Assalamu’alaikum Aqilah! Tell me more about yourself.
Wa’alaikumussalam Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh! I like to think of myself as someone who is bubbly and funny! But my friends and family will beg to differ on the latter. -laugh- I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. At the same time, I cherish my moments alone. I love to self-reflect, and so I do that a lot. My favourite type of people to interact with is the elderly. Not only do they have the most interesting stories to share but also their stories are always coupled with the wisest advice. I suppose that my passion for human interaction stems from my strong belief that conversations are important. It is through conversations that we learn, get inspired, evolve and initiate change. Thus, if I’m not busy with conferences, volunteering programs or dialogue sessions, then I’m home engaged in an intense one-way conversation with my two beautiful cats: Muezza and Ayla.
How did it feel being the most outstanding graduate of the year and the Board of Governors Award winner?
Alhamdulillah, I was elated when I received the news! However, the significance of the award did not dawn on me until much later. To be honest, I didn’t realize it was a huge accomplishment because, as a student, I had never set awards or titles as a target. The only expectation I set for myself is to do my best and never give up. Thus, I felt rather undeserving because I know many others who have worked much harder than me despite facing more challenging obstacles. But Alhamdulillah for Allah’s blessings. I mean, being selected out of four over thousand graduates is pretty cool!
Tell us about a time when things didn’t go the way you wanted. How did you overcome your challenges?
Ever since my return to Singapore, I had always prayed to be reunited with my parents. It was emotionally trying for me to be separated from my two pillars of strength during my polytechnic days. Alhamdulillah, my prayers were answered… But not in the way I had expected. During my last semester in polytechnic, my dad lost his job in Dubai and struggled to find a job in Singapore for months, my paternal grandmother passed away, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I was struggling to keep up with school, especially my final year project. In a short span of time, I was forced to assume many roles but Alhamdulillah, this episode had allowed us, as a family, to mature emotionally and spiritually. When things seemed bleak, we found comfort in the remembrance of Allah and had faith in Allah’s plans for us. My parents always reminded me never to indulge in self-pity as there are many others who have it harder than us. In fact, we should always be grateful for Allah’s tests as every test should be regarded as a means to better ourselves and elevate our Iman to bring us closer to Him.
What’s the most beautiful moment you’ve experienced in your life?
SubhanAllah, there have been many beautiful moments in my life that it’s hard to pick just one. However, there is a handful that has left a lasting impression on me because they all have one thing in common: the overwhelming number of people who reach out to our family during times of need. Naturally, there have been many times when I hit bumps in the road of life – some bumps more mountainous than others – but no matter how small or large the bump is, Allah never ceases to send down his blessings and mercy in the form of family, friends and even strangers. Help came pouring from all corners without us asking. It is hard for one not to feel incredibly blessed and overwhelmed during these times.
Who inspires you the most? Why?
My parents. One of my main goals in life is to make my parents happy and proud of me, and being the only child makes this goal even more important to me. They have showered me with so much love and mercy while raising me that I am eternally indebted to them. And so, many of my decisions in life and the effort I put in the things I do are all with them in mind. As individuals, my parents are amazing too. My father inspires me through his uncurbed generosity and unrelenting work ethics, while my mother inspires me through her remarkable emotional and spiritual strength as she battles cancer with an unfading optimism. ‘
What’s your favourite verse from the Quran and why?
I have several favourite verses from the Qur’an which I revisit at different points of my life, depending on the situation I’m facing. My current favourite is:
وما توفيقي الا بالله عليه توكلت و اليه أنيب
“And my success is not but through Allah. Upon him I have relied, and to Him I return.” Surah Hud, Verse 88.
With the recent overwhelming surge of praise and publicity, it is easy to lose sight of the main reason of my successes: Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala. This verse reminds me to stay humble because success can be taken away as easily as it was given by Allah and to always call upon Him and give thanks to Him, no matter my situation.
What do you want to say to people who are also going through difficulties?
Always stay positive. I know it is easier said than done, especially when all hope seems lost, and so I would like to share two verses from the Qur’an which have helped me channel positivity when facing a difficulty:
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا
“Allah does not burden any soul beyond that it can bear.” Surah Baqarah, Verse 286.
When you feel like you’ve been pushed to your limits and on the verge of giving up, remember that Allah does not send down a test to us without providing a means to overcome it. Be pleased with his decree and regard it as a chance to elevate our Iman by increasing our supplications to Him.
إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
“Verily, with every hardship comes ease!” Surah As-Sharh, Verse 6.
This verse consistently rings true in my life. There is always hikmah behind every difficulty; we just need to be patient and have faith. Every time things don’t go as we have planned, it only means that Allah has bigger and better plans for us.
What is your hope for your community?
I hope we become a more empathetic and compassionate community. I personally feel that if everyone makes a conscious effort to be more empathetic and compassionate, many of our social tensions can be resolved or minimized. Even having a bad day should not be an excuse to discount our manners. In fact, when we’re having a bad day, we should remind ourselves that others may have it worse and so we should always be generous in offering help or support to others. Sometimes, help can even be in the form of giving hope to a person through our words of encouragement. You never know, one day you’ll be the one needing that spark of hope.
Any last words?
Never forget DUIT. No, not money – although, that was also what I initially thought when my father gave me this piece of advice on the morning of Eid-ul-Fitr last year.
DUIT is the key to success, no matter what our goals are:
D is for do’a – always call upon and give thanks to Allah
U is for usaha – be diligent in your pursuits
I is for istiqamah – be consistent in your efforts and do’as to Allah
T is for tawakkal – once all the above have been done, trust in Allah’s plans for us