Culture Life Stories Life

People don’t want me to talk about life as a woman in Saudi Arabia unless it suits them

Recently a website asked me to write about my experience as “a woman living in Saudi Arabia”. Because God forbid I ever forget. 

I wrote that Saudi Arabia makes me feel like a precious jewel. I didn’t say that with vanity. I was trying to explain how being wrapped in the folds of an abaya is akin to being cushioned in the velvety base of a jewelry box, protected and cherished.  I wrote about the security I had taken for granted growing up in a Muslim country but now had a newfound appreciation for. I said it felt good to live here.

Could you tell this isn’t what they wanted to hear?

I received a response saying that they “wouldn’t feel right publishing this because it posed a conflict” as my depiction of this country goes against things they’ve heard. 

Heard in countries where people laugh and meet in the streets like they don’t have a care in the world? But certainly seem to care when a woman covered in abaya walks by. When a man who looks “middle eastern” is around, or when someone sneezes and by automatic instinct, you say “Alhamdulillah” instead of the more popular term, of literally the same meaning, “bless you”, they seem uneasy.

But on the streets of Jeddah, I feel the call to prayer echo in my veins. 

If you are bothered by the smell of fragrant Oud in marketplaces, this isn’t the place for you

If you’re not prepared to let the aroma of sheesha envelop you at Obhur, while children laugh and call to each other from camel-back and Arabic pop music blares from lavish sports cars, this clearly isn’t the place for you.  

If you’re uncomfortable at the sight of abaya-clad women and men dressed in sharp white thobes leaving the scent of Arabic perfume lingering on the street as they flock to the mosque for Friday prayer, swathed in a feeling of piety and devotedness so strong they almost levitate, this really isn’t the place for you. 

If you’re offended that there are women with an amazing sense of style who will wear the most daring outfits around each other and absolutely none of it, will ever be glimpsed by men who aren’t their familiars, this definitely isn’t the place for you

But it has always been a place for me. 

You sit on the other side of your laptop and television screens and talk about “freedom”, when it was right here that I felt the security to confidently follow my religion without the fear of being labeled a “terrorist”. 

Did I disappoint you by not writing a hate-piece in which I bash the country and lament how “oppressed” I am living in Saudi Arabia? Did I not adhere to all the hard work the media puts into painting the Middle East as a repressive place, with suppressed Muslim women that are shackled by their beliefs and the laws of an unfair Islamic country?

How did Disney like to put it? “Where they cut off your ears if they don’t like your face…it’s barbaric but hey it’s home”? (they had to clean it up recently to avoid angering audiences)

Agrabah…oh Agrabah…the damage you’ve done.

You still think this country is just sand and heat and oppression don’t you? 

What do you know of the liberties of being Muslim in an Islamic country? Whenever certain aspects of female modesty are a given arrangement, every time giving women their own space is an automatic norm, when the month of Ramadan comes around and it’s understood that it’s about much more than ‘fasting during daylight hours’, you don’t stop being a Muslim when the sun goes down, that Ramadan is rewarding and it’s a blessing, not having to be worried about finding Halal (Islamically permitted food) all the time because it’s more than just not consuming pork and alcohol, it’s a whole different ball game, and no I won’t just “have a drink” to loosen up, that it isn’t personal, it’s spiritual.

And absolutely none of it makes me feel oppressed. It solidifies my identity. 

Despite this country’s problems (it has plenty of those I can’t deny), there is a reason that the city of Makkah, and its westernized name Mecca became synonymous with meaning promised land. 

Living in Saudi Arabia sheltered me from Islamophobia, it meant that my values as a Muslim were unquestioned. I didn’t have to feel like I had to defend them.

In part of my rejected article, I said “There is no such thing as the perfect Muslim or the perfect country. There may be no perfect religion.  But I know exactly who I am and what I choose to believe. I have no doubts, and I am perfectly happy”.  I admit that this country isn’t perfect and neither am I.

But you asked me to write about my personal experiences and then told me it’s problematic because it doesn’t fit your narrative. Problematic because of claims that Saudi Arabia only allowed women to drive recently and there are guardianship laws here. I never argued that, I didn’t even mention it. I was pretty careful about choosing my subjects, keeping them religious. And it still didn’t fit their agenda.

So what was their agenda? This website claims to be all about feminism and giving women a voice, encouraging women to speak up freely, giving them a place to be heard. As long as what that woman is saying fits their narrative. The typical “Islam is oppressive and Saudi Arabia is a tyrannical country that is stifling its women.  Look at how unhappy Muslim women really are” story. 

That’s probably why the submission I sent was basically a rosy-hued love letter to this country. Because it would bother them and then the hypocrisy of their selective feminism would show. 

Nobody wants to hear about a woman living in Saudi Arabia and liking it. How dare she?

Let me tell you how. From the very get-go, I saw the intention of the offer that was presented to me and refused to be a part of it.  I’m not blind, I know this place has its flaws just like anywhere else. But you can find hundreds of agenda-pushing writers out there who are going to be more than happy to fulfill your needs for some clout. You don’t even need a genie in a lamp to find one. However, this one refuses to be a part of it. 

I’ve lived here. I’ve loved it here and hated it here. It may not be Agrabah, but hey, it’s home.

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Health Care Love + Sex Love Life Stories Wellness

The day I got my first period happened weeks before I started college

I got my period when I was sixteen and a half years old.

Why that matters to most people, I can’t tell you. But it mattered the world to me, for years.

