Assalamualaikum warahmatullaahi wabarakatuh
Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Sr. Hanifah Alhamdulillah. Since the day I published the article Embracing Your Identity Is Never An Obstacle, it’s been shared and read by many from all over the world. I’m glad that the article inspired, and touched many souls for it is really one of the visions of Hijabi Mag.
This week I bring you another interview with a niqabi sister who inspired me in many ways and hoping that her story, experiences and reflections touch many souls as well.
Sr. Sayfa Gilman, age 22, is a graduate of bachelor in broadcast communication in 2013 at Polytechnic University of the Philippines. She left her job at an American company last year to focus on participating in various Islamic projects and events. She is the current Ameerah (leader-sisters section) of Connect Institute Philippines, board of trustee member and former Vice President of Mujaddidaat. She’s also taking up short diploma courses under Islamic Online University. Last Ramadan she began creating Islamic artworks both in English and Arabic for her little project, “Letters and Hopes”, where she sells her works and the proceeds go to the orphans of Markaz Ibn Taymiyyah in Simuay, Cotabato.
I hope that this article brings only good to those who read it.
What made you give up your old job and focus on these projects that are related to Da’wah?
“First of all, I am honestly not comfortable with the intense mixing of men and women in my previous workplace. Especially that we talk to clients a lot and I get to handle major accounts of both local and foreign. There are times when I cannot exercise my will to practice my Deen because of the heavy workload. I fear dying in that state subhanAllāh. Though they allow me to perform my salah during prayer times, I still find it difficult to stay there. I am too weak when it comes to this matter. Participating in various projects for our Ummah is my ultimate passion. Like I can’t stop here, wait for an Islamic event to happen, I am more on initiating it.
I always remind myself of what Rasulullāh (salallāhu alayhi wasalam) said that take advantage of five before five. One of them is to take advantage of your youth before old age. And I just don’t know how to explain it, but I am so happy whenever Muslims are gathered listening to lectures, or gathered to spend in the way of Allāh, things like that, it made my heart so happy and I always long for these things.
We all know the status of our Ummah and its problems, so I felt the need to help it in whatever way I can, whatever is possible and to the best of my ability and what Allāh has provided me. I always ask Allāh to make me beneficial to the Ummah and to use every single part of my existence, of my being for the benefit of His Deen.”
How does volunteer works contributed to your self-development and faith?
“I finally found what makes me happy, alhamdulillāh! I feel more complete now and I don’t get tired.
For the past two years in this field of Da’wah I met a lot of sisters and brothers who have the same passion and interest. They inspire me a lot and I learn so much working with them. Ikhlas and Ihsan every time. I always look forward to Connect Institute and Mujaddidaat’s series of Islamic events and activities in different cities here in Metro Manila and in Mindanao, because it would be learning time again and I love the bond that is established among the organizers and participants. Alhamdulillāh I can’t thank Allāh enough for making us busy in this kind of job. Sometimes when you’re one of the organizers or volunteers of the event, you sacrifice so much that you won’t be able to listen to the entire lecture of the Shuyook or you don’t get enough sleep, you travel a lot, there’s so many matters to prepare, these things fulfill my dream, and I ask Allāh to keep me and us in this work.
Sometimes I get to meet a sister who’s also active in da’wah and at the same time studying the Deen and memorizing the Qur’an, I get halal jelly haha, but they serve as my inspiration to study more about our Deen because it’s an ocean of ‘ilm. Organizing events and projects is not enough if we lack Islamic knowledge. The youth definitely would look up to us so we should strive to be a good role model to them. And, knowledge without practice is not true knowledge.
These events and projects that we organize were just stop overs to our journey. According to my younger brother, during the travel all of us should be in constant study about Islam.”
How would you encourage the Muslim youth to contribute in the improvement for the ummah ?
