At first glance, our destination may look like all the others in a comfortable suburban sub-development, but upon approach, a careful observer can sense something precious growing. This isn’t an ordinary home, masha’Allah. The landscaping is inviting and meticulous, curated with care, planted with capable hands, cared for with patience and love. This is the home of a reluctant shero who never fails to show up for others and for her community.
Tall and demure, beautifully appointed in bright warm colors, understated makeup and effortless hijab, Rabia welcomes us, her guests, with the same careful attention to detail that her outdoor plants foreshadow. Her home’s palate reflects her own charming aesthetic: pleasant creams are layered on deep browns and golds. Modern Islamic calligraphy graces the walls - a reminder of what anchors she and her husband, Abdul Basit, to each other and to this community.
It’s 6:00 pm on the dot, at the end of a long workday, and we learn that she’s been fasting for Ashura since daybreak.
She brushes off the effort it took to prepare for us, and the inconvenient timing of our interview, and instead offers us a table perfectly set with a snack of homemade fruit salad scented with smoked cumin, accompanied by frosted tea cakes on a silver platter. “It’s nothing much,” she insists.
This is a common refrain - almost a reflex for Rabia, I learn. Like so many accomplished women, she’s quick to divert attention from herself and deflect it toward the achievements of others. But like her hosting, Rabia is far from ‘nothing much.’ Rabia has the etiquette of an elite hostess and the type of manners people rarely make time for anymore. Beyond that, the many titles she holds and her commitment to philanthropy testify on her behalf. Rabia puts in both the time and the money - and
It’s true. Rabia doesn’t fit the profile of a traditional leader. She doesn’t like talking about herself or her accomplishments. She visibly blushes when placed in a spotlight, and is quick to share that she doesn’t see herself as a leader the way others might. And because she doesn’t see herself as a ‘shero’, she leads with even more authenticity: by example, through hard work, commitment to others and her deep sense of service and integrity.
A self-proclaimed introvert, Rabia’s ideal Saturday includes gardening, cleaning, crocheting gifts for the children of community members and spending time alone. “I’m my own best friend!” she exclaims. Deeply loyal to her family and community, there isn’t anything Rabia wouldn’t do for the people she loves.
“She’s is very caring,” shares her husband of five years, Abdul Basit Ghani. “She really thinks about people, makes sure she uses words that would not hurt them.” She sews community, giving “things that would make small differences in her loved ones’ everyday lives, like gifts and invitations. If you see her Facebook, the most talked-about content is the gifts she gives to our community.”
With the character of a philanthropist, Rabia’s gifts range from small gestures for individuals to significant financial donations to organizations working in our community. The list of causes she and Abdul Basit support are too numerous to list them all: “We support a lot of organizations doing legitimate and solid work that are working to improve the lives of people in Pakistan. We’ve supported almost all the new masajid here in the Twin Cities, MYLA, the Council of American Islamic Relations, Islamic Resource Group, Al Amal School and others.” She hopes that by sharing her giving priorities it will inspire others to give generously too. “If I raise my hand, maybe it will also inspire others,” she says.
Rabia breaks traditional stereotypes by showing us that a woman can at once be a caring introvert and also an assertive leader. “I’m bossy and impatient!” she admits with a laugh. She doesn’t have time to play around. Don’t be fooled by her carefully manicured lawn, those crocheted dresses and her homemade fruit salad. This is also a woman with a vision for the community.
Beyond her deep commitment to being fully present for the people close to her, Rabia serves as a Compliance Administrator at US Bank. On nights and weekends, she is the founding Creative Designer at her successful side business, event planning firm, Fancy Wrapper. If her two jobs weren’t enough, she also volunteers as President of the Muslim Youth Leadership Awards (MYLA), the largest Muslim scholarship fund in Minnesota. “It’s a lot of work,” she says of her role at MYLA with fondness in her voice. “Because of my life experiences, I’m short on patience, I’m determined. Eventually my bossy nature came out and they made me the President,” she half-jokes.
MYLA’s mission is to identify, develop and connect future leaders by providing scholarships, educational/skill building activities and programs for young people who have a track record and continued commitment for community service. Over the past 10 years, MYLA has awarded over $250,000 in private scholarships to Muslim youth in Minnesota.
The middle daughter of five girls growing up in Pakistan, Rabia learned the value of education from her father.
Her father’s legacy and his commitment to his five daughters’ education fuels Rabia’s commitment to causes like MYLA. Raising five girls in a middle class family in Pakistan, Rabia’s father had a razor-sharp focus on what he he could provide for his daughters in the long term. “My dad said, I can’t leave a lot of wealth for you, but I can give you an education.” That stuck with her, and it pushes her forward to make sure Minnesota Muslim youth have similar opportunities that might seem out of reach.
Rabia credits her father, and charges other good men, like her husband Abdul Basit, with a critical role in gender equity today. “My heroes are the men in my life. Why the men? Because in our society, and especially in places like Pakistan, it is still the men that can make or break a woman.”
As women, we might be tempted to think that today’s Muslim feminism has moved beyond the need for male heroes. Yet today’s political climate provides a cautionary tale: we continue to need all people with power to care about equity for women. “No matter how big of a rebel you are, if a dad doesn’t let his daughter go to school after grade five, what’s she going to do with all her leadership skills then?” Rabia asks.
Rabia is our shero because, like so many women in our community, she shows up for the jobs that aren’t glamorous or glorious, gets down to business, and doesn’t shy away from hard work. In fact, alongside her significant philanthropic portfolio, hard work is the contribution she is most comfortable asserting. “Anybody can donate money, but sometimes you just need the manpower.”
We’ll call it woman-power.
Hard work, generosity of spirit and a willingness to take charge make Rabia our Shero. With her effort, she is building a well-woven and carefully tended community that supports the educated future for our young people.
Thank you Rabia, for being our SHERO.