17 Year old Kholood Habiballa’s poetic skills were discovered early, with teachers and family members encouraging her to develop this talent further. With that, she won a poetry contest in America, gaining recognition and publicity as a young talented poet, setting a bright, promising future for Kholood in both her educational and poetical life.
In this exclusive, extended interview, Marwah El-Azhary aims to reveal how the seeds of Kholood’s success were sown and how others can follow this fine example of a young Muslim girl’s achievements.
The interview is split into two halves; the first half is an interview with Kholood, expressing her articulate thoughts and feelings, while the second half of the interview is with her father, Abdulgader Habiballa, where readers can appreciate an alternative perspective on Kholood's success.
Marwah El-Azhary: How old were you when you first discovered your poetic talent? Looking back, do you see how it all came into place?
Kholood Habiballa: I can’t really say when I discovered my poetic talents. I have always been fond of many forms of writing, and I have always incorporated some sort of poetic elements in my writing. But I started to truly care about my poetry and try to develop what many of my teachers called my “eloquence in writing” when I was in junior high. When I was 14 years old, I took a creative writing class for fun, and I ended up finding a hobby and a passion that I am still pursuing today. Poetry to me is an art form. It is almost as if I do not write anything, but instead the words just expressively spill onto the page. The ink seems to sense what I am describing and it writes away while I delve in my emotions. Sometimes I wrote poetry so quickly that I do not think anything of it until a few days, or even weeks later, when I look back at it and discover that what I wrote had some profound meaning. I also love to read, and every time I read, the thing that I love to notice most is how the story is described, what words the author uses to convey his depictions, and how the author sometimes can bury the deepest of meanings in what might seem the simplest pile of words. My poetry seems to have come into place without me knowing it, and I am still surprised sometimes at what I write.
M.E: What steps have you taken to develop your talent?
K.H: The most important step that I have taken when it comes to developing my poetry is just to keep on writing. I write whenever I can, wherever I am, on whatever I can find. Sometimes I will sit in class and write or be waiting in line and will write on a piece of gum wrapper (true story). But it is important to note that when I write, I really must feel like writing. I can not write when people tell me to, I only write when my heart tells me to spin tales of its joys, burdens, miseries, or whatever it may be.
Another way that I strengthen my poetry is by reading. I don’t necessarily read just poetry books, but all books. I note the poetic techniques used and try to learn from it. I always try to make my poetry unique or different, I play with the words and try to use different phrases to convey my meaning or message.
M.E: Tell us how you won the poetry contest and how you felt when you won. Who encouraged you to enter it and how did you prepare for it?
K.H: I have to admit I did not want to go to the poetry convention in the first place because it was so expensive just to attend. But my father, who has always encouraged me to seize productive opportunities, would not hear of it. Money is not an issue to my father when it comes to the happiness and well being of his children. Once I arrived at the convention, everyone who was registered as a poet was also registered in the contest. I did not really think of what poem I was going to enter into the contest until a day before I was to leave for Florida.
I was sitting in the library at C.S.U. and I kept thinking of Saudi Arabia. During this time of the year, after the winter season has just ended and spring has just begun to bloom, I really begin to miss my country. As I thought in the library a couple of words popped into my head, such as ’hennah, ku’hl, Arabic coffee, swords, Arabian horses, the ka‘bah; and so I started incorporating these words into a poem that blossomed out of nowhere like buds that blossom in the spring. The last day I was in Florida was the day I won my award. I was so shocked to hear my name being called from among the thousands who were seated. I almost didn't get up from nervousness. And once I was up I had to read my poem to a very quiet and eagerly anticipating audience. I actually enjoyed reading my poetry to the audience, but it was really embarrassing to me. Afterwards people began to clap and then stood up and clapped some more. I think people really liked my poem and I was happy for that. I was anxious and really shy but I was glad that I could share something that had to do with my culture and my country with the world.
M.E: What kind of opportunities has winning this prize opened for you?
K.H: Since winning I was nominated for the International Who’s Who in Poetry. They are going to publish my poem for free and give me an extra page to include my personal information in their anthology, which is a good deal. Also, right after I read my poem in the poetry convention, a publisher came up to me and asked if she could publish my poem in her magazine. At the same time, a newspaper in Canada requested my picture and published my poem in their newspaper. When I came back from the convention, I was interviewed by my school’s newspaper. Soon afterwards, the Dar-Al-Hayat newspaper asked for an interview. Then I did another interview from a French radio program in Riyadh. Also another radio in Riyadh called me just yesterday and requested an interview. Then hedayah.net and Alyamaamah magazine both requested interviews. I am honoured that so many newspapers, magazine, and radios want to interview me. I think the biggest opportunity that the winning has opened for me though is a chance to talk about things that are important, such as the condition of our Muslim youth and our oummah (nation).
