We’re pleased to announce Heba Subeh-Hyder as AM Women’s fourth American Muslim Woman of the Month!
There are people in this world that have a way of truly inspiring and changing lives with their words, high spirits, and their empowering faith in God that radiates off of them into the hearts of others. Heba Subeh-Hyder is one of them.
Heba is a Palestinian American Muslim who was born in Kuwait, but has lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years now. She currently resides in Southern California with her husband and three beautiful daughters. Heba has a degree in business management, but her desire to learn more about Islam motivated her to pursue another degree in Islamic studies.
In 2016, Heba was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and despite the many challenges she has faced with her health since then, she remains strong and resilient through her trust and love for Allah (swt). She didn’t allow her hardships to hold her back. Rather, they pushed her forward, and encouraged her to live out her passion of spreading the beauty of Islam. “I’m just so in love with Islam,” she said. “When I feel that love, I want to share it with everybody.”
And that’s exactly what she is doing through her book series Maymunah’s Musings, which illustrates the journey of a Muslim girl, named Maymunah, as she learns more about Allah (swt) through His names and attributes. In her first book, “How Much Does Allah Love Me?” Heba teaches children about Allah’s immeasurable and infinite love for them to help increase their love for Him, too.
Heba shares her story with us, and all about how she brought Maymunah’s Musings to life. She also describes her journey with MS, and how it not only physically changed her life, but her perspective on life, too.
Read on to learn more about this MS Warrior, her meaningful work, and to find out why she thinks of her diagnosis as one of the “biggest blessings” of her life.
When did you become so interested in and passionate about Islam?
It would have to be in college. I was very active in my MSA; I was treasurer one year, and vice president the next. For a lot of people in our generation, our parents brought us up to think that everything is haram until proven halal. When you read and find out more about Islam, you discover that everything is halal until proven haram, and that is the basis of it.
So in college, I started to pursue more knowledge, I met like-minded people, and I was so passionate. And that passion carried through to my adult years. Alhamdulillah, I still went to seminars when I graduated college and got married. My husband and I would go to seminars and we would create our own halaqas. I was constantly pursuing that knowledge of our deen because the more I found out about it, the more I fell in love with it, and the more I realized I needed to learn.
“I wanted to do something before He, God forbid, decides to claim my sight.”
What was the inspiration for your book?
My husband and I were driving home one time, and I was like, ‘I really want to do something. I feel like Allah gave me this for a reason.’ Alhamdulillah, we all know that if one person is struck with something, you are being purified of your sins, whether it’s as small as a prick of a needle, or something major.
So I was okay with this, Alhamdulillah. But I felt like I could lose one of my senses. I could lose my sight (that’s very much a threat for MS patients). I could lose my mobility, and I feel like I haven’t done anything major for Allah (swt). I wanted to do something before He, God forbid, decides to claim my sight.
I thought long and hard, and my husband said, ‘You love the deen and you love to write, so why don’t you combine those two, and write a book?’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Yes! I could write a children’s book, and have them grow up to love Allah, not fear him, and not learn what we were all raised to learn that if you don’t do this, you’re going to hell.’ I wanted them to learn the exact opposite–what we’ve been teaching our children.
I came up with this idea that not many people actually know Allah (swt), and what confirmed my notion, is that, in one of my classes, the teacher said, ‘The fastest growing religion is actually not Islam anymore. It’s theism.’ What that is, it’s just a belief in a higher power. The reason people are leaving religions is because they don’t have a good understanding who Allah (swt) is. People are looking around at the things happening in the world, and are becoming angry and resentful. So, they’re rebelling by leaving the religion.
When I heard that, I thought of my children, and it broke my heart. I was like ‘Man, if people knew what I know about Allah, and how loving and merciful He is, they would never do this.’ I was writing my book, and I said, ‘I’m going to make it into a series about Allah (swt)–about this girl discovering who He is through His beautiful attributes.’
I’m going to write a story based on an attribute in each book to get the message across that Allah loves you so much. Allah wants what’s good for you, and He doesn’t do harm for you. Whatever happens to you, is to just build up tawakkul and love for Allah (swt). So that’s really where it came from, Alhamdulillah.
“we’re going to be held accountable for each and every single action that we do.”
That is such a great message to instill in our youth because they are the next generation, Inshallah, that can change the perception of Islam by showing its true beauty. But how can we balance between that love for and fear of Allah?
I want to grow the love first because my books are geared towards younger kids. When they grow up, they need to understand that there’s also a certain fear because it’ll deter you from making bad choices. At the end of the day, we have free will. Allah (swt) has all of the power in the world, and He took away from Himself the power of free will and choosing things for us. We’re in charge of our own actions.
