Thursday, 27 February 2014

Interview | Isra Chaker @simplycoveredup

Asaalaamu 'alaikum to all my wonderful readers! Jumuah Mubarak! Aghamdulillah for all of you. It is not without any of you that I am able to continue to do this, it is not without you that we all help to inspire others and not without Allah's help that anything is possible.

As far as inspirational women interviews are concerned, I have had so many wonderful women agreeing to be part of the series (some that I was beyond excited about), but unfortunately as life can get crazy for me, I am sure it has been crazy for them, not finding the time. It is however my immense pleasure to bring to you today the interview with the absolutely awe inspiring Isra Chaker of instagram account @simplycoveredup. Isra uses instagram as her blogging tool in order to get her message out there. You may be able to tell that I may have gone a tad overboard with the questions but I truly felt like I wanted to learn so much about her!

Lets start!

Tell us, who’s is the person behind simplycoveredup?
My name is Isra. I am very passionate about helping others. I want to improve the lives of others who are struggling. I think compassion and support are two most fundamental traits we as humanity need, and I live my life embodying those traits in everything I do. I am 23 years old and was born and raised in Colorado. I moved to Washington, DC a couple of years ago to pursue a career in international affairs. Currently, I am working for an organization that works under the White House, with President Obama as our Chairmen. We provide resources to cities internationally in helping them develop in all ways including access to education, healthcare, and improving the status of basic human rights in these countries. I am also pursuing my Masters degree in International Affairs and Public Policy. I am Syrian-American and spent basically every summer of my life in Syria and the Middle East until the war began. I speak three languages fluently and love sketching and writing poetry.

     How long have you been blogging via instagram?
I have been blogging for a few months, it’s incredible how powerful instagram is when used as a platform for ideas, passions, and influencing people around the world.

What inspired you to start doing so? And why do you continue to do it?
I think my inspiration was the fact that I didn’t see many hijabi women being represented as influential leaders on instagram. There were so many hijabi women doing hijab tutorials, fashion, and makeup tutorials, and I was searching for women who pursue other passions such as public service and have high career aspirations that are similar to mine. When I didn’t find that, I decided to fill that void and serve as a woman who inspires, motivates, leads, and represents a deeper meaning and purpose in life that we all have to fulfill. I started focusing on fashion since I wanted to appeal to the masses at the beginning in order to get a following. Once I started to see success in that, I decided to make my page more of who I am and not only showcase my love of fashion, but really show who I am as a person. Raising awareness on issues, charities, or organizations and the work they do is important to me. Educating non-Muslims about Islam, breaking down the stereotypes people have about hijabi women, and becoming a diplomat for the United States are all part of my journey in life. I continue to do it because I know how important it is to give others the space and inspiration to use their voice. To speak up when they have something to say, to be who they are no matter what judgments are coming their way, and to always be the best version of themselves.

What would you say are the positive effects of blogging?
Having an audience is the greatest positive effect. Having a group of people who are engaged, connected, and impacted by what I do or say. People tend to not think about the power they have on instagram or any social media site. The power of connecting with people through one post. Especially on instagram, having 30,000 followers is a big deal- not because it proves popularity, but rather, shows the vast amount of responsibility I have to do something positive with that audience, as a Muslim, and as a person in general. Allah has given me this blessing and I owe it to myself, other Muslims, other underrepresented people, and Allah first and foremost to do something positive with this. I think about this every time I post something, and it is a feeling that is intimidating and challenging because you are constantly asking if what you are putting out there is positive enough, if it will impact one person in a positive way. Another positive effect is having a safe space to express my emotions, feelings, ideas, opinions and thoughts on everything and anything that pertains to me. It’s freedom and self-expression at its finest and that is just wonderful. The last positive effect I want to mention is connecting with other people! I have met the most incredible people through instagram. Whether that be those who I have collaborated with and just randomly followed or connected with. I can honestly say that I have gained meaningful friendships from instagram with people all over the world. I have an instagram family that has really become part of my non-social media world.