M.E: Tell us more about your family and education and how you chose your educational route.
K.H: I live with a wonderful (and not to mention a big family). I am the oldest of five kids (and there’s one on the way in shaa- Allaah (God willing)). Being a Muslim girl living in a Western society, my family was, and still is, one of the most important and fundamental aspects of raising and shaping me. Since I was young my parents always raised us children according to the ‘Qura~n and sunnah, al’hamdu lilaah (thanks to Allaah). I received an Islaamic education at home and a public education in the American school system. Ever since I was very young, my parents also encouraged me to wear ’hijaab. I remember wearing it for the first time in the third grade; I used to keep putting it on and then taking it off, it took some time getting used to. Afterwards, I started to gradually keep it on all through elementary school and then wore it once and for all starting the seventh grade of junior high. I am grateful that my family instilled in me the values of modesty and pride of being a Muslim girl at such an early and critical age.
Along with my parents' dedication to keeping us on the Islaamic path, it was also very important that I receive a quality education. My father always taught us to challenge ourselves in whatever we do. All throughout my junior high education I took higher level classes, and when I was 16 years old I joined the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) program at my high school. I believe that this was the best course I have ever taken. Being in I.B. was extremely challenging. The method of teaching to me was rather intriguing because it inspired me to "think outside the box," as my I.B. teachers always stressed. Sadly, I had to move to a school that did not have an I.B. program, so I further pursued my education by taking Advanced Placement classes. These classes were similar to I.B. and challenged me greatly and I really enjoyed them, more than my regular classes. I did not stay in high school too long though because I decided to graduate early. So a few months after turning 17 I graduated from high school with a high G.P.A. al’hamdu lilaah. Currently, I am working on my path into optometric medicine. I really love to help people and I have always dreamed of helping the poor. I hope by gaining an optometry degree I can help my Muslim oummah. At the same time I chose this path because of its rewarding benefits. I can only imagine the joy I will see on people's faces when I help them gain back their eyesight in shaa- Allaah. I also think that in shaa- Allaah it will keep me close to Allaah in all that I do, for it will be a daily reminder to thank him for something precious that we usually don’t think about, our ability to see. I hope that Allaah helps me in my path, and that all that I do is for His sake and His sake alone.
M.E: Do you maintain a balance in areas of your study alongside writing poetry, or do you find yourself neglecting important subjects?
K.H: Actually, although I love to write poetry, I never let it take over my schooling no matter what. I think that it is good and helpful to have a hobby or a passion that you can use to express yourself or just feel inner satisfaction, but to me, school always comes first. I think that school is my number one priority right now and poetry only fits in whenever I have time or feel like writing about something. Also, my poetry does not make me neglect other more important subjects, because even if I do write it usually takes me very little time to write a poem. For example, when I wrote my poem about women in Islaam, it only took about five minutes. I know that some people take a very long time to write their poetry, but for me it comes very easily and very suddenly.
M.E: How do your father and other family members play a role in your poetic success?
K.H: I think my poetic interest is genetic. My father is an avid poetry reader and ever since I was a little girl he would recite Arabic poetry to my brother and me. Although as a younger child I never really grasped the meaning of the poetry, it did have a large impact on me because just the way it sounded was captivating. My family in general has been a strong force when it comes to my poetry. Even my extended family, including my aunts and uncles, always encouraged me in my pursuit of writing poetry and I am grateful for their support. My uncle Mohammad is the one who took me to the poetry convention in Florida and ensured my safety and enjoyment. He was a big support to me and I gained confidence in reading my poetry to others from his encouragement and understanding.
M.E: What do your friends and family think about your poetic success?
K.H: I am so glad that both my family and my friends support me and encourage me to write poetry. They have been a huge part of my success in achieving my goals in life. Without my best friend, Isra’a Belgasem, I would have never had the courage to share my poetry this year. I am glad that she pushed me beyond my comfort zone to challenge myself and excel in my passion. My father has also been a great influence. I remember when I was younger I would come up to him and read him my poetry that I wrote for class; he would always applaud my efforts and encourage me to write even more. My father has a poetic spirit about him and he still recites poetry to us while we are in the car. I don’t think I would have been able to write poetry if it was not for his inspiration. If I have had any success at all it is because of Allaah and the people that I love, not from myself.
M.E: Do you only focus on reading poetry or reading literature in general?
