LGBTQIA+ Gender Inequality

Why are people okay letting trans kids like Leelah Alcorn die?

Trigger Warning: Suicide

“The only way I will rest in peace is if, one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

As the final words of a young 17-year-old girl named Leelah Alcorn made waves across the Internet, days after she took her own life, they reached me in a way harder to describe and fully comprehend.

As I read her suicide note on Tumblr, I felt not only saddened by the reasoning she gave for taking her own life but angry, as well.

Leelah could be your child one day –  will you support your child’s dreams and aspirations and identities?

Sad, because yet another transgender woman’s life had been lost to suicide, a reality that manifests in the shocking statistic of over 40% of trans women attempting suicide due to lack of acceptance, poverty, and/or depression.

Sad, because trans people are at risk more

than any other individuals within the LGBTQIA community.

Angry, because her death may have been preventable if she had been supported by her own parents. Instead, they rejected her identity and put her into religious conversion therapy.

Angry, because her parents continued to disrespect her even after she had died by misgendering her.

Angry, because they wanted to “cure” their child with torturous “religious” therapy because “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

Angry, because even in death they couldn’t accept that their child committed suicide, but rather called it an “accident”, not being able to accept their own complacency in their daughter’s death.

As a queer Muslim, I can understand the struggle when my queerness intersects with religion.

I can understand feeling rejection from your community, but as a cis-gendered person, I will never understand the struggle it is to be trans in today’s society. Even in the United States, which brands itself with freedoms and justice, there are trans people – especially trans women and trans women of color – whose lives are taken and no justice is served, who face merciless harassment for who they are.

As a queer Muslim, I can understand the struggle when my queerness intersects with religion.

It is even harder, then, to imagine trans*people within our own community – a Muslim community – that face the issues of constantly being forced into spaces where gender is binary and even where you pray is determined by your gender.

Like Leelah, I have found support through my “Tumblr family” – through people who do accept me for who I am and for who I strive to be. However, I have also been extremely lucky to find support outside of cyberspace amongst my friends in a group called Queer Muslims of Boston, who have finally made me feel like I can be whole and accept all of my identities. While I have not officially come out as queer to most of my family, my mother knows and is tolerant, and that is a gift from God, as I’ve seen so many other queer and trans people who have not had that luxury.

I write this because we do need to fix society, and that includes Muslims commitment as well.

As a community that often faces harassment and criticism, I find it horrid that there are Muslims who stoop to the levels of harassment and degradation of queer and trans people, whether they are Muslim or not. While I hope to one day see a Muslim ummah that is inclusive of queer and trans people, I know it is a long road ahead before that time comes. I see the first step as toleration and respect for those who are different from you, who may face similar marginalization or aspects of it in daily life.

I write this because we do need to fix society, and that doesn’t just mean radical queer people – it means Muslims as well.

I ask Muslims to support queer and trans people on a human basis – to call out the harassment of a trans person on the street rather than to be the harassing party. I hope that Muslims who have children that have the strength to come out to them, accept their child and put their child’s mental health and wants and needs before their own. It is hard enough to come out to a community that isn’t related to you, let alone worry about rejection from your own blood.

I do not want Leelah’s death to be in vain.

I want her to live on through teaching my own community acceptance of trans people and queer people, and to learn how to be decent human beings, putting religion aside to just support another human’s suffering in a society that doesn’t accept them. Leelah could be your child one day –  will you support your child’s dreams and aspirations and identities?

I will.


If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, check out the resources below:

* Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255). Here is a list of international suicide hotlines.

* People who are deaf or hard of hearing can reach Lifeline via TTY by dialing 1-800-799-4889 or use the Lifeline Live Chat service online.

* Text TALK to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free counseling.

* Call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), for free, confidential support for substance abuse treatment.

* Call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), for confidential crisis support.

* Call Trevor Lifeline, 1-866-488-7386, a free and confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth.

7 Cups and IMAlive are free, anonymous online text chat services with trained listeners, online therapists, and counselors.


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Love + Sex Love Life Stories

My hijab made him want me that night in the car.

“What does it look like?”
We were sitting in the car, parked outside his house.

“My hair?”

“Yeah…how long is it actually?”

I grinned, coyly.
“Are you asking if you can see it? Here – “

I reached to pull off the hijab I wore, fashioned into a turban.