5       How has blogging affected you life?
It has given me the space to pursue my passions in a more free way and connect with others to help reach my goals of inspiring others and creating social change. It has changed my routine in life for sure- having to schedule meetings, photo shoots, events. It’s also really amazing when a stranger recognizes me from instagram and says hello. Thos little moments are so special for me and demonstrate how amazing the connectivity social media creates is. More than anything, it has inspired me to move forward with full force to reach my dreams. It continues to give me the motivation to reach my goals and push farther, work harder, and jump higher to achieve what my heart desires.

         Tell everyone a bit more about thoughtful Thursdays?
“Thoughtful Thursday” is a concept I came up with where I feature an organization doing incredible humanitarian work somewhere in the world. I wanted to educate my followers on important crises happening globally such as the malaria epidemic, poverty, world hunger, etc. and build an advocacy network where people look into these organizations, talk about them, share the information with others, and hopefully donate time or money to the organization.

7    What inspired you to start thoughtful Thursdays
I wanted to remind myself as well as others of how privileged we all are and how so many other people are suffering in this world. I wanted to educate, raise awareness, and inspire others to do the same. Sometimes it takes one person doing something, and then others will begin to do it. It is a pay-it-forward mentality that I wanted to embed in my page. Personally, I donate time and money to many organizations helping people worldwide, and I wanted to share the work in the hopes that others could also help. My “Thoughtful Thursday” posts are my favorite J

        What is your favorite quote and why?
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” by Mahatma Gandhi. This quote embodies my mission in life. I believe that if I want to make a difference in this world, that I need to speak, act, and live in the way that I want others to. I need to be an example of what I am seeking, and I take this quote as a life mantra.

        What is your earliest memory of Deepak Chopra?
My earliest memory is seeing him on the Oprah Winfrey television show. He was talking about spirituality, and I remember hanging on to his every word because he was so eloquent and inspirational in the way he was speaking and his actions. It was a great episode.

1    What can you say is the one thing that affects or affected you most about Deepak?
His understanding of the human mind and soul is completely incredible. He can give words to describe emotions and thoughts we all have, and he connects it all back to our greater purpose in life. He is extremely intelligent and his energy is welcoming, open-minded, and accepting of everyone no matter their identities and actions. I want to reach that point in my interactions and experiences with people.
How did it come about that you are now mentoring under him? 
I attended the Shriver Report LIVE conference presented by the Atlantic at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Looking at the program before the conference began, I knew that it was going to be a day where I gained tremendous insight into the lives of thousands of women in the United States and the challenges they face economically, socially, and culturally. I enjoyed the personal testimonies, the challenging questions asked to influential leaders of the Free World such as Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Deepak Chopra. I appreciated hearing the efforts of women in government to establish equal pay for men and women, in addition to universal pre-kindergarten in America; allowing for all children no matter their economic status and other circumstances, to receive an education. It was touching to hear the story of Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, Mayor of Riverdale, Georgia and how she came from a place of almost ending her life to a leading political figure in the South. Her story is like many other women who are on the brink because of the lack of support and opportunities to thrive in this society. Welfare, living in shelters, trying to make ends meet are real struggles women face every day and the Shriver Report brings these issues to light. The Shriver Report is a multi-platform nonprofit media initiative led by Maria Shriver that seeks to modernize America’s relationship to women. Maria Shriver was the most eloquent person in the room; I look up to her because she fights for the rights of women every single day. She is the reason this report was compiled and she created the gathering of hundreds of influential people from a variety of backgrounds including non-profit, non-governmental, private and government sectors to challenge their ideals and inspire them to do more. 