So, the older they grow, Inshallah, I’m hoping they realize that He is the most loving, but He is also Al-Muntaqim. So, you better not grow up to be someone who oppresses people, or who steals, cheats, or lies, because we’re going to be held accountable for each and every single action that we do. We already have that fear and love for Allah in our natural disposition, so I wanted to nourish that before it gets corrupted by society.
I remember when I was younger, whenever my parents used to take us to Sunday Islamic school or teach us about Islam at home, my siblings and I would dread it because it felt like more schoolwork when all we wanted to do was play games and hangout with friends. So, how can we nourish that love for and knowledge of Islam in our children at a young age?
In Islam, we’re encouraged to play with our children from 0-7 years old, and then from 7-10, teach them Islam. Islam, Subhanallah, it’s so practical because Allah (swt) knows that kids at a young age, they’re not equipped to do paperwork, Sunday school, and homework all of the time. The Prophet (saw) encouraged us to play with them, and so now, more and more, you see them learn through play.
Don’t worry about the practices per se. Worry about your kids akhlaq first, their mannerisms, about teaching them good character, and then everything comes after. Teach them ‘As Muslims, we got to be good to each other, to our neighbors, and to the sick.’ You wouldn’t teach a child about jahannam, that’s ridiculous, right? So, we talk to them about jannah, like ‘Oh my God, you can get all these things in jannah! You can meet Allah (swt), and you can have whatever pets you want.’
“keep making dua for your children”
Yes, exactly, and nowadays, there are so many resources and games teaching kids about Islam. But like you said, being a good person, being peaceful, and doing good deeds is the essence of Islam. So that is a great foundation to start with, and then teaching them about the practices when they get older will be a lot easier.
Yes, at seven years old, you start to teach them how to pray, and it should be a good experience for them. We kicked it off with a huge salah party, invited like 100 people, and we talked about the importance of salah, so it would be fun and motivating. They’d be super excited like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be seven! I’m going to start to pray!’
They were praying with us before, but we never forced it on them. We would be like, ‘Hey, we’re going to pray if anyone wants to pray with us to get one step closer to jannah!’ At seven it was like, ‘Ya’ll better come pray!’ but it still was not absolutely forced; it was highly encouraged. Ten is when you have to be like, ‘Okay, there’s no messing around. You guys need to do it.’
My biggest advice is to keep making dua for your children for Allah to keep them steadfast, to grow their love for the deen, to keep their hearts on his faith, and to just hold on to the rope of Allah (swt). My biggest fear is for them to disbelieve or leave our beautiful deen. So this dua, you have to hold onto it, no matter what.
I love the salah party idea! That’s so fun! I also think reading Islamic-focused books like yours is so helpful because children imitate what they see. Whether it’s a book about how to pray or make wudu, when kids see characters like themselves, it will make them want to do those things more, too. So, I absolutely love the diverse representation you have in your book and how you made it an interracial family.
I wanted it to be inclusive 100%, and I wanted kids to see that, ‘Oh my God, she has my features! She has my skin color!’ When people say so-and-so is Muslim, unfortunately, our minds go to either Arab or Desi. But there is a plethora of other ethnicities out there, so why not include those ethnicities?
“Why is there such a small representation of those kids?”
I wanted to be realistic because there are more and more interracial families developing nowadays, including us. I’m Falastiniya, my husband’s half Indian, half white, and so my kids are all sorts of things. I’m thinking of my children, of other people, my friend’s children, and my nieces and nephews. You look around and you’re like, Why is there such a small representation of those kids? So as much as I can, I want to keep doing this in my books, Inshallah.
What can we look forward to in the series? What are your future goals for it?
I want to introduce new characters. Maymunah has a brother and a baby sister, so her brother is going to take more of a major role, Inshallah. She’s going to have cousins, friends, even pets come into play, and so it’ll be fun, Inshallah.
Aw, that is so awesome! How do you come up with the ideas for your books?
Believe it or not, most of my ideas hit me in the middle of the night. Wallah, I get up and make notes really quickly. I review them with my kids, and they have cool additions to make here and there. It’s important to get kids’ opinions because it is a children’s book. I also surveyed children to see what I can do in my upcoming books, Inshallah, because I value what they think, and it is for them.
“Just because you’re born Muslim, doesn’t mean you know what you need to know about Islam.”
And it gives you a better idea of what they need help learning more about in Islam. Like you mentioned before, a problem in our community that results in children not learning about Islam the right way, is that many adults themselves have a lack of knowledge and understanding. How can we change this?
We need to work on ourselves intrinsically. Just because you’re born Muslim, doesn’t mean you know what you need to know about Islam. My advice is, don’t just go to the Quran or hadiths on your own. You need to talk to someone who you trust, who has credibility in the Muslim community. There’s a lot of people acting like they’re scholars, and they’re really not.