Slowly unraveled it, pulling the edges out from under.

He turned away, instinctively, as though it was wrong for him to see my hair, as though I was not allowed to let him see.

He respected my hijab more than I did myself.

It wasn’t a big deal for me, showing him my hair.

I’m unsure if hijab is supposed to be a bigger deal.

From the very beginning of wearing hijab (ten years now), hijab was not anything big. It was a cloth on my hair, distinguishing me from others. It was the marking of my otherness; the fabric that transformed me from an attractive white girl (despite my Arab heritage) into an “oppressed” Muslim woman.

My exotic.

When I first started seeing him, I was ashamed, unable to pinpoint why I felt this way.

My years of training as a Muslim woman – as independent, not in need of saving, wary of the media’s portrayal of woman such as myself – created an internalized set of expectations of what it meant to be a with the “savior”. I felt as though I was going against what I stood for; as though society would be disappointed in me for sleeping with the enemy, so to speak. Thus I reasoned to myself.

Through my focus on minority issues through university, I was constantly confronted with the “white savior” complex. It was drilled into my head that all white men fantasize about Muslim women, the hijab being an extra layer of secretness – a present just waiting to be unwrapped.

I have never felt comfortable within the Muslim community. I constantly felt at odds with my identity amongst Muslims. The women at my mosque seemed to focus only on the topic of marriage, themes I found menial in comparison to world issues. I was never interested in partaking. Muslim men, on the other hand, were no better, filled to the brim with expectations on Muslim women as good girls who should not flirt,
who should look down when talking to them..

I felt lonely at these gatherings, a loneliness that led me to despise the Muslim bubble.

As a response, I went to the non-Muslim community, the community I knew was enraptured by me, the hijabi who would crack jokes about her stereotypes. What they didn’t know was that this was a way for me to immediately shut down any negative comments that I may otherwise receive from my white community.

It is only fitting, then, that I ended up in a relationship with a white cis-gendered man.


He was comfortable to be around, and I enjoyed his company.

He was taken aback that I had never dated anyone – and even more shocked when I confessed I had never kissed anyone, nonetheless cuddled with a guy.
“You mean, nobody has every tried to kiss you?”


Oceans separated us, the completely different backgrounds that we came from.

He would never meet my family, while I was fast to make relationships with his.

I quickly understood how he identified – aptly made the distinctions between the two of us – while he continued to struggle finding similarities between the two of us, despite our backgrounds being two completely unrelated entitities.


He was respectful and never tried to touch me, waiting for me to initiate.

I was shy, wanting more but scared to do so. Not for the guilt – I felt nothing wrong with what I was doing, despite knowing that my parents would not be okay with me hanging out with a guy, nonetheless going on a date!

The first time he held my hand was that night in the car, when I was about to drop him off, yet got caught in a discussion of upbringing.
That was somewhere we had an intersection, our parents having mistreated us growing up. Yet while he was able to overcome, I was in the means of separating myself from my parents, the individuals whom I loved with all my heart yet had manipulated me, hurt me to an extent I could not healthy manage any more.

The moment I took off my hijab for him, there was nothing special.

He was turned away, scared, it seemed, that I was showing him my hair.

I laughed, tugging on his hand.

“It’s fine. I’ve shown people my hair before; I’ve walked around campus like this.”


It was true – I did walk around without it sometimes, not wanting to deal with hijab.

And my good male friends had seen me without hijab, though those were inconvenient moments when I wasn’t ready, or my hijab had shifted – and every time, they had acted like he did: turning their entire body away, hands covering their eyes: “Oh my god, I’m so sorry!”

Ultimately, the internalized paranoia ate me.

I was constantly on guard, feeling as though I had to defend myself, my family, my faith – despite his constant reassurance that he was only thinking about me, not judging.


I had expected to feel guilt over the physical aspects that occurred; yet all I felt was despair at being with him – all based on his whiteness.

The irony is clear: advocating for minority rights, stereotyping the majority.


I should have realized that being in a relationship with a white man would have brought up the internalized complexes that I carry, the expectations that I have to be viewed as exotic, the fear of being “outed” for being an activist for minorities, seeing a white man – it was the utmost paranoia.

He shifted slowly, turning his head towards me.

“Oh my God, you are so fucking hot. With it, without it. You are so hot.”