Although the conference was tremendously successful and inspiring for me, I couldn’t help but notice that I was the only woman in the room wearing a hijab (veil). I was constantly being stared at as I made my way through the room to take pictures with the role models that I look up to, or when I just wanted a glass of water. I couldn’t help but be disappointed that here I was attending an event talking about the issues women face and how we all need to recognize our roles as individuals and allies: providing support and empowering one another, yet I wasn’t feeling supported as a Muslim audience member. This feeling is one that I have often in my field of international and political affairs in Washington, DC. I am always one of the few, if not the only hijabi Muslim woman in attendance, trying to make a space for myself, trying to use my voice to break down stereotypes, and use my presence to tear down the walls of oppression.  I am proud of who I am and what I represent and I believe that every person in the world should feel the same about themselves no matter what they look like, what they believe and how they identify. But standing as a lone voice is difficult. It makes me work one hundred times harder to get positive attention and recognition for my ideas and what I bring to the table, rather than what I look like. It makes me become frustrated that I don’t get opportunities and access the way a non-hijabi woman does, it makes me feel vulnerable and overwhelmed with doubts in my ability to actually make a difference in this world and become the first Hijabi US Ambassador. Despite my fears, hesitations, and doubts, I still continue to fight because I believe in myself. I believe in my purpose to change this world and create a path for many Muslim hijabi women to have a platform as an influential leader in the United States of America. I have faith that we as women are the future and our competence, intuition, and strength will lead generations to come. 

I was able to meet one of my greatest role models at the conference: Mr. Deepak Chopra. He took the time to speak to me and asked me what my story is. I explained to him that I want to be a United States Ambassador, being at the forefront of breaking down negative stereotypes and barriers against Muslim women, and creating a strong platform for the voice of underrepresented communities. Mr. Chopra assured me that I could achieve my dreams. He provided me with meaningful advice and direction. By the end of our conversation, it was established that he be a mentor for me. I could not ask for anything greater than having the support of one of the most incredible individuals in the world. The fact the he saw something in me provided me with the assurance and confidence that I really can achieve my dreams, that I can make a real difference and help people all over the world. I am so blessed and grateful for the support of Mr. Chopra, and I cannot wait to see what’s to come. 

What affects you creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
The answer is simple: everything. My environment, my family, my work, my education, my friends, my passions, my interactions, and my experiences everyday affect me in all ways. I have two goals in life: 1. Be the best Muslim I can be and live with the purest of intentions. 2. Be the change I wish to see in this world, and leaving a legacy that will continue to inspire others to fight for what they believe and follow their dreams.

Who or what inspires your fashion sense?
I don’t have any specific inspirations. I love dressing up and I think that you should always look your best to feel your best. I think the world operates on first impressions and you never know who you are going to meet every day, so I always keep that in mind. I love fashion in general and I tend to dress elegant and sophisticated. I love having those dressed-down days in sneakers and an oversized sweater though. I think what you wear reflects a lot about who you are and your personality and my fashion sense definitely says a lot about me!

How would you describe your fashion sense?
Not anything specific because I literally dress in many various styles. I love dressing in classy and elegant outfits, and since I have to dress business formal five days a week for work, I wear this style the most. But I love sneakers, and actually have a collection of them, and I am obsessed with accessories. Jewelry in my opinion is what makes an outfit always. It can dress it up instantly.

What are you absolutely passionate about?
Giving back to others, putting a smile on someone’s face, and making a difference in this world through social justice and activism.

What’s the best advice you have received and why?
I was told by a professor of mine to never give up on my dreams no matter what or who I faced as an obstacle. He told me that people who struggle the most, and face the most adversity, end up winning all the rewards at the end. It just takes patience, persistence and determination. I believe in this advice tremendously, it has helped me get through a lot.

What is the worst advice?
That I should not pursue a career in the public eye because it is not my place, and as a Muslim woman, my focus should be on getting married and having children.

What about Islam do you love the most?
The compassion and mercy this faith has. How we as humans are all supposed to have compassion for one another at all times, that we should always behave with the purest of intentions and with complete respectful manners. I love that Allah has obligated the hijab as a mechanism for preserving my dignity, modesty, and integrity.

