All through our lives there are certain individuals that we look up to and aspire to be like. For some these people might be close family members, a beloved school teacher, or even the friend your brother brings home. For many, though, our role models, increasingly, are television and sports personalities or even film stars whose only claim for fame is that they are on the big screen.

Growing up I had my fair share of people I admired: from the aspiring lady architect who inspired me to bury my head in studies so that I could attend university; to a school mate who seemed to have it all together at such a young age and then there was Oprah. 

But as I studied my deen more there was my dearest Ustadha whose reading of the Qur’aan , impeccable command of the Arabic language and sweet disposition made me long to be like her.

Different outlook

Because we are human our needs and aspirations change as we grow older, as we pass through different stages of life, and as we discard old, outdated and sometimes incorrect beliefs.

From time to time I have found myself  pondering what it is I consistently admire in people that I would want as qualities for myself.

The answer came to me as I was looking through the guest list for an event I was attending. On the honour list there were people I would not necessarily admire because- like the film stars – they had nothing they were famous for except for being rich and famous. I wondered what it was that we were teaching our children- that someone was only guest of honor worthy if they worked at big money institutions or were related to society’s ‘big people’?

My Kind of People

I did not realize that the people I am about to mention were the source of my admiration until they became synonymous with the qualities I wanted to embody in my own life. I want to live life with enthusiasm and cheer no matter what destiny brings my way. I want to serve others and find contentment in doing that. I want to be fully, uniquely, unapologetically me. I want to be a symbol of thankfulness and gratitude and I want to create, grow, contribute and make use of my time so that when my time comes I will have no regrets.

In no particular order here are the people who consistently make me want to improve myself:

My neighborhood’s garbage collector: this man whistles and sings as he works. He pushes around his ‘mkokoteni’ full of waste and detritus with the same pride someone driving a Maserati would. He is polite and courteous to all and the neighborhood children love to imitate his call of ‘takataka’

The stench from the garbage does not faze him and from the enthusiasm he shows for his work it is obvious that he knows how important his job is. Unlike his counterparts who would charge you for the size of your trash, he takes the same paltry amount no matter the heaviness of your garbage.

Salame: a collective name I have given to all those ladies out there- and I am privileged to know quite a few- who go out to care and earn for their families inspite of terrible odds. They have health issues of different kinds, they have financial challenges, they are single mothers or they have deadbeat husbands and yet that does not change their personalities or temperaments. They smile widely, they are genuinely grateful for all they have which to some might not look like much. They push on even when they feel like giving up and calling it quits. They do not hand over their responsibilities to someone else even when they could use the rest.

To them I would like to say you inspire me.

I met a lady a decade ago who I will call the champion of the orphans. She works tirelessly to save, serve and educate the orphans of her community in beyond. She is almost destitute herself but her orphans come first. She has had to endure many an ordeal but she forges ahead by the grace of God. In my book she is guest of honor material.

Hababa: My maternal grandmother who passed on in 2016 at the age of 85. Hababa taught us the meaning of good old fashioned hard work and the beauty of the work of your own two hands. She taught us that waking up at 4am is not only possible but pleasurable. She taught us the beauty and integrity in hijab at a time when everyone was embracing ‘modernity’. She taught us generosity, the importance of taking pride in yourself and your home, the responsibility that comes with being someone’s neighbor and why you must always speak your truth. Hababa deserves a whole book in her name May Allah have mercy on her soul. Ameen.

Finally, I admire that one unique, special individual who always dances to the beat of her own tambourine. She who follows the dictates of her conscience no matter what those around her would urge her to do. She who is not swayed by the latest fashion, not awed by what’s trending and is not concerned what people will think of her as she goes about her life. She is the role model I point out to my children.

If we open our eyes and look around we will find heroes and superstars from everyday people that we would otherwise miss. People who make the world a better place by their good character, generous spirit and selfless actions even though they may go unnoticed and uncelebrated. It is them that we should model ourselves after.