Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A Bit About Me!

Bismillah - In the Name of God

Here is a speech I wrote and presented to a group of Business and Professional Women  in Fremantle WA earlier this year. It's a bit about who I am and my leadership journey.


Fremantle BPW Speech on June 9, 2011
Good evening ladies,
When I first found out that the topic for tonight was “My Leadership Journey” I kind of didn’t know where to start and had to actually have a good think about where and when in my life I had leadership experiences. As was mentioned I was part of the YWLP last year. A big thing that I learnt about myself through the YWLP is that anyone can be a leader and that many of us don’t even realise that we are leaders! For a long time I didn’t see myself as a leader, rather I felt as though I was looking for leadership, inspiration and mentoring. I felt as though I had a burning desire to ‘do something’ but I just wasn’t sure what it was but I knew I had to discover what that was and start moving in that direction. Little did I know that through the path of seeking development, I was growing so much within myself and without realising it, I was becoming a leader too.


One thing I have to mention, and which you might have guessed, my journey towards leadership revolves around my faith, Islam, and obedience and submission to Allah. Allah literally means The God and refers to the One Supreme Creator of all that exists. So for those of you who don’t believe in God I hope you find my talk interesting and I hope not to bore you and for those who do, perhaps you will share in some of my thoughts, experiences and aspiration.

I have always been a deep thinker and as a child I was quite enthusiastic about my choice to be a Muslim. I was happy to be at home, with my family and pets, I was often busy with my nose in a book or busy with a crafty project or outside helping dad and mum.  We lived a pretty ordinary life, without too much drama, I went to an Islamic primary school in Thornlie, we celebrated our religious occasions and lived in relative harmony with the community. I was a happy kid, I loved my life and I feel like I belonged in this country and being Australian was my heritage and identity.

When I was 8 years old my grandmother passed away and as I got older thoughts of death as a reality started to plague my mind. I thought about my mum being sad about her mum passing away, which in turn caused me realise that I too would be sad if MY mum passed away. Then this thought led me to realise that I too one day was going to pass away. This realisation shocked me and the awareness that this life was one day going to end and that after death I would face accountability (once I reached maturity) lead me to want to take responsibility for the life and ability that God has blessed me with and to live it in the right way and to use my blessings in service to Him. And so I made a conscious choice at 11 years old that I wanted to be a practicing Muslim and pray 5 times a day –which mind you, was much to my parents surprise when I approached them about waking me up every day for morning prayer before sunrise! So when I think about it in retrospect, this would have to have been my first step in leadership. By taking my life by the reigns and making the decision to live it with purpose and a clear intention, which in my case was to live a life that was pleasing and acceptable to God.


Now as I got older, I moved from the Islamic school to a rural public high school. Which must have been a culture shock for both me and the other students. The entire school was fascinated by the black cloth I wore on my head, and were amazed when I told them that “Yes! I have HAIR’ and were bewildered that I was Australian born with an Aussie dad and a Mum from a fantasy Island called CHRISTMAS Island!!! I thought to myself – don’t these people watch the NEWS!?!? For me it was a new experience, being the only Muslim in the entire school (apart from my older brother who told everyone I was adopted so he could fit in). It was a great learning experience for me to have to make totally new friends who weren’t from the same faith but nonetheless I made fantastic lifelong friendships with some amazing people.  I remember the dilemma I would have at prayer time when I would disappear during the lunch break and pray in the empty home economics room – hoping that no one would barge in while I was in prostration – all the time ready to make up an excuse that I was tying my shoelace or looking for something under the table! Oh the insecure teenage years. As hard as some of the experiences were at high school, they did give me a great source of strength in that despite all the pressures and troubles I sometimes went through- at the end of it all I never stopped doing my 5 daily prayers and never once felt dissatisfied with my faith and it’s guidelines.


When I was about 13 I went to an all-girls camp organised by the MWSC during the school holidays. It was my first ever social camping experience and I loved it! I loved being outdoors, in nature and doing all the exciting activities. As I was growing up I would often feel that other girls my age were quite immature, as I had grown up hanging out with my older cousins. I remember how some of the girls in my dorm at camp who were my age and younger would at times really get on my nerves. So I kind of kept to myself as much as I could and didn’t have all that much to say. Anyhow, at the end of the camp we had an awards ceremony and somehow I received the ‘Best Role Model’ award. At the time and still until now, I don’t really know how or why I received that award, but I am guessing that the camp instructors saw something in me. Only until the last few years have I started to see myself as a potential leader and a role model and I now feel much more ready and capable of stepping up to fulfil the potential that my camp instructors saw in me that 13 odd years ago. You often don’t realise how important it is to have people believe in you and to see your strengths, talents and remind you of your potential. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves how amazing we are and how much we are capable of!

Something that I love to do is to EDUCATE. I love to educate myself, my children, my family and others. I believe that education is true freedom because your mind and intellect  is the one thing that cannot be controlled or taken away from you by anyone unless you let them in (except of course for old age, illness or injury). With education, we are empowered to value ourselves, others and the world around us, we are empowered make the right decisions, we are better able to make positive changes in the world, to look after and understand ourselves and others, and so much more! To me, education is much more than primary, secondary and tertiary schooling. It is much more than a certificate, or a degree or qualification. While these sources of education are very important – I feel that education and learning should be a way of living. Learning should be something we all love to do, and that children especially feel the love of learning. We should make an effort to learn something new every day of our lives. I feel we need to be learning things because they are important to us, they are beneficial and relevant to our lives and society and not just  to get a qualification or a high salary.