K.H: I have never really focused on just reading poetry because there are so many poetic aspects in various sorts of literary works. I enjoy reading all sorts of things from history, to politics, to fiction, to autobiographies. In all of them you can find something interesting and inspiring. Even though reading a political article about Palestine may not be the most artistic form of writing, I believe that it is just as important to read. When I write poetry I take in all of the works I read and write about what I have learned or what I may feel about an issue. For instance, I have written a couple of poems about Palestine, or my country Saudi Arabia, or my oummah in an effort to describe what I feel about these certain places or things and their current situations. Poetry can be more than just literary, it can be a strong and wise weapon if used properly.
M.E: What poetry do you read, what issues do they consist of and in which languages are they?
K.H: The best thing about poetry is that people from all around the world write it. I have many friends who are poets and they send me their works from time to time. My friend from Belize for example writes poetry with a social/political twist. Reading her work has been very beneficial in trying to understand her point of view about her life and what occurs in it. I enjoy reading poetry about many issues in various languages including Arabic, French, and some translated versions of Persian, Spanish, and Indian poetry. There are also many different types of poetry just in the English language, such as: African American poetry, Native American poetry, and old works such as that of Shakespeare that I enjoy reading. I try to read all sorts of poetry to gain a broader perspective on different people's thinking and ways of life. I do not limit myself to reading some sort of poetry because there are too many topics that can be written about in poetry and they can all be expressed beautifully if articulated in an interesting manner or from a unique point of view. For example, I once read a poem about something as dull as a wooden table that was twisted in such a beautiful array of descriptive words that the poem was exquisite.
M.E: What kind of books do you read? Do you have a favourite writer and poet? What are their nationalities? Why are they particularly your favourite?
K.H: I read all sorts of books, when I was 14 I had a different book in my hand everyday, literally. So it would be hard to tell who my favourite authors are and what kind of books I read. But, if I had to limit myself I would most likely read historical fiction. I have a couple of favourite books, such as Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, In the Name of Salome by Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, Black Boy by Richard Wright, and Beloved by Toni Morrison. All of these books shed some light on issues that I was unaware of. Or in some instances, it shed light on perspectives and voices that I have never imagined possible; such as the tremendous psychological stress that slavery brings even after it is abolished, as is depicted in the novel Beloved. I enjoyed reading these books in particular because they urged me to think. They told of issues that happened in real life, even though the plot of the novel itself might be fictitious; and they begged me to analyse the messages and themes buried in the earth of their powerful stories.
My favourite poets include the Arab poets Farazdaq, Zain Al‘abideen, Ahmad Showki, and Alkhansaa-. I also like some international poets such as the works of Rabindranath Tagore, Salomé Ureña de Henríquez, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. I can not limit myself to having only one favourite poet or writer, because all of them have something unique and intriguing about the way they write.
M.E: The ‘Qura~n is a beautiful poetic source of literature. Does reading it influence and strengthen your poetic talents?
K.H: I agree that the ‘Qura~n is not only a beautiful poetic source of literature, but The Most beautiful source of literature on this earth. Just listening to the ‘Qura~n, in all its magnificence and grace, has such a tremendous effect on the soul, even to those who may not understand the full meaning of the words. The poetic aspects of the ‘Qura~n are embedded in each verse with such fluidity and eloquence that even memorising it can be done with ease. There is no way whatsoever that my poetic talents can be strengthened by reading the ‘Qura~n, because nothing can compare to it. Instead, I am humbled by my poetry's unworthy comparison. But, due to the ‘Qura~n’s thought provoking language, I do draw ideas about issues that I can write about. Sometimes, while I am reading the ‘Qura~n a phrase or word will pop into my mind, and I take a moment to write the word down and ponder over it later. I draw inspiration from the ‘Qura~n, it not only helps shapes my faith but also my poetry. I think also just from reading the ‘Qura~n my poetic interest increased. The ‘Qura~n captures so much meaning in words and is especially enthralling because of its rhythm.
M.E: How often do you write? Where do you publish your poems? How important is writing poetry for you and how and where do you get your inspiration?
K.H: I am constantly writing. Everyday there is something new that springs my inspiration to write poetry. My poems have been published in a three anthologies by the International Library of Poets and I have received a couple of offers from other poetry publications. Also, my winning poem “My Exhaustion” has been in several newspapers in the states, Canada, and the Arab world.
Writing poetry is really important to me. My inspiration comes from a lot of different ideas, people, and happenings. The fun thing about poetry is that you can write about almost anything. Once I was walking home from school and looked up at the sky during Maghrib time and noticed that the clouds looked like akoya pearls, which are pearls that sometimes come in shades of pink and cream, and from that I wrote a poem. Poetry to me is a way to capture the meaning of things in a few words.
M.E: Do you plan to limit your writing skills to poetry, or do you wish to write short stories, novels, prose, and other forms of writing?
