No, I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding and you can’t make me

We often talk about how the hijab is viewed negatively in the Western world. But I don’t think that many people realize that discrimination against the hijab doesn’t only happen in western society. In my experience, it also occurs in my home country, Pakistan, and my own family members are a part of the problem.

My sister and I started wearing the hijab when we were 15 and 13, respectively. For us, it seemed like a natural choice since we’d spent most of our childhood in Saudi Arabia, where the hijab was mandatory. When our family in Pakistan found out we still wore the hijab after moving to Canada in our teen years, they were ecstatic. They thought it was wonderful that we chose this for ourselves and praised us for making seemingly religious choices. 

But that all changed when my sister turned 20 and someone tried to propose to her. Our mother rejected the engagement and it sparked a debate within our entire family. Most of them believed that more proposals would come her way if my sister took off her hijab. I still remember my mother arguing with our aunt who said that hijabs are only meant to look good on girls who are “white, thin, and pretty.” She thought that I was too dark and my sister was too fat, so we were ruining our prospects by sticking to our hijabs.

The worst part about all of this is that my aunt wasn’t entirely wrong. The hijab didn’t make men jump at the chance to marry us. Due to pressure from extended family members, my mother was constantly on the lookout for potential matches for my sister. But every guy who approached would run away just as fast once he heard that she wouldn’t be taking her hijab off for him. 

After a while, my sister did it. She found a guy who seemed accepting of who she was and agreed to marry him after a year. Suddenly, the tune the family was singing changed, but not for the better. Everyone asked if she’d be taking her hijab off for the wedding and discussing how beautiful she would look in this or that hairdo. They tried to talk my mother into making my sister buy lehengas, which would show off her midriff and arms. This completely goes against the very purpose of wearing a hijab.

To reach a compromise with my family, I nominated myself as my sister’s makeup artist and hairstylist for the wedding day and began experimenting with different hijab styles. We naively thought that if we could show them that the hijab could be dolled up, they would accept her decision. They did not. In the end, when the engagement was broken off, they simply returned to their earlier comments about taking off the hijab to score a husband.

The sheer amount of criticism that came with all this has my sister unsure about whether she ever wants to have a wedding, let alone one in Pakistan with our family. It hurt to watch my sister try and deal with the harsh judgment and then come to realize that her opinions hold no value in our community. It hurts more to think that other Pakistani brides might have to put up with the same level of harassment all over one headscarf

My sister was always much more staunch in her love of the hijab. Truth be told, I started wearing it on the condition that it would be pink and glittery. If you asked me just two years back, I might have given in to the family pressure and agreed to take off my hijab for my wedding.

Yet, knowing the struggle and judgment that comes with making a choice has given me an appreciation for the fact that it was a choice. However petty my reason is, it is my choice to put on the hijab, and I will be damned if I let someone else try to make decisions about my body and my attire for that one day in my life.

Now I can say with confidence that I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding.

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The Breakdown Race Inequality

Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation: Know the difference

The Breakdown is a Tempest exclusive series that attempts to tackle issues, concepts, terms, and histories that are relevant and intrinsic to conversations about social justice. This is our version of a 101 on Social Justice, with a grassroot level approach that hopes to simplify and make political and cultural conversations accessible in a global level.

The debate around cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation has existed for a while. However, it gained significant momentum recently after the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement after criticism against how Black culture has been heavily appropriated in pop culture and fast fashion. Since May a number of celebrities, influencers, and brands have been called out for cultural appropriation on mass media. One such example is Reformation – a sustainable clothing brand – who was called out for the lack of Black models on their Instagram feed. The brand has since attempted to diversify its feed. On the other hand, rapper Bhad Bhabie came under fire for comparing herself to Tarzan and had to defend herself against accusations of appropriating Black culture.  

But there’s always a question when you see people donned up in clothes, ornaments, or participating in things that are not part of their culture. Are they appropriating another culture or is it appreciation? 

The academic definition of cultural appropriation is “taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.” Appropriation involves enacting on certain parts of a culture such as clothing or hairstyle without a full understanding of the culture and reinforcing stereotypes or holding prejudices against its people. It can also involve not crediting the culture itself or its creators.

An example of cultural appropriation could be wearing a bindi. Buying a bindi from a tourist shop or a company that just produces the item does not give you the full perspective of the culture. In fact, in some ways, it creates a false perspective that it is just merely a decorative ornament. Bindi symbolizes different aspects of the Hindu culture and Indian women who wear it, do so with significance to their culture. 

