The Artful Muslimah – Earth, Ink, Digital and Endless Possibilities with Idil Abdullahi

Community advocate, workshop facilitator, mother, and self-taught artist, Idil Abdullahi has recently returned to university to finish her first fine arts degree in ceramics, while continuing to expand her repertoire of mediums for “story telling” through visual art.

[Brooke Benoit] When did you begin experimenting with art/self-expression? When did you recognize yourself as an artist?

[Idil Abdullahi] I first began to experiment while I was in high school, mainly because my English was so poor at the time. The only subjects that I could relate to and engaged me then were the visual arts. Also, during art classes, my work was being commented on by classmates who didn’t otherwise speak to me at all, so I thought there must be something there, though I really had no concept of what an “artist” was at the time. I just knew I wanted to create, and that feeling of being so immersed in what I was doing became addictive.

My artistic journey has been anything but linear. There was a long absence from creating and then I began experimenting with various mediums which left me with more self-doubts. As such, it was still difficult until very recently to think of myself as an “artist.” It was going back to studying that has given me a fresh point of view and renewed energy to keep going and continue. Upon reflection, I think that I have come full circle and it truly feels like a coming home, Alhamdulillah.

[Brooke Benoit] What made you decide to formally study art?

[Idil Abdullahi] It wasn’t something I planned. After working in the community settlement sector, I wanted to get more qualified in that area, so I initially applied to study social work.  Around the same time, I became involved in community arts initiatives and after lots of encouragement, I got the courage to change my course just in time to fine arts instead.  Straightway, I felt like everything was fitting together so much better and being a product of community arts myself, I was looking forward to continuing to be a part of that once my studies were completed.

Just as someone may write ideas down and organise them to try and get some answers, in the same way I am driven to create – to make some sense out of it all.

[Brooke Benoit] You have emphasised that what you “hope to highlight in the works are issues and feelings of being erased from history past, present and future as the unrest back home [in Somalia] continues to worsen.” Just by creating your work, of course, you contribute to continuing the traditions and history. For people viewing your work – especially your ceramics – they may just see beautiful pottery, can you please explain what some of the meanings are behind the forms?

[Idil Abdullahi] That idea of being erased are the emotions that are fuelling my current work, and in the same way  whether it’s my ceramics or henna paintings, they are indicating questions or experiences I am wrestling with at any given time. Just as someone may write ideas down and organise them to try and get some answers, in the same way I am driven to create – to make some sense out of it all. Many times the ideas come first and they are very concrete, other times it’s a very intuitive process of being drawn to certain forms or colours.

For example, my dervish series are on the surface inspired by the graceful movements of the Sema ritual, but on another level it was a period in my life where I felt that I had to hide my belief that Tasawuf or Sufism is an integral part of Islam. The Sema itself represents growing through love and that’s what I hoped the form would embody as well as opening the door for conversation. They were my first formal ceramic works and thinking back to the days when I was making them still fills me with so much love and gratitude. Not many people notice, but on the turquoise dervish there is this very faint “Bismillah” on it, which at the time was a mark of prayer for blessed beginnings into the ceramic world.

[Brooke Benoit] You have said that you are “very much process driven, and thrive on experimentation. The making, the changes, the accidents, everything you might not see in the end product is just as important, if not more,” which is absolutely horrifying for some people who may see this idea as wasting time and/or resources or may just not be as ‘daring’ to try new things. Can you please explain what the internal process is for you when you are experimenting in artistic mediums and processes?

[Idil Abdullahi] Different materials can convey different emotions, so experimenting, in that sense, to me is important. I probably don’t do enough of it myself due to those same apprehensions you mentioned. And experimenting doesn’t necessarily mean using more materials, in fact it could mean using less.

As an example, I have used all the established painting materials and was never satisfied or enthusiastic about the outcome. And then, by His grace, I saw a window to experiment using henna as a painting medium on watercolour paper, layering it with ink and the results were significant. Here was a medium I have been using for years, but since I knew it as a medium to traditionally adorn the body, it never occurred to me to try it outside of that. So my approach now is more experimental and instinctive; I make lots of samples to begin with and see what is working and whether an idea is worth pursuing.

[Brooke Benoit] Often so much emphasis is placed on the final outcome of someone’s work or an artist’s successes. Are there any mediums you have tried and strongly dislike? If so, what lessons were you able to take with you from those attempts?

[Idil Abdullahi] I wouldn’t say I strongly dislike them, but I really struggled to paint in oils.  More time was spent cleaning the brushes and drying my work and I would ruin pieces because I kept working on them before the layers dried, so I had to start again which irritated me. What is interesting though is after my trials with oils ended, I was convinced that I like to work fast. Yet here I am today working with clay, one of the most unpredictable and time-consuming mediums there is. I don’t know how to explain it but there was this immediate magnetism to clay, whereas with oils I couldn’t wait to finish with them.

[Brooke Benoit] Please tell us about your work with Somalia Drought Relief efforts, as well as your work with refugees in your community?

