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Your individual middle path: 10 must-read pieces of advice for female converts to Islam

I’ve been a convert Muslimah for over six years now and whilst some people were more surprised than others when I told them I was converting, I can tell you it’s been (and still is!) a big journey – a rollacoaster of ups and downs, highs and lows, smiles, tears and things I’d never experienced before. But subhanAllah, it’s been a great one!

Now, whilst each journey and each person is unique in themselves, there are however some key pieces of advice, experiences and insights which I feel are truly like gold dust for converts to Islam – many which apply to any faith background. As I’m a woman and there are also some quite gender-specific issues at hand, I’d like to present my ten must-read pieces of advice for female converts to Islam. To help tackle some real issues affecting both converts, non-converts and even non-Muslims. Take a look!

1. Follow your individual spiritual journey

I really cannot stress enough that your conversion and the way you live Islam is about you and Allah and no one else. Obviously, it will impact upon others and you must deal with other people respectfully but what I want to address here is the big fan-fare and pressure about “setting a date”, going to the mosque with a big crowd, doing everything all at once or according to X, Y and Z says.

STOP! Slow it down, put on the brakes. You are in control. You’re doing this for you and no one else. You don’t need to scare yourself into some big ceremony if that’s not what you want. Islam is so easy. When you’re ready – and only when – you can take your shahadah at home alone (just you and Allah) or you can do a more formal procedure. But do NOT feel pressured into doing something you’re not comfortable with.

2. Don’t rely on Sheikh Google

It’s been said countless times before and it’s more relevant than ever today. The internet is a lonely, dangerous place of extremism, mis-information and intolerance vis-à-vis other Muslims (Shia, Sunni, Ahmadi, Sufis etc.) and non-Muslims).

Please, get offline (no – not all of it is bad) but speak to people on the ground familiar with your cultural context, seek out good sound scholars and confine in trusted friends and neighbours. Also remember that your non-Muslim friends and family are wiser than you think. Plus (most importantly) – a little common-sense goes a long way!

3. Accept that it’ll take a few years to figure out “you”

As a convert, you enter Islam with one thing in mind and then as you travel along your path you realise just how complex the Muslim community and how diverse the faith is. Now, you’re still the same person inside but things will change and of course, we can’t do everything at once and no one will expect you to.

However, you’ll find that whilst people will reassure you of this that we ourselves put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Yet, Islam is a life-long journey of learning. We’re always developing socially, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually as people and our life circumstances and life-experiences change over time. Add on top of this one crucial thing: there are many different “Islams”. No two Muslims are the same. There are different schools, sects and practices and even if – like me – you avoid all of that, you’ll still come to realise (even if you knew this anyway) that there is no one Islam.

Over time, you’ll find out more about you, how you relate to Allah and what your faith means to you. This doesn’t happen overnight or stay the same throughout your journey but don’t panic – it’s normal! You’re observing, growing, learning and discovering! Don’t change yourself to fit one person’s interpretation of Islam and don’t forget who you are and what first attracted you to Islam!

4. Cover (if at all) when you’re ready

Whilst the majority of scholars believe it is obligatory to follow the rules of hijab in relation to covering our hair and bodies, there are two important things to point out here:

 

  1. There are other interpretations relating to covering and modesty in terms of cultural relativism and metaphors surrounding the non-physicality of “covering”
  2. If like me you believe in hijab in terms of covering your hair and body with loose transparent clothing then do it when you’re ready

Either way, whether you wear a headscarf is not a marker (or the be all and end all) of whether you are or aren’t Muslim! I’m not here to mock hijab but simply highlight that it is one part of many people’s way of living as a Muslim but it’s not the only or singular way to do so.

Islamic feminist Dr Amina Wadud in her book Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam cites how the hijab has almost been (wrongly) taken as a sixth pillar of Islam and this is definitely true. Wearing a headscarf is a visible public sign that you are a Muslim but should be taken as an individual personal step and act of spiritual devotion. If – and only if you do decide it’s for you – do it when you’re ready to take this next step, knowing the changes that will happen, the responsibility you’ll take on in becoming a public face (willing or not willing and for better or for worse!) with full pride, confidence and sincerity in what you’re doing.

5. Don’t be afraid to be you

Again, I must emphasise that your journey to becoming a Muslimah is about you and Allah. It’s a spiritual journey of faith. With that in mind – and whilst I recognise that it takes a while to build in self-confidence in our new identity (longer for some than others) – be happy with who you are. Don’t forget where you’re from. Don’t feel you have to “follow the crowd” or your friends’ school of thought and above all else – don’t put yourself down.

The “Well, they know more than me, I’m just a convert” line is a dangerous thought process. Each person is an individual and just become someone grew up a Muslim it does not mean that they have a deeper or even clearer/more nuanced understanding knowledge of the faith (and the social, spiritual and lived experiences that come with it) than you. In many cases, their experiences are often relative to being in a Muslim –majority family/community and related to their cultural context. Trust yourself!