Wearing a bindi or another piece representing a specific culture might get you positive attention or appreciation. However, when someone from the same culture wears an item from their culture but gets more negative remarks than positive is where it becomes problematic. For instance, wearing a ‘hipster’ headdress is not okay. The warbonnet headdress perpetuated by Hollywood projects the view that all Native American’s have the same culture. There are, however, approximately 500+ distinct tribes with their own cultures. Warbonnets or feather headdresses are not a fashion choice but a symbol of respect and honor that needs to be earned

People are straight-up told that their cultural practices are old-fashioned or conservative. Often times, they may be told to conform to the social norms, or worst case, they may become a target for hate crimes. Remember, when Zac Efron wore dreadlocks “just for fun”? To which, he was reminded that Black people get turned down on job interviews for wearing locs and braids. 

Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, involves appreciating and taking an interest to understand another culture. This involves sharing knowledge with permission and credit those who belong to that culture. For instance, when you purchase an item you buy it directly from the creators. You understand how the item is intended to be used and learn the value it holds in the culture.

Once, a friend of mine was invited to attend a sermon at the mosque. Despite being agnostic herself, she explained to me that she understands the significance of wearing a headscarf to the mosque and respects it. Therefore, she intended on bringing a headscarf to the mosque and cover her hair to show respect during the sermon.

Cultural appreciation involves paying respect to the artists and creators and understanding the origins of a culture. Remember, 2015 Met Gala’s high-risk ‘China through the looking glass’ theme? Rihanna was one of the few attendees of the gala who wore a dress that was crafted by an esteemed Chinese designer. It is not the perfect contextualization but at least a more suitable one. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to know the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Romanticizing and sexualizing certain cultural aspects whilst rejecting other aspects that do not interest you trivializes the culture. Appropriation perpetuates stereotypes and racism. It obstructs the views and voices of those who belong to the culture giving it to those who have appropriated it. 

With Halloween just around the corner, here is a quick reminder that culturally appropriated costumes are offensive and should not be worn. Wearing costumes that are cultural stereotypes literally reduces an entire culture and its people to a costume. Need I remind you of Scott Disick’s costume of a ‘Sheikh’ or Julianna Hough who darkened her face to portray a character from Orange Is the New Black. A good idea is to do some research and find out whether or not your costume is racist. Bear in mind though, if you need to do a lot of explaining as to why your costume is not racist, then it is a sign that you should reconsider. (Here is a handy guide of “costumes” you should NOT be wearing)

The bottom line here is that there is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. We live in an increasingly globalized world and it is important to be mindful of our words and actions. Certain behaviors are never appreciative and should be avoided. It is a learning process but one that is not too difficult. Keep educating yourself because, at the end of the day, we all learn and grow everyday.

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This pandemic offers Muslim women the opportunity to reclaim agency over their religious practice

For many Muslims, Ramadan is a month met with much anticipation. For some, it’s an opportunity to rekindle connection – with nightly iftars, congregational prayers, and other mosque activities, it’s a time where community spirit thrives.  For others it can be a challenging time; both physical and cultural barriers result in some, such as women, or mothers, having an unmosqued Ramadan. This is due to the fact that in some countries or communities, women are barred from attending the mosque, or the infrastructure and space allotted to them suggest women’s space in a mosque as an afterthought rather than an integral or central part of the Muslim community.

For the entire month, the Imam leads the congregation in Taraweeh prayer, which happens only during Ramadan. Ramadan 2020 is taking place in the midst of a pandemic, and most people are observing social distancing in some form. As such, mosques will be mostly empty except for the Imam and possibly a handful of congregants.

Understandably, many people fear they will miss out and have a less meaningful Ramadan this year. Without the mosque, there is a lack of that sense of community that so many people look forward to and rely on. The concept of going virtual is somewhat difficult to grasp being far from what people define as a community.

The absence of Taraweeh prayers and the mosque community bring to light a pertinent question: why are men the gatekeepers of religion?

Men are finding themselves in a strange predicament – this year they are on the receiving end of being unmosqued; it’s the first time they’re faced with closed doors, being unwelcomed, and not having a space for worship. Women, on the other hand, know these experiences all too well.

For too long women in Muslim communities have been on the receiving end of the false narrative that their spiritual growth and development are tethered to a man or the men in their communities. For a woman, it’s taken in stride that her presence is not always welcomed or encouraged in the mosque environment, with it being cited that it is better for women to pray at home instead of at the mosque. Women have learned to adapt to these cultural mindsets and advocate for reform within the constraints of a mosque board,  though it is not always received well – change is hard to come by.

A spiritual path for women has been purported to be through men, whether an imam or their relatives. Accessibility to God, through religious practices, is taught to be fixed method, that men lead in worship, women follow, and it’s extrapolated that without men leading, women are therefore cut off from particular modes of worship, and their spiritual journey is curtailed. 