I laughed, unsure how to react.

Unsure how I had expected him to react.


He stared, and I reached up to pull my hair out of the messy bun it was in.

He kept his hands to himself, scared to overstep.

Culture Gender & Identity Life

7 questions I get when people try to figure out where I’m from.

1. “Where are you from, sister?”


This is probably an innocent question, but I don’t know when I’ve ever viewed it with anything less than stress and trepidation.

When around someone I’ve just had the pleasure of meeting, the question suddenly and obviously means something along the lines of, “Where are your parents from?”, “What is your ethnic background?” or, “What language do you speak?”

To me, it reminds me of what and who I’m not, what I don’t speak, what I don’t know, and where I’m not from.

2. “I’m from [nearby-town-that-is-obviously-not-where-I’m-actually-from].”


When pressed, I usually used to answer something along the lines of, “My father is Egyptian, my mother is American.”

This answer, of course, is wrong on many levels (not least of which being that Egyptians in the US are often American citizens as in the case of my father, and that few Americans are indigenous to this country; my mother’s family emigrated from Italy).

Oftentimes, I simply want to run away from this question and just say “I’m Muslim!” For a little while, I tried to put my mixed heritage on the back-burner. 

3. “You don’t speak Arabic? How can you be Egyptian?”


Growing up, including my college experience, has been about better understanding identity, which includes heritage, history, ethnicity, race, and culture, and examining the environment and societal factors under which I was raised.

Dismantling the truths that I thought were unbreakable has been empowering but also endlessly frustrating, and it has really complicated my understanding of myself and my identity.

What does it mean to be Egyptian? What does it mean to be American? Most importantly to me, what does it mean to be Muslim? 

4. “This is my friend, Safaya, she’s from…”


I remember all of the events and programs that I used to go to at various mosques near where I lived; sometimes I would visit my friends from other towns and we’d meet up at mosques near their houses. Sometimes I felt like I knew even less about how to introduce myself than they did. I felt like I was always waiting for someone to ask me where I was from or what I was doing there, like I was constantly in disguise and the goal of the event was to figure me out in order to win a prize (*hums One of these things/is not like the others/one of these things/is not the same*).

I still feel lost sometimes at these events, even after Jummah prayer or during Taraweeh in Ramadan. I see that the Aunties and the Khaltus can all tell that I feel out of place, that I’m not “in the know.”

Instead of receiving their warm hugs, I’m awkwardly on the other end of a painful sideways-arm-movement-thing. Or worse…a handshake.

I’m a Muslim-American just like everyone else at the mosque, but I’m also, well…not.

5. “OMG, I totally knew  that you were white.”


I remember when someone told me this.

It was somehow a crushing blow at the time. I mean, I don’t know why I was so ashamed since I am half-white. But somehow I felt like being Egyptian, being not white, was meaningless. I was just white to this stranger I had just met. This stranger suddenly knew I was white. I didn’t even know who I was. Should I believe this stranger?

She seemed surer than I did.

6. “Wait, I thought you were [something else].”


I can’t count the number of hours that I’ve waited with (literally) bated breath, hoping and praying that someone will say “Of course you’re Egyptian! I could totally tell.” But I think what I’ve really always wanted to hear is, “You belong with us. You are who you are and that fits perfectly with who we are, too!” I don’t know who the “we” is, but I’m pretty sure whoever they are, they don’t exist.

Even if by some crazy chance they do, I’m done spending all my time waiting for them to show up. 

7. “Um, I’m Egyptian.”

“Er, I’m mixed.”

“Uh, I’m half Arab.”

“I’m bi-racial (right?).”


Every day for me is a challenge to remember that I am more than the sum of my parts – not just half Egyptian and half white, but fully Safaya.

Point blank, period.

Love + Sex Love

My long-distance marriage isn’t as hard as I thought it’d be

My husband and I don’t have a typical marriage situation right now.

Due to the nature of his job, he works away from home four days a week. Although this setup took some getting used to, it allows me to concentrate on my schoolwork and him on his job during the weekdays.

On the weekend, we try to spend as much time catching as possible catching with each other.

However, the reality is that we both have a ton of work to do over the weekend. When we were first adjusting to our respective schedules, it took a while to figure out how much time we could realistically spend with each other without sacrificing the quality of our work.

