Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Any Mistakes Are Made By Me Alone, Not By My Religion"

Assalamu Alaikum

A wonderful Brother on my Facebook page:, sent me a link to the article I am going to share with you below.  I really love reading about experiences such as the first time a person visits a mosque, or meets and befriends a Muslim.  After reading this article, I would love to hear back from you on your first time entering a mosque!

This article is shared with you from:


I’ve never been a prejudice person. I’ve always mixed with different races and religions. So when my partner asked me to attend a mosque with him, I was interested. Especially giving the fact that a year ago, he was the type to have picked a fight with a Muslim for simply that, being a Muslim.

What had opened his mind, was working with a group of Muslim’s and a group of Christian’s, in constant (but friendly) debate. Being caught in the midst of these religious discussions and being atheist, he was somehow pulled in to the conversation and decided he’d like to view the way both religions work in order to gain a better perspective. After all, in Britain and today, there is ongoing media coverage over the ‘war’ between British culture and Islam.
What caught the attention of my partner the most, (and not to mention mine) is the fact that all the Muslims he knew, were converted, they were not born into or forced to be a Muslim, they were from other religions or were not religious at all. One individual being in fact so against Islam, that he actually intended to attack his sister’s boyfriend on discovering he was Muslim, yet now, he is sending me messages about Allah through Face Book. The change is miraculous. The change in my boyfriend is miraculous. I had to check out for myself the religion which is so publicly damned, yet seemed to be turning prejudice ‘thugs’, into peaceful citizens.
Friday came and upon hearing I was to be separated from my partner and had to worship in a separate part of the mosque, I was slightly put off and intimidated by the thought, but reassured by one of his friends offering to bring his wife so she could help me and keep me company. I wasn’t fully aware of the reasoning behind this separation, but John told us that when you are in worship to Allah, you’re mind and body should be solely focused on worship alone, yet if men and women are in a mosque together, they will distract each other from doing so, as John put it, “If some girl is bending over in front of you, you’re not really going to be able to concentrate on praying to Allah are you?”- The boy has a fair point.  So at 1pm, we went down to Baker Street and followed the mass of Muslim’s attending worship. Upon entering, I was blissfully unaware John’s wife couldn’t make it until one of the others asked another attending woman, Selina*, if she would accompany me in. I was then ushered off in a midst of confusion and slight panic, but was automatically comforted by her gentle presence and guidance. She was incredibly kind, and said she would answer any questions I had.
On entering the female section, I was asked to remove my shoes (luckily I decided to wear socks that day-I’m not a big fan) and I had brought a scarf which I was very nervous I’d wear wrong, but was told not to worry and just to drape it round my head in any way. This surprised me, because I thought my mass of long curls and swept over fringe would surely offend a religion that ‘oppresses’ women so blatantly according to reports we read in the media. I tried to cover up to what I felt was respectable, without jeopardising my love of fashion and all things indie and punk 80’s. Donning a pair of black leggings and huge oversized jumper which drowned me to almost my knees, I felt fairly comfortable that I was adequately concealed, even though I was the only female out of hundreds, not wearing a floor length skirt.
We walked up a flight of stairs and peaked through a door where I could see hoards of women and young girls kneeling on the floor, but not much else. I was incredibly interested to see what the prayer hall (musalla) looked like in contrast to the many Church’s I had attended through my life time, but I barely caught a glimpse before we headed back downstairs. We walked past a tiled area which had taps and shallow water, and I assume, if I’ve heard right, this is where you can wash your feet, but at the time, I was still too shy to begin firing questions (I have since learnt this is the wudu, where Muslims wash their hands, forearm, face and feet before prayer). We then moved on past the ladies and into a small squared room, which didn’t have a door, just an open entrance, and we sat down amongst a crowd women already in worship. The khutbah (a public address or speech) was seeping through the speakers (spoken by the Imam, who I suppose, is similar to the Christian’s Priest), although I wasn’t aware where they were. Apparently, sometimes the musalla is so full, you have to find another area, like the one we were in, and the prayer is played out throughout the mosque for all to hear. I thought this part would be very strict, and I’d have to sit in absolute silence, confused over what to do next and attempting to pathetically copy my new found Muslim friend.  But instead, we sat down and children played amongst us quietly, whilst she explained that this prayer is said first in Arabic, and then in English, for those who do not understand. This prayer seemed to go on for quite a while, and I felt lost and did not sense any inner peace which I get upon entering a Church. I felt no atmosphere of sacredness or quiet, yet I knew this was mainly due to my bewilderment of my surroundings and my lack of understanding on the culture and religion. If I understood the prayer (even in English, I struggled to comprehend over the accent) then I could focus on that and grasp some meaning. However, Selina went on to continue talking to me and explained what I think she felt was wrongly perceived in Britain, she spoke to me about their reasoning behind not eating pork or drinking, and said that she even researched for evidence behind the claims (Islam believes that pork and alcohol are damaging to the body over the years) and was surprised to find out there is evidence behind their claims (this is debatable according to reports on the net). She also advised me over the so called ‘oppression’ of women and the covering of their body from their wrists to their ankles, but revealed what isn’t so publicly documented, that men also have to dress to portray modesty, by wearing loose and clean clothing that doesn’t reveal their figure. I have since researched this and found the following:
