A few months back, I was invited to interview for the position of English teacher at a top, comprehensive school in an affluent area. The school only had a small intake of ethnic students, and therefore a small number of Muslim students and teachers. I knew I would stand out from the other applicants, dressed in a hijab and jilbab. But I derived my strength from knowing that if Allah had decreed this position for me, then it would be mine, whereas if I did not get it, then there was some good in that situation as well.
Standing amongst the other eight candidates, I stood out like water in the sahara desert. While all the other candidates were suited and booted, I had my hijab and jilbab on with a smart blazer on top. The night before, I had made lots of dua that Allah show me at my best as a Muslim woman, and that He help me to retain my honour and dignity.
Although I had been a bundle of nerves the previous evening, worrying I would mess up the lesson I had to teach as part of the assessment process, I felt much more relaxed on the day of the interview, and a sudden blanket of serenity wrapped itself around me. I recalled advice from various job sites on ‘playing it cool,’ and with Allah’s help, I felt like a cool cucumber among the other candidates who seemed to swelter under the pressure. The hijab felt like my envelope of strength that reminded me that: Yes I was different but in a positive way. I was following Allah’s law and therefore, He would protect me in every situation.
The first part of my assessment was teaching a year eight class, which was observed by the deputy of English. The lesson flowed, all praise be to Allah. Though the children did put me through my paces by initially lacking enthusiasm and resisting cooperation, I refused to waver and kept brimming with enthusiasm and assertiveness until I won their respect and got them to complete the task. As I left the room, the deputy patted me on my back and said well done, which was pleasing, no doubt, to hear.
Before I knew it, time whizzed by and I found myself sitting in front of an interview panel, consisting of three senior managers, two women and one man. My heart beat with trepidation as I awaited the dreaded handshake scenario. But when I entered the room no hand was offered, much to my relief, and I was asked pleasantly to sit down.
The interview itself turned out not to be a daunting experience. As I answered the questions using my experience as a parent as well as a teacher, and discussed work I do for the community, it actually felt more like a conversation. Prior to entering the interview room, I recited the dua Prophet Musa uttered when he has to meet the Pharaoh to loosen the knot in his tongue:
“O Lord, expand my breast for me, and ease my task for me. And loosen the knot in my tongue, that they may understand my words.” (Quran, 20: 25-28)
The dua helped me to speak with assurance and clarity and demonstrate my genuine interest in developing and shaping young minds and teaching teenagers. As the interview drew to an end, the interviewers stood and extended their hands for me to shake. I gulped, shook the hands of the two women and politely explained that I do not shake the hands of men for religious reasons. To which he replied “I should have known!”
The overall experience made me realise that by wearing the hijab and following the Islamic etiquettes, I portrayed the image of a strong woman with principles, and in return Allah gave me respect and honour. Despite being a daunting experience, Allah poured reassurance and confidence into my words. And I knew as I walked out of the school unaware of the outcome, that no matter whether I got the job or not, I had not compromised the deen in the way I dressed or the manner I behaved – therefore, Allah would grant me success whichever way I turned. And that feeling of contentment was irreplaceable.
You may be wandering, whether or not I got the job. After arriving home, I received a call two hours later offering me the position, alhamdullilah. I asked to wait a day while I prayed Isthikhara and accepted the job a day later.
Allah is truly the Most Merciful. If we strive for the akhirah, Allah grants us success in both this world and the next. However, if we run after the dunya, we will be losers both in this world and the next.