I was seven and a half years old when I first noticed that my Mama sometimes didn’t pray with the rest of us. She was – and is – a blunt, powerful woman, unafraid of putting out her opinion or life if she felt that you needed to hear about it. Sometimes it was an opinion you didn’t want to hear, but she said it anyway. She didn’t mesh well with the other Mamas at the mosque, many of whom were taken aback at how blunt she was, and how vehemently opposed to frivolous banter she seemed.

My Mama grew up in a country where she made her way back and forth to her school on her own from six years old. She didn’t believe children had limitations, in the truest sense of the word – if you showed up and asked a question, you wanted the real answer.

So, I asked, not expecting what I would hear, but knowing that I would get the truth from her. She didn’t mince words. I found myself handed an introduction to a world, exclusive only to those who got a period.

“I got mine when I was thirteen,” Mama confided in me, “I was wearing the nicest pants when it happened.” Somehow, the reality of the experience became something I craved, the invitation to being a woman something I longed for.

Getting your period was the ultimate sign of becoming an adult for thirteen-year-old me.

You got to join a secret society, one replete with winks and the quick palming of a brightly colored pad. As a woman, you were allowed to take time off from fasting in the midst of the month, a period of time replete with sighs about how you weren’t able to fast, but a secret joy that you were a part of that club. I learned that having your period meant you could demand a little more heat for your sore joints, chocolate for those mysterious cravings, and a little more empathy from the people around you.

It was everything I wanted, and everything I didn’t have.

I was eight years old when I thought I got my period. But it was a false alarm, complete with my mother running to the bathroom and shaking her head at my enthusiasm.

“That’s not your period,” she said ruefully, “and you’re way too young for it to happen.”

I was preoccupied with the future. I would keep a diary, and each entry ended with a countdown for the number of days left until my next birthday. I don’t know when I started keeping track of my goal ages, but soon, the birthday entries were accompanied by excitement for my next goal age: 10 years old, then 13 years old.

Thirteen years old came and went without the arrival of my adulthood. I wondered if I was doing something wrong.

Every night, I would squeeze my hands side by side, whispering fervently under my breath to God to bring my period to me.

I just wanted to join the club. Soon, I was 14. My new goal was 15 years old. I waited day after day for the ticket to the club.

When I was 15, my mother took me to the doctor and asked whether everything was okay. The doctor was bemused by my mother’s concern, and peered over at me, swinging my legs sullenly back and forth on the examining table.

“It’s normal for girls to get their periods around this time,” she said, looking down at my charts. “And you’re perfectly normal for your age. Give it some time.”

My Mama tried to explain that in her family, this was late, but the doctor wouldn’t hear any of it. “Give it some time,” she repeated.

One evening later that year, I was leaving the kitchen, my Mama and aunt joking around about what it was to be a woman.

“Honey,” my Mama said in between laughs, “this is what your period will be like. It’s the way it is with all of our women.” She turned on both faucets, the water rushing out en-mass.

My aunt laughed, and I fled, my cheeks burning in mortification. As I swung around the banister to head up the stairs, I looked back. They were both laughing, the water still flowing.

I had given up on being a woman when I turned 16. I thought something was deeply wrong with me. I resolved to make my way forward, even if it felt like something was missing.

So the change surprised me when I was almost 17. I had given up.

It came all of a sudden, all in a rush, and in an instant, where I had been was no longer where I was. It was in the middle of a faith conference that everything happened. The cramps overwhelmed me, as though 17 years of pain were suddenly unfolding all at once. I didn’t know how to explain what it was that I was going through.

All I knew was that I had crossed over – and as terrifying as that was, I couldn’t wait to tell my little sisters what awaited them.

I had finally grown up. I was just like my mother. I had joined the club.

Editor's Picks Mind Mental Health Love Life Stories Wellness

This is why my Muslim community says I have depression

I have depression.

Not just a ‘once in a while I feel depressed and down, but the next day I’m fine’ – not that type of depression.

Rather, a chronic ‘what is my life, I wish I didn’t have to exist because I am so incredibly, incredibly sad.’

Despite being surrounded by a large support group, close friends who fight for me and urge me on, I have a constant aching, a feeling of emptiness, a lack of connection with the world. While they tell me constantly that they are there for me, I feel as though I am a burden, despite my knowing that I am not.

It is the nature of chronic depression to feel this way, to feel like a burden no matter what others reassure one with. To feel disconnected, empty. Tired, unmotivated.

Previously, my depression was bearable to disregard, stifling my feelings of worthlessness by throwing myself into academics.

Last year, however, things got worse.

I remember the day clearly. It had been an awful week for my personal life – I was angry with a close friend and had woken up the day of a test (that I had not studied for) to an email from another close friend.

“I feel you criticize a lot,” she had written. On a normal day, I could have easily admitted to this, but on this day, it triggered a reaction I am still terrified of.

Not just, ‘once in a while I feel depressed and down, but the next day I’m fine’ – not that type of depression.

Sadness. Not just feeling sad, but a curtaining of grief over my brain and heart. Unable to do anything, think anything, feel anything else, the tears began to stream downwards.

I am an awful person.

Who did I think I was, to say negative about others, to hurt others by my words?

I was an awful person, I should not exist, not if I were to create so much pain.

That week, I continued through my academics in a zombie-like manner, going through the movements without absorbing anything. When the end of the week came, I decided to take a drive, to clear my mind.

It did quite the opposite.

Prior to that moment, suicide had always sounded terrifying. Now, there was nothing else I wanted more than to just not exist. Death was not appealing to me, due to the pain, but I genuinely wished for nothing more than to cease existing.

Maybe there was a way, I wondered, to find a way to pass and just not be.

My faith in God was shaken.

I had always been a faithful person, working on my faith to get closer to God, for whom I previously had an unwavering belief.