6. Don’t rush into marriage

Marriage is a big step for anyone regardless of their faith. Now add someone who’s still learning, still discovering “who they are” and at the same time also still navigating the socio-cultural complexities of the Muslim community, then things become a lot more complicated!

Not only do ritualistic traditions, terminology and practices vary in language and format from one cultural community to another surrounding marriage itself but there are also some real issues here to consider and deconstruct: cross-cultural barriers (or if you’re marrying a convert there are other issues to think of), theological differences/approaches and sadly misogyny and sexism within the religious and cultural practises of some members of the Muslim community.

So before you investigate all of this: take time to know who you are, be confident in you and then approach slowly and with your eyes wide open. On top of that, remember that things are not always as they seem. When you finally do decide you’re ready – or think you’ve met the precept match – ask questions (lots of questions about approaches to faith, housekeeping, raising children, education, work, theology etc.) and find out more about your potential spouse from friends, family, neighbours and community members.

Changing your faith/belief system and getting marred are two of the biggest decisions you can ever make in your life.  You need to know yourself first and foremost and what you want from life and therefore what you want from a husband. Likewise, he too also needs to know what he can expect from you and who he’s potentially marrying – so take your time as much as possible. Do not rush but when the time feels right take the appropriate steps.

7. Don’t feel forced to accept other cultures

Whether you’re marrying into a new culture or mixing in new diverse socio-cultural circles, remember that your faith is Islam and your culture your own – not Arabism, not Desi culture, no anything else etc. (unless in fact you were Hindu or an Arab Christian etc.!). Now, don’t misunderstand me. The cultural diversity of the Muslim community is amazing and do make the effort to reach out, meet new people and above all be tolerant and open to new experiences and cultures. However, don’t be forced to accept a cultural interpretation or practice of Islam that is either inappropriate (“haram”) or “not your thing”.

Your culture is important too.  Many Muslims from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds perhaps tend to believe that (mono traditional) English culture is “haram” as we have to give up drinking for example or as they may underestimate its diversity, tend to believe that we must give up the culture or that there is nothing left for Muslims. This is false. Every culture is an expression of its people. Islam is a faith and is lived through a culture.

So don’t feel you have to adopt Pakistani clothes to be a good Muslimah rather than simply please your new British-Pakistani husband. Enjoy new clothing if it makes you happy but you can also wear a denim skirt and blouse if that’s what you’re into. Feel free to mix it up. In mixed marriage in particular, there’s much fun in sharing cultures but also compromise and respect to be made – three needs to be give and take of both cultures and room for both. Respect, tolerance and understanding are essential.

8. Listen to your inner conscience

Islam is about moderation – the middle path – and the sad thing is that this is often simpler than many people realise and create for themselves. Off the middle-path, people can find themselves with over-zealous rigid forms of practice promoting intolerance and even violence. Let me say this honestly and openly: extremism is real, intolerance is real and it’s not as rare as people may think.

Please, don’t lose yourself on this fantastic journey. It’s easier to do than you may think. Allah Almighty is with you and he wants the best for you. Treasure your friends and family, hold on to the people that got you this far. If they’re not adjusting well to your new faith – be patient. Remember Islam is not black and white – neither is life. There are so many little things to navigate and your non-Muslim friends and family will be learning too about the new Muslim in their life. There are many scenarios small and large that may arise with new questions and thoughts, such as:

Do I buy my Muslim daughter a Christmas presents?

Do I go to my parent’s house at Christmas?

My Muslim friends are shocked that I stroke my aunt’s dog…

Remember, it’s not you (Muslim) versus them (everyone else). You have different history, different family, different challenges and different experiences to many (non-convert) Muslims. Educate yourself on the principles, the lived example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and lead on your middle path by adopting those principles in your context. Listen to your conscience (the God-given fitra inside), be kind, gentle, patient, don’t get over-zealous and lead with positive examples. Remember: Islam is a holistic approach to life and spirituality – not dogma. Don’t get lost in this and distance yourself from others and your former self in the process.

9. Come with no social expectations

Being part of a community is important but it’s not always that easy and building any bonds and friendships take time. For some – depending on their community and individual circumstances – their experiences may be lonelier, less positive and less social than others. For one, after all the excitement has died down at your shahadaah ceremony (if you have one), you may find yourself alone (again). You may need to prepare for potentially lonely Eids, racism and cliqueness. But remember this – everything will be ok. It’s great to have people to connect with on a faith-related level but friendship is also about more than faith. Keep an open mind and see how things go.