My husband loves to play video games and I love to read. He once told me that one of the most important things he thinks we have in common is that we both enjoy losing ourselves in forms of art. Although it’s fantastic that we have our own “worlds” we can escape to, reading and playing video games can often be individualistic; it’s very easy when reading a book or playing a game to tune out everything around you and surround yourself with words or graphics.

Since we see each other only three days a week, we decided to share our experiences with each other.

We began to read books together, such as the Game of Thrones series, and play two-player role-play video games with each other. Not only does doing this allow us to spend more time together but it also has helped deepen our relationships.

It is incredible how many heated Game of Thrones dinner conversations we have had and Reddit posts about the series we have analyzed. Video games have given us a better understanding of how we strategize and work as a team.

Yes, I understand that these are just books and video games—relationships cannot be founded on just the two. Nonetheless, sharing activities we enjoy individually with each other has tremendously helped strengthen our relationship.

I know that most of you have probably heard this before, but traveling with each other is one of the best experiences you can have when in a relationship. Being on the road with each other, far away from comfort zones and routines, helps you build shared experiences.

You learn about each other’s tendencies and eccentricities (including the fact that I’m really weird and always claim the side of the bed closest to the door). Traveling together also creates fantastic memories; we often reminisce about the people we met or the food we ate during our travels.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to travel as much as we would like due to time constraints. Even so, we try to get away from home whenever we get the chance, if only for a weekend in Philadelphia or NYC.  

Traveling together has helped our bond with each other mature and change for the better.

My husband loves to cook, which really works out for well for us because I only know how to cook a few dishes. Often times, we decide to stay at home, turn on some music, and cook dinner together. It’s a great way to improve our cooking skills and is also an immense amount of fun.

Additionally, since we need to eat anyways, this activity doesn’t take much time out of our days.

We have found that reading and playing video games together, traveling, and cooking are activities that fit in very well into our schedules.

Of course, we are still figuring out how to add in other important activities; for example, we agreed to make time for more spirituality-related experiences. Being married for six months is hardly a long time, but we were able to discover what worked for us through constant communication.

Perhaps it’s fitting to end with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Oscar Wilde, who once said, “Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is the conversation.” 

Love + Sex Love

My uncle used to love us – until the day he changed

I was blessed to have two fathers growing up.

One was my biological father and the other was my uncle. While my father taught me everything necessary to make me a good human being and taught me the values of life, my uncle was my second father.

He bought me my first phone, my first computer. He took me to every Harry Potter book and movie release growing up and made time for me, no matter the expense. After living with him for almost ten years, there’s nothing that my siblings and I didn’t know about him.

Those ten years were years of being spoiled by a compassionate, generous and loving man.

With no family of his own, we were his children. We shared with him all the secrets we knew were safer with him than our own parents. Pretty soon, as we passed our teen years, we had our own lives and no longer depended on him to take us out.

We had our friends to talk to or hang out with. It wasn’t long before our relationship with our uncle began to sour. He had lost his job and the idleness of being at home ate him up. The feeling of incompetence became too deeply ingrained in his heart to be removed.

While we tried to assure him that he still had the same level of importance in our lives as always, he never believed it. Rejected invitations and unanswered responses to his calls led to frequent mood swings, angry arguments, and eventually physical abuse.

Us siblings vowed not to tell our parents. We loved them far too much to hurt them. We loved our uncle too and prayed that it was only a phase. Months passed and the situation for my sister and I only became worse.

The utterance of a few words, “you have no right,” led to a verbal and physical battle. My legs were dragged from the bed to the floor. Uncontrollable tears and shrieks followed the burning sensation on my face from being dragged on the carpet. My sister’s shouts were drowned out by my screams.

Within seconds I found myself running down to my parents’ room screaming and crying. I sobbed in my mother’s lap for hours. I cried to relieve the pain. I cried knowing things would never be the same. I cried knowing that I had torn apart a family. A few days later my uncle packed his bags and left to visit his friend in another city. Three days later his car flipped over in a collision and he died on the spot from internal bleeding. Our relief overcame our sorrow mixed with the guilt of driving him away.

Some days, good memories of him will resurface, only to be shot down by my sister who only remembers the worst. My trust in one of the most important figures in my life changed how much I trusted everyone in my life. There are some secrets that hurt too much to remember and even more to tell. The one thing about these secrets is that they inadvertently teach a lesson.