Social distancing and a pandemic may be putting a damper on regular Ramadan activities, but I’d like to put forward the idea that it’s a time where women can flourish spiritually, and it should be embraced. This Ramadan is an opportunity to flip the script and reclaim what is ours. Now is the optimal time, as women, to recognize and reclaim Ramadan as a spiritual experience that we can set the tone for and experience in our own ways. 

It’s scary and unnerving for some women who’ve been conditioned or brought up to think that their spiritual well-being relies on being led by a man when the opposite is actually the reality. In early Muslim communities, women led other women in prayers; they were in charge and invested in their own spiritual growth. Countless women memorized and recited Qur’an, a topic that can be contentious nowadays; though in some countries it is accepted (and encouraged)  for women to recite in public, there are still places where the overarching cultural perception is that a woman should refrain from projecting her voice in public spaces. 

This Ramadan is surely going to be different from what we’re used to, but there is a silver lining in all this COVID-induced chaos. The absence of congregations this Ramadan actually levels the gender-biased playing field. It gives women the space to unearth what they require to nurture a spiritual relationship for themselves – one which men are not privy to.  

Shopping Fashion Lookbook

The Verona Collection and Macy’s partnership is history in the making

Modest fashion is nothing new, especially in the Muslim world. As a Muslim woman, I can tell you that our entire wardrobe often revolves around dressing modestly. While growing up in the West, it became quite the task. I either wore boys’ clothes or had to wear a cardigan with everything. But with more than 3.45 billion Muslims in the U.S. alone, modest fashion was bound to come hit the public eye at some point.

From Muslim models who wear the hijab on the cover of Vogue to Nike making a sports hijab, modest Muslim fashion is definitely working its way into mainstream fashion. I, for one, am extremely excited about it.

But what’s even more impressive than Nike making a hijab, for example, is a Muslim-owned modesty brand like Verona Collection being celebrated as its own company.

Verona Collection, founded by Lisa Vogl and Alaa Ammuss, was sold for the first time in a Macy’s Store. The mainstream department store teamed up with the Muslim woman-owned brand in Feb 2018 and sold select pieces online, which was a big win in its own right. Now, Verona Collection is also being sold in-store and online, following a big launch at a Detroit Macy’s.

Many enthusiastic Detroit Muslims and bloggers attended this major event, which featured a red carpet, music, hors d’oeuvres, entertainment and shopping of course.

Many Muslims have voiced their concern that non-Muslims brands like Nike making hijabs is indeed exciting, but it could also be a means of capitalism to tap into the modesty market. “American Islamophobia” author, Khaled Beydoun engaged his followers in an Instagram post and got opinions if “this is a sign of progress and acceptance or commercial opportunism and marketing.”

But what sets this particular collaboration apart is that it is a step towards inclusion and celebration of a Muslim woman’s business. In partnering with Verona Collection, Macy’s has started making the move from diversity to proper representation because Lisa and Alaa—two Muslim designers have been recognized for their hard work—are being represented as its own entity, with an entire line made just for Muslims.

Riz Ahmed explained the difference between diversity and representation in his interview with Trevor Noah. “I don’t like to talk about diversity. I feel like it sounds like an added extra. You got your main thing going on, and you sprinkle a little bit of diversity on top of that. Representation is absolutely fundamental in terms of what we expect from our culture and from our politics. We all want to feel represented. We all want to feel seen and heard and valued.”

Now, when I can walk into a Macy’s and buy modest clothing made by Muslim women for Muslim women, I feel seen and heard. I feel that I am being valued as a consumer by a major department store, all while supporting a Muslim woman-owned brand.

Finally, we’re in the clothing game – all without having to choose between who we are and what we want to wear. It’s my hope that Macy’s first step into the modest fashion space opens the door for other companies to acknowledge Muslim-owned businesses in their own right and gives them the much-needed space they so deserve.

Editor's Picks World News The World

Terrorism will never keep me from my mosque

Mosque (n.) – a Muslim temple or place of public worship.

It’s quiet; save the faint whispers of prayers recited under hushed breaths and the distant shouts of hyperactive children. Rows upon rows of men and women sit with their heads bowed, immobile as fans circle above, buffeting their soft silks and cotton like gentle caresses. If one didn’t know better, the scene before them could be mistaken for an art exhibit. Still-life captured in the peaceful sanctuary of a mosque.

A high and clear voice rings throughout the space, and suddenly the exhibit sheds its stillness and comes alive.

