HEY! MUSLIMS! WHERE ARE YOU???

“An MFA???”

“Yea, an MFA.”

I always answer back with a sparkle in my eye and the BIGGEST SMILE! I smile not just because I am completely amused by the look on this person’s face, considering it’s the same reaction I get from just about everyone. No, I smile because I love hearing my own answer. An MFA.

As I said in my first post, I am currently working on my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Fiction. Honestly, a year ago I would have never, in a zillion years, believed anyone if they had suggested that an MFA was in my future. Me? Haneen? Oh, no, no. I was going to be a lawyer. I had my future set. Of course it looked like every other Muslim’s future, I thought… or rather exactly how a Muslim and his/her parents thinks his/her life should look.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I worked hard enough to stress every single fiber in my body, all the way through high school and into college. There was nothing I couldn’t get myself involved in. I had full control, I thought, and complete determination to get me where I wanted. I had a nice balance of Islam, school, family, extracurriculars, volunteering- you get the picture. I needed those straight A’s. I was destined to get into my dream school, I told myself. I made massive dua’ (supplication) 24/7.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I ended up at UCSD. It wasn’t the only school I was accepted into, AlhamduliAllah, but it was the second to last school I told myself I would attend. It’s an incredibly strong school but I wanted out of San Diego. Allah swt had another plan for me. No worries, I told myself, my goals and dreams had not changed. I would gain experience by living on-campus. I would major in Political Science/ International Relations, get into my dream law school, become a strong International Lawyer and fight for women/Muslimah’s rights internationally. Then I discovered the Muslim Student Association (MSA). Or rather it snuck up behind me and screamed “ASLAAMU ALAIKUM SISTER! JOIN THE FAMILY!”

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I thought I had successfully dodged the sisters and brothers on campus but MashaAllah, they were good! Coming into UCSD, I saw the MSA everywhere but I had a fear of joining. I didn’t even know what it was like to go to school with a Muslim and all of a sudden there were hijabis everywhere. It made me grin constantly. A simple smile and nod meant “salaam”. Sometimes I would be able to catch their lips moving, “Asalaamu Alaikum”. The brothers I ran into- no, not all had beards- would lower their gaze/heads, place their palms on their chest and say “Asalaamu Alaikum”. I had a fear that I wasn’t “religious enough”. I didn’t really know what to expect and at first I was too stubborn to overcome my fear. Despite the obstacles I was facing by choosing to live on-campus, especially since the year started off with the beginning of Ramadan, I always felt like I was surrounded by an aura of support. By the end of the year, I was pulled straight into the heart of the ummah (Muslim community) on campus, the MSA. I had a whole new family, support system, and lifelong friends.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I could tell you all about the exceptionally knowledgeable events (weekly, quarterly, annually) that the MSA strove to hold, but I would need an insanely long post for each one to give each justice. Beyond doubt, what stood out to me- and really the rest of campus as well- about the MSA was how unbelievably diverse it was! So many backgrounds and, more fascinating, SO MUCH TALENT MASHALLAH! I was excited and shocked at the talent that I saw within my Muslim brothers and sisters. The stereotype among us was that we worked hard to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers… strong and sensible careers.

I enjoyed writing. So, I spent a lot of my time observing those around me. I was mesmerized and delighted by what I saw:

       The brother who had leadership skills that provided a voice of reason for everyone- especially when questioned about Islam. There is halaal (permissible) and haraam (forbidden) and he wasn’t afraid to state and explain them.

       The sister who had enough energy and an optimistic outlook that could make any depressed person excited about life. “GOOD MORNING!” She would yell even as the moon smiled down upon us.

       The brother who could freestyle raps and poetry about justice faster than I could gulp down a glass of water.

       The sister who had enough fashion creativity to start her own line instantly if she wanted.

       The brother who could calm down any tense crowd, or bring energy to an apathetic crowd, with a bit of sarcasm and light humor right before getting serious again.

       The sister who could write and perform spoken word poetry in a heartbeat.

       The brother who had computer skills that allowed him to design fliers and websites like a pro.

       The sister who had more knowledge on the three monotheistic religions than I had an on Islam.

       The brother who could self-teach himself anything that allowed him to make impressive videos, take stunning pictures, and write epic novel plots.

       The sister who could literally draw anything you asked her for!

       The brother who could make you fall in love with the Quran instantly through his recitation in salaat (prayer).

       The sister who could make anything look aesthetically pleasing through photography.

       The brother who could memorize Islamic facts faster than you and I could memorize song lyrics.

       The sister who was so mathematically skilled, she could gear up and face Bartel Leendert van der Waerden (look him up).

       The sister who was destined to lead the ummah with her pure heart filled with love for Islam and the Muslim community.