Try and connect with like-minded individuals – especially other converts as they will share similar experiences and many non-converts may not understand your needs and experiences. However, above all listen to your needs and wants and remember that just because someone is a Muslim, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be your next best friend. Put yourself out there (when you’re ready) and let’s hope that things get easier but don’t rush into marriage if you feel lonely. Above all, don’t distance yourself from good, honest non-Muslim friends and family. Faith is personal – that’s what has got you this far and that’s ok – in time the right people will come insha’Allah.

10. Don’t become a victim

Despite what some people may think, “The West” (whatever that is today!) and the government does not hate Muslims. Please don’t get caught up in political Islam. As a human rights activist myself, I of course support worthy causes and stand up for injustice but please don’t bring religion into it. Be an ally for every worthy cause, supporting people of all faiths and none!

As a convert with a different history, leave the over-zealous Islamist rhetoric, post-colonial and race-related baggage out of the picture! Do not fall into the “us” vs. “them” narrative and in fact, given your unique history and experiences, strive to become a bridge builder of positivity and unity!

So with these top ten tips of advice, I hope that your journey as a Muslimah (old or new!) is one of peace, love and tranquility! Salam!

By Liz Arif-Fear

Liz Arif-Fear is a writer and human rights activist. As founder of “Voice of Salam“(Voice of Peace), Liz writes on a range of social, political, human rights, intercultural and interfaith issues, aiming to spread a message of peace, tolerance and unity. Liz is particularly passionate about addressing key issues affecting women, children, refugees, migrants and ethnic minorities and addressing both extremist and Islamophobic rhetoric.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Muslim Women: Enslaved or Empowered?

Women in Islam, often synonymous to the Asian concept of ‘purdah’, have been unveiled, ironically, by nearly every media house and spokesperson. Even laymen, with little to zero knowledge of Islam, claim with confidence that only a specialist would have, that Islam oppresses its women. In the vexations that surround topics such as these, Muslims often forget why they need to be discussed, in first place.

With the realization of feminism as an idea (realization because it actually always existed) things have gotten a little out of hand, a little misunderstood, as we know them. Every person who supports equality is a feminist, every man who is a feminist is scoffed at, and every other man thinks feminism is just a nice way of saying, “Men suck”.

This is where most ‘liberal’ minded people, without even understanding what the term actually means, declare that religion is anti-feminist. Simply because it dictates how women should behave and live their lives. What they don’t understand is that firstly, being a liberal automatically implies that you are at the very least, tolerant towards religion, and that religion by itself, usually dictates how BOTH men and women live their lives.

And because our existence solely depends on whether or not Islam is oppressive to women, it would be best to just move on to that part.

HIJAB

To be fair, behind every stereotype, there is a story. And behind this one, is the fact that millions of Muslim women choose to dress differently. Or, are forced to. Majority of the Islamic preachers and haters claim, that covering the head is mandatory in Islam. And yet, a large percentage of Muslim women, walk around with none. Why is the claim so strong? Why indeed do some women cover their hair ? A simple reason would be because there is mention of it in the Quran.

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There are various interpretations of this verse, several being that this is proof enough for the requirement of a head covering. A more interesting interpretation of this verse , is that in 600 AD Arabia, there was a requirement to cover the head for either sexes, not because of religion, but climatic conditions. Sandstorms are a common feature within a desert, and what do we know about the geography of Saudi Arabia ? Nevertheless, some schools of thought are that the verses were revealed in relevance to the people of the time and the headscarf was a common accessory not just for Arab women but for women everywhere. The major emphasis though, lies with modesty.

Wearing a hijab does not guarantee you a space in Jannah and not wearing one, does not guarantee a space in Hell. It would be irresponsible on our part as Muslims, to say that. Another interesting fact is that the requirement of “hijab” is mentioned within the Quran for BOTH men and women, and for men BEFORE the women.

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TALAQ/DIVORCE

An additional form of oppression, people claim Islam preaches, comes in the form of  the more commonly known “Triple Talaq”. Though this is something most muslims outside of the Indian subcontinent do not recognize, it remains a problem, because 10% of the world’s muslims come from here (172 million). In a nutshell, your husband, for some reason calls you up, texts you, or verbally says “Talaq. Talaq. Talaq !” and it is to be assumed that you and him are no longer together, therefore freeing him of any restrictions he could have had on your account. This leaves the woman stranded and detained from the man’s wealth, in a poorly state. This form of divorce amongst Muslims is popular ONLY in India now, being termed “Talaq e Biddat” in the rest of the world – (Biddah meaning innovation), and thus proving to be unislamic at the core, in that it just does not exist within Islamic Law.

The topic of Divorce in the Quran, has been spoken about in four different chapters, with the most basic statement being –

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It would help to know that Islam came as a reformation for Pre-Islamic times, when women did not have the right to divorce, and were granted it by Islam. The concept of Khula is still much debated upon, and remains almost unknown to a large percentage of the world. Islam allows women to file for divorce, in lieu of some compensation (monetary), on several grounds, that are further classified into valid and unvalid. Impotence, cruelty, non provision and even sexual non satisfaction are some of the major valid grounds for seeking Khula.