My passion for education and learning has driven me to make the decision to home school my 3 children. I did one year of home schooling in year 10 and in that one year I was amazed at how much I had learnt about myself and the world around me! As mothers we are very powerful leaders – (Any mothers In the room?) Within the role of a home schooling mother, I have made the decision to take on the full responsibility of my children’s education. While this is no easy task, by any means (especially when your child asks you a question and you have to tell them to wait a minute while you run to the computer to google the answer!) The rewards far outweigh the sacrifice and efforts made when you see your children growing up right before your eyes and you get to watch each moment of development and learning and share in that amazing experience where you too, more often than not, get to learn alongside these remarkable little people! I get to carefully guide and instruct my children to make the right decisions, develop their moral character and watch them blossom into the amazingly talented human beings they were born to be. I just love it!

Another one of my passions is guiding the youth in the Australian Muslim community. Just over 15 months ago I started the Diamonds of Islam Youth Group which  is a once a month gathering of young Muslim girls aged 12 and up to hang out, learn new skills, have fun, and develop their understanding of the faith. As well as developing a strong and secure sense of identity as Australian Muslims. At the moment we are in the process of organising a fundraising event that the girls will be totally in charge of and responsible for. They were given the power to choose what they wanted to raise funds for and elected that they want to have a Youth Centre that we could use instead of hiring and moving from hall to hall. Its A HUGE goal that may or may not become a reality, but we’re going to see how things pan out! We are also wanting to have our first camp sometime this year which would be an adventure for sure!


I also volunteer for an organisation called Islam Australia which provides totally free information about Islam to the general public. They have a website, mail out info packs to people who request it and have info tables at festivals, markets and events. Clearing up misconceptions about Islam and educating the general public about what Islam truly is, is something that is very close to my heart and I hope to always be active in this area of volunteering.  More and more Australians are converting to Islam every year. In fact the majority of my friends are converts. My dad, his brother and their mother (my grandma) all converted to Islam many years ago. In fact, the majority of converts to Islam are women (some research estimates about two thirds of converts are women) and it just goes to show that if Islam really did oppress women as the media often loves to portray, then it would be highly unlikely that sound-minded, educated Western women would want to embrace such a faith. Rather Islam is beautiful, peaceful way of life with extraordinary teachings for those who want to make the effort to truly learn about it with an open heart and mind.


I’m also passionate about health and well-being. It’s important to me that I and my family eat good food, exercise and take care of our bodies. We’ve got a little vegie garden happening out in the back yard, we try to eat free range meat and eggs and my husband and I cook pretty much all of our meals from scratch (and yes- my husband does cook and help in the house!) We try to make whatever efforts we can to eat good, nourishing foods and to also exercise regularly in order to maintain strength and fitness. A few months ago I started up social fitness sessions for the ladies in the Muslim community who often struggle to exercise on their own at home and sometimes find it hard to commit to gym memberships and contracts. It’s a once a week boxing and exercise session where we sweat, punch, skip and laugh. I now have 2 classes running, one on the North and one on the South of the river. (Just had a session this morning actually! – maybe I should be in bed right now!). I feel it is quite important for Muslim women to know how to defend themselves, particularly with the things going on in the world and some of the abuse that women get can go from verbal to physical very easily I would want women in my community (particularly one’s who wear the Hijab) to have some skills and confidence to defend themselves should a life-threatening scenario arise.


I also teach a ladies Quran recitation class and a girls Quran class. As Muslims we believe that the Quran is the word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammed through angel Gabriel over 1400 years ago. We learn to read  it in its original language, Arabic and we try to study, understand and practice it’s teachings in our daily lives as much as possible.

Would you like to hear some? (Surah Ikhlas - Sincerity)

In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Say  “He is God, (the) One.
“ God who is the Self Sufficient Master, Whom all creatures need
 “He begets not, nor was he begotten.
“And there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him.”

As you can see at the moment, I have a lot on my plate but hopefully from my speech you all kind of know me a bit by now and realise how much I value my life and want to make the most of my time. Amidst my many commitments, I also try to balance things out and take time to relax, have quality relationships with family and friends and also to continually develop my faith and mind. So no I’m not a robot or working machine! And I do have a heart and soul that also need nurturing! I just love what I do and I do what I love and I thank God for giving me the ability.


So hopefully now when I say that I am a very Proud Australian Muslim Woman you all believe me, and know that I am very far from the typical negative depiction of a Muslim Woman. I am not down-trodden, oppressed or uneducated. The majority of the examples of Muslims portrayed in the media are often cultural Muslims. Many of the ways of thinking and practice are in fact parts of their culture (e.g. arranged marriage and female circumcision) and have nothing to do with the teachings of Islam. I really do encourage people to be more ‘conscious consumers’ when watching, listening or reading things in the media. It’s really important to keep an open mind and question what information is put out there.

I really love that being a proud Australian doesn’t have to stop me from practicing my faith and being a true Muslim.  I also love that being a Muslim doesn’t have to prevent me from being a true Australian either. The freedom we have as Australians is one of the biggest things I love about this country.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that the upcoming generation of young Australians will be the leaders of tomorrow. We all need to recognise that the variation in their faiths, cultural backgrounds and life experiences coupled with the Australian value of giving everyone a fair go is what I think is going to make this country a driving force in the world and an example of justice, equality and respect for all. 
That all pretty much sums up my leadership journey so far. No doubt, if God wills I have a long exciting journey ahead of me. Thank you for listening and I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.



  1. Luv this post Sha, keep up the great writing and reflections!

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