The Mindset is designed to help Muslim women nurture beliefs grounded in agency, dignity and self-worth – helping us to live our best lives. In this instalment, Yasmin Mohamud offers advice to young girls from the perspective of a black Muslim feminist
From an Unapologetically Black Muslim Feminist
As a woman, a man, or whatever title that you ascribe to yourself- or choose not to, opening and reading this article despite, or even because of, its title is one step among the many that you will take as a part of your feminist journey while alive on this Earth. Welcome honey child, we’ve been waiting!
In my whole life of 25 years, I’ve come to see with my eyes, heart, soul, body, ears, and mind that feminism is a dirty little word to far too many. The word conjures up images of “men are trash” movements, the argument of a post-sexist and individualistic narrative, and my personal favourite is that it is a Western agenda designed to take women from their homes and devalue, even disrespect their men and destroy the home structure’s value system in its neat packaging of natural differences between men and women that are Divinely perpetrated to protect the Angel of the House. My definition of feminism mirrors that of Bell Hooke’s own compilation, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. Feminist politics aims to challenge and change patriarchy”. I add to this definition that feminism is in response to long-standing cultural, political, economic, religious, and legal structural systems that police every conceivable bit of women and their access to the full participation, and leadership of these systems- and yes, the personal is always political.
Advice is given to women freely at every turn, and it is often unrequested, and yet, having experienced the magnitude of gaslighting and invalidation from a plethora of avenues, this humble article seeks to lay a foundation of the opposite of those experiences for young girls and ladies wherever they may be.
Without further ado, here is a list of 5 pieces of advice that I would give from what I know now to further the connections of sisterhood.
Your Experiences are Real, Believe in Yourself
It’s possible that your parents and entire community treat you, and have since you were a young child, in noticeable contrast to that of your brother, cousins, and every other male community member. You were possibly parentified and ushered toward more, or different responsibilities as you grew up. It could be that you missed a range of opportunities and adventures, that you had your heart set on because you were a girl and continue to be a woman where you learned that that wasn’t your place, or that your family and community felt it just wouldn’t be safe for you as a girl. Riding a bike in your neighbourhood, taking a trip with your school class, and other missed opportunities find a way to mirage into others as you will, or have, grown older and they do so on a larger scale. It is possible that your body was sexually violated, or shamed in the most subtle of ways like your entire menstruation being shunned and secreted, and your pad made sure to be hidden from view.
Honey, your experiences of confusion, of analysis of unfair and biased treatment, is real. You aren’t crazy, it isn’t all in your head, you aren’t making any of this up and probably couldn’t even if you wanted to. To be told otherwise and continuously face the emotional, psychological, and even physically violent consequences of resisting inequitable treatment, and blockages of your self-actualization as an autonomous human being is unimaginably difficult. Women within the system of patriarchy have internalized the trauma of sexism, and have generations after generations, had to adhere closely for their own limited participation, approval, survival, and recently a point of anti-Western cultural rhetoric, to the extent that they then become fierce gatekeepers of what has become facts of life. Unless you have supportive people around you who can understand your experiences, you are the only one who is living your reality as far as you know.
You must, I cannot say this with any more urgency and emphasis, you have to believe in your own experience because no one else will do it for you and especially when the results are not going to be in their favour to do so.
This is Your Life Journey, Take Ownership
Lovely light, full of soul and whit, let this be your battle cry. This life has been given to you by your Creator, your Beloved, and it has not been given to any other person on your behalf. It has not been given to you to take and give to someone else, your breath is yours, every curve and inch of you has been given to you as a Divine miracle with all sorts of wonder involved. Obedience, servitude, and slavery can come around and be described in a variety of rosy ways by those that it benefits and your waking up in taking personal responsibility for your own life is one of the greatest steps towards living your truth. It is understandable that your agreement to an exhaustive amount of sexist treatment has been in the legitimate pursuit of survival in a world where approval means being able to have a roof over your head, clothes to wear, food to eat, and social belonging. As you grow older it is imperative for you to take the ownership of your self into account.
Take full ownership of your pain, of your happiness, of your spiritual life, of your physical and emotional space, of your financial independence, of your passions and goals, of your boundaries, your life purpose, of your freedom, and your joy.
