Gender Inequality

I mourn for Muslim men like my father

When people see my father, they see a man they perceive to be barbaric and oppressive.

They see a man they believe doesn’t value women or community; they see him and make judgments.

As hard as my father tries to smile with strangers (something integrated into our Muslim faith), and as much as he attempted as a child to assimilate – people hold loaded, preconceived notions of him. This is a problem that not only plagues my father, but my uncles, cousins, and brothers in my faith.

When I look at my father’s face, I see a man who is soft, gentle, and kind to his core.

I see a man who could not hold me as a baby in fear of hurting me. I see a man who, after days of not holding his newborn, held me (with much coaxing by others) and placed a pillow underneath my body to ensure my safety. I see a man who questions and challenges anyone who tells me I should consider getting married soon and stop focusing on school.

I am assumed to be a victim of both Islam and Muslim men when, in fact, I am not.

My father constantly addresses education for women in Islam as a value and lets me make my own choices regarding marriage; my father is my biggest fighter in this regard, championing my autonomy to receive an education.

Despite the fact that my father has worked tirelessly, defying circumstances to give the women in his life everything, I see a man who has been pigeonholed falsely as a “wife-beater,” “honor killer,” and oppressive brown man.

My father is a man whose practice of Islam coincides with his respect and honor of women, yet my father and many others are painted as vicious because of their Muslim names. The false perceptions of my father go further than Islamophobia and intertwine with his embodiment as a racialized man. At the intersection of being both a brown and Muslim man, my father has entered a losing situation when it comes to society believing that he is a good father and husband.

I mourn for the Muslim men in my life who are presumed guilty without a crime, largely a result of the media bias that has tainted Western society.

Muslim men, especially in a post 9/11 world, are seen in a monolithic way, and this view is intensified by shows like Law & Order: SVU, Homeland, and more recently, Tyrant.

Coupled with skewed and disproportionate media coverage of honor killings, Islamophobic government policies have created a trope.

A White man committing a crime is routinely less covered and, often, situational factors such as mental health are brought in to explain their actions as an anomaly.

In stark contrast, racialized men are depicted as a uniform group, and their actions – a phenomenon intrinsic to their being.

White men have the privilege, by default, to be the optimal group. The situational excuses erase White males from being stereotyped, thus nothing can be wrong with them.

Subsequently, these narratives morph men of color into monsters and women of color into objects of saving. These polarizing caricatures result in domestic violence being perceived as shocking when a perpetrator is not Muslim or racialized.

The false perceptions of Muslim men projected unto my father and thousands of Muslim men recently re-circulated when the video of Ray Rice, former Baltimore Ravens running back, beating his then-fiancée unconscious in an elevator, was released. Although this was a non-Muslim man beating his fiancé, social media avoided that Ray, like every violent man, was just that: a violent man.

Instead, Islamaphobic commentary emerged loaded with assumptions in stark contrast to Islamic teachings or the Quran. People found ways to drag in Islam when Islam was not even remotely related to the case. Many suggested Ray was a Muslim or should convert to Islam because Muslim men “beat their wives daily.”

When news of Adrian Peterson, a Minnesota Running Back, who used a switch to beat his son appeared across media platforms, so did other Islamaphobic tweets about how Adrian might be Muslim or should consider converting because it is perceived as a staple of Muslim manhood.

There are times when I am surprised by being “othered” when my Muslim identity comes up in groups with progressive mission statements. Muslim countries are also demonized when these cases receive media attention; this expunges responsibility off the U.S., where the Bureau of Justice has reported nearly 25% of women face domestic violence.

Yet the problem continues to be distanced through an Orientalist gaze – one that is either distant or imported but never homegrown. Beyond being Islamophobic and often hued with racist ideology, this disingenuously obliterates a very real problem with domestic violence. There is a derailment of men of any creed, race, and class committing these crimes.

By doing this, the dichotomy of nice, White, Western men juxtaposing violent men of color becomes more complex for Muslim men.

