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Image of me leaning against a red bookshelf (that looks orange in this picture). I am looking past the camera, wearing a black hijab, and a checkered shirt that is purple, black, and gold.

I have been wanting to start this blog for quite some time (we are talking years!) Over the years, I slowly gained clarity on what I wanted to write about. To a point where I would start outlining ideas or thinking through whole blog posts in my head. Yes, I know some of you will say, “Where are those blogs?’ or ‘Sounds like you need to use the voice recorder app.’ Yes, I know. Because I ask myself those same questions. My answer is everything happens for a reason, and now is finally the time I put all those thoughts out there.

The next question I have in my mind is, where do I start? The topics feel endless -how does one ‘kick off a blog?’ I finally found the answer: I will start with my story of how I got here.

Growing up, I had a few ideas of what I wanted to do ‘when I grew up; but nothing stuck. There wasn’t anything that made me excited. So, I went off to college with an undeclared major.

At the same time, I was at a point where I was craving to learn more about my religion, Islam. There was a desire planted deep inside of me that was getting louder and louder. I grew up when there was no social media, no smartphones, and the internet was just getting started. Also, the number of masjids overall programming was not as vast as now. Our community was still so young then, and we had so much growing to do. And boy, have we grown in so many beautiful ways.

I knew or viewed college as my time to answer this calling. I saw how much my older brother was able to learn about Islam through the Muslim Student Association on his campus. That’s the same experience I wanted for myself.

Then, two weeks before I left for college, 9/11 happened. Now, it wasn’t just a desire to learn more. It was a need. As so many Muslims asked themselves, I was left thinking, ‘Surely my religion doesn’t condone such atrocious acts’ and ‘If Muslims were claiming responsibility, how in the world can they think that it was Islamically acceptable?’ I still don’t have the answer to this. To unpack this question would be a whole other blog post. For the purpose of my story, it was a significant moment in my journey to learn about Islam.

I am happy to share that my college experience did not disappoint. The friends that I met in college had a profound impact on me. They provided me a space to talk about our religion and current events. This space included a lot of comfort, very little judgment, challenges of my own perceptions (in a good way), an opportunity to explore the world together (and I mean this literally, not as some cliché, we have been blessed with the opportunity to travel abroad multiple times ), and so much more. All of this helped build a deep connection that I don’t know if I can ever articulate into words. And life-long friendships that include support, joy, and great memories.

During this time of my life, a friend directed me to an internship posting for a nonprofit that serves the American Muslim community. I was accepted as an intern, and from then on, I always worked in nonprofits. I fell in love with the idea that I could give back to the community for a living, and that is exactly what I have done since then.

It was clear what I wanted to do, but it wasn’t clear on the ‘how.’ It took some time and a lot of conversations with friends until a lightbulb went off for me one day. I realized that I have a lot of energy and skills for what I now know is called capacity building. I cannot pinpoint the exact reasons on why I came to this conclusion. All I knew then was that I was blessed with an opportunity to be at a nonprofit that supported other nonprofits. It wasn’t part of our set programs, but others came to us for guidance. I loved talking to them about how they can grow or explore different ways to get their nonprofit off the ground. In my ‘aha’ moment, it felt like it was my calling. The best way I can describe it is an intuition that I had, which I see as a way Allah is answering my du’as (prayers) to provide me guidance.

What this looked like over the past 20 years has taken different forms. The core has always remained the same: fulfilling a vision to help support the American Muslim community in the best ways I know how through nonprofit work. At this point, I do this by working at a nonprofit while consulting, coaching, and now storytelling (Insha’Allah) on the side.

The journey was not always easy. When I say this, I think of my first job often. It was the most rewarding, yet stressful experience. I attribute a lot of my career to that time. That job was a ‘jack of all trades’ type of position that included finances, Human Resources, administration, fundraising, board development, and so much more. This allowed me to get a comprehensive view of what it takes to run a nonprofit. This has allowed me to do so much more after I left that organization.

What was stressful about it was I came into this position pretty straight out of college with a degree that had no training in those areas. I realized that college doesn’t prepare us on how to manage work culture, learn boundaries, how to get the best type of professional development, how to grow in your career, and so much more. At the same time, when you are working for the community, you feel obligated to give all that you got to your job and that leaves very little for other aspects of your life.

This blog will allow me to share different parts of my journey more in-depth while highlighting lessons and resources. I genuinely believe in the power of sharing each other’s stories so we can learn and not reinvent the wheel. We can only grow as individuals and as a community if we share our learnings and support one another. This is another way to support American Muslim professionals and nonprofits to help them grow and flourish.

I hope you will join me on this journey as I continue to share more in this blog. I also encourage you to take time and reflect on your own story. What has gotten you to where you are now? How can sharing it with others support the community?

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