Femininity never confused me. It didn’t at least until my late 30s/early 40s. Before that I never really thought about it. I was just me. I was a person. I did not want people to think of me as Nadia the woman. I wanted people to think of me as Nadia the person. And I lived my life that way. And because I did, or at least I thought I did, I did not feel that I faced many of the issues that women commonly complain about. I made choices in life based on what I felt was right for me. After studying medicine, I got married and by my own free will chose to be a fulltime mother and wife. When my children reached school age, when the family needed more financial support, and when I felt I needed more in my life, I freely chose to start working. Throughout my career, I have very rarely felt that I have been treated a certain way because of my gender. The only times where this might apply were when I had been invited to speak on a panel where they needed a gender balance and I was chosen to help create that balance. That really offended me. Otherwise, I have always been very lucky with my employers. My salary has always been equal to my male colleagues, I have been given the same opportunities or even better because I deserved them, and I’ve been given every chance to prove my capabilities; not because I am a woman, but because of what I can do. In my personal life, I’ve worked hard to create a balance between my family, my career, my education, and my hobbies. I never felt that my choices were made or were hindered by other people. I was just me doing what I chose for myself and for my family. I realized that I was very fortunate and that so many women around the world were not as fortunate as me. But I did not think about it that much. Opportunities were created by us and with hard work. Obstacles were made for us to go around them. Stop complaining, women, and move on with your lives!
It was only recently that I started realizing that, as a woman, I do face issues specific to my gender. One reason I did not realize that I faced these issues was because of the way I thought about them. (more…)
Over the past few years, I’ve started questioning some of the givens about Islam that I grew up believing. My questioning has very rarely been about the foundations of Islam as a religion; those I find myself wholeheartedly believing in. One God, Muhammed is the last prophet, praying five times a day, fasting the month of Ramadan, paying alms, doing the pilgrimage once in your life; these and others are things I haven’t found myself questioning.
There are other issues, however, I find myself continuously questioning and not understanding. Details. Mostly things related to the roles of men and women in society and in religion. I read a Qur’anic verse or a Prophetic saying and sit in front of it bewildered, not really understanding what it means or why it seems to mean something that doesn’t make sense to me. And so I do some reading or I speak to people more knowledgeable than me. Sometimes I will hear an argument or an interpretation that convinces me. Other times I won’t. And the conversation will most commonly end in: Nadia, are you a Muslim or not? Do you believe in Allah and that the Qur’an is the word of God or not? Do you accept Islam in its entirety or not? If so, then you need to accept that there are things that we don’t always understand. If God says do then we do. That’s it.
Muslim women in Europe and the United States who choose to wear a headscarf or face veil are placed under tremendous societal pressures almost every day. On the streets, some people look at them as if they are freaks of nature. Many find it difficult to get jobs or even to be accepted as tenants. And in France, women who wear the face veil are now affronted with legal action. Some women hold their heads high and persevere despite all this. Some women find it difficult to cope, they cringe under the heavy fist of society, and they decide to take off their hijab or their face veil and conform to the societal norm. Other women decide that the hijab wasn’t for them anyway and that this is as good an opportunity as any to take it off.
The struggle of the veiled Muslim woman in Europe has reached the hearts and minds of Muslims all over the world, including mine. Her struggle is their struggle. A woman has the right to choose, we all shout. Muslim women do not wear the headscarf/face veil out of oppression, we explain. In so many cases, they wear it as a matter of choice.
A woman, we shout, has the right to choose.
But do we Muslims really believe this or do we use this argument when it suits us?