As I have been putting together an archive of Maria Zain’s articles for SISTERS magazine, many of them are pieces I am already very familiar with. Maria and I shared several similar passions – homebirthing, homeschooling, deen-centered parenting, balancing family/extended family with personal and spiritual obligations, sex and sexuality with an Islamic point of view, and even a fashion frustration with Islamic clothing designers’ negligence to cover pregnant and breastfeeding moms.
When I started as an editor at SISTERS in 2011, Maria was one of the professional, highly skilled and conscientious writers already on board who made my job a cakewalk. Her articles nearly always came in well polished and needing little editing, masha Allah. Over time we developed an easy working relationship, in which she could pop off a quick one liner idea to me about potential articles and I would often respond with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and brief suggestions to avoid this and that as we likely covered them, while maybe considering addressing this or that. The final piece would then be submitted covering a good scope of ideas, introducing me (the first reader) to new ways of seeing and often giving me a few (always needed!) giggles.
Several months back, SISTERS reintroduced their ‘Soap Box’ feature: “Soap Box is the place for sisters to speak out on issues they feel strongly about.” This feature, though a popular one to read, is a hard one for writers to approach, as it is a fine balance between critiquing and demonstrating real social problems within the ummah versus whining about some lesser important pet peeve. Maria recently really took to the feature, addressing several issues she (and I!) would like to see taken more seriously by Muslims, and she also pitched me a few of those emotion-filled one liners for a potential Soap Box rant, which she would later tone down and round out into more… palatable articles for elsewhere in the magazine or even other publications.
As a writer myself, Maria and I had a great deal of crossover in the subject matters we both write about which easily could have made us competitive in such a small field for Muslim writers, yet it only furthered our sharing of knowledge and resources. Maria introduced me to her fabulous editor at an online publication we both enjoyed writing for, and when I discussed the pending possibility of having an unassisted birth with my sixth child, Maria brought me into a tight circle of hundreds of women choosing to homebirth without assistance due to legal restrictions on using midwives. This circle was phenomenal and supported me through my sixth and most relaxed and stress-free birth.
I often see myself as a reluctant advocate across several fronts, where I have chosen to take less popular and even (unwittingly to me) controversial paths. Maria walked many of these paths with me, though I never once saw her reluctance. When I did see her attacked, either via online comments, Facebook discussions or in private exchanges, she always maintained a calm composure and an ability to remain politely but firmly steadfast, with a grace I still hope to someday achieve.
Reading through the memorials posted online for Maria, I am well aware of the legacy she has left behind in her writing having already read so many of her writings as an editor, a peer, a person of shared interests and a friend, but seeing them anew – knowing that there will be no more follow ups, no more branching into new subjects, no more behind the scenes chats – I now know what a privilege and blessing it was to have known Maria Zain, to have had my hand held, to have been given both echoed reassurances of my own feelings and even new insights into many issues from a truly special sister. I regret that I do not recall ever once thanking Maria for all she did for me and my family.
I pray that Maria’s husband is given support and strength to carry on raising his family with a deen-centered focus and that their children know even a glimpse of the sacrifices both their parents made to protect and nurture them as Allah (SWT) guided them to do so, ameen.
Editor in Chief of SISTERS Magazine, Na’ima B. Robert, has set up a fundraiser to help Maria’s husband and family through this upheaval. Please consider sending them some support: http://www.gofundme.com/mariazain