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5 Tips To Rethink Women in Islam

I am described as a dynamic, assertive, energetic woman. As a teenager, I did not necessarily want Islam to be a piece of my rambunctious identity. I was loud, crazy and fun and I saw piety and religiosity as opposite my most prized traits. At fourteen, my family decided we would visit Mecca for a holy pilgrimage. I was apprehensive; I feared that such a visit might make me somehow devout and that was the last adjective I wanted to use when describing myself. But going to Mecca was everything I never knew I needed. Seeing the Ka`bah transformed my life. And in an effort to maintain a connection with the Divine once I had returned back to high school, I began reading the Qur’an in the English translation.

Reading the Qur’an in the English translation changed me. The more I connected with it, the more I realized I had been blessed with my dynamic qualities so that I could channel them for His Sake by giving speeches and being involved with leadership and community activism. I became the student body president of my public high school and received an award of Student of the Year, presented by previous Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was involved in leadership activities with an ever-present hope of helping my greater society understand the beauty of Islam and the empowerment of Muslim women. I had been wearing hijab but now I began wearing it fully and taking pride in it as a symbol of my liberation. I experienced a newfound passion to study Islam because of the empowering message I experienced from the Qur’an, to me as a female, and I wanted all to know that Muslim women are truly liberated.

And so, I began to study. I started taking Islamic classes constantly. The classes I took were mainly from one particular type of methodology and they specified that they were the only authentic source of knowledge. I thus started shunning information from sources other than those I assumed were specifically approved by this outlook. I also started taking private classes with those I considered to be the most virtuous Muslim women. What I did not realize, however, is that I was associating religious understanding with rigidity. Those who were the strictest, I had decided, had to be the most pious. From these sources, I began to learn things I had never heard before, amongst which was that a Muslim woman should not really leave the home1 and that women should not be outspoken, particularly in front of men.

The more I learned, the more I changed. I was no longer the energetic, excitable woman who shared her love of Islam with all those around her. Instead, I became insecure. I thought that God had not blessed me with all of my qualities so that I could help people around me see the beauty of Islam; I worried that God had given me these qualities to test me in life, to see how much of it I could contain, how much of it I could ensure would never be seen in public. I wrongfully realized this was one of my biggest tests; hiding who I really was so that I could become what Islam really wanted from me as a Muslim woman.

I also learned, over and over, that I was a fitna (temptation, test) for men. Muslim women who I thought were very reverent came to me to tell me I should cover my face, lest men have distracting thoughts because of my existence (this was to be in addition to the large jilbab (long body covering) I wore and the scarf which went past my torso and already covered much of my face).2 With this newfound realization that I could possibly be the reason a man commits a sinful thought and that men and women should not speak unless out of absolute necessity, I stopped speaking to men as much as possible (including simply greeting my own male relatives, those who had raised me, who were not blood-related). Whereas I used to politely greet the men I would see on a daily basis at school, in classes or the security guards in the library, in an effort to help them see the beauty of Islam’s kind interactions, I now limited my speech to only what was absolutely necessary, and a greeting was not one of them. I was the President of the Muslim Students Association at my University because no other male or female would accept the role, so I tried my best to be as brief and mechanical as possible when having to communicate with men. I tried to cover my face as much as possible, a task that proved difficult because my mom, a strong woman, was shocked at my sudden transformation and feared I was completely changing who I was without understanding its consequences.

Her observations of me, those shared by my father and those who had known me since childhood, were of deep concern for my development and sudden, drastic changes. I had gone from a woman who drove to pray fajr and isha everyday in the masjid, from a woman who regularly performed spoken word and delivered public speeches, from a woman with an active lifestyle who held a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, from a woman who was known for her leadership skills and ability to mobilize people, to a woman who shut herself in her room as much as possible and who constantly lived in psychological fear of becoming a form of temptation to men. I was not afraid of men themselves; I was afraid my covered presence could be the reason one of them had an un-Godly thought.

I, on the other hand, dismissed the apprehensions of those who knew me best and loved me most. As painful as it was, I felt this was the path I had to take up if I wanted to be a righteous, believing Muslim woman. And so I made excuses for those who voiced their concerns; I believed that they simply did not know what Islam really taught- even if many of them had degrees in Islamic law or had studied Islam for years. What they were trying to tell me was the opposite of what I was being told was “The Truth” in the classes I had begun taking and in the books and websites I had started reading.

Aside from the religious teachers who espoused the methodology to which I had ascribed, there was one Imam who recognized the difficult path I had put myself on. He personally continually checked in with me, reminding me of the differences of opinions, of the comprehensive nature of Islam, of the easygoing nature of the Prophet ﷺ. I saw him as my greatest spiritual role model and mentor, but I was entrenched in my personal outlook and had trouble changing my perspective and habits. However, I would cling onto his words as if they were the lifeboat of a person who was drowning. Even if I couldn’t get to coast at that point, I still felt like in the future, there could be a way back to shore. While it took time, his counsel planted seeds that stemmed and helped ground me in the stages to come.