‘Islam requires that its adherents wear clothes that portray modesty. As a result, although many mosques will not enforce violations, both men and women when attending a mosque must adhere to these guidelines. Men are supposed to come to the mosque wearing loose and clean clothes that do not reveal the shape of the body. Likewise, it is recommended that women at a mosque wear loose clothing that covers to the wrists and ankles, and cover their heads with a hijab or other covering. Many Muslims, regardless of their ethnic background, wear Middle eastern clothing associated with Arabic Islam to special occasions and prayers at mosques.’
‘Modesty in Islam is encouraged for both sexes. For the women they can wear whatever they like so long as it is modest. Modesty is outlined in the authentic text of Islam. You can wear Western clothing and be modest. However many Muslims will have different views on modesty. In the mosque however it is compulsory to cover the hair and the body. However there are many Muslim women who do not wear the hijab 24/7. This does not mean they are not good Muslims. Everything in Islam is done by choice. You are not forced to do anything and God is the Ultimate Judge. Intention is the most important thing in Islam. You have to make a genuine intention in your heart when perform any act or worship or good deed for it to be accepted by Allah.’
So just like in Christianity, there are ‘rules’ you are advised to follow, but some do not follow them so strictly. We must also remember, those who follow Islam or Christianity by the ‘book’ so to speak, are devoted followers such as Nuns and Monks, who after all, wear floor length attire that often cover their neck, checks and hair and up to their wrists, which is similar to the way in which Muslim’s are advised to dress, yet not so publicly damned.
Selina also went on to explain how Islam is not so different from Christianity, and that they do not hate other cultures or Christians, but simply, like other cultures, they have extremists who unfortunately portray a hate which is deemed as the attitude of all of Islam, which is not the case. She told me how they do believe in Jesus, but they do not believe He was the Son of God, that instead they believe He was another prophet, and that it doesn’t make sense to say you shall not worship anyone else but God, yet Christian’s are told to worship Jesus (although to Christianity will argue this with the claim that Jesus is God). Islam in fact believes Jesus was a prophet and even believes He will return to us towards the end of the world. I have outlined Islam’s beliefs of Jesus below:
In Islam, Jesus (Arabic: عيسى `Īsā) is considered a Messenger of God who had been sent to guide the People of Israel (banī isrā’īl) with a new scripture, the Injīl (gospel).[1] The Qur’an, believed by Muslims to be God’s final revelation, mentions Jesus 25 times.[2] It states that Jesus was born to Mary (Arabic: Maryam) as the result of virginal conception, a miraculous event which occurred by the decree of God (Arabic: Rab). To aid him in his quest, Jesus was given the ability to perform miracles, all by the permission of God. According to Islamic texts, Jesus was neither killed nor crucified, but rather he was raised alive up to heaven. [3] Islamic traditions (but not Qur’an) narrate that he will return to Earth near the day of judgment to restore justice and defeat al-Masīḥ ad-Dajjāl (lit. “the false messiah”, also known as the Antichrist).[4][5] Like all prophets in Islam, Jesus is considered to have been a Muslim, as he preached for people to adopt the straight path in submission to God’s will. Islam rejects that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God, stating that he was a mortal man who, like other prophets, had been divinely chosen to spread God’s message. Islamic texts forbid the association of partners with God (shirk), emphasizing the notion of God’s divine oneness (tawhīd). Numerous titles are given to Jesus in the Qur’an, such as al-Masīḥ (“the messiah; the anointed one” i.e. by means of blessings), although it does not correspond with the meaning accrued in Christian belief. Jesus is seen in Islam as a precursor to Muhammad, and is believed by Muslims to have foretold the latter’s coming.[5][6]
However, when she explained this to me, there was no anger, determined grit in her voice, she was calm and simply allowing me an insight into their beliefs. I never once felt from her that the faith was being forced upon me, merely that I was given information and could freely decide what I wanted to do with it.
We discussed a few other aspects before she had to pray (called the salaah) and at this point, I was advised to sit and watch. I was made to feel incredibly welcome, but did wonder what people thought of a white girl, with a badly wrapped head scarf and leggings, sitting in the corner, not joining in on prayer. I felt the need to explain to everyone I wasn’t disrespecting them, I was just trying to learn, yet funnily enough, these were all misconceptions in my head, and was never once implied by anyone else present. On the contrary, I was welcomed with open arms, especially when at the end of the service, my Muslim friend approached 2 white girls (she called them sisters) and spoke to them briefly, before they came over to me, and warmly hugged me, kissed me and fussed hugely over me with big smiles and honestly, some of the kindest eyes I’ve seen. They explained they both converted to Islam a year ago, although they didn’t know each other before, instead had met through their new found faith. They seemed ecstatically happy, at peace and incredibly willing to help me and guide me. We discussed how they both felt Christianity left a lot of questions unanswered, yet were told to believe and not debate any of these. One also mentioned how she tried Buddhism, Scientology and Spiritualism amongst others before finally finding peace and belief in Islam. We all exchanged numbers and face books, emails, etc and it was nice to be so readily accepted by a group of girls, which I will be honest, is not that often in a westernised society (you’ll more likely to get dirty looks!). I encountered my first issue at this point, a much older woman, with a thick accent I could barely understand, began to get very heated about us writing on paper inside the mosque, asking to see what we had written and telling us to write outside. I later discussed this with the girls, and learnt that this is due to reporters sneaking in on several occasions, and writing damning reports on Islam (at this point I had no intention to write a feature-I swear!). The same woman then spotted my leggings (I knew I’d get in trouble for this) and began touching my leg and feeling the fabric, I think to emphasise the tightness of them or something and demanded I go and buy a skirt from the clothes shop at the mosque. I couldn’t really understand what was happening but my new found friends whisked me away and explained some people can be ignorant and shouldn’t react that way, instead it is a Muslim’s duty to welcome another into their faith, but again, I was more than aware this was the only individual I met displaying such an attitude. I researched into this duty of Islam and have been advised the following:
