LYRA Inspirational Women Series

LYRA- Inspirational Women Series with Esma

Karsen: Salaam Esma! I hope you’re doing well. I just want to say I adore your work and illustrations, and they always brighten my day. Can you tell us a bit about your instagram name? And also a bit about your background?

Esma: My instagram name (@strudelworte) when translated to English is actually Strudel Words, because I’ve always wanted something kind of connected to Austria because that’s where I’m from and grew up, and strudel is the dessert that is typical to Austria, and ‘words’ because I’ve started with lettering, and that was my first passion (hand lettering/brush lettering), and I felt like they kind of resembled strudels, and it just made this interesting word that I thought this is what I want for the name of my platform. I also didn’t change it when I started with illustrations, so it kind of stayed because it’s memorable.

I am 24 years old, my parents come from Bosnia originally, and they came to Austria in the 90’s following the war in Bosnia. I have two older sisters, and have grown up in Southern Austria and then Vienna where I live now. I love languages, and am studying English and America studies and German studies, and I’m finishing my Bachelors degree.

 

 

“Illustrating is a really cool medium for connecting with people because you have something at one glance, for example when you see a picture you know immediately what it’s about, and what it wants to tell you”

 

Karsen: Not only when did you get into art, but how did you specify in illustration?

Esma: At the beginning of 2019 because I kind of wanted to have the knowledge of illustrating things for children, I was very interested in children's book publishing and wanted to have the skill to illustrate stories and to be of service for children. That was my main motivation for starting drawing, and I didn’t know or couldn’t believe how people reacted to it. For me it was just draw something and post it and to keep drawing, and it was very interesting how people liked the drawings even though I didn’t think they were very good. Illustrating is a really cool medium for connecting with people because you have something at one glance, for example when you see a picture you know immediately what it’s about, and what it wants to tell you. I also love writing, so combining text with pictures, to kind of add another dimension of connection.

 

“I want Muslim women and girls to see themselves and each other through my drawings, and to connect to them and to be unapologetic about what they like and how special they are..”

Karsen: Loads of people love your work because they feel like they can relate to it, is that sort of your aim with the different drawings that you do? Or what would you say is your greatest hope from the work you create?

Esma: Thank you! I’m still amazed at how people kind of react to these silly little drawings. I want to achieve kind of a normality of Muslim women and girls through my drawings. To show the world that we are as weird, cool, and different as anyone else, and we kind of have the same normal problems and we like crazy things are just completely unique personalities. I want Muslim women and girls to see themselves and each other through my drawings, and to connect to them and to be unapologetic about what they like and how special they are. And also for non-Muslims to see that we’re colourful and amazing and normal people.

Karsen: How has the journey been for you and what would you say has been the greatest part so far?

Esma: It has been absolutely crazy, I never ever imagined this to blow up like this in a year, I never expected such a great resonance! And I’m really happy that people like them and benefit from them. It’s really unexpected. The greatest thing has been people messaging me that they feel warmth in their hearts from your work, and when they see what you’ve created. But to just have this really cool reaction from people and say things like ‘it’s because of you I started drawing’, or ‘I started following more Muslim artists’, etc. Or just the unexpectedness of all of this happening because I never thought so many people would come to my content and be as amazed by it as I am.

LYRA- Inspirational Women Series with Claudia Cruz

Claudia Nour is creator of Claudia Nour cosmetics, a line of makeup and skin care that is made with all natural, halal and wudhu (ablution) friendly ingredients. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.

 

KB: What is it that originally inspired you to begin your work in skincare/beauty?

CN: Honestly, it was pure necessity. At the same time I converted, I was struggling a lot with my skin, and so I constantly wore makeup to cover up imperfections, and as I studied Islam, I realized that I wanted to be more modest in my makeup application, but to do that I needed to take care of my skin, and also I needed to have cosmetics that would be in line with Islamic guidelines. Because I didn’t find anyone else doing this and offering something like this, I decided to start studying, researching and from that my line was born.