The mosque has always been a steady presence in my life – the open courtyard beckoned mischief in my younger years and forged friendships on sunlit afternoons later on. There was the ever-present ice cream truck which came every week at 12 o’clock sharp and had kids patting themselves down for pocket change for a chance to feast on a red, white and blue icicle. It hosted spring fundraising picnics with bounce houses, cotton candy machines, discount hijab booths, and a faux farmer’s market. On sleepy yet festive mornings after Eid prayers, there was always a comforting guarantee of boxes upon boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee.

It was a place where I spent my Sundays being schooled in the faith and then teaching it to younger kids. Where I fumbled over my Arabic alphabet until I managed to recite whole chapters of text in a language I couldn’t speak from memory.

I grew up wandering its halls, and in turn, it grew up with me.

I was lucky to see it through its numerous renovations and refurbishments, slowly becoming the place that we could truly claim as our own. A place whose chipped walls had been lovingly replaced by murals of the names of Allah, painted by volunteers on days the mosque stood quiet and introspective. A place that the brothers would gather after services to sweat through their thobes, playing endless hours of basketball on a new court my cousins and I would race across barefoot on late nights.

A place that our sheikh, Ibrahim Habash, could speak his Friday sermon with a blend of gravitas, revelation and dad humor.

There was the evergreen thrill of bringing non-Muslim friends to Ramadan iftars.

Watching their faces light up as they bit in the soft flesh of a date.

Fixing the placement of their hands as they tried with some effort to look natural as they joined the masses for Maghrib prayers. Kissing their perfumed cheeks goodbye as they left the space later in the night, taking a little piece of our faith with them, tucked safely between the sweets in their Styrofoam boxes.

My mosque’s walls bore the weight of Janazah (funeral) prayers, as we gathered in swathes of white and let our grief slowly pool and then trickle out of our raised hands.

It has heard collective mourning for those taken by hate-fueled terror both abroad and at home.

The weathered pulpit has remained steadfast as sermons of unification sounded out to the masses, seeking to ease minds plagued by fear and indecision.

Strength surging from our sheikh’s voice and seeping into the green and white carpet. Steady, he would say. We are going to be okay. We will forge on.

The mosque that I have been attending since I was eight years old holds more than a decade of memories. Some are sad, some are happy, and some are embarrassing.

But every single one is precious.

Every scraped knee, every dog-eared Quran page, every gap-toothed salam, every Friday dinner.

Every moment my nose touched the carpeted floor praying that this sanctuary remains untouched by those who only mean to do us harm.

I remember it all.

And as we process our grief and anger and frustration from this senseless tragedy, I hope we take a moment to breathe under the hum of the circling ceiling fans in each of our mosques.

And commit all those precious moments to memory.

The Internet Fashion Pop Culture

When will self-righteous Muslim Instagram commenters stop piling hate on DinaTokio?

Arrogance is frowned down upon in Islam. Yet, it is not unpopular for the modern Muslim community to pass judgments while assuming a holier-than-thou status.

Dina Torkia, one of our previous 40 Women to Watch, is an Internet icon who I have admired for many years now.

In the fashion world, she has been hailed as a modest fashion influencer and she has even come out with her own clothing line recently. I especially adore Dina for the outspokenness and advocacy in making women’s voices heard, specifically in making Muslim women’s voices heard in the fields of fashion and women’s empowerment. 

When Dina’s career as a social media influencer first started in 2010, she was wearing the headscarf, which is common attire for Muslim women. As a Muslim woman myself, I personally do not wear the headscarf, nor do I observe full hijab unless I am doing the five daily prayers. I have full respect for women who do choose to wear the headscarf or to observe full hijab for having the courage to choose to dress the way they want regardless of what the close-minded part of society says.

Receiving criticism and judgment for being herself, an independent and confident woman is something Dina wasn’t new to. Commendably, she hasn’t let hate stop her from succeeding.

Recently, Dina Torkia decided to stop covering her hair. In the past, she had multiple ways to wrap her hair and head, whether it was turban style or in a style that covered her neck. She had always received judgment from fellow Muslims, both women and men criticizing her for not being modest enough in her dress and behavior, given that she is a confident, outspoken woman, which apparently makes some close-minded and sexist people uncomfortable.

I was shocked and disgusted to see the negative reactions such as criticizing Instagram comments toward Dina for showing her hair. On Dina’s YouTube channel, people even went so far as claiming that she was no longer Muslim. On top of that, many accused her of utilizing hijab for the purpose of attaining fame, following up with the accusation that she started showing her hair once she had the fame in her hands. 

It was very disheartening to watch one of Dina’s latest videos, where she spent more than 45 minutes reading through hate comments she has received from people who are so lowly as to spend their free time and energy insulting and judging her instead of focusing on themselves and trying to better their own character. 