‘It is the duty of ALL Muslims to convey the message of Islam to all of humanity. It is usually the Muslims who are knowledgeable about their religion who are most keen to help. The ones that do not are usually very ignorant as they are not educated thoroughly in their religion.
Most Muslims know that Islam is a universal religion, meant for ALL mankind. Allah (God) is the Lord and Creator of the entire Universe, and Muslims have been entrusted with the duty of conveying the message to ALL mankind. Alas, most Muslims have become callous to this duty! While accepting Islam as the best way of life for ourselves, most Muslims are unwilling to share this knowledge with those of whom the message of Islam has not been conveyed. This is just through ignorance. The lady that helped you is obviously caring and following what she has been commanded by Allah (God) in the Holy Qur’an.
The Arabic word called Da’wah means a CALL or an INVITATION. In the Islamic context, it means to strive for the propagation of Islam. The Glorious Qur’an says:
“Ah! Who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah? But Allah is not unmindful of what you do!” (2:140)
Da’wah can be done in many ways but the best way is to set an example by living a life of righteousness, charity, good manners, kindness and humility to our brothers and sisters in humanity.
The Qur’an says:
“Invite ALL to the way if your Lord, with WISDOM and BEAUTIFUL preaching, and argue with them in ways that are BEST and most GRACIOUS!” (16:125)
I am aware that there are Muslims who are dishonest, unreliable, who cheat, etc. And the media projects this as though all Muslims are of this character. There are black sheep in every community. I know Muslims who are drunks and who can drink most of the non-Muslims under the table. There are the ones that hold extreme views that cannot be justified by the authentic scriptures of Islam. However you cannot say that the whole family is bad just because of the black sheep. Islam is perfect in my eyes but Muslims are not.
Any mistakes are made by me alone and not by my religion.
Salaam alaikum (Peace be upon u)’
Myself and the lovely ladies chatted away for so long that by the time we left the prayer hall area, I had 4 missed calls and my partner was waiting for me with a tub of food John had bought me from inside. Apparently, this was all part of the duty to be welcoming, etc. The girls commented he was great husband material and that the men are supposed to provide and care for you and if you wished, you wouldn’t have to work (although I had something to say about that!) He then went to explore the mosque further and I wandered off with the girls who wanted to buy me some books to help me learn if I wanted. All the books appeared very complicated and they suggested they’d send me the books they first began reading instead, but I then turned round to find that John had kindly purchased 2 books for me already, 1 being the Qur’an, and one being on women in Islam. The books equated to somewhere around £25 and I was constantly surprised by the level of giving and kindness I was receiving.
Eventually I said my goodbyes and I left with my partner and is two work colleagues, and discussed Christianity, Islam and random conspiracy theories further on our way to Victoria. They explained how it wasn’t their job to convert us, they wouldn’t hold it against us if we didn’t, but it was their job to pass on the message of Allah, and it was up to us to decide what we wanted to do with the information. They even said, if we became Muslim, it’s up to us how far we take the guidelines of Islam, and he wouldn’t judge us for our decisions.
I left the service, and the guys feeling very knowledgeable, refreshed and incredibly glad I decided to attend. My perspective had increased enormously and I was in awe of the people I met and their kindness. I was almost proud of what I had learnt and wanted to share it, but upon telling others, I was met with responses of ‘Did you check your pockets? They might have slipped a bomb in there.’ amongst many many others comments. An angry debate erupted, but try as I might, I could not get my flat mates to see above their ignorance and just listen to my story.
I suddenly felt hugely ashamed that my culture was disrespecting another culture who had welcomed me so kindly and were doing so blindly. If people were educated more, and gave me a logical argument, I could respect their opinion, but with no evidence behind their accusations, and with such childish comments, I felt very frustrated that this is what so many western civilisations were thinking due to media manipulation. With an estimated 2.4 million Muslim’s living in Britain, surely we’d have some severe issues than we have now if they were all as extremists, as my flat mates appear to believe?
I’m not writing this to convert the readers, or myself. To be honest, I have a love of fashion too much to ever fully follow the religion in its entirety and I don’t feel like I yet know enough about it to make that decision any way. But what I am writing this for, is to bring an awareness to those who believe everything the media pumps out (yes I am fully aware we are the media, but the guys with the power haven’t got to us just yet!) and before making an assumption of Islam, or any religion, culture, individual even, do your research before you believe second hand information. Find out for yourself and make your own decision. It is about time we stopped allowing our Government to dictate what we think, you may argue with me on this, but it happens unconsciously. If they put out certain messages in the media you believe, they have already altered your mentality and likeliness to make an assumption or belief on that information, without actually finding out the truth for yourself.
The UK is fast becoming a mindless nation. Don’t let it prejudice and hate breed any further. We are all one world.
*name protected.
Illustrated by Tom Dench-Layton

