Hana on the last night of Ramadhan. They also enjoy making festive, homemade Ramadhan and ‘Eid decorations that will decorate their own homes for years.
Hana was one of the first Muslimahs I got to know after I embraced Islam. It is such a blessing that I met her when I did, because, unfortunately, in the first few months after conversion, I had adopted some erroneous and disheartening beliefs. I had come to the conclusion that with a pious new Muslim lifestyle, I had to surrender all of my individuality, femininity, spontaneity and pleasure. Hana showed me that a practising Muslimah can still be fun-loving , youthful, quirky, beautiful and unique.
Despite her super-hero qualities, Hana is humble and generous. She is the first person to offer help to a friend in need. Although she thrives on organisation and planning, she will drop everything in her well-ordered life to support a sister in crisis. I have seen her donate her time, money and experience with remarkable generosity. She gives freely and cheerfully, without ever making the recipient feel guilty. In fact, she will let you know that she is thrilled to help, and you will never guess how much she sacrificed to come to your aid.
When asked her opinion, Hana will share wise and thoughtful advice, but she does not push her viewpoint onto others. Even with all of her positive qualities, she does not assume an air of superiority, but rather radiates a modest, friendly and approachable manner.
For those of us regular women whose lives are a bit chaotic – whose cinnamon rolls come ready made from the shop and whose homes often feel more like a zoo than a tranquil oasis – someone like Hana might make us feel like failures. But actually, she has the opposite effect! She inspires us by showing us how organised and disciplined we can be if we put forth the effort. Despite her super-hero-like qualities, she is human, after all. If she can do it, so can we!
Masha Allah, it is an honour to know and to learn from my friend and sister, Hana Khatib. I can honestly say I would be a less motivated, less educated, less inspired Muslimah if I had never met her.
Laura El Alam embraced Islam in 2000. She is a wife, mother of four and writer in Southern California.