My first exposure to Dr. Rand Diab
was in Ramadan during the weekly Haute Hijab Halaqah series. Her topic was tawakkul and spiritual stamina
. As with all HH halaqas, this was one to which I knew I had to listen. I was immediately attracted to Dr. Rand’s humble and energetic persona. Her positive outlook on deen and fresh viewpoints on various topics were very relatable, and I immediately knew I wanted to see this sister’s posts frequently pop up on my feed.
Dr. Rand Diab is an American Muslim ophthalmologist of Syrian origin living in the Chicago area with her husband and three children. She grew up in a small town in western Illinois with a Muslim community few in numbers that didn’t have a masjid or a Sunday school. She attended Northwestern University, where she met Muslims from varying backgrounds. At the end of her junior year, Dr. Rand decided to wear hijab and became an active member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) on campus, where she took on the role of president.
In her college years she found herself on a learning journey rediscovering her faith and connecting with fellow Muslims. This is where her love for Islam really took off, paving the path for a bevy of faith-based work benefiting the communities in which she has lived.
Harnessing Social Media for Dawah
In recent years, with the rise of social media Dr. Rand began her Instagram page as a continuation of the work she has been doing in the community. Over the past year, her IG account has evolved to address what was missing in her feed: a mainstream Muslim viewpoint that was grounded in deen. She wasn't looking to be a scholarly account, rather an ordinary person easily accessible to people who have been turned off by religion or not viewed in their communities as “religious.”
“I think it's just helpful for people to find someone who is more relatable and who has similar lifestyle interests and who is also talking about religion but is not a religious figure or someone that can’t relate to them. Also some people have developed some kind of mistrust about religious figures or some type of confusion because of some inappropriate behavior, unfortunately we’ve heard many accounts of this over the years.”
Dr. Rand doesn’t shy away from addressing taboo topics and heavy issues through her IG account and through DMs and calls she receives from strangers touched by her words. Dr. Rand never believed there was anything special about her that would distinguish her in any way, however it is the power of Allah (S) and her sincere intentions that has made her accessible and meaningful to countless followers online.
“When people are sincere Allah (S) gives them what they need to hear. I make du’a that He makes me sincere and makes it (Instagram) beneficial. And if not or if it is harmful then take it away,” she says
Dr. Rand Diab; image source: Instagram
One of the more controversial issues Dr. Diab has touched on recently is the phenomena of many hijab-wearing women who have taken off their hijab. It isn’t the decision of taking off the hijab that concerned Dr. Rand rather, through her own research and observation, she was concerned with the possible relationship between the removal of hijab and struggles with iman (faith).
Those who remove their hijab usually cite self esteem issues, that it scares people, or a number of different reasons not tied to faith, Dr. Rand says. She decided to take to Instagram to cover this topic in a hijab series where her intention was one of compassion, not judgement. (Check out her hijab series on Instagram with post one
, post two
, post three
, post four
, post five
and post six
“When I let other aspects of my deen go, and let dunya (this world) come in, that's when other things become more important and deen feels like a burden. If all I'm looking at is dunya, then why would I wear or like the hijab or keep it on?”
The IG hijab series was meant to relink the hijab to faith, says Dr. Rand. “People who’ve taken it off prominently have unlinked it (hijab) to deen [and made it instead] a personal choice. It is a personal choice, but at the end of the day, it's [also] fundamentally grounded in our link to faith and Allah (S). When a person wears it out of conviction then removes it, it is a reflection of allowing the dunya to change their focus and shift it from Allah (S) to dunya.”
Creating a Quran Program Focusing on Love, Not Fear
Dr. Rand has a thriving career as an ophthalmologist while devoting time to her marriage and children. Throughout her career and family life, she remained an active part of her Muslim community. Dr. Rand organized community events, taught in Saturday and Sunday schools, as well as helped found a couple of full-time Islamic schools from the ground up, with no formal training in education, but a lot of experience and love, in the various cities that she lived.
She later moved back to Chicago, where she started a halaqa centered around her nine-year-old daughter and peers. Dr. Rand home schooled her children and was part of a Muslim co-op with other home school families. She found that her local community was lacking a Quran study program for young girls and was desperate to find one for her daughter that was inviting and happy.
The few programs available to young girls she found to be rather austere. So, Dr. Rand decided to take matters into her own hands and joined forces with another home-schooling mom (and now close friend), Mehreen Bawla, to start Carriers of Light
. The Quran program started off with 12 girls in a basement with an environment based on happiness and love for learning and studying Allah’s (S) book.
The goal of Carriers of Light is to associate the Quran with positive feelings. Their mantra was love of the Quran versus quantity memorized. Dr. Rand’s mission was to instill a solid Muslim foundation based on taqwah (being conscious and cognizant of God).
She wanted Carriers of Light students to instill a love of Islam and the Quran as a natural instinct rather than a forced task for girls. Ten years later, Carriers of Light is now a full time Islamic School with the same essence that it was founded on: love and positivity.
As many of us can relate, juggling different responsibilities is not an easy task. Dr. Rand talked to me about her mindset when it comes to work, life, community balance and it really put things into perspective for me in my own life and the various hats I wear on a daily basis.
“When I think of the work life balance it’s not something we achieve in a day or a week or a month. It’s something we achieve over a lifetime. There will be different phases and seasons and chapters of our lives and some of them we’re going to be more focused on our education or career, some we’re going to be more focused on marriage, our family or children or our parents. And in other phases of our life we may be more focused on ourselves. And it’s really up to us to recognize those different opportunities when they come and embrace those different seasons of life.”
Dr. Rand living her best mask life! Image source: Instagram
She went on to explain that each of those seasons of life will come with its own set of challenges and it’s up to us to realize our current area of concern and priority in order to find a sense of contentment in each phase of life we live.
“So maybe when our children get older, or post retirement or at a time when our work is less busy, or we’re done with our school years or training years we may find some opportunity to work on ourselves, our personal development, our religious growth, our spiritual growth, take better care of our health, maybe travel. There are all of these different chances and opportunities, and I think we need to see them as that rather than just seeing the challenging side of it.”
Rooting for Akhirah In Everything We Do
As Dr. Rand continues to use Instagram as a means of connecting with others and addressing raw topics in our deen and society, through her own research, she has come to believe that religion in general is being watered-down or even delegitimized. “The movement is to secularize everyone across the board. We are all the same. All of our humanist ideas are the same. These are the most dangerous concepts,” she says. To always be kind, this humanist morale, who can argue with that? But to Dr. Rand, “always be kind” is a dangerous concept because it implies that it doesn’t matter what you do, all you have to do is be kind.
This is actually the opposite of what we believe in Islam, she says. Muslims have to take a stance and speak up when we believe something is wrong. Once these secular ideas make their way into religion, there becomes a huge movement to secularize Islam, Muslims and all other religions, warns Dr. Rand.
“Now hijab is becoming secularized, especially in the world of social media. How can hijab be secular when we wear it out of religious conviction? But now when we do it, it's a statement of choice. And although ultimately it is a choice, it’s actually a fard (obligation) of our deen,” she argues.
Dr. Rand’s purpose on Instagram continues to be that voice rooting for the akhirah (hereafter). She reminds herself of that and shares this as her main drive coming from a mainstream Muslimah striving for the hereafter.