9 Apr 2024

Kiwi-Arab influencer Aya Al-Chalabi finds a beautiful way to display her faith

8:38 am on 9 April 2024
Aya Al-Chalabi in Dubai

Photo: Aya Al-Chalabi

Aya Al-Chalabi is a 21-year-old lifestyle and beauty influencer who creates content focusing on fashion, makeup looks, hair and trying out challenges with her mother Seba Dilaimi and brothers Akram and Ali. But during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Auckland-based Al-Chalabi has been switching up her content to put more of a spotlight on her faith.

"Most of the time, from a non-Muslim, you'll hear 'What's that?' or 'Is that the one where...?' followed by some questions," Al-Chalabi says of Ramadan.

"We get a lot of questions like, 'How long does it last for?', 'Surely you can drink water?' and 'Why do you do this?'

"At times I find it strange that for such a widely celebrated month, by two billion people in the world, New Zealanders generally don't know much about it."

Al-Chalabi says her goal with these videos is to raise awareness of Ramadan. In the last month, her content has expanded to include early morning vlogs for suhoor (a pre-fasting meal eaten before dawn), outfit inspirations for iftar (a fast-breaking evening meal), and makeup looks for Eid al-Fitr (an upcoming two-day celebration marking the end of fasting for Ramadan).

Aya Al-Chalabi

Aya Al-Chalabi has been raising awareness of Ramadan and the Muslim faith through her social media videos. Photo: Aya Al-Chalabi

"Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset," Al-Chalabi explains.

"We wake up before sunrise and have suhoor. We then refrain from eating and drinking water until sunset, when we have iftar and break our fast for the day.

"Suhoor and iftar are timed to the minute and will slightly change daily. Commitment to prioritising these times around your daily schedule, as well as completing your prayers, attending the mosque, and reading the holy Quran means your regular daily activities will be prioritised differently.

"I wish there was more awareness around our religion, the holidays, and our practices. Just like we're all aware of Christmas, Diwali, Easter and Chinese New Year, it would be nice for people to know more about Ramadan."

Al-Chalabi has been making social media content since New Zealand's first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 and now has nearly 750,000 followers on TikTok and 15,700 on Instagram.

"I discovered the app Musically had turned into TikTok and dance creators were posting. I decided to start posting dance videos too, alongside some makeup content, because I had experience doing dance competition makeup and really loved playing with different looks.

"After posting consistently for a period of time throughout lockdown, my videos started blowing up. I started posting dance videos with mum too, which people loved watching, and that was a big part of how my account grew."

Aya Al-Chalabi and her mother Seeba

Aya Al-Chalabi and her mum, Seba. Photo: Aya Al-Chalabi

Al-Chalabi says creating content with her mum, is a cherished aspect of her work. Together, the mother-daughter duo make videos dancing to Arab music, doing hair and eyebrow routines, or rating purchases.

"I really enjoy working with my mum.

"My mum gives me the freedom to make my own choices and always listens to what I have to say too. We have a relationship that's built on trust.

While Al-Chalabi was "born and bred" in New Zealand, her mother grew up in the Middle East and experienced war as a child before immigrating to New Zealand at 14. The contrast of their lives is not something she takes for granted.

"I did not have those traumatic experiences growing up, I had the blessing of being in a safe country.

"My mum has a big say in my life of course, because she is my mum, and I always find it good to have a second opinion from someone who has your best interests at heart. I really value what she has to say, that's important to me."

Aya Al-Chalabi and Seba Dilaimi

Aya Al-Chalabi and mum Seba Dilaimi: "I really enjoy working with my mum." Photo: Jared Donkin

During Ramadan, the pair hope to spread positivity with their content and show an example of a fun mother-daughter relationship.

"We want to show people that you can be open with your parents, and you can be best friends with them too, breaking that stigma that it's uncool to hang out with your parents."

As Ramadan draws to a close on Wednesday, Al-Chalabi says the holy month has had a big impact on her life.

"I always feel calmer and more centred, which is something that is so important to be aware of when observing Ramadan as it's one of the things required from you as a Muslim.

"Ramadan is a reset, it's a month to break those bad habits developed, a month of real deep gratitude and appreciation for the simplest of life's blessings, like the water we drink which is often taken for granted. It's a time to rest your patience and really heal your inner soul."

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