Friday, December 3, 2010

SubhanAllah- The Great Outdoors!

Assalamu Alaikum!

I hope you all enjoyed having a little time off, this past Thanksgiving holiday, and maybe even a little turkey!  As an American I truly love getting together with family and friends for dinner and giving thanks to Allah for our time together. This year Hassan and I spent Thanksgiving at a cabin with another couple, in a forest in Oklahoma.  I shared the story of our trip on, another amazing Muslimah blog I write for, along with my two closest friends.  Check it out, you will see some amazing photos of the beauty and nature Allah created and the great time we had on our adventure!

Check out the full story below @ 


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Crowning Moments-Sonia Audhali

Welcome to the first addition to the "Queens of Islam-Crowning Moments" collection.  The reason I have titled this blog "Queens of Islam" is because I feel that all believing women who follow Islam and apply it's guidance to their daily lives are true "Queens". "Queens" are royalty, guarded and valuable, just like our Muslimahs.  Whenever another Muslimah makes the decision to apply Islam in all aspects of her life, she is crowned a "Queen of Islam" and joins the ranks of pious, strong, and successful women.  

I would like to highlight different stories in this collection that share the beauty of truly living with God as the center of your world, and still enjoying life as God intended.  These are stories to inspire and motivate the "Queen" in all of us!

British Fashion Photographer Sonia Audhali talks fashion, life, and her growing relationship with Allah.
Nicole Queen
November 17, 2010

"Don't ever be afraid to do anything that you strongly believe in!"-Sonia Audhali

So tell us about yourself!  Where is our first newly crowned "Queen of Islam" from?
I am Sonia Audhali, 21 years old, born and brought up in Warwickshire, UK. My father owns a halal abattoir, so I grew up on the farm and would never want to change that for the world, as life was just a big adventure growing up. I still dread to think that one day I may have to end up living in a city. I love the fact that out here we learnt to drive on our land before having lessons on the road! We grew up playing in the fields, hide and seek behind hay bails and playing on quad bikes. We had all kinds of animals on the farm, lambs, cattle, goats, chickens, rabbits, horses, etc! My hobbies as a child grew to be horse riding, trampolining, badminton and fishing. It's lovely growing up in the beautiful British countryside, even if it is miserable weather in the winter!

My parents are Yemeni but my mother is half Omani as well. I head over to the countries as often as possible as i hold strong family values and I also find the culture fascinating. I love traveling and photographing culture that is different to what I'm used to seeing everyday.

I know your a professional photographer, how does a farmer's daughter go into such an artistic field of work?

I realized I wanted to be a photographer when I was 16 and worked in a studio. I helped out on wedding shoots and in the lab, developing film. As I was growing up, I was always the one with the camera! My parents would get really angry with the amount of film they would have to get developed, especially after holidays, and not one family member would be in the images! It would almost always be landscape photography!

