Like so many parents, having a daughter has changed my perspective on the world. It’s no longer my world, it’s the world she’s going to grow up in. Admittedly, I’d like to wrap her in bubble wrap and shelter her from ever having to deal with the Internet, social pressure, figuring out innovative and media-worthy ways to denounce ISIS… Especially as my daughter is a Muslim girl in the West. So, I wrote her a letter to tell her some of the things I wish I could have told myself when I was younger.
Dear Zahra Madinah,
Firstly, congratulations! In many ways, you have an ideal life. You were born into a stable home, you have access to the best healthcare and education and most importantly, you are so loved. You live in the Western world, you are free. You are also a Muslim girl in the West. Which isn’t so bad. After all, who wants to be like everyone else? I can’t lie to you though, this comes with unique challenges. It also means that you’ll witness a lot of hatred and bigotry towards Muslims which you won’t always understand. It will seem unfair and unkind. And sometimes, what we teach you at home may be different to what you see out there in the world. Sounds confusing doesn’t it?
As you grow older, you’ll be plagued by questions about your identity. Pakistani origin, Western, liberal parents who practise Islam, your friends may have different values, you may (and I hope you do) have ideas of your own. I’ll try to raise you around people of different backgrounds and religions so you learn to respect and value others. I’ll teach you about Islam and model the benefits of it, but ultimately, what you follow will have to be your decision. There may come a time when you don’t understand an aspect of your religion. Why must we fast in the heat? Why can’t we eat what we want? Your Papa and I will try our best to answer you, but do your own research too. Always think freely and for yourself, question everything- freedom of choice and expression are some of the greatest gifts you’ve been given by being raised in the West and you should value that- not everyone has this privilege.
As a woman, and especially as a Muslim one, you’ll ALWAYS be criticised. Get used to it and shrug it off. As a woman alone, your appearance will be under constant scrutiny. You’ll be portrayed as weak in the media, even if you feel strong. If you don’t wear hijab you’ll be asked why. If you do wear it, you’ll be asked who you think you are. You’ll be told you’re too Western by some and that you follow the wrong sect of Islam by others. Amongst all this noise, (and that’s really all it is), remember that other people’s judgements are rarely about you, they are almost always a way to feel better about and validate themselves. People around you wanting to dampen your light and make you doubt yourself often have deep seated issues of their own – pray for them.
Moreover, never judge those around you, those who have chosen a different path and especially your fellow Muslimahs. Twitter and the ‘comments section’ of online papers are full of trolls who put others down to feel good about themselves. Look for validation from within yourself and protect the reputations of your fellow sisters as if they were your own. The rest you can figure out as you go along.
Will you study, travel, marry, be a Mum or have a high flying career? I’m fairly sure you’ll want to do all of those. I’m already praying you do. Whilst I hope you can have it all, the reality is, hardly anyone does. Be prepared for setbacks – they’re not the end of the world. Instagram and Facebook will tell you that everyone is busy achieving and having fun, but these are carefully scripted snippets of the best bits of people’s lives and personal marketing, which I’m hoping your generation will have long figured out by the time you read this.
The world you live in has never been more full of information. Can you believe when Mama and Papa were young we only had a phone that was connected to the house and (gasp) no internet? You are blessed because you have access to so many amazing Islamic lectures at the click of a button, the Qu’ran is on an app, you can find healthy, halal recipes online, learn how to fix your kitchen sink… In fact, I won’t need to help you with much, because you’ll tell me that you’ve googled it already. Despite that, in the age of social media, keep some information to yourself. Modesty is more than about your clothing. Stay private and exclusive. Be content with a small circle of friends you can trust and you’ll never need 200 likes on your picture.
Lastly, be a revolutionary! Do what you feel is right for you, don’t follow the crowd. Unless it’s the crowd you feel a part of. I hope you’ll represent what a Muslim girl really is: strong, hardworking, moral, ethical. Work for charities, study what interests you. Be you! And be free. Fly high and don’t be afraid to be different. InshaAllah I’ll be here to catch you if you fall. And even if I’m not, you’ll be just fine, because you’ll have your head, your heart and Allah (SWT) to guide you.
I love you, my darling.
Aisha Afzal is a teacher from London. She enjoys painting, henna and geometry in her spare time.
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