For whatever reason I seem to not tell you this enough, but the lessons you’ve silently taught me my entire life are the reason I am the woman I am today. I could only hope and pray to be half of the woman you are. When someone says I look like you or remind them of you I can’t help but feel flattered. Me? I can’t even compare to a fraction of the strength, grace and faith you carry yourself with.
You defeated all the odds and have done nothing short of give my siblings and I everything you have and more. As a teenager, you lost your father and was one of 11 children being raised by a single mother in a small town in Alexandria, Egypt. At 19 when Baba (dad) came as a suitor while visiting from America, despite him being 11 years your senior and nearly a stranger, you got the blessing of your family and agreed to marry him and move across the world. It was the 1970’s and you didn’t speak a word of English. You left your siblings and your mother to move across the world in hopes for a better life with your new husband and a future family. Before I was even born you were already sacrificing for me!
You started a new life in America with Baba and mothered five children, and I am lucky enough to be the youngest. You chose to live in a tiny town in the suburbs of New Jersey, despite that the Muslims and Arabs you knew were living much farther north. We had birthday parties every single year, new clothes for Eid and all the hugs a child could ever need or ask for. Even after being exhausted from everything you had to take care of all day I remember you singing to me as I jumped around in the shower. How did you still have so much energy to look after me?
You worked tirelessly to buy a home, paid for in cash, in order to avoid the worry of debt and because you felt strongly about not paying interest. If you can’t pay if off at the end of the month you can’t buy it. You showed my siblings and I to learn to live within our means. While we live in a society where credit card debt is common place, you instilled in us the responsibility of avoiding debt and interest. Although it’s near impossible to buy a house cash now I always remember that I need to pay off my credit cards at the end of the month. I even worked extra hard during college and after to pay my student loans ahead of time.
You decided to wear hijab in the 80’s, despite it being so foreign in a place and time where Islam was not yet common knowledge. And you did so proudly, sewing your own hijabs and dresses. You share stories of how your American friends knew nothing about Islam and learned through you about the Prophet Muhammed pbuh, Ramadan and Islamic principals. In a time where Islam is under attack and scrutiny I remember how during a time when Islam was completely foreign you covered from head to toe to show those around you that you were proud of your religion. I am sad to see how some people hide their Muslim identities out of fear of not being accepted. You taught me to do the complete opposite. No matter how unpopular Islam may be it is even more important for me to proudly share with those around me that I am indeed a Muslim. And I’m not lying, cheating, stealing or trying to kill off “infidels” like mainstream media is trying so hard to convey. Instead I am a proud Muslim, a woman in tech, honest and hard working. You taught me that we are privileged to represent Islam and it’s important for us to portray it in a positive light, always.
Growing up I remember Baba coming home late from work to always find a delicious Egyptian home-cooked meal prepared. Mama you were always busy attending to so much at once. There was one thing I never saw you skip. Salah (prayer) if it was 5:00 am or 9:00 pm there was a misaliya (prayer rug) on the living room floor waiting for your forehead to grace its surface. The pages of your leather bound Quran were creased and worn, but it never left your bedside and sometimes traveled in your purse. You would share stories from the Quran and of the prophets to teach me a lesson no matter what the situation. When someone wronged me you’d tell me the story of the Prophet Muhammed pbuh, and how when someone was trying to harm him every single day on the way to Fajr (early morning) prayer and one day when he didn’t show up he asked about him and found out that he was sick so he paid him a visit. No matter what, do not miss a prayer and even if someone harms – you forgive them.
Before I was even born you were already sacrificing for me!
Being Muslim was more than the five daily prayers and reading Quran. You and Baba were part of a tight knit community of Egyptian-American Muslims throughout NJ. You volunteered at the weekend Islamic schools and opened your home and heart to anyone in need. You led by example and always reminded me that because we are Muslim we have to be nice to our neighbors, if someone new moved in we had to bring them bagels and invite them to always stop by if they needed anything. If we saw a neighbor carrying something heavy or stuck in the driveway when it snowed it was our duty to go out and help them. Being Muslim meant we could not cheat or lie, even if nobody was looking, Allah (SWT) always was. Being Muslim meant cleanliness, from our clothes to our home, “You can’t sleep with dirty dishes in your sink” you would say.
When I was in middle school and came home exclaiming I had gotten high honor roll again and didn’t get praise, that’s when you taught me yet another life lesson. You asked me, “Are you getting good grades for me or for yourself? Will good grades get me a good job or will they get you a good job?” I am always remembering this when I look back on my achievements and the journey to get where I am. It is that much more fulfilling knowing that the choices I made were motivated by the fact that skipping class affected me and only me negatively. It also makes me realize that when something good happens to me I can keep it to myself because it is between me and God and nobody else’s business. If I am doing something or get an opportunity it is for me to enjoy and experience and flaunting it isn’t needed. Stop posting pictures of your food, there may be someone who doesn’t have anything to eat tonight, you would say.
And Mama, my sweet mother, when you lost your mother and your first born son within a 7 month span, your unwavering faith and ability to smile and laugh despite the undeniable pain you were feeling remind me every single day that I need to be strong and make you proud. On the days when the pain hurts too much and I miss them both so much – I imagine how much more that loss must hurt for you.
I think back to when your brother passed away suddenly when I was just 6 years old my friend’s mom took me away to spend time with them because death was something I was too young to comprehend. When my heart aches longing to call Bassem, my late brother, I realize it must have been ten fold more difficult for you to lose your brother whom you hadn’t seen in years and couldn’t even attend his funeral because he was in the Middle East and you in America. Despite being heart broken you still had the energy and courage to wake up every single day and take care of us and smile past all the hurt you were feeling.
I could go on for days but what I am trying to tell you is that your sacrifices have not gone unnoticed and the life lessons you have taught me and continue to teach me made me into the woman I am today. When my friends compliment my cooking or tell me that I’m too nice I feel a tang of pride knowing that I am this way because I had the privilege of being raised by you. You lead a life guided by faith and unconditional love for others, truly a God-sent gift to everyone who comes across your path.
I love you, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day.