Having known Ruqayyah Ahdab for many years, I can say, and many would attest to this, that Ruqayyah can really be summed up by one principle: aspiring to Ihsan (excellence).
Born and raised in Canada as the eldest of three siblings, Ruqayyah has never been far from our community. She spent her early years at ISNA Elementary with our very own Shaykh Abdalla Idris as her principal. Looking back, she cherishes that time: “Some of the best years of my life were at ISNA Elementary,” she said, “friends from back then are like family to this day; being in the environment of ISNA, learning the duaas and Quran, those really stuck with me.”
After finishing eighth grade, she moved to Jordan temporarily to study at the world-renowned Qasid Arabic Institute. Ruqayyah stayed in Jordon for three years, studying Arabic, the Islamic Sciences, as well as memorizing Quran.
At the age of 17, Ruqayyah returned to Canada to attend ISNA High School. Having spent time abroad, she graduated older than most of her classmates, but that didn’t bother her at all. “Even with the age difference, I didn’t regret it,” she says. “The time in Jordan gave me a lot more perspective on life, highlighted what is valuable and what my priorities should be; when I went to university I felt I had a lot more focus.”
Ruqayyah was later accepted into the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), where she began her degree double-majoring in Psychology and Philosophy. She signed up to the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) on her very first day there. Fast-forward five phenomenal years, and Ruqayyah has served four years on the MSA executive board of directors. By the time she graduated, the MSA was changed by her work there. She felt that it was her duty to be part of the MSA on campus.
“You are in this world for quite a few years, and if you don’t contribute on making it better and servicing the people around you like the students on campus, then I felt as if I was taking but not giving,” Ruqayyah says. “Everyone has a responsibility to pitch in.”
“Working in the MSA made me discover my passion for event planning and bringing ideas together.” Ruqayyah also notes, “Along with that, it really solidified a critical approach to asking what I was doing and why.”
After leaving university, Ruqayyah Ahdab took on a vital role in launching a phenomenal project. “With the experience I had gained, and being immersed in a service-based environment, the Muslim Chaplaincy was an unexpected but very natural and welcomed next step.”
Ruqayyah, along with a team of other students and alumni, came together to launch Canada’s first full-time Muslim Chaplaincy (MC) at the University of Toronto (summer of 2012).
I remember it being a constant uphill battle for the team trying to pull this off, and contributed in doing so myself.
I asked Ruqayyah to elaborate on some of the struggles they faced during this time.
“The idea of Muslim Chaplaincy is very new to our community and the real struggle was to get the community to understand what it meant on a campus setting,” she says. “The work of chaplaincy isn’t new, it’s the name.”
“That summer was one of the craziest summers of my life,” Ruqayyah continues. “We lived and breathed chaplaincy 24/7. Within three months, we launched the campaign, raised the funds, put out the calls for candidates, went masjid to masjid getting support, and hired our chaplain.”
With over 20 applicants from all over North America, the team hired Amjad Tarsin as the full time chaplain.
When I asked about the work that the chaplaincy is doing and how it helps our community Ruqayyah said, “Helping one person to understand who they are is truly priceless, and that has a ripple effect which will go beyond the individual and have a powerful, positive impact on the Canadian society.”
I’ve personally seen the great work that they’ve done, and have heard stories from different people who’ve had their lives changed thanks to the work done by Ruqayyah and her team.
But Ruqayyah’s involvement in the community doesn’t stop at the organizational level. She has also taught several classes and halaqas, and has truly been a mentor to many youth leaders around the Greater Toronto Area. This year, she also taught at a monthly leadership retreat for Muslim youth in Dubai on behalf of Razi Education, which specializes in developing Islamic and culturally oriented educational curricula for different institutions.
Another initiative close to Ruqayyah’s heart is the Sakeenah Retreat. “It was a group of us at UTM that got together and planned out an organization that would focus on equipping Muslims with the knowledge to tackle challenges in the academic world.”
I know the great benefit that students have found in this beautiful program, having been involved in the Retreat myself. “Taking students to renew the sunnah of retreating, removing them from their natural environment, and connecting them to their roots is one of the main goals of the retreat.”
Ruqayyah elaborates on the importance of reconnecting with the environment: “It is important for young Muslims to connect with nature to remind them of who they are, where they came from, and what they’re supposed to be doing as Allah’s creation. It connects them spiritually to what their purpose is.
A recurring theme in my conversation with Ruqayyah was Shaykh Abdalla Idris. Listening to how much influence Shaykh Idris has had in her life will put a smile on anyone’s face.
“Shaykh Abdalla has been with me at every step of my life and I truly mean that. In elementary school, we saw him every day for 10 years; he was my principal and he was also our neighbor! I grew up seeing his infectious smile and pure love for our community,” Ruqayyah says. “Even as I grew older, he was there during my time at MSA, was a huge help in making chaplaincy a reality, is one of our teachers at Sakeenah Retreat and he gave me beautiful advice when I was getting married! There is a contribution from him at every stage of my life, and I am truly grateful.”
Ruqayyah credits a lot of her accomplishments to people like Shaykh Abdalla. “It is the elders and the leaders of our community that have shaped us to who we are.”
Young leaders in our community like Ruqayyah Ahdab are the ones paving the way for the generations to come, while being observant of the traditional values of Islam. Personally, it’s a pleasure to be able to call someone like Ruqayyah a friend, an older sister, and a mentor.
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