There is a sickness within the Muslim community. A lack of understanding about mental health; a nonexistent support system.

Then, however, I was unsure.

What type of God is merciful, but would create a human that is so flawed, so empty?

Why would God continue to test someone that is so mentally unstable?

Despite the prayers that I did, I did not feel any better. Nothing could help me.

There is a sickness within the Muslim community. A lack of understanding about mental health; a nonexistent support system.

Having not grown up completely intertwined with a Muslim community in America, being surrounded by Muslims was never familiar to me. However, when the old school thinking of mental health as a lack of faith stands strong, there is a problem.

Depression, many people claim, is just a lack of faith.

You need to pray to get better.

That is what the community told me. The reason I was sick was that I had failed as a Muslim.

The depression was entirely my fault.

I cannot pray away my suicidal thoughts. I cannot ask enough to throw away my hopelessness. While I can pray that one day this feeling will cease, so far, no amount of prayer has pushed the depression away.

The Muslim community surrounding me does not understand this, and that hurts. Without any support system, how is one supposed to reconcile the faith that one has lost?

While I still struggle with my depression, I have reached a crossroads in my faith.

I would be a fool to end this on a sugar-sweet note, telling you that I am better; that I am a more improved Muslim than ever and that my faith in God is more than strong.

However, I would be lying to say that I am 100% back on track in my spirituality. I am not. At this moment, I am unsure. Questioning. The problems within the community have only forced me to have to reevaluate my belief system, making me question how I understand life as a whole.

I wish there was more of an understanding of mental health within the Muslim community, but alas, there is not. I wish I had a stronger understanding of why God would test me so, but as I have been told all my life:

God knows best.

And though for now I am finding myself and trying to make sense of this all, I can only take it one small step at a time.

Every day that I live, I am proud that I have overcome my obstacle.

I would be a fool to end this on a sugar-sweet note, telling you that I am better.

Maybe one day I will be brave enough to stand up for the cause that is affecting me so strongly.

Maybe one day I will be able to erase these feelings of depression and replace them with those of happiness.  

Maybe one day I will be able to understand, to accept the trials that He has set for me.

Maybe one day I will be able to speak about this with ease, unafraid of the judgments of others.

With time comes ease.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Gender Fashion Inequality

Muslim women don’t need your saving – or your oppression

Presented in partnership with SADOQ. 

Sinner: A person who transgresses against the divine law by committing an immoral act or acts.

For over sixteen years Muslim women have collectively chosen to move forward. To move forward past the vicious attacks towards them, the name-calling, the labeling, and the stereotypes. Stereotypes which have been embedded so far beneath the realm of reality that despite the thousands of articles and tweets from Muslim women politely saying f*** you, people persist on telling Muslim women what Muslim women are all about.

After the ten-year mark, one would think the sweeping generalization that Muslim women are oppressed, subjugated, without a voice would reinvent itself. Perhaps people would demand more discerning inaccuracies since spreading fake news is an open trend now, but that’s not the case.

Muslim women are still pitied, considered overt, obedient string puppets of the patriarchy, treated in some instances like India’s untouchables, and considered second-class citizens in the fashion world.

I guess pushing a false narrative consistently for political, and sexist reasons will get the job done.

It will absolutely take out the humanity of a group of people, in this case, Muslim women where all that’s left is a mendacious ideology about them. An ideology that’s so dangerous that it sells the fear that a five-foot-long piece of fabric could be a global threat. An ideology that justifies speaking on behalf of Muslim women on national platforms yet simultaneously attacking them for “not speaking out.” 

It’s a creed that has white women on Fox News telling the world that Muslim women need saving. The heroic intrusion is called upon because apparently Muslim women are subservient and tyrannized when the only thing burdening Muslim women is white supremacy’s stupidity.

This cycle of misinformation makes me ask, what’s more astonishing?

That Muslim women are expected to make those who target them feel comfortable by constantly denouncing that they don’t condone terrorism? Or is our fear of individuality that out of control?

We fail to realize that originality is not just a hashtag we use but a concept we apply to mold ourselves and our minds. So that we may become strong enough to push past our comfort zones and think for ourselves. We preach to our young girls to pave a path of their own and to not be weighed down by boys and society, yet we become the precise ones who cut their wings of free self-expression.

If donning a headscarf doesn’t empower you to respect that Muslim women are trying to blaze their own path in a hyper-sexualized society where exploiting women is like recycled oxygen; then perhaps the irony that we’re all connected because we are sinners, mistake-makers, screw-ups, despite our skin color, origin, ethnicity, geographical location, and religion will help you take a back seat.

A public service announcement: as human beings, no one is exempt from being a sinner. Perhaps people fail to see any compatibility between a Muslim woman and themselves so let sinning be that bridge. Whether you believe in an Abrahamic faith or not, all faith’s conclude that Adam, the first man ever created, fell into error. He messed up, so in a nutshell what that Sunday school lesson was trying to teach us was that as human beings we are all sinners. We are bound to make mistakes but that is precisely what should soften our hearts in admiration and solidarity towards one another.

Committing sins is ironically the most common trait we share with one another.

You are a sinner, just like that girl wearing layers to cover her body on a scorching 95-degree day. You are a sinner, just like the woman wearing a niqab whose eyes meet your gaze as she sits across from you on the bus. You are a sinner, just like the teenage girl getting glares on the first day of school for coming to your class wearing a headscarf.

The only difference is she’s a sinner in a scarf. A scarf which everyone’s decided to have preconceived notions about.

The mainstream media for years thrived off of selling the narrative that the hijab is a means of men controlling women. That it’s a symbol of a piercingly aggressive faith which puts men before women.

