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.

Support Your Local Revert

I recently sat down with my good friend from middle school who reverted to Islam when we were just kids. I wanted to share her story and her struggles as a way to learn and better ourselves when it comes to helping reverts. Reverting to a religion that a majority of your family isn’t a part of can be hard and at times lonely. So if you know a revert in your community, reach out and offer them support.

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Q: How did you find Islam? What led you to finally convert?

A: So, what led me to Islam were my older cousins and my uncle, just being around them and spending a lot of time at the Masjid. It was always so much fun for me and to me it felt like that the people were very genuine. Like even though I had gone to catholic school… you know Christians can be like in your face with like getting you to convert. You know you got the Jehovah Witnesses knocking on your door every weekend. You know, they’re in your face. For me it was not like a… I was just that because that’s what my grandmother was and she was raising me at the time you know? It was not anything I believed in. But going to the Masjid and learning the Quran and everything made sense to me and it made sense to me that, that would be the last religion God has send down. So I accepted it at 12 years old and I decided this is what I want to practice and this is what I believe in. Because I experienced another religion and I was able to compare and contrast the two at such a young age.

Q:  How did reverting change your life? What struggles did it come with? And what was the positive aspect?

A: So there were struggles and also positive aspects of it. Most of my family is Christian and my aunt was really into Christmas like full out into Christmas but my family was respectful like for example if I don’t want to eat pork they would make everything without pork. That type of stuff was fine but it was just wanting to spend time with my family without celebrating holidays that I don’t necessarily celebrate or believe in. That’s where the struggle was; how do I spend time with my family without embracing the traditions and giving them false hope that I believe in this too.

The positive aspect is that I did have other family members who are Muslim and they supported me and it made me feel really comfortable. My family is pretty open, they aren’t judgmental people so the transition was smooth and no one made me feel uncomfortable for changing my religion.

Q: Would you say you were religious before? When you went to Catholic school?

A: No, it was more like a habit. Like you just do what you’ve always done. When you go to Catholic school, it’s like a ritual like the things they teach you and you do it mindlessly.

Q: So after your Shahada, was it easy to go to the Masjid and feel welcomed?

A: So because I was a child and went there with my cousin they embraced me as a child, but as I’ve gotten older I feel like going to the Masjid isn’t the same. You know, when I try to go to a Masjid, not having many Muslim friends, it just doesn’t feel that welcoming. There is no structure for new Muslims who are just starting to come to the Masjid. There wasn’t really an effort to try and include reverts. I wish they had some kind of program where they partner you with a sister who can help you learn and guide you through the transition.

Q: How do you think your experience is different from someone who was born into Islam?

A: When you’re born into something you know a lot of the fundamentals because you’ve grown up with it and there are people all around you actively teaching you and helping you with your knowledge of Islam, the Quran, and hadiths. But with reverts you don’t really have that direct source of knowledge. Most of the time you’re studying things on your own and online and you don’t even know if these things are accurate.

Q: When you tell Muslims that you’re a revert, what’s the reaction you typically get?

A: It depends. Being a revert and a black revert on top of that some people will make you feel like you’re not a real Muslim because they’re an Arab Muslim. But then there are other people who are welcoming and they’re usually other black Muslims. People who aren’t even Muslim will say things like “Oh you don’t look like other Muslims I know, how can you really be Muslim?” when I tell them I’m a revert.  And all I can say is that “I am a Muslim but I’m still learning.” You know, people ask me all the time “Well how are you Muslim? What country are you from?” and I wish people would understand that you can be Muslim no matter who you are. Yes, a black girl from America can be a Muslim. It’s for everybody.

Q: What’s one thing that you want the Muslim community to learn about reverts?

A: That we genuinely want to be part of the Muslim community. We’re not Muslim because our parents are Muslim and they made us be Muslim. We want to learn and be included. We want advice but not in a judgmental way.  

Q: How do you think Islam has affected you personally?

A: I believe that it has made me a calmer person and it has changed my judgment a lot. I think about things before I say and do it. That’s the best part of Islam to me, it has changed my character for the better. It has also made me a self-aware person and I try to strive to live by the Quran and hadiths.  

Q: What were the struggles you faced when you started to learn to pray and read the Quran in Arabic?

A: That’s one thing that I wish there was more support for. I remember the first Surah I learned was Al-Fatihah and that was one that I can remember no matter what but everything else has been hard. It takes a lot of practice and I wish there was someone I could just call up and say “Hey am I saying this right?!” It’s a completely new way of life and I wish there was more support and someone who will go through it with you and share their experiences and relate to mine. The other thing I find hard is that my old friends are great and I love them they’re great people but there are things that are haram for me but not for them. So when they go out clubbing on a Friday night it’s not haram for them but it is for me. And I still want to go and enjoy myself but within the halal realm. 

Q: Was it hard to go through middle and high school without the Islam support at home?

A: Yes, as a kid you want to do what everyone else is doing and it’s hard when you’re Muslim. Sometimes it felt like I was living two lives; on the weekend I would go to the Masjid and then during the week I was just another girl at school because at the time I wasn’t wearing hijab or really praying. And that’s something that I’m still working on and striving for.