In Islam, you are not supposed to display arrogance. There’s even the quote that “even a mustard seed of arrogance will prevent you from entering Heaven.”

Yet too many Muslims have been sending Dina negative messages, with a number of them even going so far as to threaten her family and to curse her.

All this hate and attacks around her own personal decision – a decision that has absolutely nothing to do with those attacking her.

As a Muslim woman, and just as a person in general, I condemn those of the Muslim community who uphold and exercise such arrogance and work toward bringing a fellow Muslim – a fellow human – down. Not only is it wrong for Muslims to insult and hurt someone of their own faith, but it is beyond abhorrent for anyone at all to be treated as cruelly and disrespectfully as Dina has been treated.

Blatant hypocrisy is apparent through fellow Muslims who attack and insult Dina’s character and wish ill upon her and her family. These kinds of people carry the air that they are better Muslims than she is by claiming the authority of shaming and hurting Dina. What they totally disregard is Dina’s characteristics that make her a good person and a good role model.

There is nothing wrong with disagreeing respectfully with one’s decisions, but it is wrong to force your opinion on others, especially in ways which demean and degrade them.

Despite the negative responses, there has also been a lot of support toward Dina both from within and outside of the Muslim community against the haters. It restores my faith in humanity to see people being there for each other. And in this case specifically, to see both Muslims and non-Muslims be there for a fellow human, for a fellow sister.

Muslim or not, the people who support and respect someone else, whether or not they agree with her decision, are far higher with their humility and kindness and in overall character than the arrogant haters will ever be.

Love Life Stories Weddings

I had to fight the Desi community to wear a hijab on my wedding day

The hype around a wedding in Pakistani society is unreal.

It is as if the entire world is waiting for that one event of your life and your whole upbringing leads up to it. The multi-billion dollar wedding industry is huge, comprising of thousands of designers, makeup artists, jewelers, and photographers. And they all come at a hefty price. Everybody is racing to get that dress from that one top-notch designer. Bookings are done a year in advance for the best makeup artists.

The bride needs to look perfect the setting has to be magnificent and the pictures should be enough to share on your facebook for the next few years.

But what if the bride wishes to wear a hijab? Hide her beautiful locks on the big day? GASP. 

Is it really that unfathomable? Yes.

You’d think in Pakistan, a Muslim country, this would be more common, but it really is not. Even people who wear the hijab generally don’t do so at their weddings due to cultural standards of beauty.

“How are you going to look beautiful without your hair showing?”
“The jewelry must show. What is a bride without showing off her earrings and necklace?”
“Your face will shrink if you wear the hijab and your makeup won’t even look that good”. 

This is what you would expect to hear if you ever decide on announcing to your family that you plan on wearing a hijab on your big day.

This concept of what an ideal bride should look like is set in stone, and I had to fight quite a lot to get my way and go against the norm. It’s interesting: this idea of the perfect bride with a heavy outfit, flowing locks of hair, jewelry, hands full of henna and a few pounds of makeup.

Anything not following that pattern is seen as scandalous. 

People kept asking me, “Isn’t it okay if you let go of the hijab just for a day?” I was adamant on not doing so. How does one fight for their personal right to wear whatever they want when everybody around them is in opposition to it?

After ignoring most of the snarky comments passed on to me by relatives and friends, I started the hunt for the perfect style of hijab for my face and was intent on looking as fabulous as I could.

Woman wearing pink saree looking shocked via giphy
Woman wearing pink saree looking shocked via giphy

Finding a hijab stylist was not easy.

After a lot of Instagram hunting, I found one who was just perfect. With tonnes of heavy work on my bridal dress carrying an additional layer on my head was tough. There were quite a few pins inserted onto my head so my scarf would not fall off.

There was a lot of pressure on me because I wanted to show people that beauty comes in many forms. 

In the end, I looked beautiful and I loved it.

I did hear a few oohs and aahs from the crowd, but there were also people who admired my courage to wear the hijab and told me so.

I couldn’t be happier.

Woman gives herself a high-five. Via Giphy

I wonder how we have reached this stage of extravagance. These cultural standards are so different from our religion that it’s astonishing. Islam encourages the simplest of weddings, no burden on anybody. Feed a few loved ones and the poor. That is all.

In the end, it’s all about confidence. Wear what you want on your big day and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Gender Inequality

I’d never heard about Muslim women in prison – until now

I had never heard of the Muslim Women in Prison project until I watched Youtuber Dina’s Tokio’s “creators for change” series.

She chose to highlight amazing Muslim women around the world who were just living their lives as they saw fit and breaking barriers at the same time. One of the women she met up with is Sofia Buncy, who founded the Muslim Women in Prison project and they discussed all that could be done to help these women.

