Ministerial Administrative Assistant
When are you at your happiest?
I’m happiest a lot of times with really small things. Like there is a show on Netflix, it’s a Japanese TV show, and it’s the most corny clichéd thing but even when I’m really upset and really down it makes me smile, it makes me laugh, it makes me really happy.
The other thing I’ve noticed is I’m really happy when I am… they’ve got these Pokemon nano blocks out, so I’ve started building them, and just puzzles, anything where you’re working with your hands and accomplish something it makes me happy. Even when I’m at work and I’ve completed something, and my supervisor says good job, I’m like YES, that’s definitely when I’m at my happiest.
What’s something that you are passionate about?
I’m passionate about about a lot of things. I think I run on passion. I’m passionate about politics, I’ve been in the labor party for about 3 years. I think I joined just before I converted but when I converted that’s when I really hit the ground running. I’m passionate not just about Islamic issues but about Medicare, education. And I think sometimes we get boxed in those things, like ‘if you’re muslim, you only care about Islamic issues’. It’s like we no, we live in this society, we should be perpetually trying to change it for everyone.
I’m a feminist, a very very very very loud and proud feminist. And a unionist. I’m just passionate about anything I can get my hands on and try to change for the better. Because I think there is no real point in living in our society if we aren’t going to at least try to fix it. There’s a lot wrong with it, the environment, inequality, racism.
I was just going to say y’know, the way it is isn’t always the way it’s going to be. We need to realise that and that things change and things can change.
What is a significant achievement of yours?
I’d probably say graduating university. It was a very up and down time for me. My grandmother passed away, my father passed away, I was suffering from severe depression, I converted during that time and lost a few friends and a few people.
I started wearing hijab at the time which opened up a lot of outsiders judging me in a way I’ve never been judged before, especially as a white Australian who was born here, grew up here, and has never experienced any kind of prejudice, outward prejudice anyway.
What do you hope to achieve in 2016?
I have recently gained employment which has been a massive achievement as well because I basically spent a year unemployed. So I have been working for a few months now, it’s at the department of Agriculture in the Ministry which is my dream job. To get in that realm and get into a ministry to see how everything works is definitely my biggest achievement in 2016 so far.
Who is your role model?
I think I have a lot of role models on different levels.
I would have to say my friend Chris, he is very out there, very loud, but he’s very passionate. He never holds back, he has no fear or at least it seems like he has no fear when he could be terrified on the inside. It’s that thing of acting a certain way until you are that way. He’s taught me to see the best qualities in me, to recognise when I am doing well, and that’s not always the easiest thing.
And he always comes out with the best lines to live by – don’t yell it sell it. If you’ve got something to say you’re not going to get anywhere screaming at someone, you need to sit down and talk to them and be able to put your point across. And for me being as passionate as I am I’m not always good at that, so I definitely try to live a bit more like he does.
My mum’s definitely my other role model. She’s essentially the one that got me through high school. I had a lot of things going on in high school. MY father suffered from severe depression and it wasn’t an easy time. But my mum is a battler, she is a person who, the world could be kicking her and she would still get up. And I think that in itself is really admirable and kinda something to live by, because we’re very similar people and if she can do it so can I.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
It depends on how well you know me. I think people are usually generally surprised that I suffer from depression and anxiety. I like to think that I project this happy confident image, they’re probably surprised that I am happy watching Japanese tv shows and Pokemon.
A lot of the time they’re surprised that I’m Muslim as I don’t exactly come across that way, I don’t exactly have the image people think and associate with Islam. So when I tell them they are either shocked, surprised or just don’t believe me some of the time. And it’s not even just non-muslims, it’s Muslims as well, it’s having to actually physically tell people I am a Muslim. I don’t usually do that unless I have to like if they are ordering something, and I’ll get the vegetarian option, and they are like ‘are you vegetarian’ and I’m like ‘No I’m Muslim’. So I think actually being a Muslim is actually the biggest surprise for people. Which they’ll know now anyway because I’m on Faces of Islam!
What was the biggest risk you’ve taken?
Probably converting to Islam. I converted when I was like 19. And for anyone who’s a young adult, that wants to fit in, that wants to go to parties and go drinking and be able to do whatever they want, Islam felt like a risk. But when I did it, it was a reward.
I think it’s a lesson to live by that risks seem scary, but they are often at times the greatest thing you can ever do, and the greatest thing that changes your life for the better. So I’d say converting was the greatest risk I’ve taken, and that’s a good thing, and I want to emphasise that’s a good thing!