Rupi Kaur & Sexism In The Workforce

Can we collectively stop bashing women of color for absolutely nothing? For a while now, I’ve been seeing many people essentially “meme” Rupi Kaur’s poetry. If you don’t know who Rupi Kaur is, she’s an Indian-Canadian New York Times best selling author, most well known for her book, “Milk & Honey.” Kaur addresses a wide array of topics in her poetry. She is a young woman of color who tackles relevant issues within our communities such as racism, sexism, and physical/mental/sexual abuse. Yet, there are still people out there who seek out to make the lived experiences and trauma of a brown woman, into a joke. I guess I’m missing the punch line. This is much larger than what I’ve been witnessing happen to Rupi. The constant mockery of women of color, especially within the workforce, is so disgustingly common, and yet so rarely addressed.

I’ve seen many people attempt to “call out” Kaur on her writing style and create “memes” using her simplistic structure, but making obvious statements, rather than something meaningful. Now, I’m not sure if these people are bored or whatever, or think they’re being “woke” and making this into satire, but it’s honestly one of the most pathetic and ways to waste your time. It’s not satire; it’s literally making a mockery out of a woman of color having her voice heard (for once). People believe Rupi Kaur is too “hyped up” for her poems. Everyone is has a right to their own opinions, I’m not a crazed fan myself, but I’m not going to sit here and mock her. Kaur’s poetry is known for being simple and straightforward. Much like Nayyirah Waheed, author of the book “Salt” who uses a similar style in poetry. Both are powerful and thriving. I could pull out a whole library of old white men who have been praised for their mediocre writing, but I guess it’s only deemed as a crime when a woman of color becomes well known for her writing. Can I also just take a moment to address the fact that this is a desi woman making huge waves in mainstream literature, and for none other than writing about the very real abuse that exists within desi households. She actively addresses the mental/physical/emotional/sexual abuse that persists to live on through generations as it’s so commonly brushed under the rug in the name of protecting “honor.”

It’s not satire; it’s literally making a mockery out of a woman of color having her voice heard (for once).

Suddenly, I’ve been witnessing all of these self-proclaimed literature buffs, and poetry experts come out of the woodworks trying to troll on the poems that made Kaur a well known author. What even is poetry, though? Last time I checked, at its core and simplest definition, it’s a creative avenue for self-expression, reflection, and thought. In this situation, deciding whether Kaur’s work is considered poetry or not, is not a philosophical or enlightened gesture, nor is it an exercise of critique. The way I’ve been seeing people actively come at her writing, is an attempt at silencing a voice that challenges normative poetic paradigms and mainstream literature. Why is Kaur’s poetry not considered “real” or valid enough to earn the notoriety and praise that it has gotten? Is it because it’s accessible and enjoyable for those who haven’t read poetry since they were forced to in high school? Is it because it uses simple language, rather than complex words one would need to look up on Google or have a college degree to understand? Or maybe it’s because her writing is not exactly what a man would desire to hear. Her writing is highly competitive with current white authors and that fact is astonishing people. Rupi Kaur’s poetry sidestepped major publishers, but we still feel the need to tweet dumb crap about how her writing is so “basic” and obvious.

Whenever I see people actively making a mockery out of Kaur’s poetry, it infuriates me. It infuriates me because I see it as feeding into the system of white supremacy and patriarchy. I feel like there’s a really fine line between making conscious intelligent critiques and flat out making fun of and being an active contributor to this toxic, wasteful “call-out culture.” Of course, no one is perfect, and no one can be completely exempt from problematic behaviors. However, any and all memes I’ve seen pertaining to Rupi Kaur have been solely attacking her choice of writing style. I guess it really does fire people up that a woman of color is a New York Times bestselling author. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen basic white men and women maintain ranks on the New York Times bestsellers list, but have their works ever really been as scrutinized as Rupi Kaur’s?

The way I’ve been seeing people actively come at her writing, is an attempt at silencing a voice that challenges normative poetic paradigms and mainstream literature.

At the end of it all, it really comes down to internalized racism and misogyny. Rupi Kaur has curated and built up the courage to literally expose her trauma out there into the world. She is choosing to voice not only her truth in an honest way, but also the truths and trauma of so many people across the world, especially women. This ongoing “critique” of Kaur’s style, isn’t really about her writing at all. It’s a direct attack on a woman of color speaking her truth in a fashion that white men cannot easily ignore. She’s reaching people on a large scale. Sorry (not really sorry), but I’d rather see the name “Rupi Kaur” at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list, rather than another “John Smith” or whatever.

This isn’t specifically about Rupi Kaur; it’s about women of color in any field and how we have to endure struggle so much more than anyone else. We always have to tolerate unwanted scrutiny and work that much harder to attain success.

Periods & Ramadan: Let’s Talk About It

Periods. Menstruation. The monthly cycle. Such a tabooed subject across the globe. A majority of women from all around the world are taught to hide when they’re on their period. Come Ramadan, and this age old game takes on a new level. You either dread its arrival, or are secretly happy to see it come as it gives you a few days to ‘take a break’ from fasting. Continue reading “Periods & Ramadan: Let’s Talk About It”

Reflections: Women in Islam

For as long as I can remember I’ve always heard that women are oppressed in Islam, but I’ve always known that isn’t the case.

Continue reading “Reflections: Women in Islam”

Reflections: Is Hitting Women Permissible In Islam?

Knowledge is everything. When you are constantly seeking to gain knowledge and questioning everything, that is when you are truly utilizing the gift of thinking for yourself. When you don’t seek out knowledge, that is how ignorance manifests itself. Some of the main issues that people (both Muslims and non-Muslims) have about Islam stem from pure ignorance and utter lack of knowledge on a given subject. One of the most “debated” subjects in Islam is how people genuinely believe that hitting women in any form has a place within the religion. Astaghfirullah. Continue reading “Reflections: Is Hitting Women Permissible In Islam?”