I could literally go on. These are not just skills or talents but also gifts and blessings from Allah swt. Each one these brothers and sisters could (and will) go on to change the world. More importantly, this is the future of the ummah. I was wrapped with the belief that I must work to dispel the misconceptions that American society, and the rest of the west, had about Islam and Muslims. As an American, I know the secret. We all do. We need to penetrate and swim within what’s popular and most appealing in society. The media and the entertainment and art world.

You see, every single one of those brothers and sisters were science, math, social science, engineering majors. There were only a couple “non-traditional” majors. It came as a shock to everyone that I was minoring in photography at the time (you should have been there when people found out I picked up a major in literature/writing before I pushed it to my minor). “I heard a rumor that you were an art major and could do magic with publicity?!” A brother once asked. Having an “artsy” minor gave the impression that I had this unique skill, when in reality, I was definitely not as qualified as others I had met in the MSA.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

We need doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, etc. These are all absolutely noble paths and careers. Yet, these are not the only noble careers in society. I feel that as Muslims, we feel that if we step into a path not really well known, we might quickly plunge into the realm of haraam. Tawakul (to place complete faith or confidence in Allah swt), understanding Islam, and practicing the true teachings of Islam will keep us on the straight path. We need to show the entire world the beauty of Islam. We need to venture out and challenge ourselves. Allah swt gave us our gifts, talents, and skills to do good and strengthen our ummah. Above all, we must support our brothers and sisters who go for these endeavors. I know that it is difficult to make the majority of our parents and Muslim communities understand the importance of taking paths less traveled, but it is definitely needed. We must stand by one another to strengthen this ummah.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I changed back to a political science major at the end of my fourth year at UCSD. I walked in the commencement ceremony. Once summer began, I pulled out the large stack of LSAT prep books my friend had given me. The plan was to take a year off so that I could take the LSAT, apply to law schools, and look for work within the next year. Throughout the summer, I made an astonishing amount of dua’ to Allah swt to guide my heart to the straight path and help the ummah in the best way that I can by utilizing what I do best. By the end of July, I woke up. I revamped a whole new life plan, shared it with my parents, took another quarter to finish my literature/writing minor, and after an insane amount of research, applied to every single MFA program I could.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

My parents have always been supportive, but this was quite possibly the largest decision I would make that would change my life forever. I was terrified. My parents stood by my side; yet, I knew that I would need to work harder than I ever had to prove to them that I was serious. Even after I finished applying, my parents still asked, “Are you going to study for the LSAT and apply for law school next fall inshaAllah?” It was the most stressful and intense year that I could remember. While applying and waiting for responses, I told no one but my parents and three friends of my plan. One of my strongest supporters had actually been one of my inspirations to go after what I loved. He could have chosen to go on with his plan of attending medical school, or even law school, but instead he had gone after his skill that will soon change views of Muslims in a beautifully positive way. He had already been involved in starting the movement of change through art forms in the MSA ummah at UCSD for the better. As a filmmaker, director, producer, writer, and activist, he practiced his talents well- making videos for the ummah. We needed much more Muslims to follow in his footsteps and go into “non-traditional” careers.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I want to write novels. I want to write novels, not just for Muslims, yet about Muslims and our diverse backgrounds for my own society. The American society. The world. Why should we not be able to normalize Muslims, practicing Muslims, with rich backgrounds in novels. Why should it not be normal to see Muslim writers, filmmakers, directors, producers, artists, photographers, comedians, spoken word artists, etc. among Muslim doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, politicians, etc. It’s honestly, completely in our hands to paint the image of Islam beautifully for the world to see. It can absolutely be done in a halaal form. We don’t need to use profanity, sex, gore, violence, drinking, and any haraam in our artwork to make ourselves known or be successful in our lives and careers. We do the best we can to change the world for the better and bring up our image as Muslims for the sake of Allah swt and Allah swt will take care of the rest. Allah swt will take care of us.

The  MFA program that I’m in is exciting yet extremely exhausting and demanding. I will admit that it’s terrifying to feel alone in my path. I shouldn’t be alone. I am not the only, and definitely not the best, Muslim or Muslimah writer out there. I just chose to take on the challenge. I wanted this. I love what I’m doing despite the harsh obstacles that lay on the road ahead.

Allah swt is truly the best of planners…

So HEY! MUSLIMS! WHERE ARE YOU???

Your ummah is calling. Bring back the voice to the voiceless. Bring justice to your oppressed brothers and sisters and those facing hardships all over the world. If you have the power to do so, if Allah swt has blessed you with a talent, use it. If you’re reading this blog post, then you already have a skill. MashaAllah, I’m going to assume you can read and inshaAllah write. WRITE! Let your voice be heard. The least you can do is support and encourage your brothers and sisters to do good with what they love.

Do what you love! Do it for the ummah! Do it for your Muslim brothers and sisters and all of humanity! Do it for the sake of Allah swt and you will find ultimate success and happiness inshaAllah, if not in this life, then the hereafter!

Peace,

Hanoon

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