 

KB: Can you briefly describe the process you go through in developing new products?

CN: Developing a product takes a while, because there are a lot of things that go into it. First is deciding what I want to make, is it necessary? What is the purpose of it? Then I need to make sure I can make it with the purest of ingredients, that will benefit the skin. That part can take a while, because this is where a lot of testing needs to be done. But once that is finished, then I need to look into the right packaging. I am trying to move away from plastics and so finding the right container can be hard, because plastic is what’s more readily available.

 

“Everything that’s happening on the inside gets reflected in our skin, one way or another. And if you approach skin care like this, healing the inside as well as outside, not only will you see the results, and be more confident, but you will be doing yourself a great service...”

 

 

KB: What advice would you give to women who are dealing with problem skin and feeling discouraged?

CN: I would tell them that this is an opportunity for them to practice skin care in a holistic way, because I have come to believe that our skin is the best alarm system Allah gave us. Everything that’s happening on the inside gets reflected in our skin, one way or another. And if you approach skin care like this, healing the inside as well as outside, not only will you see the results, and be more confident, but you will be doing yourself a great service, and you will be taking care of the trust that is our bodies.

 

KB:  Are your makeup products suitable for all?

CN: Absolutely, I would say that I formulate skincare for sensitive skin, but this in turn makes for very gentle, but very effective products. I have helped many sisters that thought their skin was acne prone, when in fact, their skin was in a state of irritation because of the products they were using. And one of my favorite things is when I hear mothers sharing my products with their daughters because of the safety and purity of the ingredients!

 

KB: Where can everyone find you?

CN: You can find me pretty much everywhere with Claudia Nour!

My website is www.claudianour.com, instagram @claudianour and facebook/claudianour

 

 

LYRA- Inspirational Women Series with Dina

KB: Hi Dina, could you start by telling me a bit about yourself and your background?

Dina: My name is Dina, and I'm a photographer based in London. I specialise in portrait photography although I love capturing different scenes during my travels. Travelling usually inspires a lot of ideas in me that I often try to bring to reality. I'm of mixed cultural background which is another source of inspiration for my work. I like exploring themes of identity and cultural diversity in my portraits and I learn so much from my subjects that I always try to make it a point for them to tell me their story by asking them a couple of questions that they're free to answer as they like. I find that the answers to those questions complete the final piece of work so much more beautifully and offers another level of understanding who they are beyond the photograph.

 

 

“The process I follow is based on my never-ending state of wonderment when I think of all the stories we each have as individuals. Sometimes I come across people who say so much without a single word, and that fueled my desire to want to capture that”

 

KB: So, I wanted to speak to you about your photography and more specifically the process that you go through before taking portraits. So, from what I understand you can do to a method of getting to know your subject and then photographing based on that, can you explain that to me a bit?

Dina: That's right. The process I follow is based on my never-ending state of wonderment when I think of all the stories we each have as individuals. Sometimes I come across people who say so much without a single word, and that fueled my desire to want to capture that. I am aware that everyone is living their own chapters to their stories and have survived things and seen things I may never know anything about, but I can recognise that it made them into who they are. I try to bridge the gap between myself as the artist/observer and the human being in front of me who has agreed to me capturing their essence as best as I can, by listening more intently to what they wish to disclose to me beyond the photo session. An image is worth 1000 words, so if I can provide the best of both visuals and words and have the final body of outcome be personal and real to the individual, then I'm happy.

 

“It's important to me to ensure that art continues to be multi-faceted. It shouldn't just be to make you feel good or comfortable, it should do something more”

 

KB: I feel like during sessions in which you really try and capture the essence of an individual, it can tend to get quite deep. Has that ever happened to you?

Dina: Sometimes it does. Sometimes there is no need for deep discussions with words because our exchange within that photo session is already so telling. I feel privileged that I can create a safe space for everyone I photograph to feel comfortable enough to expose as much or as little as they want simply through their body language in each pose and their overall energy. There is already a mutual agreement between us to create art together, so that helps as an initial ice breaker. However deep the exchange goes after that is never planned and always worth it. 

