My whole life, I’ve been told that I’m crazy.
That my goals were unrealistic and that my dreams were unachievable.
They told me to sit down. To be quiet. To not have an opinion.
And all my life, I have defied these notions.
I remember myself at 16 years old, having just started Swedish A-levels. The teacher asked me to solve an equation on the board. As I got up, I heard one of my classmates shout ‘Sit back down. You’re just a stupid brown girl. Stop acting like you know anything’. I had always been good in school, but somehow these words made me doubt myself. For the first time in my life, I questioned my own capabilities. These words echoed in my head before every exam, but rather than letting them have a negative impact upon me, I allowed it to fuel me. Over the next few years, I studied even harder and left A-levels as one of the highest scoring students in the entire school, Alhamdulillah.
Shortly thereafter, I moved to England to begin my studies in Medicine. It was eighteen months into my course, that I was diagnosed with a debilitating chronic illness called Endometriosis. I was in constant pain, requiring regular visits to the Emergency Department. My supervisor’s solution was that I terminate my studies, as he didn’t think it was possible for me to complete my degree, nor to cope whilst working as a doctor. Being as stubborn and persistent as I am, I went from a nine-day hospital admission straight to the library. Alhamdulillah, I passed all my exams and I even ended up taking on a second degree: a Masters in Tropical Medicine. From thereon, I decided to not let others set boundaries for what I could and could not do.
Similarly, when people hear about my passion for travelling, I face the same disbelief and scepticism. Surely, taking a solo-trip to Cuba would not be safe, particularly for a hijab-wearing Muslim woman? How could I possibly backpack through the whole of Central America? How could someone like me bungee-jump, volcano board, fly over the infamous blue hole and swim with whale sharks? Well, guess what!? I have already done all of those things and it wasn’t particularly hard. Passing my driving test on the sixth attempt though– that was a real challenge!
Snorkeling in Zanzibar.
I have always believed that persistence and hard work is not just important, it is pivotal. My father always used to tell me ‘Sanamjaan, you can do anything you put your mind to’. I genuinely grew up believing that. From my mother, I learnt the importance of independence and of building a steady foundation for myself, so that the world couldn’t shake my ground. They taught me to stand up for myself and for others. For this, I am forever grateful.
My parents showing me their love and support during my graduation day at the University of Liverpool.
However, regardless of how tough I may be, there are times where I feel low, demotivated and defeated. On such occasions, I look back at inspirational women in history for encouragement. I think about Khadija (RA), the wife of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a successful business woman in her own right, in a time where men dominated her field. Through all the adversities they faced as the first Muslims in their tribe, he (PBUH) turned to her for solace and comfort. She projected strength onto those around her and remained grounded in her faith despite the challenges. Khadija (RA) understood the true essence of resilience - which is to struggle and yet persist. She has inspired and paved the way for many women and her legacy lives on even in current times. More and more Muslim women are embodying her principles openly and we can see examples of this all around us.
We only have to switch on the news to see: Malala Yousafzai speaking at the UN - the girl that got shot in the head for standing up for education; Dalia Mogahed, the first veiled Muslim woman in the White House; Ibtihaj Muhammad, America’s first Olympian to wear a hijab; Tawakkol Karman, the first hijab wearing woman to win a Nobel prize; All of whom are women that have managed to defy the odds of their immediate environment in order to succeed. They prove to us that being resilient is not just about dreaming big, being persistent or working hard. It is about projecting your voice and standing firm for what you believe in. It is about facing hardship and being completely broken down, then slowly rising up to reassemble the pieces. It is about knowing that every misfortune experienced, had a meaning and a purpose. It is about understanding that ‘impossible’ is a concept created by men and women of doubt and that as long as you truly believe in yourself, whilst having faith in God, nothing and no one can stand in your way.
Sanam is an NHS doctor working in London. She grew up in Stockholm and is a spoken word poet and a travelling hijabi, running a blog on www.hijabiontour.com and @hijabiontour on Instagram.
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