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Positively Muslim in the West: Umm Yousuf

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MuslimMatters would like to recognize Umm Yousuf as the latest “Positively Muslim in the West”

Background:

Yousuf, son of Shaykh Waleed Basyouni and Umm Yousuf, was diagnosed with leukemia in June this year. Umm Yousuf was in the bookstore, when she came across a Dr. Seuss book, carrying a photo of a bald kid who had a sad expression. She didn’t want Yousuf, bald due to the chemotherapy, to see the picture. But she didn’t stop there. She wrote up a Dr. Seuss type poem and dispatched it to Random House, the publishers. Her request was simple, the message powerful. Let the bald boy smile!

MM published the effort and while we were highlighting it on our pages, Random House acknowledged Umm Yousuf’s request and promised to take care of it. Thus, we recognize Umm Yousuf, not only for this positive act, but also for all her efforts and hardships in taking care of little Yousuf.

Interview with Umm Yousuf:

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How is life as the Shaykh’s wife?

It has its advantages and disadvantages like anything.  I would have to say definitely more advantages, of course.  I love having fatwas answered at my convenience, but I also notice that I don’t strive as hard to gain knowledge as much, in Fiqh issues for example.  People think because I’m married to a shaykh I must get SO much knowledge from him but unless I attend his classes like anyone else, I don’t get many other opportunities other than watching him, listening to him or an occasional help in him preparing for classes.

It can be difficult seeing him come and go so much but when I see him at work or hear others positive feedback, gifts and prayers it reminds me of what he’s out there doing and I feel happy and reassured.

When did you find out about Yousuf’s illness and can you share your reaction?

I knew he was sick for about week or so before he was diagnosed, which was June 22, 2009. Remembering that day creates so much pain in my heart and I don’t like to think about it much. Yousuf didn’t have usual ‘sick’ symptoms and since he’s been one to dramatize small minor aches and pains, I didn’t pay much attention to it in the beginning. If there was anything I could have done differently would have been to listen more and be there for him more even if he had been ‘dramatizing’ something minor.

I think his father had the best example of what an initial reaction is supposed to be, masha’Allah. For myself, I felt as though the world was spinning until I entered some imaginary world or dream. I cried right away and felt devastated despite the fact that it didn’t feel real. Like instead of “It’s too good to be true”, It was too bad to be true. When his father heard the news he was sitting and just slapped his hands on his legs ready to leave to go do what we needed to do with a big “alhamdulilah”. As the hadith says, “The real patience appears in your initial reaction when the calamity first strikes you.”

Being much weaker than him I just looked at him and wondered if he had heard the doctor correctly.

How do you deal with moments of despair and sorrow that must crop up at times, when you find yourself questioning the decree of Allah, “Why my child?”. What do you do at such times of despondency?

Firstly, I have it deeply imprinted in my heart that Allah (swt) does not decree for me something I cannot bear, therefore there is wisdom in it, even if I cannot see it sometimes due to overwhelming sadness…but deep down I know I will come through, insha’Allah. That’s also part of loving Yousuf, staying strong for him.

Secondly, I don’t ask ‘Why?’ in a negative connotation or as if I am questioning Allah’s Qadr, rather I start searching for the POSITIVE reasons and acting upon it. For example, our eating habits were extremely poor so I immediately starting watching everything I fed myself and my kids. I searched out nutritious and whole foods as well as those foods that are known to help fight cancer.

I’ve become active in areas that I didn’t really understand or experience the importance of before. For example, I helped coordinate a toy drive for the patients at Texas Children’s Hospital; I’m also arranging a blood drive to be held at our local Clear Lake Masjid, insha’Allah, next month.

Lastly, I cannot underestimate the support I have received from my husband. Whenever it starts to get too much for me or I need time away to rejuvenate myself he’s there to help with the kids while I get some time away. I think this is important for all moms, though, not just one’s with sick kids.

