Heart-to- Heart with Sister Zakia Usmani
Introduction of Sister Zakia Usmani:
I was raised like typical Pakistani where we were taught to pray, fast, and give charity but never taught that Islam is much more than just praying five times a day and fasting in the month of Ramadan.
I grew up watching Bollywood movies and was crazy about songs, fashion, and style. I wouldn’t drive my car without the songs on and wouldn’t miss any Indian movie. With these films, songs, and prayers, I had the feeling of emptiness within me. I used to feel as if a part of me is missing, or I was looking for something or searching for someone. I learned to play piano, organ, and painting to fill that gap within me… not knowing that the emptiness or search for something missing can never be found in movies and songs. Along with the music and painting, I was also interested in studying Islam. I used to read fatwas by Sheikh Abdullah bin Baaz and would watch Dr. Bilal Phillips’ “Discover Islam” program on TV.
When my first daughter was few months old my husband, and I moved to Canada in 2000. I decided at that time that I do not want to raise my daughter watching Bollywood movies and listening to the songs. I stopped watching movies and songs to bring her up according to the teachings of Islam. I wanted to find out more about Islam but had no means. I wanted to search the internet, but at the same time, I feared I might be exposed to deviant websites and would not be able to differentiate right from wrong. So, I made du’a to Allah and asked Him to guide and lead me to the right path. After making this du’a, I turned on my computer and typed ‘Islam’; the first website that popped up was “islamqa.com”. As I went through the fatwas, I felt that Allah had accepted my du’a and I landed in the safe hands Alhamdulillah. I developed my interest in deen from there on and read all the fatwas and started practicing Islam according to the authentic Sunnah of Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wassallam).
Allah SWT tested me with some affliction when my son was seven or eight months old, with a heavy heart I asked Allah to help me and guide me. After making that du’a, I went to the local Masjid for Friday prayers and heard the wonderful khutbah followed by Friday prayer in which the Imam recited Surah Al-Muzzammil. After the prayer, I felt that Allah is telling me something through this surah. I didn’t know the meaning and the message this surah contains, so when I went back home, I checked the translation of the surah. I realized that Allah wants me to stand in the night prayer and wants me to come closer to Him through patience and prayer. I think that was the major turning point in my life where I seriously turned towards Allah. When I developed the habit of qiyam ul lail (prayer of the night), I started seeing dreams that would comfort me and would help me to do deeds that were pleasing to Him.
One dream that I would like to share with you and still remember with the same clarity as eight/nine years ago; was my dream of traveling from Canada to Dubai. I saw that I was driving to Dubai from Canada in a car. It was a one-way road. I had my kids sitting in the back seat. I started my journey at ‘Asr time and reached Dubai at Maghrib. The weather was hot, but on both sides of the road, tall fans were installed on the ground to keep me
cool and comfortable throughout my journey. From this dream, I understood that I would seek knowledge, and just as it is impossible to travel from Canada to Dubai by road, similarly I would achieve something that would be impossible to achieve. Shortly after this dream, I had another dream in which I saw both; the Sun and the Moon, and after that dream, I seriously started looking for ways to gain Islamic knowledge.
I checked on “islamqa.com” to find out how to acquire authentic Islamic knowledge. The Sheikh suggested a few books for the beginners on his website. I went to the book store, bought the books and saw a flyer for
“Journey of Faith” conference. I was unfamiliar with the names of the speakers; however, I recognized Dr. Bilal Philips’ name and thought that if he is one of the speakers, then this should be good. So, I bought the ticket
and attended the conference. It was the first conference I ever attended in my life and heard the lectures of renowned scholars from all over the world. I was very much moved by Sheikh Tawfique Choudhry’s lecture. He made the audience cry by saying, “What have you done to protect the honor of the Prophet (SAW)?”; and at that point, I wished I could do something for Islam and wished I could also stand just like him and call people towards the message of Islam.
It was in the ‘Journey of Faith’ conference that Sheikh Tawfique Choudhry introduced Al-Kauthar Institute and launched his first course in Toronto. I signed up for the course at the conference and bought Sheikh Muhammad Alshareef’s CD about the importance of memorizing the Qur’an. Alhamdulillah, his lecture changed my life, and I enrolled my daughter for hifz summer school and started memorizing the Juzz ‘Amma along with her. The doors of knowledge through Al-Kauthar Institute opened for me. I found out about Al-Maghrib Institute while attending Al-Kauthar’s first course. I attended few of Al-Maghrib courses and heard about Sheikh Uthman Khan, that he teaches tajweed and give Ijazah. I joined his Institute, and Alhamdulillah have completed Tajweed education in riwaya of Hafs from him.
While I was learning tajweed, I had another dream, and a new door opened for me. I saw in my dream a gathering of scholars from the past and present. I was sitting on a chair waiting for someone. I saw few of my teachers attending that gathering. Then finally Sheikh Muhammad Al-Shareef entered the building, and stated looking for someone; he saw me and came to me. He then sat in front of me and started teaching me. I understood from this dream that I would learn something valuable from him in the future. After this dream, he taught “Touched by an Angel – Tafsir Juz ‘Amma” here in Toronto and that was the first time I saw him. After few months or year later, he taught “NicheHero” business leadership course. I attended that course, and it brought a huge change in my life. I learned things that I never dreamt of learning and did things that I had never done before. I wrote and compiled books, start blogs, social media, graphic designing, marketing and more. I have authored two books “The Path to Successful Relationships” and “Let’s do the Right Thing” and compiled two books “Unchained” and “Guide us to the Straight Path.”
I hope and pray to Allah that the door He opened for me through Sheikh Muhammad Al-Shareef, and Sheikh Tawfique Choudhry will be a source of guidance for the ‘Ummah.
