Interview with Sr. Taimiyyah Zubair
Interviewee: Sister Taimiyyah Zubair
When you were growing up, I am sure Deen must have been all around you, and there must have been a certain level of expectation from your parents and family, regarding your attitude towards Deen and acquiring knowledge. Please allow me to ask, did love for Deen come to you naturally? Or you too, like us, had to go through the struggles of fighting shaitaan for wearing a hijab, going to a Quran class and performing salah?
So any person who is upon the deen or doing the work of daawah, Shaitan tries to stop them or create hurdles for them by attacking their family most, because that’s what hurts them the most. Generally, we have this view that parents who are very righteous their children are also very righteous, and many times that is the case but their children have actually or their family have actually struggled a lot as well. So definitely I had the struggle, I still have the struggle, I am a human being, Shaitan is after every single one of us, and I always knew that yes Quran is special and learning the deen is very very important, but as Shaitan is after every single one of us, I also had to find my way. It was a conscientious decision on my part, to find deen, to find the Qur’an.
Due to your family’s closeness towards the Deen, did you ever find making friends and maintaining friendships difficult, while you were growing up? I mean, I am sure there must have been restrictions on you about timings, sleepovers, which friends to visit, Salaah timings to observe, the type of clothing to wear etc. Did all this affect your friendships at all?
Definitely … any person given their family’s rules or priorities, it affects their friendships and their social circle, so for me also it did affect; there were restrictions but they were very normal I think, I don’t think that my parents were very strict. The emphasis was always on what is allowed in our religion, and what is not; what is a good use of our time and what is not; something that was permissible we were allowed to do it, and something that was clearly haraam was not allowed. Our parents guided us, they assisted us, and helped us make our own decisions in life. I hardly heard the ‘haram’ drill from my parents – they made Islam very natural and logical for us.
How pivotal do you feel the role of your parents was, in making you the human being that you are today?
Extremely important, my parents have always been my role models. Whenever I come across a decision in life, I always think of how my mother and father dealt with situations. When I was very young, one day I went up to my mother after she had just finished her maghrib prayer and she was doing her adhkar. I asked her the very typical question, ‘Where did Allah come from?’ She lovingly sat me down acknowledging my curiosity and satisfied me with a beautiful explanation. I think about it now, she could’ve scolded me for disturbing her dhikr, or discouraged me from asking unnecessary questions, but she gave me her full attention.
How was your relationship with your siblings when you were young, and how is your relationship with your parents and siblings now that you are miles apart, with each of you having different lives, yet similar goals, and the same mission of “Quran for all, In every hand, in every heart?”
Growing up it was like any typical relationship between siblings – a love/hate one. But my older sister was always a mentor for us – the voice of wisdom and reason and still is, Masha’Allah. Now with us being miles apart it is difficult, but we do our best to stay connected. Last year, we had a family reunion after about 10 years or so. So it’s not always easy, but my parents always say, insha’Allah we will reunite in Jannah.
How helpful has your spouse been in allowing you the liberty of being a practising muslimah, and how do you think, husbands in general should be, if they want their wives to be practising muslimahs?
The role of husband/wife within the marriage is to help each other be the best that they can be as a human being, and there’s friendship, trust and communication. They must believe in each other, and support each other’s aspirations; as long as it is permissible in the eyes of Allah, you must support each other. It’s two sided, You support and respect your spouse and they support and respect you in return.
My husband has been extremely supportive, always pushing me out of my comfort zone, and always encouraging me to try new things. For every milestone that I have achieved, at the end of it, my mother always thanks my husband for supporting me through it. What you appreciate, appreciates. And this is something I always appreciate in my husband, yet I don’t think I can ever appreciate him enough.
Instead of advising our husbands, I think we should think about how we should be as wives. Recognize what your husband likes, what stresses him the most, and focus on pleasing him as much as you are able to. Recognize what your husband likes; is it a clean house, laundry or he just doesn’t want to babysit the kids? Understand your husband and focus on doing what he likes and pleasing him. Yes, you can’t do a hundred percent, but do what you can and be the best wife you can be. When you show to the other person that they are important to you, then you become important to them also.
Also, communication is very important no matter how busy your life is. I find at times when my husband and I are not on the same page, the root cause is often lack of communication.
When did you first discover that when you grow up you would want to be a Teacher of the Deen? Or was it always in the back of your mind that you would be a teacher when you would grow up?
No it was never there, until I actually did it. Even then, there was a lot of self-doubt, but eventually I realized that this is something of value. The ayah in the Qur’an that: “The best speech near Allah is that of the one who is calling to Allah.” So it’s a very difficult task, but when you actually do it, you realize how beneficial and valuable it is, then you begin to love it.
Do you take being a Teacher of the Quran and its related studies as a hobby, a passion, a responsibility, or an amalgamation of all?
