For all my women, with love.
For all my women, with love.
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.
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.
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.
In light of recent events, I’ve realized that people, no matter who they are, will disappoint you. We won’t name names, but the news that recently broke has disappointed the American Muslim community greatly. In the West, it’s hard being Muslim to begin with and then something like this happens and the whole community is affected significantly. In the current political climate this is the last thing that we needed. We have been making active strives in the right direction and this kind of “publicity” disrupts the entire Ummah.
As a teacher, a preacher, and someone who posts about Islam on social media constantly; you have some level of responsibility to do it justice. You cannot be a hypocrite who does not practice what he preaches. If you claim to represent Islam and the Ummah, then you need to with sincerity. You don’t get to profit off of Islam while also abusing your power to manipulate multiple women. I can’t even fathom how people continue to defend him. The proof is there, and he ADMITS to many of the allegations made against him, but there is still a large amount of people who are defending him. He has blackmailed, paid off, and emotionally abused these women, but yet, he is still given the benefit of the doubt. As this news unfolds, it reveals a deeper issue in our community – misogyny. Men can make horrendous “mistakes” and get away with it, but if a woman steps out of line, she will be scrutinized until the end of time. It’s interesting because about the same time as this scandal surfaced, a picture of Mahira Khan leaked where she was wearing revealing clothing and smoking a cigarette with a male co-star. The comments that came afterwards were disgusting to say the least. Mahira Khan, an actress, who never claimed to represent Islam, was scrutinized for this picture with no mercy whatsoever. On the other hand, we have people making excuses for an abuser – people are out here posting verses from the Qur’an about how we shouldn’t judge others and instead we should make 70 excuses for them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there seems to be a highly noticeable difference here. Actively raising and treating women unjustly compared to men, is not of Islam. So, the next time you think you’re being “just,” look at the situation and reflect on if you would run to the defense of a woman in the same way.
For the people who keep saying that we shouldn’t talk about this issue because it’s backbiting, well technically it is, but simultaneously, it’s important to talk about it so others do not get hurt. We need to address these discrepancies and realities within our community, rather than pretending they don’t exist. When we remain silent in the face of injustice, we are only helping the situation to occur again. This situation has divided the Ummah even more, when in reality we need to be coming together now more than ever. How are we supposed to grow and learn as an Ummah if we refuse to own up to the truths that exist within our community and within our own selves? There’s a major difference between veiling someone’s mishaps, sins, or bad deeds, and actually confronting pressing issues that put others in danger. The Dallas community tried to keep this under wraps in the best way possible, but since the person involved was not willing to cooperate, it was important for the community to be aware of this hypocrite that they believe so strongly in to prevent others from getting hurt. No one, and trust me NO ONE, wanted to know this much about this scandal. Keeping it hidden would have been beneficial for everyone, but since it has escalated so much, it was important to talk about it publicly.
I worry for our Ummah. I worry for the youth living in this era of media that’s so saturated it dictates the way one should think and feel, and even stray’s people away from the true message of Islam. I worry for my dear sisters in Islam. We are so strong, although everyone is always trying to tear us down and keep us silent. My sisters, who get the blame for everything, even a man’s shortcomings. My sisters, who are taught that our “sins” weigh more heavily than a man’s. My sisters, who are afraid to speak up in their own community, a community that ideally should be a safe haven from the rest of this dunya, in fear of being so viciously judged and humiliated. Although this is the unfortunate and despicable reality of our society, my sisters, we must never lose our ultimate trust in Allah (SWT). Run to Allah (SWT) and understand that He is the All-Knowing and that He is your Protector. Find comfort in Him, even if this entire world seems to be against you.
The take home message from this entire situation is: do not attach your Islam with people. People are people and are not immune to the fitnah of this world. Nothing in this world is stable or consistent. Islam is perfect, however Muslims are not. If you want an example to follow, then look to those who have come before us and left a legacy worth following. We have endless examples of people who are worth learning from, so don’t attach your Islam and faith to someone in this dunya. If you attach your Islam to the people around you or lecturers in this dunya, then if they stumble, you stumble. If you want to have a strong and unbreakable bond with Islam, protect your imaan (faith) by attaching yourself to Allah (SWT), His text, and His prophet’s Sunnah.
Short. Simple. And to the point. Liberation lies in your right to choose.
There is a common misconception that wearing a hijab equals oppression, but why is this the standard way of thinking? Who said that dressing modestly makes me a victim of oppression? Western media and society enforces this idea on us that the only way a woman can be “liberated” is if she’s constantly “sexy.” However, this idea is severely flawed as it is just another mechanism that oppresses women through objectifying them. We are being taught to portray ourselves as desirable for men. That fact alone is extremely disempowering and validates the male gaze and a patriarchal society, even further. My existence and worth is not measured by how much I appeal to men. Living in such a hypersexual society can be difficult and complicated for someone who chooses to dress and act modestly.
Over the course of years it’s become a trend to liberate Muslim women by telling them that they must take off their abayas, modest clothing, and hijabs to be truly “liberated.” But let’s focus on that word; liberation, which is defined as the act of setting someone free from imprisonment, or oppression. But when did my hijab become something that was keeping me imprisoned? I made the conscious decision to wear the hijab at 20 years old. I came to this decision by myself, without anyone pressuring me to wear a scarf. And that is exactly why most women in the west wear hijab because it is THEIR choice.
Honestly, this decision is hard enough and we (hijabis and non-hijabis) could all do without your ignorant questions. If we don’t wear hijab, we’re too “modern” and “not Muslim enough” and if we do then we are “prude” and “backwards.” My hijab is none of your business. I never understood why other people felt the need to butt in and tell others how they should dress. The patriarchy reiterates the idea that women dress for, go out for, do their make up for, etc. for men. So this is why our hijabs become so controversial because we wear them for Allah (SWT).
No matter how you choose to dress, liberation lies in your choice. Respect my right to choose the same way I respect yours.
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”
Oppression. That word is so commonly associated with women, especially Muslim women. Continue reading “Reflections: Aisha (RA)”
Honor. This word drives me insane. Do we even know what honor means? From what place exactly does the word “honor” originate and is it objective? Continue reading “What Is Honor?”
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?”