K.H: I do not plan to limit my writing skills to poetry because I am interested in writing in general. I have written a few short stories and some other creative writing pieces, but my main objective is to write articles, essays, and things of that sort that are about societal, political, and Islaamic issues. I do not know how far my writing will go or where it will take me, so I am unsure of how much I would write, but I do plan to write.
M.E: What main themes do you employ in your poetry? What messages do you try to convey to the audience?
K.H: One of the main themes that I discover most prevalent in my poetry is my emphasis on the importance of sustaining ones soul. I try to show people through my poetry that this world is unworthy of our slavish devotion to its materialistic possessions. I try to show people that the only truth about this world is that it will one day end, and that if you leave a trail of corruption and greed, you will never ever be content or find that happiness that such few people find. My poetry is very personal, and it is not easy for me to share it with people. I hope though that it may benefit those who read it. I also hope that my poetry will make people think about their current states. I also write poetry inspired by political issues, such as Palestine or the ’hijaab ban that is going on in Europe. Some of my poetry pertains personally to my life and my strife and it may be hard for my audience to understand. Also, another important theme that I employ is about my country and my Arabic heritage. I may have lived in the states for 13 years, but my heart is buried in the desert sands of my country.
M.E: What are your main concerns? Do you plan to propagate these concerns via your poetry? If so, how do you plan to do that effectively?
K.H: When it comes to my main concerns in life, it is mostly about my country, my oummah, and women's role in Islaam. I want to do something as a Muslim woman, instead of passively sitting at home and only be involved with myself. I am not implying that women should not be wives and mothers, for I believe, as Islaam tells us, that that’s absolutely a Muslim woman’s first and foremost role. The responsibility of a Muslim woman, by raising her children right in the way of Islaam and taking care of her husband, is a tremendous power within itself. By doing this, she is raising and shaping the future generations and ensuring the happiness and stability of her family.
Yet still, as a Muslim woman, I would like to contribute what I can to help my oummah. Sometimes there are things greater than ourselves, and if we can help, while not destroying our family lives, then why not do something? I see many women in Saudi nowadays who were educated in the West and are trying to “help” Saudi. I want to do this as well, but the only difference between how I want to help my country and how they want to help their country is that I do not want to "westernise" the nation. I see many Saudi women nowadays who show half of their hair, have a lot of make up on, and dress in flashy ‘abaa-ahs (abayas) claiming that Saudi needs to be westernised and that the West gives women rights that Saudi women should have too. I do not want to do any of this. I want to help my country while proudly portraying myself as a Muslim woman. I have lived in the West for 13 years, I grew up here and I know how people here think. This notion of "freedom" that many people think westerners have, especially concerning women, is but a mirage. Women will not be more liberated by taking off what Allaah has decreed for them to wear, instead they will only strip their honour and modesty with their own hands and reduce themselves to displayable shallow minded objects. I hope instead that Allaah gives me the wisdom to take the good from the West and leave the bad and un-Islaamic aspects of it behind. In this way I hope to improve my country's disposition with the education that I obtain in the West, while still presenting myself as a proud Muslim woman who tries to maintain and instil Islaamic values within herself and in her society.
I do intend to use my poetry as an important tool in propagating my messages, concerns, and hopes for the future generation of my country and Islaam as a whole in shaa- Allaah. I think that poetry appeals to many people, and I can use its emotional aspect as an effective tool. I only hope that Allaah lets me use my poetry wisely and that I many be able to represent Islaam with it always. Any diversion from that I have committed, either in the past or future, comes from my flaws and weakness as a human being.
M.E: What kind of an audience do you hope to attract?
K.H: I hope that all kinds of people are attracted to my poetry. I think my poetry can relate to people from all ages, at least to some degree. I also hope to attract educated and concerned individuals about the many serious issues that are occurring in the Arab or even Muslim world. I am planning to write poetry on further issues concerning the unrest of our youth, the lack of productivity and concern of many Saudis (and other Arab peoples) for the future, the westernisation of Arab countries, the weakening of our oummah in this secular and individualistic world. I hope I can help my self and help my audience think further about these issues in order to address them and be aware of them.
M.E: What feedback and constructive criticism have you received regarding your writing? How have you felt about such feedback?
K.H: For the past few years, I have received a lot of feedback and criticism to my poetry. I usually ask my English teachers for their opinions because they have the most insight when it comes to wording, grammar, and fluidity. I learn a lot from talking about poetry and its structure, but since I mostly write in free verse, I don’t usually follow any kind of structure. Also, although I warmly welcome criticism, I don’t always listen to people’s suggestions because the way I write poetry is just the way I write. For example, when I wrote my winning poem “My Exhaustion” I wrote it only in a short time and afterwards I was done. I went to a couple of teachers at my school and asked them for any feedback or criticism. All of the teachers liked my poem al’hamdu lilaah and they did offer some little suggestions concerning grammar, which I did change. But other than that, I can’t really change my poetry. I might change a few words that have the same meaning, but I always leave it to the way it was written. Al’hamdu lilaah everyone I know likes my poetry and if they don’t that’s okay too, but I am not going to change it for them.