While I was busy with my studies with Al-Kauthar Institute, Allah showed me another dream, and as a result of that dream I joined Islamic Online University, and now I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies to
continue my journey towards seeking Allah’s pleasure.
As you can see that every step I took to seek knowledge involved a du’a that followed by a dream, and that dream lead me to where I am today with the help of Allah.
1: Tell us about your childhood influences, especially parents and teachers.
Contrary to belief, I didn’t belong to a religious family. When I was growing up I only saw my mother praying salah regularly and my father would occasionally pray. My parents had a strong belief in Peer and Mureed system and my mother would travel to visit the tombs of so called ‘awliyahs’ often. So, I grew up doing lot of shirk like making du’a at the graves, visiting the tombs, praying there, making vows to them (tying the threads of mannat) etc. Although, we were still taught to fast, pray, give charity and read Qur’an from a very young age. Allah guided my mother 20+ years ago Alhamdulillah and she follows the Islam according to the Qur’an and authentic sunnah. My siblings also practice Islam according to the Qur’an and Sunnah Alhamdulillah.
Most of my childhood was spent without my parents. My father moved to Dubai when I was few years old and my mother used to travel back and forth between Pakistan and Dubai. So, I used to live with my sisters and brother and my grandmother would come at night to sleep with us. We learned to become responsible at very early age, as at the age of 13 I knew how to completely cook, clean, and wash etc.
Our studies were disturbed too as we would travel often to Dubai and would study a few months there and then come back to Pakistan so it wasn’t sporadic. I wasn’t a very bright student either. I was an extremely shy kid, lacked confidence to speak to anyone, was not very well liked by teachers and fellow students and had no friends in the school.
2: What and who inspires you most? [from current world as well as our beautiful world of Seerah]
In the current world, my kids inspire me to seek knowledge so that I can raise them to become good and productive Muslims and from the past, Imam Bukhari’s story and his work inspires me as he’s my role model.
3: What do you love to read? [ Please share your thoughts a bit elaborately, a request.]
I love to read the tafsir of the Qur’an. I also love to read the inspirational stories of pious predecessor. As for non-Islamic literature, I like to read personal development and motivational writings. However, in past 5 years, I have read nothing but the text books as I was doing a BA from Islamic Online University and was busy with studies.
4: How does a normal day begin and proceed with you?
My day begins with prayer and dhikr. Then I proceed to take care of my children’s needs before school. After dropping them off, I spend time answering questions, teach my kids Qur’an in the early evening and cook around 6pm.
5: How many queries do you answer in a day? What are the most beautiful and weirdest queries you have received?
I normally answer 8-10 questions privately and one or two publicly. I receive almost 20+ questions everyday and this has been going on for the past 2 years so I do not remember the most beautiful and weirdest queries.
6: Tell us something about your course at IOU.
I’ve almost completed BA in Islamic Studies from IOU. After submitting the BA thesis, I will officially graduate.
7: What are the requirements for a serious student of Islamic studies?
Sincerity, persistence in seeking knowledge and motivation. In my experience, those who tread this path, Allah gives them motivation by sending people into their life and then when they’re in the middle of that ocean of knowledge, He takes them away to test them. And during those tested times, you have to prove to Allah and to yourself that you’re sincere in pursuing knowledge and if one vessels breaks, chances are it will be replaced with another.
8: What kind of general problems of women you come face to face in Canada? Are they any different that, say, the subcontinent?
I don’t see much difference in terms of the usual problems as their lives revolves around husbands, children and work and they all have similar problems, some at large scales and some at minor. However, in Canada practicing Muslim women face challenges due to their hijab.
9: Which are the most important parenting tips, according to you?
Do not compare your children to other children. Do not scold them or raise your voice at them in front of their friends. Give them space and privacy and do not spy on them. Give them time, hug them and express your unconditional love to them every single day.
10: Tell us about some good authentic online Islamic sources for learning.
When I first began my journey for knowledge, I came across this website Islamqa.info where I first started to gain authentic Islamic knowledge. Additionally, the website IslamHouse.com is a good place to download free authentic Islamic books.
11: What are your future plans?
As of right now, nothing specific, I am focusing on answering questions that people have regarding Islam.
12: What would be your advice to us women and the men for general peace at the home front?
My advice to women and men to keep peace at the home front is to be willing to compromise, avoid things that spark arguments, and to be open and honest. Also, to keep in mind that one should give space and privacy regularly.
13: Your story is amazingly inspiring. How do you feel about it when you look back at it, after so many years?
When I look back at my life, I feel grateful to Allah SWT because those tough days, struggles and things I had to endure caused me to become the person I am today. After all of it, I am Alhamdulillah in the position where I can spread the knowledge of Islam.
14: Please tell us about some halal ways and means of entertainment for the Muslim families all over the world.
Halal ways of entertainment varies from country to country. I personally like to take my family to Islamic events such as Muslim Festival, halal food festivals, eating out, take them out on long drives, picnics with family and friends, attending events at mosques etc.
15: Any final message/naseeha for our readers and for us.
He (swt) will grant us something only when we ourselves make the effort for it. Allah (swt) can provided all that we need and want in just the twinkling of any eye. But what Allah (swt) wants from us is that we try. So trust in Allah, even if you can’t see help coming your way, try your best and trust that He swt will take care of you. Also, follow His every command even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Sometimes, there may be something that we don’t understand or logically can’t grasp, but if that is what Allah commanded, that is what we do.
About the Interviewer:
Dr. Asma Anjum Khan, based in Maharashtra, teaches English. Motivational speaker. She has written for various prestigious national and international publications and websites on social, ethical, and gender related issues. She runs an NGO, FEEL (Foundation for English and Ethical Learning) that wants to bring change by equipping people with the language of English. Twitter: @AsmaAnjumKhan