It was around this time that I took a class in college titled Islam, Women and Sexuality. The only reason I enrolled in this class was so that I could defend Islam if necessary (you know, since I knew everything). In the class, I was suddenly exposed to information I had never heard before; the Professor introduced certain information on women in marriage, in divorce and in child custody. I had never heard of the issues she brought forth, but they sounded far from liberating. I had no tools through which I could defend my religion. All I knew was that I felt she was wrong, and that whatever scholar she had quoted was mistaken or misunderstood.

It was in that class, for the first time since I had decided I wanted to fully live Islam and dedicate my life to it, that my faith was challenged. I began to have doubts in Islam’s empowerment of women and I was afraid to speak them aloud because I feared they would become tangible. I knew Islam was the truth; the science in the Qur’an, the power of its message, the miracles of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his life, it all resonated so strongly in my mind and heart that I knew it was from the Divine. But it was painful to consider Muslim women not truly being liberated in what I considered the most liberating religion. So out of fear, I intentionally ignored my doubts and focused on what I knew brought me spiritual exhilaration, and that was memorizing the Qur’an.

By now, I had been reading the Qur’an in English for about six years. At this point, I could understand the basic message but I knew that if I wanted to understand it in depth, and if I wanted to become a Muslim scholar (as I did, bar the whole studying about women thing), I would need to learn Arabic. Thus, after college, I was blessed with going to Egypt to study Arabic and Qur’an. And there, it was the first time I finally witnessed what it was like for Muslim women to live in a Muslim-majority country, where there was no huge separation of religion in daily interactions and in life in general.

You see, when I learned about a Muslim woman’s true liberation being in her home, with her empowerment being her ability not to attract men, I really only saw those things in practice by certain groups in the mosque in my American hometown. I knew how to act in the mosque, but my interactions became a little more confusing when I was in any other public space. Yet in Egypt, I experienced something completely different; Islam present in social interactions throughout society. In Egypt, Muslim businesswomen interacted with male clients without awkward harshness and vice-versa. I saw normalcy in their society; spontaneous human reactions to harsh living, to jokes, to social issues. Muslim women in hijab, in niqab, in khimar, all were a part of the social fabric. My Arabic teacher was a lover of the Qur’an, a strong believing Muslim woman who covered her face and was a mother, and she passionately would remind me of the vital role of Muslim women in transforming society for the best and the need to sacrifice to be a part of the struggle.

In Egypt, I began to find myself again. My Arabic teacher, whose knowledge of Islam I deeply respected, helped me understand that conversation was necessary for me to improve on my language skills. Thus, I spoke to everyone, all the time, including men. I spoke to taxi drivers and asked them about their life stories, I stopped men from a physical fight when they were screaming over whose turn it was in line. I ran, shouting to intervene when I saw a man kicking a guy in the stomach, helped men take care of their families’ needs and travelled in microbuses full of men because I needed to get where I needed to go. I was never treated disrespectfully by men. I had to depend on them and constantly interacted with men and women of the Egyptian society to help me figure my way around and my dependency was returned with incredible kindness and professional respect. In fact, twice, when I heard two different men, on two different occasions, calling out to me, expecting that they were trying to hit on me, I screamed in their faces: “Astaghfirillah!!!” only to see their shocked reactions and realize that they hadn’t even noticed I existed and were just saying something to someone else in Arabic. Yet I, being naïve, expecting men to hit on me since I was fitna (remember?) and not really knowing Arabic, had expected the worst from them and was trying to put them in their places.3

Additionally, learning Arabic provided me a gateway to Islamic literature that described Muslim women in the society of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him); a society in which dynamic Muslim women flourished. The materials to which I previously could access in English were often poor translations from the original Arabic, or information supporting only the viewpoint to which I chose to ascribe and in neither did I find descriptions of righteous women who had my personality and who interacted in society. The literature I used to read supported a certain paradigm, mixing culture with religion and supporting strict gender separation versus appropriate, kind collaboration. With this newly accessible material, I didn’t see the woman I had become; I saw the woman who I once was before I had become unrecognizable to my own self.

While learning in Egypt, I was incredibly blessed to continue learning from the Imam who worked with me while I was going through the changes I faced during my search for the meaning of women in Islam. It took time for his mentorship to sink into my heart and actions, but he continued to teach me Islam’s balance, reminding me that God describes us as, “a balanced nation,”4 and that the Prophet ﷺ, “was not given a choice between two matters, except that he chose the easier of the two, as long as it was not a sinful act…”5 He helped me understand that there is not necessarily one methodology that is “The Truth,” and helped me maneuver the differences of opinions amongst scholars, how they derive their legal verdicts and the influences that may impact their opinions. His mentorship was vital to protecting me from losing myself completely while on this journey and helping me find myself again.

My return back to America was marked with transformation. I finally acknowledged what I had first learned of the role of Muslim women had scarred me psychologically as I had immediately tried to change myself and my lifestyle to fit some sort of image I had been told was that of a pious Muslim woman, but was not necessarily so. I finally understood that the harshness I saw in whom I assumed were pious Muslims may have, in fact, been a misunderstanding of Islam as simply a set of regulations or Islam practiced under a different cultural backdrop than to which I had been accustomed.