M.E: When writing poetry, what do you think about? The audience and their expectations, your family's reaction and feedback, how to make it an amazing piece of poetry, or something else?
K.H: When I write poetry I don’t think of anything other than what I am writing about. What is it that I want to express? What message do I want to convey? Once I figure that out I kind of go back and change some words if I need to so that the poem will be more powerful. Sometimes I use more complex words and sometimes I keep it really simple, as long as my message is getting across to my audience. Also an important component that I keep in mind while I am writing is to make my poetry unique. When I say this I don’t mean I try to find topics that are unusual to write about, but instead to think of new ways to talk about normal things. For example in my poem “Flag of Freedom,” I tried to show people that Muslim woman are not oppressed, instead they are the ones who wave the flag of freedom by wearing their ’hijaab. Muslim woman are the flag of freedom for Islaam, and we should be proud representing our religion.
M.E: Do you think it is important for a poem to rhyme? Do you try to employ rhyming schemes in all of your poems? Or do you employ a more modern approach to poetry?
K.H: I don’t think that it is important for a poem to rhyme, but I am not against it. If rhyming will enhance your poem then use it, but if not then that’s fine too. I think that the most important thing when writing a poem is to be able to convey the message, concept, or whatever you are writing about in an eloquent and creative manner. Personally, I like to use free verse more because it gives me the flexibility to just write the way I like to.
M.E: What is more important to you, writing a simple poem that everyone understands, or a complex poem with hidden meanings that intellectual individuals would understand, or both?
K.H: I like to write both complex and simple poems. I like complex poems because they make you think. They’re really fun to analyse and talk about, because everyone has a different interpretation of what they think the poet is writing about or why. As for simple poems, sometimes it best just to tell people what you are trying to say so that everyone can understand your poem. Simple poems can get your message communicated very clearly, especially to people who are not as poetic and who may not understand or be able to analyse the hidden meanings in a more complex poem.
M.E: Poetry is a personal process. How do you feel about sharing your personal thoughts and experiences with the audience?
K.H: When it comes to sharing my poetry, this has actually been the first year that I have shared my poetry to anyone. To tell the truth, I did not want to share my poetry with anyone at all. My best friend, Isra’a Belgasem, is actually the one who “revealed” my poetry to others. She has always told me that my poetry is good and went and showed some of my poems (without my consent!) to the members of our Muslim Student Association here at C.S.U. I was so mad at her and I thought that everyone would probably not like my poetry, but instead they loved it. Afterwards I got the courage to post some of my poetry on the International Library of Poetry website and very soon afterwards I got two of them published. I soon became a member of the International Library of Poets and I got a personal invitation from them asking me to attend their annual poetry convention. In the convention around 2,000 people from all around the world competed in the poetry contest. If I would have known I was going to win and have to read my poetry in front of 2,000 people I would have not entered the contest in the first place! What made matters worse was that my poem was pretty long and there were two big screens on either side of me displaying my face because I was being recorded on video. I was really shy and really shocked. All I was thinking was that I hope people appreciate my poetry. Before I started reading my poem I had to mention where I was from, and when I did the whole audience clapped which made me even more anxious. I read my poem rather calmly and when I was done I was looking at the audience with a worried face because they were all silent for a moment afterwards. Then, all of a sudden people started clapping really hard for what seemed like forever. I just wanted to go back to my seat, I felt so embarrassed, but then people started standing up and clapping. It was a memorable yet nerve wrecking moment. It is still not that easy for me to share my work and I have many poems that I have not shown anyone. I don’t care about the attention that comes with people knowing about my poetry, I just hope that I can use my poetry to help my oummah, that is why I don’t always share everything I write.
M.E: What are your future goals and objectives? How do you plan to reach such goals?
K.H: My most important goal in this life is to be a good and knowledgeable Muslim woman when it comes to Islaam. I hope to always continue my Islaamic education, even when there is no one there to help me. My family has helped me extremely when it comes to learning about Islaam, but my most worthy tribute must go to my aunt Hajar. My aunt has always pushed me to be better, to strive, to go against un-Islaamic teachings and to always remember Allaah. When I do something wrong she never speaks to me harshly, instead she explains why it is wrong. I even admire that she covers her face out of her faith and love for Allaah, and I hope to do the same. She is a constant inspiration in my heart that pushes me to do the right thing when sometimes I almost do not. I hope to learn from her and surround myself by good Muslim women throughout my life in order to be a better Muslimah.
