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Embracing Your Identity Is Never An Obstacle

We have a new weekly series on HM, featuring the stories of our Filipino niqabi sisters. HM believes that behind their veils are stories that are usually unheard yet worth sharing. So here on HM, we try to bring their unheard voices to the world. May Allah allow us to learn from these Muslim women. This series is not only to inspire niqabi sisters but all the Muslims, both men and women, who encounter difficulty and struggle in keeping their identity and practising the deen in a non-Muslim community. May this article inspire us to be grateful of the deen that Allah blessed us with.

This week’s Niqabi sister is Hanifah Gabriel Macmod, she’s 20 years old and currently residing and studying in Manila, Philippines, where Muslims are minority. Her story would surely inspire many especially Muslim students. She’s the only Filipino niqabi who currently studies in her university. I know this sister personally for quite a time, and I witnessed some of the struggles she had to go through when she decided to wear niqab. Just like how her story touches my heart, I believe it will also touch the hearts of many.

filipina niqabi

The interview with Hanifah was in Filipino language however we provided the English translation to benefit non-Filipino readers as well. We asked the approval of Hanifah regarding the English translation before publishing this article, so to assure that it doesn’t differ from the meaning of her words. 

Ano ang nag-udyok sa iyo upang magsuot ng niqab?
(What made you decide to wear niqab?)

Dahil sa lalong paglalim ng pagmamahal ko sa Allah at takot kaya napagdesisyunan ko magsout ng niqab at upang maipakita na rin sa kapwa ko muslimah na hindi hadlang ang nakatira ka sa isang kumunidad na non muslim upang hindi maipraktis ang katuruang islam lalo na sa ating mga kababaihan.

(Because of the increasing love and fear I have in Allah, I decided to wear Niqab and also to show to my fellow Muslims that living in a non-Muslim community does not hinder a Muslim, especially women, from practising the teachings of Islam.)

Mayroon bang impluwensya ang iyong pamilya at mga kaibigan sa iyong desisyon?
(Is your decision influenced by your family and friends?)

Hindi. Mas masasabi ko na malaking impluwensya ang aking pagsasaliksik sa islam, tungkol sa ano ba ang estado ng isang totoong muslimah at pananampalataya sa Allah.

(No, I can say that wearing niqab is influenced by seeking (learning and understanding) of Islamic knowledge about what is the real status of a real Muslim woman and real faith in Allah.)

Did you have fears before deciding to wear niqab that almost stopped you from wearing niqab? if yes, what were those?
(May mga takot ka bang naramdaman bago ka tuluyang magdesisyon na magsuot ng niqab na halos pumigil sa iyo sa pagsuot nito? Kung oo, anu-ano ang mga ito?)

Oo. Takot na panghuhusga ng mga tao. At takot na hindi pag sang-ayon nang aking pamilya. Pero lahat ng iyon ay naglaho na parang isang bula nang aking ipinaubaya (tawaqul) sa Allah ang lahat ng takot ko.

(Yes, fear of the judgment of people around me and fear that my family won’t support me (in my decision). But all of those vanished when I put my trust in Allah.)

What is modest living/lifestyle for you?
(Ano ang mayuming pamumuhay para sa iyo?)

Pamumuhay na pagsusumikap na magampanan ang mga katuruan ng islam mula sa maliit at malaking katuruan. Pagsusumikap na magsout ng damit na naaayon sa Islam, kahit na hindi angkop sa kapaligirang ginagalawan ko (non muslim community) at pagtitiis na makayang madala ito kahit pa sa pagbabago ng panahon.

(It is a life of abiding with the teachings of Islam from the smallest to the biggest teaching. The struggle to wear modestly in accordance to Islam, although it is not fit to the environment or community where I live and to remain patient in having this kind of lifestyle despite the changes in the environment or situation)

How about eating halal food, how difficult it is for you as a muslim in a non-muslim community? What are your message to young muslims regarding eating halal?
(Bilang isang Muslim na namamalagi sa hindi Muslim na komunidad, gaano kahirap ang humanap ng makakaing halal? Ano ang mensahe mo sa mga kabataang Muslim patungkol sa pagkain ng halal?)

Nang simulan ko ipraktis ang islam sa aking buhay isa ito sa pinaka masasabi ko, ako’y nahirapan. Ang lumaki sa lugar na hindi islamiko at na-adopt ang pamumuhay ng mga hindi Muslim mula sakanila mga pagkain ay sadyang subrang hirap. Mahirap dahil bihira lang may makikita ka o mabibili na mga halal na pagkain. May mga tagpo na mismo kapwa mo muslim ay nagtitinda ng mga pagkain ngunit hindi talaga nila alam ang totoong ibig sabihin mg halal na pagkain kung kaya’t kailangan paulit ulit ka magtatanung saan ba nila ito binili, at ano mga sangkap.

