Jun 13, 2012

Can One Muslimah Make An Impact - Zeneefa Zaneer's exclusive interview with Habibi Halaqas

By Khadeejah Islam


Zeneefa Zaneer is a 31-year old Muslimah in Sri Lanka. She is the second among four spirited children in her family. After passing advanced level studies, she missed the chance of entering a Law college only by a few marks. Can she make an impact? Let’s find out…

Zeneefa has been employed at British Council in Sri Lanka. At present, she is a home-maker – happily married and a busy mother of two! She has also launched her writing career successfully. She shares her journey in an exclusive interview with Habibi Halaqas, solely to inspire others who underestimate their potential of making an impact – whether big or small.

Her writing career…
The habit of writing actually runs back to Zeneefa’s childhood years. Reading had been her hobby ever since she could remember. Gradually, with her mother’s encouragement, she ventured into the field of writing. While she was a teen, she realized her capacity of story-telling. Hence began her journey of writing novels. She wrote her first novel at the age of 16!

What has she published so far?
So far, she has published two books in Sinhala, her mother tongue. One book voices against abortion. The other is a novel representing Muslims. She prefers to write about family issues involving women, such as dowry, marriage, domestic violence, abortion, hijab, etc. Currently, she is exploring the genre of Islamic fiction. However, her favourite categories for writing remain issues pertaining to family, women, children, romance, and society.

As a Muslim writer, her journey has not been a bed of roses. Even to this day, she faces the greatest obstacle of finding publishers to support Islamic fiction. Although she has the option of self-publishing, she feels it does not attract a large crowd of readers. Surprisingly, many Muslim publishers have also refused to accept the fiction category. However, Zeneefa has a strong conviction that Islamic fiction can be a great source of da’wah.

Relating Islam to her work…
Zeneefa’s main interest in writing Islamic fiction is to spread the message of Allah and clear misconceptions. Although she is just a beginner when it comes to Islamic knowledge, she tries her best to apply whatever little knowledge she gains. She relates authentic evidences in her writing. For instance, Autumn Leaves – the novel she just completed writing – discussed marriage and polygamy. Her aim was to create awareness about elopement and what Islam actually says about such marriages.

Project in progress…
She currently completed her fourth Islamic fiction. She is now looking for a publisher who would agree to sponsor these books and bring them out in printed copies.

Writing requires time and effort. “How does she manage time in spite of being a mother of two?” Habibi Halaqas asked.

“That is indeed a difficult question to answer,” she answered. Being a mother of two toddlers, she finds it very difficult to find time to balance writing with the rest of her household chores. However, with Allah’s blessings, she has managed to write while her kids fell asleep. She is willing to give up a few hours of her sleep for something fruitful and satisfying!

Tips for aspiring writers… 
Her first advice was that writers must keep writing. “The more you write, the better it becomes,” she said.

Secondly, ideas come to mind all of a sudden. It is important to jot them down as we are likely to forget quickly.

Thirdly, it is important for writers to observe everything around them as everything is a resource.

She continued with her fourth piece of advice which was that writers must not force themselves to write in a particular way or about a particular subject. Instead, writers must let their thoughts flow naturally through the ink.

Finally, the distance between you as an aspiring writer and the professional writer in yourself is an arm’s length, i.e. the time it takes for you to identify that you are capable of being a writer.

More than anything else, writers must have faith in Allah and ask Allah to guide them. Zeneefa believes Allah will never let you down inshaaAllah.

Your opinions…
“What can be done to encourage art in the society?” asked Habibi Halaqas.
“The habit to love arts should come down from childhood,” replied Zeneefa.

Today, as a result of being busy with school text-books, our children are kept away from reading, writing, drawing, and singing. Zeneefa was of the view that arts could be used in a halaal manner. She drew the analogy of a knife – you can use it either for cutting vegetables or for harming a living being. Therefore, guardians and educators must be wise when they choose the sources of arts for children.

Every problem cannot be solved through writing. Yet, awareness is possible through words.

Your favourites… 
To allow our readers to gain more insight into the life of Zeneefa Zaneer, Habibi Halaqas asked her several light-hearted questions during the interview. Here’s what she had to reveal about herself…

Her favourite authors include Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, J.K. Rowlings, and LaYinka Sanni (Umm Junaid).