SEX AND MARITAL RAPE

Speaking of sexual satisfaction, A Muslim woman is entitled to sex and completion by her husband, so much so, that if he is unable to satisfy her, she may file for divorce. Islam addresses sexual desires of women, just the same as those of men – stating that men should first ensure their women reach completion, before attaining climax themselves. Contrary to the depiction of sex as primarily a means of reproduction in the pre Islamic era, Islam acknowledges the body’s desire for sexual pleasure – for BOTH man and woman. Prophet Mohammad often emphasized on the importance of foreplay, and it is regarded an important Sunnah by several scholars.

This also negates the debate about marital rape, being that it is not counted as a sin in Islam. Despite what most of the Islamic preachers from the Asian continent claim, marital rape counts as a sin and act of violence towards the wife. A common verse used by these preachers and people wishing to discredit Islam is 2:223.

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With regards to marital rape; emotional, physical and psychological abuse to your wife is forbidden. As per the marriage contract, neither husband nor wife can deny sex to the other, without reason. This being said, they are both to consider reasons for why the other denies sex. Since women are generically the more adaptive of the two genders, a majority of the guidelines issued in the Quran and Hadith, were addressed to men. One such being that if your wife refuses sex, ask her what her reasons are, and be kind to her, so that she may develop affection for you. A woman can demand her rights be granted to her at an Islamic court of Law, and even compensation with regards to marital rape.

PROPERTY INHERITANCE

This is by far, one of the most confusing rulings I have seen in the Quran. I stress this because I am a Muslim, and if I can get confused, I understand how a non muslim could.

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This verse was significant in differentiating between women of faith and the disbelievers of Islam. Before Islam, Arab women did not receive any of the wealth their fathers left behind and so this caused a monumental change in the laws of inheritance – another reason for the men of Makkah to oppose Islam.

To further demean Islam, another verse from the same chapter of the Quran is used to cite how it downgrades women –

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So the son’s share is equal to that of two daughters, which means that a woman only gets HALF of what a man does. Sounds unfair.

Let’s begin by observing how a man has to pay bride money to his wife to be. A previously agreed upon sum of money is paid to the bride (not her father) before signing the marriage contract. This money/land (any form of wealth) is to be used by the bride, however she wishes, and without considering any other person. She can use it as personal savings, or spend it all in one go. She can donate it to charity or invest it in a business, however she wants to.

A wife who inherits wealth from her father, is not liable to share it with her husband. And if said wife has an income independent of her husband, he has no right over her acquired wealth. A muslim woman is not responsible to provide for her husband, her parents and even her children. With rights such as refusing to breast feed her children, she also retains the right to receiving childcare from an ex husband (post divorce).

These provisions of division of property seem to favor a man, because they are meant to ease his burden, of being financially responsible for his wife, mother, daughter and sister.  Which is why the verse ;

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The degree of advantage that is being referred to here is that of responsibility. In that men have more responsibilities as compared to women. A woman is allowed to be independent in Islam, and even THEN her father, husband or son are to provide for her. Not providing for her, despite all her wealth is a grave sin. Which is why a man receives double the share of a woman, to make it easy for him to deal justly with all of his affairs. It also helps to understand that a translation can only do so much to convey the actual message, a lot of the meaning gets lost in translation.

TESTIMONY IN THE COURT OF LAW

In 600 AD, Arab women were taught to believe that their existence was solely to obey men and submit to them. They were taught to serve men by means of food, clothing and care, along with sex, of course. Islam brought along rights for women, the likes of which had never been seen before. Some of them included the right to education, right to employment and business, right to own property and wealth, right to divorce and the right to appear in court.

The last one mentioned, became reason for widespread protest because up until then, women had never appeared in court. And to let them do so now, would mean a complete slippage of power from the hands of men. It was for these reasons that Islam took a gradual course to change things around.

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This verse, if you haven’t heard of before, has been used on multiple occasions as yet another example proving islam as an anti feminist religion. After all, a man’s testimony is termed equal to that of two women’s.

The verse speaks with regards to Loans. Taking, lending and repayment of loans. At the time of this verse, women were not as financially evolved as the men, and so it is an interpretation that this ruling came to encourage more women to take part in financial affairs. And since they were new to handling money matters, two women were better than one, so there would be less of a chance to make mistakes.

Another interpretation of this verse is, that it is easier to manipulate a woman, by means of threatening her, which could also be a reason for encouraging two women, instead of just one.

A third interpretation is that women are generally more emotional than men, and so they possess the ability to sway a judge, by means of emotional coercion. Therefore, if one woman does so, the other would help rectify her error. This in no way means that the status of a woman is less than that of a man.

If we were to look at the Quran in entirety, we would surely observe how Islam has uplifted the status of women, equal to that of men (in pre islamic times) and in some cases even higher.