And it is very important that I clarify that the way of life I assumed from what I learned was not completely due to what I learned or who I learned it from; I absolve them of my obstinate tendencies. My actions may have been rooted in a personal misinterpretation of what I learned, where I failed to differentiate the universals of Islam with its particular manifestations in a given culture, something that comes after deep study. And it is imperative to note that I am not intending to draw parallels between women who choose to cover their faces and stay at home most of the time with the difficult transition I went through. That is not at all true; all of those women contribute to communities in incredible ways, may God bless them all. Such awesome women deal with so many stereotypes from within and outside of the Muslim community already and it is not at all my intention to add to that stereotype. The issues I encountered were not because of covering the face and staying in the home; rather the issues were due to a mentality, a paradigm, a methodology that I was taught in relation to my role as a Muslim woman. This individual narrative is not meant to condemn that respectable lifestyle; my personal experience should not be used to generalize the experiences of other Muslim women.

In the years after my return from Egypt, I was blessed to interact with quality scholars who understood our Islamic texts and our American culture; whose wisdom and qualified research allowed them to teach Islam as related to Muslim women in ways that reflected the beautiful psychological, emotional and spiritual empowerment of women in the Prophetic society and how to best translate that practice in North America. I was also incredibly blessed to marry my hero and beloved husband, someone who comes from a wonderful family grounded in living the spirit of Islam. They, along with my own cherished family, relatives and understanding friends supported me through my slow changes and provided resources to help me find myself and the core values of Islam as they related to my life again. I mention this to explain the absolute necessity of supportive mentors and loved ones in order to sustain positive change.

Through these experiences and the support of loved ones, I found who I truly was again. I found Maryam; the dynamic, assertive, energetic woman who knows without a doubt that Islam is empowering, who wears hijab for the sake of God, not for the sake of men, and who understands that the qualities God blessed me with were not meant to be locked up and hidden, but rather to be used appropriately for His sake.

I understand that some of you may disagree with my reflections; I understand because I once felt the same way and fully am aware of how it was the only truth to me, and is for many. I still respect you for your perspective. Even if I now differ, you are my brother and my sister.

Yet I am approached, over and over, by youth and young adults who are confused, struggling to figure out who they are, and are doubting Islam in its entirety stemming from the very notions I mentioned above; they do not know who to speak to about the doubts that continue to persist, nor do they know what to think when they feel spiritually bullied. Those who approach me most are young women who are nervous about the way they hear Islam and women presented by religious figures and are struggling with doubts towards Islam’s empowerment of women in the face of religious guidelines that seem the opposite.

This article is geared towards that group of individuals. I am detailing my personal story because I did not hear one like it from another woman while I was struggling. What I heard was of women who became strictly devout and then eventually left Islam completely. Or decided they could no longer wear hijab or other related coverings and chose to remove them because they could no longer take it. While I was going through those stages, I used to wonder about those women, worrying that perhaps like them, my “eman (faith) wouldn’t be strong enough” and I too would change. Now I understand that such painful experiences may have left many a woman searching, seeking to find comfort and healing, yet feeling stripped of the only thing they could have ever imagined finding that security in- their belief.

And this brings me to important points which I believe are essential for any Muslim, male or female, to consider when learning women’s issues in Islam.