All! It is a hobby in the sense that I really enjoy it. It’s a passion – when there are so many people who want to learn, then why not? It also becomes a responsibility. For the English Taleem al Quran, the way it started was that when my mother was here teaching the Urdu course, we had two women in the class – both of them were converts – one from the Philippines and the other African-American. These sisters were so passionate about learning the Quran that they would attend my mother’s Urdu class, wearing a white scarf, even though they couldn’t understand a word of the Urdu language. They would sit in class every day, and learn by reading the notes of a student who was transcribing her notes in English. Examples such as these made evident that there was a growing need for someone to teach Taleem ul Quran in English. So that’s what pushed me to this direction.
May I please ask you, how do you handle all the praise and compliments that you get, masha’Allah due to your effective teaching style and knowledge that Allah Subhanhu wa Ta’ala has bestowed you with? I mean, all of us are humans, and at times praise does get to our head. What is the best way to maintain humility in one’s conduct, and the humility of heart in general, and how do ‘you’, specifically, deal with the whispers of Shaitan in this context?
Self-awareness is very important. It’s very important to know your strengths and weaknesses. When you know who you really are – you remind yourself of your deficiencies in the face of praise. Not that you dwell on them, but just self-awareness of your faults keeps you humble. When I’m in that situation, I remind myself that this person doesn’t know of my shortcomings, but I know and Allah knows. Everyone has shortcomings, no one is perfect. Also, always know yourself as a tool, a tool for the work of Allah. Work of Allah doesn’t depend on you, you are replaceable in the bigger picture. Remind yourself of your place, and why you are here.
Lastly, reminding myself that if I’m doing anything, it’s because of Allah’s tawfeeq, and not because of my own abilities.
Sr.Taimiyyah, if I were to ask you to quote 1 ayah from the beautiful and noble Qur’an that you feel is the essence of the Qur’an, that you could tell the entire world about, which ayah would that be?
كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ مُبَارَكٌ لِّيَدَّبَّرُوا آيَاتِهِ وَلِيَتَذَكَّرَ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
“This is a Book which We have sent down to you, full of blessings, that they may ponder over its Verses, and that men of understanding may remember.”
[Surah Sad: 29]
This is a Mubarak message. The Qur’an’s benefits are endless. It’s a book you can never get bored of. No matter how much you take from it, there’s always more it has to offer. And which of us doesn’t need Allah’s blessings.
Could you share with us, the most beautiful incident, in your view, from the life of the Holy Prophetﷺ’s life? I know it would be extremely difficult to answer this question, but please enlighten us with your thoughts.
What strikes me the most is the return of the Prophet (s) from the Battle of Badr. It was an unexpected and very difficult battle that brought unexpected victory, but when he ﷺ returned, he entered Madina just as Uthman RA was finishing the burial of his wife, the daughter of the Prophetﷺ. It makes me realize that life was not perfect, even for the Prophetﷺ. In that instance – he experienced, right after a victory, a loss. That’s life. (This answer made us bothteary eyed!)
Although we all know that all du’as are beautiful in meaning and have their own blessings, which is that one du’a that you recommend everyone to learn, and recite after every salaah?
رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
Our Lord! Grant us good in this world and good in the hereafter, and save us from the chastisement of the fire.
[Surah Al Baqarah: 201]
‘Allahumma inni as’aluka min khairi ma sa’alaka minhu nabiyyuka Muhammadun sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam. Wa `a`udhu bika min sharri mas-ta`adha minhu nabiyyuka Muhammadun sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam.’
O Allah! Indeed I ask You of all good which Your servant and Prophetۖ asked for and I seek refuge in You from all evils that Your servant and Prophetۖ sought refuge from.
Could you please share with us your time management tips? How do you manage to balance your professional life and personal life? How do you make sure that you spend quality time with your family, while your work doesn’t suffer?
When it comes to time management and being productive, one very important principle is – when you’re doing something, give it 100%. For example, Dawud Alayhi Salaam had divided up his days – a day for ibadah, a day for work, and a day for judging between people. I also try to implement the same principle in my life – timings are fixed for certain tasks. The mornings are for classes and evenings for family. When I’m home I focus on what needs to be done at home and when Im working I focus on my work. Childhood memory – Growing up, we always had dinner together. After dinner, the dining table would convert into a family study table where the entire family sat together and worked. My parents were both full time professors at the time, and I remember my mom and dad with their books and binders and pens and highlighters that I admired. While my parents worked, we did our homework and I think this is what developed studying habit in me very naturally.
What are the three parenting tips that you would like to give to all our readers, which shall enable them to become good parents and raise pious children Insha’Allah?
1) Don’t underestimate the importance of extended family and their involvement in raising children. When a child spends time with family, they are only getting more love and it’s very healthy for children to know that they are loved. On Saturday and Sunday, when I go to class – they spend time with their grandparents. It’s a win win!