“Whenever I get to see younger sisters and brothers, particularly the sisters, I encourage them in a manner that I can possibly maintain, I make it appoint to get close to them, I am someone who is clingy to my sisters, we do ta’ruf and meet them when I have some free time, invite them to our weekly gathering of sisters listening to Islamic lectures and reminders, invite them to join the projects that exist and encourage them how they can help using their own skills and strengths. Like how we all started, we wanted to use our capabilities to benefit the Ummah, so we gain reward from Allāh and get closer to Him in shāAllāh and at the same time enjoy exercising our skills and talents
Most of our youth today especially those who are just starting to practice and learn the Deen, sometimes it’s hard for them to participate in projects for the Ummah because they see it as hard or that they sometimes belittle themselves that they know only a little about Islam, the best thing to do is to show them that Muslims can still enjoy and have fun within the boundaries set by Islam. We should not be hard on them, all of us have gone through the path of jahiliyah (ignorance) or had been ghafeel (heedless) and hard headed when reminders are provided to us. Giving da’wah to them to turn back to Allāh should be with wisdom in shāAllāh. We should invite them to Islam and not push them away with our harshness. It’s not the way of our Prophet (salallāhu alaihi wa salaam), the sahabah (radiallāhu anhumajmaeen) and the righteous predecessors (rahimahullāh)”
What made you wear niqab? Is your decision influenced by your family and friends?
“I asked Allah for it for one whole year, to give me every ounce of strength that I need to finally wear the niqab. It’s always in my du’a, every sujood. I can’t help myself to get emotional whenever I see a sister wearing niqab. I can’t put them into words. When I got really close to my sisters, we all began in our own starting points, just beginning to study the Deen, practice what we learned slowly, all of us actually were wearing tight clothes back then, then slowly by slowly we started wearing loose clothes, stopped wearing pants, moved to wearing skirts, then to long dresses and abayaat then to niqab. Our mentor would always tell us to never go back to where we were before, that we should always aim higher and bigger than what we used to dream about. My sisters, my akhwātifillāh helped me a lot. Wearing niqab is something that never crossed my mind before, let alone hijab years ago. I actually studied a lot about it before I wore it. I read a lot of articles on the scholars’ explanation about it, its rulings, requirements and all. I also watched so many heart-melting videos of the sisters who are so brave and were excelling in their own chosen fields and niqab didn’t stop them from that, instead it pushed them to their limits and strive even more.
I am the only one wearing niqab in our family, and in our entire clan, I guess we were only 2-3 who are wearing it full time. That’s why I honestly got really worried of my parents reaction because it’s really something that is “new” in the family. But alhamdulillāh, never did I hear a word of disapproval from them, subhanAllāh, in fact they are helping me, my entire family are very supportive of it, they were always there helping me explain it to our relatives who are not that happy with my decisions, especially Papa and Mama, may Allāh give them high ranks in Jannah, amiin.”
What were your fears before deciding to wear niqab that almost stopped you from wearing it?
“I fear that I might not be firm with it, that I don’t deserve it and that time might come that I would remove it. I thought about getting a job, I know for sure they would ask me to remove my niqab, and things like that. There’s a misconception that one cannot wear the niqab if she’s not that Islamically learned. It bothered me, I asked myself before, is my knowledge enough to be worthy of niqab? But when I finally wore it, I only wanted to get closer to Allah, to be more beloved to Him through this one single act. I realized that I may not be an ‘alima or ustadha, but the ‘ilm is available everywhere and I can study the Deen while wearing the niqab. I don’t want to stop myself from doing something which is pleasing to Allāh when I can do it while wearing niqab. Some of the scholars say that wearing of niqab is Mustahhab, attaining Allāh’s love.”
Have you encountered any mistreatment due to your way of clothing? How do you handle such situations?