5 Tips for Rethinking Studying Women’s Issues in Islam:

    1. Understand the context and that there are differences of opinion.
      • Understand the context of Qur’anic verses or Prophetic traditions. It may seem really confusing or in fact, quite opposite what we have learned Islam teaches. Before jumping to conclusions, first learn why it was revealed, why the ruling was given at that time and place, the wisdoms or the understandings that stem from that, and different interpretations from the scholars. But also understand that as a scholarly interpretation and not necessarily, “Islam’s one and only viewpoint on this entire subject.”
      • As such, know there are legitimate differences of opinions. All that I mentioned here: a woman’s place being the home, covering the face, certain marriage, divorce and custody laws- all of those things are legitimate opinions based on proofs derived by qualified scholars. Are they the only opinions? No. Are they “The Ultimate Truth”? No. Should they all be respected and appreciated as legal rulings derived from legislative texts? Yes. Do they all need to be applied to your specific life? That is something you have to research and, with the help of qualified teachers and loved ones, decide.6
    2. Find a mentor.
      • A Qur’an teacher or your masjid’s Imam is not necessarily a qualified legal scholar. Simply because a person is in some type of religious position, or seems “religious,” does not mean they are qualified to give you legal rulings, or that what they teach is applicable to your situation. Take your religious knowledge from those qualified and those who combine that qualification with a keen understanding of the social reality in which you live.
    3. Learn about the historical legacies of Muslim female scholarship.
      • Muslim women have been scholars, muftiyahs (female of “Mufti”- ever heard they exist before?) and qari’ahs (female for “Qari”- or Qur’an reciter) for centuries. Some of the greatest male scholars, whose names are oft celebrated, like Hasan alBasri, Ibn Hajar and Ibn Taymiyyah, all had female scholars as teachers and contemporaries. We rarely hear about the women who taught all those men, but it does not mean they did not exist, nor does it mean they have to remain a secret or never exist again. It is up to you and me to change the way we view women’s interaction with scholarship in our communities.
      • Here are books and audio I have personally read and recommend or which have been recommended by those I trust:
        •  تحرير المرأة في عصر الرسالة – (Arabic only) for all those ayat and ahadith you’ve heard misquoted or in the wrong context, for which have placed doubt in your heart or mind.
        • Al Muhadithaat by Shaykh Mohammed Akram Nadwi- for thousands of examples of female hadith scholars throughout our history and so much more.
        • A Biographical Dictionary of Muslim Women by Aisha Bewley- to truly understand the vast range of positions Muslim women have occupied in Islamic societies throughout history.
        • A Glimpse at Early Women Islamic Scholars by Imam Zaid Shakir.
        • Audio: Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah’s Women in Islam series
        • Audio: Abdallah Adhami’s lectures related to women in Islam.
    4. Have a support group.
      • This is essential for feeling supported through what can be a long, confusing and sometimes emotionally painful process. (It took seven years for me to go through this process. It may take time for you, too.)
    5. Understand that negative rhetoric or policies surrounding women’s issues by community and/or religious leadership should never be linked to the Islamic perspective of women in Islam.
      • If you hear something weird coming from a person in religious authority (ie: “If a woman gets her period while in Hajj, it’s a punishment from Allah for her sins.”): Be critical! Even Aishah (may God be pleased with her), more pious than all of us combined, got her period while on Hajj! So ladies, instead of doubting Islam when hearing things like that, remind yourself that many well-intentioned Muslim men (and women) are schooled in cultures where negative views of women dominates even religious circles and of course it seeps into religious knowledge. So study and actively work to help change our community narrative and understand that such rhetoric is exactly what Islam came to change.

If you have felt guilty because you had doubts, if you felt confused because you considered something in Islam (especially as related to women) oppressive, if you have chosen to distance yourself from the Muslim community because you simply could no longer take feeling intellectually, emotionally and spiritually judged, especially as a woman, I want you to remember something: God did not create you, as a woman, to punish you or to crush you or to make you less than men in His eyes. If anyone makes you feel so, then do not be the one who turns away from Islam or the community. We need your voices, especially, to help change the narrative many of our communities have when we especially address women in Islam.

Always remember: Islam does not aim to mute our personalities, rather, to enhance us. If we become unrecognizable to our own selves, we need to think critically on the messages we are accepting into our lives. The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not train people to warp into who they are not. Rather, he built people to become better versions of themselves. God brought you to Islam to help you progress towards a better version of your own self and to benefit humanity. Seek Him, study seriously under solid mentors, and be a means of transforming yourself and those around you for the best.

  1. The way I was introduced to the concept of ‘and stay in your homes’ (Ahzab) was one in which leaving the house for any reason other than strict necessity was inappropriate. So for example, getting together with other sisters for lunch was not taught as commendable because it was not out of strict necessity. The concept of a Muslim woman’s haven being her home is present in our text but sometimes misunderstood in the way it is taught and often practiced. It is not a black and white issue, as it is often taught. My statement is not in reference to the women who choose the hardest job in the world and become stay-at-home moms, nor is it in reference to women who nobly choose to be housewives and focus on maintaining her home. This is not the place for further fiqh discussion on this matter, but I did want to make sure to clarify in case there may be confusion by readers. We pray to discuss this issue in a future article. []
  2. Note: I absolutely understand and respect women who choose to wear niqab (face covering) as a means of coming closer to God, as following the footsteps of the Mothers of the Believers (May God be pleased with them), or as the fulfillment of an obligation. My personal experience should not be taken as a generalized reason for which women wear niqab or other outer garments. []
  3. I absolutely recognize the social problems Egypt has, but this article is focusing on my personal transformation through my interactions with Egyptians. Kindly keep your focus on that point. []
  4. Qur’an 2:143 []
  5. Bukhari []
  6. Please note: this article is a personal narrative aimed to provide a perspective not often discussed in our community. The fiqh issues mentioned here are not covered at all in this article, as fiqh is not the focus. God willing, those issues will be covered in other articles. []

About the author

Maryam Amirebrahimi

Maryam Amirebrahimi

Maryam Amirebrahimi received her master’s in Education from UCLA, where her research focused on the effects of mentorship rooted in Critical Race Theory for urban high school students of color. She holds a bachelor’s in Child and Adolescent Development from San Jose State University, where she served as the President of the Muslim Student Association for two consecutive years. Currently, she is pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies through Al Azhar University’s distance learning program. Maryam spent a year studying the Arabic language and Qur’an in Cairo, Egypt, and has memorized the Qur’an. She has been presented the Student of the Year award by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and holds a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Maryam frequently travels to work with different communities to address a variety of social issues and writes about topics related to social realities, women’s studies and spiritual connections on