Sa una mahirap talaga pero Alhamdulillahi ang Allah ay mahabagin, kung ikaw na isang totoong muslimah na may malaking takot sa Allah, padadaliin niya ang mga bagay bagay sa iyo. At Alhamdulillah kahit na mahirap maghanap ng halal na pagkain may mga alternatibo naman na makikita at mabibili at lahat ng iyon ay galing sa Allah. Ang mensahe ko sa aking mga mahal na kapwang muslim na kabataan maging matakutin at lagi natin alalahanin ang Allah sa lahat ng ating mga ginagawa mula sa kilos at mga kinu-kunsomo na pagkain. Kung gusto natin maging maganda at mabuti sa paningin ng Allah ay magsumikap tayo na iwasan ang pagkain na hindi halal at tangkilikin ang halal kahit ano pa man na klase na pagkain ito. Ang pagsusumikap ay parte ng sabr at ang sabr ay malaking parte ng ating Imaan.

(Practicing the teachings of Islam is one of the most difficult things I have done. It is hard especially because I grew up in a non-Muslim community, due to that I have adopted their way of living. I also have difficulty finding halal foods in our place because only few establishments offer it. Buying products to Muslim vendors is not even a guarantee that what I will get is halal. Some of them do not even know its concept and essence. Thus, to be safe, I always ask them about the ingredients they use and where did they purchase the foods. It was hard at first, but if you will have faith and fear in Allah, He will find a way to ease your burden. Alhamdulillah, even though I had difficulties, I can still find and buy halal foods and I believe Allah helped me in that endeavor. My message to my beloved Muslim brothers and sisters especially the youth is to fear Allah. In everything that we do, we should always think of Him. If we want ourselves to become a better person in His eyes, we should work hard not to commit sins such as eating haram foods. I believe that working hard in life is part of Sabr and Sabr is a huge part of our Imaan.)

How does your being niqabi affect your studies? Were there situations that tested your imaan at the university?
(May epekto ba ang pagiging niqabi sa iyong pag-aaral? May mga sitwasyon ba na nasubok ang iyong imaan sa iyong paaralan?)

Alhamdulillah. Sa aking unibersidad na pinapasukan Alhamdulillah pinadali saakin ng Allah dahil tangap at pinapayagan saaking paaralan na ipraktis ang iyong relihiyon. Bilang isang niqabi na studyante, napakalaking pagasubok saakin na masabayan ko lahat ng mga requirements ng aking mga asignaturang akademiko. May mga pagkakataon na kinakailangan doble ang aking sabr pagdating sa mga gawaing pang paaralan, tulad nang pakikihalubilo sa aking mga klasmeyt kahit na iba’t iba ang aming mga pananaw sa mga bagay bagay. Alhamdulillah masasabi ko naman na nakakaya ko. Pero minsan ka pag ang isang gawain ay makakaapekto sa pagiging muslimah ko at ang islam, gaggawan ko ng ano pa mang paraan na hindi maging komplikado ang sitwasyon ngunit kung wala ng paraan, iiiwanan ko ito dahil sa huli mas pinahahalagahan ko ang aking imaan kaysa sa aking pang kamundohang bagay.

Isa siguro sa mga sitwasyon na sumubok sa pagiging praktising muslimah ko ay nang may isang propesor na nagtanong sa akin sa hindi magandang pamamaraan kung bakit ako naka sout ng niqab kung hindi naman ako taga saudi (doon ko natanto na siya ay isang ignorante pagdating sa Islam) nagresponde ako ng maayos subalit hindi pa rin siya nakuntento saaking sagot. Nang mga oras na iyon hindi ko na makayanan ang mga salitang sinasambit nya at dumating sa punto na sasagutin ko siya nang pabalang subalit naisip ko na ka pag pinakitaan ko ito ng hindi magandang asal ito’y gagamitin niya laban sa ibang muslim at lalo na laban sa islam. Ang aking ginawa ay inalala ko ang Allah. At Alhamdulillah nagkataon na may dumaan na isang studyante na may kasuotang maiksi. Naisipan ko ihambing sakanyang malayang pagsout ng damit ang aking sarili, sinabi ko sa propesor na kung ang studyante na iyon ay malayang ipakita ang ibang parte ng kanyang katawan, ganoon rin ako na may malayang kalayaan itago kung ano ang nais kung itago sa ibang tao (pagtatakip ng boung katawan) Alhamdulillah nakita ko sakanya pagkaintindi at pinaliwanag ko na ang pagsusuot ng niqab o hijab ay desisyon ko at desisyon din ng iba kung paano nila gustong manamit.