It took three days for intense anger to build in my heart.

Within those three days, I lost my chance to ask my uncle for forgiveness. I lost my chance to apologize to him for turning his own brother against him. We all make mistakes, some are easy to forgive and others not so much.

It took me a while to forgive him and my biggest regret is failing to ask for his forgiveness.

Love Life Stories

I survived the Bosnian genocide

Looking back, prior to the age of seven, I lived a pretty regular life in a middle-class family.

As the only girl, I was (and still am!) the apple of my father’s eye. My biggest “troubles” were my two brothers endlessly provoking me and poking fun at me because I was “so easy to tease.” And, of course, I was always sad when my mom didn’t allow me to cook my “specialties.”

My grandpa Zejnil would teach me du’as during my visits to the tiny, beautiful village where both sets of my grandparents lived, and I would reward him afterward with my “delicious” bread that was so hard to chew that he probably broke a tooth or two, but never complained.

My carefree childhood was gone at the age of seven. My Barbie dolls, “cooking lessons” with grandma, and my ever-favorite activity of knitting, became ancient history. Instead of laughter and joy, my face was showered with tears until I had no tears and strength left to cry anymore.

After a little while, life seemed “normal” the way it was, even though in retrospect there was nothing normal about the way I lived.

It all changed only weeks after my seventh birthday. Life has not been the same since.

I can still feel the fear of that first day and all the days that followed after. I can hear the sounds of grenades and bombs, that “special” sound of snipers. I still vividly remember that shake when the first bomb fell.

Perhaps that day is most memorable, even though at the time I didn’t know it, because that was the last day I saw one of my grandfathers, Begler, and several other relatives. Little did I know that this was the beginning of the worst genocide and ethnic cleansing that Europe had seen since the Holocaust.

It was the beginning of the Bosnian genocide.

In the years that followed, life consisted of people dying around me every day, living in refugee camps and moving every couple of weeks. I studied in makeshift schools in Croatia for a couple of years, but we were segregated and not allowed to mix with Croatian children since we were Bosnian Muslims.

I was separated from my dad and older brother for a year and a half, not knowing if they were alive or dead, except for the occasional Red Cross message consisting of a couple of sentences saying that they were okay. I would, in turn, respond, complaining about how my little brother refused to do his homework. It seems silly, complaining about my brother’s lack of homework dedication in a time of war, but looking back, that was my only source of normalcy.

For many years, I reflected on what it was that kept me going through that difficult time, through all the turmoil and chaos.

Besides my love for school, my mom’s constant fight for our survival, and the innocent bravery that we all possess as children, I realized that what kept me going was my faith. My faith – my constant “talks” with God, praying to keep my dad and brother safe.

I did not come from a religiously practicing family. Yet faith was something that, as young, as I was, came to me naturally when I needed it the most.

I felt drawn to it even before I knew much about it. To me, faith is something greater than my human understanding of it will ever be. However, I feel my faith in the very core of my being. The more I learn, the more I fall in love with it. In the toughest and darkest moments of my life, my faith was the only thing that I had, the only thing that kept me going. It is only due to my faith that I don’t feel hatred and anger towards those who harmed me most.

We all have hardship stories, one way or another. My story is one of blessings.

I was lucky to survive. That’s what matters most.

Love + Sex Love

I dread the moment I get married


Some girls my age dread hearing that word, while it fills others with joy and anticipation for the future. Growing up, many of us were taught not to date at all and to limit our interactions with the opposite gender.

But as we got older we were taught that marriage is half of our faith and something we must do.

So how do we go from having limited interactions with men (outside of our family) to living with one for the rest of our lives?

How do we get to know someone and find out if they are “the one”, especially if we aren’t allowed to date? By the time we are expected by society to get married, many of our non-Muslim friends have been dating for years!

Now many people will answer my question by saying, “Oh that’s easy, it’s called an arranged marriage!” 

Okay, but let’s go through the process. 

Many parents will first start with looking to their friends and family back home, and seeing if they know of anyone for their daughters. Some girls might have no problem getting along with someone that grew up in a different place from them, but others will feel differently. Other parents may look to their friends and family here in North America to see if they know of any possible suitors.

This is usually all sorts of awkwardness for everyone involved. 