Before this, it had never even occurred to me that Muslim women might be prisoners or had ever broken the law in any way, even as a Muslim woman who has broken the law herself.

My outlook on my friends, my mother and Muslim people, in general, were that despite the stereotypes of terrorism, we were all just pious and perfect law-abiding citizens. Little did I know how dangerous this outlook was and how I was acting on another stereotype that aided in the oppression and misunderstanding of Muslim women.

Society has this idea that religious persons are perfect persons and religiosity and morality go hand in hand. We see outward signs of piety like a hijab, a nun’s habit, or an orthodox cassock and we expect the people wearing them to be morally strong, impeccable human beings. And while these garments often do remind the persons wearing them of their faith and their faith’s practices which can align with societal morals, they are anything but perfect.

Often if these persons are caught doing something unlawful or immoral they receive harsher judgments and are castigated.

This is the story of so many Muslim women in prison today.  Along with the same mistreatment that all women receive in prison like abuse, rape, and denial of basic human rights, these women often face language barriers, community backlash, and stigmatization, as well as discrimination from the officers who oversee them.

The worst part of it all is that when you look at the records of these women, they usually aren’t even hardened criminals.

According to Buncy, they are frequently first-time offenders, victims of abuse, and familial circumstances, and yet they are treated like the worst of the worst. It truly seems that these women are being punished for their crimes as well as for being Muslim.

They should not be held to some higher standard to then later be dragged through the mud. When a woman puts on her hijab, it is her job is to hold herself to the standard that aligns with her religious beliefs, not anyone else’s.

We do not speak for them and we definitely do not speak for God. Our job is to treat all people equally.

It’s time we start thinking of these women. We habitually forget about women in prison but Muslim women?

We don’t think of them at all.

Gender Inequality Interviews

The Salafi Feminist gets real about her thoughts on feminism, faith, and polygamy

Her online nome de plume sparks plenty of controversies around the internet, but it’s for good reason. According to her blog, she considers herself an “orthodox Muslimah with vaguely left-leaning tendencies,” and she’s been writing about Islam since 2005 – when she was just 14.

The Tempest had a chat with The Salafi Feminist, whose real name is Zainab bint Younus, about her personal thoughts around feminism, activism, and polygamy.

The Tempest: Through your social media posts and articles in different publications online, you don’t shy away from talking about taboo topics. Why is that?

Zainab bint Younus: I didn’t go out of my way to write about these topics specifically. They just happened to be what drew my attention, what interested me, what was relevant to me – and which very few, if any, other Muslim teachers or writers were discussing at all, information on the subjects were restrictive, ignored entire aspects of each topic, and did not reflect a holistic Islamic understanding of how these issues relate to our real lives.

What advice would you give to other young Muslim women wanting to get into activism/ advocacy work in Muslim communities?

Don’t go into it because it’s trendy. Don’t think you’re going to make much of a difference, either. It sounds contradictory, but people who think that they’ll be able to change the world overnight will experience burnout even faster. Seek the Mentorship of female religious scholars and don’t compromise the principles of the religion to fit into social activist circles.

When I first started as a writer, ten years ago, I was aware of many of our community’s issues but was still quite hopeful and idealistic. Life experience drove home the reality of misogyny and how it affects Muslim women on a daily basis.

What’s your most important piece of advice you’d give to those thinking about entering a polygamous marriage?

I very, very, very strongly advise most people from getting into poly because, without a great deal of research and emotional preparation, it will inevitably go down in flames.

Poly is not for the faint of heart: it requires a great deal of emotional intelligence, emotional maturity, and the ability and willingness to accept change and a very unconventional way of living. You will discover things about yourself and your partners that you will be shocked by, and often shaken. How you handle the inevitable conflicts and deeply sensitive situations will make you or break you.

Healthy, happy polygamy can only take place when all parties are aware and consenting – and even then, there will be numerous challenges for you to overcome.If the first wife is kept in the dark, and you as a potential second wife are aware of this, and still decide to go ahead with it – know that you are not getting yourself into a healthy and happy situation.

All that being said – I remain a huge proponent of #positivepoly!

What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

Stop feeling guilty and ashamed of being your own person, and stand up for yourself. Stop relying on others to make you feel better or to get you out of a bad situation. Just make du’a and kick some butt.

What’s your favorite or most used come-back to the haters who say you can’t be Muslim and feminist?

I used to bother giving thoughtful explanations, but now I am a crabby hermit who says things like, “Fluff off, I have important things to do.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Gender & Identity Life

My choice to wear hijab is judged by my Pakistani community every single day

It might seem hard to believe, but I have Pakistani Muslim friends and family that object to me wearing the hijab.