(Alhamdulillah for the university I’m currently studying at. Alhamdulillah Allah sent me to a university that accepts and allows Muslims to practice their deen. As a niqabi student, it is a big trial to accomplish all the requirements in all my academic assignments. There are times that I have to increase my sabr when it comes to academic tasks, such as when I have to mingle with my classmates who have different views and beliefs than mine.  Alhamdulillah I can say that I can handle those trials. However, sometimes when the task affects my being a Muslimah and Islam, I will do everything I can so it won’t make things complicated but if there will be no other way I’d give up that thing and prioritize and choose my imaan over those worldly matters.

One of the situation that greatly tested me was when one of the professors (in my university) asked me in a harsh way about why am I wearing niqab when Im not  living in Saudi (that made me realize that she doesn’t know anything about Islam) I responded to her the nice way, however she was not contented with my answer. That time I couldn’t take her harsh words anymore that it came to the point that I almost responded harshly however I realized that if I do that, she could use my negative behavior against other Muslims and Islam. Instead, what I did was, I remembered Allah. Alhamdulillah another student came who was wearing short/revealing clothes. I compared my clothing to hers, I told the professor that if others can wear freely a cloth that is revealing, I am also free to wear anything that covers my body. Alhamdulillah I saw that she got my point and I explained that wearing hijab or niqab is my choice likewise it is also other people’s choice if they don’t want to wear hijab or niqab.)

What is your advice to young Muslims who encounter such situations when people(professors or classmates) question the way Muslim women wear?
(Ano ang iyong payo sa mga kabataang Muslim na nakararanas ng mga sitwasyon na kung saan ay kinekwestyon ng mga tao (guro at kaklase) ang pananamit ng mga babaeng Muslim?)

Una alalahanin nila kung bakit sila may hijab o niqab. At pagsumikapan na hindi mangibabaw sakanila ang galit. Hanga’t maaari habaan ang sabr sa mga taong ignorante pagdating sa islam. Dahil kapag silay magpadala sa husbo nang kanilang galit malaking katiyakan na ang boung ummah at lalo na ang islam ang masisira. Mas mainam na lagi tayo magsaliksik sa islam ng paulit ulit upang hindi tayo magkamali sa pagsagot sa mga taong walang alam pagdating sa islam.

(They should remind themselves of the purpose why they wear hijab or niqab. They should not let anger overpower in themselves. As much as possible, increase their sabr when it comes to people who are ignorant when it comes to Islam. Because if they allow themselves to let anger control them, surely the ummah and the image of Islam for others will be affected. It is better that we seek Islamic knowledge again and again so that we will not commit mistakes when answering the questions of those who don’t know anything about Islam.)

Ano ang masasabi mo sa mga kabataan na nahihiya o natatakot na ilantad ang kanilang pagkatao sa publiko?
(What can you say about the youth who are embarrassed or scared to show their identity in public?)

Para sa mga kapwa kong kabataan na muslim. Lalo na sa mga kababaihan, ang hijab o niqab ay hindi dapat ikahiya o itago bagkus ipagmalaki at pagyamanin natin ito kahit saan man tayo mapunta. Dahil napakalaking bagay na tayo ay napabilang sa mga taong nagabayan ng Allah mula sa bilyong-bilyon taong kanyang nilikha. Maging maalalahanan at matakutin tayo sa Allah. Tandaan natin na ang Allah lamang na higit sa lahat na dapat magpakita ng pagkahiya at pagkatakot hindi sa kanyang likha. Sa bawat pagsusumikap natin asahan natin ang dalisay na awa at gatimpala mula sa kanya.

(To all my fellow young Muslims, especially to the women, hijab or niqab is not something that we should be embarrassed of rather we should be proud of it and enrich it wherever we go. Because it is a great blessing that among the billions of people, we are guided by Allah to the path of Islam. Always have the remembrance and fear in Allah. Be reminded that only in Allah shall we have fear and shyness and not in His creation. In every struggle, expect that there is kindness and reward from Allah.)

Sa iyong pananaw, ano ang mabuting naidulot ng iyong pagtanggap sa iyong pagkatao bilang muslim sa iyong personalidad?
(In your opinion, how does embracing your Muslim identity helpy your personality?)

