“The Tone-Up” amplifies the voices of Muslim women who have something exclusive about Muslim women to talk or rant about. In this instalment, Sarah Yousuph poses a thought-provoking question: Do Muslim Women Need Male Validation to Feel Worthy in Themselves?
“Your father will be a very rich man in future.”
This was a comment I never ceased to hear whenever people made comments about my family.
As a child, I never really understood the meaning of this phrase. I wasn’t even curious enough to find out. I have five sisters. I say this with pride to anyone who asks me about my family. I am proud that Allah blessed my parents with us all. Ironically, however, whenever I mentioned this to people, the responses I got are as interesting as they are absurd.
It wasn’t until much later, when my secondary school teacher asked me if the three girls I went to school with were my full siblings, that I finally understood what everyone in the past had meant when they told me that my father would be a wealthy man. I had affirmed to my teacher that the three girls were indeed my full siblings and he had responded by saying “Your bride prices will make your father rich.”
It was at that moment that I finally realised what they had all meant.
I remember how terrible that comment made me feel. Our family was perfect; My parents had six beautiful girls. We were proud. But others had chosen to see us as something else; MMM – My father’s Money-Making-Machines.
As I progressed into the future, I discovered that I had not heard the worst of it all. I remember sitting amidst a group of sisters at the University of Lagos Mosque. A friendly sister had engaged me in a conversation which led me to talk about my family. When I told her that my siblings were all girls, she questioned further, “But your father married another wife right?“
This sickened me, to say the least. On the one hand, they had refused to appreciate the beauty of my family and had tied our femininity, directly or indirectly to our material worth and how wealthy our father would become when we eventually got married. On the other hand, the question of whether or not my father had married another wife meant that my siblings and I were not “whole human beings” and by extension, we weren’t enough. According to them, my father ought to have married another woman with whom he could have male children.
The most worrisome of it all was that these comments were passed by women; Muslim women to be precise. In my sisters, I had found a tribe of strong women who always had one another’s backs. But other people had tied our worth to marriage and devalued us based on the cultural norm of changing our surnames upon marriage. It was at this stage that I finally realised that far from what I thought the ideal Muslim society would look like, our communities were not a reflection of Islam.
Islam is a complete and independent way of life. But somewhere, along the line of inter-generational teaching, cultural practices had seeped into Muslim teachings and tainted the perfection of our Deen. From being treated as “trophies” for the men and being encouraged to persevere in abusive marriages to being told that our worth as Muslim women is tied to our ability to whip up three square meals and take care of children, It is safe to say that Muslims have regressed back to the time before Islam.
Where Did We Go Wrong?
There are tons of Quranic verses and Hadiths that extol the very status of women in all phases and spheres of life. The Prophet, (PBUH), laid down several hadiths on the etiquettes of treating women. In today’s society, however, the rulings of Islam have been tailored to further the narrative that the world belongs to men. Islam has become a buffet where men’s rights are cherry-picked and advocated for while women’s value and worth are tied to how much women satisfy the men in their lives.
Religious scholars are quick to reprimand or blame women for both their own faults and that of their menfolk. They have succeeded in burying the legacies and true values of women in history; from Khadija (RA), the wealthy entrepreneur, to Aisha (RA) the knowledgeable scholar; from Summayyah (RA) the first martyr to Khawlah (RA) the fierce warrior. I’m pretty sure that these women would have been labelled as feminists if they lived in today’s Muslim society.
Women and Men are equal in the sight of Allah and this is evident from the Qur’an when Allah stated that;
“The men believers and the women believers are responsible for each other. They enjoin the good and forbid the evil, they observe prayers and give charitable alms and obey God and His Prophet.” Noble Qur’an 9:71
The negative portrayal of Muslim women as inferior beings whose success and worth are tied to their proximity to the men in their lives is not from Islam. A Muslim woman is a human being in her own right. Her achievements and success are hers and are not attached to her father or husband, nor determined by what society deems worthy of being considered a success based on her gender.
Some days I wonder, if my parents had six sons instead of six daughters, what would the world say? What would the Muslim society say? I once posed this question to my sister, and she responded with one undeniable truth;
They would say “Our father has a legacy.”
But is this the truth of Islam? That a man can only leave behind a legacy when he has sons? That a woman, in herself, wholly and independently, is nothing but a trophy?
- Sarah Yousuph is a storyteller, novelist and a poet. She is passionate about learning about Islam and having conversations about mental health and women’s rights.