Suzette Malika MacDonald, New Muslim from America Through Islam, I found a new respect for myself as a woman

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SHAFAQNA-

According to rahyafte (the missionaries and converts website):

Full Name : Suzette Malika MacDonald Malika MacDonald
Date of Birth and Year : Sept 16th 1965
Place of Birth : Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA
Place of Residence : Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Ethnicity : Irish American
Marital Status : Married
Number of kids :  4 children / 5 grandchildren

About Sister Malika MacDonald
Malika Rushdan is an Irish American, born and raised on Cape Cod, MA.  Malika converted to Islam in 1995 following the Million Man March.  After searching for a faith her colorful family could belong to and be accepted, regardless of their physical attributes, she found peace within Islam.

Originally from Boston, Sr Malika has an extensive background in Youth and Community Development with well over 12 years’ experience working with refugee youth at Roca Inc. Out of an expressed need, she founded the Al-Huda Society (www.alhudasoceity.org), a non-profit organization serving the religious, social and educational needs of Muslim families, primarily from North Africa, in and around the Metro-Boston area.  Her work in Massachusetts also included her being appointed the pioneer director of Community Organizing for Somerville Community Corporation, an organization building and preserving affordable housing.

Sr Malika currently serves as the Director of the ICNA Relief Boston Field Office (www.icnarelief.org) providing various serves to the underserved including; a Halal food pantry, back-2-school giveaway, Qurbani meat drive and most recently the development of the Amal Women’s Center; Transitional Home for Women and Children. Sr. Malika is also the national Director of ICNA Relief USA’s Shelter Network where she oversees the operation of 7 shelter homes.

Number and Names of Books published
None yet, InShaAllah

Name of the organization you work for/started
ICNA Relief USA; Boston Field Office Director and National Director of Women’s Transitional Housing.
Co-Founder;  Al-Huda Society (Chelsea, MA, USA)

Describe a day in your everyday life
Tired, tired, tired, always feel like I am playing catch up. The needs of our communities are so great, one can easily get overwhelmed. Between waking the kids early for school, remembering to take something out for dinner, running from one meeting or project to the next, it can take a toll on a person.

I wake each day with an appreciation just for having wakened. No blessing, no matter how small it seems should be taken for granted. Then no matter what the day brings, I know it is what Allah has planned for me, so I am grateful and give praise. I have lived long enough and experienced enough to know I really do not have much control over the outcome of my day but I do know I have control over how I will react to it.

 Then no matter what the day brings, I know it is what Allah has planned for me, so I am grateful and give praise.

Funny, at times it seems the easier part of my day is while I’m at work. While client and community needs are many, they are less demanding than that of family my first true obligation. Rushing home from work to put dinner on the table may seem a burden but with the right intention can be a reward. We must always be mindful of the rewards we can earn, for Allah is so merciful, making it easy for us to earn His blessings.

I often try to be reflective at the end of the day, taking personal stock of what I’ve accomplished or what remains to be done. I try to spend my time at home tending to my family which involves far more than cooking and cleaning. I think they may believe I am their personal servant.

We must nurture our families by giving of our time and attention to their emotional and spiritual well-being. No matter how hard a work day may have been, we should leave those problems at the door when we return home.

We may have the most supportive husband in the world (which I do MashaAllah) but we still need to remember that he desires certain things from us and has rights over us.

Balance Sisters, we need to maintain this if we want our marriages to be successful. While I may be a strong leader outside the home, I happily relinquish this title when I am home. This is not always an easy thing to do, especially when it is a natural characteristic to take control. However letting our husbands be the Amir of the home, giving him his full rights ensures he will respond to us in a loving and kind manner InShaAllah.  I am happy to come home and be able to be a soft, gentle Muslimah knowing my husband is pleased with me and I am protected.

What keeps you consistent in your work?
Faith and passion!! 
I feel a deep sense of responsibility to give back. I have faced many hardships in my own life and persevered by the Grace of Allah, now it is my turn to lift others up. I do this for me, for my own soul. I am very passionate about the work that I do. There is no greater feeling than providing a sense of hope to someone in need. It is an honor to play a role in the life of an individual, to watch them grow and develop themselves. It is a blessing to be a part of their success, knowing you have been a vehicle for change.  I am one, when I meet another in need, I see myself. I am no better than those I serve.  I truly believe I am a servant of Allah and it is through my work I worship Him.

I consider myself a cultural connoisseur of sorts. In my work I come across people from all over the world. To me this offers great opportunity to learn and grow myself. I believe we should celebrate differences, respecting each and come together where we share similarities. In this life, we all face challenges, when we come together, we are one. In this, there is great strength.

My mentor, years ago, taught me something which I am ever mindful of; “The sign of a true leader is one who leads others to lead”. Each and every person has the ability to be a leader, either a leader in their own life or the life of their community. We all have something to contribute, even if it is the minutest thing.