  

KB: What has been the best part of working in this sort of way that some might see as unconventional as opposed to just having a model for a specific purpose?

Dina: The human connection has been the best part, without a doubt. I knew from very early on that I wanted to go into this style of portrait work and tap deeper into the different creative ways to make the final body of work feel more complete and personal.

I think art is beautiful in so many different ways, but I like exploring further into how to make that art more inspiring, how it can make someone look and think twice and perhaps ask questions they otherwise wouldn't.

It's important to me to ensure that art continues to be multi-faceted. It shouldn't just be to make you feel good or comfortable, it should do something more. We all ask ourselves questions every day, our mind processes different thoughts constantly, how powerful is it then, if my images can cause that same process in the viewer, because of the energy I poured into my work or the receptiveness of the person looking at my work, or a mixture of both? That entire exchange is priceless for me. I wouldn't change it for anything, it's why I specialise in it as controversial or long-winded as it may seem to some, as long as it still means this much to me then I feel obliged to continue pursuing it and improving in it.

 

You can find Dina on Instagram @dina_laraki, and her photography on @portraitsbydina

 

 

LYRA- Inspirational Women Series with Lina

Salaam Lina! Firstly, thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me. I really wanted the chance to talk to you a bit about your story, as you have so much to offer as far as setting a prime example for resilience and strength. The discussion with you I actually want to center around the importance of trusting yourself, even if the odds are against you. While your experiences are what many would consider ‘unique’, the way that you have responded to them are something I feel everyone can learn from.        

KB: Could you give us a brief summary of your journey for those who aren’t familiar?

Lina: Firstly, thank you so much for the question, I really like the fact that it’s surrounded around the topic of trusting yourself, especially when everything feels like its tumbling down. The self-belief that you can overcome it along with the trust in God, is something that is a big part of my journey. My name is Lina and in 2014 just before my 17th birthday, I travelled to mecca to perform Umrah with my family and on the way there we were hit by a reckless speeding driver who caused our car to flip multiple times, and through that car accident I had a spinal cord injury which paralyzed me from the upper chest down. So ever since I have been on a journey to learn to walk again, and it’s also been a journey of self-discovery, experiencing life as a wheelchair user, and also just meeting so many incredible people. Going through many trials that have taught me so much and helped me transform into an individual that I don’t think I would’ve been if I didn’t have this trial.

“I remember being on the bed and looking at my chair thinking - damn. This is real. The world kind of stopped, because the hospital was my comfort bubble for a year, always activity and noise. And then here I was on a bed while everyone was at school, and I was just like wow this is it”

 

 KB: What was the transition like from feelings of hopelessness to feeling like you had control and could do something about the situation? And with that did you face any kinds of opposition and how did you combat that and persevere?

Lina: I don’t remember a particular instant per se, I the beginning my dad told me that the doctor in the early stages let me know that there's a huge chance I won’t be able to walk again or gain fully body movement. That was in the first week, but the thing is, I don’t remember the first week. My dad said that I responded with something like “it’s okay even if that is the case, I believe God has a plan, London is a very accessible city”, but I don't remember that whole week, which I think is a blessing really. I was kind of in an “I don’t know what’s going on” state for a few weeks, then a few months. So, I was just kind of thinking oh my spinal cord will heal within x amount of time, but I just kept thinking the recovery process will take a bit longer then a bit longer.

I was surrounded by a lot of support in terms of even the nurses making it really fun, no one ever mentioned anything to do with my prognosis, so I just kind of went with the flow. I remember my hospital experiences being fun, and I think that’s largely to do with being in denial, but also expecting to heal, even though it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. 6 months later when I was flown to London from the hospital in Saudi, I kind of realised that there isn’t a 100% chance of recovery. I remember a moment in Saudi when I asked the physio would I be able to walk again? And she said “I don’t know”, which is when I realised that it wasn’t 100% certain I would, but I still kept showing like I wasn’t phased, even though that was a complete shock to me.