Paradise rests under her feet when she is a mother. And she becomes the key to Heaven for her father, when she is a daughter.

SOURCES

Islam HelplineIslam Online ArchivesHadith of theDay, DawnNewsabuaminaelias.comIslam.orgislamweb.comIslam.orgMuslim VillageTaha TestimonyMisconceptions about Islam. 

Author’s disclaimer – This post is my production after days of research. I do not claim to be 100% correct and humbly accept any faults in my interpretations of the above verses. Only Allah knows best. 

By Sharmeen Kidwai

Sharmeen is a 25 year old medical graduate, which makes her a doctor. She graduated in 2016 and has since moved to India, with her husband (2017). She is a Canadian by nationality, but was raised in the middle east for most of her life. She has always loved to write. Only recently though she has realised she can make a difference by choosing her words just right. She says she is “trying to do my bit for the world and those in it, little by little!” 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.
If you would like to submit a blog post, sharing your experiences or perspectives, then please email us on shespeakswehear@gmail.com. You can submit poems, short stories or any other type of post! You can also submit anonymously too.


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My mother in law made my first year of marriage hell

muslim woman wedding

My honeymoon. My wedding dress. My glasses…

These are just some of the examples my mother in law (MiL) felt justified to tell me I’m in the wrong. I was in the wrong to go on honeymoon for two weeks because she “might die”. I was in the wrong to wear a wedding dress that had short sleeves because I’m a hijabi (I didn’t wear hijab on my wedding day, a whole ‘nother conversation with my MiL – but my husband wanted to see me look extra nice for just one day). I was also in the wrong to wear my glasses day to day because “a new bride should always look beautiful”.

“When me and my husband have been so close to divorce several times in this first year, it feels unnecessary and inaccurate to “celebrate” our first anniversary.”

I’ve just marked one year of marriage. I say “marked” rather than celebrate because it has been a such tough year. When me and my husband have been so close to divorce several times in this first year, it feels unnecessary and inaccurate to “celebrate” our first anniversary. What would we celebrate? Surviving? That we held on? That I spent so many nights and days crying, begging my husband to give me – and us – some distance from his family so that we could work on us. I know the first years of marriage are always tough, I never expected it to be a bed of roses and all romance and glamour. But I also didn’t expect my in laws to criticise me on every little thing. And it is EVERY little thing.

It started very very early. Before I was even married. I was told what I could, and more importantly, COULDNT wear on my own wedding. I dreamt of my outfit, like all girls. The princess dress, the jewellery, the tradition. But I was told “no, that’s old fashioned. I don’t like it. You should wear this.” I respectfully disagreed and said this is what I’ve always wanted. So I wore what I wanted – and more importantly, what my husband was happy with. And boy, a year since my wedding and I STILL hear about how wrong I was…

I don’t live with my in laws, there’s no space in their house. Everyone told me this was a blessing. And considering the strain they’ve had on my marriage, I know for a fact if I did live with them, I would have been divorced by now. But everytime I do go round – which used to be several times a week, but now less – I was always always criticised. For not wearing jewellery. For not wearing make up. For wearing my glasses. I dress modestly. Abayas and long dresses, I’m not a flashy person. But my MiL wanted me to be more “beautiful”. Then I was constantly made to feel like a bad wife and daughter in law. Pointing out things to me like my husband hasn’t had a hair cut, or he’s wearing an old tshirt – apparently it was my fault that my husband chose comfy clothes over dressy ones, it meant I wasn’t looking after him. Because I didn’t spend every single day with them, “so and so’s wife stays at home everyday and cooks with her MiL”. Then there was the time I was in an and out of hospital for over a month, seriously ill, close to multiple organ failure if my illness hadn’t been caught in time. My MiL didn’t come to visit me in hospital. But she would ring me. To ask when I’d be home again because “my son is alone and I don’t like it when he’s alone”….

The best was when we had to go to a relatives house soon after marriage. My husband chose my outfit, a pretty black abaya with turquoise sequins and embroidery – AND I wore make up. In front of my husband, my MiL said I looked nice. As soon as my husband left the room –

“You shouldn’t listen to him when he tells you how to dress, you look rough.” And then when my husband would question her on it “I was just joking, where’s her sense of humour?!” If had a penny for everytime she’s used that after saying something to me…

All marriages come with strains, pressures and expectations. But when they come from the in laws rather than the couple itself, it can have devastating effects. My husband and I have barely managed to scrape through our first year of marriage. And it saddens me, because it’s not due to us. We haven’t failed as a couple. We love each other, and obviously have our normal ups and downs. But our culture needs to change. Our parents generation needs to understand that their boys don’t get married for the sake of their parents, that their son’s wives aren’t for them to belittle and dictate to. They need to understand that their son’s wives are human. That they’ve sacrificed everything when they got married. They left their own family behind, possibly even moved cities. And the last thing they need is to be told they’re not good enough. Instead they need to be welcomed. To receive kindness and love. This woman is your son’s happiness. She is someone’s daughter. And if you wouldn’t speak to your own daughter like that, then why would you think it’s ok to speak to someone else’s daughter that way…?

by Anon

Image credit: https://flic.kr/p/5xfM1X

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website

If you would like to submit a blog post, sharing your experiences or perspectives, then please email us on shespeakswehear@gmail.com. You can submit poems, short stories or any other type of post! You can also submit anonymously too.