  • As salam alaikum, it is interesting article. I do not wear jilbab but feel in my heart that it is proper cover because it protects women from look of man who has sickness in heart- man who easily could be fooled of women beauty by devil and nafs. About women beeing less then men well prophet said that they r not inteligent because do not appreciate their husbands and we should give a lot of sadaqa money for cursing. There is a lot of more for sure u know it. But at the same time women r able to study, r able to work with other women. Our strenth is from releazing how weak as human we sre and how much we need Allah in every moment of our lives. The more proud we think of ourselves the more dunia will push us down.the

    • prophet never said women ‘aren’t intelligent’. This is a completely misunderstood hadith. His first wife was a busisnesswoman – I dont think any muslim on earth, man or woman – would like anyone saying that Khadija was not intelligent ?! He said this to a particular group of women – who visited the mosque while they were on their period (you know what I mean) – wich is of course a big sin – women on their period are not allowed to pray, because they are not ‘clean’. He could have said the same thing to men drinking alcohol the night before – according to the Quran, a person who drinks alcohol is also ‘not clean’ for 40 days – and thus – not allowed to pray. Salaam & Peace and Blessings.

      • Dear sister Humeyra,

        Do we have any credible evidence from any sahih hadith that in the hadith you cite, the Messenger (saws) was addressing women who visited the mosque while on their period? Correct me if I am wrong, but I highly doubt it. And remember, the hadith you mention is set after an Eid prayer, and according to the hadith of Umm ‘Atiyah, the Messenger (saws) encouraged menstruating women to come out to witness the events of Eid.

        Be careful sister, for a poorly constructed explanation can do far more harm than good.

        On certain points you made:
        Is it really an obvious “big sin” for a menstruating woman to visit a mosque? Some scholars may say so, and others reject this notion.
        Can a natural God-given event like menstruation ever be compared to an open sin like drinking alcohol?
        Is a Muslim who drinks alcohol truly barred from praying for 40 days due to impurity – or should that person return to prayer immediately in repentance?

  • Wrong guidance or lack of guidance can lead to such issues of women, not discovering their trueselves and become what society wants them to become. You are blessed mashaAllah. Jzk for this wonderful article.

  • Always love ur articles sister, Wallahi this is exactly what i needed to read, there are so many highly educated muslimahs out there but we feel guilty going out or being in male dominated spaces, I cannot wait for future articles on this. My only gripe is many of us have no idea where to talk to a “qualified” teacher, may Allah guide us.

  • Assalamualaikum,

    Sister i really loved your post, for i have been going through the same situation. Living in UAE i find it really difficult to find such mentors and qualified scholars with whom i can study with. studying with the harshest ones is taking me in depression and frustration,resulting in arguments with the ones whom i was once comfortable with.
    your suggestions would be really appreciated.
    JazakAllahu khairan.

    • wa alaykum as salam warahmatulahi wa barakatuh,

      In response to you and the commenter above (nb): I know it’s very difficult to sometimes find someone in your locality. I would recommend reaching out to nearby cities or communities until you find someone who can help teach you inshaAllah. One of my teachers was an hour+ away and I would try to drive to study with him almost daily. That was after I exhausted all the resources I could find close to me and started looking in other cities.

      May Allah bless you with the best mentors and guide you to them with ease and speed.

      Please keep us in your prayers,

      • Salaam alaikum, Sister Maryam (and all others). If you and the moderators will allow an older man to comment. Surely I am not the only person who professed Islam in middle age and have become what is euphemistically called a “senior citizen.” Surely I am not the only one to come to Islam who has had, sadly, abysmally bad experiences with the Muslim community and now, due to our circumstances or whatever, cannot get to some teacher an hour away, if we could even find one.

        Even years ago before I became “older” I would go to the mosque (honestly, I no longer do) and would rarely, if ever, hear my language spoken around me, in the land in which Allah (swt) put me. How many older Muslims are willing and/or able to speak my language when they want the mosque to be a little bit of the “old country”? I understand this, but it does not help me.

        When sometimes I have trouble getting up the stairs, and my experiences with the Muslim community were so deeply disappointing and I wonder why I should expect them to change, why should should I even try any more to struggle to find anyone? May Allah (swt) forgive me (and us all).

        • Salamualaikum,
          I thought to share two sites I know you can learn from good mentors without having to travel. and
          I hope this helps as it has helped me greatly clarify a lot of doubts.

        • And peace unto you (wa alaikumus salaam). Thank you for responding, although it has been some time that this thread has been open.

          Also, thank you for the suggestions of online sites. Even though the original article and many of the comments have related to the situation of women in Islam, the moderators have kindly allowed an older man to comment, as situations can sometimes apply to both sexes.

          Yes, there are many informative sites online, and this is a good thing. However, may I be so bold as to suggest that often there is no real substitute for actual, real, person to person contact, and unfortunately, for some of us that real human contact is sorely lacking.

          I have read many books. I have viewed much online material. Nevertheless, I find that as an older, single, isolated person, I am just not able to “make it” by myself. My own experiences with the Muslim community in my region have varied from disappointing to almost bad, sad to say.

          Comments here on and on other online forums make it clear that I am not alone, male or female. This is one of the tragedies of the ummah in North America (and probably elsewhere), that converts often do become so sad, lonely, isolated, and discouraged that eventually they in fact do fall away from Islam in one way or another.