The truth could not be more hilariously violative. The concept of hijab is transparent yet overwhelmingly liberating. The hijab is not a piece of fabric draped over the bodies of women to simply conceal their beauty and preserve their modesty, but it is a physical manifestation of their submission and connection with God.

The most striking purpose is that the hijab serves as a constant reminder that Muslim women are enough the way they are.

They don’t shy away from sticking out. In fact, that’s the whole point because the hijab represents an external representation of their inward spirituality. 

The belief is that they don’t need to imitate society’s trends to stay relevant, nor do their bodies serve as hotspots for men to tap into to gain pleasure. Rather, their mind and intelligence are what matters, not the color of their hair or the shape of their bodies. Their identity is their own, and they should boldly stand out because they serve a bigger purpose than remaining in the shadows of men.

If people weren’t engrossed in speaking on behalf of Muslim women but let Muslim women tell their own narrative, their shallow understanding of the hijab would be shattered. They would further learn that by wearing the hijab, Muslim women are not declaring, “I am Islam,” rather “I am a Muslim.”

A person who is not perfect but is trying.

A person who isn’t self-righteous but someone who is susceptible to making mistakes. Someone who is constantly reminding themselves to keep striving to excel in their personal and spiritual development. The scarf on their heads is a reminder for them to not fall into despair even if they commit the worst sin. Instead, they are reminded to rise from the ashes and chose to move forward.

In order for a Muslim woman to rise from the constant backlash and continue to insolently wear her hijab like armor, she must lucidly declare to the world through her headscarf that she is a powerful, ambitious, independent, open-minded women who is also a sinner in a scarf.

Love Life Stories

I was a tomboy growing up – for all the wrong reasons

Before I get into this, I want to make something a clear: being a tomboy is totally fine. My story, though, wasn’t too great.

When I became a teenager, I became a tomboy, but to be honest, it wasn’t entirely by choice. Because I was Muslim, it was insisted upon that I dress a bit more conservatively, and when you do that, you automatically can’t wear a majority of girls’ clothes. But this honestly isn’t about religion making my life difficult or saying that there is anything wrong with the teachings of Islam – it’s simply about the inadvertent effect religion and culture had on my ideas of femininity and womanhood.

Everything with a cute front had a low, open or lace back. Everything with a color that suited me had a low neckline or no sleeves or was too tight. I didn’t wear shorts anymore. I didn’t wear skirts anymore. If I wore dresses, I wore leggings and sweaters, and those things pretty much always ruined the look in my opinion.

[bctt tweet=”When I became a teenager, I became a tomboy, but it wasn’t really by choice.” username=”wearethetempest”]

There was something “wrong” with everything I liked that was “girly.” I ended up going to a bunch of Sweet 16 birthday parties in my traditional Pakistani clothes, because I couldn’t find a dress, and feeling like the ugliest person there.

The only things that were made to look good (or what I thought was good) while still being conservative enough in terms of Islam were clothes that essentially made me look like a boy; my unisex t-shirt from Hot Topic with the Batman symbol on it became my favorite and most commonly worn shirt. I wore it with jeans and converse pretty much all the time.

Other than that, I just wore a lot of large, baggy sweatshirts with jeans and a t-shirt. Always one size up. I was considered too young for make up or threading or waxing (which is a significant detail considering I had one long, connected eyebrow). To put it lightly, I didn’t look too great (that’s an understatement), and I didn’t feel too great, either.

[bctt tweet=”The clothes that were conservative enough for my parents essentially made me look like a boy.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Something else happened during this time that I think is important to share. I started to internalize the criticism I received over my “girl” clothes to the point where I felt like just being a girl was inherently bad or something to be ashamed of.

 upset gossip girl taylor momsen jenny humphrey whats wrong with me GIF

I distinctly remember writing in my diary night after night that I wished I had been born a boy; it felt like, if everything I wore was somehow wrong, maybe it wasn’t the clothes, maybe it was my female body.

Sometimes, during my prayers when I was speaking to God, I would apologize for being a girl. That is how much shame I felt.

I didn’t feel uncomfortable in more revealing or more feminine clothing, I felt ugly. And worst of all, I had this idea that trying to look good and feel good was somehow bad. I would go to the mall and cry.

[bctt tweet=”Sometimes, during my prayers to God, I apologized for being a girl.” username=”wearethetempest”]

My parents and friends probably thought I was frustrated that I couldn’t find “Muslim” things to wear that also looked cute. But that wasn’t it. It was about feminine clothes, not skin-showing clothes.

I wouldn’t even try on different, more feminine things, even if they were deemed “appropriate” by Islamic standards. If I did, I felt ugly and took them off, cried a little bit, and insisted that we leave the mall immediately.

Often times, I went home and cried more behind closed doors. Especially in the summer, when all of my friends wore pretty dresses and I still looked…well, the way I looked.

[bctt tweet=”I had this idea that trying to look good and feel good was somehow bad.” username=”wearethetempest”]

My self esteem was extremely low at that time. I didn’t know how to empower myself in regards to my appearance – I thought that doing so was immoral. Feeling ugly made me sad. Feeling pretty made me feel guilty, like I was a bad Muslim. There was no way to win.

When I got just a little bit older, my femininity started to feel like a switch that other people could turn on and off at will, and it was confusing, to say the least.

I was pushed to look as “non-female” as possible for so much of my adolescent life, but when I finally became comfortable in my asexual-looking wardrobe, it was insisted that I embrace my femininity. Not for myself, but for others.