Believe in Sisterhood, and Seek it in Sincerity
Where are your sisters?! Look around and really take a look at the paths that have been paved in your name even before you came to existence. Someone, somewhere, wakes up every morning so that you have that much more access to realizing your capacity towards complete autonomy. There are beautiful girls and women right across from you who have similar struggles that you do, and yet why doesn’t she reach out if she does? Competition, gossip, and all other forms of externalized self hatred are deeply rooted in keeping women from tapping into the truly powerful nature of sisterhood. Do not let this be you darling, make small efforts in as much as you can to break these echoes of disdain by taking steps toward uniting efforts and marveling in the butterfly of your sisters- out loud, on the timelines, on the comments, in class, on the job, with her there or in her absence. Actively give birth to the opportunities that surround all of you in healing of the pains endured, in the bounty of your deep knowing and love for each other.
Reflect! Reflect! Reflect! Should I write it again?! Okay, seriously though
Taking a look in the mirror when you’ve gained an extra amount of loving on your thighs can be way too scary when you have internalized notions of what your body should look like, which is- hello- still me! It is, of course, tremendously more frightening to take a real look at your own self during every moment of your life’s path, but it is crucial to the development of your life lessons. I never say the word mistake because I believe that a part of our experience here on Earth is to have experiential learning in all of its glory. You either win, or you learn, and obviously learning leads to more winning, so isn’t that a win?
Do this in whatever way makes you most comfortable, but you will feel some of the growing pains of this step that manifests themselves in some uncomfortability- it’s normal and it is worth it. You may choose to journal, voice recordings might be your thing, or it can even be in the form of intense prayers between you and your Beloved in a brutally raw and honest format of discussion. You might cry really bad, like incredibly loud sobs, or you may smile from the full chest of your heart. Reflection never ends, you will be in constant reflection as you continue on living because you really have a whole suitcase to unpack that’s amazingly subconscious at times. You will have to question your patterns of behaviour- why do you do what you do? Why do you want what you want? What is stopping you from the life you seek to live? Why do you react in the ways that you do? A therapist, counsellor, etc, can be great mediums to resource for this purpose and to legitimately seek to help to unravel the traumas that your young life has already compiled- that is a valid route to take and something that I think everyone should try at least once in their lives.
You are Worthy of Your Own Love, Respect, Time, and Energy
In many overt or subtle ways and across every conceivable culture in the patriarchal world, a girl is readied to be the best possible choice for a man to pick when she is old enough (sometimes not even age matters too much) to be a wife and a mother to his children.
This, my love, may have been told to you in a colorful variety of micro and macro aggressive tones and textures, but it is not selfish of you to make a commitment to yourself. It is not selfish of you to take time to know yourself, discover yourself, to know why it is that you are here, how it is that you want to show up in the world during your temporary time, and then magnify it from the corner of the place that you wake up every, single, day. For you to take your solitude, to read the books that develop your mind, to take the time to fully comprehend and cultivate a loving relationship with the Lord that created you a girl, to imagine and then pursue the work that sets your soul on fire. As you grow older, you will then invest in building credit- rental history- etc, so that you can utilize the resources that enable an independent participation of life.
Please never forget that you are worthy of creating a full life, and then choosing wisely the soul in which you can freely share it with, as an equitable partner who respects your life, space, soul, passions, work, and body as much as their own- if you want to, and if you do not- studies show that the happy spinster is indeed a real fact*.
This can all be difficult if you have been taught, told, and shown that you must sacrifice yourself to be a wife, a mother, and care for everyone around you except for yourself. This can be a hard truth to uncover if you have been taught, told, and shown that you are never whole, and not actually a self if you are not in relation to another human, but you are love, and it will take time to reveal this to yourself in a way that you will believe it throughout your whole being.
It can become overwhelming to have your experiences, and your life as a whole mirrored back to you in a way that is foreign to you, but it will get easier as you are strengthened in resilience, purpose, care, joy, and knowing that you are never alone.
Yasmin Mohamud is a Somali-American with a background in education, teaching, non-profit, and mental health. She is a postgraduate student in Business Management and Leadership and aspires to leave behind a legacy of furthering the aims and opportunities of women and girls all over the world.