This happens time and time again; even people who believe they are progressive and not complicit in bigotry have very deep-seated views on Islam from media. These individuals go on to continuously dismiss the fact that white and non-Muslim men commit domestic violence. Subsequently, a feeling of comfort is gained when Muslims and men of color continue to be asymmetrically chastised in the media.

The expression that Rice or any man of color is committing an offense due to “Islamic values,” is to disrupt the fact that domestic violence is not isolated to any region or group. This sentiment is an accomplice in discriminating against a religion with over 1.6 billion followers.

This hurtful rhetoric is very specific to the Muslim community; cases of violence committed by Christian males have never painted all of Christianity in the same light that Islam has been painted.

For example, The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) is continuously regarded in the media as an oddity and not representative of all Christians.

In many ways the media finds ways to view groups like this as a cult, whereas with Islam we witness people refusing to differentiate between tenants of the faith and some of its followers.

Although Islam gives women many rights including honor and respect, the distancing of the actual religion from those who are violent perpetrators is never highlighted. This has resulted in domestic violence being politicized as something that Muslim men commit; this claim is detrimental to Islam and assumes that a violent nature is indoctrinated into our religion and upbringings.

This rhetoric, Islamophobic in nature, defaults to very harmful stereotypes; it is an erasure of the fact that domestic violence is rampant and committed by a variety of men. There is a twisted security in viewing Ray as a part of the “other,” thus not American.

Along this line, many blame race as an issue.

When Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna, similar discourses suggesting bias simplifications such as “Black and Brown men do this, and White men would not do this” arose.

Intimate partner violence becomes isolated as a “cultural phenomenon” that is not perpetrated by White men.

Looking at the current state of sports, it is very obvious that society has a racial bias on how domestic violence is treated when perpetrated by certain bodies. This becomes obvious when looking at Ray and Adrain’s media portrayals versus White athletes this year. Contrasting Ray and Adrain’s portrayals with athletes who are White or pass as White, they have not received nearly the same amount of coverage. Oscar Pistorius killed his partner and Jonathan Koppenhaver was charged with attempted murder.

Each of the aforementioned men committed deplorable acts, but the way they were discussed, however, is important in understanding the universalized defamation of Muslim men and men of color.

There has to be a push when discussing domestic violence to do so in a way that does not pin it on false stereotypes created by misinformation and tropes.

These tropes go beyond vilifying my father and other men in my life.

They patronize my existence as one to be pitied.

When I worked as a peer counselor I had training sessions I had to disrupt in order to educate the “educator” on how not to misinterpret Islam as the reason men are abusive when discussing culturally sensitive scenarios. I also had to dismantle the narrative that Muslim women are constantly in need of saving from the barbaric savage men in their lives.

I question current opinions on Islam and domestic violence from my understanding of parts of the Quran.

My community, devout in its faith, is blatantly different than the false allegations we face.

When men are violent in our community, it is inherently a man being violent and does not, and should not, be a reflection and generalization of Islam.

Gender & Identity Life

Let me tell you why I became an activist.

When I was in elementary school, my mother used to pick me up by the back gates of the school. It was a daily routine. The bell would ring, and I would wait by the fence until she arrived.

One day, she didn’t come. I waited for a while, but I wasn’t worried. Even when my neighbor walked up to me, and said his parents were giving me a ride home, I wasn’t worried. But when I rang the doorbell to my own home, I began to feel my stomach churn in what I soon learned to call a gut feeling. I wasn’t aware at the time that it would come to be one of my more familiar sensations.

This particular day, to me, is one of those memories that I find difficult to solidly grasp. The small details slip through my fingers like water. Everything seems blurry and in my mind even now, everything is shifted to a diagonal angle. All I remember is that my mother was not in good shape, and she was crying. I cannot remember even now how it felt to see my own mother so incredibly heartbroken. Considering I had barely lived half a decade, I imagine that I did not fully understand the situation at the time.

I didn’t find out until later that my mother’s youngest brother had died in Afghanistan over a year before hand.