          Books and videos are good things in themselves, but they are not an adequate substitute for real human contact, just someone to have coffee with, figuratively speaking. Somebody to talk to. Somebody to be able to to discuss things with. And without that contact, some people do in fact slip away.

          Thank you again for responding.

  • Mash’Allah for this beautiful narrative. Alhamdulillah for sisters like you. May Allah bless us all and help us in our struggles to stay on the right path…

  • Assalamu alaikum

    An amazing piece! Thank you so much. I was almost scared that the ending would be, ‘and then I finally realised that women are happiest when they are meek and mild’.
    A very refreshing read; I hope to read more articles like this.

  • Salam,
    Maryam, mashallah. I am not that person who writes comments, but I really wanted to show appreciation for being so real. I usually can’t read long articles, but I couldn’t stop reading this one. I feel like a lot of us (men and women alike) can really relate to this. It is great to see that we all go through these thoughts and we are not alone. I really commend you and say jazaki Allahu khair for this article.

    The portion about how your perspective changed when you saw interactions in Egypt where Islam is woven in is super on point. I really hope you and Omar are well, take care!

    • wa alaykum as salam warahmatullahi wa barakatuh Zeyad,

      jazak Allahu khayran esp for your comment about men. The reality and complexity of men’s struggles are ones our communities almost never tangibly address.

      barak Allahu fik,

  • Lol, that part about women being more sinful reminded me of this Hadith:

    “The Messenger of Allah once said to a group of women: O Women, give charity. I see the majority of those in hellfire to be women. They said: why is it so, O Messenger of Allah? He said: You rebuke a lot and you are disobedient towards your husbands. I have not seen any one who has more influence on an intelligent and sensible man, than you, although you are deficient in intellect and religion. A cautious, sensible man can easily be led astray by you. The women asked: O Allah’s Messenger, what is deficient in our intellect and religion? He said: Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man? They replied in the affirmative. He said: This is the deficiency in your intelligence’… ‘Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menstruation? The women replied in the affirmative. He said: This is the deficiency in your religion.”

    I always questioned this Hadith because I never fully understood it, and, truth be told, I still don’t. But I know well that my Lord created me as He created men; to worship Him. Our purpose is one. That alone shows that we are equal in his sight. And as for the matters of this worldly life, it is quiet evident that the men have been favored over the women. It is with faith and a beautiful submission that I accept this, and I turn to my lord – a humble slave.

    • inshaAllah I will work on an article translating the explanation of this hadith as mentioned in تحرير المرأة في عصر الرسالة

      InshaAllah that will hopefully shed light on a hadith which is often misunderstood.

      • Please do! I’ve struggled a lot with this hadith. I have heard about cases of it being used to spiritually and psychologically harass young Muslim women, and it would be very beneficial to me to understand it as it was originally intended.

      • I’m just realizing how old this article is, but I have just come across it and I suppose the beauty of the internet allows this discussion to go on, walhamdulilah.

        I’d like to offer my interpretation and it relies heavily on the greater meanings preserved in the Arabic language. The word translated as “intellect” in this hadith might be better translated as “cognition”, or some other psychological term that considers the process as it occurs in the brain. The idea about ‘aql as opposed to other words which may describe intelligence and is that it is separate from emotion and feelings. Notice that the hadith refers to how two women witnesses were equal to one man witness. To me, the reasoning is clear: a woman is more likely to sympathize and rely on her intuition and emotions in order to make a conclusion. But, of course the prophet, upon him be peace, was speaking generally. The other thing is intelligence, or smartness in the colloquial sense readily relies upon emotions and feelings, and men do this too, but perhaps not as much, generally speaking; the ability to sympathize and empathize with others lends to creativity and insight, all of which are distinct from the notion of ‘aql. To solidify this notion we can look to the etymology: ‘aql is rooted in the notion of “tying a knot”. We can add another concept to further solidify this: consider the Arabic word for “heart”, qalb, it’s etymology is rooted in the notion of turning and flipping, instability and fluctuation. Hence, it is paired with the ‘aql, as the ‘aql comes in to stabilize and make firm the heart. Consider also the ayah in the quran which states that Allah has not created any man with two hearts in his chest. Scholars mention that there is a subtlety here in that women can have two hearts in their chest when they are pregnant. I think there is also another wisdom here in that women can retain the ability to sympathize and empathize at such a level where they can actually perhaps feel what the other person is feeling along with what they are feeling. Allahu’alam, this is only my own interpretation of the verses.

        Before addressing the notion of deen, I would like to point out that what a thorough study of language eventually reveals is that words are only like placeholders. As humans we tend to forget that words are only symbolic and they merely refer to greater meanings which we internalize in different ways. The distinction the prophet, upon him be peace, makes about men and women in the aforementioned hadith is mostly with regard to societal roles, as it is mostly our actions in society for which we are most greatly tested and most are severely punished. If we consider also how collectively women have portrayed themselves, it may simply be that out of his great love for the believing women, the prophet upon him be peace was simply looking to protect them by any means necessary, and considering how loyal these women must have been to the prophet, upon him be peace, it was likely the best course of action.

