Love Life Stories

Starting a blog as a Muslim American changed my life

When I penned my first religion blog four years ago, I do not think I realized how much I would personally benefit and grow in my own faith from the experience. At most, I thought I would be providing some insight into the life of a “Young American Muslim” as well as a few basics about Islam. But when I look back now on how much my spirituality, character, and indeed life has changed since I made the decision to write, the effect it had on me is startlingly clear.

The fact that I was identifying myself as a Muslim blogger in the first place was actually a bit out of character for me. Although I was raised as a practicing Muslim who attended Sunday school at the local mosque, prayed, etc., I was never one to speak openly about my faith (I attribute this to the fact that I was living in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, where a majority of my classmates were non-Muslim).

Fast forward a few years to college where I met many more Muslims and became involved in the campus Muslim Students Association. There, I began to not only openly identify as a Muslim but also to pay forward the Islamic values I cherished through activism and outreach activities.

After I graduated from college, I decided it was time to don the hijab. Now, any stranger passing me on the street could obviously see that I was a Muslim, whether I opened my mouth or not. And honestly, I was completely okay with that. I had embraced my Muslim identity and didn’t really care what others thought about me anymore. It was absolutely liberating.

However, I realized that not everyone would understand my decision. I had many non-Muslim friends and co-workers who probably knew little to nothing about hijab or even Islam for that matter. I needed a way to reach them (and thousands of others like them) to remove the mystery of what being a Muslim American really was like. So I turned to writing. As an opinion columnist and news writer for my college newspaper, I was comfortable sharing my ideas in print. So I called up the Houston Chronicle, pitched them a few ideas for their online and print “Belief” section, and became their newest religion blogger.

Since then, I’ve written numerous articles on my life experiences as well as my views on local, national, and international events. I’ve talked about everything under the sun including my travels to Jerusalem and Makkah, reflections on 9/11, my Ramadan schedule, and even the Kardashians. It has been an interesting ride, to say the least, and the feedback I’ve received from readers (both positive and negative) as well as my interactions with other religion bloggers has certainly taught me more than I expected.

Soon after publishing my first blog post, I quickly discovered that there are a lot of ignorant and hateful people out there who want nothing more than to insult you and your faith without bothering to learn anything about it. I certainly receive my fair share of comments from those types. Instead of letting the internet trolls get to me though, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin over the years and learned how to tactfully deal with them. If, after explaining my views or providing religious sources to answer their attacks/questions, a commenter continues to spew vitriol, I drop the conversation and move on.

As in real life, it’s not worth it to engage with someone disrespectful toward me or my religion. Like they say, haters gonna hate.

The positives that have come along with my blogging experience certainly outweigh the negatives. Personally, I’ve grown a lot in my faith simply by researching religious topics to provide background on my blogs or to answer questions posed by readers. Whether they are inquiring about a Quranic verse, a Muslim practice, or my take on the behavior of Muslims abroad, my readers have created a great opportunity for me to educate myself about Islam. This has strengthened my Muslim identity and faith because subhanAllah, the more I learn about Islam, the more I appreciate it and recognize how fortunate I am to be a Muslim.

As a religion blogger, I interact daily with bloggers and readers of other faiths and am constantly learning from them. Whether it is a new custom or belief, blogging has certainly broadened my horizons and made me more tolerant and open minded toward the views of others. Even if I don’t personally believe or agree with their faith, I still make it a point to be respectful because I know that their religion is important to them just as Islam is to me. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) treated Christians, Jews, and polytheists with kindness and respect during his life, even though he did not share their religion. Shouldn’t I strive to do the same?

This has opened me up to new experiences both within and outside the American Muslim community. I’ve attended interfaith dinners, distributed Eid goodies to my neighbors, and served Thanksgiving dinner to the less fortunate, all while representing and staying true to my faith. I’ve also had the unique opportunity to speak to other Muslims around the nation and world about blogging, media, Islamophobia, and the American Muslim narrative. My opinions have been broadcast over the airwaves during my own radio show and were even represented in the Arab world via Al-Jazeera television.

These activities gave me the confidence to pursue my passion of working for the Muslim American community in my professional life. About a year ago, I decided to attend graduate school in order to broaden my mind and gain skills in a field in line with my interests. I am now pursuing a Masters in International Affairs and the knowledge and experiences I’ve been exposed to so far have been absolutely worth it. I am excited to see what the future holds for me after graduation.