Is Youssef ever socially ostracized by other children, or ridiculed/laughed at? How do you deal with these situations?

I only remember one time when (on Eid) one of the kids at the masjid made fun of Yousuf’s hair…or lack thereof. I was fortunate that one of his older sisters was there to defend and stand right next to him so I didn’t have to do anything, alhamdulilah.

Another time he was playing with the neighbors (alhamdulilah, Muslim neighbors) and they were play fighting with swords and one ‘new’ kid said to Yousuf playfully, “I’m gonna kill you!” So the other boy, who knew about Yousuf, told him not to play like that because he has cancer. I thought that was really cute.

So obviously, Yousuf does notice some reactions from people and knowing that most people DO have hair so he has a hard time with it. He’s made many comments about how he doesn’t like it and sometimes wants to tear up pictures of himself when he had hair.

What is your advice for other parents in the same situation?

That is a difficult question to answer because none of us are in the same situation. Even among the many leukemia patients and their parents I share the waiting room with, each of our story is different. We obviously share a lot in common but our kids are each unique individuals and so are the parents. For me my healing came through writing which for some they said it makes the feelings of sadness that much stronger.
On the other hand, like with any test we should look at the reasons why Allah (Swt) might be testing us. There have been numerous aspects of my life that I have disliked considerably, but deep down almost every time I knew it was good for me. It was only the times that I tried to deny that reality and fight against that I would have a difficult time in my life. However, when I surrender to the Will of Allah and knowing he has chosen that, in which has the potential to bring out the best of me, though the test is still difficult, you still feel a sense of peace. We are only responsible for what we do and not what is done to us.

Referring to the Dr. Seuss situation,

a) How did you come up with the idea?

The idea to write a letter was just from my initial reaction when seeing the picture of the sad face drawn on a bald headed kid. The WAY of doing it (in the Dr. Seuss style) actually was not planned at all. I just sat down at my computer ready to compose a regular letter to them and jokingly typed in the first line with a rhyme. At first I was confused on what I was going to say in my letter since I wanted to sound as nice as possible. When that first line came out I smiled, pulled myself close to the keyboard and the entire letter just flowed out, subhan’Allah.

b) What was your reaction when you saw the letter from Random house?

Okay, so call me immature but I was holding the letter jumping up and down. I was happy and very shocked at the quick response.

c) Were you surprised by the support on MM and on your blog?

Yes, I was. Despite the fact that I was very excited about the idea I am not always sure how Muslims (being from so many different backgrounds) would interpret my approach to such a small matter and why I felt it was important. I was glad to see the positive feedback on that.

d) Should we expect more poems from you?

Not just poems but books, insha’Allah! I am aiming towards Islamic books for kids in a ….Dr. Seuss fashion?

As a convert yourself, when did you convert? I am sure you have been asked this question a thousand times, but we’ll ask anyway… why did you turn to Islam?

I don’t mind answering this question repeatedly…it serves as a good reminder to me and therefore is a sort of eeman renewal for me.

I was 19 years old when I declared my shahadah in the old Clear Lake Masjid. There were many different factors in what exactly drew me into the religion but simply put I was looking for direction not faith(because I already had that) and Islam offers both. I used to attend church twice a week and had many dreams in doing work for the sake of my Creator and my religion, one of those dreams was to travel across the world and spread belief to others. I didn’t have the means to do so so I just kept on praying for direction. I took the means by meeting with my church minister and asking him a million questions that I didn’t understand about Christianity. My father is a pastor of a church in another state but I didn’t want to ask him to think I was questioning my faith…but I was. The answers were always, “Pray and read the bible.” I would explain to him I was doing that but then what? He would just repeat the same sentence until I just tried to continue on doing that faithfully accepting what I didn’t quite understand.

It was at that time I started meeting Muslims, at my job, book stores and school. I thought my prayers were being answered but instead of traveling to meet people God had brought them to me to help guide. We would sit and have many discussions, most of which impressed me on how much Muslims knew about my religion more than I did. They were answering many of those questions that the minister could not answer and while making a lot of sense.