Afghans have large, extended families. Even if you are not related by blood, you are still kaka or khala. Everybody knows what somebody’s daughter said in the market the other day, or which college somebody’s son graduated from. That is precisely why I am still so shocked that every single Afghan who knew my mother managed to keep their mouths shut about her brother for over a year. They thought they were helping her – protecting from the pain of grieving – but what they did damaged my mother in a way that I had never seen before. She had simply thought that her brother could not return her letters because of issues with the Afghan postal system. To find out he had passed away without her knowledge was unbearable.

Slowly, a new routine began to develop.

As I grew up, I was surrounded by more mourning. More death. More sadness. My mother’s eldest brother also died in Afghanistan. My father began going to memorial services almost every week. The bags under my mother’s eyes became more pronounced. The color began to drain from my father’s eyes. Every phone call ended in grieving and heaving. To every mehmani I went to, there were Afghans who had lost family. Tears were shed. Prayers were murmured. Children grew up in households full of remorse.

Some ask me why I wish to become an activist. This is why. This is precisely why.

We recognize that lives are lost every day, every hour, every minute. But what we cannot comprehend is that in the times of today, there are people dropping dead at a shockingly high rate worldwide. Since the beginning of July, more than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed. On the 19th and 20th of July alone, more than 700 were killed in Syria in the bloodiest 48 hours in history. In the past decade, more than 20,000 Afghan civilians have been killed as “costs of war.”

There are thousands whose lives have been affected. There are thousands of mothers who will become increasingly emptied of emotion, and fathers whose eyes will begin to lose their color. There are thousands of children who will be shoved into over populated orphanages.

I will become an activist for all the tired women who are exhausted of the oppression, mourning, and injustice. There should be not be so many parents who have outlived their children and live each day wishing desperately that they hadn’t. There should not be so many young people growing up with trauma, caused by watching their families be dragged away from them.

I have seen the effects of such loss, and it would be my utmost regret if this “routine” were to continue. The time to break it has passed. It is time to burn it to the ground.

Politics The World

I didn’t know how important Gaza was.

As a kid, I was oblivious to the issues in Palestine. I had never heard of Israel, and at that time I didn’t even know what the word “conflict” meant.

Sure, Nada, my Muslim friend, had family in Palestine – a place far away, I was told – but other than that, I was clueless.

Fast-forward to preteen me.

I’m sitting on the National Mall and trying to hide my moist eyes after watching a video with injured children being projected on a large screen. My dad had brought me to a Palestine rally in D.C., and my naiveté did not prepare me one bit.

I didn’t open my mouth to yell any phrases I didn’t understand, or understand any of the politics involved, I just wanted to cry for the dying children.

I didn’t know what was going on, but obviously we were rallying for these kids who were my age but living in what seemed like a completely different world.

A couple years later, I met Fatima. We quickly became attached at the hip; we did EVERYTHING together, so much so that people thought we were sisters – and we told them we were. Though she was Palestinian-Caucasian and I was Pakistani-Caucasian, we felt like family. We were family.

In the summers, Fatima went to visit her family abroad. I imagined her going to Palestine… but she instead traveled to Lebanon a lot. My confusion led me to ask why, and when I did, I quickly found out that Palestine wasn’t where the families of the many Palestinians I knew lived.

They were refugees living in neighboring countries.

That was when I learned that Palestine wasn’t a country.

Between December 2008 and 2009, more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces.

At that time, I didn’t see both sides. I saw a harsh one-sided war. It seemed to my twelfth-grade self that Israelis were chilling, while Palestinians couldn’t catch a break.

I became an activist, wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh around my peacoat collar to school each day to show my support for the Palestinian people who were being massacred.

It should then have been no surprise when my AP Spanish teacher saw my keffiyeh and decided to host a debate in our class. Amidst my 20 classmates arguing that Israel had a right to self-defense (something I agree with), I was the only person that knew the details of the constant violence and the brute force used towards the Palestinian territories.

The family and friends of my Palestinian family wasn’t safe.

And it broke my heart.

When the violence began in Gaza this past Ramadan, I immediately began donning the keffiyeh again. I’m standing up to what I believe is an injustice, and I will not censor myself despite the criticism Palestinian supporters receive, the suggestive questions about opinions on Hamas, or the accusations people make about supporters being anti-Semitic.

