Writing the July Baddie of the Month piece was super daunting to me at first. I was absolutely stoked to be interviewing such an independent and hardworking boss who has been a role model for me for the past year, but my feelings of excitement were immediately met with worry and hesitation–how could I encapsulate so much greatness in such a short time?
Once we had started the interview, Baddie of the Month Tahira Ayub had immediately assuaged all my fears, something I should have probably expected from the beginning. She was killing every question, answering thoughtfully and candidly. Give her the space and she will give you the greatness.
She has channeled her struggles into empowering herself and the community that she stands in. Tahira Ayub is an inspiration to all us and we should all strive to be a little more like her.
It has been one of the greatest joys learning about this strong, capable and kind woman’s story. I hope you feel the same. Without further ado, here is Tahira.
MuslimGirl: Tell us about Tahira! What are your interests?
Tahira Ayub: Thank you so much for interviewing me! I have so many interests, it’s kind of a problem. Besides writing for MuslimGirl, I spend a lot of time reading books and writing on my own – as someone who grew up with a different book in my hand every day, I’ve always wanted to write one of my own, so I tend to jot down little short stories and ideas all over the place!
This love of writing also stems from my excessive collection of journals (I can’t resist a cute notebook or stationary). I love taking pictures, going for walks and writing in my planner. I like painting or scrapbooking when I have time and watching “Pride and Prejudice” for like, the 30th time. I know, I know, I sound like I’m 60, but I’ll take that as a compliment!
I also spend a lot of time working with Muslim women in my community with a group I have co-founded and co-led for the last four years, The Society of Young Muslim Women. This group has focused on creating and facilitating discussions on various topics, doing community service, writing political/religious pieces for the Huffington Post and holding events that allow us all to enjoy each other’s company and feel part of an empowered community. It’s genuinely one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. There’s something really wonderful about coming together with people just like you, who share your struggles and just finding common ground!
Other than all of that, I, unfortunately, spend a lot of time at work or in class (#GradSchoolProblems).
What makes you laugh/cry?
I feel like I’m always either crying or laughing, so this is a tough one. Is everything an answer?
Honestly, I like to stay informed about what’s going on in the world and being part of the MG team really helps me do that. But sometimes it just really sits heavy on your chest. With everything that’s going on in the world, we kind of start normalizing all the atrocities going on and the more you observe and delve into things, the more you realize how much we’re never told about how conflicts started or what the actual situation is. We only hear about the opinions of, mostly, Western media and forget about the other side of things. It gets kind of overwhelming at times, and I’d be lying if I said that as a 22-year-old Muslim-American, it doesn’t make me weep when my mind refuses to be numb to it all anymore.
When I heard the story of Nabra during this past Ramadan, I felt like something broke in me. It was hard to move past the story of this beautiful black Muslim girl and how her story was being picked apart and dismissed as something it wasn’t. When I see pictures of poverty in our home countries of Pakistan, Syria, Burma, Somalia, Palestine, etc. it hurts so deeply to know that I haven’t paid enough attention to what’s been happening until I felt forced to this past November. Everything just feels more complicated these days.
What I do to laugh is a little bit less complicated. I try my best to surround myself with genuine people, who have been there for me and will continue to do so (iA). I’ve had a lot of people come and go in my life, just like anyone, but I take comfort in my three sisters and little brother, and the friends who always know how to cheer me up. Those are the people I know will always pray for me just like I pray for them, and that’s the most genuine kind of love and happiness. Alhumdulillah.
Favorite movies/tv shows?
Oh, I love this question! I like to watch comedy shows like “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation” (I’ve seen both series like seven times each and it never gets old) and of course “Saturday Night Live.” I also love to watch shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Once Upon a Time,” so I have a pretty good range of what I like to watch throughout the year. I actually like to plan a schedule when each season of shows it starting up again cause there’s so many I’m hooked on!
For movies, I loooove action movies, especially series. My brother and I have movie marathons all the time where we watch entire series of shows like “Avatar the Last Airbender” every year, or movies like all the “Pirates of Caribbean” or “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” If it’s an action series with a hint of fantasy – I’m all in! Also, I have to give another shout out to my all time favorite movie/book combination, “Pride and Prejudice,” and all the amazing Netflix specials lately like “13th” or “Anne with an E.”
Why do you write for Muslim Girl and what drew you to women’s rights in specific?
I write for MuslimGirl because one, I love to write and two, I love being in the company of empowered Muslim women. It motivates and inspires me so much to see how far the girls on the MG team push for themselves and for knowledge. In the society we live in today, we deal with a lot of people making assumptions about Muslims or speaking on behalf of us – that’s why this platform is so important. A publication that is written solely by Muslim women and is doing incredible things in this industry – that’s amazing.
Women’s rights, in particular, is something that has been important for me for years. I see how women are treated in society as a whole – we’re seen as problematic in the workplace and overly emotional everywhere else. That’s just being a woman. Add on the fact that we’re Muslim as well, and it’s like we’re climbing the uphill gender battle, while wearing weights on our ankles, carrying a racist middle-aged man on our backs who keeps yelling, “Sister, that is not proper hijab!” It’s exhausting and frustrating. People don’t realize how empowering true Islam is to women. Islam was the first religion that practiced actual rights for women – stopping female infanticide, empowering women to be scholars and warriors alike, and so much more. I feel that, as someone who has the privilege of living where I do and being encouraged to be educated, it’s my duty to write about these things.
