The beauty of Islam is that it is a religion backed by science, and at its core is the concept of always seeking knowledge: The Prophet Muhammad (saw) was told, Iqra! “Read in the name of your Lord.” This command was revealed to the Prophet Muhamad in a time of vulnerability and inability to do exactly what he was being commanded to. He was illiterate.
We know the famous story of the interaction between Prophet Muhammad (saw) and Angel Jibreel. But nevertheless, the Prophet was still commanded to read, to gain knowledge, to learn how to become the Prophet of Allah(S). Despite his being illiterate at the time, he was able to become the most noble of humans and the most knowledgeable of people.
If you reflect on Surah Al Alaq, it is a miracle in itself, describing the science behind how a human is formed in the womb and emphasizing the importance of learning through reading and writing, the pen.
In this autumn and back-to-school season, how many of us choose to be lifelong learners? How can we take the concept of Iqra and implement this idea of seeking knowledge into our own lives? The term, lifelong learner comes to mind when I think of the message Surah Al Alaq is trying to deliver. Part of our duty as Muslims while on this Earth is to always seek and be of the people of knowledge, Ahl Ul Ilm.
Knowledge can take many forms and as well-rounded Muslims, we seek to benefit from the worldly knowledge as well as enrich our understanding of our faith. This path can look different for everyone as they navigate their different phases of life.
Outside of our traditional and natural paths (parents and school) to learning when we are younger, life becomes our biggest teacher. And as we take on responsibilities and roles, such as being parents, we seek knowledge in different ways to invest in ourselves, educate our families, and be of aid to the communities we associate ourselves with.
I want to share with you the stories of two lifelong learners I know, who truly embody the essence of that term. Insha’Allah in sharing these stories, we can all draw inspiration to pursue learning in whatever capacity speaks to us in our own lives.
Danah with her mother on Chef Mamma G's graduation day from culinary arts school.
My Mother, Ghada
Danah: They say a parent’s proudest moment is seeing their child walk across the stage to receive their diploma. A few years ago, the tables were turned, and I got to see my mom, Ghada, also known as Chef Mama G, walk across the stage and receive her diploma in Culinary Arts. Since then I have seen her love for baking flourish into something inspiring.
She poured her passion into sourdough baking, and it has been amazing to see her excel in her learning journey to perfecting her craft. Before this, I’ve seen my mom take on the role of an Arabic language and Quran educator, not just to my siblings and I, but to Muslim children in her community in order to raise and instill morals into a generation that will carry us through a brighter future of Islam.
Here’s my mom’s story, in her own words:
Ghada: Sometimes we think that our knowledge is limited to the school-age years, our high school diploma or university degrees. Some people excel in these paths and take on degrees that benefit them and are able to work and grow in. Sometimes we have life circumstances that take us away from completing our educational path. Or we pursue degrees just for the sake of graduating and then go down a different path of continued education or work. A lot of the time, life gets in the way and places roadblocks in our journey.
Marriage, motherhood and added responsibilities are all playing factors. There comes a point in our life when our different roles take on new forms. For example, I am still a mother to you and your siblings, but you all are grown up, have families of your own or are working, I am not in the busy stage of mothering that I was previously. I found myself with a lot of free time that I wanted to fill.
I started my journey to seeking knowledge with you and your siblings. When you were younger I filled my time volunteering and being active with you. I started to enjoy learning new things and gaining new skills without necessarily having to study in the traditional sense. After you all grew up and started to depend on yourselves, my involvement naturally declined, so my learning took on a new form for me. I needed to find a way to seek knowledge and invest in myself in a different way.
I depended on my knowledge in Arabic and Quran to push myself to teach in the Islamic School in my community. I enjoyed teaching and working with kids, but I knew I did not have the formal educational background to be a teacher, which in hindsight I wished that I would have pursued in order to better serve the children I was working with. I quickly realized that if I plan to continue teaching, I need to get the proper education, which was not something I wanted to do extensively.
Ghada, otherwise known as Chef Mama G, poses with some of her baked goodies and new branding at a Ramadan market. Image source: Instagram.
It was truly you and your sisters who pushed me to pursue my degrees in Culinary and Pastry Arts. It came at a time in my life when I found myself with a lot of free time. Free time allows you to rediscover yourself and fill your time with something you enjoy or have been wanting to learn. I have always loved the kitchen, and I knew I wanted to solidify this passion into something I can work with and grow with in a professional way. The beauty of it is that I was able to study something I truly am passionate about and was not forced to study something for the sake of studying as we do when we are younger sometimes.
I was able to study, earn a diploma and certificate while also gaining work experience. I always thank Allah (S) that I was able to experience this journey at my age, and stage of life that I am in. It is truly a blessing if you think about it when you are able to study and work in a field that you are passionate about. My experience in culinary and baking school pushed me to limits I never thought I would achieve. It was a lot of hard work, and a lot of stepping outside my comfort zone.
My experience dealing with non-Muslims in the workplace and in professional settings, whether that is with professors, classmates or coworkers, helped equip me with many skills that I would not have gained if I did not pursue this path of knowledge. I find that this is a form of investing in yourself. For the sake of your own betterment, for the sake of your family and children, and to also be independent. Whether that is religious goals or worldly advancements. We all should strive to be a better version of ourselves and that requires seeking knowledge.