As activists or community workers, we should nurture this ability in others. We should never be threatened by another’s ability to lead nor should we hold on so tightly to a position of leadership that we look down upon others or keep them from prospering in their own lives.

I see each one I serve as a potential friend and my equal. Through working together, overcoming hardships and celebrating all the victories along the way, no matter how great or small, we develop deep bonds of trust, sharing the good and the bad.  Of the people I’ve served, many are still friends today years later. Some have even become as close as family. This is a life’s mission with great blessings.

As a woman how do you balance work and family life?
Honestly this is a day to day struggle! One must prioritize and understand some things can wait until tomorrow. I am not a superwoman; at times my house is dirty, dinner is late, clothes pile up and that’s okay. We can’t beat ourselves up over the little things. What’s important is to develop a strong family unit which supports one another. We seek Allah’s forgiveness where we fall short or make mistakes, trusting in Him for strength. If our intentions are sincere and correct, ease does come InShaAllah.

Striking a balance can be hard at times. I try to include my family as much as possible in my work. Alhumdilillah I am fortunate to be in a position to do this. At a food distribution, my children help give out food to the needy or fill school bags with supplies for low income children. By including them, not only do we spend time together, it instills in them great lessons which, InShaAllah , will stay with them a lifetime.

In marriage, on-going, open communication is important. We need to be mindful of our Islamic obligations towards our husbands. Studying together and discussing the rights and responsibilities of both husbands and wives in Islam fosters greater mutual consideration. There should be a clear understanding of expectations and roles. When a woman works outside the home, she should convey to her husband the days and times she works, or if she’s going to be running late, so that they can plan together, accordingly. It may be extra effort but it averts misunderstandings later.

Even with the best intentions, there will be bumps along the way. Seek Allah’s protection put Allah first in our marriages and families to lay a solid foundation. Proper Islamic teachings promote harmony among families.

It instills respect for others, personal accountability and lays a frame work for how to deal with issues which may arise. When we trust in Allah what can harm us except by His will. If our focus is on pleasing Allah, then we can’t go wrong.

Who is your inspiration?
I cannot narrow this down to just one person, for I draw inspiration from many people and places. However, I learned from a young age that the only person in this life who you can truly depend upon is yourself. If you want to make something happen then you must chart your own course. My course had several unhealthy detours along the way, but then those are how lessons are learned if we reflect.

I was not raised a Muslim, what was important to me growing up was not within the folds of Islam. I was a selfish human being, looking out for myself and didn’t care who I had to step over to get to where I  wanted to go. I knew I had to be tough to survive so I shaped and molded myself into what I thought society wanted me to be as a woman. I attempted to live up to a standard set by man which only sets one up for failure. It is a superficial, unattainable standard. A game of sorts which you can’t win.

Tired of the life I was living I began searching, At this time my children gave me inspiration; I wanted a better life for them. A great mentor took me in and inspired me. She recognized my inner strengths and helped me develop them.  She gave me hope and challenged me to grow. However there was still a void, I was missing something. It was then I discovered Islam.

Islam lifted me to new realms never known before. It spoke to my innermost thoughts and answered questions I had struggled with about faith. Through Islam, I found a new respect for myself as a woman. Islam inspired me to become whole for it spoke to my soul naturally. There was a purpose now, a book to guide me in the right direction. The stories of the Mothers of the Believers were now my inspiration, especially Khadijah. She was a true strong woman, a successful businesswoman, wise and intelligent yet still humble and pious – this is who I wanted to be!!

What was your turning point in life?
Donning the Hijab for me was a true turning point in life. It liberated me in ways I could have never imagined. 
I went from using my beauty and appeal to get what I wanted in life to having that all stripped from me. Hijab forced me to develop my whole self and begin using my intellect to get through life. I began to believe in myself and abilities, putting forth a more positive self.

As a Muslim woman, have you faced any difficulties – whether it was donning the hijab/niqab or discrimination in the work place or anything else? And How did you overcome/deal with it?
I believe I answered this somewhat in the previous question however I will elaborate more.

Hijab for me has never been an inhibitor; on the contrary it has opened doors for me. The hijab is now a part of who I am, it is my crown, my shining glory.

While I do feel it is a religious obligation, I also feel an obligation as an American woman living in America to wear it proudly. I wear hijab as a statement, a testament to my faith and to show others that Muslim women are strong and educated, not weak or oppressed. I have a responsibility to my immigrant Sisters in Islam to portray this. As an American, I speak the language and can easily dispel stereotypes about Islam and women. Once again, it is in our intentions, with proper intention everything is easier.