        So, for the matter of deen, we can first look to the etymology as it is somewhat abstract, and the connections made are seemingly contradictory in nature. (This is, however, common in the Arabic language, for example the verb “raghiba” could mean to desperately want something or desperately not want something depending on context. With the sounds of “dal” and “nun” in Arabic the connections are related to that which is base and low yet honored and dignified, as well as that which is faint but also sound. All this simply leads one to the conclusion that “religion” does not suffice as an adequate translation. Consider the prophet’s reasoning, upon him be peace, in this regard. Menstruation binds a woman in certain respects where she is not exactly herself. (I am not a woman so please excuse me if this is an adequate description). I would tend to think of one’s honor, or his deen as something exuberant, shining, like the sun or the moon. Perhaps a metaphor is more appropriate here: though we all go through moods and phases, I would like to say that a woman’s cycle can be likened to the rising and setting of the sun, or the phases of the moon. If all this is too abstract, I hope that women will at least take comfort in understanding that deen is distinct from emaan, and one’s heart; deen is mostly restricted to social context whereas Allah will judge us based on the faith in our hearts. Perhaps, it is simply for this that the prophet, upon him be peace, sought to isolate and protect women from society in some regard, that it is best the man only get his hands dirty, so to speak.

        The last thing I want to say is about how the hadith refers to the great potential women have in their influence upon men. This is what I think is the key point. In Islam, an opportunity to do good that is lost is nearly equivalent to an opportunity to do evil that taken, and perhaps women bear a greater burden in this regard. May Allah guard and preserve our believing men and women. Wallahua’lam.

  • Thank you Maryam for sharing your story. It is inspiring, mashAllah. May you and your family be forever Blessed. 🙂

  • This article was refreshing and came at a much needed time. At some point I obsessed with avoiding men for some of the reasons above. But hearing about the guy friends of my practicing Muslimah friends didn’t help much. I pushed it all into black and white: they’re wrong and I’m right. That mindset was so mentally burdening, it felt like in order to practice Islam the ‘right’ way I had to jump through fire hoops, that eventually I dropped it and decided that each of us have the individual responsibility to decide what’s best for us. Right now I’m still confused on my worth, role and duties as a woman and of course, on the ‘rules’ for mixed gender interaction. But I’m glad that someone else agrees that Islam does not exist to mold every single woman into one cookie cutter shape of what we ‘should’ be. Its as good as a start as anywhere.

  • Salaam,
    JAK for this article. Being on my early 20s, I feel that I have just been through these exact same troubles. This article makes me feel that I am not alone. Thank you for the books listed, and thank you for writing this!

  • jazakallah khair sister maryam for this amazing article. you have elucidated such valid points with such a balance and have shared personal feelings with grace and fortitude that will inshallah resonate with many women who struggle with similar doubts and issues. some of your thoughts and concerns seem as though you have read my thoughts! may Allah swt in His infinite mercy and wisdom guide us always and help our ummah to remain balanced as He has exhorted us to be.

  • Dear sister Maryam,
    I absolutely loved your article and I am so glad that you found your energetic, assertive soul and self and are lighting the path for those around you with your energy and light 🙂 May God bless you in your endeavors, Ameen. I will be sure to check out the references you mentioned.

  • this just confirmed what I always suspected. Islam as interpreted by majority of mediocre scholars is rooted in culture not in Quran and Sunnah. Thakyou habibi Allah bless you

    • I am worried about your comment. I would respectfully and completely disagree with the statement that, “Islam as interpreted by majority of mediocre scholars is rooted in culture not in Quran and Sunnah.”

      The misunderstandings I mentioned in my article were not stemming from scholars. They were stemming from people who had studied in one form or another, but who couched their understanding of Islam in a specific viewpoint or cultural understanding. That is a very different statement from the majority of scholars’ interpretations being rooted in culture.

      May Allah bless you,

      • this needs further clarification from my side with due respect to scholars who sincerely work towards understanding Islam.As I grew up understanding Islam from people around me and reading material available to me I got the feel that woman is secondry to a man in islam but that did not make sense as Islam is a just, fair and practical deen.Therefore my quest continues to find Islam without cultural pollutants.

  • Sister Maryam, wallahi that was exactly what I needed to hear right now.
    I don’t even comment underneath comments but couldn’t leave until I had typed a jazakAllah khayrun
    I fear I am walking a similar path, I pray I find my way out.

  • As Salamu Alaikum,

    Jazaki Allahu Khayran, Sister Marymam, for an incredibly honest and candid description of your journey and transformation.

    You have done a tremendous service for all women struggling with these issues.

    Unfortunately, I have grown up all my life with lets call ‘the conservative opinion.’ Its what I have always been taught as ‘Islam’…and what I have observed practiced (mainly in my Indopak surroundings). Any deviation from this super strict script was denounced as ‘modernism/progressivism/feminism’ and not in line with the Quran and Sunnah.

    Thus, everyone around me has reacted to this paradigm: Some strictly ‘toed the line’ and have closeted themselves. Others have set aside parts of the faith, or left the faith altogether.