[bctt tweet=”I was pushed to look as non-female as possible for so much of my adolescent life.” username=”wearethetempest”]

For example, if my family was invited to someone’s home for dinner and the crowd was primarily Desi or Pakistani or Muslim, it was insisted that I wear shalwar khameez and put on make up. I was suddenly encouraged to straighten my hair for these kinds of gatherings.

 make up GIF

These types of cultural incidents served to really blur a lot of lines for me. I wasn’t sure anymore why I had to dress the way I had been dressing.

I distinctly remember feeling very uncomfortable with a full face of make up and choosing not to wear it to my cousin’s engagement party, at which someone criticized me for being “rude” because I was not “dressed up” enough for the occasion.

[bctt tweet=”My femininity started to feel like a switch that other people could turn on and off at will.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I felt like no matter what, no matter what I wore, I couldn’t win. I couldn’t impress boys. I couldn’t fit in with my girlfriends. I couldn’t please the adults in my life.

And worst of all, I couldn’t even please myself.

If the problem was being a woman with a woman’s body, there was nothing I could do. I had learned to be comfortable and resigned with my hopelessly bad appearance, but never how to be confident about it.

[bctt tweet=”How I felt about myself came second to how men felt about me.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Don’t get me wrong.  I was taught some wonderful things as a child: the importance of inner beauty, the value of personality, kindness, empathy, and hard work.

I understand why love for my body and appearance in general was set aside. I really do. I’m not writing any of this to “bash” my parents; my parents are absolutely amazing.

I do, however, think it’s important to share my experience. Too many people think it’s just a matter of rebellious teenage Desi girls wanting to show skin and not being allowed to.

[bctt tweet=”I felt like just being a girl was inherently bad or shameful.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I want to show that there’s more to it than that, that there are deep, complicated emotions involved, and that we need to start thinking a little more carefully about how we speak to and treat girls, how we approach their relationship with their own femininity.

I was never clearly told it was also okay to feel beautiful the way I was told clearly to be modest. I was never told it was okay to feel sexy or how many different things “sexy” could mean (sometimes it’s just a new way of wearing eyeliner), not all of which were necessarily bad.

Essentially, it seemed like how I felt about myself came second to how men felt about me, because the embracing of femininity happened at the same time I became the “right age” for potential husbands to start looking at me. This may not have been the intention, but we need to consider how our words and actions are received – sometimes, they are not having the positive effect we think they are having.

[bctt tweet=”Feeling ugly made me sad. Feeling pretty made me feel guilty. There was no way to win.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Not so long ago, I cut off all my hair. Yes, all of it. My parents, being as awesome as they are, didn’t take any issue with it. I went to the local salon and asked for a pixie cut, and a few weeks later, I asked for it to be buzzed even shorter.

 movies disney mulan fa mulan cut hair GIF

I told myself and everyone else it was because I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Emma Watson. I said I wanted to be edgy and cool, and for the most part, people thought I was, especially being a Desi girl, because Desi girls don’t do that. Without even trying, I made a statement.

What a lot of people don’t know (confession time) is that I cut my hair off because I gave up. I gave up on trying to feel like a beautiful woman, and on trying to please people, especially men. I just couldn’t do it anymore, and hair had always been my most prominent, feminine trait (I used to have over 24 inches of pin-straight, silky black hair), so that’s what I got rid of.

It was a statement, but not the statement everyone else perceived it to be.

It was me just giving up.

[bctt tweet=”I wasn’t just a rebellious teenage Desi, Muslim girl who wanted to show skin.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The good news? I’m not a tomboy anymore. Well, I am sometimes, but only when I want to be. How did that change?

One day, a very good friend figured out my story (friends can read your mind like that), took me shopping and pushed me very hard, against my will, to try on some really nice outfits. Things I never had the confidence to wear before, not all of which was in any way more revealing, by the way.

Some of it was just more fashionable or more feminine. Things that made me look less like a boy and feel more like a woman (although I realize that the idea of femininity is different for everyone).

[bctt tweet=”What a lot of people don’t know is that I cut my hair off because I gave up.” username=”wearethetempest”]

When I finally saw myself in the mirror that day, I was honestly amazed. I cried that day, not from disappointment, but because I was happy. Yes, even with my short hair! I was so happy that, for once, for the first time, I could look at myself and even without my conventionally-feminine hair, see a woman, and actually like what I see.

I’m about to turn 24. I’m not married. Regardless, I wear makeup pretty much every day and I love it. I go shopping just for fun. I take selfies and send them to my friends and my mom. I match my lipstick to some part of my outfit, whether or not I’m about to see someone I know that day. I smile when I get compliments.

[bctt tweet=”For the first time, I could look at myself, see a woman, and actually like what I see.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Sometimes, I even imagine myself in a TV show or movie when I walk down the street on a sunny day in an outfit that I love on me.

 beautiful girl GIF

And you know what? I don’t feel bad about it. I feel great. 

Fashion Lookbook

Thanks Nike, but athletic hijabs are nothing new

By now you have probably heard that Nike will be releasing the Pro Hijab–a headscarf for female Muslim athletes–during the Spring of next year. The decision by Nike has been met with both criticism and applause.

While some people are thrilled about Nike expanding its horizons and appealing to marginalized athletes, others are outraged and have promised to boycott Nike.

[bctt tweet=”Nike is not the first to create an athlete friendly hijab for women.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The Pro Hijab is made from a breathable, lightweight polyester material and took Nike over a year to develop. While it’s tremendous that a corporation as large as Nike will begin selling the Pro Hijab, athletic hijabs are nothing new. Women who wear hijab have been competing in The Olympic Games since 2004.