I was not going give up that easy. It was now my turn to go secretly research about Islam so that I had a better way to debate with them. I finally opened up a little to my dad so I would call him and ask him some questions. The one question I called and asked him that totally turned me off to Christianity and on to Islam was had the bible been changed? He said yes, of course. But the Qur’an had not.

I still did not convert yet, despite the fact that I could not find a single thing wrong with Islam and seemed to believe in everything I had learned about it. It was still difficult to take the religion seriously as the people who were talking to me did not practice what they preached. They were good hearted Muslims, who had struggles like anyone; but they still not wear hijab or refrain from mixing with the opposite gender.

It was finally when I met a Muslim woman who, masha’Allah, was very religious in her actions, dress and manners. It was her spirituality and emphasis on the love and mercy of Allah that finally brought me to the final decision. After asking her if I would be able to start over again pure with a clean slate and she said yes, I declared my shahadah silently to myself (as I had already memorized it knowing that’s what I wanted). A few weeks later I did it publicly.

What advice do you have for other Muslims in America in taking advantage of our rights as Americans and taking on the “system” as you sort of did with Dr. Seuss?

To definitely TAKE advantage of them! But for everyone’s advantage and not just our own and do so in a positive manner using the example of the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam.

What do you love most about living as a Muslim in the States?

Alhamdulilah, I’m just happy to be able to live as Muslim anywhere. I have only lived in the U.S. and cannot compare it to anywhere else. However, I do feel happy that my home country is one that I can practice my religion freely and connect with other Muslims, not only from here but from everywhere.

How can Muslims be a positive voice in States?

Be a good role model and follow the example of our beloved prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam  in manners and behavior. The more we learn about him sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam and the history of his time the better we can know how to do that.

The more active we are in the community at large and are able to leave our “signature” behind the more doors will open, in positive ways, to interact with our neighbors in this country therefore creating better opportunities to make dawah. Muslims shouldn’t stick within our close network of people by belief but spread out and start focusing on the weaknesses of the community and aiding in making it better for everyone. Giving a good example IS dawah. Volunteering in shelters, nursery homes, hospitals, or even animal rescue services, all do the work of good deeds, setting a good example and establishing positive relationships with all our neighbors, Muslim or non-Muslim. I feel many people would understand or admit the logic behind Islam when they see and feel the spiritual side of the religion and Muslims.

Request for Help & Nominations for Future Awards

As mentioned in the post, Umm Yousuf is working on some children books. She is looking for some help with illustrations for the books. Please email us if you have the talent and can participate.

If you would like to nominate a positive Muslim in the West, please email: info@muslimmatters.org. The main premise for the award is to recognize Muslims living as positive, contributing and integrated minorities.

May Allah reward Umm Yousuf, grant her child recovery and bless her and her family. Ameen.


Past Muslim Positives:

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31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Mercy

    December 28, 2009 at 7:28 AM

    Assalama ‘Alaykum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu,

    Masha’Allah, I am forever reminded of the in surah baqarah where Allah speaks about testing individuals in so many ways and reminding the individual to endure with patience. May Allah azza wa jala bestow his mercy upon you and your family, and may this be only a means to draw closer to Him, the most high. JaazaakAllah khayr for this interview and the wonderful reminders placed therin.

    Wassalama ‘Alaykum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu

  2. Waleed Basyouni

    December 28, 2009 at 10:38 AM

    Jazaki Allah Khaira Um Yousuf

    • Amad

      December 28, 2009 at 1:52 PM

      Good to see your comment Shaykh. May Allah reward you for your patience and support… from everything I hear, you are a role model in how to deal with such a fitnah…

      May Allah bless both of you and give shifa’ to Yousuf, and may he grow up to read and comment on this post decades from now :)

      • Tanveer

        January 4, 2010 at 10:26 AM

        InshaAllah

  3. Ameera

    December 28, 2009 at 11:51 AM

    When I started reading this, I couldn’t stop… Jazakillahi khayran for sharing a little part of your life with us and teaching us what Sabr really means. May Allah(swt) bestow His Shifaa on your son! Truly, Allah(swt) is with those who’re patient with His Qadr!

