This one is for my mama

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“Zobi, Zobi, Zobiiiiiiii!”

We were at a local hall gathering for my mosque, and by the sound of her voice, which I could hear even from the restroom, my mom was looking for me. As I left to go find her, I was confronted by many people who stopped just to tell me, as if I didn’t already know, that my mom had asked about me. And while this happened on a visit back from university, this calling is all too familiar to me — it has rung through the hall of my mosque my entire life. It’s the call of a mother looking out for her daughter.

My freshman year of college, I left home and all my friends and family in Southern California to pursue an education at one of the most elite colleges in the world. I was hopeful and excited, yet also nervous — would I be able to survive in this new place?

My mom helped me move in to the dorms, and each step of the way, she let me know that she was always there for me. She stressed that college was the time for me to be selfish — a time to focus on myself and to take advantage of the opportunities afforded to me through higher education.

This unconditional support has been a constant throughout my life. When I was younger, my mosque had opportunities for children to give speeches at our annual fundraising dinners. Even though I had wanted to give a speech, I was too nervous to. There would be so many people. How could I possibly be engaging? Or even venture up there in the first place? While I was having these concerns, my mom was there every step of the way to comfort me.

She asked me to look past my own concerns and to think of the cause for this event. When I decided to do the speech, she helped me revise and rehearse it. When it came my turn to speak, I can remember looking for her in the audience.

Back in preschool, I had such a difficult time adjusting to school life that I had been asked to leave a preschool for misbehaving so much. A firm believer in the benefits of starting school at an earlier age, my mom brainstormed ways to help me adjust to interactions in a school setting. She ended up taking a job at a preschool that she felt would better suit me and worked full time there, hoping that her presence would help me.

I remember finding solace in knowing my mom was there just in the next room, occasionally peeping next door to see her. Whenever there were breaks, I remember running up to her and telling her everything that had happened in the day. She was there through every new friendship, every new fight, every new change in the cafeteria menu, every new meltdown and every new lesson.

Throughout my life, she has fought for me to have the highest quality education possible by encouraging me to participate in academic extracurriculars such as math competitions and spelling bees. Whenever I struggled with a concept, if she did not understand it well enough to teach me, she would make sure I had tutoring.

Her dedication to education can also be seen in the path she forged for herself before I came along. In the village where she had been born and raised, women were not encouraged to pursue an education the way their male counterparts were. Her traditional Indian society dictated that women were to be married to men anyhow, so men were more worth investing in when it came to financial or educational matters. Yet this did not hinder my mom from pursuing her belief in the importance of education. She medaled in her university while getting her master’s degree in botany. Additionally, upon graduating, she was offered a full-time teaching position at the university she attended in India.

And while her own education was important to her, when my dad decided he wanted to move to America to pursue higher education, my mom supported him, giving up the doctoral program she had enrolled in. She devoted herself to raising her kids, making sure that we received every opportunity that she had not. She took my brother to basketball and soccer lessons. She took me to tennis and violin lessons. She drove both of us to and from school. She instilled in both of her children the value of attending mosque, helping those who were less fortunate than we were and breaking whatever barriers we may face.

And while I may never amount to be anywhere near as powerful of a woman as my mother is, I do know that every good quality of mine has come from her. She is my constant inspiration, my encouragement to become everything I dream of. I live to see her smile and to hear her laugh. Mom, this one is for you.

Zobia Quraishi writes the Wednesday column on being Muslim and first-generation Indian American. Contact her at [email protected].

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