None of this would have been possible had I not made the decision to put my Muslim American identity out there and write. Whenever young Muslims approach me and express that they would like to do the same, I always wholeheartedly encourage them.

We need more Muslim Americans taking pride in their faith and speaking out, whether it is through writing, poetry, spoken word, art, etc. so their friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans know what Islam and Muslims are really about.

Their world will open in ways they’ve never imagined if they just take that first step.

Love + Sex Love

Getting married completely changed my life – but I didn’t see it coming

Husband. Hus-band. My husband.

After nearly two months, the words remain foreign to my ears and I still cannot fully believe that I am married. This summer was, without a doubt, the most life-altering one I have ever experienced.

Within a few weeks, I graduated from college, got married, and went on a three-week honeymoon.

Right after graduating in early June, I went into full wedding preparation mode for about two weeks. Remaining true to my procrastination reputation, I saved fairly important things such as purchasing wedding shoes and finding a videographer until the last minute.

On the actual wedding day, there were two things I wish I was warned about: firstly, the bride and groom do not get a chance to eat – every time my husband and I sat down to take a bite of our food, a guest would request a photo; and secondly, by the end of the day your cheek muscles will twitch from overexertion whenever you try to smile.

By the time the wedding ceremony was over we were utterly exhausted and just wanted to get to our hotel room. Nonetheless, our photographer insisted that we head to Central Park to take pictures and for the next two hours we walked around in the humid heat of NYC posing for pictures.

I was wearing a huge white wedding gown with heels and Tosif was wearing a suit.

When we finally reached our hotel, the first thing we did was plop down on the bed and order Chinese food. We spent the next few hours laughing about the events of the wedding and watching random shows on TV.

Our wedding night was definitely not how I pictured it would be (rose petals, anyone?) but it allowed us to de-stress and bring the focus back to preparing for our marriage rather than a wedding.

For our honeymoon, we decided to split three weeks between Europe and Turkey. We started in Paris, and then went to Rome, Naples, Athens, Santorini, and ended in Istanbul. In retrospect, we were being a bit too ambitious and probably should have focused on two cities because it was indeed hectic flying out every few days.

Despite our crazy travel schedule, the honeymoon itself was full of many intimate moments in which I got to know my husband much better.

Our relationship pre-marriage was a long distance one because he was in school in Chicago and I was in school in Princeton. For our honeymoon, we had to transition from seeing each other once a month to being around each other all the time. We’d joked that we were probably going to get so sick of each other and be at each other’s throats by the end of the journey.

Luckily, we didn’t tire of each other’s company by the end of the trip.

However, I would be lying if I said that there weren’t moments during the trip when we drove each other crazy. There was one night in which we had a huge argument because I stole the blanket (I’ve always been guilty of being a blanket hogger – just ask my sisters). Tosif woke up in the middle of the night shivering and an argument ensued.

Since then, we’ve learned to sleep with two separate blankets.

There was another time when we were arguing about where we wanted to have our joint bank account; I’m a loyal Chase customer and Tosif is loyal to Bank of America.

Despite these arguments, we soon learned that the bumpy moments during our honeymoon were not always a bad thing – after every argument, we learned more about being with each other and improved how we communicate. We quickly grasped the proper way to react when one of us was angry or sad, picked up techniques on how to improve each other’s mood, and constantly conducted “check-ins,” which required asking each other if everything was okay and if things could be better.

We also made sure to occasionally give each other personal “me” time, as much as we love being around each other, we both have lives outside of each other that we cannot neglect.

Now that we’re back in the States, setting up our apartment and getting ready to build our lives together, we’re definitely thankful for what those few weeks abroad have taught us about open communication and sometimes even brutal honesty.

As the saying goes, “if you want to know somebody better, then travel with them.”

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

Being bullied ruined my life


I can’t quite pinpoint the moment in my life where I realized that I was a cynic. Now, I know the whole nature vs. nurture argument pertaining to how people’s thoughts and personalities are formed, but for me, I’m definitely “the way I am” because of the latter. I hate to victimize myself, but being hurt by others has truly made me the cynic I am today (or is that how all cynics are formed? Not sure).

I’m in my mid-twenties and I still cry about silly things that happened to me in second grade. I know it sounds like sappy and pathetic childhood drama, but for some reason I can never forgive or forget (well, I know why but I’ll get into that some other time). For starters, one day in second grade my teacher read my private journal out loud to the entire class. I was a fan of the movie Harriet the Spy at the time and decided to copy the main character by having a private notebook where I said mean things about people. Except, of course, unlike the movie no one was ever supposed to find out.