  4. Yus from the Nati

    December 28, 2009 at 12:22 PM

    Jazakillahukhair.

    This is a beautiful post. I enjoyed it. May Allah make it easy for all of you.

  5. Amatullah

    December 28, 2009 at 1:55 PM

    Baarak Allahu feeki Umm Yousuf, may Allah ta’ala shower His Rahmah on you and your family.

  6. AllahCreatedMe

    December 28, 2009 at 2:11 PM

    You are my role model, masha’allah! I hope that one day, I can walk into the public library and pick up a fiction Muslim book for teenagers and walk out feeling proud that my people are making a difference here and not just in Makkah or something. We need books that we can benefit from and accept, and believe me, Dr. Suess-style books are a great step. Allahumma ishfy mardana wa marda al-muslimeen! Ameen!

    • Ameera

      December 28, 2009 at 6:57 PM

      :)

      Great, I want to write fiction books for teenagers too, based on Islamic content, presented in a way they can actually relate to and accept… Insha’Allah. There’s a BIG vacuum there!

      • UmA

        December 28, 2009 at 10:32 PM

        HIstorical fiction for teens, please!

        • Ameera

          December 29, 2009 at 9:47 AM

          Historical fiction? I don’t get that. Could you elaborate, please?

        • Um Danyaal

          December 29, 2009 at 6:05 PM

          Assalamu alaikum,

          May I recommend this:

          http://www.muslimwriterspublishing.com/sophiasjournal.html

          and there are many other titles you might be interested in at the same website.

          • Ameera

            December 30, 2009 at 9:47 AM

            *wide eyes* Wow! Didn’t know (Muslim) people were getting as creative as that! :)

  7. Dunia's Stranger

    December 28, 2009 at 3:49 PM

    This is inspirational.

    And I thought I was going through difficult times.

    I need to say ‘Alhumdulliah’ more after reading this piece.

  8. Umm Salma

    December 29, 2009 at 12:43 AM

    May Allah reward you and your family for your patience. You are truly an inspiration to all mothers, and stories like this remind me to always be thankful and patient for all the good that I have in my life. InshaAllah I can’t wait to be able to read one of your books to my children. :)

    “…But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.” [Al-Quran Al-Kareem: Surah Al-Baqarah Ayat 216]

  9. Muhammad

    December 29, 2009 at 3:15 AM

    I am sure it will come as a surprise to Ali al-Timimi, Ismail Royer, Rafil Dhafir, and the other Muslims being held on trumped up charges in America’s dungeons to know that it is the only country on earth where Muslims can practice their religion.

    • angry guy

      December 30, 2009 at 10:38 AM

      Salam

      Reading thru Umm Yusuf’s story, I wonder if she would have have taken shahadah if she had come across an article like this before reverting and seen a comment like this? We are talking about an article written by a sister dealing with a sick child, which by itself makes comments like these out of order. Secondly, the sister is NOT saying that America is the ONLY country on earth where Muslims can practice. PLEASE READ WHAT SHE SAID MORE CAREFULLY. Thirdly, the sister is talking about what muslims can do POSITIVELY here in the USA. What do you think American muslims should do, just sit back and complain and do nothing else? There’s a lot of bad things happening against good muslims all over the world, not just in America. And if you can be bothered to read the rest of this site, you will see the huge support being shown to Sister Aafia Siddiqui.

      • amad

        December 30, 2009 at 11:40 AM

        I agree… such comments are in very bad taste and reflects an obsession with negativity and pessimism that is not befitting the Muslim character as exemplified in the optimistic and merciful example of our Prophet, sallallah alehi wasalam.

