Zarinah El-Amin Naeem

My work seeks to inspire, enlighten, and empower women of all walks of life through education, publications, media, and fashion. Overall, my mission is simply to be a vehicle which works to create a global culture of love for all.

Who are you?

I am from a place that people love to hate and denigrate. A city that has been raped and then accused of being “unworthy” because it’s been used. A place that has given birth to much industry and a place that is on the rise.

I am from Detroit. My parents both became Muslim in the seventies. By the time they met, they were in love with Islam and after falling in love with each other and marrying, they raised their children to be God fearing, socially conscious, hard-working, community minded people.

I left Detroit for Washington D.C. to attend Howard University, The Mecca where I studied computer science. After graduation, I decided to start fresh and moved to Egypt where I taught English to both Sudanese refugees and “rich” Egyptians. After Egypt, I took a position with LIFE for Relief and Development, an international development organization where I served as the Africa Project Coordinator in Sierra Leone. I must say, I learned more about myself and the world in that short 3 years than I think I’d done in the previous 10 years combined. It’s something to live in another country where you do not know the predominate languages, nor ways of life. Sierra Leone was a time of growth for me.

In addition to hiring staff and managing budgets, I learned to peel oranges from the girls on the street. I learned to cook and eat cassava, a staple of the country, and I learned about the strength to forgive. For if these people, who had been ravaged with civil war could forgive their aggressors, then I could forgive anyone who wrongs me too. I grew up with a love for culture, excitement and things that are different and outside of the “norm.” When I look back at my life I think at heart, I am a connector. I enjoy learning about and bringing people together, especially peoples who have historically, or culturally been separated.

Right now my life is centered around two large movements: cultural & racial healing, and positive media. My positive media work is done through my role as the Chief Spiritual Officer of Niyah, a publishing and creative living company I founded in 2007. Niyah is my creative outlet and the place where many of my interests (international development, media, headwrapping, social justice art, travel) coincide.

Under Niyah, I established Beautifully Wrapped including a wall calendar and photography exhibition and The Headwrap Expo an interfaith, multi-cultural day celebrating the global love of headwrapping. My work seeks to inspire, enlighten, and empower women of all walks of life through education, publications, media, and fashion. Overall, my mission is simply to be a vehicle which works to create a global culture of love for all.

Give us your favorite quote and tell us why it means so much to you:

This is a tough one and I’ll be honest, nothing comes to mind straight off.  But I do love to read a lot of Sufi poetry including Khalil Gibran, Rumi and Rabia. I like their poetry because it simply reminds me of God, of beauty, and of light.

Islamic Perspective:

What Ayah of the Quran do you hold close to your heart? Why?
There are two surah’s that I think about: Surah 2:155

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” This one teaches me the beauty of struggle. It’s not always something bad, but is surely a test.

And the second is: Surah 2:177

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” No explanation needed. Do what is important and stay focused.

What Hadith do you wish more non-Muslims knew about? Why?
I wish people knew more about the Prophet Muhammad’s non allowance of cutting down unnecessary trees during war. People’s lives have become so dispensable now, if they could think more about a tree, perhaps they can care more about each other.

The “Ten”:

1. What is your favorite book?
I have a lot of books that I read on a daily basis. I like books by Dr. Dyer, books on spirituality, motivation, and business but my favorite book of all is still the Alchemist by Paulo Coelo.

2. Who inspires/inspired you?
I’m inspired by humans who dig deep and put in the work to realize their greatness.

3. What is the best lesson your mother/mother figure taught you?
To rely on Allah alone for my needs and to realize that what Allah has for me, no individual can take from me.

4. What advice would you give your 13 year old self?
Learn a language and learn it fluently!!

5. What are your hopes for your daughter(s) and/or son(s)?
My hope for my children is that they love Allah and the creation, and that they becomeGod-fearing people who are financially, mentally, and socially stable.

6. What is the biggest trial you went through in your life and how has that changed you?
I’m in the middle of my biggest trial now. My trial is to take the skills that Allah has given me and to truly build a platform. I want to make an impact, but I have to stay focused. Allah has blessed me with all I need.

7. Any regrets? What’s something that you wish you’d thought about more before you did it?
I lived in Egypt for 11 months after college. One of my biggest regrets is not fully utilizing that time to learn Arabic. I was eager to get out of the country and explore. While I learned about a lot about myself and humanity in general, I should have learned more Arabic too.

8. How do you stay grounded in your work and/or spiritually grounded?
I pray! And I’m also learning that I have to work with my natural cycle of work flow. I was reading an article once where the author talked about honoring yourself. For example, there are times of the year when I’m at my best and other times when I feel like just hibernating and digging deep. I’m working to organize my life so that I can honor my natural rhythm. I’m not fully there yet, but it’s coming.

9. How do you bring about real change?
Do I bring about “real” change? I’m not sure but I hope that my movements, especially Beautifully Wrapped through creating positive imagery and experiences work to redefine beauty and spark conversations.

10. What do you hope to be remembered for?
Before my funeral, I want Zarinah to be known as someone who cared. Someone who rolled up her sleeves and put in work to make changes happen around the world. I want to be seen as a global connector.

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