The Modern Hijabi – Interview with Podcaster Mona Ismaeil

Mona Ismaeil is the think-tank behind a brand new podcast to hit the airwaves called The Modern Hijabi. Recently, she joined The Drawing Board’s owner and editor-in-chief, Nakita Valerio, to discuss this exciting new adventure and her plans for Muslimah activism and community-building in the future.

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Fast Facts:

Favourite Qur’anic Verse at the moment: A verse that governs my life and how I view life’s challenges and obstacles is: “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear” (Al Baqarah, 286). I’ve been through a number of obstacles from health related issues and doctors telling me I was infertile to having a spouse who’s work takes him away from our family for long periods of time.  I try to remind myself that this is all Allah’s plan for me and that I can handle it because he will never give me more than I can handle.

Woman from Islamic history you are “feeling” right now: I absolutely adore Khadija bint Khuwaylid (May Allah be pleased with her). She was the “Mother of the believers”. I admire that she was strong, confident, successful and devoted to her work, her community and most importantly her husband. She was the ideal Muslimah and an amazing example for all Muslimahs.

Women who professionally inspire you: I love to draw inspiration from my friends and sisters who I know very well. I feel that it is important to choose people to look up to and make our role models that are “real people”! I am not inspired by celebrities or generally high profile people because I feel that sometimes we end up chasing a dream or a life that is out of reach. When we look up to or draw inspiration from sisters around us we can help ourselves to have more realistic goals and judgments on our successes and accomplishments. So with that said, I have two friends and sisters in Islam whom inspire me professionally and they would be Nakita Valerio; Owner of The Drawing Board and Wedad Amiri; Owner of Afflatus Hijab.  They both are doing what they love, and not holding back. They are both taking their lives and careers by the horns and I respect that. Also, both sisters are taking what they love and finding a way to give back to the community and to be active in a humanitarian way. Furthermore, both sisters are striving to make the world better for women which excites me.  Each sister has her own direction, method and niche but in the end, the goal is the same.

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Can you tell us about yourself and your role with the podcast? What are you trying to accomplish by creating space for the modern hijabi’s voice?

I suppose it is important to tell you about Modern Hejab first as that is where The Modern Hijabi stemmed from. My husband and I opened Modern Hejab in 2010. My goal was not to sell millions of hijabs but it was more to make a connection with young Muslim girls. I just used Modern Hejab as a platform, a way in. I started to wear hijab at 23years old. I struggled with the decision for a long time and it really came from the fact that I could not find enough good role models to get me excited about wearing hijab.  The women I saw around me were too meek, reserved, frumpy, and just not who I wanted to be. At 23 I was somewhat vein and the idea of covering my big curly hair was just out of the question. And for what? Was it even worth it? I craved that connection with God and after some soul searching I realized, hijab would fill this hole in my spiritual heart. From the day I wore the hijab, I fell in love with it and everything about it. The way it looked and felt and everything, just made me sure I had made the right decision. I often wish I had worn it sooner but only Allah knows when the right time is.

From there I decided that I needed to help other young women struggling with that decision. I wanted to show to Muslims and Non- Muslims that hijab is beautiful and that there is a way to make if fun, fashionable and still true to the Deen.

Now, The Modern Hijabi. I am a teacher by profession and once a teacher, always a teacher. I wanted to use the Modern Hijabi to start conversations with Muslim sisters and even Non-Muslims about women and hijab. I wanted to use it as a platform for showing the beauty of Islam. I want to break down barriers and diminish stereotypes about Women and Islam. Even Muslim women have misconceptions about Islam believe it or not!  I want to create a space where sisters can come to learn about Hijab, Islam, Tips and Tricks for being a hijabi and general girl talk.

What do you mean by “modern” and “Hijabi”?

Hijabi is a term used to describe a women who dons the hijab (Islamic head covering). Now the “Modern” aspect of it is about taking a traditional practice and bringing it into the modern world. This can be difficult sometimes but it is about balance. It’s about following the latest trends while still remaining modest. It’s about being outgoing and enjoying life while still remembering the values and guidelines that we live by.

What are some of the subjects covered in your podcast series thus far?

My first podcast was about the Burkini Ban. Although it had already been overturned, I wanted to share my thoughts on the idea as that whole issue just blew my mind.

Next, I started a series called the “Journey to Hijab”. This series will cover 8 steps to starting to wear hijab. I had little guidance when I started wearing hijab as I think many sisters go through the same thing. I mean what is there to guide? Just put it on, and presto an instant hijabi! No! There is a process as it is a life changing choice and if rushed into, can have negative consequences. I know I am making it seem like a big thing but really when you take that step on your “journey”, you are changing your life forever. Through this series I want to help make the journey more meaningful, seamless and more enjoyable.

Can you give us a sneak peek into some future topics you will be exploring?

I will be sharing all things hijab. For example, styling tips, storage tips, my story of when I started wearing hijab and so much more hijab related topics. Also, I want to extend my podcasts to speak about different issues with women in Islam. I want to address stereotypes and misconceptions. Finally, I am a mom and the world of mothers is never boring! I will also be talking about parenting Muslim children and teaching our children about different Islamic topics including how to be proud of who they are as Muslims.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of podcasting?

Well, I am new to the podcasting world but so far it is being able to put out information to help others. I love that we can reach so many people so easily.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of podcasting?

Getting people to listen. I’m still learning how to convince people I have something important to say.

What led you to adopting this technological medium to get your voice out there?

As much as I love blogging, I felt that podcasting and speaking to people unedited felt more raw and authentic. I want to have a conversation. When I blog, I can edit and re-edit what I want to say, while with podcasting it is more natural. It’s like we’re sitting down to have a cup of coffee or for me a latte together.

How do you plan what you are going to do shows about?

I really look at what moves me and I try to go from there. Honestly, I do not plan that much. I think about the different points I wish to cover but I don’t write anything down. I don’t read from cue cards or notes. Like I said, I want it to be raw and authentic and natural.

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What do you like to do in your personal time?

As a stay-at-home mom, I spend the majority of my time with my two children; Manessa (3.5 years) and Malik (8 months). I love to take them out to parks, playgrounds, anywhere I can help them learn about the world. I also enjoy surrounding myself with strong and like-minded women who can fuel the different parts of my life. My husband and I love being fit and active so I go to the gym often and really work towards a healthy lifestyle. My family always has the travel bug and we’ve been blessed to see many places in the world. I love writing, blogging and speaking to people about Islam. I also love to learn about other cultures and religions. Finally I love spending time with my family and friends. They bring me so much joy and just make life worth living.

What is something not a lot of people know about you?

I trained as an amateur boxer for 5 years. I trained at Panther Gym (the greatest gym in Edmonton). I turned to boxing to help me through some tough times. The sport itself as well as the family I gained from being at Panther gym really made the obstacles I was facing much easier. Boxing gave me and outlet for my anger and frustration and the people there gave me so much love.  Although I no longer box, Panther Gym will always have a special place in my heart.

If your podcast had one take-home message for listeners, what would it be?

I think the specific messages will change with each segment depending on the topic but the general idea is that Women in Islam are more than what people think we are. We are more than we think we are. I want to show that Islam is a faith of love, respect, acceptance, peace and so much more.

To sign up for The Modern Hijabi, click here.

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