I spent many days dreaming of little laughs from freshly powdered babies; babies that would be a perfect blend of my blue eyes and my husband’s wavy, brown hair. That was in 2002 and I was still enamored with being a new bride.
I had hopes of starting a big family. I also had dreams of finishing my degree and having a career. But during those first years of settling into my marriage and my life as a new Muslim, I stayed at home, cooked, cleaned, and studied Islam.
As a new Muslim, I didn’t hang out at the mosque much. I didn’t understand what real community was about, nor did I feel comfortable there. I was often asked intrusive questions about when I was going to have kids. When I did go, I answered the procreation questions politely and hopefully- when Allah wills.
That was if the ambitious sisters who had kid(s), ran households, held down jobs, and/or were getting advanced degrees weren’t asking me, “What do you do all day? Your little apartment must be spotless!”
The condescension that dripped from their remarks couldn’t be missed. I felt as if I were nothing, as if my efforts were so pithy that I didn’t matter.
Why don’t we stop judging each other?
After a few years, I went back to school and began working. My husband and I still hoped and prayed that we would soon conceive and provide a loving home to as many children as Allah willed. And people continued the tired line of questioning. “When will you have children???” I answered cheerfully (trying to hide my frustration and deep sadness) – when Allah wills.
With the ambitious sisters off my back now that I was “being more productive”, I began to receive patronizing remarks from the stay at home sisters, to the tune of: “It seems selfish to me when people don’t have children” or “Devoting your life to your family is so fulfilling” were statements that passive-aggressively peppered conversations.
I felt as if I was a failure at being a woman for not being able to conceive. I was made to feel as if being a part of the world outside of my home made me dirty.
Then my life changed drastically. A young mother in the Islamic community fell very ill. She was alone, incapable of caring for her daughter, and needing a Muslim family to care for the four year old. So a mutual friend asked my husband and I if we would be foster parents to the child until her mother was well again.
My husband and I very hesitantly agreed. And the questions about when my husband and I would have our own child intensified. I answered, exhausted- when Allah wills. But now that I was a wife, foster mom, student, and an employee; the criticism about my life choices also intensified. I felt as if I couldn’t do anything right.
My husband and I decided to enroll our foster daughter in the local Islamic school when it came time for her to attend kindergarten. And all eyes were on me. If I put a fruit roll up (a sweet, dried fruit snack) along with healthy foods in my foster daughter’s packed lunch, it had to be because I didn’t care about her health or nutrition. If she acted out in class, it had to be because I wasn’t a good disciplinarian and needed to spend more time at home with her.
Every move I made seemed to be the wrong one … to someone. And, as had been the case all along, each group had their religious verdict to back them up in their judgment of me.
From a lazy housewife to a selfish career woman
If I was a housewife, some would think I was lazy and not doing enough to help the community. If I was a student and career woman, others would suspect that I was selfish and wanted to mix with men in a haram way. If I cared for a child, worked, and studied; still others would see everything I did as inadequate, saying I should be home caring for my family.
There were many, many amazing sisters who helped me out and had my back, but the minority, the judgmental voices, seemed glaringly loud. And I found myself judging others as a way to lash out in frustration.
I was doing the very thing others had done to me and so the cycle of condescension, judgment, and rejection continued. Then I had a realization that changed my life and the way that I live it. I realized that some people only criticize others out of a desire to be validated.
We all want to be validated. So we look to others who have made the same life choices as we have. And those who have different paths, we see them as a threat to our validation. So we cling to people of the same background, career, etc. and criticize those who aren’t like us.
It is all too common, and happens among men and women, and peoples of all faiths.
But we all have different paths to take. Where in the Quran or sunnah does it specify that everyone should fit into a certain mold? Where do we read Allah (SWT) telling women that they cannot work? Where does the messenger (PBUH) say that we are obligated to have children? Where in the Quran does it say a women shouldn’t seek knowledge?
Looking at our Islamic history, I realized that there was an array of celebrated women who played many different roles in society. Aisha was an educator, childless, but mother to all. Khadija was a business women and mother, the first believer. Assiyah was a foster mother to Musa (AS) and a housewife. Bilqis was a wise and powerful ruler.
So who was I to look down on others for taking a path other than the one I was on? Those people I looked down on, only needed Allah’s approval and validation. That was all I needed too. And seeking it from others was so tiresome and even impossible.
I made a conscious decision to stop the cycle of rejection. And I decided to start a validation revolution in my own life and hoped that it would spread to other women.
My path to a validation revolution took many steps. First, I made sure to remind myself to purify my intentions, to do things only to gain the pleasure of Allah (SWT).
Then, I stopped letting negative thoughts take over my internal narrative. I stopped letting negative people have any impact on me. I studied Islam and learned that my fore-mothers in broke barriers in all fields of study, were housewives, religious scholars, warriors, stay-at-home moms, career women, and so much more.
And finally, I started encouraging myself and my sisters. I tried to say only positive things about mine and my sisters’ endeavors. I stopped judging other women by my own personal standards. And I started to realize that everyone is doing the best they can for their own situation.
As Muslim women, we have enough people—both inside and outside of the ummah—trying to tell us what to do and what is “best for us”. We have to start a validation revolution and it must begin from within. We should seek validation only from Allah and be supportive for each other rather than critical of each other.
First Published: October 2015