“Yes a lot of times alhamdulillāh for everything. A lot of people thought I am someone from Mindanao and that it’s my first time here in Manila. So they didn’t treat me well. What I would normally do is allow them finish their thing and when I needed to respond I would speak in English and Tagalog. They always get surprised because I don’t have that thick accent of Tagalog in places in Mindanao, because I grew up here. I always smile behind my niqab during interaction with non-Muslims or not-yet-Muslims and my sisters say that it shows in my eyes, so I would smile to those who mistreat me so they will have a good experience with Muslims. Rasulullāh (sallāhualayhi wa salaam) responded in a manner that is best even to the enemies of Islam, so who are we to return the evil that is thrown to us?”
What are your hopes for the Muslims here in the Philippines?
“I hope that my sisters will no longer be asked to remove their hijab and niqab in their work, university, etc. I hope that my brothers will not be asked to shave their beard when they apply for job, that they will not be laughed at the way they dress, their izaar etc. I hope that our youth and future children will not be exposed to pornography, I hope that their minds will be pure from this addiction and that they will be free from all kinds of evil that society is instilling in them in all forms and shapes. I hope that our parents and future parents will be supportive of their children when they want to study the Deen and not to be concentrated on secular knowledge only. I hope that our community will be able to provide plenty of Institutions that caters both Islamic and Secular knowledge so the future generation will be experts in various academic fields and will be Islamically learned at the same time. I hope that there will be more masajid, prayer areas, Islamic gatherings, events and projects so we can be gathered a lot, where the angels will envelop their wings and the mercy and forgiveness of Allāh descends. I hope that there will be more ‘Ulama and Mujahideen as Islam is like a bird that its two wings are Da’wah and Jihad. I hope that we’ll be able to break the huge barriers of tribalism, cultural and traditional practices of various tribes that Muslims here in our country put more importance and value rather than our religion Islam. I hope that we will treat each other equally, with love, support and respect as how we are commanded by Allāh to treat one another regardless of our ethnic backgrounds and statuses.
Innamal mu’minoona ikhwaa, faaslihubayna akhwaykum wattaqullāh ala’alakum turhamoon. – Qur’an 49:10
In surah Al-Hujurat ayah 10, “The believers are but brothers, so make settlement between your brothers. And fear Allāh that you may receive mercy.”
Also the Prophet Muhammad salallāhualayhiwa salaam told us that we are all equal like the teeth of a comb. I hope, I hope that we will give salaam to the Muslims, brothers to brothers and sisters to sisters whenever we meet each other, whether we know one another or not. Because Rasulullāh (salallāhualayhiwasalaam) said “You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not become believers until you love each other, shall I inform you of a deed that if you do, you will love each other, afshusalaamabaynakum – spread the greetings of peace among you” subhanAllāh!”
What is your advice to Muslim youth who struggle in accepting their identity as Muslims due to fears that they may not be accepted by their communities?
“I advice them to reflect, thank Allāh for every single provision that He has given them, from their eyes and body, to their intellect and skills, for without His mercy, we will not be guided and be among the Muslimeen. Our life here in Dunya is only a temporary one, we will all die eventually and we will be headed to our final destination. And we wish to be with each other in Jannah so we can all see Allāh and be with Him, bi’idhnillāhi azzawajal. This should be our sole purpose, to worship Him alone, we should please Allāh and be His slaves, and not slaves of our society and norms.
It is a proven fact that when we become Muslims first, everything else will follow and Allāh’s help and protection will always be with us. Let our hearts be filled with His love for indeed, He is the only One who sustains us all and the Best Disposer of all our affairs.”
Who is a niqabi woman?
“Munaqqabah sisters or niqabi women as we are commonly called were normal Muslimaat just like everyone out there. We enjoy studying and going to universities, travelling and contemplating upon Allāh’s wonderful creations, having coffee or tea with our sisters, attending Islamic events and gatherings everywhere, visiting the orphans and play with them, swimming when private pools are available, and playing indoor and outdoor games when appropriate venues were provided. We still enjoy and have fun but within the limits of Islam.”
Any message you want to share with us?