What are your favorite things to write about and why?
Generally, I like to write about the world around me and my own experiences. I also like to write about women’s rights like I mentioned before and I really love writing about the stories in the Qur’an. I know that personally, I’ve found a lot of solace in the stories of the Prophets and the companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), so I like to bring some of those stories out and share them with our readers. More than that, however, I adore writing about the Muslim women in the Qur’an like Hajar (RA), Aysha (RA), Asiyah (RA) and so many more. These are women that came before us and lived lives that were challenging in ways that are similar to what we face today. Whether it was poverty, tyranny or being ostracized because of their beliefs, these women made it through with grace and faith that I aspire to achieve. It’s very comforting to learn about them because their hardships made them beloved to Allah (SWT), and I hope ours all do too.
So you’re in grad school, which means the majority of your childhood took place in a post 9/11 America. Describe that landscape for us.
When 9/11 happened, I was in second grade and I had absolutely no idea what had just happened and how my life had just changed. The first time someone addressed me in a way that targeted me for my skin color or faith was when a classmate asked me, a month later, if Osama Bin Laden was my uncle. At the time, I looked at him confused and a little annoyed and said, “No? My uncle’s in college,” and that was that.
It wasn’t until years later – years of me being uncomfortable during the moment of silence on the anniversary when my classmates turned to look at me, years of me being given the middle finger by complete strangers in the mall, years of me sinking low into my seat throughout high school with my only-black hijab that I hoped would make people notice me less – did I realize that that kid had been taught by his parents to ask someone like me a question like that.
Growing up Muslim in a post-9/11 America has no doubt been filled with hardships of racism and fear for myself and family. I’ve had people yell obscenities at me, I’ve been the only person randomly selected at airports when traveling with friends, I’ve had to watch a vicious backlash against Brown and Black people grow into hatred and institutionalized targeting of people who look like me. And because of all of that, I’ve also been given the opportunity to be empowered enough to become educated and eloquent.
Growing up in post-9/11 America has made more aware and proud of my religion and my family and more impassioned to write and speak up in public settings. I don’t feel like hiding the fact that I wear hijab or that my parents are from Pakistan. I feel like an individual. An individual who will speak up against injustices that don’t only affect me or my identity. Growing up in a post-9/11 America has begun to make me a fighter.
Every year, you rally the Muslim Girl Troops in organizing our Ramadan Recharge series. What inspired you to take this initiative and what does Ramadan mean to you?
What’s inspired me to take initiative comes from my love of the month of Ramadan itself! Growing up, Ramadan was in autumn, which is my favorite season, so all my memories of the month are just enhanced by that feeling of nostalgia and happiness. When Ramadan comes around now, I like to try and make the best of it and make it more productive.
This series is a combination of spiritual enhancement as well as motivation in terms of being healthy and creating better habits for the rest of year – which is exactly what Ramadan is all about. We try to stress that it’s never about being perfect during this month- Ramadan is all about progress and making habits. I think we generally get a little caught up in thinking that we aren’t good enough Muslims to read Qur’an and do charity and keep fasts, and for us girls, we feel like we get disconnected when we’re on our periods and can’t fast. That’s a lot of pressure. And if we focus so much on completing things instead of getting something out of it, we lose the point of Ramadan altogether – which is so make yourself stronger for the rest of year.
Sure, if you are able to read the entire Qur’an in 30 days and can only eat salads and work out every day and do charity work etc., that’s amazing masha’Allah, but it’s not a requirement. What about getting into the habit of reading a page of Qur’an in Arabic and then reading and reflecting on its translation every day? You create habits and enhance them slowly so that by the time Ramadan is over and the Shayateen are released, you’ve created a defense mechanism to help you maintain your spiritual high and connection to Allah (SWT). I think that’s what this series tries to do – give you tips and encouragement to make worthy habits and maintain them, and honestly, I am so thankful I get to be part of that at all, let alone lead it alhamdulillah.
What is something you would like to accomplish in the next week, the next month, and the next year? The next five years? How do you plan on accomplishing a few of these things?
In a year, I want to, insha’Allah, finish my last year of graduate school and hopefully have a real and stable job. I have a lot of things I’ve always wanted to do, but for the first time in my life I’m not really sure what order I’d want to them all, so I would in the next five years I can figure it all out! I’d love to get my PhD, pay off my student loans, attend the Bayyinah Institute in Texas, make sure my parents are comfortable, memorize more Qur’an and maybe write a book.
In the middle of all of this, I really hope I get to travel, both across the country and abroad – I have a huge bucket list! Also, I wouldn’t be sooo opposed to getting married, if that’s what Allah (SWT) wills! It’s a lot of big goals, but I would hope to accomplish them by having patience, and having faith that in the end, everything always happens for a reason, and everything always works out for the best!
What’s any advice you have for fellow Muslim Girls?
The biggest and most important things to always keep in mind – Make sure you value what you have. This could be your weakness. One of my favorite things to do when I’m having a bad day is to have a conversation with my mom or dad – seriously! I feel as I’ve gotten older, I appreciate their company and their stories more and it always puts me into perspective when I’m being too melodramatic about my first-world problems.