The keffiyeh is a just mere symbol of my alliance, of my standing.

I stand with my friends, my family.

I stand with Gaza.

Politics The World

I refuse to talk to you about politics

No, I will not share my thoughts with you about “the Arab Spring.”

No, I will not give you my opinion on “women in Islam.”

No, I will not talk to you about “honor killings in that part of the world.’”

Pretty much all I’ve been hearing for the last year, maybe even the last four years, is how much your college major “doesn’t matter.” Okay, well then riddle me this. Why is it that when I tell people I am a political science major that they always want to talk about Middle Eastern politics with me? It doesn’t matter that much of the politics that I studied ranged from classes on the politics of migration to political science statistics to race and political theory. Everyone just wants to know what I think about “the latest conflict in [insert Middle Eastern country].” I just had a job interview–for a job entirely focused on local politics, by the way–and when the interviewer read my resume, he wanted to know what I thought about ISIS, “because I seem to have studied comparative politics and have an interest in global affairs.”

While it’s factually correct and that I was interested in global affairs in college (among many other things, including the history of American religion, which was my minor), I am really and truly tired of feeling like I represent all Arabs, all Muslims, all “people from over there,” since the people grilling me on my opinions seem to lump all these categories (and more) together. But rather than rant and rage against the frustrations of ignorant questions and even more arrogant assumptions, I have decided to confront a critical question: Should I even answer?

Growing up, I wouldn’t even have entertained such a thought. Not answer one of these questions, foolish (or worse) as they may be by an obviously well-meaning stranger?! Practically blasphemy, that’s what I thought about that. But now I’m at a point where not only are these questions, as relevant as some might be to current events, annoying, but they actually cause me stress and rob me of energy. And while I don’t want to presume anyone’s intention, I don’t know, in this day and age of Wikipedia and information overload, how anyone can feel that it makes any sense at all to ask one person’s opinion–though really, it’s an apology or defense I often feel people want from me–in regards to something they probably know nothing about as an excuse to help them be able to formulate their own.

Perhaps I’m being reductive and forgetting the main point here: after all, the most important thing is that people leave an interaction with me understanding and maybe even wanting to educate themselves more about Islam since Islam and Muslims have been slandered and lambasted in the media since before most of us Muslim-American kids could even spell the names that our teachers butchered (it’s actually sah-FAY-uh, not sah-FIE-uh. Not Safia either. And no, not the name of the only other hijabi in my school, either). Right?

I’m not going to answer my question above on your behalf, of course. Just on my own. But the next time someone asks you why Shari’a is creepin’ through Congress, or where you’re “really from,” or maybe more innocuously, is your family ok in X country because of Y insurgent group, remember that not only are you not obligated to answer. They’re in fact the ones more likely in the wrong for even asking. We’re individuals, and if you ever feel that you’re being made to quote for the internal printing press of some overly, anxiously inquiring mind that doesn’t even endeavor to explain to you what they want your answer for, well then, I say toss them a “peace, friend,” and move on to your next endeavor.

I think sometimes I’m so worried about messing up someone’s opinion of Islam and Muslims by not answering an asinine question that it’s taken me years to even stop and think if that’s really what the meaning of “da’wah” is. Sometimes, I feel muddled about what to do because for every four or five “did your dad force you to wear that thing”’s, there are one or two people I’ve been blessed enough to feel like I actually impact and even feel connection with when I tell them about Islam.

I guess I’m still answering my own question. I don’t want to establish a blanket policy for rejecting people who may one day learn to educate others on my behalf or even on behalf of Islam. But I want to save my energy, too, for bigger and better things.

At the end of the day, more often than not, it’s good to remember that when it comes to learning about other faiths, for a majority of the people asking ignorant questions, it’s their own job to take initiative and educate themselves.  Y’know, if you wanted my personal opinion on that topic.

As a reminder to myself: I can always say “no, thanks.”