I aspired to be a wedding photographer, but soon found that my passion swayed towards fashion photography. Within the fashion industry, I made a lot of connections through social networking sites and worked along side a modeling agency. I worked with some amazing people within the 4 years and I thank everyone who has been a part of it.  I now intend to expand into documentary photography, taking my developed skills to provide a scenic stage to what is happening around the world. 

I found that the fashion industry made me care about looks more than anything else. I'd walk down the street judging people on their looks and whether or not they would work well on a shoot! Don't get me wrong, being a fashion photographer is an amazing career to pursue. You get the opportunity to create photographic pieces based on complete fantasy scenarios, ending up with images revolved around your imagination! However, I felt the industry can be too ruthless for my personal preference. 

You have really grown closer to God, Islamically. Can you tell us about your relationship with God, as a Muslim, and how you decided to publically display your love for God by wearing Hijab?

I was brought up as a Muslim, although I wouldn't say I practiced the religion as much as I should have. I was pretty westernized with my thoughts and was extremely lazy when it came to religion. I was never forced to wear a headscarf and if the conversation was ever brought up my parents would just say, "Wear it when you feel you are ready."

Just before Ramadhan this year I started feeling I needed to be closer to Islam. I started praying Salat Al Istikhara for something that would have been a huge mistake if I had gone through with it. The way things panned out was amazing, SubhanAllah, as I was doing it for about a month. It made me realise that God is watching us and no matter what, He will guide us if we ask Him for help. I felt the magnitude of the saying, "one step taken in the sake of God will give you two steps in return from God."

Sonia crowned in hijab!

I am a strong believer that everything in this life happens for a reason, good or bad! I also love the fact that no matter what we do in life, God is merciful and will forgive us, inshAllah. Around this time was when my cousin Mustafa showed me some links on Youtube about Nicole Queen. I found her story really inspirational. This was also the time I felt I needed to get out of the fashion industry and start helping people with my talent. As a couple of months before that I started feeling really unmotivated when it came to my photographic work. I needed a different type of satisfaction and to figure out what this life is actually about!

A girl I grew up with, decided to wear the hijab and I was so proud of her for not caring about what people thought by just doing it. She has known me since I was born and we grew up like sisters. Also, two sisters, who are my best friends started wearing a headscarf before that. I wanted to, but never thought I would have had the guts. I live in an extremely English area, no ethnic minorities really. When my friend wore it, I felt if I don't do it now, I will never do it and at least we can support each other.

Sonia & her Mother

 They all gave me so much confidence and were extremely supportive! Before hand, I was worried that I could give a bad example of Islam if I wore one as I'd have to watch everything I do and be careful with what I say when speaking about Islam. But in reality wearing a headscarf makes you more peaceful as I do have to watch what I do, but in a good way, as I want people to see Islam for the peaceful religion that it is! No one is perfect and in Islam we believe no one can judge except Allah, right? But obviously we have to try our best to spread true Islam. The media make us out to be women with no say, men ruling our worlds, and that all Muslims are extremists. We need to be the true examples, showing the real meaning of Islam. We all know the actual meaning of Islam is Peace! If I am totally honest, I mostly feared my siblings and what they would say. Wearing a headscarf, the public won't really say anything, but family will say exactly what they think. Some hiccups did occur, but once they passed I felt much happier as I was doing what I believed was right.

When I put the headscarf on, I automatically felt protected. Anyone who approaches me actually wants to get to know me for me, my mind, not for how I look! Anyone who judges you for it clearly is ignorant and not worth knowing! I actually get a whole different level of respect wearing a headscarf. People who know me, know that I could never be forced to wear it, so clearly it is something I strongly believe in and I am not oppressed like some people think Muslim women are! I have had really thankful support from my Muslim friends, along with non-Muslim friends. I love the fact that when wearing a headscarf people say they see nour (light) in my face. And even non-Muslim friends have said the new me clearly has meaning to life and that I seem like a much better person. Obviously, no one is perfect and I have so much I still need to improve on. Alhamdulillah I am so happy wearing it and haven't really experienced any trouble. Obviously, with the media and, for example, the 'Muslims Burning the Poppy' stories, people ask or say hurtful things against the whole Islamic religion. But with the people who I actually know, when they say things, I explain to them what Islam is really about and on a few occasions they have actually turned and started sticking up for the true Muslims out there!
Sonia & Family
One of my closest friends altered her religion about a month ago. She has been there constantly supporting me through all the changes I have made. She was actually one of the people I never thought would ever change her religion. She is a very strong minded woman and surprised us all with her change. MashAllah, it shows that if you educate yourself with Islam, in the way it is supposed to be studied, then you will believe, even if there are certain parts of Islam that hold you back, usually if you read about it, those points aren't usually Islam but tend to be culture! I truly thank her for all her support and I am so proud of her for doing what she believes in, no one told her anything, she educated herself! Knowledge truly is power and following what you believe in is even more powerful! 