I can’t remember what I wrote in the notebook but what I do remember is that I didn’t mean a single thing. At the time, I was copying what Harriet did in the movie and I just thought it was so cool to have something private, that no one else would see. I learned the hard way not to say mean things after that, but the shame my teacher put me through was something that I swear I’m still dealing with to this day. Although what I did was very wrong, I was only a child at the time and I didn’t deserve to be publicly disgraced in the way it went about. The teacher read every single thing I wrote in a taunting voice and kept looking at me with such scorn and disgust. I’ll never forget how she asked the entire class to raise their hand afterwards if they were still going to be my friend, and only one person did.

For the remaining few years I was in elementary school, kids and teachers alike thought I was a “bad kid” and definitely treated me like one because of that incident. One day in fourth or fifth grade, a boy slapped me and I ran to tell the principal. Without even looking at me, all he said was “you deserve it.” My jaw dropped to the ground. My remaining experiences pertaining to trying to make friends in elementary school involved me always getting framed and tricked into doing favors for people in hopes of them accepting me, but then literally getting laughed at (and in deep trouble with teachers) in the end.

Being shunned and mistreated is something that I’ve just grown to expect from people. I still get shocked when I realize people actually want to be my friend. Nonetheless, I try not to get too close to people nor tell them what’s going on in my current life because… you just never know.

My cynicism isn’t simply because I think all people are motivated by self-interest, but because no one ever cared for my feelings. From the time my trusted neighbor in seventh grade stole my brand new white Nike Air Force Ones (which the thought of wearing now makes me cringe), the time I had my first horrible heartbreak in ninth grade and to my best friends in college no longer speaking to me for no reason that I can think of; I’ve grown used to people being hurtful and only looking out for themselves. I won’t even begin to talk about how the atrocities I see on the news depress the crap out of me.

I know what I’m saying sounds so petty and ridiculous, but because I never got closure after these incidents I can’t help but to be reminded of them every time I deal with people. I doubt I’ll ever trust anyone in my life, but I’m hopeful that through letting out these deep emotions inside of me I can begin to get that closure I’ve always wanted needed. 

Love Life Stories

I was afraid to be Muslim


Like many other young Muslim-Americans, 9/11 had a very negative impact on my self-identity and perception of Islam. I’ll never forget that second day of 7th grade when our teachers told us about the attack. My fellow classmates and I were extremely scared while going home on the bus that afternoon. A large number of my relatives from back home in the Mid East/ North Africa called my family to make sure we were fine. It took a while for me to understand that the people who committed these acts have something in common with me: they were Muslims. I felt so disconnected and confused.

Growing up, my parents never forced religion on my younger siblings and me. After a few years of Sunday school, my parents realized that I had no interest in religion or becoming religious so they let me stop going. I felt no connection to Islam to begin with, and 9/11 just made me want to continue ignoring this part of my identity.

Ironically, the first time I felt furthest from Islam was when I was on pilgrimage to Makkah at the age of 12. My parents never fully explained to me why I had to be there wearing weird black clothes and I thought the whole trip was so bizarre and superstitious. I was wandering around Makkah in confusion and was stunned by how everyone there appeared to not be aware of their surroundings.

I had finished my ritual at Safaa & Marwa and I got to the part where I had to snip off a piece of my hair. At that point in time, no one in my family wore hijab and I honestly did not understand the point of it. So what I did was take my hijab off to figure out which part of my hair I wanted snipped, and all of a sudden, I was bombarded by an old couple and scolded harshly to put my scarf back on. I remember being shocked and scared to the point of tears like I had done something wrong. That was probably the main incident that turned me away from Islam, ironically located at “God’s” House.

I had always believed in God though, from the moment my Christian neighbor told me about Him when I was five or six. However, my belief was more out of fear of all of my actions being watched and judged. My belief wasn’t out of love but out of animosity.

I openly disassociated myself from Islam when I was a teenager. I would lie about my cultural and religious background so that people would never suspect me of being like the barbaric Muslims that were always on TV. I remember a short while after my grandmother passed away when I was in high school, my mom suddenly became more practicing. She picked me up from school one day in a hijab on and I completely lost it. I cried and yelled at her for embarrassing me in front of my friends. I felt like she betrayed me and I was angry with her for days. After that, she didn’t wear it again.

