Title: “There is Greatness in Me” Paperback length: 28 pages Author: Ameenah Muhammad Price: $15.00 at Amazon
This is an interview with Sr. Ameenah Muhammad, an entrepreneur and writer. She is the author of “There is Greatness in Me,” a children’s book for ages 7-9. The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
Q – Sr. Ameenah, what was your inspiration for the book?
A – Personally, I struggle with negative self-talk. I know that a lot of things we deal with as adults come from childhood insecurities. So, I wanted to empower children to have positive self-talk so that it’s repetitive and becomes deeply ingrained – “There Is greatness in me,” “If I believe it, I can achieve it,” “If I say bismillah…,” “If I fall down, I get back up.” So just to empower our little ones, our little Muslims — it’s important to empower them with this awareness and training when they’re younger so they can embrace it and have it become second nature by the time they’re older.
Q – Did you consider writing it from a broader perspective for children in general, or did you feel that it was important for Muslim children specifically?
A – Even non-Muslim parents have bought the book and they’ve said that it was inclusive in the way it addressed children’s openness to learning positive self-talk. There’s one illustration that shows “bismillah” on the wall of the girl’s bedroom; there are also two little girls wearing hijab on the book cover and an ayah [Qur’anic verse] in the back of the book. But in today’s world of diversity, the book is good for all children.
Q – Yes, when I looked at the reviews on Amazon, it looked like many people from other cultures were really appreciative of the diversity, as well as the message of positivity that it was teaching children.
A – A fun fact, Muhammad Ali – may Allah have Mercy on his soul and grant him Paradise – his eldest daughter wrote the foreword to the book.
Q – Yes, I saw that, that’s awesome! How did you hook up with her or did you know her before?
A – My father was really good friends with Muhammad Ali, so growing up we knew the family. She’s a little bit older than me but I knew how to get in contact with her and pitched her the idea of the story and asked if she would be willing to write the foreword for the book and she said, “Of course!” Alhamdulilah.
Q – So, what is the most important thing about positivity for children you would want people to know about?
A – I think that all of us have those notions where we have an idea that we want to do something and then when the going gets tough we start thinking, “Well, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.” So, it’s important to just to have fortitude and to always rely on Allah and also rely on our inner spirit to keep going. Because sometimes we can get knocked down. Sometimes we have these aspirations and start to feel a little bad about ourselves but to just keep going and know that there’s a specialness in all of us, and “if we can believe it, we can achieve it.” We just have to get started and then maintain that motivation. That’s the main message of the book — to get started. Start where you are, keep going, have faith, and always empower yourself because we may not always have people around us telling us to keep going, telling us, “You can do it!” So, we have to draw on that from within.
Q – Wow, that really impacted me because that’s exactly me. I say some of those same things, “I can’t do that because I have too much pressure from this or that.” That’s so powerful, masha’Allah, thank you for that. Do you think that self-talk is more important for Muslim children, or is it just positive self-talk for children in general?
A – Here in America our children are sometimes in an uphill battle with some of the images and messages that they are taking in on a daily basis. So, it is important for them to have that fortitude inside that “my values that are instilled inside from my family, from my masjid, from my community, may not always look like the values outside my community but I’m going to stick to them and I’m going to keep going and keep pressing and I’m not going to be intimidated because I may look different, or I believe differently.” I think that our children definitely need a little bit more confidence and conviction because a lot of times there is going to be a rift between their values and the social values surrounding them, especially when they get older. When they’re younger, everybody’s just playing and having fun. When they get older, everybody around them starts having boyfriends and girlfriends, or people are starting to do things that are contrary to what their own values are telling them to do. So, we need to have that voice that says, “This is who I am, I’m going to continue to be me and have confidence.”
Q – I guess people often have a hard time finding that confidence within and sometimes think that others have it easier than them. Do you find that?
A – If you ask them, whoever they are, they’ll say the same thing. It’s all about perspective— everybody has this idea that “the grass is always greener on the other side.” But we’re all dealing with our own things. I think it all comes down to the confidence within ourselves. Because if we don’t have confidence within ourselves, it’s easy to say, “If I was this, I’d be that…” Everybody has their stuff.
Q – I wanted to touch on social media and the effect of body image. It’s a huge concern for parents. Can you speak to that in regard to positivity?
A – I think we have these ideals of what we think our bodies should look like based on images and photoshopping and slimming down everything. You can do things to photos and images and people are like, “Oh my gosh, her skin is so beautiful!” And they fall into a habit of comparing themselves to others. For years, after maybe looking outwardly for what we think is beautiful, maybe we can start to say, “I love myself for who I am.” And then if there’s something you want to work on, put in the work and go after it. People just have to be honest. I think it comes down to honesty. If we feel good about ourselves, great. But if we don’t feel good about ourselves, then we can start to do things to change that. We can eat healthier, for example, and make any positive changes in our lives that we want. It’s about what do you want for yourself. Also, don’t beat yourself up about things, sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves.
Q – So what are some more examples of positive self-talk words that you use in your daily life or teach your children?
A – One of the things I say to myself is, “Whether the sun is shining, or the rain is falling, alhamdulilah.” I also thank Allah all the time, even for things I could be mad or sad about. But we have choices about how we look at things. If we are grateful, Allah will bless us with more. It’s the simplest thing but we seem to forget.