"And that’s where it started to kick in and I had real emotion. So, my optimism was there in the beginning but kind of died down after I left the hospital. It was such a period of sadness because I just felt clueless while trying to pick up these pieces and didn’t know how to put them back together. I didn’t leave the house, I didn’t see myself in the mirror for many years"

When I came to the UK, one thing that kept me going was seeing all the other patients fully depressed and down, and I would say 'oh my god I don’t want that to be me', so I did everything not to become that. In my head I was like I cannot be like that. My mum was also injured, so I think that was a huge part of me staying optimistic and not focusing so much on myself or complaining, and I knew that if I showed a semblance of sadness then my family will become sad. And you could tell that they were trying so hard to stay optimistic for me, and I knew if I didn’t show it as well, they would break and that would break me. So, it was either the injury that’s gonna break me or my family’s sadness.

So, there wasn’t a real transition. Then leaving the hospital I was left in this new home because my old one wasn’t accessible. I remember being on the bed and looking at my chair thinking - damn. This is real. The world kind of stopped, because the hospital was my comfort bubble for a year, always activity and noise. And then here I was on a bed while everyone was at school, and I was just like wow this is it.

 

And that’s where it started to kick in and I had real emotion. So, my optimism was there in the beginning but kind of died down after I left the hospital. It was such a period of sadness because I just felt clueless while trying to pick up these pieces and didn’t know how to put them back together. I didn’t leave the house, I didn’t see myself in the mirror for many years. It’s weird because I’ve never actually thought about this before, so you asking this question is making me look back because I never really have. I’m now realising that I never allowed myself to feel sad in front of others, that’s why the moment when I was finally alone, I allowed myself to feel sad, slept in for crazy hours every day, didn’t want to do anything, my happiness was quite fake. This slow coming out of denial.

“Ever since I have been on a journey to learn to walk again, and it’s also been a journey of self-discovery, experiencing life as a wheelchair user, and also just meeting so many incredible people. Going through many trials that have taught me so much and helped me transform into an individual that I don’t think I would’ve been if I didn’t have this trial”

There are a few factors to the second question - what motivates me and gave me resilience, and the courage and drive to really overcome this prognosis and negative vibes that were projected onto me. I’ve always been someone who’s optimistic - sometimes even deemed unrealistic, but for me if I can just have these extreme goals and highly optimistic views, then at least some of it will manifest. So, for me it was ‘oh I believe the body has the ability to heal itself’, and saying that without any scientific background, I just had these ‘anything is possible’ type thoughts which helped deflect any negative view on my circumstances.

Having that foundation as a perspective really helped me, because then I decided to selectively choose books that aligned with that way of thinking. So, from my days in hospital I would start reading loads, and one that really stuck with me was called Mind Over Medicine. It basically consolidated everything that I thought, and it confirmed how the body can heal itself. She spoke of this concept called neuroplasticity, that the mind and nerves have the ability to regenerate and create new neural pathways. So that was the scientific terms that I needed to back up my highly optimistic view. I would even search or ask my dad to print me all these articles with these key words in them. I was very selective in what I consumed. Secondly, I have a very resilient mother, and she is going through a similar injury at the same time as I am, so we are in it together. If she’s not giving up, I’m not giving up. And even if she was, I wouldn’t because I need to support her. While it sounds crazy, I think there was beauty in us both dealing with similar injuries. 

Now looking back years later, I say to myself ‘wow Allah I think I understand why you put my mother and I in this together’ - whether that's the case or not. I see a lot of things that came out of it that helped both of us.

Lastly, I have siblings, family and friends who supported me from the get go and I can’t let them down. And my belief in God - I don’t have an excuse, of course we are human and we can collapse and fluctuate, but I also remind myself that I could have been dead or had brain damage. If I’m not grateful for what I already have, it feels like a slap to God. He’s allowed me to still breathe, speak, eat, and those are all the things I couldn’t do in the first month. So, I know how those things feel. I feel bad for complaining long term if that makes sense. Small hiccups are okay, but I really try to be cognizant and pick myself up.