I go to Imam Omar Suleiman or Shaykh Yasir Qadhi. I love to hear what they have to say, and to find out more from their perspective and knowledge. Allah put those people on Earth, and gave scholars and people of knowledge such a high honor for a reason. Every single ayah has a context to it, and it’s so complex and very hard to understand. So go to someone you trust, sign up for classes, and listen to lectures.
That is helpful because it can be very intimidating, and following the wrong person may influence you negatively.
Absolutely, you have to do your due diligence. If you want to know more about the deen, you have to put an effort. You know that famous hadith everyone’s been saying? ‘Tie your camel.’ It means we need to put an effort into whatever goal we want to achieve, then we have tawakkul on Allah and make dua that, ‘Ya Allah, I’m doing this for you, please lead me to the right path.’
“You’re tired to the point that it’s debilitating. Your entire body shuts down. Your mind shuts down. It takes a toll on you.”
Definitely, and you’re the perfect example of someone who truly balances their iman with their own strong efforts and determination. The way you talk about Islam, and how it’s helped you through MS is so inspiring. Would you mind sharing what MS is, and what your journey has been like?
Multiple sclerosis is when your immune system attacks your central nervous system, and the protective layers of the nerves. These layers help the signals get from one end to another. When the layers are damaged, the signals get mixed up in that they’re slower getting there, confused, or they just don’t get there at all.
I discovered I have damage in my brain and all throughout my spinal cord. That slows you down, and it slows your cognitive abilities. I used to remember more than I do now. Simple words–you forget what they are. When you get tired, it takes a while to articulate what you want to say. Also, it could cause blindness, paralysis, or any loss of mobility really.
There are so many countless symptoms, and one of the major ones is fatigue. And when I say fatigue, I don’t mean you’re just tired. I mean you’re tired to the point that it’s debilitating. Your entire body shuts down. Your mind shuts down. It takes a toll on you. And it gives you a lot of guilt, especially if you have kids who depend on you to do things for them, and you can’t. You can’t get out of bed, and you can’t help them with their homework because you’re a little confused.
Your entire body is prickly and pokey all the time, and it’s burning. If I go out walking for five minutes, my legs are on fire. One day I was walking fine, and the next day I was limping because I couldn’t feel my right leg. It was very heavy and numb. I couldn’t feel it for weeks until they changed my medication because the MS was getting aggressive.
My arms–there were a couple of episodes I had where they would just fall to my sides, and you can’t pick them back up. So, that created this fear within me. I was thinking, Am I going to be able to hug my kids or husband? Your mind goes elsewhere, and you’re afraid constantly like Am I going to wake up blind tomorrow? Am I going to wake up paralyzed? Or am I going to be humiliated?’ Because you even lose bladder control.
When I was diagnosed, I would go on all these chatrooms and Facebook pages, and then I stopped myself because it was driving me crazy. I can’t think past today. I can’t be worried about what’s going to happen before it even happens. I’ll just deal with it then, and I’ll keep making dua. I think about how there’s other people that are worse off than I am. Alhamdulillah, I’m fully functional right now, and I just chose to focus on what I do have instead of what I don’t.
“One time, I put my hand on my upper torso and I couldn’t feel my hand, my upper torso was so numb.”
It’s amazing how strong your iman is and how much trust you have in Allah from the very beginning, Mashallah. What were the oncoming signs of MS?
I used to feel tired almost all the time. Then, one time in the beginning of 2016, I woke up and my hands were pokey–you know that feeling when you sleep on your hand? It didn’t go away for a couple of days, which was so weird to me. The red flag for me was that every time I would be standing up, and then look down, that pokey feeling would shoot up and down my body.
One time, I put my hand on my upper torso and I couldn’t feel my hand, my upper torso was so numb. So, I went to the doctor, and she referred me to a Nerve Conduction Specialist. She checked my nerves, and sent electricity through my body to see how it would respond. She said, ‘If the results come out negative, like everything’s normal, I highly suggest you see a specialist.’
So, the next day, the results sure enough came out fine, and I was referred to a neurologist right away. The neurologist said, ‘It could be some sort of lesion or growth in your spinal cord that can be taken care of with surgery, or it could be MS.’ When she said that, I was like, It’s probably not going to be that. She ordered an MRI, and they called me a few days later. They were like, ‘The doctor needs to see you.’
So, I went. I just sat there looking at my scans, and saw the scarring and damage, and she was explaining it to me. I was like, Oh my God, what’s happening? I don’t even know what MS is! All of this information was thrown at me, and I was freaking out. But I kept telling myself, Say Alhamdulillah. Inna lillahi w inna ilayhi raji’un.
