Our Dear Fatema
I dedicate this poem by Rumi to Pilar who is understandably truly affected by this unexpected loss:
Although all lights emanate from the Divine Light Don't call all these lights "the Light of God";
Mystic Odes 833
She would wear a hijab around her head along with a blue shirt, an orange jumper and brown shoes with glitter. She prayed five times a day and in between would listen to indie rock bands or watch reality television. She had just gotten pink streaks in her hair. She was learning to play guitar.
Fatema Khimji (SFS ?07) could not be defined by one word or expression. She would often spend her time actively involved in the Muslim Student Association, pulling together brightly colored ensembles that matched her headscarf and attending the speeches at Gaston Hall. All agreed that she was just beginning to live her life and showed no sign of slowing down.
But during the mid-afternoon on June 19, a month after she received her degree magna cum laude on Healy Lawn, Khimji, 22, and her father Naushad died in a car accident after their Honda Accord collided with a semi-truck on the Ohio Turnpike. They had just left the Cleveland airport, where Khimji had returned from a weekend visit with two of her senior-year roommates in Miami.
As family and friends, including more than two dozen members of the university community, mourned the deaths at funeral services in Ohio last week, Georgetown?s Muslim community worked to keep Khimji?s memory alive; Muslim Chaplain Imam Yahya Hendi organized a memorial service in Copley Formal Lounge yesterday, and MSA held a prayer service Friday evening in the Copley Muslim Prayer Room. Her friends have also considered starting long-term projects to remember her ? they spoke of scholarships, endowments or naming a location on campus after her.
?I still can?t believe she?s gone. I cried in the grocery store yesterday. No matter how many times I say it, I?m still so sure it?s impossible,? Krisztina Schoeb (COL ?07) said. ?She was an angel on earth.?
?A Beautiful Smile?
Khimji was more than just a friend to many at Georgetown; those who knew her best said she was like an older sister in many ways. Her friends were an important priority, as evidenced by her constant willingness to provide advice, lend a helping hand or chat late into the night.
Pilar Siman (SFS ?07), one of her roommates during their senior years, remembered Khimji coming downstairs from her room every night to ask her about her day. Heather O?Brien (COL ?07), who lived in the same house, recalled with a laugh the conversations the six roommates would have on their couches until 3 a.m.
Others said that the guidance and support Khimji gave friends would not be forgotten. Several friends said that they would remember fondly the down-to-earth and sympathetic shoulder that Khimji would offer when they were in need.
?Every time I saw her, she always smiled, and she had a beautiful smile,? Hafsa Kanjwal (SFS ?08) said. ?She also had a silent presence in your life. There are some people where you know they?re there. They kind of have a silent beauty.?
Mariam Abu-Ali (NHS ?10) remembered how Khimji would drop what she herself was doing to edit friend?s essays on short notice ? and would always do so with a smile.
And still more looked back on the many selfless deeds that Khimji enthusiastically performed.
?I will never forget how, every Friday for congregated prayer, she would arrive half an hour early to help me ? carry bulky rolls of carpet from third floor Leavey to the common room on first,? Farah El-Sharif (SFS ?O9), MSA treasurer, said. ?The selfless effort she put forward and her positive and kind spirit made the trouble worthwhile.?
While Khimji may have been like a big sister to many on campus, she was the actual big sister of one student: Faiza Khimji (COL ?09). While Khimji?s family members did not wish to comment, friends described her as a loving and devoted relative.
?I have never seen so much sisterly love, and to me that in itself echoed so much about her remarkable character,? Abu-Ali said. ?Even though they lived together, I still remember a time when she saw her sister walking ? she called out to Faiza and hugged her and said, ?I miss you!??
Khimji was also known to bring laughter to her circle of friends. Renowned for her unrivaled impersonations of teachers, friends and celebrities, she was always the one to lighten the mood.
?If she was telling a story, you could guess immediately who she was talking about because she could mimic voice and mannerisms so well,? Maryam Mohamed (SFS ?06) said.
A Culture and Politics major, Khimji took classes in both Spanish and Arabic and spent time abroad in Ecuador and Egypt. Although she took her studies and grades seriously, several said she quenched knowledge for its own sake.
