I was 13 when we headed to the conference. I had been before, and I always looked forward to the same things – the food, the semolina served at dinner, staying up late, tea and biscuits in our rooms, the stalls… the stalls were probably my favourite part. I would spend most of the year saving up my pocket money so that I would be able to spend those four glorious days purchasing books, ‘abayahs, jewellery and more books. But one thing didn’t excite me – the lectures. I found them boring. I found they didn’t apply to me; I didn’t feel that zealous excitement when the scholar spoke. When others shed tears, I checked my watch. When others hastily scrawled as many notes as possible, I wandered off to the book stalls. I was a 13 year old girl still discovering my identity. As a daughter of a revert mother and with a non-Muslim father I saw once a week, I had two different lifestyles pulling at me. I knew where I wanted to belong – Islam was the right path, Allah SWT existed and Judgement day was coming. I knew and believed all of this, but Islam and a love for the deen was far away from my heart. I wanted to belong in the Ummah – I just didn’t feel like I did.
Then, one day, the book stall had some new arrivals. I excitedly hurried over as I saw a bright magazine cover with a drawing of faceless sister in a pink hijab being embraced by a faceless brother. The pale blue letters at the top invited me over: SISTERS. The magazine was quarterly back then, and this issue was all about love; love of your family, love of your spouse and love of yourself. I was intrigued and flicked through the colourful, beautiful pages. I paid for the magazine and headed back to the lecture hall to sit beside my mum as I read through the articles. I fell in love with its friendly tone and engaging topics, but one article about the writer finding support from her younger sisters touched me the most. For the first time since my pre-teen years, I cried for something other than self-pity. I was crying from inspiration and I was crying out of love for the religion that gives so many people strength in difficult times, a religion that brought people together in a few simple pages of a magazine.
I read that copy of the magazine several times. Then, a few months later, I walked into our familiar Islamic bookshop, and to my absolute delight found a new issue of SISTERS by the counter. I returned to that bookshop every few months to get a new copy, always eager to read new articles and admire the breathtaking designs.
Fast forward a few years, and I was a different person. I was married and had an almost two-year-old son running around my two-bedroom flat. I was just starting out my freelance proofreading and editing business and wanted to gather together some writers to contribute to a one-off online publication. In an ambitious and hesitant move, I contacted sister Na’ima. Not only was she the editor-in-chief of my beloved magazine, but also the author of my favourite book (interestingly, From My Sisters’ Lips had also been a guidance in my turbulent teens). Whilst asking for her contribution, and unsure if I would even get a reply, I was offered something else: a job opportunity. It was a short contract, just a couple months of copy editing, but I jumped at it.
I was introduced to the SISTERS team and felt overjoyed! I was working behind the scenes of the very magazine that had kept my iman alive through some of the most difficult years of my life. I completed my contract with them and went on my way… only to return a month later.
Fast forward a few more years and I am living in another country with my husband, and we now have three beautiful children, masha Allah. And I am still working for the magazine. Although, I don’t want to call it work. You see, the SISTERS team is more than just a temporary contract. It has become more than just a job. These sisters are my family. They are my sisters. I haven’t met them in person (except seeing the lovely Sidat sisters in Costa one year!) but they have provided me with invaluable strength and support through hard times. The casual emails and personal friendships make work a delight, not a chore. But this joy isn’t restricted to the editorial team. The writers I have worked with have blossomed into friendships across the world. One sister helped me sleep-train my toddler. Another had two children at the same time I did and we found a beautiful friendship filled with similarities and shared interests. SISTERS is truly a beautiful establishment. It holds a unique atmosphere that I am yet to discover elsewhere.
Establishments like that do not fizzle away. SISTERS is taking a break from print issues, but that doesn’t mean ‘goodbye’. No matter which projects we pursue, editors, writers and readers of SISTERS will always be my family. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.
Khadijah Stott-Andrew is a freelance writer and editor and is currently managing the newly launched website, www.lexical-scribe.com. you can find Khadijah on Twitter: @Khadalina, Facebook: www.facebook.com/khadijahstottandrew, or check out her personal blog, www.scribebehindthecurtain.blogspot.com.