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The Top 7 Expectations On Young Muslim Women And How To Overcome Them.

For many Muslim women in the UK, we are expected to achieve a top 7 definitive ‘checklist’ where marriage and children have been the ultimate goalpost for generations. Thankfully, the walls have begun to crumble and we have seen many wonderful examples of fellow Muslim women who have worked hard not to attain the perfect rishta, but who have worked hard for their own development and growth.

Those in the public eye include Ibtihaj Muhammad, Ayisha Malik and Nadiya Hussain to name but a few. They have demonstrated that Muslim women everywhere are intellectual, free-thinking, creative, strong, funny as hell and can be anything from an Olympic fencer, to an author, to the undisputed queen of cake. And yes, we are also daughters, sisters, mothers and wives – in this day and age our identities can no longer be defined by a singular adjective or milestone.

While our own communities have certainly begun to see positive change and progress, I believe that we are still subject to what I call “The Checklist”, something which has been entrenched in the lives of Muslim women for far too long. It goes something like this:

  1. Study hard for exams.
  2. Progress academically throughout school.
  3. Ace that university interview
  4. Get those three A’s in front of you on the UCAS screen.
  5. Graduate with a First.
  6. Outshine the competition during those rounds of job applications.
  7. Get married and have kids.
    The end.

Seem familiar?

Growing up, we put in years and I mean years of hard work whilst enduring copious amounts of pressure and stress moving from one life milestone to the next be it A-levels, university, internships, placements, graduating and first jobs. But there is still this unspoken rule that all that grafting serves one sole purpose: appearing as a desirable candidate for potential husbands and in-laws.

Sure, having a degree and a brilliant job which you love doing is a sure-fire way to gain you a good match but what happens once the wedding is over?
Traditionally speaking, we eventually find ourselves leaving behind all that we have worked for along with our interests in order to be wives and mothers.
This makes absolutely ZERO SENSE.

If a woman decides to get married the union is something that should become a wonderful part of her life, not something that defines her life. She has worked too hard and gained too much just to leave it at the door for the sake of being called a “good wife” or “dedicated mother”.

Why do we need to sacrifice one in order to have the other?

In the UK today young Muslim women are at the forefront of education, with the Guardian reporting last year on how there are more of us outperforming boys, more of us attending universities and more of us entering and surviving the job market. We possess ambition, drive and determination to succeed at whatever we do. With education and life experiences that come with growing up, we are beginning to value the idea of self-growth which extends beyond the stereotypes that have plagued us for so long.

The harsh reality is that these stereotypes come at us from both inside and outside of our communities and relate to “The Checklist”. Firstly, Muslims from both previous and current generations who uphold the patriarchal and quite frankly backward view that women shouldn’t be encouraged to grow as individuals through education, work or just experiences in general limit young women to aspire only to what’s on the checklist and nothing else. On the other end of the spectrum, because these stereotypes of who a Muslim woman is and should be are so openly projected throughout society it becomes a surprise to everyone else when we supposedly ‘deviate’ from the checklist.

The result is usually the following questions and statements (some of which have actually been said to me by Muslims and non-Muslims):

“Wait, you’re not going to have an arranged marriage?”
“You’re really outspoken for a Muslim woman”
“Did you sneak out to get here?”
“You’re allowed to move out for your year abroad?”
“I bet your parents lost it when you didn’t get top grades right?”

And the classic one-liner: “You’ll quit once you have kids, work will be too much for you”.

But here’s the thing, I know that we are smashing it in all aspects of life be it education, work and raising a family because I’ve seen it with my own eyes: women with children putting in 150% at work and loving every second of it, women who have recently married being promoted and women pursuing their own interests for the sake of their own happiness and development.
We should not be made to feel as if we have to choose between the things that make us who we are. Instead, we need to support and encourage one-another within all spheres to go beyond the checklist that is expected of us and create our own.

By Raisa Butt

Raisa is a London born -Hong Kong raised – Pakistani currently working as a secondary English teacher but her love for writing both creatively and academically has never wavered. Her particular interests lie in exploring concepts of gender, feminism and multiculturalism in works of fiction, non-fiction and in the pieces she writes about wider societal issues which affect young Muslim women today.

Image credit: Muhammad Faizan

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Three Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Married

Sabrina Mahmood pens her top three tips on getting married.