Not necessarily on the grounds that they worry about my safety, though that is a factor as well. The appearance of a girl in hijab puts other Muslims, particularly from South Asian or Desi backgrounds on an unnecessary defense. My Middle Eastern and convert friends are surprised at the reactions of fellow Pakistani Americans.

But I am not.

Related image
[Image Description: A woman in the midst of people taking off her hijab and disappearing along with it.]
Among Muslim communities in the West, we usually see our Arab friends wearing hijab more often than Desis. Desis are more likely to be seen in a loose dupatta while Arabs typically have well-secured scarves.

Some of the Desis with more secure scarves, or with any head-covering, usually come from families where women wear hijab already. This could possibly be why I faced more resistance or felt more tension when my own scarf was well-secured, or on my head at all. I look different, and it seems more deliberate

Would people in my community have the same qualms and opinions against me if my mother and sisters wore hijab too? No.

They might view my family differently though.

In an attempt to bring light to the cultural resistance that some Pakistanis express against the hijab (and sometimes even the beard) I’ll say this much:

In Pakistan, our identification with our faith, our nation, and our culture tends to blur. It’s almost hard to tell where certain cultural understandings comply with our faith or defy it. For certain groups or individuals, there is a variation in how much our faith applies in our culture if it hasn’t already influenced the culture overall. On top of that, Pakistani Americans are a people who are struggling to integrate.

How we have been going about this has added to the tension between how different communities, families, and individuals operate.

Therefore, I do have to worry about other Muslims’ opinions.

My family gets a kick out of my tendency to answer aunties when they comment on my weight and height, but I’m more limited in my diplomatic options when I get unwarranted remarks on the hijab.

A wrong move gives Pakistanis who are wary of religious attire all the more reason to hold a grudge against it.

Family and friends alike are ready to inform me that there are people who wear hijab (and niqab and burka) who are not “good” people, (ergo probably not “good” Muslims). After nearly two decades on Earth, I had not remained unaware of this possibility. If a person in a hijab, burka, niqab or with a beard has ever acted unjustly in your eyes I can’t apologize for that bad taste in your mouth.

It’s just not up to me.

Not to mention, those who outwardly “look” Muslim aren’t exactly at an overall advantage in the United States.

That being said, hijab is not limited to a culture, but I’ve seen and heard Pakistanis treat it as something that should be excluded from ours.

It’s an interesting type of conservatism, isn’t it? There simply is no fine line between Pakistanis who want to conserve their faith and their cultural identities.

One can be both.

Aside from cultural conservatism, insecurity hides under the tension between Pakistanis and their friends and family who wear hijab. It’s normal for people to worry about being judged by people whose outward appearance reflects their faith.

I know this because I also felt insecure before I wore hijab (I still do, because dressing modestly is hard when the standard is blurry) and people who acted awkward about my decision admitted this issue too. If you walk on eggshells around people who dress a certain way, you are only reinforcing the notion that they may have some higher moral standing than you, and we all know deep down that this does not have to be true.

Neither friends nor family were ever supposed to feel like I hold anything against them for the way they dress. It actually cannot work like that. I just wanted to continue to take pride in my culture without feeling like I had to put my faith behind it.

As people who are constantly judged for their outward appearance, those in hijab or beard ought to know better than to hold someone’s lack of against them.

When you’re a Muslim in the Western world, you carry this weight of ensuring that whatever you do, you don’t leave a negative impression.

You feel this weight most if your name or appearance gives away your identity.

Imagine feeling that weight out and about among non-Muslims and around other Muslims too.

It was not fun to see the friends I grew up with watch as elders made faces at my attire and made comments that I couldn’t respond to.

Though it’s not something that’s easy to smile through, I was okay, more than okay. The concerns of how you look in your scarf and what others think (at times excluding concerns about safety) go through you so easily when you remember why you made this decision.

At that point, nothing else matters.

It goes from something frustrating to something peaceful. In a culture where “what will people say?” is over-emphasized, to remind yourself that people will simply say whatever they say is a reclamation of self-control. Wasn’t the hope that I could prioritize God-consciousness over petty opinions not a heavy factor in my decision?

It will always be a struggle and I wind up back at square one every day, but its worth it for me.

At the end of the day, Pakistanis are mostly harmless about these things (I think). It probably helps that my family has mostly digested my situation. My mother and sisters have stood up for me because you can make fun of your family, but no one else can – and because they have come to somewhat respect my decision. Some of my Desi friends genuinely wanted to look out for me from the start. Some of them didn’t say anything and I knew why.

Things feel okay now though, maybe even more than okay.