The meetings can be too formal and the potential bride and groom have no chance to really get to know each other, or they are nervous and don’t make a good first impression, and in the end, it doesn’t end up working out because of some small misunderstanding. Other girls luck out, and they end up finding someone in college, sometimes meeting potential husbands in the Muslim Student’s Association (MSA), other college activities, or in classes. This is usually less awkward.

Another marriage issue girls have to face is that those who have an advanced degree and/or high-powered career intimidate many men. Khadija, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was very accomplished and a wealthy businesswoman.

But why is it that so many Muslim men, especially in this day and age, are intimidated by Muslim women that have higher education? Why are they so unwilling to accept a woman just because of her degree or career?

Perhaps they think that women with careers are unwilling to start families, but it’s possible to do both or to put a career on hold when the time comes to start a family. This advanced degree issue is a very dangerous pattern because, if it continues, younger women may be discouraged from seeking out higher education.  

It’s also important to keep in mind that a man or woman is not just his or her career; there are many qualities to consider and these need to be established from the very beginning, before marriage. 

It all boils down to communication, which is extremely important.

Young Muslims need more education, communication, and understanding to curb this growing issue around marriage. 

It’s the only way we can ensure successful and healthy marriages in our communities.

Gender Love Life Stories Inequality

I am way more than the cloth on my head

I made the decision to wear the hijab at the age of 12.

While over the years I had experienced minor instances of discrimination due to my hijab, I didn’t feel like I was forced to critically think about how people perceived hijab until I was much older.

I would say that it hit me in the face like a brick when I spent summer 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey.

In Turkey, the headscarf is a very contentious political issue, as more liberal Turks see it as a threat to the secular Turkish state. As a foreigner who wore hijab and was on her own, it was overwhelming for me to be thrown into that tense mix. 

To those looking in from the outside, it appears initially that there is no problem with the hijab in Turkey, as there are many women wearing the hijab. However, the actuality is that the problems surrounding the hijab in Turkey run surprisingly deep.

I slowly came to understand after talking to many women who lived there and after spending time there, that institutionalized discrimination existed against hijabis. Women under no circumstances are allowed to wear hijab in a K-12 school, regardless of whether the institution is public or private and only very recently was there a huge political debate as to whether women could wear the hijab at the university level. 

I was shocked.

My experiences there really got me thinking critically about hijab in general and what it means to wear hijab. I wondered because, at the end of the day, it is just a piece of cloth that Muslim women wear on their heads. 

Why do people make such a big deal out of it? If a woman wore a scarf around her neck out of modesty, instead of on her head, why does that not have a religious connotation?

Similarly, if a woman only wore long sleeves out religious modesty, why do we not classify her as a “long-sleeves-wearer” and have certain expectations for them and what they are like and how they “should” be? I realized that perhaps the reason for such a religious connotation with the headscarf, in particular, is because it is one article of modest clothing that Muslim women wear that most people do not wear on a regular basis. I still do not believe that this gives people the right to politicize it so much and apply so many labels and stereotypes to this one article of clothing.

We are always defining women by their wardrobe choices. We judge a society by how the women are dressed. Mini skirts, burqas, hijabis, sluts. Yes, we live in a superficial society where we just want to size people up in one glance. 

But I’ve realized it especially occurs to women. 

Why do we just reduce women to their wardrobe choices? What are we telling ourselves when we focus so much on outward appearances, that our bodies, not our minds, are what define us?

I also started to realize how even on the personal level, people use hijab to define people. That there is a common idea of what it means to be a “hijabi.” This one outward visual representation of faith is associated with all these ideas. 

That this veiled woman is pure, pious, and religious. Perhaps prudish, conservative, fundamentalist and extreme as well. 

While many of these traits are not necessarily negative, like any stereotype, it can put an unrealistic and often unfair projection onto someone.

After I came back to the States from Turkey, I became more aware of these projections, from both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. While it is often subtle, and people are often not aware of it, it is still frustrating to feel like someone expects you to be a certain way because of your headscarf. 

Thanks for getting to know me!

I encourage people to critically reflect on their own biases and perceptions of women who wear hijab. While I love wearing hijab and believe that is has been an important part of my spiritual development, I would prefer to be defined by my overall faith as a Muslimah as opposed to one visible act of faith.

