Am I The Ideal Muslim Woman?

Feeling out of place within your identity as a Muslim, let alone a Muslim living in the west, let alone a Muslim woman living in the west – is something that isn’t uncommon. It’s easy to feel displaced even if that can be hard to admit sometimes. So often, us Muslim women are facing struggles that no other group of people seem to go through or understand. Whether in our communities or in the public space – our self-worth, and empowerment can feel like it’s fleeting at a constant rate. What helps me find that inner strength again and feel genuine ease is remembering my heritage of being a Muslim woman and the strength that is woven in that history. We have so many resources that connect us back to the great women of Islam – empowerment is at our fingertips.

In today’s society, where we see others abusing women in unimaginable ways, it truly can become almost involuntary to envelope in these feelings of self-loathing and doubt. We begin to get stuck in this mindset that our personal growth as individual Muslim women is stagnated and limited within both our own Muslim communities as well as our larger society. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve experienced the feeling of being overwhelmed by the superficial portrait of the “ideal Muslimah.” I mean, who even is she? Does being the “true Muslim woman” mean succumbing to the male-controlled cookie cutter woman? Does it mean unconsciously assuming stereotypical attributes assigned by non-Muslims and western media? Where does my individual spiritual reality lie in all of this? Does it even belong to me as a Muslim women? Why must we have this strange feeling of unfamiliar self-consciousness when wanting to pursue personal spiritual goals? Am I inevitably striving to fit into this one-dimensional, non-existent image of a “perfect Muslim woman?”

Does being the “true Muslim woman” mean succumbing to the male-controlled cookie cutter woman?

So many questions, but the answers are not too far away. All it takes is looking back into the very first real women of Islam. Yes, real, living, breathing women – each with her own individual differences, mind, strengths, and weaknesses. They were simply humans, just striving to the best of their abilities to please Allah (SWT). It’s important to remember that the priority of the first women of Islam was always to stay near to Allah (SWT). Yes, they were daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers, but ultimately those priorities were secondary to obeying Allah. They didn’t fit into that one-dimensional image painted by today’s patriarchal culture and society. In fact, they more often than not inadvertently rebelled against those “norms.” Amongst them were great scholars, teachers, poets, entrepreneurs, and health-care providers to name a few. They are heroes and it’s important to consider them as nothing less than that.

As young Muslim women growing up or even as more mature Muslim women, we have been so accustomed to having to feel like we are a burden or “un-Islamic” for dreaming big, for speaking up, for striving for our deen individually. We begin to blame and often “feel bad” about wanting to further our professional careers or personal growth. Perhaps even the toxic patriarchal cultural mindset kicks it up a notch and we begin to internalize rhetoric such as, “Why would a Muslim woman even bother to aim high when Allah has ‘commanded’ her to remain at home permanently and not be seen or heard in any sense?” We begin to internalize these false ideas and this is what ultimately shapes our outlook on our potential. We need to start actively flipping the questions, like, “Why can’t a Muslim woman have an impact on the community?” Enough of being unkind to ourselves, because this is not what Islam teaches us. Eliminate harmful cultural thinking that ambitious women are un-Islamic or “too modern.” I’m not “too” anything. I’m just enough.

They are heroes and it’s important to consider them as nothing less than that.

This is detrimental behavior to feed to our young girls especially. To teach the youth to perform merely the obligatory aspects of Islam is theft. We must not teach let alone act upon Islam in such rigid, violent manners. Our Lord is nothing less of the Most Merciful, so why does our own practice not reflect that? It’s so easy to feel alone in today’s age as a Muslim woman. Not only are there a number of stereotypes that work against us, but standards are being lowered while expectations are being raised. This faulty and imaginary definition of the picture perfect Muslim woman does not exist. It only hinders us on a global level from striving to be better as it’s counterproductive in its messaging towards us.

I’m not “too” anything. I’m just enough.

What I don’t think I will ever truly understand is why do they want so badly to deny us of our basic humanity? It’s as if Muslim women can be nothing more than an object of ultimate obedience. Sorry, but I’m not a dog. Our predecessors were genuinely liberated by Islam and empowered by Allah (SWT). Strength and valor was a result of their practice and dedication to the deen. Because of their true belief and following of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Allah (SWT), were they able to grow and live fulfilling lives. This is the very reason why we need to go back to our own roots now more than ever. We need to change our cultural narratives and stop hiding behind the comfort of these norms that seem so “set in stone.” When we look back at the powerful people who carried out Islam in the best of ways, we will then be able to thrive in this dunya just like they did. Honestly, without us looking back at our own history, it becomes so much easier to fall victim to cultural restraints, thus being overcome with the sense of a distorted identity. That is how we become brainwashed and manipulated. It sounds lame, but knowledge truly is power.

Why do they want so badly to deny us of our basic humanity?