Bad habits… Islam really helped with the things that I wasn’t dealing with. I was a big drinker and it got me through social situations, it got me through my really bad moods, but it wasn’t helping. Just before I converted I thought I have to give this up. But I didn’t have that push, so that definitely helped. It took a while to completely stop, but it’s not just that, it’s things like gossiping, it’s things like just trying to be a better person in general, trying to give to charity more, trying to do more, trying to be more active in changing the community for the better, that’s what Islam has pushed me to do. I don’t think I’d have had the strength to be able to do it without it.
It’s a code to live by, it’s something that helps you when you need help.
What’s something that has changed your life?
Islam! But in relation to that, my father passed away four or five months after I converted. It was a really tough time but I feel like if I hadn’t had Islam, if I hadn’t had god in my life it would have crushed me, it would have completely destroyed me. My families not religious, and I remember being in that room when he passed. And everyone was breaking down, and felt like they had no hope, when I was sitting there saying ‘Al-ḥamdu lillāh (Praise be to god) he has passed on, he’s not in pain anymore’, it’s that bright side, it’s hope where other people didn’t have it. And it just got me through the hardest time of my life so far.
Islam for me, even with my depression and things like that, it’s just that thing that gets you through a situation no matter how terrible it is because you know there’s something better. And for my dad he had suffered so long, but he was a really good person and he may not have been Muslim, but I’ll always believe he has gone to a better place. And that keeps me going every day.
How did your family feel about you embracing Islam?
My family are quite interesting, because my immediate family were very supportive. My mum was like, because I’ve been talking about it to 3-4 years, she’s like, “Finally. You’ve been talking about it forever, you’ve finally done it, congratulations, now let’s get on with our life.” My sisters pretty much keep me on track, they’re like “we don’t understand why you believe in a god but that’s cool.” My extended family, very very negative about it, but they’re up north and they don’t have a massive Muslim community. I went up there and talked to them, they were fine with me, they’re just not fine with Islam. I feel like there is this disconnect, like they don’t put two and two together. And I talk to them about it but they’re like “nah, this is what it is, this is what I see, that’s it.” But I am an example of what Muslims are and what we actually think, and you’re choosing to ignore me over media?
What challenges did you encounter converting to Islam?
When I converted I didn’t think too much of the practicality of it all, when it happened it was because I felt it was spiritually right for me but didn’t think too much about the effects outside of that. I had spoken with friends about the things people associate with it like wearing a hijab, quitting alcohol and giving up pork but I never knew the extent of it. I was elated when I converted, I was on a high for months and everything seemed so easy (praying five times a day, covering, quitting bad habits) but when my world rebalanced it was as if I had to start again. I constantly feel like I’m stopping and restarting with my practices but my faith is consistent. I’ve just spent my time learning to adapt to the religion in a way that suits me because there are so many different ways people practice.
This was all superficial stuff and I grappled a lot with wondering if I was ready for it. I didn’t think I would be and so I let it fall to the wayside, continuing with my normal routine. I had always came back to it and then one night during an event I was invited to during Ramadan I started talking to other converts, asking them how it was done and when they knew it was right. The thing was that I had been thinking of converting for three years at this stage but I never delved father than what my education and travel taught me, which in retrospect was limited. University taught the sociological, political science, history and culture sides of it. The Islamic beliefs and practices were taught in a broad sense which hardly prepared me for adapting my life in order to practice a thousand year old, complex and diverse religion.
I had a wonderful Malaysian friend who I met at university who helped me with the practical side of prayers. I was fortunate enough to come through it this way and met people who would help me adjust to the life and teach me about the practical and spiritual side of the religion. It was still hard, though, because I wanted to adapt to the change straight away and be able to take everything in. I thought I was prepared, I thought I knew all that I needed to and that I was ready to take on everything, that I would be one of the few converts who didn’t struggle because I was ahead of the game. My pride was quickly squashed and I’m glad it was. I thought I was taking it at a pace which suited me but I wasn’t. I wasn’t doing things for the right reasons because I didn’t truly understand them, i.e. quitting drinking simply because it wasn’t condoned. It took the original followers many years to do this after they understood why they were. God introduced the religion stages: the spiritual messages came first to create a foundation of faith (which I thought I had and was strong enough, I was wrong) and then the rulings.