In her spare time, Zeneefa loves reading. She loved reading Pride and Prejudice and the Harry Potter series. At present, she is reading The Deep Cut (an unpublished Islamic science fiction) and The Vision (an unpublished Islamic Thriller) simultaneously! Now that’s some superb multi-tasking!

Zeneefa admitted that she rarely gets the opportunity to use any other website other than Facebook. However, she is not ashamed of it as she is only using the site as a noble platform for sharing her written work with many online readers through a page called IiWords.

When it comes to food, apart from eating sour fruits, Zeneefa loves durian.

Zeneefa’s favourite tourist spots or hang-out places are Mount Lavinia beach and Peradeniya botanical garden in Sri Lanka, and Imbudu Vilage in Maldives.

Zeneefa aspires to be a renowned Islamic Writer. She would also like to pursue higher studies. Hence, her future plans will involve the aforementioned aspirations inshaaAllah.

Towards the end of the interview, Zeneefa expressed gratitude to the Creator for giving her such a wonderful opportunity (in the form of the interview) to express herself. She thanked Habibi Halaqas for facilitating this interview. As a fiction writer, she urged the readers to keep some space in their bookshelves for Islamic fiction! She feels that there is scope for healthy entertainment inshaaAllah.

As Habibi Halaqas asked for suggestions for itself, Zeneefa was quick to respond, “MashaaAllah! I don’t think I have anything to suggest for Habibi Halaqas. I’m just a beginner, a learner. May Allah’s blessings be upon the organization to reach many goals and create awareness among our sisters.”

If you were inspired by Zeneefa, please post this article on her page, along with your compliments and suggestions for her. Also, if you were truly inspired, try to be that one Muslimah making an impact! One drop of water can cause ripples in the entire water-body.

“Throughout history, the yardstick used to measure the well-being of any society has been the condition of its women. Let us therefore, strive to improve the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional condition of the Muslim woman by allowing her to fulfill all the God-given abilities and responsibilities made incumbent on her.”[i]

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. – Edward Everett Hale

[i] 'Abdul Latif M. Al-Hassan and Sumayyah Bint Joan. Women in Da'wah. Retrieved: http://islamswomen.com/articles/women_in_dawah.php

I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post in the comments section below! :)


Loved reading it. what an inspiration mashaAllah!
may Allah swt give barakah in her work aameen
jazakumullahu khayran
Amimah Pakistan

'Very interesting interview.
'Very motivational for aspiring writers and non-writers alike. The pieces of advice by Zeeneefa Zaneer are priceless.
Khadijah Islam, thank you for this interview in form of a write-up.
Zeneefa Zaneer, continue to write for you are born to write. Without healthy, down-to-earth, powerful words, we cannot move on as an Islamic civilized ummah. I know many Muslims are skeptical about Islamic fiction. I am a writer too and I do get the gist of what people say.
However, I wish there were lots of Islamic books, fiction and non-fiction available while I was growing up. If not for the guidance of Allaah, I would not be a Muslim today. I would have taken those fake role models I read in fiction and non-fiction, unislamic books, and lived my life according to what I had read.

Remember sisters, if u raise, teach, and train a man, a male, you train just one individual, one soul, one person.
If u raise, teach, and train a girl, a female, you will end up training an entire household, a huge community, a whole ummah, the gigantic world.

So, for those of you who are writers, or aspire to become writers, join the writers of the ummah and live their legacy.

Write on, and fear none except the Mighty One, Allaah Subhana Wa Ta'Ala.

Asalaamu Alaikum

Will her books be translated to English? I would like to see what she wrote about abortion. My daughter belongs to the pro-life group at her University. 

InshaAllah the book related to the subject abortion has been in the process of translating. You can check for already translated chapters through the page IiWords.

 Walaikum assalam sister, the book related to abortion is half translated and you can find that and many other stories i've written and writing in IiWords inshaAllah.

 jazakAllah sister for ur encouraging words. inshaAllah i'll continue my writing for the sake of Allah and for the betterment of our muslim community.

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