[bctt tweet=”In either case, I can’t apologize for ruining family photos by sticking out. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Some people, including Pakistanis, are actually very kind and tell me that I look beautiful in my scarf out of appreciation of seeing me in it. Many people genuinely want me to be safe and free from discrimination as I proceed through life. Honestly, I do get scared at times- that’s a separate issue though.

Meanwhile, some are still waiting for me to change my mind, and many are surprised that I haven’t yet.

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

Gender & Identity Life

I’m not forcing you to wear the hijab, just because I wear it

One time, my non-Muslim friends asked me about hijab, wondering why I chose to wear it. We were having lunch together in the café near the college surrounded by other students from all backgrounds – local and international, which means mostly from South Asia and Middle Eastern countries. I was glad to answer their question and gave them my typical but truthful response – faith and personal choice.

I loved wearing it and it made me feel good, confident and empowered.

They accept the answer with no argument, as they understood that every religion has its own conditions and rules. One of them praised how beautiful I styled my chiffon hijab and I even taught them how to wear it. As the conversation went on for quite a while, I noticed a group of girls around my age, sitting at the table next to mine.

I knew them.

They were exchange students from the Middle East and we were in the same group project for the semester. They heard the conversation. I noticed some of them were staring at me and few other hijabi friends of mine as if we have said something negative about hijab.

I tried to brush off the feeling but I could not ignore the familiar, uncomfortable knot in my stomach.

The next day, they approached me.

They questioned me as to why I gave my friends such answer. They could not agree with me. In their opinion, I gave my friends the wrong answer.

Hijab was not a symbol of empowerment, it was oppressive.

[bctt tweet=”Hijab was not a symbol of empowerment, it was oppressive.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I was stunned.

They were not wearing hijab at that time, but they were born and raised with Islamic value in their life. Surely they knew that there was no compulsion in religion, so why would they say such thing?

But for them, there was no choice.

Hijab had been forced on them since they were young and I would never understand their circumstances. I had a choice, where they did not. Not all Muslim girls are free to decide on this matter, so telling the world that hijab represents freedom was absolutely unacceptable.

I have never been in their situation, but still, I understood as to why these girls felt oppressed. Their family, parents, society, even the law enforced hijab on them. To this day, they are given no say on what to wear. For a basic life necessity such as clothing, even to me, it is absurd for other people to decide it for us.

There is no wonder they think hijab is a symbol of oppression and this built a lifetime of resentment towards hijab in them.

[bctt tweet=”This built a lifetime of resentment towards hijab in them.” username=”wearethetempest”]

But that does not mean they have right to resent others for wearing it by choice.

I wear hijab using my free will.

Nobody ever forced me to wear it. One day I just woke up and decided to put it on, it was as simple as that.

Hijab represents my identity as a Muslim woman, which is the first reason I wear it. Some people view it as oppressive, but nothing is more liberating to me than hijab. Women have dresses, makeup and any fashion trends to express themselves. I do not disagree on that. Just like how they have their own way of expressing themselves, so do I.

And hijab is one of my way of doing it, just like it does to any other women as well.

To those who are forced, know this: there are some that do wear it voluntarily. Being proud of hijab does not mean we glorify the enforcement of hijab on you. We support the (un)veiled women, no matter what their choices are. We respect their decisions and it is not our place to judge them.

Hijab is not a symbol of oppression.

Oppression is preventing people from expressing themselves.

[bctt tweet=”Wearing hijab does not mean we glorify the enforcement of hijab.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Telling us to stop proclaiming it as our strength symbol is a form of oppression too, don’t you think?

Stop blaming us for honoring this piece of “oppressive” cloth.

Blame it on the ones who forced you, not us.

The Internet Humor BRB Gone Viral Pop Culture

These 21 Muslim memes will have you dying of laughter

1. We all know that “inshallah” really means no.

2. Lotas ain’t got nothing on these babies.

3. Poor guy.

4. “Muslim People Time” is definitely a thing.

5. Pre-med struggles.

6. Seems plausible.

7. “We’re living in 2017 whereas this guy is in 2097. Perpetual wudu, never have to break salaah again.”

8. Time to bust out the Hand of Fatima necklaces and blue-eye bracelets.

9. Ball is life?

10. Yikes.

11. Bonus points if you’re pre-med

12. Sisters, imagine you are like lollipop. Would you eat it uncovered?

13. We’ve been busted.

14. Babas have an uncanny way of walking in the room at exactly the wrong time.

15. The realest thing I’ve ever seen.

16. Don’t play yourself.

17. We all know this guy.

18. Who’s his henna artist?

19. It’s the sunnah, guys.

20. Y’all need to give us more credit, this has been a thing since flip phones first came out.

21. Akh-med?