I literally had to stop her from talking. I said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t process any of this. I don’t know half the things you’re talking about because my mind is not focused right now. So, I’m going to make another appointment and come with my husband.’ All I heard on my end was paralysis, blindness, all these things, so I had to get out of there.
“So somehow this is going to benefit me. I don’t need to know how. I just need to trust Him”
I’m really sorry that this is something you have to go through. I hope that God grants you complete shifa, and that you retain all of your functionality, Inshallah. As hard as it may be, Mashallah you remain so strong.
Honestly, it takes practice; it doesn’t come overnight. I’ve had this for three and a half years now, and you have to grow this mentality that it’s all in His hands. I trust 100% that He does things to you for your benefit. So, somehow, this is going to benefit me. I don’t need to know how. I just need to trust Him, and not worry about what I can’t control because what’s the point? The more I worry, the more stress it’s going to cause me, and the more flare-ups I will get.
Khalas, it is what it is. This is my life now, and you deal with it as it comes. It made me realize that nobody’s living a completely healthy, stress-free life. Just because you don’t have an illness, or a physical disease, doesn’t mean you’re not suffering somehow. So, we’re all in the same boat.
Subhanallah, that’s so true, and it’s such a powerful mentality to have. In one of your posts, you also said that it is one of your biggest blessings. What did you mean by that?
It’s funny how it takes a human being a traumatic event to change their lives, and their perception of life. It detached me from this world a little bit. I became more focused on my goal to please Allah, whether it’s through my actions, how I raise my kids, or how I deal with people. When you get close to Allah, and grow your connection and iman, you start to notice more positive than negative.
Now I know there’s a real threat in taking away my vision, so I’m not taking seeing for granted, and I’m going to use it to see good, and not things that will hurt me. Subhanallah, when I couldn’t perform salah the correct way (I had to sit down), and I realized how much I missed making ruku’ and sujud.
You start to notice simple things that you take for granted. We don’t think about walking unless it’s going to be taken away from us. We don’t think about our ability to think about things, and not be confused, until it starts to happen. That’s how I feel like it has become such a blessing. It fulfills you more when you are grateful for the simple things in life.
“Nothing here is permanent. What’s permanent is our place with Allah (swt), but it’s up to you to determine where that place is.”
Absolutely, and it’s something we should all be thinking about, especially at this time during Covid-19. What advice do you have for people who are afraid, or are struggling with their health or the health of a loved one? How can we increase our faith, patience, strength, and tawakkul in such a scary and uncertain time?
I would say focus more on what what Allah (swt) blessed you with. Don’t resent Him, because He does have a plan for you, and He does things for your own good. As long as you have a strong belief in that, you’ll be okay. That’s what put an overwhelming sense of peace in my heart. When you throw your worries to Allah (swt), it’s like a huge burden is taken off your shoulders.
And take care of yourself. Allah doesn’t burden a soul with more than it can handle, so don’t burden yourself. If you need a break, give yourself a break. And don’t invalidate how you feel because the way I deal with things might not be the right way for other people. So, deal with it the way you need to deal with it. Process it the way you need to process it. Don’t let others tell you how to do it. You know yourself, and you know what you need to do.
This dunya is fleeting, and Allah owns us. We literally belong to Him. Inna lillahi w inna ilayhi raji’un, and when you really believe that, it makes all of the sense in the world. Nothing here is permanent. What’s permanent is our place with Allah (swt), but it’s up to you to determine where that place is.
Everything is made to make you stronger, and to make you pursue your true goal in life. Nobody is here for other than to worship Allah (swt). Think of all of the trials that you get as a source of purification for you because Allah wants you to go to jannah. Allah wants to forgive you, and cleanse you of everything before al-akhira comes. Everything is made to fortify you.
Thank you so much for your insight and advice. I truly believe that in different ways, God calls us to Him. Inshallah by having greater faith in His plan, He’ll give us all the strength to get through the many more trials we’ll face in life.
Inshallah. It’s only a perfect world in jannah. Inshallah, that’s where we’ll all meet with no worries.
Be sure to follow Heba Subeh-Hyder, @maymunahmusings, on all socials to stay up to date on all of her latest work and events, and for more of her amazing insights on our beautiful faith.
You can also learn more about Heba by tuning into her episode of “This Muslim Girl Podcast,” here.
Most importantly, let’s all remember to pray for her and keep her and her beautiful family in our duas as she continues to battle with MS. We can also support her, as well as others fighting this disease, by making donations to the National MS Society, which is an organization working towards finding a cure for MS. We can join their movement and support their vision of creating an MS-free world by making donations, here.