If you’re conflicted about how you can live Islam in a way so that your character genuinely speaks to it, seek out knowledge. Seeking out self-knowledge will always bring you to your authentic character. When you become self-assured in your identity as a Muslim woman, that vibe will manifest in all areas of your life. Always remember, “perfection” is not a part of our duties as Muslims. We can only strive to do our best, ask Allah (SWT) for His Mercy and Forgiveness, and try again.

And yes, you can still make a lit cup of chai for your family and also dominate the professional world.

Exploring Allah’s 99 Names: Ar-Rahman

Most Muslims say this name multiple times throughout our daily lives: before we eat, when we pray, when we’re scared or worried, and countless other times. There’s even a whole surah in the Qur’an dedicated to this name. So, how much do we really understand the meaning of one of Allah’s most well-known names? How much do we really know about, Ar-Rahman? Or has it been so normalized, so watered down from our daily habits that its divine meaning has gotten a bit blurred? What truly matters is that we actively seek out knowledge and forgiveness any time we catch ourselves slipping and becoming forgetful or stagnant in practicing our deen. When we do our best to comprehend Allah’s divine attributes, we truly do begin to feel closer to Him in unexplainable ways.

Many of us have come to know that Ar-Rahman is a name associated with Allah’s great, unmatched and intense mercy. What does this mean to us and why is this significant to our lives on Earth? If you think about it, mercy is a characteristic that enables all other qualities. It embraces all other attributes. For example, you can’t love without having mercy, nor can you help someone if you don’t have mercy. However it’s important to remember how all encompassing, ultimate and superior Allah’s mercy is over any other. We can see Allah’s mercy everywhere, starting from our own lives, our very own existence, and then pondering the planet in which He created sustenance for us to live on.

The Qur’an mentions Ar-Rahman 57 times and there is an entire chapter named after it. In Surah Ar-Rahman (55), Allah speaks to us about all of His creations. From the sun and the moon, to mankind and jinn – Allah has placed mercy in these creations in diverse ways, and has undying mercy for it all. What this surah is most known for is its repetition and the intensity it builds through this literary element. Allah repeats the ayah:

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Fabi ayyi aalaaa’i Rabbikumaa tukazzibaan / So which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?

This repeating ayah heightens the power and message of not only the surah, but also the meaning behind Ar-Rahman. It’s even interesting to reflect upon the structure of the entire surah from beginning to end. This surah is intense, there’s no doubt about that, but if we look closely, it’s noteworthy to see how the surah evolves and softens up as Allah begins to describe to us what Jannah is like and the people of Jannah, whom also embody a different level of mercy in order to have earned a place there. This surah is so beautiful in its reminder to us all. Allah (SWT) has placed His bountiful mercy all around us and He is always with us, showing us mercy in ways that we don’t even think of most of the time or can even comprehend. From being able to feel refreshed from drinking water, to being able to express our emotions through language, to witnessing the sunrise and sunsets and to even being able to have the capability to read and comprehend this very post. All of this is from Allah and His mercy. All of these activities didn’t have to be enjoyable for us, but everyone, both believers and nonbelievers, are able to enjoy even the tiniest things in life, due to Allah’s mercy.

I recently had a conversation with someone and they wholeheartedly believed that “all religions have one thing in common: if you sin, you will be punished, point blank.” How could this be a concrete truth if Allah is Ar-Rahman? The thing is – Islam has more depth than the aforementioned opinion. Islam is different and teaches us about who Allah really is. Islam does not teach us that if we make a mistake, Allah hates us and punishes us and that’s that. As humans, we are highly critical creatures, and often times very unforgiving of ourselves and of each other. However, it’s extremely important to know that Allah does not embody human characteristics. Allah’s mercy surpasses our intellect and our own capacity to forgive. Allah is waiting for us to ask for help, and waiting for us to seek forgiveness and comfort within Him. Just knowing that is a mercy within of its self.

All of these mercies from Him are so wonderful, so blessed, but far too often overlooked and forgotten. As mentioned earlier, we are only human and it is within our nature to be forgetful as we try to maintain the balance between dunya (worldly life) and deen (religion/faith). This will always be one of our greatest tests. In these times of forgetfulness or hopelessness, it’s key to remember that no matter how many times we sin or walk away from our faith, when we come back searching for answers, He will always be waiting for us and rushing towards us – vast mercy and all. When we are seeking forgiveness, call out for Ar-Rahman, the Most Merciful.

As always, it’s easier said than done, but if you think about it, there is beauty and peace in knowing that you are not as invincible as you might think or hope to be. There is a much greater power that is responsible for it all – your health, your knowledge, your trials, and your blessings. Knowing that it all lies within the care of Ar-Rahman, is a mercy on its own, an ease on our minds when we believe wholeheartedly.

Stop Romanticizing Exhaustion

It was Sunday night and I was doing the dishes while listening to the soundtrack of my favorite Disney princess movie, Tangled. I was singing along to “When Will My Life Begin” when suddenly a conversation about “when your life begins” started among my siblings and myself. What my 10 year old brother had to say, took me by surprise. Continue reading “Stop Romanticizing Exhaustion”