Share a funny or embarrassing moment you faced during the course of your work or dawah.
When I first became Muslim in 1995 there were not many identifiable Muslims where I lived except for Somalis who had come as refugees. I once had someone approach me and say “you can’t be Muslim, you’re White”. Hence the Dawah work began!!

Recently Scholars like Dr Akram Nadwi have written about the lost female scholarship, how do you think we can empower woman to attain the same status, dignity and leadership as was present in our rich history?
I believe each and every woman has the ability to reach this status, the only thing lacking is the woman herself believing it is possible. This should be instilled at a young age but we all know that unfortunately this is not always the case. It often takes others showing us what is possible, believing in us when we do not believe in ourselves. We were created to worship Allah, who knows us better than ourselves? When we develop a one on one relationship with the Creator, we learn about our God given rights as women and the high level of status we are deserving of.  When we trust in Allah, we are free to take chances and to have new experiences.

There are many lessons to be learned from the righteous companions however often we need to be shown how those lessons are relevant to today.  This is our role as leaders in the 21st Century. Not only are we striving in our fields we also have a responsibility to lift up other women, giving them a clear example of what they too can become.  We should be constantly mindful of this opportunity.

Not every woman will become a scholar, I am not. Not every woman will be a public leader and this is okay. However, every woman is capable of being a leader respectably in her own life.

I feel we need to go back to the basics, what does Islam teach us about women? This is something however, which should be presented by women for women. It should be a topic of discussion in every Masjid, Islamic School and home. When possible, take a stand and demand our rights according to Islam. Education, education, education!!!

We need to value each other and support one another. We should not be threatened by another woman’s knowledge, rather learn what we can from those who have knowledge to share. We need to humble ourselves as women to be able to move forward. We each have something to share. It will take a collective effort to rise up the women of the Ummah. We cannot be deterred by insecurities or jealousies.  We need to emphasize learning in our own lives and model this for others. When we are unsure or don’t know, gracefully admit and seek answers together.

Balance is needed. We also need to educate the men of the Ummah so that they understand that the education of women is a benefit to them and not a threat.  That even if their wife decides to stay at home and dedicate her time to her family, she too has the need to seek knowledge freely.  It is not only a benefit for herself but for her husband and their children as well. We are half of the society, in many places more than half. Without proper education and support, the Ummah will fail to thrive and reach its full potential. We must constantly strive to bring about a change in the world; to remain silent is to condone what is taking place. The weakest of faith is to hate something in your heart.

Who supported you the most throughout your life?
Allah alone!! I have been on my own since the age of 15.
 Allah spared me from what could had been. In this life I have had to depend on myself. I cannot say I’ve been supported by anyone other than Allah. I really cannot say this person or that person supported me. It was through personal determination which helped me survive and become a success in my own life.

How important is education according to you? What would you advice Muslimahs studing in Universities/Schools/Colleges?
From the cradle to the grave, we should be lifelong learners. Without knowledge we become stagnant in our growth. We remain ignorant to the matters of the world around us. Without education we are boxed into a life others have carved out for us. Through knowledge one can soar above oppression and poverty. There is a certain level of confidence which is acquired when one understands their purpose in this life. We should take pride in our achievements, no matter how great or how small.

For those studying in universities or colleges, I advise you to know yourself, especially those in non-Muslim lands. Really know who you are and stick to your principles. What are the values you hold dear? When we stay focused on outcomes and remain true to ourselves we can better focus on studies free from negative influences and distractions. When we are confident in whom we are, we are better able to stay clear from negative peer pressure. When we know who we are, as individuals, we are not afraid to stand alone because we know Allah is by our sides.

For many, the college years are our first years of independence, free from our parent’s ever watchful eye! It is very easy to get caught up in things that will not benefit us or may even harm us. They are the years of self-expression, rebellion, growth, discovery and development. These are the years which begin to shape who we will become.

Unfortunately, many do not realize that some of the choices we make now can and do have an impact on the rest of our lives. One must be very careful in how they spend their time. Are you a leader in your own life or are you a follower? A question you should answer for yourself, often! When faced with a situation, ask yourself is this befitting of a Muslim and what affect, if any will this have on my future?

What steps do you think the male counterparts/Imams/Shuyooks/Elders should take to encourage women to take an active and effective part in the Muslim Ummah.
Our male counterparts should take an active role in educating future generations, particularly young men. Unfortunately many of our older generations practice a watered down version of Islam with many cultural practices infused into it. So who are our youth learning from, is their knowledge proper?

We really need to go back to the basics, using the Prophet (SAW) as the example. How was he towards the rights and education of women? All too often our male counterpart’s lessons are exclusively male focused, leaving out important lessons on the contribution of Muslim women throughout history. While Sisters may know the significant contributions Muslim women made throughout time, the vast majority of men are not being taught. These stories are tragically lost, our knowledge incomplete.