“I have this hobby of creating some Islamic arts two years ago, and one of my best friends was insisting that this hobby of mine could actually be a source of income. Aside from making a piece is time consuming and it is painful in the hands, I know that it is only something that I would love to do whenever I have some free relaxing time, and I seldom happen to have one. I guess it was last year when my two brothers in law shared some heart-breaking stories from the madrasah where they used to teach and the orphans who were memorizing Qur’ān. I saw videos and photos. I got really jealous with the students, their teachers and the orphans who were striving on a daily basis even if they lack learning materials and facilities. These kids have none but Allāh and His book, but this didn’t stop them from learning and excelling in His Deen. Words aren’t enough to convey the feeling after knowing everything with regard to their situation. Their love for Allāh is way up there, subhanallāh! How humbling and inspiring to see and be with all of them. — I never thought that these two things will come to compliment one another. I’ve been asking Allāh for this, for guidance and help all throughout. Together with some of the very few sisters whom I share contents of the depth of my heart, my thoughts of continuously helping the kids, their persevering teachers and the adorable orphans has finally come to reality. Alhamdulillāh thumma alhamdulillāh!
I gathered these Islamic arts that I made way back and will be making (in Arabic and in English) available for sale and the proceeds will go to the hafidhul Qur’an orphans. I hope that it’ll not be judged of showing off, I only wish to reach more people who wanted to assist, spend in the way of Allāh and do something that will soften mine and their hearts whenever we share with others from what Allāh gave and blessed us with. This cause will surely add our scale of good deeds on the Day when we will need it most and it will be sadaqatul jariyah (continuous charity). Imagine helping one kid and this little lion of our Ummah might turn into a hafidh or an ‘alim that may influence and teach tens to hundreds to thousands of Muslims, imagine every single good thing that all of them may do, you will also have a share of it, subhanAllāh.
This, this hadith is what inspired me to pursue this dream; Rasulullāh (salallāhu alayhi wasalam) said: “I will be like this (he raised his middle and index finger close to each other) in Jannah with the one who looks after an orphan.”
I ask Allāh’s protection and help in this cause so long as it is done solely for Him.
Alhamdulillāh last Ramadaan, when I went to Cotabato, we were able to provide iftar for the orphans and hygiene kits from the sales of the artworks. I haven’t experienced my niqab to be that soaked in tears during the stay seeing the orphans, hearing them recite the Qur’an so beautifully, subhanallāh. Majority of them were already fluent in Arabic alhamdulillāh. They helped all of us who visited there to contemplate more on Allāh’s blessings and provisions. As for me, they are my inspiration to continue do more in shāAllāh.
I ask Allāh to keep me steadfast with this little project in shāAllāh, so we can extend help to them bi’idhnillāhi azzawajal. The support may not be big but what’s important is that it is continuous. Whenever someone buys from the artworks, I make it appoint to explain them the cause so it’s not only about them getting something to display in their home but that they have actually helped an orphan who’s dedicating his and her life to the Qur’an I look forward to visiting them again in shāAllāh. May Allah assist us all, amiin.”
I praise Allah for this opportunity and blessing of learning inspirational lessons from a sister who’s into volunteer works related to Da’wah. It is motivating to see a young niqabi sister who gave up worldly opportunities to prioritize the things that would increase her faith and benefit the ummah. I see Sr. Sayfa as a person whose life is dedicated to things that please Allah, she has great hopes for Muslims all over the world, and she is very hardworking and active young sister. In this time when we, the youth, are highly confused whether to prioritize our dunya desires or our akhirah goals, Sr. Sayfa has taught us that if we put Allah first, then everything else will follow. When we attach ourselves to things that will please Allah, we gain more than what we want to achieve in this dunya because Allah blesses those servants who live in fear and obedience in Him. She taught us to continuously seek knowledge about Islam and to work for the ummah while we are young because we, the youth, can do great things for the benefit of the ummah. I see Sr. Sayfa as an inspiration and good companion to her fellow sisters in Islam and a role model to all ages especially the youth. No doubt why she has become my role model too.