It started as a feeling in the pit of her stomach and developed into heart palpitations, night sweats, sleepless nights, and immense feelings of regret.
Fatima, a native businesswoman from Washington DC, would wake up in a cold sweat, feeling panicked and anxious at 2:00 AM each night for months. She would force herself to fight through the anxiety, make it to the washroom, and prepare for Tahajjud (night prayer).
Her sincere prayer to the Creator for change was a nightly call-out, which eventually led to minuscule feelings of despair. Although she didn’t want to believe, she was inevitably forced to accept her reality of being in a toxic environment. Everything she’d been taught about her faith and purpose as a Muslim woman, conflicted with her current experience.
Fatima is a wife and mother of four young children. She is an educated ambitious professional and a business consultant for a nonprofit start-up company. She has a track record of working for well-established start-ups and has earned an impressive reputation in the business world.
“I should have realized I was making a huge mistake when I walked into the interview and my potential boss approached me late and unorganized. She ate her lunch and cut me off several times during our interview. Initially, I shrugged it off, as she appeared personable and had a great sense of humor. However, I had a strong feeling that I was making a huge mistake,” Fatima told AboutIslam.net.
Before this, Fatima worked as a business consultant for an amazing startup company. She was able to develop impressive changes in the company and felt a strong sense of value from her employers.
Eventually, Fatima decided it was time for a change and a pay raise after five years of working for the same company. It didn’t take long for other companies to notice the value in her work ethic and she was immediately booked for interviews at rivaling companies.
“I began my new position and could immediately sense the fatigue and overwhelm on the faces of my colleagues. They immediately began giving me advice on the importance of doing everything I was told and how horrible and arduous our boss could be. I was shocked at how frustrated and on edge, everyone appeared in the office.
“After my second week on the job, I began to receive harsh feedback from my superiors and my colleagues showed little patience when I didn’t complete the job just right. I knew something was extremely wrong with this environment and my anxiety began to get the best of me. I was no longer a confident businesswoman, as my confidence took a nosedive and I second-guessed my capabilities,” Fatima told AboutIslam.net.
Fatima’s story isn’t unique or the first of its kind. Toxic workplaces are increasingly becoming the norm for Americans. Many employees feel stuck and controlled by their toxic environments. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health diseases.
Traditionally, Muslim women have been empowered by their places in their homes, masjids, and community organizations. They are typically the anchors of their communities and their divine spiritual practice helps provide balance to their communities.
Americans are often defined by their professions and their current workplaces can be devoid of spirituality and purpose. In recent times, careers are often about the bottom line and competing to be the best in this capitalistic society. This American epidemic has led to a rise in toxic work cultures.
“I am under so much pressure to perform and do everything exactly right at my job. I come home after a long day and get back to work. My family has truly suffered from me not being available to them,” Sumayah Ali told Aboutislam.net.
Signs of a Toxic Workplace
You don’t have a healthy work-life balance
Family is the cornerstone of our faith and when this is compromised, it can produce an imbalance that’s difficult to fix. Accordingly, when your family and friends begin to comment about how stressed you look, it’s time to consider other options.
You barely have time to make your prayers
Muslims pray five times a day and each prayer time is critical to an individual’s ability to be successful throughout their day. Prayer is a fundamental right of all people and it should always be protected and maintained. If you feel strained, rushed, or you simply don’t have time to pray during work, you probably aren’t in the right workplace.
You’re being overworked
A survey from the Families and Workers Institute found that 43% of employees reported high levels of stress and often have feelings of upset with their co-workers.
Therefore, If you are constantly thinking about work and never able to turn-off the next task, it is a strong possibility you are being overworked. Allah has instructed us to give everything its divine right. Our bodies and families have rights over us and frankly, it is against our values as believers to devote an excessive amount of time to our work.
You’ve lost interest in what you once loved
Many people possess passions and gifts that require the right environment to flourish. Toxic work cultures stifle our ability to be creative and think beyond our daily tasks.
Moreover, Passion drives our ability to develop innovative ideas and solutions for our Muslim communities. Muslim women continue to be the backbone of our communities, as they are often found on the front lines of many of their community programs and efforts. Their passions are needed for their families and communities to flourish. If you no longer feel inspired to create or make changes in your family and communal life, it may be time to consider an exit strategy from your current role.
Solutions for Muslim Women in the Workplace
Although this is not solely a “Muslim woman” issue, the fact remains that Muslim women have always had a choice to work or stay home. They rely on their Islamic principles to guide their decisions and need their full feminine presence to maintain a healthy balance in our communities.
As a Muslim woman, you must identify the importance of sound decision making through prayer and contemplation. You serve as a spiritual anchor for your families and communities. Your full spirit and presence is a requirement for our communities to be successful. You need to identify the pros and cons of navigating a toxic work culture.
Immediately implement a firm and non-negotiable nightly prayer practice
Nightly prayers (tahajjud) are supererogatory acts of worship that are completed in the last ⅓ of the night. There is divine power in this prayer and this devotion helps Muslims navigate their trials.
Narrated Abu Huraira (Radiallahu anhu): Allah’s Apostle (Peace be upon him) said, “Our Lord, the Blessed, the Superior, comes every night down on the nearest Heaven to us when the last third of the night remains, saying: “Is there anyone to invoke Me, so that I may respond to invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me, so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone seeking My forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?” [Bukhari]
Gain support and prepare to advocate for what you want and need
It is strongly advised for you to proceed with caution when identifying allies within the work environment. This must be done tactfully and with a purpose. Avoid workplace gossip and bad talking about your place of employment, as much as possible. You will need your proactive community of supporters to help you prepare to advocate for your needs.
Obtain a coach, spiritual advisor, or sincere friends to help you talk through your strengths, challenges, and next steps. Having support from your network can help provide you with the necessary strength to advocate for change.
Prepare an Exit Plan
Working may be a necessary part of your life and quitting shouldn’t be an option without a backup plan. Many women work because they have to provide for themselves and their families.
However, it is essential to understand the importance of tawakkul during your time of trial. Your divine purpose on this Earth is to serve your Creator and at no time, is it ever okay for anyone to forego that responsibility, out of fear of loss of wealth.
If your workplace environment is directly impacting your faith and divine purpose, an exit plan may be the next necessary step.
Increase your daily reading of the Quran and reflection practice
When hardships and trials are placed upon us, Muslims are provided with the Qur’an as a tool. Using the Qur’an as a compass to engage in a practice of reflection and remembrance can drastically increase your chances of making sound decisions.
Moreover, decision making is a skill that can only be developed through a process of reflection and practice. Muslims develop their confidence through their worship and relationship with the Creator. This is a practice that cannot afford to be abandoned during this trial.
Ultimately, Muslim women are successfully carving out their places in the professional world and they should continue to be honored and supported for it. In other words, Muslim women are a necessary component in our workplaces but the integrity of who they are must be maintained above all of us.
Accordingly, the average human being cannot thrive in toxic work culture and Muslim women are no different. Their spiritual design must be cultivated in environments of peace and tranquility.
Historically, Muslim women served as leaders, while maintaining their fundamental right to be protected and maintained. This protection goes beyond the need to be physically protected. Therefore, their spiritual essence, feminine power, and dignity must also be maintained and protected.
Although Muslim women have the right to make their own choices about the lives they want to lead, it is clear that toxic work environments have no place in their life of Muslim women.