I started backwards with the ruling and then the spiritual side. I’m not perfect but I’ve learned to be kinder to myself, I’ve only been in the faith for four years and even though I’ve studied the religion there is always more to learn (and so many different perspectives). I have begun practicing in a way that’s more comfortable to me and not being so anxious by learning at own pace. It’s important to understand why you’re doing something and the meaning behind it. I was really lucky to have come through it the way I did. I was able to surround myself with like-minded, learned Muslims who helped me navigate through it. I would’ve been lost completely without them and I may have given up because it is a big adjustment that isn’t easy to navigate. I learned it’s about finding your crowd and they’re out there even when it doesn’t feel like it.
Struggle can come with its own rewards like when I lost friends after I converted I found out who my true friends are and formed stronger bonds with those still in my life. When I wore hijab I felt a level of discrimination that I wouldn’t have experienced and it’s made me more empathetic and aware of being mindful of perception.
Also, Ramadan has been a huge struggle, especially when I found out I couldn’t drink water when fasting! It’s so difficult but rewarding at the same time because you’re not sure whether you’re going to make it. It’s also hard because I didn’t have anyone to do it with. Most Muslims have their family and find a source of strength from them but I was alone. I didn’t have a partner or family to break the fast with for the last few times. My partner and I celebrated it last year and it was so much easier. So, I think the hardest thing is the initial loneliness and isolation, not having family support or someone constant to share your faith with who understands.
What role do your beliefs play in your life?
My beliefs are in the background of everything I do. They’re like a conscience I suppose. When I feel like I’ve done something wrong, I will always try to correct it. My beliefs… I feel like I’ve always had the beliefs but Islam has come in and given a name to it and more direction to it. I had always believed in god, my family weren’t very religious, but I always had a sense of belief and a sense of faith. It’s just being able to pinpoint what I’ve been feeling for a decade.
Because when I was in highschool I always had a sense of belief, I always knew there was a god, there were just certain things I couldn’t align with. When Islam came it was a really eye opening experience, because I’ve been really lucky because I came to it through education, travel and personal experience. I had never met a Muslim before I came to Brisbane, I’m from out west, and literally never knew anything about it. And I came into it and was like ok, there’s a lot of Christianity in it, there’s a lot of things I already know about, but I really like their stance of learning Islam for yourself and learning at your own pace, and being responsible for your own path.
When you read it, it’s your understanding, and at the end of the day you’re the one coming into it and being like this is why I’ve done something. So for me it’s kind of, putting a name to what I’ve always felt.
What’s your best advice for others?
Learn. Learn as much as you possibly can, not just through education, but through travel, talking to people, learn in any way possible. Because education really really changed my life, and experiences like travel, going out and experiencing different cultures, not only learning but learning with an open heart. I think a lot of people learn but they still have their own agenda to it. So they come into it and they’re learning the way other people are. So there’s always a thing there. So you have to step into spaces with some sort of… just… just a politeness. Don’t bring your baggage into it. Don’t come into it and think they may be saying this but it’s not what I’ve learned so it must not be true. Come into it and listen, ask questions, and when they give you the answer listen to them. Like really listen to them.
Is there anything else you would like people to know?
I’ve been there. I’ve been one of those people who were scared of Islam. Who were looking at it and seeing only the negative angles because that’s what news portrays, that’s what politicians talk about. They all have their own agenda and you need to recognise that, you need to recognise that the only reason the news talks about this is that they want an event that is going to be popular and spark interest in people.
Politicians have their own agenda and they will tell you what they need to tell you to sell to you. But when it comes to it the best way to learn about it is through people, people who are Muslim, who can actually tell you what it is and what it means to them. So before you go and get scared and start judging, come talk to us. Have a conversation, come at it with an open heart. And know that we’re not as scary as we seem. We’re not the ‘other’. People will try to segregate us but we’re stronger together.
This is one of my favorite quotes, it’s a punk song from NOFX.
“First they put away the dealers,
keep our kids safe and off the street.
Then they put away the prostitutes,
keep married men cloistered at home.
Then they shooed away the bums,
then they beat and bashed the queers,
turned away asylum-seekers,
fed us suspicions and fears.
We didn´t raise our voice,
we didn´t make a fuss.
It´s funny there was no one left to notice,
when they came for us.”
So don’t let them divide and segregate us, we’re all Australian, we’re all human, and don’t let anyone’s agenda tell you otherwise.