“I was born in 1986 in Carlton. My family migrated from Lebanon, and originally settled in Fitzroy. My parents are still there. My Grandpa was the first to come here, looking for work. It was miserable and he cried a lot. On his first trip here, he left behind his wife and kids and came to set himself. Later, my pregnant grandmother would accompany him leaving behind my mum and uncle. It was a feat itself for her to come here and give birth to my second uncle. My grandparents spoke little to no English when they arrived. My mum and uncle came to Australia a few years after their brother was born. They came to Australia for a better life.
I grew up going to an Islamic school, and all I ever saw were Muslim friends and families. We have Greek neighbours, who are still there and are like family to us. They were really the only non-Arab and non-Muslim contact we had growing up.
Once you’re Muslim, cultures become secondary as our faith is what connects us. Our faith makes us family.
It wasn’t until I went to TAFE in the city where I began to feel different. I was the only non-white Australian in the room, and I stood out so much. Or I felt I did anyways. I was so apparent. “I don’t fit in here!” I would think to myself.
No one looked like me, and all of a sudden you have to make friends. I gravitated towards a Greek girl and a Turkish girl and made friends with them. It was a culture shock for me and it was like someone popped my bubble. I was THE Muslim girl. I didn’t lose my personality and I was still very loud and vocal. I’m from a loud family, and that’s how I carry myself.
I pursued Marketing in TAFE for two years and realised it wasn’t for me. It was all corporate, short skirts and suits and things that I don’t wear. I remember doing projects in a boardroom, and I thought ‘Nah, it’s not me.’ Before graduating from the course, I spoke with my tutor. We sat down and after a very long chat, he asked me to draw myself in five years time. My tutor made me do a brain activity, and made me realise I want to teach History; so, I drew myself in front of a whiteboard teaching History.
I enrolled in an Arts degree, and I did my Bachelor of Arts at Latrobe University, and also pursued a Diploma in Education. After five years, I was teaching History. I am so thankful to my tutor, he pretty much changed my life.
It was a hard transition in 2009. That year, I met my husband in June, and we married in December. I left my Fitzroy home to Altona North. I was like ‘I’ve never been to this area before’ and ‘Where do I buy bread from?’ I also started working as a teacher.
When we moved to Newport, I was settling into life in the Inner West and was making the trip to my high school in Dallas. I was married, adjusting to the area, working fulltime and was loving it. All of a sudden in 2010, I was pregnant and life has never been the same since.
After my first boy, Khaled, turned one, I decided to go back to teaching. I needed more and have always had a passion for that field of work. I used to tutor my cousins in my parents’ garage when I was 18, and I’d use the Encarta Encyclopaedia on a CD and the Britannica Encyclopaedia. I’d teach them how to read and write essays; I have always had that interest in passing on knowledge.
After a while, I thought Khaled was a little lonely and needed a friend. I was enjoying my career, and sometimes I wonder if I enjoyed it too much. We thought it would be nice to grow our family. I’d go back to my teaching in a heartbeat. But teaching can wait. Kids can’t. Now that I’m an “older mum”, I realise being a mum at 37 is very different to being a mum at 25. You realise how quickly time passes and the kids outgrow your lap. It kills me when I can’t physically pick them up for some hugs because they’re too heavy.
Sometimes I wish my four boys were closer in age, but other times I’m like ‘The age gaps are good.’ We just make it work. Sometimes everything is a mess, sometimes it’s all good, every day is different. You can’t set the bar too high. Don’t have expectations and you won’t be disappointed. Ride the wave.
When I was a mum of two kids, I started to attend playgroups at the suggestion of my Maternal and Child Health nurse. I was going there for my children but always felt uncomfortable as I was the only hijabi Muslim mum there. One day I was approached and was asked if I’d be interested in becoming a facilitator. I’d never done anything like this before, but I was interested.
The facilitator said ‘We’re trying to crack your community. We found people come to our sessions, but they don’t come back.’ I felt like an outsider, but I pushed past that. I was asked if I could create a playgroup for my community. So, I became a playgroup facilitator. I facilitated one playgroup for migrant families and one for the Arabic community. For the Arabic group, we were all in hijabs and we’d bring the kids, sit around and chat. There was no judgement, and we were all the same.
