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.

Surviving Corporate America

I woke up one recent Sunday morning feeling strangely anxious and overwhelmed. This feeling is kind of foreign to me or at least has been foreign to me ever since I’ve become closer with Islam and Allah (SWT). I’m usually always able to pinpoint and trouble shoot these feelings by reflecting upon my current relationship with my daily prayers and the Qur’an. I always try my best to stay on top of these things in order to keep my imaan (faith) at bay while working in the cold, heartless “heart” of New York City and corporate America – but let me just say, it is tough out here for people like us. Striving for the deen, maintaining a level-headedness and mindfulness while working in corporate America, where people only care about making their sales and pleasing business partners. It’s exhausting in all aspects, to say the very least. You almost begin to adopt this false, unrealistic mindset that everything in life is a business deal – even your relationship with your family and Allah (SWT). We have to take a step back and truly realign ourselves and our motives when we begin to develop this type of outlook.

I often think about just quitting work altogether. It’s not an entirely bad idea, but this is also a test that Allah has placed me in. I’ve always been a very strong believer that we need more Muslims permeating different industries. It’s great to have Muslims in the medical field and in social activism, but we need to be visible elsewhere. I’ve always been the only Muslim working in my office. I feel like it’s a responsibility of mine to clear misconceptions of Islam and the Muslim community to the people I work around. It’s a nice feeling to explain the simplistic teachings of Islam to people who don’t really know anything about it aside from what the media teaches them. This is always a weirdly rewarding aspect of being able to work in corporate America, but its definitely not all peaches and cream. People are nasty, horrible, and soul sucking in very creative ways.

Sometimes (most times), corporate life just takes a toll on you. It makes you feel inevitably trapped, hopeless, and completely consumed within a monotonous lifestyle. Whenever I’m feeling down about work, the best action I feel I can take is mentally step back and remember my purpose – our purpose here on Earth. Our purpose on Earth is not to slave and work and kill ourselves over corporate America – no matter how practical/popular that might seem. Our purpose and our worth are far greater. Our potential is greater and our existence is so much more than getting stressed daily at a 9-5 office job surrounded by white people whose values are so far from your own.

What is our purpose then? I mean I’m just a twenty-something year old girl, how am I supposed to answer this existential question that we all ponder about? I do know one thing for sure: our purpose is to follow Allah (SWT). Seek out knowledge actively, build bonds, be kind, explore this planet, and to love. I’m really not trying to sound all hippy here – but we must re-examine and reflect upon ourselves and our Creator in order to heal from the anxieties created by our jobs or anything for that matter. It’s so easy to feel lost and paralyzed in fear due to harsh and stressful work environments. Just remember to protect your heart at all costs. Don’t let them take ownership of who you are. It’s not worth it.

“Our purpose and our worth are far greater. Our potential is greater and our existence is so much more than getting stressed daily at a 9-5 office job…”

Whatever job you have, I beg you, please do not take what people say to or about you (whether it be your manager, co-workers, clients, etc) so personally to the point where you feel as though you are not worthy or good enough. Do not take their mannerisms and words so heavily to your precious heart and soul. Do not allow them to burden your spirit or change your character for the worse. If you are not a negative person, do not become one. Do not become them. Resist the common behaviors that enslave you to this worldly life. Do not beat yourself up about all of your “flaws,” that you forget all of your immense blessings. Do not hold on to their negativity so strongly. Do not bring it into your home. Do not let their words and their perception of who they think you are, alter who you really are. You can do it. Allah (SWT) created you for a far superior and more significant reason. Do not worship these people or the workplace. It’s not that deep. This life ain’t the one.

Reflections: The Meaning Behind Allahu Akbar

I remember being a little girl and watching my mother pray. Her dupatta (scarf) delicately wrapped around her head as she stood on my favorite blue janamaz (prayer rug). Continue reading “Reflections: The Meaning Behind Allahu Akbar”