There’s No One Way To Be Us
Tahmina Begum writes a letter for all Muslim women on International Muslim Women’s Day
Dear Muslim women everywhere,
I’m so happy we have each other, Alhamdulillah. So let me start there. So grateful we’re all so different, under one ummah. That we’re not just one Muslim community but many. Who turn the same way in prayer, bend the same way when welcoming guests into our home, utter the same words in celebration, when in surprise and especially when someone passes away.
Do you see how global we are? How our hair all twists, curls, flows, sways, holds differently? How our mother tongues are not minorities. We are made up of several languages and they go from Sudan to Bangladesh and travel to the markets of Turkey. And there’s no need to code-switch between us. We don’t have to explain our rolled-eyes, our humility, our delights and our anger.
Here’s to the Muslim women who have been made to feel like they should be restricted by their religion and culture, those who have been boxed in from their name alone. To those who feel like their narrative has been written for them, long before they themselves have begun. To those who have to move past the reaction of proving others wrong, because what are we trying to prove? And to who?
This is a dedication to my Muslim women around the world who are undervalued. Who know homes would collapse without our shoulders, our sabr, our generosities, our constant ability to find the miracles in the everyday.
From those who have to chew “mashallah” when praising someone at work from the side of their mouths because their rent depends on it and they can’t be their full Muslim selves to those who serenade the words proud. I see you. To the Muslim women whose identities criss-cross over into other territories. To our older, wiser, niqab-wearing, ankle showing, black, practising, culturally Muslim, celibate, queer, disabled, divorced, sister-wives, single or married multiple times, transgender and those who do not fit into gender binaries, who are not mothers in this lifetime: Muslim women. The women who are told they are ‘bad Muslims’, both as a joke and as a way to lessen their existence. The Muslim women whose tribes now lack geographical postcodes like our Rohingya, Kurdish, Palestinian Muslim women.
To those who aren’t usually included in the conversations because they do not fit into the mould of who a Muslim woman should be — yet find a way to teach us every time that there’s no one way to be us. And by simply existing, let younger women know, there is not just one path.
Whenever I see young Muslim women coming of age, exploring what faith looks like to them, I hope they draw their own lines — where they are comfortable enough in their own body, mind and soul to know when to say no but also when to say yes.
Yes, yes! There’s so much to be proud of being a Muslim woman. From inventing pastries we now consider French to the University of al-Qarawiyyin, the first university in the world, that Oxbridge is modelled after. Not enough of us know, that it was created by Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman.
To the women who are graduating from the various schools of thought they’ve heard growing up and navigating the world on their own terms, I wish for you to know that Islam welcomes education and knowledge. It welcomes debate and courage and seeking what you, your relationship with the outside world and, most importantly, your relationship with your faith and yourself. It demands us to come home to ourselves, at least five times a day.
I hope young Muslim women know that the Muslim female experience is not a homogenous one, regardless of the fact that some cultures may tell them otherwise. And we are not the first to feel this way: just look at our mothers, how different they are, they’ve been telling us that there’s no one way to be a Muslim woman.
I wish for the young Muslim women around me, who are currently going through a metamorphosis, to understand that who they date, what political party they support, how she sees her body, what she feels about feminism, what strain of Islam she follows, doesn’t make her any less of a woman nor any less Muslim.
To my Muslimah aunties and elders, I hope you know just because the focus tends to always be on ‘millennial Muslim women’ in the media, you’re just as relevant, if not, profound. How you have beaten down the doors that we simply turn the handle of and walk through. I am always astounded by your grace. The giggles reserved only for women, your nieces, daughters, cousins and sisters, who sit at your feet, between your legs, as you rub oil into their hair. By simply being, you teach us perseverance and how we have to behave like water: fluid, necessary but never underestimate our power.
In a time of explicit and complicit Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia, our voices are still emerging. I hear the words of Muslim women, from everywhere, all the time. Whether it’s on Instagram, a debut hardback or stories passed through each other’s hands — stronger than any wives’ tale — stories that we are here. The message is stated, over and over again.
Funnily enough, what makes me the happiest is seeing a group of Muslim women disagree with each other. You see for so long, we had to hold our tongues depending on who’s asking. Femininity and sexuality blow both West and East and dictate to us that we can’t belong to both, with questions such as are you Muslim or not? When Islamic scripture speaks nothing of that. So when I see Muslim women put their opinion first, share their internal conquests and interpret this thing called tests and living for themselves, when for so long the world depended on us to remain quiet, I know a tiny revolution happens every time we open our mouths.
May we have the strength to be exactly who we need to be inshallah and know, there’s no one way to be a Muslim woman. Happy International Muslim Women’s Day.
Feature photo credit and permission from @muslimsisterhood