1. Compromise forms part of daily life

Getting used to living with a new person is difficult, you each have your own way of doing things and have to get used to living around someone new. This can be especially difficult if living with in-laws because the initial few months do take work from both of you, and you need to devote plenty of time to this. Before you get married it’s so important to think about whether you are prepared to compromise. Will your potential partner accept that you wish to work, study, meet friends. Will you be able to share the household tasks, or is all this expected to be your responsibility. It’s all well and good before you get married, but once the Nikah is signed, the responsibilities become real. Are you ready to handle this?

Luckily for me, my husband and I share much of the tasks. As I am still studying, I often come home late. On these days my husband will prepare meals, and vice versa when he works and comes back late. Small things like this are so important, not only does it show an immense love and respect, it just makes life that bit easier when you are both making the effort to take care of each other.

2. Are we really compatible?

At the beginning, it can be really hard to determine this, because human nature means that once we like somebody or are interested in them, it can be easy to overlook their flaws. We can accept aspects of their personality which once you are married might become a lot more difficult to handle. I hear a lot of, once we get married ‘he will change’ but the best way to think is that the person you marry will be the same person before and after marriage, so don’t expect any major changes.

I’ll use an example to illustrate what I mean; if the potential partner likes to meet friends out a lot, at first this might seem insignificant. However, if you live with family (or even alone) after marriage, it is hard enough to find time to spend together. So, if the other person spends most of their free time out, how will this affect you? Will you mind spending many evenings/week-ends alone? It might seem a small thing, but later it can become much more troublesome, so it’s best to iron out these things before making any big decisions.

Another important thing here is whether you have the same inherent values. Does the other person believe in the same things as you. To me education is important, and female empowerment. My husband has always been supportive of these things, so when life sometimes gets tough I always feel supported and as if my opinions are valued. This is really important to build a strong relationship. If he thought the work I did to support women’s casues was pointless or insignificant, this would put a strain on our relationship. Is your potential partner mature enough to understand your needs and support you?

Remember, once you are a married you start to rely on each other and emotional support becomes really important. 

3. Communication is key

One of the key things in marriage is effective communication. We all know this but how does it work in practice? Are you a person that needs constant love and affection or do you need more of your own space. I’m the first of these, and I’ve had to communicate to my husband that a text or a small gesture goes a long way. Do you think you will be able to communicate your feelings to your potential husband?

What about the more serious things, like when you feel down or stressed. Will the other person be able to guide you and support you through these times, or are they more of a silent person who doesn’t tend to offer advice. Remember, once you are a married you start to rely on each other and emotional support becomes really important.

Lastly, and probably very important, how do you both react when you are angry. Luckily for me, my husband’s gentle nature will always diffuse my anger. But if you are hot headed and the other person is too, it can become quite difficult when you argue and say things in the moment you don’t mean. You have to be able to communicate through these times, talk through problems and come out stronger. If you know the other person gets angry easily, or likes to avoid dispute resolution, think about whether you can really live with them, because arguments between people that live together, even family, is inevitable!

By Sabrina Mahmood

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Altmuslimah (David Campbell)


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From One Single Woman To Another

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There are many ways in which a woman may find herself single at any point in her life. Whether by choice or an inability to find a suitably compatible partner, by way of divorce or being widowed through a tragic loss – singleness can happen to any woman at any time.

Sadly, the vast majority of society places a great amount of pressure on single people, especially us women, to get hitched up and to do it soon. So it’s easy to feel like a despairing busker lurking on the outskirts of a city seemingly teeming with married couples, trying to explain to them all about how challenging single life really is – to get them to understand. But I want to say to you, stop. Yes, being single sometimes does have a few snags, your parents and aunts might find every opportunity to tell you how ‘worried’ they are for you, perhaps you turned down a man and your fear has you doubting yourself and your decision, well I want to say relax, trust yourself, it is going to be alright.

“You don’t owe anyone an explanation of your life and choices.”

What’s more important for you right now is to understand the reasons you’re in this position at this point in your life. It could be a gentle push from above, a loving nudge in the direction of The Almighty, encouragement to strengthen your connection with Him with no distractions. Maybe this is the time for you to realise your talents and figure out how to use them to better your life and the lives of those around you. Maybe this is the part where you learn patience and resilience and discover your self-worth, so you can validate yourself by yourself.

Maybe it’s all of the above.

Look to this as a blessing in disguise and embrace the period of solitude you’re lucky enough to have received, few others are in possession of such a luxury. You are in a place in your life where you can spend all your time, if you so wish, thinking about yourself and doing good things for you. The door to a new, glorious journey is in front of you and all your decisions lay at your feet.