We’d all go on outings together and visit Scienceworks and the libraries. We did things that kids never had access to, and I was just copying what I saw from the playgroup I had previously attended. Initially, we’d sit the kids in the front and I’d sing and read with them, while the mums would sit at the back. Eventually, the mums got more and more involved during playtime, reading time and singing time. It was wonderful to see. We started singing songs in Arabic. It doesn’t need to be English songs as songs are songs. When kids see their parents involved in their space, they love it and thrive as well.
It was beautiful, watching the families do it, singing songs.
With the migrant groups, few of the mums could speak any English. I’d talk to their kids and they barely spoke English too. But they were always the first ones there, and the kids would play and they’d build amazing things out of blocks and playdough. I had to be animated with my facial expressions and use hand gestures to show them how impressed I was. They’d play together so wonderfully. It’s all about the space to feel welcome, but not impose.
The families didn’t want any programs, and that’s how we did things. There was no imposing from me, about following any programs. This is all important for development as kids often copy what they see and they love exploring and trying out what’s on offer. My playgroups were very relaxed. I tried to steer away from any rigid program or structure as I knew it just wouldn’t work with the families I was working with.
I was going through a bit of post-natal depression, and I couldn’t really enjoy my time with my kids, and the guilt kicked in, and sometimes I felt like I’m not the best mum or teacher. Society expects so much from us as women. Not working isn’t good enough, childcare isn’t always a feasible option, it’s just a big mess.
Society has changed so much and playgroups have become almost essential for mums and bubs as a social activity. Mums wouldn’t see each other at 10am, but they’d do it with their kids. It is a neutral space. Mums would get their social fix for the day, it’s local, and ticked so many boxes.
After a while I had to stop facilitating as the laws changed, and I couldn’t proceed as I don’t have an Early Childhood Diploma.
Me going to that playgroup changed my life. It taught me the importance of representation, and the importance of kids seeing themselves in the world around them, becoming in tune with who they are.
Khaled was in 4yo kindy at that time, and I thought ‘What can I do for my child?’
I decided to write a book.
In the Quran it says ‘Perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you.’ For me, my hardship came through trying to complete my Early Childhood Diploma – I really disliked it. But it turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. It put me on my path to writing children’s books! So yes, I did hate a thing which proved to be good for me.
I’d seen another Inner Westie, Aly Walsh, host book fairs, and I thought it’s inspiring to inspire others. To be an inspiration is something I’d like to be. I didn’t realise it then, but it was a seed, and it was planted.
I had an idea for a book for Aussie kids, but with Muslim characters. That was the basic premise of the book. I saw Aly in Altona again, and I told her about my idea. We had breakfast together, and we discussed the idea. About a year later the book was published. I thought that was it, but it got bigger and bigger and people started to support it. I did school visits, and I began to get people asking about the thing on my head.
I decided to write one more book about the hijab as it’s so misunderstood. I took the book to schools and took hijabs, too. The boys would try them as well. These are not Muslim kids, and I’d talk about gods and prophets, and explain it’s okay to have different views and beliefs. The kids would all listen as they never had a chance to discuss this with anyone.
How we experience life shapes who we are and what we say. I want to be rewarded from God for wearing the hijab. My Dad never said that I have to wear a hijab, my husband never said I have to wear it either. It was my decision entirely, and I believe it’s part of my faith and my obedience to God and God alone.
I’m the Muslim mum doing ABC, doing this and that. I don’t want to tick a box, but I still want to represent who and what I am.
I still play Arabic music and speak Arabic whenever I can. My boys don’t like it but I still do it. I do these things because I value them. I make Arabic food and we have those conversations as I believe heritage is so important. No one can mess with you if you’re comfortable with who you are.
My kids now want to learn Arabic, though I feel I’ve failed them as I hardly speak Arabic to them.
As a mum you encapsulate a thousand things. You’re not “just a mum”, so you should not diminish yourself. You’re a teacher, psychologist, taxi driver, artist, clown, entertainer, chef, cleaner and more! I love my role as a mum because my religion teaches me Heaven lies beneath your feet. My value and my worth as a mother empowers me as a woman.
In my free time I’m trying to learn the Quran. I used to love baking but I haven’t baked in a while. I love making breads and mana’eesh – Lebanese pizzas.
I have one free day on Friday but it’s literally the busiest day of the week. And if I’m not busy, hello migraine, I’ve missed you. NOT!
In 2024, I have a new book coming out. It’s called Tayta’s Secret Ingredient (tayta means grandma). Look out for it!”