My relationship with Allah is very instrumental in that. Additionally, with the feelings of loneliness, I knew God was always there and really felt He was there at times. Seeing other patients around me being the opposite really pushed me too - it was like a dystopia. Just before my accident actually in English we were learning about dystopian fiction and creating a dystopian novel, and I felt like I was in one when in the hospital, and didn’t want to succumb to that.

“That is the core of the message I try to share, which is to know your true ability. Cliché sounding, sometimes I feel like it’s easier to lean towards what we can’t do or what we think we can’t, and reminding ourselves that the other side of the scale does exist. Simply with this change in perspective, you can guide your next steps”

 

KB: Such an incredible story and you are such an incredible human! Where would you say that you’re at now in your journey as far as what you’ve achieved and your future goals?

Lina: I would say that I’m in a place where my purpose is ‘clear’ to me, which is, A. to serve God through both my ups and downs. I really have come to grasp the fact that real life is in jannah, where there will be no tests, hardships or struggle, and that really does keep me going and make me excited for it. Although I do enjoy living, it is testing and knowing that there will be another life after this which isn’t makes me really excited. Especially when we’re out here painting a pseudo version of a perfect life, like it doesn’t exist here and that’s why we all have hardships.

It would be to help others transform their lives, and I think I can start doing that by setting an example, just by leading I hope I can help others. Physically, I’ve come from not having a twitch of a movement from my upper chest down, to constantly training my body ever since, so today I’ve regained a lot of upper body strength and movement all the way down to my hips, and some very tiny activation of my legs which is incredible progress, and was really not seen as possible by the medical team in the hospital. I have big goals and small goals; my ultimate goal is to walk again.

It may seem super ambitious, its long, its costly, but for me if I set a goal like that that may be classed as far-fetched, it still allows for a direction to be created. If I set a goal of wanting to be a billionaire, even if I don’t reach that billion, at least if I can get like 30 million, then I’m happy. But had I not put that initial goal, I wouldn’t have any direction. So, if my ultimate goal is to recover all the movement that I’ve lost, even if I recover anything, I’m still happy. It can also allow me to train and maintain my body if in case a cure does come about, I’ll be ready.

My daily small goals are just to lift my legs out of bed and make use of what I have. Mentally, I am proud of myself for getting to a point where I can see beyond my physical limitations and set the focus on the millions of things that I can do and work towards. That is the core of the message I try to share, which is to know your true ability. Cliché sounding, sometimes I feel like it’s easier to lean towards what we can’t do or what we think we can’t, and reminding ourselves that the other side of the scale does exist. Simply with this change in perspective, you can guide your next steps. I want to continue to strengthen my mindset, it’s not really a goal you reach, but one that you keep reaching.

I’d say I’m quite an ambitious individual, which I think has kept me going because I’m just like there’s so much I want to do and try so there’s no time to waste. I usually keep my goals to myself, but I’m working on things like giving talks to audiences, where I can share what I’ve learnt or continue to learn. I’m just here to tell my story really. It wasn’t initially a goal of mine, but just due to the feedback I’ve received I told myself my dislike of being the point of attention is worth being sacrificed for a bigger purpose. Aside from that, I’m studying the human body and mind at university level, I want to travel, scuba dive, and work on myself, strengthen myself, my relationship with God and others, and leave my imprint on this earth.

 

Lina can be found on Instagram @linathedreamer or emailed at lina.bettayeb@wearemin.co

 

 

 

 

                

LYRA- Inspirational Women Series with Sabrina

KB: I read a bit of your caption today regarding how you got into general wellness, or at least what got you kickstarted, and I was hoping you could tell us a bit about that as well!

