Najah Abdul-Qawiyy: The Difficult Road That Led Me Here

Najah Abdul-Qawiyy’s childhood wasn’t easy. From bullying due to her race, ethnicity and religion to physical disabilities, she was pushed to overcome a number of obstacles before graduating high school. But these experiences taught her an important lesson, and in her story, she shares that with you.

Who am I? That is a question I ask myself on a daily basis. What components make up the person that is me? When I ponder this, I come to many conclusions, all of which I have had to conglomerate into one answer. I am a woman, I am Muslim, I am black, I am short, I am 20-years-old. I am many parts. I am smart, I am quirky, I am loud, I am emotional, and I am a person with invisible disabilities. I am also a spiritual person who tries her best at almost everything she does, despite having doubts in herself along the way. All these components inward and out create who I am. These components allow me to understand myself through physical, spiritual, emotional and mental perspectives.

Multiple situations in my life have helped me evolve into the person I am today. Growing up in an Islamic school where the majority of the population was Arab caused a lot of tension and bullying to be thrown my way as a young child. I would be made fun of due to the color of my skin, and it only increased as I started to become the only black female in my class. I was an outcast and ignored. I had to endure this from first to fourth grade, but then I thought I had escaped by transitioning into public school in fifth grade. Still, I was targeted for hate and ridicule; except in this instance, it was for my religion. Many people would “joke” about me being a terrorist, a rag head or ask me ridiculous questions, such as; “Are you bald under there?” or “Is that attached to your head?” Or the even more stereotypical question: “Are you related to Osama Bin Laden?” This negative experience continued until seventh grade.

During that time, I went through a lot of emotional and mental distress. My experiences caused me to doubt my faith and go back and forth with my sincerity for it. It wasn’t until my second year of high school that I started to proudly claim myself as Muslim and defend Islam as I felt I should. I became okay with being an ambassador for my religion. The person that helped me get to this point was my mother. She truly supported me and showed me that the way I was created was alright because Allah created me — therefore I was part of perfection. Also, she helped me become stronger in my faith by involving me in halaqa’s and encouraging me to go to lectures to learn more about my religion. The knowledge I gained helped me reaffirm whether or not I thought I could truly be Muslim and practice my faith to the best of my abilities. It was through this acquired knowledge that I felt in my heart I could, and would, continue to strive for better. Though I still have struggles with my identity and my concrete thought with my faith, I try to keep myself positive and surround myself with people that will lift me up and assist me when I need it. What also guides me is reminding myself why I embrace my faith in the first place.

Another challenge I faced in my life was when I started developing physical disabilities in my junior year of high school. I was always active as a child, getting involved in sports such as soccer, Taekwondo and basketball. But my junior year of high school, all of that came to a halt. My body started to slowly deteriorate after I fell down a flight of stairs in my house, causing the head of my humeral bone to fracture. I was in a sling for most of the school year despite the normal healing process being 3 months.

After my shoulder relatively healed, I began to feel immense pain in my spine and decided to see a chiropractor. The day I saw him was a day that changed my life. I found out that my spine was curved; that I had idiopathic scoliosis. Idiopathic scoliosis not only deforms the spine, but it can be deadly if not treated properly. It was shortly after my diagnosis that my body continued to get worse and weaker. I began developing more physical issues such as bulging discs in my lower spine, polyarthritis (arthritis in all the joints in my body), acid reflux and an assortment of other internal difficulties. This truly tested my ambitious strive to get on with my day and goals in life because at that point the pain was so unbearable that I would rather stay at home in my bed than deal with the outside world.

A time came where the ultimate test was my body. On a particular day towards the end of my senior year of high school, I prompted myself to go to school and endure all the pain from my condition. After finishing my school day and coming home for a sense of relief, upon eating dinner with my family, an extremely painful headache came my way. At the time this wasn’t unusual, but what made this particular headache abnormal was how it caused me to scream in pain from it. My mother came to me concerned, but I could hardly speak, only scream. I started to vomit a foam type of substance from my mouth and lost feeling in my whole body especially my legs. I was then rushed to the hospital where they admitted me.

During that time I was immobile. I became depressed and feared never being able to walk again. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. The only people that really kept me from drowning in my depression were my best friend Ayanna and my family. Ayanna visited me every day and took care me when my parents couldn’t, whether it was making me food, helping me get dressed or helping me bathe. She was always there to assist me. She continued to tell me that I would get better and to not lose hope, and even though she is not Muslim she told me to pray to Allah for my body to heal. She, along with my family, helped me persevere through this traumatic experience and helped me cope with the idea of relying on others. It was through these moments that I realized I had to stay as strong as possible. When I regained the ability to walk again on my own, it seemed like a miracle because I feared for so long I wouldn’t be able to.

I am now a junior in college with the same disabilities as before and some of the same ridicule, but I’ve decided to not let these things hold me back anymore and try my best to give myself reasons for getting up in the morning. All of these life experiences inspired me to pursue the career I am pursuing today, which is to be a psychologist. I want to be able to help those with social, behavioral and environmental issues, and allow them to have a stable outlet to feel comfortable enough to be themselves. I wish to be that person who people confide in and can come to without fearing judgment. I want them to feel safe with being their true selves.

Being someone like me, who has faced a variety of obstacles — from race, to religion to my own physical body — took a lot out of me, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it were not for my best friend and my family, especially my mother. They have helped me build who I am and instilled in me that the way I am is fine, I do not need to change because of anybody else. Only I should be the one to dictate whether or not I should change.

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