Love Life Stories

I struggled with being homeless

“You hate me, don’t you?” I said it while clenching my teeth. I was huddled in the darkness…I was almost growling. I was beyond angry. Some days were like that. Others, I was sobbing and nearly begging…why me?

I felt a boulder wearing my body down, my chest tightening. My daughter was asleep on the floor. Other than cursing and crying, I felt lifeless. I was angry at Allah. I was angry because I felt cursed to live the miserable existence of a single mother. Just months earlier I was traveling in Tunisia, kissing aunties and in-laws feeling incredibly loved and accepted by my then-husband’s family.

I felt for once our marriage got an injection of good vibes that would carry us down the road into old age. But then, old problems reemerged, and within a few weeks he declared the divorce. It wasn’t nearly as heartbreaking as what came after. I remember his words to be like gun shots in my chest.

“Go find another place to live.”

“But what about her, what am I supposed to do? I don’t even have a job!”

“That’s not my problem.”

I never cried so much in my life. I never questioned love so much. I believed that God hated me, that He wanted to let me know that I particularly didn’t deserve the things I saw in so many other peoples’ lives.

I spent 19 years in an abusive home growing up. When I eventually attended university I reached such a sense of peace and clarity because I finally felt free to fashion my own destiny. Back then, Allah’s name was always on my lips. Then I met him. I checked a few boxes and married him “nobly.”  I trusted in Allah to allow the rest to happen.

After the divorce, I hit rock bottom and the idea of death sometimes filled me with a longing for release from this life.

For months I struggled with homelessness with my daughter who was then 1 years old. I slept on my best friend’s apartment floor and called shelters. I wrote my other friends and complained, thinking they would offer me refuge. I went through bouts of misery and desperation. I sometimes called him, thinking that my tears, the Quran, the sheikhs’ recommendations, the promises he made me when we got married, our daughter….something would turn his cruelty into mercy. I just never expected that he would do that to us. I understand why some women want to leave Islam when their Muslim husbands turn into demons. It’s hard to put your trust, energy, love, and dedication to someone….believing your souls would meet in heaven one day…only to find that they would treat you worse than a despised stranger without question or regret.

Somehow though, I never doubted God’s existence. But, I did doubt His Love.

I can’t describe what happened between those dark days and the slow path to healing. It was like climbing a jagged mountain, and taking breaks to let the cuts heal every day. But I climbed, even when it got harder. I blogged and sometimes forced myself to thank God for the minute things. I journaled daily. I began to tinker and create things. I had dreams and thoughts that drove me to a pen and paper, as well as hours on my sister’s computer.

Eventually, the concept of The Sultaness was born. It started off as a hobby to keep me going. I did this in between getting denied for jobs and trying to stretch the small money I had left. My best friend and I lost her apartment when she experienced a divorce of her own.  Soon I was sharing a couch with my daughter for several months in her parent’s basement. In my isolation, for the first time, I began ask Allah for my test to end.

I told the Almighty in prayer, “THIS is enough. Give me better. I want it.”

During that Ramadan, I whispered my desires with every cell in my body. The room around me seemed to disappear when I did. All that existed was my need to be answered, heard, and loved.

I thanked Him for the happy child who knew nothing, for the safe place we were sleeping, and for the kind family that embraced us. I asked for even more, and I even asked for peace. Instead of seeking relief from the creation, I gave all of it to the Creator.

Almost overnight, I began to see the pieces falling slowly back into place. I started to smile, laugh and believe in good. I got a lawyer. As a result, my sister and I were able to find a home by the beach in a beautiful neighborhood. Despite a few set- backs, my hobby, which started shortly after my divorce, grew into a viable business. I reluctantly embraced this change in my life. I didn’t imagine I could actually utilize all my passions and talents to create something beautiful in the world that would gather so much support. Sometimes, the level of happiness and joy I feel in my life today is immeasurable. My best friend is now coming on as Vice President. We also secured an investor.

Allah put me at rock bottom so I could have more blessings on my way up.

I have always been told in my life not to despair. That Allah gave me my experiences, the abuse, the lack of a family support system, a bad marriage, the divorce, and homelessness for a reason.  I know now it was not out of cruelty, but His overwhelming Love. He created my soul to withstand faith-shaking pain and suffering because He knew I would come looking for Him. And even when I didn’t ask for it, it was as if he whispered back to me “More and more will come to you.”