It’s neat that women can now sport the iconic Nike “swoosh” on their hijabs, but Nike is not the first to create an athlete friendly hijab for women.

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Here are a few companies that have already been catering to the needs of hijabi athletes:

1. Sukoon Active

Arshiya Kherani started Sukoon Active to provide hijab wearing women with comfortable and modest active wear. Unlike the Pro Hijab, Sukoon Active hijabs are tailored for all women who enjoy working out and not just professional athletes.

The hijabs are durable, breathable, and lightweight and the company was started by a hijabi woman who struggled finding comfortable workout clothes.

2. Capsters

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Capsters is another company that has been making hijabs for athletic purposes. The sports hijabs can be used for different purposes as well as different sports activities. Capsters is dedicated to the empowerment of women through sports and delivers the sports hijabs all over the world.

3. Veil Garments

Veil Garments is another company committed to creating athletic wear for hijabi women. They developed the first ever climate adapting hijab which has water repelling technologies.

Veil Garments also sells the “Halo Running Hoodie” which has a hijab attached to the hood of a sweatshirt and allows for comfortable workouts in which hijabis don’t have to worry about their headscarf slipping off.


ASIYA was created in order to empower more Muslim girls and women to become physically active and participate in sports. In addition to making sports hijabs and caps, ASIYA also customizes hijabs for sports teams. Fifty percent of profits the company makes are directed towards providing sports hijabs and modest activewear to Muslim athletes in need.

5. Modanisa

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Modanisa makes not just athletic hijabs, but also modest and Islamic tracksuits and swimwear. They have a plethora of different activewear styles, colors and designs. They also sell dresses, pajamas and other everyday clothing items.

6. East Essence

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East Essence sells sports hijabs and caps for athletic purposes as well as regular hijabs. They also sell sports tunics, athletic jilbabs and activewear. East Essence has some spring deals and sales going on so you might want to head to their website!

There’s no doubt that Nike has been making tremendous strides towards appealing to minority populations and Muslim women, but they are certainly not the first to develop a sports hijab.

Fashion Lookbook

25 struggles that hit too close to home if you wear hijab in America

Wearing hijab in the United States can be very difficult at times. While some people are friendly and accepting, others can be downright hateful and rude. Hijab is an important part of our lives as Muslim women and many of us have experienced similar struggles.

1. Being asked if you shower with your hijab on

2. Having like a million hijabs but wearing the same four, constantly

3. People referring to your hijab as “that thing” or…”a towel”

4. People constantly asking “aren’t you hot in that?” during the summer

5. Having a bad hair day, but being able to cover it with your hijab

6. Constantly getting “randomly” selected at airports

7. Misplacing your pins aaall the time

8. When people tell you your English is really good

9. Watching random hijab tutorials on Youtube for hijabi fashion inspiration

10. Using your hijab to cover your nose if there’s a bad smell

11. Being able to find your mom easily in the grocery store because she wears hijab

12. Getting scared that your hijab will fly off when it’s really windy outside

13. Playing along when people ask if you stick pins in your head

14. When you eat and a bunch of crumbs fall into the folds of your hijab

15. Not being able to hear well when you’re wearing a satin hijab

16. When people ask if you have to sleep with your hijab on

17. Getting asked if you buy your hijabs from a special shop, when it’s really just as easy as going to the mall

18. Getting excited when random strangers compliment your hijab

19. When people ask if you feel “oppressed” because you cover your hair

20. Laughing on the inside when you’re boarding a plane, and you know people are scared of you – and that they’re hoping their seat isn’t next to yours

21. Knowing that there is nothing worse than hijab tan lines

22. Struggling to put earphones in

23. Being asked if you’re allowed to go swimming

24. Getting told to “go back home” by racist bigots, but laughing because you’re American and this country is your home

25. Knowing that your hijab makes you awesome, always
Fashion Lookbook

11 amazing outfits for every young hijabi professional

As a hijabi, it can be pretty challenging finding business professional clothes for interviews, jobs and other special occasions. When you can’t wear shift dresses or pencil skirts, it can be difficult finding a stylish look for the workplace.

I remember literally Googling “professional hijabi looks” before my first internship to try to get some ideas.

If you wear hijab and need some fashion inspiration for the professional world, we have got you covered. These looks will help you look both stylish and professional for your job or internship.

1. Pair a white blazer with white pants for a clean, streamlined look.

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If you’re working during the summer then you may want to give this style a shot! White pants, a white blazer, a white top on a pastel colored hijab. A gold watch, beige pumps and a beige purse will top off this outfit!

2. Wearing a black maxi dress keeps your work first, style second.

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3. Bring simple sophistication using a dress shirt tucked into pants.

If you don’t want to wear dress pants you can opt for a black maxi dress with a black blazer. The burgundy belt and purse add a sophisticated look to this professional outfit. You’ll also want to wear a lighter colored hijab.

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This is a great look if you want a simple and comfortable outfit for work. Tuck your dress shirt into your dress pants, add a belt and your hijab and you’ve got a great looking going. It also doesn’t hurt to add a necklace and heels!

4. Pair cargo colored pants with solid colors for a simple look.

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These cargo pants look super cute with a white shirt tucked in and a long navy sweater. The pointy flats dress up the outfit and the burgundy hijab matches the outfit perfectly. This is a simple and comfortable professional look!

5. Patterned pants and a solid color blazer works well at work – and after work.

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Patterned dress pants are a great alternative to solid skirts or pants. With a creme shirt and blazer and a blue hijab, this outfit matches perfectly. You can dress it up with red high heels or keep it simple with black flats.