We must begin again with the younger generations for any real change to happen. We need a revival of authentic, classical literature and teachings conveyed in such a way that is relevant to the issues we are facing as an Ummah today. These teachings should reflect the contributions of both male and female with a fair and equal balance. Through this knowledge we will earn a greater respect for one another. Through this knowledge we will be able to live our lives according to how Allah intended for us to live as equal partners with different roles.

What advice would you give to Muslim women who are being discouraged and don’t have anyone to support/help them realize their dreams.
Pray, plan, act!! It is Allah alone who is the true Master of our destinies.When we look to Him alone for our strength we can overcome the unimaginable. Placing our trust in Allah frees us from the shackles society may try to place on us as women. Often we are our own worst enemies by not believing in ourselves enough to take a stand for what we believe in or desire to do in our lives. When we let others discourage us, we relinquish our rights as a human being. Who do we fear, Allah or people?

If it is a family member or husband who is keeping you from realizing your dreams, try making a valid presentation, using examples from Quran and Sunnah as to why something is important to you and is within your right to do so. People are afraid of change, it is a threat. Often the one who is trying to discourage you is afraid you are going to change. Try reassuring them that you will remain true to who you are but will only be becoming a better version of who you already are by accomplishing your goals. Weigh out the pros and cons with them, include them in your plans. This may offer some ease to their own fears that you value them enough to include them and it may serve as an opportunity to develop a greater bond.

Success requires hard work – Reality/ Myth?
Reality!!! 
Anything worth having is worth working for. Nothing comes over night. We may stumble and make mistakes along the way but that’s okay, that’s how we learn real lessons, the kind that stay with us a lifetime. When you stumble just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. There is never a failure, only an opportunity to better ones self. Reflect on mistakes, take notes, and examine them, now what can you do better/different?

Note: The measure of success is defined individually. Whose standards do you want to live up to, your own or that of others? This society will tell you that you must compete with men to be successful, that a stay at home mother is not successful – success is determined by you!!  Celebrate your miles stones. Know as long as you are giving something your all, you will never fail. Just keep at it until you achieve the goals you have laid out for yourself, at your own pace.

What is your advice to our sisters about their dreams/aspirations
a) For the ones that are still deciding and are in their teens or pre-teens.
Ask yourself, what is your passion? What do you hope to accomplish? Once you can answer these questions set some attainable goals both short term and long term and systematically work towards them. Don’t worry they are not set in stone! Take time to explore who you; what do you like doing, what are your strengths? Everything you need to know is already inside of you; you just need to believe in yourself. Why shouldn’t you believe in yourself, Allah created you perfect!

Use your time wisely while you’re young but also, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You have a lifetime to accomplish your objectives. These years are important to discover who you are as an individual, learn to love yourself for who you are. After all, a bit cliché but there is no one else like you! Take pride in that for you are beautiful and unique.

b) For the ones who are married with kids and couldn’t make their dreams come true – is it too late?
It is never too late! However, know that the path you took as a wife and a mother is very noble one. There is no greater job in terms of importance!! If going back to school is not an option at this point, VOLUNTEER with a non-profit organization. Involving your own children in community service project is a wonderful way to instill true Islamic values; collecting and bagging food for a food pantry, serving in a soup kitchen, school supplies for under privileged children are great ways to get involved in your local community and make a contribution. It’s great for the spirit! If something doesn’t exist in your community, why not start something?

Also, there are many online courses one can do from home now. It is never too late to seek knowledge, we should never stop. If you have a career you’d like to pursue check into distant learning to begin at home or at least to such time where you may be able to go back to school. Often students who return to school at an older age are much more invested in their education and bring much more to the classroom than just book smarts!

Is it better to have kids or not have kids with the consent of your husband to achieve your goals in life? What would you advice sisters who want to delay pregnancy till they complete their hifdh or Studies or Phds etc..
There are pros and cons to this. This also is an individual decision. I had my children at a young age, however given the chance to do it again; I would wait until I was a bit older. It is difficult at young age, especially if you’re not financially established. It is demanding raising a family, working or going to school yet not impossible. The advantage of being younger is more energy to be able to keep up with all the demands.

I think it is good, once married to take some time to just enjoy being married, to grow together as husband and wife. Enjoy this time a little because you won’t be able to get it back later, especially if you wait too long to have children.

Children are a gift from Allah, a blessing. To delay this too long can have consequences. Waiting may inhibit the ability to have children later or affect the health of both mother and child. Again, this is an individual decision which should be well thought out.  Everything is from Allah and we should place our trust in Him for any decision we make, either to postpone or have children right away. Allah is the sustainer and provider, when the time is right, He will provide.

*NOTE:  Because I had my children at a young age, I am still young enough to keep up with my 5 grandchildren.

♦ Interviewed by Shamsiya Noorul Quloob

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