“I don’t think you’re a good Muslim,” my sister told me recently. Puzzled, I asked why. “Real Muslims,” she began, “don’t have tattoos, or drink, or have sex before marriage… I’m just afraid you’re a bad influence.” I felt like screaming and crying all at once. Earlier that day, I received a nasty note from a Muslim woman whom I had met online, telling me I was actually not Muslim because I didn’t wear the hijab, which is what she could gauge from my photo.
Was I doing it all wrong? Was I really a bad Muslim just because I acted outside of specific parameters?
I’ve been told that I was going to go to hell since I was a kid. Sometimes for mild things (telling a white lie) and then for larger things (falling pregnant at eighteen). I’ve had years where my faith felt like something stuck in my teeth. I didn’t know how to fully embrace Islam, but I couldn’t let it go, either. It was an amorphous part of myself, something that was not yet defined. I kept thinking that what I was feeling was a stage, that I’d grow out of my “impertinence” — but that never happened.
Rather than continue fixating on how I was a bad Muslim, I decided a few years ago to redefine how Islam fit into my life. While I don’t observe Islam in the same way that my sister or parents do, that doesn’t mean I’m not Muslim enough. In fact, I resent that somebody could decide that for me. I feel very Muslim; what does that say about me?
The Internet, I found, was the best place for me to articulate my struggles and find other like-minded Muslim women. Sometimes these women were hushed in tones of fear and resentment; other times our communication was hurried and fast, as though we had been waiting to talk our whole lives, to divulge our feelings to one another felt like a blessing. As we opened up these dark places of ourselves that we’d been shamed into hiding, we felt less abnormal, less alone.
I know there are others, like me, who have felt deeply misunderstood by the Muslim community. I know there are folks who have felt judged by other faiths and religions too. I also know that listening to and learning from one another can help us dispel these misconceptions and put our differences aside, this is what I’m here for. To create safe spaces for me, and my peers, so that we can begin to heal.
That’s why I’ve created this publication: to formally carve out a space for open and honest dialogue about Muslim faith in the modern world.
Over the next few weeks, I’ve asked half a dozen Muslim women to join me in exploring some of the things we’ve been to scared or ashamed to discuss in the past — things like wearing or not wearing the hijab, navigating sex and virginity, or coming out as queer. While the publication is geared towards Muslim women and femme-identifying folks, anyone who has had similar experiences or feelings is invited to participate.
We always encourage thoughtful questions and responses, so don’t be afraid to join in the discussion. We would also love to highlight essays and pieces from the larger Medium community, so if you’d like to contribute something, please leave a note for me on this piece with the link to your draft. I’ll be in touch!