Egyptian-born Abeer Al Otaiba, the founder and creative director of SemSem, speaks to BAZAAR about why Ramadan is a time to reflect, give back and how she celebrates the Holy month from the UAE to the US.
Harper’s BAZAAR Arabia: Why is Ramadan a month of giving?
Abeer Al Otaiba: Ramadan is a special time of reflection, self-awareness and philanthropy. While most people associate Ramadan with fasting, it is equally about the importance of giving back in your community. Giving always brings out the best in people, and Ramadan is a welcomed reminder to remember those less fortunate and continue to give a helping hand to those in need throughout the year.
HBA: How do you give back?
AO: As a mother raising a young girl, I believe it is important to support and champion women supporting women. For me, the notion of giving back and being philanthropically active is bigger than a focus on corporate responsibility - it is personal. To me, the most meaningful part of life is how we treat others and what we can do to make the world a better place. As women, we are empowered by our actions, emotions, and struggles as well as our ability to balance a multitude of things while giving back to our community. I find strength from these moments of empowerment and by all of the women who inspire me daily to push the limits.
HBA: What charitable initiatives does your brand work on each year?
AO: Through SemSem and in my daily life, I am dedicated to shining a light on gender equality, literacy, health and education for women and children around the globe. Each season I partner with a different charitable organization because I understand the idea of overcoming personal challenges, and I am dedicated to supporting women not only in the form of funds donated, but also in the form of knowledge shared. Sometimes education, mentorship, and friendship are equally, if not more helpful than, funding.
HBA: How do women in the US celebrate Ramadan? Is it different to the Middle East?
AO: Women in the US celebrate Ramadan much the same as they do back home in the Middle East – surrounded by family, friends, and community. We like to host iftars and even when not everyone around us is participating, I’ve found Ramadan to be a special time where we can share more about our faith and culture with our peers. I host several iftars, not just for our Arab friends, but for my American friends, too. They love learning the nuances of Ramadan – breaking the fast with a date, celebrating with a meal after sundown, and giving back.
HBA: What should we be doing more of to give back this Ramadan?
AO: I don’t think it’s my place to say what we should be doing more of during Ramadan. The holy month of Ramadan is deeply personal and means something different for every Muslim. In fact, I think my answer is to do less. I personally try to take a step back from the day to day distractions and be truly present. I love the self-reflection and peace the month offers and try to maintain that peace throughout the year in my personal and professional life.
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Our creative director @abeerotaiba and close friend @amyhbaier celebrating with @thewashingtonballet, both wearing #semsem Thank you and congratulations to Gala Chairs @jeanmarie.fernandez @amyhbaier #CarrieMarriott for a beautiful event and for raising scholarships to @thewashingtonschoolofballet @tonypowell1