A remembrance of Tayyibah Taylor
Last Friday, as I was waiting, blue-gowned, in the hospital for my bi-annual mammography results, I scrolled through my Facebook feed and saw the tributes pouring in. The shock was overwhelming, and the moment felt deeply poignant. My dear friend Tayyibah Taylor, who had supported and encouraged me through my own ordeal with cancer, had lost her battle with the disease.
I first met Tayyibah in 2009 at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention in Washington, DC. I was a freelance writer interested in contributing to Azizah, the first mainstream Muslim women’s magazine in North America, which Tayyibah had founded in 2000. I pitched her an article about raising bi-cultural children, which she agreed to with warm enthusiasm. Tayyibah and I spent the next several weeks finessing the piece. Her passion for telling stories was clear, and she cultivated her writers with respect and encouragement. We met several times after that first article pitch, at conferences and events around the country, and I continued to contribute to the magazine.
Our bond deepened two years ago. Tayyibah and I were participating in a media workshop in Washington, D.C. on “The Image of Muslims in the U.S.” On the first day, I came in late, delayed at the hospital where I was having radiation treatment for breast cancer. Tayyibah, keenly sensitive, asked me during break if everything was okay. I shared with her what I was facing. She hugged me tightly, encouraged me to have strong faith, and told me about the power of black seed oil. That evening, she wrote: “I meant to tell you that despite your challenge with the diagnosis, you were glowing with serenity and beauty. May Allah continue to bless you.”
I started sharing with Tayyibah a series of letters that I was sending to family and close friends about my breast cancer journey. She asked if I would be willing to have the letters published on an online blog at Azizah magazine. I hesitated at first; it was a private experience that I was sharing with a few. But then I realized what Tayyibah had understood: so many are facing this challenge, and so few Muslim women are talking about it openly. There is solace in sharing our pain, comfort in knowing that we’re not alone. She thought the letters could provide some hope or inspiration, or encourage conversations to help others unburden as well. We decided to title the series the five words with which I ended each letter: “We’ll get through this, InshAllah.”
As I went through my treatment, Tayyibah would write and ask how I was doing. “I pray that you are well and that you are healing,” she wrote in one email, “You are on my mind and in my dua’s.” Even after I had completed the treatment, she continued to check up on me.
She didn’t have to write. She didn’t have to remember. I was not family, not a close friend — just one of the hundreds of people that had crossed her path.
But Tayyibah was that kind of person. In her very busy schedule, she took the time to care. She made each person feel special. In one of the last emails I received from her, she wrote, “You just crossed my mind and I am writing to give salaam and ask how you are.” She ended all her notes with “Light and blessings, TT”.
I was devastated when I saw the “Support Tayyibah through Cancer” campaign on Facebook a few months ago. How could this be happening to her? Just months ago, she had been holding my hand, boosting my faith, checking up on my health. I wrote to her immediately, reminding her that hundreds of people around the world are praying for her, ending my note, “We’ll get through this, InshAllah.”
I am heartbroken to hear of her passing. She had an unshakeable faith. So much zest for life – sky-diving on her 50th birthday! So much she wanted to do – three book ideas percolating, she said in a recent email. So much still to teach us.
Tayyibah has passed on physically, but her legacy will live on in all the ways that she has inspired us – to live with passion, to give with humility, to care with sincerity. I know I will feel Tayyibah’s supportive presence each time I go to the hospital. She will be by my side, and by the side of so many of our sisters, encouraging us to tell our stories, reassuring us that we’re not alone.
Light and blessings, TT.