To make matters worse though, people somehow began catching on that I was Muslim and of Arab descent somehow, despite me always telling people otherwise and asking them to call me by an American name. I would avoid talking to people for fear of them asking me about my background so I was very cold and withdrawn. Feelings of insecurity and self-hatred consumedme. I felt cursed to be associated with people of such a bad reputation. I’ll never forget how a Christian-Lebanese girl once wanted to make sure that I wasn’t Muslim once, so she could laugh about how crazy Muslims with with me and a few other girls. Sadly, I denied my faith and laughed along to keep away any suspicion. A person I considered to be my best friend once even refused to walk next to me on Halloween, because my gypsy costume made me “look” like a Muslim. Things got worse though as the years went along. I almost got into physical altercations after being called names like “sand-nigger” and “Bin Laden’s wife.” No matter how hard I tried to avoid associating myself with my true identity, it somehow always came up and I constantly felt like I was walking on eggshells.

In around 9th or 10th grade, I had heard about a mosque being built down the street from my school, next to Roxbury Crossing train station, but I didn’t give it too much thought besides the fact that I was worried about people in hijabs coming up to me and saying hi while I was with friends.

In class one day, my teacher asked us if we attended a place of worship. Jokingly, this kid in class said, “I hit up the mosque, B!” Another person after him excitedly said, “Oh my God, that’s that thing they’re building down the street!” A third girl squirmed her face in disgust and said she was shocked that they would do that in our neighborhood.

I felt my chest tighten up and I was worried that someone in there knew I was Muslim somehow. I made a vow that moment that I would never step foot in that mosque down the street, going out of my way to make sure I avoided it at all costs.

For many years after that, I just hated everything about Muslims, especially the way the women dressed. I would pretend I didn’t know Muslim people that I grew up with when I would see them around and ignored their greetings. My hatred of Islam and Muslims grew after a summer trip to a Muslim country where street passersby cursed me for wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

Things eventually got better in college, where I met Muslims who seemed like normal people. After getting to know them and feeling comfortable, it was a short while after that I began to openly identify as Muslim, even though this was more of a cultural-identity as opposed to sincere religious observance.

It wasn’t until the last semester of undergrad where things took an unexpected turn. A few months prior, my dad got really sick and had to work from home. Again, my parents were never really religious, but because my dad was home more often now, they had both started to attend weekly Jummah services at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center—the same mosque that I vowed to never attend. They had been going for a few months and then one day, my mom noticed that I had Friday off, so she asked me to join them. I vehemently refused, mostly because I didn’t want to wear a hijab and because I felt like everyone there was going to judge and hate me, based on my past experiences with Muslims.

After a few weeks of my parents begging me to go and telling me how nice everyone at the ISBCC is, I finally gave in. I felt extremely awkward and out of place in my long-sleeved cardigan and black hijab. I took a look in the mirror and was stunned by how I looked: like those Muslim girls who I always shunned. It was a strange realization that I was actually one of them.

It was my first time at the ISBCC and I was clinging to my mother’s arm with my head down, in case anyone recognized me. My mom told me that I have to pray before I sit down but then it dawned on me that I had forgotten how to pray! I didn’t even have wudu! It might have been the whole masjid atmosphere but for some reason, I felt extreme shame—a shame that I had never felt before in my life. I sat down without praying but then finally loosened up after a bit. I began to sink in the environment and I realized that I felt pretty comfortable. It was an odd feeling of comfort and belonging, actually.

I don’t even remember what the khutbah was about that day or who even gave it. In fact, it was probably the first khutba I’ve ever listened to as an adult. All I remember though was that I was fighting back tears the entire time, even throughout the prayer. I’m not usually an emotional person, so this feeling inside of me was so different. The words of the khutbah, which I can’t even remember, really triggered something inside of me. I can’t describe it but I felt like a part of me that was missing had finally been found. I know this sounds cliché and too-good-to-be true, but my emotions were running wild.

We were on our way out of the masjid when we ran into old friends. I thought they were going to be confused as to why I was there, but I was greeted with so much joy, love, and happiness— as if I was someone worthy of it. We were barely out of the masjid and I couldn’t wait to be back the next Friday. It felt like I had a whole new world waiting for me to explore.

This was only the beginning of my journey and the rest is a work in progress. Eman (faith) in Allah is a journey and it’s not something that usually happens in a day, week, or month and it’s something that I honestly still struggle with sometimes. I realized what was stopping me from even approaching Allah was my negative past experiences with Muslims. It reminds me of something Mother Teresa once said: “In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

I am eternally grateful to have found what I longed for my entire life.

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.”