Napakalaki ang naidulot na kabutihan nang aking tangapin nang boung puso na ako ay isang muslim. Naging mas nangibabaw saakin na mas maging mapagkumbaba, pagsumikapang iwasan ang lahat ng negatibong pag uugali at maging mas positibo sa lahat ng bagay kahit na napaka komplikado. Dahil bilang isang totoong muslim parte nang pananampalataya ang pagkakaroon nang mabuting personalidad.

(There are many great things that happened to me when I accepted Islam wholeheartedly. I become more humble, avoided the bad attitude (habits) and embraced the good ones even they are complicated. Because as a Muslim, it is part of our faith to have a good personality.)

Sa iyong pananaw ang pagsusuot ba ng hijab/niqab ay balakid sa pagabot ng pangarap ng isang Muslima?
(Does wearing hijab or niqab an obstacle for a Muslimah in achieving her life goals and dreams?)

Hindi at hindi kailanman magiging balakid ang pagsusuot ng hijab o niqab sa pag-abot ng mga pangarap. Maraming muslimah sa iba’t ibang bansa ang nakakatapos na hindi naging hadlang sknla ang pagsuot ng hijab at niqab sa kanilang tagumpay sa buhay o pangarap. Ako bilang isang muslimah ay naniniwala at nagsusumikap na maipakita sa lahat na In shaa Allah kakayanin ko maging matagumpay sa pag abot ng aking pangarap na maging isang guro sa hinaharap sa tulong ng Allah.

(Wearing niqab or hijab will never become an obstacle in reaching our dreams. There are too many Muslimah around the world who completed their studies. Wearing niqab or hijab didn’t become an obstacle for them to succeed in their life and dreams. As a Muslim, I believe and I work hard to show to everyone that I will be successful in reaching my dream of becoming a teacher in the future with the help of Allah. In shaa Allah.)

Ano ang mensahe mo sa mga kabataang Muslim na gusto mangibabaw sa mga napiling kurso o larangan?
(What is your message for Muslim youth who want to excel in their chosen course or field?)

Ang mensahe ko saaking mga mahal na kapwang muslim na nawa’y kung ano man ang tahakin o piliin natin na larangan o kurso dito sa dunya ay nawa’y hindi ito maging dahilan upang ating iwan ang pinaka importanting rason bakit tayo nandito sa dunya at upang iwanan lahat ng mga katuruan ng islam. At pinagdadasal ko rin sa Allah na mahabagin na nawa’y kung ano man ang ating propesyon nawa’y maging sangkap ito na makatulung sa Ummah at maging paki-pakinabang sa susunod na henerasyon na mga muslim na kabataan. Higit sa lahat lagi tayo maging matatakutin sa Allah upang hindi malihis o magkamali sa ating mga gawa. Naway biyayaan tayo ng Allah ng puso malinis sa lahat ng mgta hakbangin at matatakutin sa lahat ng masasamang gawain, naway ganayan niya (Allah) sa tamang landas.

(My message to my fellow Muslims is that whatever field or career they want to take I hope that it is not something that will cause them to forget the most important reason why we are here in dunya and to ignore the teachings of Islam. I pray and hope that Allah, the Most merciful, grant us success in whatever our chosen profession to be a tool in helping the ummah and to benefit the following generation of Muslims. Most importantly, always have fear in Allah so that we will not be misguided in everything that we do. May Allah bless us with a heart that has a clean intention in whatever we want to do in life and fearful to commit any sin, may Allah guide us to the right path.)

Alhamdulillah for this very sincere interview with Hanifah. We, HM team, hope that this article benefits and inspires many. For those who think that niqabi muslim women are forced by their families to wear niqab and are given no freedom by Islam, Hanifah is one of the great example that wearing hijab or niqab is a personal decision that is influenced greatly by faith in Allah and it is done sincerely for the sake of Allah. May the story of Hanifah become an inspiration for many Muslim youth around the world who hide their Muslim identity because of fear not to be accepted by their communities. When you do something for the sake of Allah, surely you’ll gain more than the pleasure of the acceptance of people, because what you gain is the love and acceptance of Allah. May Allah grant us enlightenment to embrace our Muslim identity wherever we are and whatever situation we have and to be grateful for this great blessing which is Islam.

Special thanks to Bro. Hajar Kabalu for helping with the translation.

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Najmah is a 23 year old Filipino Muslim, Clinical Nutritionist and Med student in Manila. Born and raised in Saudi Arabia. Living in the Philippines since 2010. Najmah is a writer and section editor on Hijabi Mag. She loves to write about Islamic reflections, personal development, blogging and health. She blogs on <a href="http://themuslimbricks.net">The Muslim Bricks</a> and <a href="http://bynajmah.com">By Najmah</a>.