[Idil Abdullahi] I was involved in various famine fundraising initiatives, primarily using the arts, to raise much needed money and the response was enormous. There is still much work to be done, and there needs to be sustainable prevention programs and strategies put in place. I don’t feel that I have personally contributed very much at all. But because of the positive response to those initiatives, we are hoping to utilise the arts again for programs that involve the community here while at the same time benefiting the community back home.

[Brooke Benoit] Have you been able to return home in the last two decades since you had to leave Somalia? Do you have any plans to do so in the immediate future?

[Idil Abdullahi] No, I haven’t been back there largely because I grew up in the capital city of Mogadishu, which is still one of the most unsafe places in the region. However, I do have extended families in other parts of Somalia and lately I have been yearning to go back, maybe because I am getting old or something, I don’t know. I have been trying to prepare myself to go next year, insha Allah and I am truly excited and looking forward to it.

[Brooke Benoit] You successfully and beautifully use a wide range of mediums – ceramics, photography, henna, performance, painting – are there any mediums or art forms you are dreaming of using in the future, but haven’t had time or access to yet?

[Idil Abdullahi] I would love to do some digital illustration of my henna designs to make them sharper and also more useful outside the body. Video is another medium that is very appealing, the way it engages all of the senses is exceptional. Right now I think the best solution is to collaborate with other artists skilled in those areas rather than taking on too much.

Idil’s work, along with several other Muslim women’s art, is currently on display, May 12th – July 8th 2012, as part of the No Sugar Added exhibit at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in New South Wales. To view or purchase her work and learn more about aiding in Somali drought relief, visit Idil’s portfolio page and email her through there.

This article is from the June 2012 issue of SISTERS Magazine (the magazine for fabulous Muslim women). 
All images courtesy of Idil Abdullahi.

A DIY Birth Kit and Plan

Two weeks ago I gave birth to my 6th child by way of what is commonly called an unassisted childbirth (uc), though my husband- and only my husband- actually gave me a good amount of assistance, so I don’t like to call it a uc. This was our fourth homebirth and I have never (publically) written much about my homebirthing experiences, but this time I am feeling a pressing need too (yes, birth puns!) yet not sure where to even begin. So, figured I would post my birth kit and “plans” for now as I really appreciated other people doing so while I was in my planning stage.

Birth Kit

On Hand:

Hot water bottle

Suction bulb

Embroidery thread

Warm socks


Need to buy:

Blood test (need proof of type)

Rent Car

Birthing Stool (Carpenter)

Paper Towels

Baby wipes

Sheets 2

Chux/Disposable sheets (Pharmacy)

BIG sanitary pads (Pharmacy/Carrefour)

Betadine (Pharmacy)

Rubbing Alcohol (Pharmacy)

Ice Pack (Pharmacy)

Phone Number for Clinique Urgencies

Ibuprofen (Pharmacy)

Stainless Steel Scissors (Kasseria)

Bucket EXACTLY like white bucket we wash dishes in (Derb Ghalef)

Homeopathic remedies (Maarif)

  • Arnica
  • Nux Vomica
  • Chamomilla
  • Hamamelis Virginica
  • Lanolin

Case of Juice (I choose flavours)

Chamomile Tea

Flex straws (Carrefour)

Wash cloths (Maarif/Kasseria)

Baby Supplies:

Something to put Asiya’s clothes and diapers in

Bassinet (Maarif/Derb Omar)

Cloth diapers (Kasseria/Maarif)

Nursing Bras (Maarif)

Swaddle Blankets (Kasseria/Maarif)



To Do At Birth:


Steep Tea in 3-4 litres of water

Sterilize Scissors

Put chux/disposable big pads on bed

Have cool juice/water for Brooke

Clean Bath Tub

Have trash set-up in bed room (put bag in dirty laundry hamper)

Put birth stool next to bed

Keep people out of bedroom and bathroom

Now for a rundown of what I did and didn’t use:

Hot water bottle- Didn’t use. Previously I have used one on my abdomen, even tucked one in my pants when we went to the hospital with my first labor, and do recommend doing so. This baby was born during an unusual heatwave, so I skipped the hot water bottle.

Suction bulb- Used. Dad loves to suction his babies’ boogers, so it was an extra special treat for him to suction Asiya Eve’s mouth.

Embroidery thread- Didn’t use. Birthing her in Morocco I had less shopping choices for my birth kit than when I have birthed at home in the states. Unable to find umbilical cord clips I was going to use DIY birthers’ suggestion of embroidery thread, but then a friend kindly sent along two clips and that was definitely much easier to work with and appreciated!

Warm socks 2 pairs- Didn’t use. I think I have always worn them before, as some birthers get the chills, especially after labor- but again, heatwave.

Lavender- Used. Fresh from the countryside, I steeped it with the chamomile right after my water broke/leaked heavily- about 14 total brew time and then poured into a bath and I soaked in it for a bit.