I never thought I would do something like this at my age. I wonder if I would have discovered this path at a younger age, what opportunities would have been available to me. My dream is to open my own bakery and garden where I can bake my sourdough bread and share the love of baking and using wholesome fresh ingredients to nourish our bodies. Allah (S) plans and He is the best of planners. He puts you in situations and circumstances all to mold you into the person you are meant to be.
For the sake of your own betterment, for the sake of your family and children, and to also be independent. Whether that is religious goals or worldly advancements. We all should strive to be a better version of ourselves and that requires seeking knowledge.
Ghada, aka Chef Mamma G
Knowledge does not have any limits. Allah (S) commands us to learn, to read. We need to sow seeds of knowledge for future generations. The goal is not all about gaining knowledge just to earn a living, but it is also to know your worth amongst society and be empowered with the knowledge you have and share it with others in order to benefit your community.
My sister-in-law, Mona
Danah: My sister in law, Mona, is another person that I think of and admire when it comes to navigating life as a seeker of knowledge. A mom of three beautiful children with a background in literature, she has explored teaching, administrative work, tapped into her creative side and took on writing and interior design, and is now a realtor who’s goal has always been to help those around her and be an asset to her Muslim community.
Here is Mona’s story, in her own words.
Mona: Everything happens for a reason. The things that are planned for us happen for reasons we don't understand. I explored many different paths early on in my education and knowledge seeking journey. While in college, I did a lot of volunteering at our local Islamic school and masjid. I studied English literature with a minor in history before getting married and moving away from my hometown.
In order to immerse myself in my new home, I worked as an administration assistant in the masjid and did some teaching. I wanted to take these paths of new experiences and skills in order to meet people and get to know my community. While my kids were growing up, I was on and off teaching and moved around quite a bit, and I always made sure I was actively involved in one way or the other.
Mona, the author's sister-in-law. Find here on Instagram.
I mainly did teaching since that was my professional background. On a personal level, I loved to write, and that was my go to. It helped me stay sane through [everything] and was my creative outlet. I've always had a creative side, and somewhere down the line I also did interior design and staging.
More recently I took on real estate and earned my realtor license. I wanted to become a realtor to fulfill my father’s dream that he was never able to do himself. I also wanted to see another way I could serve the community. I find it disheartening when I hear about how many people in our Muslim communities choose to rent instead of owning their own home. I want people to take control of their own money and lives and not waste it.
I [don’t] regret going through all these different paths. It’s hard to find yourself. You have to re-find yourself once you become a mom. My biggest amanah (trust) are my children. My goal is to always be a role model for them no matter what stage we are in our life. There is always something to learn and grow from.
I find myself always learning from my kids. There are things to learn from the younger generation. You don't have a manual to being a mom. Life teaches you, your kids teach you as you go. As long as your niyyah is pure and we do small, consistent acts towards gaining knowledge and helping others, everything else will fall into place.
Through gaining knowledge and being a lifelong learner, my main objective is to help others by helping myself first. You can't help others if your well is dry. I realized, this and the thought reenergized me to keep me going back to my creativity and go back to writing, my passion.
I am currently working on a book about the Palestinian cause and the history of the catastrophe, Al Nakbah. The book is called Birthright. My goal is to get Birthright in everyone’s hands and in the school systems to educate the future generations on the true history of Palestine. Always have goals and aspirations throughout your path to knowledge.
After my dad passed away, may Allah (S) have mercy on his soul, we had a lot of women attend his funeral and come to our house to give condolences. Many women my mom and family had never met or seen before, we were confused. It hit me after I thought about all of the successful daycares he ran in the Muslim community that allowed mothers to drop off their children and go to work or continue an educational path while their children were being taken care of in good hands.
Image source: Pexels.
I want to be remembered like him: A simple man who always listened to others, and was known to help and serve the community. My dad was a simple man who listened, had a good heart, and was known for always helping others. And that's what I want to be remembered for.
Seeking knowledge also is rewarding when you are a mom because it makes a world of a difference when your children see you succeed or even when they see you fail but get back up on your feet and try again. Think of all the lessons you are teaching just by going out and learning something new! They look up to you and see you as more than just a parent.
You need to educate yourself when you're trying to prove yourself. Allah (S) tells us to read, to have tawakkul. We need to move and push ourselves forward in all aspects of life. We can't change anything if we don't try. Life is learning. Even if you fail, you try again.
There’s always hikmah (wisdom) behind things that we don't always see or understand. There was a hikmah behind why the Prophet Muhammad (saw) did not know how to read and write. Maybe he didn't see it at the time but in hindsight, it was so he couldn't have possibly made up the message and words of Allah (S).
There's hikmah in failing, in getting up and trying again and finding another path.
We’re all created for a reason. Allah (S) put each and every one of us for a certain purpose. We have our role in this life that we need to fulfill and can only do that by seeking knowledge.
Sometimes it takes a lifetime to know what that purpose is. As a mom, it’s not just to do household chores. There’s an honor in doing the day to day but there's always more. Allah (S) gave us talent to share with the world and skill sets to better serve our communities. So, never stop seeking knowledge. Never stop learning.