6. What could go wrong with black on black?

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All black everything looks SO chic and is great for night time work events or late work shifts! This look is simple yet so bold. In addition to the black pants, blazer, and heels, you can even add a red necklace which will surely pop out!

7. In cooler seasons, this pairing will make a soft statement.

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This beige and creme look is perfect for the fall. Tuck a white shirt into beige palazzo pants and add a comfortable sweater. You can wear beige or black heels and a simple white hijab to top it all off.

8. Make a solid statement with this bright outfit.

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This coral colored suit is absolutely breathtaking. It’s perfect for a spring or summer internship and goes well with an off-white or navy hijab. Add some gold accessories and beige heels and you will definitely have a killer outfit.

9. Palazzo pants and a striped dress shirt will underscore any statement you’re looking to make.

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This is another simple and comfortable look for the summer. Tuck a white long sleeved shirt into black palazzo pants and add black or red heels. A necklace and watch are a must for this style!

10. There’s no such thing as too much creme in composing the perfect suit.

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A creme colored suit is both simple and classy. It’s a great choice for the summer and you can basically wear any colored hijab. You can also mix and match with different colored shoes, just be sure you don’t spill anything on your outfit!

11. Embody simplicity with a blazer and long skirt.

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A patterned blazer on a long skirt is a great look any time of the year. With a black or red hijab and silver heels, this is another elegant business professional look. And don’t forget to add a silver watch and necklace!

Gender & Identity Gender Life Stories Life

I’m a Muslim woman. If I don’t smile at you, that doesn’t make me oppressed.

My brain does not stop thinking. I’m a college student with two majors, several extracurricular activities, and a very long and never-ending to-do list.

I like staying busy and I enjoy being involved with causes I am passionate about. When I walk around campus, I’m usually thinking about upcoming deadlines for my journalism classes, the details of events I’m organizing on campus, emails I have to respond to, or when I’ll be able to get my next cup of coffee.

But apparently, some people (particularly guys) think my constant pensive facial expressions make me look like a bitch. I have been told that I need to smile more because of the “negative vibe” some people get from my resting bitch face. And according to scientists, Resting Bitch Face™ is a real phenomenon.

It’s not my intention to look serious or stern all the time, that’s just my natural facial expression and I wish people would stop judging me based off of my outer appearance.

It’s not like I don’t smile at all. In fact, I am very easily amused and laugh at the corniest jokes. Often when I laugh hard, I end up crying. Maybe judgmental people would learn that if they took the time to get to know me rather assuming who I am.

Men seriously need to stop telling women to smile more. I’m confident if I were a guy I would not receive the same comments because it’s more socially acceptable for men to look serious or expressionless. I’m not here for their visual pleasure or to try to impress them. There are more important things in life for me. The people who judge me in passing simply based on my facial expressions need to stop being so hypercritical.

And if you’re a woman who wears hijab, some people will make assumptions of all Muslim women based off you. They’ll easily assume you’re oppressed or mistreated by the men in your life because you don’t “look happy.”

To the people who constantly judge people solely on how they look, I hope you know that says a lot about you as an individual and what you value in other people. The same way you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, don’t judge a human based on their Resting Bitch Face.

Men need to stop shaming women for not looking happy and perky every moment of their lives. Though I’m not smiling all the time, that does not mean I’m unappreciative, mean, or miserable.

That is just how my face looks naturally, and you should learn to accept it – rather call me out for it.
Culture Love Life Stories Advice Career Advice

This is what it’s really like to apply to med school as a hijabi

I sat in my chair, nervously sipping on my hot chocolate. As I took another sip, I spilled some hot chocolate onto my beige hijab, that I had neatly tied with a bow-tie in the front.

“Oh snap! Of course, I would spill hot chocolate on myself right before my interview!” I thought as I frantically grabbed some napkins and tried to wipe off as much of the hot chocolate as I could. Luckily, the hot chocolate was similar enough in color to my hijab that it was not too noticeable. I tucked the slightly stained part of my hijab into my suit so that it couldn’t be seen at all.

I was early for my first medical school interview. After going through an arduous application process and not hearing any positive news from schools, I had completely lost hope that anything would work out this application cycle. When I saw the email interview invitation from a medical school in New York, I had felt a mixed feeling of elation and disbelief.

But most of all, it gave me hope that I still had a chance. I had to do well in this interview.

Now, here I was. I had flown across the country for this chance. I had arrived early, and the receptionist had kindly seated me in an empty conference room where the other interviewees and faculty would later arrive.

As I sat in the room by myself, a female faculty member entered the room and sat next to me. She greeted me and explained which department she was in and which class she taught.

As we made small talk, at one point she bluntly pointed to my hijab and asked, “You know, for the lab, you will have to take that thing off as students have to practice physical examinations on each other. Are you okay with that?”

I was taken aback. I did not know how to respond. All I could think was that this was my one chance at medical school and I knew that they would observe my every move. I politely smiled and nodded “Yes,” as I tried to hide my shock.

But what else could I do in that situation?

I later reflected on that moment. Was she justified in making that comment? It was a private institution and they had the right to make their own rules. I could also understand the importance of students learning by practicing on each other. But could the school not be accommodating to my religious beliefs by only making me take off my hijab in front of other female students?

More than that, what I realized looking back at that situation was the disparity in power.

How, because I was so desperate to get into medical school, I went along with whatever was said. I also thought about how when I started wearing hijab, I had never thought about how it could affect me in the real world in terms of how I would be perceived in interviews or the workplace. I remember discussing it with a fellow hijabi-friend from college, talking about whether by wearing hijab there was yet another “glass-ceiling” above us in terms of what we could achieve. A “glass ceiling” on top of being a woman, especially one of color, that was never talked about.