Sonia & Friends\Family

My cousins daughter is only 15 and she is a huge inspiration to young girls. (She is in one of the images, wearing blue/purple/leopard print scarves, in between me and another girl who recently started wearing a headscarf.) She has worn a hijab, by her own choice, since the age of 11 or 12 and hasn't let it stop anything she wants to do in life. She is a youth politician, head girl of her school and loves sports such as basketball. She is also part of Muslim Scouts so travels to all sorts of countries. I am very proud of her! She, her Mother, and Uncle, have supported me so much and I am truly grateful to have a loving family motivating me so much into doing what I believe is right.

The only frustrating thing about putting on a headscarf is that I had a lot of images online from interviews and behind the scenes videos of shoots, which i had to discard. Such as the animal shoot and shoots that I had done with a modeling agency. I felt that changing from fashion would be a good move Islamically, as everyone knows within that kind of industry, sex sells. This seemed like the right change as coincidentally I was becoming less motivated towards the work anyway. Changing to documentary actually became exciting as I want to help people and teach people what is happening in this world. I basically changed fantasy to reality.

What do you hope to contribute to Muslim women, by being a professional photographer?

I would like to show that Muslim women can be strong and influential, especially with their talents and personal beliefs. I want to show people who aren't Muslim that we are not oppressed and actually can follow our hearts, doing whatever career we choose to follow, and no one can stop us!

Being a Muslim woman gives me an automatic advantage amongst other photographers, as I understand that women should not be photographed if the imagery can be seen by the wrong people. I can definitely make sure that these women can enjoy themselves in front of a camera without headscarfs on, making them feel like a model, and assure them that the images will not be seen by anyone except myself and give them total control of their portraits!

I don't see myself helping just Muslim women, but inshAllah all people. I have done a little bit of volunteer work, helping organize images for Islamic Relief Worldwide, in Birmingham. This has made me more passionate about wanting to work alongside smaller charities, who will actually need help with publicity, needing creative imagery in order to get noticed. Whilst doing this I hope to inspire Muslim women to achieve their goals, just like I am aiming to achieve mine!

What advice can you give other Muslimahs who are afraid to commit to Hijab, because of their careers or other "worldly" concerns?

The decisions you may feel will effect your life drastically will almost certainly unravel themselves to be the simple steps towards spiritual wellbeing. You may get some hurtful comments thrown in your direction, but it is rare and you just have to take it as some people are truly ignorant, especially if they don't even want to understand what you strongly believe in. They are really not worth knowing. If it is someone close to you who throws the comment, sit them down and talk to them about why it is you believe in what you believe. With Islam we have the beauty of Quran and Hadith to back up everything we come across in life, so it actually makes life easier when discussing anything at all! Islam is a way of life which, if followed properly, makes us better people due to the respect we give others. It's a heartwarming feeling that no matter what, we always have direction in life! 

In Western society, we are given freedom to dress how we want. We as Muslims have a right to dress fashionably and in a way that will get us noticed as trendy Muslims, not oppressed women who never leave the house! If visiting Yemen I wear an abaya, but when in England, as I was a fashion photographer for 4 years, I do love fashion and love to wear hijabs to suit! What does intrigue me is the fact that women who do wear an ebaya or even a niqab actually care more about fashion and their looks underneath the black, than women in the West!

Sonia Style!
We have a right to dress how we want and how we feel comfortable. At the end of the day, if in your job, people are targeting you for wearing a hijab, you have a right to speak up for what you believe in, just bare that in mind! You can most definitely stand your ground. I have a friend who got treated differently in her place of work and she just covered up with hats and scarves, rather than a headscarf - that is an alternative. I also know a girl who was told to take off her headscarf by a teacher at school, she was humiliated in front of her class mates! I couldn't believe it! I am so proud of her for having the guts to wear one into school at the age of 13, but it was totally out of line for the teacher to humiliate her! The teacher was then asked to apologise and the headmaster actually told her she looked nice in a headscarf! She was then told to just wear headscarves that match the uniform, and asked to wear tight fitted ones for sport and practical science lessons, which is understandable! So there is always a way around everything, especially in this day and age. 

"Don't ever be afraid to do anything that you strongly believe in!"-Sonia Audhali

Congratulations Sonia!  

Your Crowned a "Queen of Islam"

Check out more of Sonia's work below!