Another important goal that is deeply intertwined with my previous goal is to be a good Muslim wife and mother in the future. I know many Muslim women nowadays who waste a lot of money buying things, neglect their husbands, and neglect their kids by keeping them with a maid. This is a common problem that I notice occurs in my country. I really hope that Allaah gives me the wisdom to learn from other people’s mistakes and be better. Although I want to work and help my country and oummah, I always keep my main objective in mind for the future, which is to be a good wife and mother in shaa- Allaah. I see a lot of my sisters in Islaam here in the states wired in the Western way of thinking, which is to make the man and wife have “same and equal” roles. I think this is the wrong way of thinking because although men and women are equal in Islaam, we have different roles that we naturally perform. I hope to incorporate my continually growing Islaamic knowledge when it comes to dealing with a husband and children.
Another one of my goals is to strive in school and get exceptional grades. I hope to graduate from college in shaa- Allaah with honours. I also hope that the knowledge I gain from my schooling, especially concerning the optometric path that I am taking, will help me in being a better doctor and person. Doing well in school is a daily continual struggle, and I hope that Allaah always helps me in this. I also hope to improve my writing skills further and be educated on many subjects and issues so that I can write and effectively address issues that concern me. I have many future goals and objectives in general, especially when it comes to helping myself, the Muslims, and our future Muslim generations, but my biggest hope and wish is that whatever I do in this life, I do only for the sake of Allaah and that He keeps me strong so that I may never ever stray from His path.
M.E: What are your future hopes and dreams as a poet? How far do you want to reach?
K.H: My future hopes and dreams, when it comes to poetry, is to keep writing and maybe even get a book published. I hope that I can learn to write more effectively and that I make people think “outside the box.” I hope that when people read my poetry they will try to see things from my perspective and learn more about Islaamic and Arabic culture. I write my poetry as much for non Muslims as for Muslims, and I hope that both benefit. I hope to reach into people’s hearts as much as I can with my poetry.
M.E: Do you think living in the U.S. has given you the opportunity to flourish your talents?
K.H: Living in the U.S. has its pros and cons; there are always good and bad aspects of every society. In the states I have had an opportunity to see my country’s state from “outside of the box.” I notice many of the flaws that sometimes people in my country are not aware of or ignore because they are so used to living there. I think that if it was not for my family and the way they raised me, I would not have been able to develop my talents no matter where I was. It is not about where you live, but about seizing the opportunities that you have and trust in Allaah no matter how few or how restricted you may be. And as always, it is important to keep in mind that what Allaah decrees will be and also that you do things for the right intention.
M.E: Do you think if you were living in Saudia Arabia you would have had the same opportunities and recognition?
K.H: I think that this is a hard question to hard to answer. If I lived in my country I might have become a different person with a different point of view, because the society around me is different.
M.E: Will you write poetry as a hobby or a profession? Do you think being a poet is a realistically financially stable career, or do you plan to take on another career and simultaneously write poetry?
K.H: I write poetry more as a hobby. I don’t intend to use my poetry a career option because first it is financially unstable and second because it is not my primary and preferred career choice. I do intend on using it though to my advantage by continuing to write and share my opinions and ideas with people through my poetry.
M.E: You are part of the Muslim Association at your college. What are your responsibilities there and how have they encouraged you with your ambitions?
K.H: I became a member of the Muslim Student Association because I wanted to help the Muslim cause by making people more aware about what Islaam is really all about. It has been really fun, challenging, and I have learned a lot about Islaam and myself and how to strengthen myself a Muslim woman. We have had huge and successful programs this year al’hamdu lilaah. Our biggest accomplishments include the Ramadan Awareness Dinner, Hajj Awareness Dinner, and the Islaamic Culture Awareness Week. In the Rama’daan Awareness Dinner we had a wonderful program with lots of food. We also had tremendous success in the Hajj awareness dinner. More than 500 people showed up to our program and we had the Muslim comedian Azhar Usman come from Chicago. For the Islaamic Cultural Awareness Dinner we brought Sheikh Yusuf Estes and had a great lecture not only in the city where I live but in three other cities as well. We are the only M.S.A. in M.S.A. history to connect with other cities to have an event that took place all through out Colorado.
M.E: How do you attain a balance as a practising Muslim and a successful member of society in a non-Muslim country?