      • amad

        December 30, 2009 at 11:41 AM

        I agree… such comments are in very bad taste and reflect an obsession with negativity, soo ad-dhan, and pessimism that is not befitting the Muslim character as exemplified in the optimistic and merciful example of our Prophet, sallallah alehi wasalam.

  10. Kashif

    December 29, 2009 at 4:25 AM

    Well said!

  11. ummmaryam

    December 29, 2009 at 4:53 AM

    Jazakumallahu khairaa umm Yousuf..May Allahtaala grant shifa and accept all your duas quickly.Looking forward to read your books..

  12. Amad

    December 29, 2009 at 6:22 AM

    Just a reminder from the post:

    As mentioned in the post, Umm Yousuf is working on some children books. She is looking for some help with illustrations for the books. Please email us if you have the talent and can participate.

    If you would like to nominate a positive Muslim in the West, please email: info@muslimmatters.org. The main premise for the award is to recognize Muslims living as positive, contributing and integrated minorities.

    • Ameera

      December 29, 2009 at 9:53 AM

      I can direct you to someone who lives in Pakistan and works on illustrations keeping the Islamic aspects in mind. He was featured in the latest issue of Hiba Magazine, an Islamic family magazine circulated in Pakistan, Dubai, etc. Maybe Umm Yousuf could work with him long distance?

      Absar Kazmi: email ID… absar.kazmi@gmail.com

  13. Hamza21

    December 29, 2009 at 6:20 PM

    And who can compare with the life and work Khadijah Rivera? It’s so pitiful on a muslim site her death isn’t even mentioned. Shame on you MM.

    Umm Yousuf’s “positivity” doesn’t even come close To Khadijah Rivera positivity.

    • Qas

      December 29, 2009 at 7:14 PM

      Then, why don’t you write something about her and submit it instead of playing the mine is bigger than yours game.

    • Amad

      December 30, 2009 at 12:06 AM

      Strange comment Hamza. Just because you recognize someone doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t better or doesn’t deserve it more.

      Sr. Khadijah, may Allah grant her paradise, has passed away and this series relies on interviews, which of course isn’t possible.

      However, we can always highlight what her achievements for those of us, including me, who don’t know much about her. If you would like to submit something, as Qas poignantly :) pointed out, please email it to us.

  14. angry guy

    December 30, 2009 at 10:21 AM

    Salam

    Why the negativity????? Have some respect.

    • amad

      December 30, 2009 at 11:43 AM

      ^agree

      Bro, it seems to be becoming tough to even highlight Muslim POSITIVES! So, any more negative comments on a positive post, and they’ll be simply removed.

      If you have nothing good to say, just make dua’ for the sister and her child.

      • Ameera

        December 31, 2009 at 4:58 AM

        I second that!

  15. Bintwadee3

    December 31, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    Jazaakillaahu Khaira Umm Yousuf :].
    I really love your optimism. It seems to be a dwindling commodity these days.
    May Allaah azza wa Jal grant you and your entire family Sabr during these times.
    And may you be a SHINING example and a beacon of hope for everyone around you.
    Aameen :D
    When Allaah gives you pumpkins, make pumkin pie. Aw kamaa yaquloon =P

    Hoping to see you at A Heart Serene this February :]
    (Smashing good class, I say. This will be the second time I take it, bi idhnillaah)

    Wassalaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullaahi wa Barakaatuh

    -Maymuna

  16. Muslima02

    December 31, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    As’salaam Aleykum,

    Wow! What happen to either speaking good or remaining silent. I love UmmYousuf and May Allah reward her efforts and that of her families. And all parents, siblings, extended relatives going thru any hardship. It is indeed hard and stressful and to keep a positive attitude and genuine smile is definitely a nimah from Allah azza wajal.

    :) Lighten up Muslims and smile more.

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