You can follow more of Sonia's work at these links:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Changing for the Better of Me-Part 1

Assalamu Alaikum!  I am so glad that your enjoying my site, and I really hope and pray for any type of benefit you might gain from it, Inshallah!  I would like to take a chance and share the story of my transition into Islam. Since it's kind of a long story I am going to be posting in "Parts". Tonight I am sharing "Part1" which introduces you into my life, "Pre-Islam", as I like to call it. 

*The things you might read can sound a little rough, or offensive, so it's not recommended for younger readers, but a raw look into who I was before God opened the door for me!

Part 1: Full Body Makeover

I don't know where to start.  If you see me around, you will definitely notice the new and improved Nicole.  In order to express the essence of this drastic change I think it's best to start from the beginning, you know, "before and after".

July, 2006

I am busy as ever with Zanphotography.  That's the name of my Event Photography business.  I photograph the shots you see socialite magazines around Dallas.  You saw me all the time, if you were out and knew the hottest places to see and be seen.  I was friends with every club owner, every doorman, DJ, cocktail girl, bartenders…you name it.  I was hired by all the time venues in Dallas to capture their nightlife. I catch the sweat dripping from beautiful silicone filled breasts and show all the hungry people out there what they are missing if they didn't make it to that nights fashion show, or socialite birthday party.  If you loved the Dallas nightlife, then you would love my life.  

I woke up every morning around noon, if you wanna call that morning…Then I started my day by searching through hundreds of images of whichever hot event I had covered the night before. I love editing out the un-cool, or unattractive, and sending them over to the client for distribution the all the social magazines.  Lunch with friends would follow, or tanning, or whatever I felt like doing. Tanning is a necessity when you show as much skin as I do.  When the night comes is the time when I am most alive. It’s time to shower and go through my extensive closet,  full of sexy revealing party clothes. What to wear? What to wear?…after smoking my eyes, sexing up my hair and taping my top to my chest, I am ready for another day at work.

  I head out, while answering calls from different friends, setting up that nights after party meet up.  Shoot the venue till about 1 am…celebs, athletes, models…all in front of my camera.  Gotta get all the best shots, catch who ever doesn't wanna be seen but yet they are partying at the most crowded venue in Dallas.  I make my rounds, say my hellos, and give my kisses on the cheeks to who ever that was.  Then it's off to the hot spot I wanna conclude my work day(or night rather) at.  I only have an hour to catch up with my buds, so 6 cocktails should get me their fast enough.  I don't think about the mindless calories I am pouring into my body…Who cares that it’s fattening I still look hot, my chest is perfect, my face is so nice…just show the booty, put on the makeup and keep being in the scene.  Keep em all happy.  Then a trip to Jack in the Box and a drunken drive home at 3 am concludes my work day.  So healthy right? I stumble into my trendy loft, strip off all my clothes, and pass out still in all my hair and makeup…Who cares?  Ahhhh…this the life. While all my friends wake up and head to the office, I am having sweet dreams and hoping that when I wake, I don't wake up realizing I drunk dialed so and so and I'm gonna have to send them a nice "sorry I was drunk" text. 


 You do a lot that you feel really stupid when you live a life like this, well at least I did. But hey, its so cool. I know everyone, everywhere.  My phone rang off the wall with friends wanting on this club list or that.  Wanting to know where was I going to be tomorrow night and can I shoot this, or that?What a life…right?  

Did I really need a makeover?  Why would I?

The following are actual photos taken by me, during my Zanphotography days, "Pre-Islam".  

Thank you so much for reading, it feels good to share and appreciate the life Allah has granted me. I also invite you to share your story whether it's your conversion to Islam, or maybe it's a story of how you came back to your roots and deepened your faith.  We all benefit when we all share! Send your story to me through email on the Contact Us page.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of "Changing for the Better of Me".


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Islamic Reliefs' "Evening of Inspiration"

"Volunteers For Islamic Relief Get Inspired"

This past Sunday, October 24th, Islamic Relief hosted their 5th Annual Evening of Inspiration benefit concert at Richardson's Charles W. Eisemann Center.  Talk about inspiration! Adoring Muslim fans clamored into the packed center to cheer at a sold out show.  This year the benefit concert featured HUGE new artist Maher Zain, and our favorite Brothers from D.C., Native Deen, as well as a few other amazing Islamic musicians. Proceeds from Islamic Relief's yearly concert go to benefit the non-profit's hundreds of programs that supply water, food and education as well as medical needs for children and their families in deprived countries world wide.  Founded in part, here in the USA, by Br. Anwar Khan, Islamic Relief first began in the UK, by Dr. Hany Al Banna.  Dr. Al Banna was inspired to create Islamic Relief as a result of the famine struggle in Ethiopia, back in 1984.  Islamic Relief is hailed as one of the most respected charity organizations in the world, and is linked with United Nations and World Food Programme.  