2) Having a routine or a schedule for children. Have a fixed bedtime, children thrive when there’s a schedule, and everything is predictable for them. Children, many times cannot have a routine because mothers don’t have a routine. When you yourself don’t have things to do, it leaves children without that discipline.
3) Children are a very good reflection of who we are, so any fault that we see in them – take it as a reflection of your own. Children don’t take orders, they follow examples. They do what they see – monkey see monkey do (laughs). So whatever you want your children to do, do it yourself. If you want your children to recite Qur’an, recite yourself. Growing up, my family room was not a typical family room, it was filled ceiling to floor with books, a home library – and this really instilled in us the habit of reading.
It is extremely sad but true that living in the West these days has become a challenge for us Muslims. Muslim women wearing hijab or men with beards are being looked down upon. The word ‘jihad’ is greatly misconstrued, misused and misunderstood today. What is your advice to the youth of today and parents, with regards to this dilemma?
It’s very important for parents and children to communicate. We should ask our children about the struggles they are having at school, empathize with them, seek solutions together, reinforce beliefs and remind them about how we must stay strong in the face of adversity. This open communication is very crucial when dealing with societal challenges.
Please tell us something about your hobbies. What else do you do apart from teaching and studying? Is there a special activity that you plan with your family on the weekends or some slot for ‘me time’ during the day?
I really enjoy watching Imam Suhaib Webb’s snapchat. His Q&A is excellent, no question is ever too small to address! Generally, when I want me time, it’s when I’m very tired. I like watching documentaries; you don’t necessarily have to watch, you can just listen. I enjoy cooking a lot – experimenting in the kitchen. Feels like a useful productive effort – either you please your family or feed others. Feeding others is one of the best things you can do.
I always find maintaining khushu in Salaah the biggest challenge. Please can you give us three practical tips to improve our Salaah and pray whole heartedly?
Women are often distracted by their children during salah. I often remind myself, that whatever they are doing, I will deal with it after salah. Also, I tell my children, “Mamas going to pray so please read your books while mama prays”. Give them something to do, while you pray, keeps them distracted. Reserve special activities for them during salah so you can focus. Other external distractions come because we are praying at a time or a place that is full of distractions. So don’t leave food on the stove, and rush your prayer. Create a peaceful environment.
Lastly, bring variety within your salah. If you’re learning different duas, adhkaar, and reciting them during salah it helps stay focused.
Sr.Taimiyyah, what gives you the motivation to carry on, day in and day out, with the same routine? Doesn’t it get monotonous sometimes? Doesn’t Shaitan become too aggressively dominating and interfering in your life? I am sure, he does! How do you find the strength to fight him with the same zeal and vigor every day?
What gives me the motivation to carry on – Greed (laughs). The work of Deen will be done with or without me – I want to have my share of it. My work doesn’t get monotonous, because of the Qur’an. No matter how many times you go through it, there’s always something new that the Qur’an offers. Every time I am preparing a lesson, there are so many books, so many lectures to listen to, that I’m always looking forward to Tafseer. Of course, Shaitan puts waswasaah (whispers), and no one is free of that. But, Alhamdulillah, when you keep doing this, it brings you a feeling of satisfaction that no other work can bring you.
Please share with us one memorable incident from your student life; something that you can never forget and that remains fresh in your thoughts even today.
I fondly remember my group in-charge, and I really believe that my mother who taught the tafseer, and my group in charge – it is through both of them that I really understood the Qur’an. We had to do our lesson 7 times daily, and I don’t think there was a single day that she forgot to ask me whether I did my lesson 7 times or not. She was so particular when marking test papers and assignments; she paid extra attention to detail and drew my attention to it as well. She helped me develop my eye for detail. I remember, once I was in class and our class was huge, roughly 500 people. During the time of reflections, I was doodling – and she came over and gave me a look, signalling me that this is not appropriate. Another time, I was in class, and I had to get up for something a few times – and I was reprimanded in front of the whole class. This made me realize that I shouldn’t be casual in class.
In the end, is there any advice that you would want to give to our valued readers’ insha’Allah, who love you for the sake of Allah, and want to read more about you.
My mother always reminds us that whatever you have right now is because of the blessings of the Qur’an – so don’t forget the Qur’an. It is through Qur’an that Allah SWT has given people so many blessings. Even our relationships are based on it if we are true believers – so don’t forget the Qur’an.
About Sister Taimiyyah Zubair:
Ustadha Taimiyyah Zubair is an established teacher of Quran with a focus on Tafsir and Word Analysis. She is a respected and inspirational role model, teaching both globally and in her community for more than a decade. Ustadha Taimiyyah studied under her parents and scholars, Dr. Idrees Zubair and Dr. Farhat Hashmi (founders of Al Huda International). She has been a student and teacher, at Al Huda Institute, of various Islamic Sciences including Arabic Grammar, Hadith and Fiqh. Currently, Ustadha Taimiyyah is completing her Humanities degree with a President’s Entrance Scholarship at the University of Waterloo.