Mona Marabani was born in Tripoli, Lebanon and migrated to Australia with her family when she was a teenager. Mona lives in Greenacre in South-West Sydney with her husband, Abdul, and six children, Taha, Zeinab, Safia, Yasmin, Rayan and Mohammed. She has a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Arabic and Islamic studies and tutors in Arabic and Qur’an at local schools. As well as volunteering in the community she loves to socialise with members of the Western Sydney community. A recent highlight was a trip to Turkey on a Rihla (spiritual journey) with her daughters and Islamic scholars and teachers from around the world.
Can you tell us about your religious journey in Australia.
When I arrived in Australia from Lebanon, I didn’t have the scarf on. I started going to high school, I studied and I did well. I went to Hornsby High School and I was very privileged. I had a special English teacher because at that time there weren’t any Muslims, any migrants similar to me, so they helped me and I really appreciated the help I found in Australia.
At one stage, my mother went to Lebanon. My father and I read the Qur’an and shared thoughts from the Qur’an. The Qur’an is our teacher. I said to myself, “Look Mona, you are doing everything God asked you to do. You have only one thing, you have the hijab. Why don’t you do it?” This is between God and myself.
So one night I prayed before I went to sleep, “God you guide me”. I always ask. My parents, they are not pushy, they are not telling me you have to do this. They were trying to put me step by step towards my religion to understand it first, completely. So when I was able to understand and able to figure out that this hijab is something that I must do, then I thought to myself, I need to give it a go. I need to put on the hijab.
The hijab didn’t stop me from communicating. It got me communicating more. A friend would come and ask me, “Mona, why do you wear the hijab?” I would say to them, “This is my religion. I am very sorry, I like everything in life, but I like God most and I prefer to foresee His commands. I feel I am secure. So this is about my hijab, feeling secure.” Later on in life, when I got married, my husband also supported me, supported my hijab, supported my way of life.
How did you come to put on the niqab (the face veil)?
At that time, I became so spiritual, I was feeling so close to God. I don’t know if you have heard that the women of the Prophet, they were not supposed to marry any other man after the Prophet died. So they were supposed to wear the burka and cover up. Many Muslim women wanted to follow the women of the Prophet.
I wanted to be like them so I decided to wear the niqab. I felt so close to God. I was very happy with my niqab. When I wore it and went with my family in the beginning we couldn’t go many places. For example, we used to go to restaurants but then I felt there was a barrier. I couldn’t go to a very open space because I felt uncomfortable. People would look at me. I felt it sometimes attracted attention.
I liked it but I felt I was isolated. It was nice, but the way of isolation here stands for a very, very pious woman that is following Islam, but is not going out and about anywhere. After wearing my niqab for four and a half years, I felt so special. I felt so close to God. But I found I needed to do something more in life as I am living in a Western society. I needed to help in this society. Australian society is so good to me and I needed to be good to society as well. Australian people offered me help. I reared up my children and I was at home and they were supporting me, and now I felt I have to pay back.
So I decided I needed to go to university, continue my studies and that way I can work and I can be of help to our society in Australia because Islam asks us that one should be very helpful in the society. A person should engage in what the community is doing and be integrated in this community and in this society. So at this stage I felt that I couldn’t wear my niqab anymore. I want to speak and if I want to do something, people need to see who I am. This gave me an opportunity to be involved more in my religion. Even though I took my niqab off, I am more involved in my religion. I am trying to explain more and more. “Look at our Islam. Please stop Islamophobia. Please stop harassing Muslim women. Please, if you were there, Islam has only come to unite us because we were all on the same boat, with the same God.”
How do you describe your style of clothing now?
I am very impressed with all the different colours we are wearing, and different styles we are making. You see so many shops now who are putting nice Islamic wear in their window, and we are very privileged for this, because now a woman can go in a shopping centre to find the scarf that matches with her outfit. For example, I may go out wearing the abaya, the Islamic traditional dress that is long to the floor, and choose a nice coloured scarf that matches, even if it is black. I like black because it is a colour that matches everything. So I wear a black abaya and a nice coloured scarf and hold a nice bag because I am very fussy about having a nice bag and nice shoes, so I make sure I do that.
I feel very confident when I am going outside wearing my Islamic wear as long as I am wearing something that is not too bright and not too dull. If am wearing something that is a nice colour, some people will stop me and say. “Oh, you have a nice scarf on”. So that will bring attention to other women and we exchange talk. We talk and discuss each other’s clothing. Why we wear these and I tell her why we wear it.
I am very happy that my daughters took the step to wear the scarf as well, and to communicate and to seek knowledge and to go to university and to get degrees. I have four girls whom I brought up according to Islam, but according to their understanding of Islam as well. My family always shares ideas of what we are doing. At a young age I was always exposing my children to the Qur’an, that this Qur’an is our way of life and they accepted it nicely and they can read the Qur’an themselves. They can feel the same way that I do without telling them “You have to” and this is compulsory on you.
I think that every Muslim woman today is dressing for herself, dressing to look good in society, feeling good in society by going out dressed in the best Islamic gown, matched with the best scarf and nice shoes and nice handbag. And they are looking absolutely awesome, they are looking beautiful. They are not exposing their body, they are covering their body and they are looking good.
Interview with Mona Marabani [7:58]