What is it about some people who seem to have a positively vibrant attitude to life? How do they bounce back when apparently difficult circumstances would knock another person down for six? We all know them. They have that positive energy of compassion, gratefulness to Allah (SWT) and inspiring wisdom to give back to their communities, their families – to the very world itself. How do hardships enable them to achieve more? SISTERS Magazine learns how life experiences have inspired two passionate Canadian Muslim women to put their faith into action.
She has a positively iron will to put her faith into action, coupled with a mind that works astonishingly fast. Rabia Khedr advocates for social inclusion of minority women and people with disabilities and is the founder and executive director of the non-profit organisation Canadian Association for Muslims with Disabilities (CAMD). Her vision is to create an inclusive society where persons with disabilities have access to spiritual and social programs in their places of worship. Rabia, an amazing mother to four children, is a trailblazer, a wife, a consultant, a hijabi, and is blind.
Slipping Through the Schooling System
Incredibly, Rabia did not attend school until the age of eight. She was finally placed in a learning disabilities class when she was mislabelled in the school system and later entered mainstream education. Embarking on her journey, she discovered she was discriminated against because of her colour. It was a case of sink or swim – Rabia chose to swim and swim hard. Her childhood experience forced her to advocate for herself: “I was the first child in the family to go through the system. I did what I had to do. With two brothers with intellectual disabilities and a younger sister with the same eye condition, I had to take on a leadership role in the house out of necessity.” Rabia graduated from high school, studied at the University of Toronto and has completed her Masters in Critical Disability Studies.
How did she achieve so much when it was so easy to give in? “I simply do not take no for an answer. I have always challenged the status quo. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes not, but I have to try and do what’s required. I sometimes say I succeed because I cannot see the dirty looks people give me!” she laughs.
On Being Grateful
Rabia has raised four Egyptian-Pakistani children and broken barriers with her hugely optimistic attitude. Her belief is guided by her faith in the path that she knows Allah (SWT) has written for her, a path which she is grateful for. “It’s about never seeing your cup half empty but half full. I’m so grateful to Allah (SWT) that I grew up in Canada. If I had grown up where I was born (Pakistan), I may not have been educated, have job opportunities or been blessed by marriage (she met her Egyptian husband at university). Mainstream society views people as defective if they have a condition. I don’t question Allah’s creation; he doesn’t make defective products. You have to have trust that Allah (SWT) has a better plan, better than we humans know. I could have been obsessed with my eye condition; I chose to understand it as a blessing.” It certainly is a blessing for the community too. Rabia has effected change, advocated for culturally sensitive services for the Muslim community and successfully overturned a builders’ development application which would have negatively impacted her local neighbourhood.
Be the Change You Want to See
For those women who wish to advocate for positive change in society, she offers advice: “It’s about your perception. If you think you can’t, you definitely won’t! But if you think you can and you’re willing to give it a shot you will make it somewhere, insha Allah. And you will have no regrets because you tried. The more you try the easier it gets. Allah (SWT) says take one step to me and I will come running. What is crucial is for you to take that first step.”
Rabia encourages all Muslim women to become role models, “It speaks volumes when people see a positive Muslim woman in action. It’s time to engage and be active, contributing members of our communities. We’re under the microscope more than ever before. Without a voice, you’re invisible, which invites discrimination. Let us all change that perception, let’s inspire one another to make social change a reality and, insha Allah, give our community a chance to flourish.”
Farheen Khan is a Muslim woman who has survived abuse to become an incredibly successful thought leader of her generation. A consultant, writer and social activist, Farheen works as a manager at a shelter for abused women and children in Mississauga, Canada. An advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, Farheen works on various charitable boards to effect social change. Meeting this calm, humble woman you would never realise that it has not been easy for Farheen.
Her Incredible Journey Begins …
Post 9/11, Farheen was a victim of an Islamophobic physical attack in the hallways of a Toronto apartment building. She relates the incident: “He told me that Muslims were being bad in the world and I will show you what that means.” She managed to run for help but the reality was harsh; no one helped her. Eventually her body reacted; she became anaphylactic (a cause of extreme allergic reactions to the environment/food), which led to isolation. Rather than become a victim of circumstance, she chose to be a champion for others less fortunate and volunteered throughout her experience.
The Turning Point
Farheen attended an Islamic conference on spirituality and heard the speaker talk about levels of shukr, to be grateful, and the actual benefits of tribulations. “I learnt that whatever happens, it’s important to remember that Allah (SWT) is giving you the attention you need. He listens.” She prayed one night that things would change and knew that only Allah (SWT) could get her out of her depression, and that is when her journey began. “I recognised Allah (SWT) in different forms, started to meet the right people, hear the right messages. I surrendered to Allah (SWT) and He took me where He needed to take me. It’s about being open to the journey that He wants to give because within it is a beneficial lesson and, as it turned out for me, a very positive experience.”
Farheen draws her inspiration from the Qur’an: “Surah Al Asr speaks exactly about what we need in life. Nothing is possible without Allah (SWT). We have to try to be patient regardless of what happens. Verily, man is at a loss without Allah (SWT). He is our source and He has a purpose for us all. We need to figure out what that purpose is. Through this learning process I found that my purpose is to give back, which to me is a form of worship”.
Make a Difference
For those women who wish to start up a project, she says, “At the end of the day, it’s about making an impact on people’s lives. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day. We may never find out how to make a major change, sometimes it’s the small but constant actions that please Allah (SWT). It can be anything, perhaps cooking rice once a week for the homeless, starting a prayer circle to discuss gratefulness or brainstorm ideas. It’s about being able to shift your thinking. There are so many opportunities to engage, we must recognise where we fit in and how we can make a difference insha Allah.”
www.farheenkhan.ca. | www.camd.ca
Sakina Suleman is a writer, mother, professional, volunteer, baker and loves all things inspirational!