Don’t feel disheartened at having no reply to those questions of ‘when?’ and ‘why?’ pertaining to your single status. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of your life and choices. Don’t ever feel like less of a Muslim by statements like ‘marriage fulfils half your deen’. This simply means that half the problems you’ll face after acquiring a spouse will be related to your marriage and the implications that marriage has on your imaan because quite often marriage is one of the greatest tests we are given. We already have various levels of imaan, we go into marriages with these, and it then either deepens and flourishes or lessens depending on us and the efforts we put into the partnership. There are many who go around scaring single people into rushed marriages with this statement, not fully comprehending themselves exactly what it means. You are not inferior to anyone because you don’t have a man at your side, you are and always have been a complete entity made with the purpose of praising God, solely, not made to acquire a partner or else. That is a bonus of this life.

Know, that no matter how long a period of time you’ve been single, in the grand scheme of your life, it’s not even a drop in the ocean even if it’s been ten years. Hold firm to your coveted cloak of autonomy and wear it with pride, a symbol of your individual strength. Because when the days of love come around once more, these finite moments will be memories to cling to during times of adversity, reminders always, of your personal power, your bravery, your courage.

Make this time of your life the best of your life.

By Fadila Henry

Fadila Henry is a creative writer currently working on a collection of flash fiction stories. She is interested in feminism, defending single women and foreign languages. You can find her on Twitter @apricotpinks or her blog fadilahenry.com
Image credit: https://memegenerator.net/instance/66229616
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Marriage Tips for Muslim Women (and Men)

Image of a Muslim couple

Image of a Muslim couple

I love married people, really I do, I am surrounded by them on a daily basis in both my corporeal and virtual life. Some of them are my closest friends, I work with them even and I feel that my approach to married people is largely tolerant and caring, despite everything.

I am one of those people that Mr Amin choses to slight in his article, I am divorced and over 30 and therefore not fit for giving advice on marriage despite the fact I have been married and I am part of a family. You could say I am the polar opposite to Mr Amin; not only am I divorced and unashamedly not married I am also unmarriagble, something I regard as a bit of an achievement. As a married friend said to me recently, and it was meant kindly, finding someone who I could realistically marry would be a miracle. Since Islam is not big on miracles I am not holding my breath.

I am often bemused at married people and how they communicate their marriedness to others. Usually they just get on with it and don’t make a big deal out of it and certainly never attempt to involve you in it. But there are exceptions and Mr Amin is one of them.

Mr Amin is what is known as a smugly married. One of those blessed individuals for whom life has been a series of making the right decisions. For whom life has simply been knowing the right thing to do and when it is done knowing that the right outcome will be achieved. Life is reduced to a series of choices in a geography of opportunity or a slightly complex recipe, if followed correctly and performed perfectly will achieve the satisfactory outcome. This result is then presented to the world for us to either desire to imitate or for us lesser mortals such as myself, to remind us of our poor decision making and our failures.

“Not only am I divorced and unashamedly not married I am also unmarriagble, something I regard as a bit of an achievement.”

For many of us life has not been so simple, and I am aware that there will be many married people out there who also grind their teeth in frustration when presented with the smugly married, because there are a lot of unhappily married people out there who made the right decision and the right choices, who married a desirable commodity but who found they had married a human being with all their failings and imperfections and who found that life is complex regardless of what you do and that for many reasons things didn’t go according to plan.

There are also a lot of single people who know that their chances of marriage are hugely reduced or non-existent but we chose to never consider the fates of these individuals. Individuals who in Mr Amin’s capitalist marriage market do not constitute a desirable acquisition, such as women over 30, the disabled, people from the wrong type of family, the divorced obviously.

In Mr Amin’s world these are people who simply didn’t make the right choices.

The reality is that a happy marriage is an accident for which there is no explanation. As an observer and a great listener I am often amazed and delighted at the variety of ways in which people have found contentment with another human being, and how many people, even undesirable acquisitions have, despite the prejudice, also achieved this. Often it is the stories of these individuals that make for far more interesting and relevant reading.

“Divorce is a necessary release and is often the beginning of a far more positive and meaningful phase in a person’s life but again, this is something that is taboo to discuss in positive terms.”

Muslims should weary of the elevation of marriage to a state that it is only accessible by the economically and physically perfect that excludes and divides; it causes misery for those deemed not perfect enough to marry and misery for those who are married but find themselves suffering with that particular misery that can only be found in a relationship. Marriage can also ruin and cost people their lives. Divorce is a necessary release and is often the beginning of a far more positive and meaningful phase in a person’s life but again, this is something that is taboo to discuss in positive terms.

Mr Amin, what us elders should be talking about is how to have emotionally healthy loving relationships and also educating young people on what is unhealthy. We should be giving people the permission to know when a marriage is at an end and that divorce is not in fact the end of life. This would be far more productive and caring than creating the illusion that you can control all your outcomes and that people are simply commodities that are more or less valuable to be traded in.

By Mrs Rumiyya

Image courtesy of Cara_VSAngel on Flickr

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.