Your name and what do you do?
My name is Ibtisam Shariffa Habib. During normal working hours, I work at Unilever under the Unilever Future Leader’s Program as a Marketing resource, currently doing a Sales role in Kilifi for 6 months. After normal white collar job working hours, I am an Entrepreneur.
What is TAJI? Tell us more about it
TAJI, is my almost one year old baby. She is the Brand I created for an empire I am very slowly but gradually building, in shaa Allah. TAJI basically means ‘Crown’ but also used to mean ‘Cover up/Hijab’ in Coastal culture…which enables me to stay true to what begun as ‘Hijabee Queen’, a modesty fashion agenda I was pushing while in University.
For now, TAJI are the bags that I design and produce. Something very close to my heart. You can check some out on instagram.com/msibtisam
What made you go into making the bags?
FUNNY STORY… People almost always expect me to say how I am a bagaholic and that’s how this started…truth be told, I am NOT.
I met a tailor on a random day who could make bags and so I decided to create a bag for myself. At Unilever, when they give us a laptop, they give us a backpack too… not a very pretty one. Everyone therefore carries the same bag (boring, right?) I digress, so I carried my newly created bag to work when it was ready and got so many requests about it… KHALAS! The entrepreneur in me found an opportunity and ran with it. By word of mouth, I started getting orders and eventually, TAJI had to be born.
What is your opinion on Muslim women empowerment?
I think ALL women need to be empowered to stand for what they believe is right. I am so tired of people confusing Swahili/Arab culture with Islam. If I hear one more person say women should not work and get married by 24, my eyes might now actually pop out of the socket cause I can’t roll them anymore. I think we should never stop preaching ‘Women Empowerment’, to the men and women too.
How should Muslim women respond to the resistance they sometimes experience from their communities when trying to accomplish their goals?
By proving to society that their goals mean no harm to anyone and that they can achieve these goals while staying true to their faith. I sometimes understand the fear our families have because I’ve seen many who were ‘allowed’ to go achieve their goals but came back having lost their respect… I had to do a lot of convincing to live away from home when in University and then again to work away from my parents’ house… but I didn’t disrespect their views when they shared them. I just kept pushing my agenda and convinced them I was not a Muslim girl for them, but for ME.
You were selected in the One young world event last year. Tell us about it.
OYW is BEAUTIFUL. If you believe we can make a change to the society we live in, you should definitely consider attending one of the annual summit. It will open your mind to the millions of opportunities to make a difference where it counts. I was lucky enough to be taken to the Canada summit in 2016 by Unilever as the East African representative. It was four super intense days with leaders like Kofi Annan, Muhammad Yunus, Thuli Madonsela all insisting on the power the Youth has to make a difference in today’s world. They left me coming back to Kenya thinking, I NEED TO BE THE CHANGE I WANT TO SEE.
You created an Instagram page called Hijabeefied, what do hope to achieve from the initiative?
Hijabeefied is quite a personal journey that I decided to share with the ‘world’ that would be interested. Reason I started it is because of a girl I knew. Let’s call her X. X was a beautifully covered girl, not just your normal abaya… she wore a jalbaab too when she was in Coast. When she moved to Nairobi, that ‘freedom’ and the peer pressure… she removed the covering and got into the hot pants life. Not because she thought it was the right thing to do, but because she felt the need to look beautiful and couldn’t find beauty in what she used to wear.
To try summarize it all, Hijabeefied is for the X’s who need some encouragement and reminder that they can still look beautiful when they cover up. It is to remind the covered sisters that being covered will not stop you from achieving your goals as a Muslim girl. That modest fashion, is beautiful. Take some time and check out Instagram.com/hijabeefied
What can Muslim women do, on both an individual and institutional level, to create a meaningful and relatable reflection of themselves in mainstream social media channels?
We just need to be Muslim women really, kind to people and honest. Once we show the world who Muslim women truly are, the world will see us. As the only Hijabee girl at Unilever, I have been asked so many questions about Islam…some even asked how I managed to work yet I am meant to be oppressed somewhere in my husband’s kitchen as the second/third wife 😀 How you answer these questions and how you live with these people from a very different society is very important in changing what the world thinks.
What advice would you give to upcoming young women?
As long as you know your goal is halal, fight for it.
Don’t sit and expect it to be handed over to you, take the risks you need to, fight the obstacles on your path but always stay true to who you are. These people out here might not be very kind to those who are different from them, don’t let them change a good you.
Don’t ever expect people to support you in your journey, be ready to travel it alone. If you get supporters along the way…say Alhamdulillah and support them back.