Monday, 24 January 2011

a humble life, but well worth the recognition

i've been busy for the last little while organising the muslim women's conference in hamilton. it was a great conference, attended by 200 people at various points. we started on friday night & finished sunday around midday. the biggest day was saturday, as a lot of women are only able to attend for the day.

as i was busy behind the scenes, i didn't get to any of the workshops. i'll try to post about the topics covered, and the afternoon activities at a later date. today, i wanted to write about part of the conference dinner on saturday night. although we have been holding these conferences annually since 1990, this was the first time we formally recognised the achievements of muslim women.

there were four women who were recognised for their service to their communities. what i loved most about the women chosen was that they worked quietly, without ever seeking recognition nor making a big noise about what they were doing. more than that, a lot of the recognition was for "women's work", work that is generally devalued and little rewarded. the sort of work that doesn't count for much with a lot of people, but which takes a lot of time and energy, making a big difference to the way communities function.

i haven't asked three of these women if i can publish their details, so i won't speak about them here. even though they are absolutely amazing, generous, kind-hearted, compassionate and giving women & i'd love to write a whole post on each of them. but the fourth woman, who achieved a lifetime achievement award, is my mother. she was nominated by someone else, but i was asked to write about her life, and i've reproduced below the bio that was read out at the conference dinner. she knows that we will be sending this out to various forums and has given her permission.

i can't even begin to say how incredibly proud i am of my mum. it wasn't until i began writing about her that i realised just how much she has given. i don't think i've managed to convey her contribution adequately at all, but i hope readers are able to get a sense of it. this has been written from faith-based perspective, because that's who she is & it's the perspective that is most important to her.

Qamar Rahman was born in a small village near Banaras (Varanasi) in India, where she grew up and did most of her schooling. After marriage, she migrated to Canada to join her husband who was studying there. Four years later they migrated to New Zealand, and settled in Hamilton. Her family was the first Muslim family to settle permanently in Hamilton. There was one further family in Ngaruawahia & and another in Putaruru, with whom there was close contact. There was a larger Muslim community in Auckland, and the family would make frequent trips to meet with Muslims there.

After a visit by a group of South African Muslims, Jum'ah prayer was started in the Waikato in 1975. Initially the prayer was rotated between Ngaruawahia and Hamilton, but as the community started to grow a little, both Jum'a and Eid prayers were held at Qamar's home. She would clean the house every Thursday evening, then spend Friday morning cooking lunch, which included curries, rice & chapatis, for all the worshippers who attended the prayers. She continued to do this even though she had two small children with only a year between them, and no extended family support. It was not until the Hamilton mosque was purchased in 1982 that this work stopped.

Qamar has been a stalwart of the local community, and often put her time towards teaching others how to read Qur'an along with basic Islamic knowledge. She increased her own level of knowledge by spending time studying the Qur'an daily, and by investing in numerous Islamic books during overseas visits. For some years, she wrote and delivered a weekely lecture in the Urdu language on community radio, broadcast on Friday nights. She carried out extensive research of the Qur'an and Hadith to write these speeches. She also wrote speeches and articles in English which have been published in a number of overseas publications.

As a mother, Qamar encouraged her children to be as active in community service as she herself was. She was a devoted mother, teaching her children to love Islam and to always have high standards of behaviour. She taught her children to aim for the stars in everything they did - academically and Islamically. She understood that a vital ingredient in a strong community is the strength of the next generation. And so for many years she made this task of bringing up the next generation one of her life's most important works.

She also completed a bachelor's degree (with a double major in English literature and politics) at the University of Waikato, even though English was her second language and she had only managed to complete 10 years of schooling in India. Qamar first completed Hajj in 1978, and since then has completed Hajj twice more. She has actively been involved in social service, as many members of the community would come to her with their problems, seeking her advice and an Islamic viewpoint on the issues they faced. She has been extremely active in welcoming new members into the community and inviting them to her home, as well as taking the time to visit them.

Qamar has been a founding member of the Islamic Women's Council, contributed willingly to Annual Conventions and Youth Camps and has encouraged others to be active within the community. For several years she worked as a voluntary English tutor for new migrants. She has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia. She has never sought any position nor any recognition for her work, but has worked quietly all her life. These days, she devotes a large part of her days to prayer and worship, as well as encouraging others towards the same.


Deborah said...

This is a lovely post, stargazer. Thank you for sharing your mother's story.

Chally said...

She sounds amazing.

stargazer said...

thanx for your kind words, both of you. and yes, i think she's amazing!

Rebecca said...

Thank you so much for sharing your mother's story. She sounds amazing and a real treasure.