And hey, if I’m ever totally at a loss for words, I can take comfort in the fact that this cool hijabi’s snapchats will probably be a great substitute for anything I have to say.

Gender Love Inequality

It’s time to castrate Islam

“The last ten nights of Ramadan are approaching us.  I’tikaf will begin, starting tomorrow night, so come worship all night at the masjid. It is very valuable in your faith.  This is only for men, 18 and up.  Sisters, may Allah bless you and reward you.”

The Imam at my local San Diego mosque makes this announcement right after the night prayer.  I am disheartened by the lack of my invitation and even more crushed that women around me were not moved.

The last 10 nights of Ramadan are believed by Muslims to be better than a thousand nights of worship, specifically the odd-numbered nights.  It is recommended to spend the night at the mosque in worship. This recommendation applies to all Muslims, yet mosques only allow men.  It is as if the men who set these rules at the mosques, think that my vagina gives me the claim to faith without having to worship.

There are many reasons that I have heard of why women can’t spend the night, or sometimes even the day, in worship at God’s house with other Muslims. “Women don’t need to come to the mosque.”  “It is not an obligation for women the way it is for men.”  My favorite, “it is not safe.”  Not safe from whom?  Will the Muslim men turn around and rape us?

After worshiping in many mosques all over California, I finally found a mosque in Sacramento two years ago—while completing my master’s—that welcomed women and children to worship all night. Ramadan 2012 was the best of my 27 years of life. Now, after moving to San Diego for medical school, I’ve realized that the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims Center is an elf from Mars, visiting planet Earth.

The SALAM community has open hallways, where women are not pushed to a corner or upstairs behind shaded plastic walls.  We sat behind the men like the way Muslims prayed over 1,400 years ago.  Tissue boxes creating a delicate boundary across the grand hallway replace thick walls and dusty curtains.  So many times, had I used those tissues after powerful Khutbas (sermons) given by Imam Azeez.  Traveling Imams spoke to us, and some even came to the back and sat with us to address all of our concerns.  I stood in prayer with a community, stayed up with the community, ate with the community, and broke fast with the community.  I became a better human being because the community kept me accountable.  Nowhere have I seen more people come into Islam than at SALAM.

I never needed community since, while growing up, my Bengali immigrant mother forced me into a loner lifestyle of constant studying.  Now, as an adult, I have a dead father, an estranged mother, and brother, a non-Muslim sister, and friends that range from devout Christians to Atheists. I am alone yet surrounded by people.

Going through a divorce and not having a partner to eat breakfast with at 3:30 am, pray with throughout the day, and make love with into the night, I feel even more alone.  Although my tight jeans and open hair do not fit in with the women in black dresses covering them from head-to-toe, my lack of drinking, my fasting, and five-times-daily prayer doesn’t fit in with my friends either.  I stopped trying to fit in, but rather appreciate the differences in others and still find a sense of community.

In San Diego, the mosques are not open like SALAM, and I hardly see my friends who can’t relate to the 16-hour fast from food and water and the nightly worship after breaking your fast.  I treasure the community, but now I am back in an environment of non-Islamic Muslim brotherhood, which is not unique to San Diego.

To tell women to pray at home, especially during the last 10 nights of Ramadan, is dehumanizing.  I am not a houseplant or a goldfish to be left by the window.  There is a reason we stand so close, shoulder-to-shoulder in line during prayer at the mosques – because it is difficult to worship alone.

It’s almost impossible for me to stay up in my cement block graduate housing room, by myself, praying and reading the Qur’an all night.  It is important for local mosques to welcome men and women.  Without SALAM, I would have been lost – as lost as I feel now in San Diego among the Muslim men’s club.  It is time for the Islamic “brotherhood” to be castrated.  I am calling out to my local mosques in San Diego and all other mosques: stop taking women out of the house of God.  We have the right to worship with the rest of the Muslims whenever we wish.  Imams, please, I don’t need your duas, ( (prayers) I need you to let me in when I am knocking at the door of your mosque.

I am not a feminist. I am a human being, deep in my faith and wanting to be part of a community that I can worship with and not be ostracized for being born the way I was.


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.”