Excellence Beyond the Niqab: An Interview with Western Mindanao State University Summa Cum Laude Shalaine Sana Tatu
“Being a niqabi in a university where there is free mixing of men and women was tough, but Alhamdulillah, Allah always provides a way out.” – Shalaine Tatu
It has been months since we featured an inspiring muslimah. Alhamdulillah, we are now sharing a very heart-warming interview with a niqabi who graduated with highest distinction from her university in Southwestern Philippines.
Shalaine Sana Tatu graduated Summa Cum Laude (with highest honors) with a Bachelor of Science in Physics degree from Western Mindanao State University this year in Zamboanga City, Philippines. In line with her academic distinction, she is the first BS Physics Summa Cum Laude, first Summa Cum Laude of the College of Science and Mathematics of the said university and the first WMSU Summa Cum Laude after more than 20 years, accordingly.
The Muslim community is very proud of her success that her university graduation photo became viral in social media just after the news of her garnering the highest distinction from WMSU came out. I was so inspired because of her that I just had to look for her on Facebook and asked a few questions which she gamely answered.
Let us know more about Shashabear, as she fondly calls herself, and her excellence beyond the niqab.
What is niqab for you?
Niqab, for me, is an obligation. It is a fulfillment of Allah’s commandment in Surah An-Nur: 30, which was translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali as: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their chastity; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except their husbands…”
Niqab is my justification and sign of my faith. It inspires me and reminds me of my status in Islam, how Allah has raised the ranks of women from being oppressed and violated during the Pre-Islamic Times. It also stands for my dignity and protection from unsolicited desires of men.
What made you start wearing niqab (face veil)? Did someone inspire you on your decision?
I started wearing niqab last April 11, 2015, Alhamdulillah. (It’s almost one year now!) Every niqabi I see in the streets, fully covered and draped, they inspire me so much. Everytime I see one, I always tell myself, In shaa Allah, Shashabear, In shaa Allah. My heart that constantly yearns to be closer to our Creator also pushed me to make the change happen. If they can do it, why can’t I?
Did you have fears that could have prevented you from wearing the niqab before wearing it?
Of course, questions like “how am I supposed to act when I’m already wearing it”, “what will my teachers and classmates say when all they get to see are only my eyes”, “how will anyone like me”, and other stuffs ran in my mind like crazy ants. But, I thought, these are just minute compared to the advantages I can get in wearing niqab! I always tell myself, remember Who you are trying to please.
How does your being niqabi affected your studies? Were there situations that tested your imaan at the university?
Being a niqabi in a university where there is free mixing of men and women was tough, but Alhamdulillah, Allah always provides a way out. There have been limitations in dealing with my male classmates and teachers, but this served as a great advantage. My colleagues know and respect that I don’t want to sit close to men, that I neither hold nor shake hands with the opposite gender, and others. I, being a niqabi in WMSU, was respected rather than oppressed. Situations where my imaan was tested always exist everytime. See, when you’re already a niqabi, the only parts of your body that are exposed are your eyes. So when dealing with men, eye contacts always occur but I always bear in mind that ONLY the first glance is forgiven, the second glance and next will be accounted for on the Day of Resurrection.
Have you encountered discrimination by professors or other students? If so, how do you handle such situation?
Alhamdulillah, like I said before, I felt respected and dignified, rather than discriminated. Criticisms exist, but they don’t go to the level of discrimination.
In connection to the fourth question, what is your advice to young Muslims who encounter such situations when people question the way Muslim women wear?
My advice is to remain steadfast. Like the instance where a companion of the Prophet peace be upon him, Abu Sufyan, may Allah be pleased with him, asked for his advice. He said, “Say: I believe in Allah, the remain steadfast.”
Steadfastness in the Deen is the key. Once we fully understand our obligations to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, it is going to be easy for us to execute His commands. We should not be swayed of whatever they may say about us. We should remember that our sole purpose in this life is to worship Allah alone. Verily, like what the Prophet peace be upon said: Our actions will be judged according to the intentions. We should not also forget to do lots of dhikr and du’a.
What is your message for Muslim youth who want to excel in their chosen course or field?
My advice is the same as in number 6. Keep intentions and goals straight, know your priorities, manage your time, do your best, and Allah shall take care of the rest. J And! Always remember that this Dunya is nothing but an enjoyment of delusion. Everything shall come to an end, and before that happens, we might just make a mark in this dunya and achieve rewards from our Lord together. Just say Bismillah in everything good you do, and that shall turn that deed into an act of worship.
What are your hopes for Muslims in the Philippines?
My hope for Muslims in the Philippines is for us not to become merely a minority in this country where we are wrongly judged as terrorists and war-freaks. I dream that the Muslims in the Philippines will excel in everything they do, and to make a change in this country’s status quo. I dream of being in a land where Allah’s laws are followed and not violated for the sake of this worldly life. <3
A lot of us saw your valedictory address and we were deeply touched, what are your plans from here on?
Alhamdulillah. Before I answer the question, I would like to share that me being up there in the stage addressing the people was a blessing, an answered prayer from Allahu ta’ala. I asked him, I said, Ya Allah, if this is going to be my only way to help to raise the name of Muslims and Islam in the eyes of people, please, let me do that speech. If not, Ya Rabb, then it is You who knows what’s the best for me.
And Allah’s answer in that du’a is the former. Subhanallahil adheem.
I am planning to pursue Medical Physics in University of Sto. Tomas, in shaa Allah.. But if Allah has decreed something better for me, then it is He who has the sole supreme power to manage our affairs.
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Any message you want to share with us?
I’ll just repeat what I have said in my speech – to everyone who have contributed to this success, I share this honor with you. To my classmates, friends, mentors, advisers, thank you! To my family, Amah and Mamang, Kakah Nurmina, Sharmia and Rhaiza, thank you for everything you have done for me. To the Western Mindanao State University, thank you for providing us with a second home where we learned, developed and succeeded, without compromising our faith and religion.
To my brothers and sisters in Islam, Jazaakumullahu khayral Jazaa’, thank you for the acknowledgement and inspiration you bring to me. May we all unite in Jannatul Firdaws! Ameen, Ya Rabb!
To my sister who is reading this article, I hope that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala guides you in everything you do, and may He always shelter you in His infinite mercy, blessings and knowledge. J
As I wrote the final touches to this article, I was sobbing with pure joy as I celebrate excellence with Shashabear. I am indeed happy that Muslimahs are garnering so much success in this world. May our hereafter be as successful if not more. In sha Allah.
We need more inspiring niqabis, hijabis and Muslimahs around the world. Who knows? It might be amongst us reading this. As Muslims, we should always chase after excellence in all of our endeavors for this life and the hereafter. And hopefully, the stereotypes like ‘muslimahs are uneducated and oppressed’ that other people are holding against us will all be in the ashes tomorrow, if not today.
Indeed, the niqab (or the hijab) is not and will never be a hindrance to excelling in any field that we choose.