Need to buy:

Blood test (need proof of type)- Didn’t get or need.  Was told that the hospitals would require this, so best to have a card like Moroccans generally do otherwise it could hold up an emergency. We just figured if it was that much of an emergency they ought to trust that the husband and I know that we have the same type.

Rent Car- Didn’t do or need. I didn’t want to have to walk the block to the ER if we truly needed to, but they have ambulances so we didn’t bother- and a good thing because she came several days later than the ultrasound guessed.

Birthing Stool (Carpenter)- Used. An excellent investment and a family heirloom! We had the stool made locally and I used it for one good push with the baby and a sort of push/wishful thinking with the placenta.

Paper Towels- Used. Mmm, I’m not really sure if the husband used these, but it seems he must have.

Baby wipes- Didn’t use.  Got these for me, but didn’t need them.

Sheets 2- Used. Right after I took my bath I puked all over myself and my clean sheet- happy to have extras!

Chux/Disposable sheets (Pharmacy)- Used. Put under the birth stool and on my bed.

BIG sanitary pads (Pharmacy/Carrefour)- Used, of course.

Betadine (Pharmacy)- Used. Midwives usually ask me to put a little in a peri-bottle along with water and clean/rinse with it after ever pee once the water has broken, but I just made plain water istinja this time. Also, for the umbilical cord stump I like to use a little Golden Seal and then just clean water, but it made my hub and in-laws feel better to use Betadine, so I did this one time.

Rubbing Alcohol (Pharmacy)- Used to clean the scissors.

Ice Pack (Pharmacy)- Didn’t use. Previously I have used an ice pack after my homebirths, but recently read an article about how this may not be best for the body so I was considering not using it. My perineum really felt good after this birth, and I felt no desire to sit on ice.

Phone Number for Clinique Urgencies- Got, but didn’t use. AlhumdiAllah

Ibuprofen (Pharmacy)- Used. Uff. Didn’t realize the strength was considerably stronger than in the states and took three on an empty stomach, which may have contributed to my subsequent puking.

Anti-nausea suppositories (Pharmacy)- Used. I have vomited during all my labors and it is horrible. In the states all I could get over the counter was homeopathic nux vomica, here I got suppositories and started using them when my contraction started picking up- no puking! At least not during labor.

Stainless Steel Scissors (Kasseria)- Used. Cut the cord with them and then gave them away, thank you- don’t need to resee that every time I use them.

Bucket EXACTLY like white bucket we wash dishes in (Derb Ghalef)- Used. Husband got one bigger and it didn’t fit under the stool, so he went back for a second, which fit perfectly and almost filled to the brim with birth-stuffs, like the placenta.

Homeopathic remedies (Maarif)

  • Arnica- Used.
  • Nux Vomica- Used.  Very worried about nausea, sucked on these too.
  • Chamomilla- Didn’t use.
  • Hamamelis Virginica- Used. Before and after for varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
  • Lanolin- Didn’t use, yet. For wool diaper covers.

Case of Juice (I choose flavours)- Drank it all and still am. I really like to have a lot of juice on hand to drink straight or diluted while building up my milk supply.

Chamomile Tea- Used. Steeped with the lavender right after my waters broke/leaked- about 14 total brew time and then poured into a bath and I soaked in it for a bit.

Flex straws (Carrefour)- Used.  And then hid away the rest for special occasions and sick days.

Wash cloths (Maarif/Kasseria)- Used. Got them primarily for my perineum, but didn’t have a chance/need to use them. Wiped baby off a little with a couple.

Baby Supplies:

Something to put Asiya’s clothes and diapers in- Got her some drawers.

Bassinet (Maarif/Derb Omar)- Still waiting on this one…

Cloth diapers (Kasseria/Maarif)- Found some locally, though only medium wraps which she is leaking out of…but I also found my stash of small prefolds, so need to do something about those wraps…

Nursing Bras (Maarif)- Found to different styles locally and an old but not too worn one.

Swaddle Blankets (Kasseria/Maarif)- Very happy to find a couple of cotton ones, though it’s too hot to swaddle her.

To Do At Birth:

Steep Tea in 3-4 litres of water- Did that right away when my waters broke/leaked.

Sterilize Scissors- Hubby and sister-in-law did this just before they cut the cord.

Put chux/disposable big pads on bed- I did that and put some under the stool.

Have cool juice/water for Brooke- Put some in the fridge and freezer when my waters broke.

Clean Bath Tub- Sister-in-law did this. I recommend a sitz bath after labor- very nice and comforting.

Have trash set-up in bed room (put bag in dirty laundry hamper)- Didn’t happen, husband managed clean-up just fine while I sound asleep.

Put birth stool next to bed- Did that first thing after brewing tea.

Keep people out of bedroom and bathroom- They (the kids) mostly stayed out and just before we were really ready for her to come on out I asked the kids to stay out of the room and “off my door” and they did!

I’m still ruminating on what I want to say about the birth, but in the meantime- it went really well- alhumdiAllah!