Yet when I feel that way, I remind that whatever is best for me will work out. That even if I do not get into a medical school or anything else in the future because of my hijab, that that school, job, or whatever else I strived for was not best for me and that I would not have been happy there.

I did not get into that medical school.

While I was devastated at first, I eventually came to peace with that. Because I know looking back that I probably would not have been happy at that school since I did not feel comfortable there. I realized this even more so in interviews at other medical schools, where I felt like the faculty and staff seemed very accommodating and willing to meet my unique needs.

Regardless of what happens, I know that whichever school I end up attending, things will work out. I hope.

Gender & Identity Life

Just because I’m not getting married now doesn’t make me any less of a Muslim woman

Growing up, I found myself surrounded by many “let’s get you married tomorrow!” support networks. Rarely did I ever come across a support network in my community that was focused on investing in the self-development of women on a personal or professional level.

In my community, women’s empowerment efforts on self-development and pursuing career goals are rare and often non-existent. Instead, there’s an exaggerated focus on getting young women to prioritize marriage above all other dreams and goals in life.


In a conversation with a mentor of mine not too long ago, I shared with her that I was considering working abroad for a few months. Her response?

“No, I don’t think you should do that. It will ruin your reputation, which will lower the prospect of marriage proposals for you.”

About a year and a half ago, I met up with another mentor of mine to discuss challenges I was facing in search of a job. His response? “Well you’re still in your early twenties. Give it a couple of years and you’ll be married.”

That was the most belittling and absurd career advice I have received.

As a strong-willed stubborn perfectionist, sitting around and waiting for a husband is not something I ever planned to do.

My career plans involve becoming a world renowned expert in design theory and design philosophy. I’m not about to extinguish my passion for a hypothetical marriage that not a single person can guarantee a timeline for.

It’s in God’s hands. That is what I was raised to believe and that is what I will continue to believe.

I can’t fulfill God’s wishes if I know that I have the potential to become a scholar but instead of working towards achieving that potential, I instead spend my energy investing in a hypothetical reality. A reality that doesn’t even make sense to me.

I mean, what’s the point of sharing your life, if you don’t even know what it’s about? However, my community has made it an uphill battle for any woman who prioritizes self-development over marriage to accomplish her goals.

On top of that, they’ve conditioned women to believe that marriage is the be-all-end-all of life. As a result, we largely fail to celebrate the accomplishments of women, unless they’re related to getting married and having kids.

For some reason, my investment in my own growth is far less impressive, than if I were to sit around and wait for a chap to peg me as wifey material. My accomplishments are categorized as being unworthy of recognition and endorsement until I am hitched.

It’s like I am a mirage that no one sees until I get married. Suddenly, I become visible. Suddenly, I can be seen and heard.

It is disturbing that my community has a hard time believing in a women’s potential unless they’re married.

Is it not enough that we are human?

Don’t get me wrong: I believe marriage is a wonderful thing, but for some reason, we tend to forget that a woman’s life begins way before she gets married.

Love Life Stories

I support your right to wear whatever you want, even if you don’t support mine

Many people find the niqab to be polarizing.

When I became Muslim, my first Muslim friend was a niqabi. I remember how intimidated and nervous I felt when I met her. Khadijah* was so kind, but the news had shown me that women who dressed this way were to be feared. She was the only niqabi I’d met in years, as it was not the norm in my community.

Several years later, I felt the call to wear the niqab. Nobody had asked me to, not even Khadijah. When I started discussing it with friends and family, many asked me not to wear the face veil.

[bctt tweet=”There is nothing better than women who support women.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Some were concerned I thought covering one’s face was obligatory for all women. Others told me I would be too scary in American society. I took all of their opinions into my mind and continued to think it over.

I ended up deciding to wear it when I got married. When I told my husband that I would wear the niqab, he asked me not to, because he was scared people would mistreat me. I told him I was going to wear it even if the world didn’t want me to because I felt happy in it.

He ultimately supported my decision.

Women are often expected to justify why they wear something. Why can we not say, “I like it, so I wear it”?

[bctt tweet=”Women are often expected to justify why they wear something.” username=”wearethetempest”]

For me, the niqab offers privacy. It is a reminder to be God-conscious and also allows me to choose who I show my body to. Nobody can choose that but me.

For me, niqab is a feminist experience.

However, I recognize that for many women, it is the absolute opposite. For them, the niqab is suppressive or regressive.

Having the background that I do helped me understand how important it is to be able to navigate the difficult discussions around the niqab. I went from a non-Muslim who had never seen a woman wearing niqab before to a Muslim woman who regularly wears it. I know how people have to work through their emotions when they see somebody who dresses outside of the “norm”.

[bctt tweet=”In my heart, I believe we can make space for the women who love and hate the niqab.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I often hear of two scenarios:

The first? Women who were forced to cover themselves and were not given the space to be open about their experiences. In places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, the hijab is legally required.

And second? Women who were forced to uncover themselves and were not given the space to be open about their experiences. In places like Belgium, France, Chad, and the Netherlands, the niqab is illegal.

I have been told that I am a slave who likes to wear shackles and a woman who hates her gender for wearing the niqab.

Ultimately, I think the former is a load of crap. I like to wear it and if you don’t like to wear it, that’s okay too.

The issue is one of force, not the cloth.

Regardless, if one prefers a hijab, a niqab, or nothing at all, I believe a woman should have the right to wear what makes her happy. It sounds like we’re all tired of being forced in and out of clothes, so let’s just support one another instead. There is nothing better than women who support women.

*Name has been changed.