K.H: The most important thing to me when it comes to being successful as a Muslim in a non Muslim society is to make sure to surround yourself by good Muslims. It is hard, no matter how strong your faith is, to always remember Allaah if you are not surrounded by people who are striving with you and can help you out. Also, it is equally important to stay away from the negative aspects of this society, such as hanging out with non-Muslims, doing ’haraam activities with them, or talking to the opposite sex. As the Prophet Mu’hammad (peace be upon him) said, “The example of a good companion in comparison with a bad one, is like that of a musk seller and the blacksmith’s bellow; from the first you would either buy musk or enjoy its good smell while the bellows would burn your clothes or your house, or you get a bad nasty smell from it.” The way I look at it, you should try to stay close with the righteous Muslims, while at the same time be nice to non Muslims but don't mix too much with them. Most importantly, always be proud that you are Muslim, represent Islaam in the best manner, and be yourself, don't try to assimilate yourself in an immoral and misleading society.
M.E: How important is it for you to integrate into your society and defy the common stereotype that Muslim girls are oppressed and uneducated? What steps do you take to achieve a positive image?
K.H: I always try to represent Islaam to the best of my current ability in all that I do. More specifically for me, I always try to show people that Muslim women are not oppressed or uneducated. I do this everyday when I wear my ‘abaa-ah and ’hijaab and go to school. The best thing about covering Islaamically is that people notice that something about you is different and their curiosity begs themto question why? This is my best opportunity to explain to people why we Muslim women cover. It proves to them that we are intelligent and honourable because we force people who are so used to shallowly judging women by their looks, to judge us by our intellect. I try to further achieve this positive image about Muslim women by just being simply nice and smiling kindly as I walk by. I have also written a couple of poems about Muslim woman and I am going to get my "Flag of Freedom" poem published soon in the International Who's Who in Poetry.
M.E: What are your other hobbies and activities?
K.H: Some other stuff I like to do other than writing are hiking, camping, travelling, and taking pictures. Actually my whole family loves to hike, camp, and travel, so it is kind of a family tradition. My family and I have travelled to almost half of the states in U.S. and it has always been a lot of fun. Many times when we travel we camp in beautiful national parks across the states. As for taking pictures, it has always been something I love to do because you can express so much from just one picture. I am not too good at photographing though, but I hope to learn to take professional pictures in the future.
Another important activity that I enjoy is talking to non Muslims about Islaam. I really love telling people about my religion and why I cover, since so many people here have a lot of misconceptions about Islaam and Muslims. Being a Muslim woman who wears ’hijaab and ‘abaa-ah all the time has made this very easy since many people are curious as to why I cover. It has been a lot of fun talking about Islaam, especially in a college environment where many students are interested.
M.E: If you have the chance to encourage Muslim girls worldwide
to follow their goals and dreams, what would you advise them to do to become successful?
K.H: I am glad to get this opportunity to talk to other Muslim girls. I encourage girls to follow their dreams if it is okay Islaamically. Try to find something that you are good at and excel in it. I know a lot of girls who become very bored because they think there is nothing to do. So many girls waste their time on foolish activities such as excessive shopping or listening to music. I encourage girls to build themselves into strong Muslim woman first. We are the women who will bear the weight of raising the future generations of Muslims. We are the ones who will shape the future. As that saying goes, “Behind every great man is a woman.” We should also always strive in our religion and our education. I know personally for myself, I have made a lot of mistakes this year, but I really am trying to be a better Muslim. Striving in life is the most important thing. Also, don’t make excuses for yourself not to be better.
Sub’haana Allaah, this world goes by really fast and sooner than you think you will be older and you will have kids of your own. Being young is an advantage, so use it. This is the best time you can help yourselves become better Muslims. When you are young it is easier to break away from bad habits and develop good ones, so try to mould yourself into what you ideally want to be. This is also the best time to help others. We have the energy and the time to help our Muslim community, be it by writing poetry or by helping clean the mosque. And most importantly, remember that your success is with Allaah, don’t let the superficial “success” of this world deviate you from the doctrines of our religion. (Most of this goes for the brothers too.)
The next part of the interview focuses on Kholood’s father, Abdulgader Habiballa, where more on Kholood’s foundations of success are revealed.
M.E: What values did you instil in Kholood for her to be able to eloquently express herself via poetry?
Abdulgader Habiballa: Being in the West has concerned me much about the kind of people my kids would be. I tried hard to connect them to what we are and what we Muslims stand for. That might have been the seed that made my daughter the person she is. The main thing that I always try to have in my kids is not to be a self centered person. A person has much to give and much to change if we look at the big picture and try to think untraditionally.
M.E: What are the most important elements in raising your daughter into a successful young girl?