Describe what your most defining moment thus far in your life?
I have many Alhamdulillah, but I would say one of the top is meeting President Barack Obama and speaking to him about my ambitions and goals, and diversity representation policies I thought needed to be a primary focus for his term. He gave me support and told me to go for my dreams. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. I literally got a thumbs-up from the President of the United States of America J

When did you start wearing Hijab and what influenced you to start?
I was eleven years old when I decided to wear the hijab. To be honest, the thing that influenced me was 9/11. I was ten years old when it happened and I remember the impact it had on my family and community. Everyone my family knew for years started treating us like strangers. My parents have lived in the US for over 30 years yet we were treated like they were foreigners who could be harmful and dangerous. It was the negative stereotypes of Islam in the media that drove me to learning more about Islam and the hijab. I am a proud Muslim, and have always been. I believe in every part of Islam including the beauty that hijab brings to modesty and integrity. I decided to research more about the hijab so that I knew exactly the purpose of it and knew all the responsibilities that came with wearing it. After researching, I spoke to my mom about the hijab and all the questions I had about it. She was extremely encouraging and understanding and provided me with the answers I wanted. I never felt pressured to wear the hijab from my family. My family was very supportive in whatever decision I made personally about wearing it. I decided on my own that I wanted to wear it, and Alhamdulillah I had the support of my family and friends. It is a part of who I am and I cannot imagine not wearing it. I feel liberated, strong, and confident in the hijab, and it is feeling I could not have without the hijab.

How does wearing Hijab make you feel?
It has given me the confidence to be myself in all ways and represent my beliefs in all contexts. I know that people respect me for who I am and the intellect and personality I present instead of my physical appearance. It has given me the boost of passion and motivation to work to break down the stereotypes of Muslim women and Islam in general. I want people to understand that we are not oppressed and that we are just as competent and free as those who choose not to wear the hijab- and it is this message and my love for hijab that has influenced my career choice and goals as well as my aspirations to become a United States Ambassador.

How did wearing hijab affect people’s reaction to you?
There are struggles that one faces with all parts of their identity: race, ethnicity, culture, and religion is no different. Everyone faces their personal struggles that Allah gives them and Alhamdulillah hijab isn’t one of them for me. I do struggle sometimes with the glares and comments people make towards me. I struggle with the misconceptions that are imposed on me by complete strangers just because I wear hijab. It’s hard to keep a strong and brave face in the face of adversity, especially when it is so personal and direct. However, I give people the benefit of the doubt and think of at least 70 excuses for them as it says to do in Islam. For example, I will just tell myself they are misinformed or ignorant or maybe they have their own personal experiences with Islam. When I give them an excuse it helps me handle it and deal with the negativity.

What would you say are the benefits of wearing hijab?
There are so many benefits to wearing the hijab. The feeling of liberation and freedom from society’s boundaries and norms for women is the best feeling in the world. Having my intelligence and personality be at the forefront of how I represent myself, instead of my body and physical sexuality. The hijab gives me a sense of self-respect, one that makes me carry my head up high because I feel confident, secure, and have the utmost dignity in the world. It is truly beautiful in every way.

Did the perception of yourself and your fashion sense change when you started wearing hijab and how?
The only change I experienced is feeling more comfortable in my own skin. Learning to love myself for me and to keep my beauty for me and those who are the most important was a great lesson I learned. Understanding myself and that I am the same person, just wiser, more mature and more confident. My fashion sense did not change other than covering up more. I still rock the same outfits I would before the hijab.

What advise can you give women on starting and sticking to wearing the Hijab?
One piece of advice I have is to always be true to yourself. I know it can be difficult to make a life commitment like wearing a hijab and embodying modesty in all ways, but I suggest doing the research behind wearing the hijab, talking to your local Imam/Sheikh about your reservations and struggles, and ultimately make a decision without feeling any pressure from your community, friends, and family. This decision is big, and it needs to be understood completely and treated like a serious decision. It is important to believe in the decision you make and make sure it is what you want and you alone. No one can define your relationship with Allah other than you, so you need to just focus on that when dealing with the hijab.

