“In ten years I picture myself married with children, going to the mosque, living next to my buddies, Lumia, Safiyah, and Saba, painting with Sophia, organizing charity events with Danielle, and most importantly, taking care of my parents and travelling around the world with their love. I hope to master the Arabic language, memorize the biggest chapter in the Qur'an, and travel to the Middle East to help children who are less fortunate. I hope to educate others about my religion in order to eliminate misconceptions and while doing so, working with Serwaa, helping children feel better.”
The above was a response by Hana Chammack, the valedictorian of Christiana High School, to a question members of the school's National Honor Society were asked toward the end of their senior year. Because she had invited me to attend the National Honor Society Ceremony, I had the opportunity to hear her dreams and compare them to those of many of the other high schoolers. Watching her, the treasurer of NHS, sitting on the stage along with three other board members, I was intrigued. Her words and smiles prompted me to learn more about her. How had she become such an exceptional student and practicing Muslimah?
Clearly, Hana has shone during her high school years. Unlike many other girls of her age, she has been able to overcome problems she encounters in school and handle peer pressure. She has always excelled in academics, as is evident through her title of valedictorian. “I've always been competitive and try to be an achiever,” she explains. “When I learned from the imām that Allāh would build a house in Jannah for those who prayed the extra 12 nawafil prayers, I tried my best to do them. I always strive to please Allāh.”
Before she goes off to college at the University of Delaware, I wanted to ask her how she managed to do what she did. How did she end up so different from most girls? Her story was inspiring and a wonderful example for other families to follow.
Hana was born and raised in the US. Her first visit to her parents' home country, Yemen, was in 2004, when she was only nine years old. “I came to the US during the beginning of fourth grade,” Hana says. At the age of ten, she prayed five times a day and wore hijab. However, she never thought deeply about the true meaning of Islam. Being a Muslim was just who she was; Islam was just her religion. Although she wore a hijab to school, it wasn't out of a sincere desire to follow Allāh's commandments of proper attire. “I started wearing the hijab simply because my parents told me to.”
Hana didn't have many problems with her fellow classmates at school. They didn't bother her much about her hijab and the ways she was different from them. But the habits of her classmates sometimes intrigued her, and she found herself trying to fit in with the rest. Sometimes, she tried to wear trendy outfits and covered her arms with jewelry. Hana calls this “the bracelet stage.”
She began to prioritize Islam in her daily life around the time she began high school. At Sunday school, she had learned to read the Qur'an and the basic tenets of Islam. But it was during the weekly halaqas by Shaykh Abdel Hadi, the imām of masjid Ibrahim, when Islam began to have a greater meaning for her and she began to understand the purpose of life. Living right next to the masjid, literally in the masjid's yard, Hana felt it was her duty to attend the halaqas. She knew how the earlier generations had gone through so much trouble to attain knowledge. “I was worried that Allāh would ask me why I didn't attend the halaqas when I lived right next to the masjid.” She came to the halaqas out of her own sincere desire to learn more about Islam.
Hana found that she felt closest to Allāh when she was at the masjid. Praying every prayer there allowed her an īmān boost five times a day, and that is what she needed. From listening to the halaqa series about the mothers of the believers to the stories of the sahabas, she began to appreciate Islamic history and use what she learned in her daily life.
She knew the stories she heard in the halaqas weren't just for entertainment or knowledge to keep inside. She had to implement the values and lessons she learnt throughout her everyday life. “The Shaykh always told us that we have to learn and apply.” During one halaqa, she learned how the sahabahs put their total trust in Allāh. “During tests, I could see how all my classmates were nervous, but alḥamdulillāh, I was never as nervous as them. I knew that, if I already did my part, then Allāh would take care of the rest. While I took the test, there was no one else to help me except Allāh. Islam taught me to be optimistic.” Thus, Islam helped her excel in her academics.
In addition to always putting her trust in Allāh, taqwa also played a critical role in Hana's life. While studying the tafsir of surah Al-Baqara, Hana realized the importance of having taqwa. “Fearing Allāh is very important. It encourages a person to think before they commit an action. Allāh has power over everything and I believe having taqwa helped me stay on the right path.”
Throughout her years in middle and high school, Hana rarely had any close friends her own age. Instead, she befriended many older sisters she met in the community and spent time with them rather than chatting with other teenage girls. “Sister Majeda and I used to attend halaqas together. We became halaqa buddies and would share our notes with each other and discuss the halaqas together every week.” Hana also found inspiration from another older sister in the community. “I always enjoy seeing Sister Barbara.” Sister Sarah, who had converted to Islam during the time Hana had recently started high school, helped Hana increase her īmān, as well. “We both have a desire to learn more about Islam, and that's how we became close to each other.” Through Hana's example, it is evident that the youth do not always need to spend time with others their age. In fact, it can be more beneficial for them to befriend those of an older generation.
Hana always had support from her family. Her father never discouraged her from attending the daily prayers at the masjid, even when she attended Fajr. This allowed her a deeper connection with the masjid and with Allāh. “I just love having the connection with the masjid. Attending prayers there helps me pray on time, and I just love the feeling of being in the masjid. It makes me feel closer to Allāh.”
Hana's parents encourage her to gain more knowledge. Her father often made the masjid halaqas a family event. “Sometimes, my dad or my brothers would say, 'Let's go to the halaqa.' And we would all go to the masjid together.” Her mom's favorite quote is, “Knowledge is light,” and has become Hana's favorite, as well.
Hana knows she couldn't have come so far without the support of those in her home and community. She is grateful to her parents, the sisters at masjid Ibraheem, the Islamic Society of Delaware, and Shaykh Abdel Hadi for helping her throughout her years in her community. By acknowledging them, she hopes that others will follow the example of those who supported her when she needed it most. ”I truly hope other youth will be as lucky as I am, inshā'Allāh.”
Hana knows life is not always easy. She advises other youth to never give up on the guidance of Allāh “because He is always there, and He knows what is best for you.” ”Be around people who do not push you away from Allāh,” she adds. ”Have a regular schedule in which you read Qur'an and study tafsir. And always, always put your trust in Allāh.”