SW: I guess my story of where it all started for me in relation to actually having studied a science was with my own fertility journey. I always had really difficult menstrual cycles that were just really irregular, and when I tried to get help for them I was just given the pill and didn’t really know much else. But then I started having a weird reaction to it so I stopped taking it and it happened to be around the time when I was really wanting to become a mom, but my body needed to detox off the pill because my cycle went back to being really irregular.

I ended up looking for ways to help me with that and regulate my cycle, so I could finally become pregnant. I sat with my parents and my mom told me to do a juice fast, and my dad told me to take an herbal tea formula that he created when I was really young which he actually sells. It’s called Timely Relief, and that was to help balance my hormones and help me to get pregnant. At that point my cycle was gone and I tried both of those things, and within 2 days my cycle started.

A few months after that alhamdulillah I became pregnant. That was pretty much the beginning when I realised like ‘oh my gosh’ I was struggling for so long, and it was really powerful for me to see that these types of natural approaches were able to help me get to the goal of becoming a mom. Since that was my journey to become pregnant, I decided I wanted to do things as natural as possible for the pregnancy and birth, and then I started to find out about postpartum healing.

 

 

“..I just wish more women would take time to honour this sacred part of them, or their feminine self, I just wish we could honour that within us…” 

 KB: So, once you generally started focusing on Ayurveda, holistic wellness, etc. at what point did you get into postpartum care and womb wellness?

During my pregnancy I was really focused on learning as much as I could to help myself heal after birth, and that's when I got introduced to Ayurveda, and was like ‘oh my gosh there’s a whole science behind natural healing’, and I was really interested in learning it. When I was studying Ayurveda, I just knew I wanted to work in women's health. And then is also when I learned about vaginal steaming, because I was scared that my cycle would come back and be as horrible as it was before. That whole therapy really inspired me to work with women completely, so I work with womb care but also postpartum care through vaginal steaming and Ayurveda.

"These are such sacred times but we really don’t get a chance to tend to ourselves in the ways that we need to and are unique to the feminine body"

KB: What do you wish people knew regarding vaginal health, or what misconceptions do you feel people may have?

SW: What comes to me right away is that I just wish more women would take time to honour this sacred part of them, or their feminine self, I just wish we could honour that within us, and take care of ourselves in relation to the fact that we have these cycles and things that need our attention. I want women to honour them and not work against them, so for example with our Western culture being so fast paced, we’re keeping up with a masculine approach to living, which actually makes it really difficult on our feminine health and overall wellbeing. I just wish women felt more comfortable to slow down and pay attention to themselves, which is also during pregnancy and after having a baby. These are such sacred times but we really don’t get a chance to tend to ourselves in the ways that we need to and are unique to the feminine body.

 

KB: Do you often get people who are confused by the work that you do?

SW: Some people are definitely confused by the work that I do, especially with vaginal steaming, because it’s just something that isn’t well known in Western culture. So, it’s just something that they haven’t heard about before, and even with postpartum care, people are like why do you even need that? It’s just explaining that these are traditional practices. For example, there were never postpartum doulas because the entire village supported the woman. So nowadays we do need to have services like this that actually bring awareness because it isn’t within our culture or society anymore. But usually people receive it quite well, or they just laugh.

 “Feeling like I was successfully able to hold space or create the environment for a woman to feel comfortable enough to open up and talk about things that are very private to her, I feel like that’s such a gift when I’m able to do that, not only for them but for me” 

KB: What is the most rewarding part of your work, and where do you hope to go from here? 

SW: Feeling like I was successfully able to hold space or create the environment for a woman to feel comfortable enough to open up and talk about things that are very private to her, I feel like that’s such a gift when I’m able to do that, not only for them but for me. From here, I hope to continue serving women in their postpartum healing specifically, and I also hope to do a bit more focus on postpartum care long term. So, for example if people don’t recover in the period directly after birth, then they go on into their motherhood feeling very depleted and low in energy, sad, etc. So, I want to put more effort into supporting women in that time as well.

 

KB: That’s all so amazing and so valuable. Where can we all learn more about your work and what you’re sharing?

SW: You can find me on Instagram @sabrina.womb