In some countries hijab is banned, what are your thoughts about this and what is the one thing could tell people to enlighten them about Hijab and Islam?
I think the ban on hijab is a fundamental injustice to humans everywhere. When you forbid someone from expressing their faith, which they are at their core, you are conducting the greatest injustice, and that is a tragedy. Every human on this Earth should have the fair and equal opportunity to represent their faith the way they please. If you ban hijab, then it is as if you are banning all other persons of faith from their religious dress. It is dangerous and it creates tension between religious groups, societies, and overall makes those impacted unhappy and discontent. It’s just not fair. I would tell people that the hijab is a means of modesty. It is the expression of unconditional dignity, modesty, integrity, and self-respect. I will tell them that in Islam, women have the right to choose how they want to live their lives and what they choose to wear, but it is in our faith because it provides benefits beyond their imagination. I would also tell them to actually personally meet a hijabi and speak to her about what the hijab means to her.  

Lastly, What do you want to be remembered by?

I want to be remembered for being the girl that always smiled, cared for others more than herself, fought for the rights of people everywhere, gave a voice to those who feel voiceless, broke stereotypes of hijabi women, and became the First Hijabi United States Ambassador inshAllah.

I thought that this interview was a good way to leave you with something mull about over the weekend. I cannot tell to how this women makes my mind tick! She is definitely someone we can all aspire to. With the way she sees life and her steady climb to self motivation and improvement, I say that it is only a matter of time when she becomes the first Hijabi United States Ambassador! What a soul to be pioneering for hijabi women in the US! Follow Isra on instagram to be constantly be inspired! 

Until the next post! Please don't forget to like my Facebook page and follow me on instagram and twitter! Thank you for all the support thus far!


Friday, 21 February 2014

Awareness | Plight of the Syrians

Asalaamu Alaikum to all. This post will not be like many of my others. It takes a much deeper and heavy route today. I realize that I have not been posting much this year. Life has become crazy, or as I see it, always was. Honestly, I have just not found the time.

I know I need to do a tutorial, I know I need to do a look post. In fact the blog is due a few look posts, what I wore to the blogger meet, what I wore on my anniversary…  and I suppose if I go on at this rate, I, will never catch up.

This morning though, as I was checking facebook I came across One Solid Ummah’s latest post and because of my ridiculous data situation I hardly ever check videos. Something however made me click on it despite it’s warning of sensitive content. I sat there with tears streaming down my face and then realized that I needed to write this post.

Honestly a post such as this was on my blog list for a while now. It seemed fitting that I after I saw that video I finally cross it off the list, so to speak.

(Here is the link to the video if you feel inclined to watch it. Please be warned however its not for the faint hearted!

It dawned on me that not many of us, and truly because I look after teenagers I know, that not many of our young ones know of the plight of the Syrians.  It seems a superficial world this fashion and blogosphere, or for the very least the one I’m in. What I wore, what I got, how I’m doing it. We are all to blame for not giving a second thought to people who live a war each day.

We are sheltered from it, because Alhamdulillah  due to the struggle of our parents and grandparents we live in a free country.  The war in Syria has been waging for about 3 years. The fact of the matter is, that wars are started in an attempt to bring about change in whatever form it may be.  And I agree that after continuous failed attempts at peaceful resolution there may be no other way to effect this change, but the outcomes of a war can be hideously misconstrued.

No one thinks of the innocent. No one thinks of the children. According to the United Nations, the death toll in Syria surpassed 100,000 in June 2013, and reached 120,000 by September 2013. More than four million Syrians have been displaced, more than three million Syrians have fled the country and became refugees, and millions more are left in poor living conditions with shortage of food and drinking water.

The Humanitarian Crisis is escalating.

I admit, I don’t now much about it. So I can’t and rather choose not to point fingers. I just know that I make dua for it to stop, for the war on the Palestinian’s to stop, for all those suffering from oppression in this world to be granted ease and freedom.

It is narrated by Anas (R.A):
Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.” Volume 3, Book 43, Number 624:Sahih Bukhari.
I just thought that if I can, in my small way help to bring awareness, why not! Let us all try to help, whether it is with dua , time or money.
Ways to help:
The Deen store: The Syria Stationary Drive
Contact: 021 762 6745 / 0786104700 /
The Jamiatul Ulama Johannesburg
Muslim Hands
Gift of the Givers
Save the Children
One Solid Ummah
I am truly floored by these people who make it their lifes mission to help others. May Allah grant them all the help they need to continue.

and Allah knows the Best.