-image courtesy of
In NeedAs if you needed to hear more, to get that warm feeling when you think of Islamic Relief?  Well, let me top that off.  For years, loyal "do-gooders" in our local communities across the U.S. have been donating their minds and bodies to assist in huge events such as the "Evening of Inspiration" concerts. Someone has to check tickets, sale concessions, and make sure that evening is organized enough to be as inspiring as it's expected to be!  From children to adults to seniors, each year people line up to volunteer, knowing they are going to be working instead of sitting in a comfy chair with their other friends and families enjoying the show. Now thats giving back!

Clubhouse:Location of Dinner
Islamic Relief doesn't let these years of volunteering go unnoticed! No Sir! (or Madam).  On Monday night, the day after the benefit concert in Richardson, TX, Islamic Relief, along with Sister Laila Khan, devoted wife of Anwar Khan and 12 year volunteer herself, (heart as big as Texas), organized an amazing appreciation dinner for all of the Dallas volunteers. 

Laila Khan with her daughter

 I was lucky enough to be the photographer for this evening, and I am happy to share the wonderful photographs that helped capture the smiles and "thank you's" these volunteers felt.  While photographing I asked Sister Laila (heart as big as Texas) if all of these children would be out with the adults through the whole event.  There were an even amount of kids, compared to the adults and I wondered "Are they going to stay in the theater room so the adults can enjoy their evening?"  Sister Laila smiled warmly (that heart!), and said, "They are the guests as well, most of these kids have been volunteering with IR for years now".  

NEEEEEOOOOOOPPPP....thats the sound of me feeling small for thinking that they were just there and not part of the evening...LOL.  I felt so inspired right then and there...These kids are giving up their play time, video game time, whatever time, to volunteer along with the adults to give back to kids in need and this night was just as much for them.  The children of Sister Laila and Br. Anwar Khan, in fact, have been raised in this environment of giving, sharing, and working hard for those in need.  It's like a second nature to them, and believe me they have a couple of beautiful intelligent little girls that could teach you a few things about the world's struggles.  The children attending the dinner that evening all had a blast! Hot Chocolate flowed and little brown mustaches were running around the huge beautiful club house that hosted the evening dinner.  

Dinner was catered by Fadi's Mediterranean Grill...ummmm can we say YUM!  A beautiful buffet of Middle Eastern delights were sprayed across a beautiful table.  All I could think about was that warm soft pita bread...hmmmmm....pita bread...

Ok, let me focus again, Oh Yes! Dessert!  Strawberry topped Cheesecake, Smoldering Chocolate Cake and Somebody hold be back, Pecan Pie! Now you gotta make sure you say P-e-e-c-a-n Pie...the Texas way!

Everyone enjoyed the evening and the best gift of all, on top of all of this friendship, Cowboys game on the big screen theater, red velvet pool table and all the fancy coffee you can drink...the best was still yet to come.

daughter of Anwar and Laila Khan
When it was just about time to eat, a few more guest arrived.  The beautiful daughter of our organizer (heart), came running to me announcing the arrival of our awaiting anticipation.  Walking in on cool feet and a modest heart, came Maher Zain himself!  Then Br. Naeem of Native Deen, sporting his "Evening of Inspiration" T-shirt and the biggest grin we could handle all night!  The kids were racing up to them, sitting on their laps for photos...(I kept picturing kids sitting on Santa's lap, thinking something good was gonna come of it), but for these kids something good could definitely come, cause these guys were REAL, and with their huge spirits and faith in God, sitting around them could teach any kids a few things! LOL.
Maher Zain
Maher Zain

Br. Naeem of Native Deen with close friends "The Noor Family"

These amazing Islamic artists displayed nothing but modest, humble, yet totally outgoing personalities and it really felt a lot like having a huge dinner with your closest family and friends. It was one of the best shoots I have been a part of because it didn't feel like work, it felt like spending time with really amazing people and I felt this huge need to capture that memory.  Br. Naeem even whipped out a guitar from his pocket and gave us a beautiful intimate acoustic show...well maybe he had to get the guitar from his car but it was just as cool!  With a melodic voice he sang about the struggles of Gaza as onlookers steadied their video phones. 

Br. Naeem-Native Deen

Br. Naeem plays Gaza-Native Deen
Maher Zain and Br. Naeem 
 Maher Zain, after much convincing (modest), hopped on a grand piano that just happened to be there and showed everyone how much he can't play the piano...which of course was absolutely not true!  He hands graced along the keys and music and a lil nasheed flowed over the room.  
Br. Naeem plays for guests of the dinner.

An evening like this, there is only one thing that can be said in conclusion...

Maher Zain poses with Br Anwar Khan and Family