Dining in a banquet hall at the Weston Hotel in Rosemont, surrounded by fellow educators and supporters, Sr. Shamma had no idea she was about to win the ISNA Lifetime Achievement Award for her years of service to Islamic education and curriculum development. When her name came on screen, she was shocked.
“I saw my name flash and it was me,” Shamma, who resides in Ohio, said. “And I thought, ‘None of my family is here.’”
But to her surprise, they were. On stage to present their mother with the award was Shamma’s five children. Silenced by complete shock, Freda yielded the microphone to her son Riyad, who then gave an acceptance speech in her place.
“We all flew out for her,” said Riyad Shamma, Freda’s eldest child. “It was an awesome surprise. I’m extremely proud of her.”
Moments after winning the ISNA Lifetime Achievement Award, I found Freda Shamma sitting in a lobby-alcove, giving interviews and receiving congratulations and praise from passersby and admirers for her years of hard work and dedicated service in the battlefield of education and curriculum development.
I sat down with sister Freda to discuss books, literature for Muslim youth, and her latest projects:
How did you get into teaching?
“I come from a long line of teachers. My father, grandfather, mother, aunt, [among others] were all teachers. I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was in kindergarten.”
What is it that you love about teaching?
“After 42 years in education, I still just love the idea of knowing something and sharing it with others.”
What is your advice to fellow teachers?
“Really work hard to get parents involved in the process. … If you can get parents on your side, that’s how you develop a successful school.”
Is there a motto that you live by?
“You do what you can, and then you put it out.”
What are you working on now?
“I’m working on an anthology of Muslim literature during the age of the Abbasids. I hope to finish it within the year.”
You were obviously very surprised to see your children tonight on stage, and so couldn’t give an acceptance speech.
Looking back on tonight, what would you have said if you could?
“What I would have said if I could is: ‘I always thought most people can’t do a lot but most people can do something. So what talent does Allah give you that you can use? Use it, and keep working on it. Sometimes it’ll work out but sometimes nothing will happen. But keep waiting—something will come along. Something will happen.”
According to Riyad, his mother is a hard worker who is too modest to have foreseen the evening turning out the way it had.
“My mother has always been a very humble person and she never would have expected to get the award. It’s nice when your peers recognize your years of hard work,” Riyad said.
To Freda, the award is touching, but she already had the best reward she could’ve gotten.
“My kids are my prize,” Freda said.
Meha Ahmed: With a B.A. in journalism from Columbia College Chicago, Meha Ahmad is a Sound Vision writer and the classic reporter. Running around the streets of Chicago chasing interviews, you rarely find her without her trusty laptop and a strong cup of coffee. When she's not writing compelling stories, you'll find her on your favorite social media sites scrounging for new leads, finding out what readers really want and studying new and unique ways to share what she loves most: a good story.