Interview with Sr. Asmaa Hussein
You have a precious diamond in your hand one moment and the next it’s gone.
How would it feel?
Can’t describe? Can’t put into words? It must feel too horrific?
Meet Sister Asmaa Hussein who experienced this first hand. Asmaa Hussein is from Canada. She is an author and a registered social worker. Asmaa faced that same situation where the pearl of her heart was taken away from her, in a snap!
Amr Kassem, a Canadian resident, was vacationing in Alexandria along with his wife and young daughter, in the summer of 2013. On August 16, 2016, a sniper shot him down while he was protesting peacefully against tyranny and murder.
Our brother Amr Kassem was the husband of Asmaa Hussein. Asmaa’s case got world’s attention, as Amr was a Canadian resident. Since the tragic martyrdom of her husband, Asmaa has struggled with her tremendous grief most commendably and what’s more she has turned it into her strength. With 50,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter she has been a constant source of inspiration for her readers. Her words are powerful and as a fond wife she oft describes her days spent with her husband who was two years younger than her. Through her writing, we come to know Amr Kassem [may Allah grant him Jannatul Firdaus, Aameen] as the most wonderful, dedicated loving and caring husband. She came back home one week after Amr was assassinated; with her was her nine month old daughter Ruqaya.
She has beautifully delineated how she coped with the aftermath, how she struggled with her emptiness so suddenly thrust upon her in a matter of seconds and how the responsibility of being a single parent stared at her and how she struggled even to keep her faith. She came out triumphant. But Allah helps those who have true faith in their hearts, and sister Asmaa emerged a fighter. Despite many difficult moments, she lives on with her husband’s beautiful memory which has become her biggest strength and motivation today. Not just has she done this for her own self but for hundreds and thousands of our brothers and sisters who seek solace and inspiration from her and her life.
It’s always difficult and unnerving an experience to share personal tales of tragedy and grief with the world but sister Asmaa has done that bravely and in doing so she has become a source of inspiration for many. True that Allah chooses people for His deen. She is one of the best specimens of these phenomena.
Writing about her experience has helped her heal. She has written many books for children as well as inspirational stories. Her own story is reflected in A Temporary Gift, a wonderful take on her struggle with such humongous amounts of grief and trying to live the daily grind of life with the responsibility of taking care of her daughter Ruqaya. This work is a great source for the readers Muslim or otherwise, to help find solace in most trying of circumstances and strengthen belief in Allah’s abundant mercy. Her parenting tips in the light of Quran and Sunnah are a must read for every parent.
For her books, please visit, http://www.ruqayasbookshelf.com/
I had the honor to interview her through email and I thank her and sister Khudaijah Nagaria, editor of Hidayah Magazine, Canada, for giving me the opportunity.
1: “Every loss becomes a precious asset” Allah tests us, so He can draw us closer towards Him. Seeing you go through such a tragedy of humongous proportions within a matter of minutes, please enlighten us further on the above statement.
At first, losing someone you love and respect seems like a loss that cannot be overcome. To be honest, I struggled to maintain my faith – just like any believer struggles to stay hopeful in times of difficulty. But with time I’ve come to realize that losses can be a means of strengthening not only our faith, but also our sense of purpose, and our dedication to being courageous enough to uphold our values.
So yes, a loss can become an asset if we choose to remain patient and learn from it.
2: What would be those three things Amr (may Allah have mercy on him) would tell you today?
Amr loved our daughter very much. So I would image him telling to me focus on raising her well, teaching her right from wrong, and making dua for her until my last breath.
Amr was always proud of me and would encourage me to use and develop my skills whenever possible. So I hope he would tell me that he was proud of me for doing my best under difficult circumstances.
Lastly, I think he would tell me not to give up. There are many moments where I wonder why I do what I do, or think it would be easier to just give up. But he wasn’t someone who would give up so easily. He would always push through whatever difficulty he was facing.
[I asked sister Asmaa about the difference observed generally between the grieving and coping of men and women. Men seem to survive or even overcome their grief quite admirably and in a shorter span of time as compared to women. This might be perhaps due to them having a better coping mechanism and robust support; they are urged to get over it, as they are ‘men’ and need to be brave and also may be because they have more freedom to choose from life. Sister Asmaa’s reply was…]
3: Do you think there is a stark difference between the mourning of men and women who grieve for their spouses?
I don’t know to be honest. 🙂
4: As I have read you somewhere saying people said, you were coping well after your great loss but you were deeply injured in your heart and were weeping, mourning inside. Do you think people in general, comment on the grieving soul quite unnecessarily? Their unthoughtful, tactless commentary, stray observations and taking it for granted when they see the grieving person is trying to behave normally [quite brave of him or her actually, too brave!] that the grieving person has recovered from the tragedy or at least facing less of pain n sorrow, do they need to be told / trained about etiquette pertaining to consoling the grieving person? Or how to tell them politely about the reality?