A.H: The most important element, in my opinion, was that I always demanded the best of her. Excellence is a goal and the way to it is encouragement by raising the standard along the way. Our history is a magnificent land mark in the history of mankind and there is an abundance of examples how Muslims excelled in what they did, so every parent should use such examples to direct their kids' energy to betterment of the Muslim society, not just the person himself.
M.E: How did you first learn of your daughter's poetic talent?
A.H: It was by mere coincidence. Three or four years ago, she had a number pages prepared for a school assignment and as me being the person who always want to know how my kids are doing in school, I went through her assignment and I was much impressed and proud of what was written. At the time, I have recognised how eloquently she can manage her words and convey her inner thoughts to others.
M.E: How did you encourage her to develop and strengthen her talent?
A.H: I have always asked my daughter to not to pass and opportunity in learning what makes her a better person, particularly when it comes to what she has a passion for. All I did was to connect her to the Muslims all over the world and making her feel that we need positive and hardworking elements in our society that really and sincerely try to make us better. These feelings and the sense of connectedness might have sharpened the poetic talent in her and gave her a personal message to convey.
M.E: Do you believe you have been a good role model for your daughter to become successful at such an early stage in her life?
A.H: I believe I tried but it is the grace of Allaah what made my daughter so good and successful in what she does in this early age. The other factor of her success comes from the fact that her mother being a pious lady. She has always been a tremendous support for Kholood and been an example of a Muslim lady living in the west. I think Kholood and I owe much of our success and accomplishments to her support and determination in making us a better family.
M.E: Were her mother’s encouragement, support and upbringing equally important to yours in raising her to become a successful young girl? How did you both contribute in bringing her up with ambitious and successful values?
A.H: As I mentioned earlier that her mother was an important factor in making us the people we are now. I can tell you that her mother has had a bigger role in shaping kholood's path to success. The values she instilled into her kids and the unlimited selflessness she showed in bringing up our kids made much difference in our lives and gave our children the opportunity to excel. Also, her devotion and devoutness to our religion are instrumental in maintaining our family.
M.E: Do you believe your daughter’s environment at home and school led her to become successful? How did you and your family build such a successful home environment? What are the key values that your family believes in?
A.H: I think the family warm environment my wife created at home has been the corner stone that gave all of kids the edge in school. All of our kids are doing fine in school and are distinguished in their studies. My wife and I tried to our kids understand our expectations and helped them in attaining the tools for success. The key value that my family believes in is that we as Muslims should be more involved and proactive instead of being passive. We should be proud of who we are and never forget that we gave the world the edge in almost every science there is. We should not for get that we are to be role models to other nations based on our Islaamic values and principles. These are the core values my wife and I tried to build our family around.
M.E: How did you come to make a decision to live in the U.S. particularly?
A.H: I got a governmental scholarship to earn a degree in Electrical Engineering in May 1993. Since then, I have been working to attain more knowledge, so I can back and make a difference.
M.E: Tell us about your educational background.
A.H: I have an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering. I also have a Master degree in Computer Engineering and another Master degree in Engineering Management. Now, I am few months a way from completing my Ph.D. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering (Optical Communication Networks). I also have a graduate certificate in International Finance. I have a number of publications in these areas of study.
M.E: Do you think Kholood inherits her talents from her ancestors?
A.H: I believe that Kholood inherited a rich history that is exemplary in every human aspect. Accordingly, she inherited the responsibility to present Islaam and its elegance in a way that tells the world of what we have to offer. The inheritance of such talent and her understanding of the responsibility she has towards her religion shaped her talent.
M.E: Do you have poetry sources at home which were the seeds of your daughter’s talents? What type of your books do you have?
A.H: I have a passion for Arabic poetry. I always recited verses of poems to my kids and tried to explain them in details, so they can feel the art of making analogies in our language. As far as books go, I used to have a huge personal library at home when I was in Saudi and I still have a relatively large collection of books her in the state. I donated most of my books to university libraries in Iraq after it came to my knowledge that most of their libraries been loot during the invasion. My reading interest spans a variety of areas including the philosophy, science, and religion.
M.E: America is often seen as the land of opportunity, where parents can raise their children to have a successful future. What steps did you take to teach your daughter the importance of success in education and daily life?
A.H: I agree that America is the land of opportunity if the goal is seeking knowledge. We have much to learn and much to accomplish and the U.S. is the perfect place to gain such exposure. I always encourage my kids to learn what benefits our society. I always remind them that we are in need of them to build a brighter future for our nations. I keep raising the standard and expectation so they excel accordingly and from time to time, I try to connect then to our reality
It is evident that these hard-working Muslims will sow the seeds of success for future generations to come. It is hoped that this in depth interview inspires and encourages youth and parents worldwide to succeed in their practical and spiritual life as Muslims, in order to reform the earth and better mankind.
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