Throughout all this, many of Khimji?s friends took special note of the humility with which she carried herself. To her, it was a personal choice about humility that caused her to wear her hijab every day.
?She was always humble about everything, whether it be a really great internship that she got or her ever-trendy fashion choices,? Jane Kim (COL ?07), another of her former roommates, said. ?In a place like Georgetown ? this humility was so refreshing and attractive.?
A Leader in Faith
A devout Muslim, Khimji was dedicated to keeping Islamic traditions in her life. She put her daily activities on hold for prayer and chose to wear a hijab in public. During Ramadan, her friends remembered her leaving her 34th and R townhouse every day to pray at Copley at five in the morning.
Khimji?s faith served as a model for those she was around. Not only did she regularly attend her religious services, but actively listened to the lessons they preached and attempted to apply them to her everyday life. Earlier this year she came home excitedly sporting a large yellow heart on a silver chain around her neck, according to several friends, but after attending a Friday prayer service during which the readings emphasized the virtues of a simple life, Khimji returned home having decided that her most recent purchase was unnecessary.
?She took faith and put it into practice, but not in a way that made other people feel uncomfortable,? Siman, one of her roommates, said. ?Her faith just made her care about being with others.?
Khimji spent much of her time on the Hilltop working with MSA, having served as community service co-chair and Ramadan coordinator. Aside from her formal roles in MSA, however, she played a much bigger part in the student group; members of MSA remember her as the social glue that bound together the incoming freshmen and the other students.
Kanjwal, an MSA member, remembered that during one of her first days as a freshman when she didn?t know many people, she went to the Muslim Interest Living Community in Alumni Square and knocked on Khimji?s door. ?She opened the door and was so happy to see me, so welcoming,? she said, noting that she did not even know Khimji at the time. ?She made the transition a lot easier for myself and a few of the other freshman girls that year.?
In the wake of her death, the Georgetown Muslim community to which she was so devoted has solemnly united in solidarity. Hendi, the Muslim chaplain, said that he received numerous phone calls and e-mails offering assistance for yesterday?s service, during which passages from the Quran were read and many, including Hendi, spoke about Khimji.
?She was never angry, never upset,? Hendi said. ?She believed that smiling is an act of charity.?
In the Service of Others
Although Khimji had not decided on any one profession by the time of her graduation, she did have five definite options lined up; the day after her death, she was to be interviewed over the phone by the Federal Trade Commission, and she had just been called by the National Zoo, where she was thinking of becoming a volunteer coordinator. She also was considering joining the Peace Corps, which had already expressed an interest in sending her to central Asia. Wide-ranging though her job options were, they all had one thing in common ? as she had done during her life up until then, Khimji wanted to put herself at the service of others.
Many of Khimji?s friends described her as a tireless advocate for tolerance and social justice. With her great-grandparents coming from the Gujarati region of India and her grandparents and parents from eastern Africa, Khimji herself was the product of several cultures, and she was known to be not only accepting, but genuinely interested in learning about other people?s backgrounds. After living in the Muslim Interest Living Community her sophomore year, she spent her senior year in a townhouse with five non-Muslim students.
?People all live with a certain lifestyle, raised with certain prejudices. She was a very observant Muslim, but she was always comfortable with someone who wasn?t a Muslim,? Minoo Razavi (SFS ?09) said. ?That was the most admirable quality that she had ? she made you feel comfortable.?
Khimji was raised as a Muslim but was always eager to learn about other religions and their traditions. Having attended an all-girls Catholic high school, a few of her Catholic friends joked that she knew more about the religion than they did.
?Sometimes people with different religions are uncomfortable with each other, but she was the bridge,? Siman said.
While in Miami last week visiting with Siman and O?Brien, Khimji was working on her application to be a Muslim liaison for the Buxton Initiative, which works to promote discourse and understanding between peoples of different faiths. In the application that she had been working on right before the accident, Khimji conveyed the accepting, curious and nurturing personality that her friends all remember.
?I have attended Catholic schools since I was eight years old. Since that age, I have worshipped, studied and volunteered with classmates and teachers of diverse religious backgrounds,? she wrote. ?My faith reminds me that I need to leave this world better than I found it; it gives me purpose and direction and reminds me that with privilege comes responsibility, and that I have a duty to use what I have in the service of others.?