[I had written an article about it and I too have faced the same situation]
Absolutely, we need to be aware of how our words and actions affect others. I had many insensitive comments made in my presence while I was trying to cope with a life-altering loss. I think saying and doing the right thing is actually very simple, but we make it complicated. We know, deep in our hearts, when something is going to offend someone. But we say it anyway because we haven’t taken the time to really think about it. Kindness, gentleness, and empathy go a long way. We need to remind people of how a single word can have a huge impact on someone’s heart and how the important it is in our faith to control our tongues.
Definitely not enough articles and lectures are given on how to console a person facing loss.
5: Women’s role in Community Work. Please comment on this. In Asian societies, few women are doing this and we need more and more of them to come forward and take the cudgels.
Without women involved in community work, the community suffers. Women are incredibly skilled, capable individuals that can offer so much to the well-being of our communities. Having women take on important roles means that new perspectives will be brought in – perspectives that can enrich the community in innumerable ways!
Unfortunately I think many people genuinely believe that women should not have a place in the workforce or in the public sphere – and they attribute this belief to Islam. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have a history rife with female scholars and women who carried heavy responsibilities. When people push women to the sidelines, this is a product of cultural baggage, not faith.
The more we realize this, the more prepared we’ll be to encourage women to contribute to the well-being of our ummah.
6: Widow remarriage is something our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, urged us all to do, in no uncertain way. Why, then do you think, our communities around the world are so lethargically unenthusiastic about this very important issue? What advice do you have for women regarding this?
This is such a large issue that needs a lot of discussion and research. Whether a woman was widowed or divorced in the time of the Prophet (SAW), it was never seen as taboo for a man to marry her! It wasn’t seen as him doing her a “favour” or marrying her out of charity. No, these were women who were seen as valuable, faithful, beautiful human beings and they were not marginalized simply because they were previously married.
I don’t know when in our history this changed, but it’s truly a shame that we make women feel like second-hand goods just because their spouse died or their relationships didn’t work out. The irony is that a divorced man doesn’t face even a fraction of the disenfranchisement that a woman in the same situation endures. When we reclaim our faith and try our best to live by the commandments of God, we also have to examine our biases and come to terms with the fact that many of our “beliefs” have zero basis in this beautiful faith. Islam protects the rights and honour of everyone – men and women alike. When that is not the case, then we know for certain that we’ve strayed from the teachings of our beloved Prophet ﷺ.
My advice to women is to be patient – we can’t change this culture overnight. But we can continue to speak out against it, educate our communities (starting with our own families and children!). Change takes time, but we can start now.
7: Surah Hadeed verses number 22-23 are illuminating with regard to dealing with loss and grief. What are your special verses from Quran for dealing with the same, we would love to hear about them.
One of my favourite surahs in the Quran is Surat Al-Rum. Allah (SWT) says:
Gardens of perpetual residence; they will enter them with whoever were righteous among their fathers, their spouses and their descendants. And the angels will enter upon them from every gate, [saying], “Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. And excellent is the final home.” (Al Quran; Chapter 13: Verse 23-24)
The idea of finally entering paradise and being greeted by beautiful words of peace is beautiful.
Just a few verses later, Allah (SWT) says, “Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.”
There is so much truth to this – frequent remembrance of God does bring peace to the heart.
8: In a recent post [I was a bad cook] you have so beautifully talked about how your husband’s words of gratitude gave you the impetus and confidence, to believe in yourself and carry forward and be strong. It’s amazing! [Though husbands are not known for being grateful for the food we cook for them generally!] Yours was the most awesome exception!
These memories have become your inspirations. Right?
Absolutely. Amr’s life is an inspiration to me. He didn’t always have an easy life, or a life free of struggles…but he always managed to be kind and generous. The thing is, we look for spouses who will do over-the-top romantic gestures for us, or spout words of poetry for us. These are beautiful things, yes, but our priority should be to find spouses who are good, kind-hearted, strong, steady people. This is the kind of man Amr was – every day would be full of small acts of kindness and generosity.
The Prophet Muhammadﷺ said, “The most beloved of deeds to Allah are those that are most consistent, even if it is small.”(Bukhari; Muslim)
So when we do deeds that are good and genuine, even if they are small, on a regular basis, this is what Allah loves – and this is what forms the basis for healthy, loving relationships as well.
I loved Amr very much because he was a steady man that I felt I could really rely on to care for me with kindness and diligence. His death was a huge shock to my system – a shock that I’ve written about extensively in my book. For a time I was completely lost, not knowing how to move forward or find my footing after such a fall.
But Allah (SWT) has a profound wisdom for everything that happens in our lives. And I had Ruqaya to take care of, so that forced me back up even though it was incredibly difficult to keep moving forward. The fact that I had become a single parent meant that I had to do double the work, and shoulder double the responsibility. I couldn’t just lay down and give up hope. I had to be a strong, capable, loving person for my daughter – and I hope very much that I’ve achieved that.
About the Interviewer:
Dr. Asma Anjum Khan teaches English. Her Ph.D was on Maya Angelou.
She speaks and writes on a range of issues especially on women and other areas of social relevance.