    I myself grew up with much anger at my Lord, my religion, myself, women, men, etc, because of this. These issues definitely impacted my self esteem and sense of self.

    The only way I could move forward in my deen was to set aside studying issues of gender and sexuality in Islam. To me, these issues seemed a huge blot on an otherwise incredible religion. I’d simply ignore any discussions of women’s issues, skim hadiths and even Quranic ayats regarding women, while paying deep attention to everything else.

    Alhamdhulillah, this approach has actually worked. My faith today is much stronger, alhamdhulillah. I simply shrug and say to myself, Allah and His Prophet know best. I can only do the best I can to submit, and beg Allah forgiveness for my shortcomings.

    However, while attitude works for me, I don’t have any answers to people who question Islam’s stance on women. Recently, these include my own family. They mirror the same confusion and doubts that I had experienced. Discussing with them, I can sense the same doubts and confusion creeping in on me again.

    Thus, I have been asking Allah everyday to open my heart and increase my understanding of issues of gender and sexuality in Islam.

    I asked again last night, and a few hours later, I found this article. Alhamdhulillah :D!

    You are the first person who has gone through this struggle that seems to have come out of it both closer to Allah and being able to be authentic to your true self. Or, at least the first person who has openly shared her experience. If you can do it, there is hope for all of us!

    But I must say, even reading through your article, I had thoughts, saying, ‘no, thats not the way…its seeking the Dunya at the expense of the Akhirah…thats your desires, your nafs, its shaitan…the real path for women is to be docile and silent and sacrifice everything for others.’

    But that just isn’t me…I take comfort in knowing that that really wasn’t Khadija, Aisha and Umm Salama either.

    I guess I need to fully study the issues to move forward. The first step seems to be learning Arabic, which I am now trying to do.

    May Allah guide us all to the straight path…and make it easy for us to submit to His will.

    • wa alaykum as salam warahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

      I know it’s a difficult struggle and may Allah bless you for being steadfast and seeking closeness to Allah.

      I’m definitely not the first person to go through this nor the first to write about it, but I’m grateful to know that it inshAllah was of benefit to you.

      Please keep us in your prayers,

      • As Salamu Alaikum, Hyde,

        Of course not!! Rather, I would read them, but move on quickly, and not really think about them afterwards. Versus other ayats, which were occasions for deeper reflection.

        May Allah forgive me if I did something wrong. But I guess I felt If I reflected too long on these ayats without knowledge and understanding, they only increased me in confusion. And it was the perfect gateway for Shaitan to cause doubts.

        • Ok your first paragraph I find deeply troubling…”we are not a cafeteria religion, at least not yet anyway”.

          But your second paragraph assured me 🙂

      • As Salamu Alaikum, Br. Hyde,

        Of course I didn’t skip ayats! Rather, I read through certain ayats quickly and did not reflect too much on them, as compared to other ayats.

        May Allah forgive me if I did something wrong. However, I felt that without proper knowledge and understanding, I would only get confused and it was a perfect opportunity for Shaitan to create doubts.

  • “a woman’s place being the home, covering the face, certain marriage, divorce and custody laws- Do they all need to be applied to your specific life?”

    Isnt there a danger of whimsical picking and chosing? Why tear apart the religion just to appease modern feminism? We know EXACTLY what these people want binned. Why be a party to this? If you would prefer american divorce and custody laws (and ALL the destruction they have caused to the family unit) please dont try and do this under a pretext of “moderation” or “the middle way”.

    • I always find it amusing that anyone who disagrees with other opinions related to women’s studies in Islam throw around the term “feminism” as a means of disqualifying the other perspective.

      This article didn’t suggest we whimsically pick and choose. You whimsically chose not to copy and paste the line right after the one you shared your thoughts on.

      May Allah bless you,

  • Salam Alaikum Sr. Maryam,

    Jazakillah khaira for your thoughts. I really appreciate reading your story and the lessons you learned from them.

    I do agree with your tip 5, to critically question the detrimental narratives on women that we hear in our communities. What worries and troubles me though is that the example you used, the claim that women’s menses leads them to be more inclined to sin, reminds me of the hadith of Abu Said al-Khudri recorded in Bukhari – in which the Messenger (saws) said that women were “deficient in their intellect” because the divine command on testimony and “deficient in their religion” because women can neither pray nor fast during their menses. It’s easy for me to exclaim that the brother you mention “clearly has no idea what he’s talking about,” but I worry the same outlook would lead me to question the Messenger’s (saws) hadith, a’udhubillah!

    Honestly, I don’t know how to approach sahih hadith like the one of Abu Said al-Khudri – I try my best to apply your first tip on understanding the hadith’s context, learning of the various opinions, and trying to place the hadith in light of the seerah – but it feels as though I’m just trying to insincerely interpret away what’s explicitly stated by the Messenger (saws).

    Sister Maryam, how have you dealt with issues like the one raised in the hadith above? Thank you so much for your thoughts, and may God guide us all always.

    • wa alaykum as salam warahmatullahi wa barakatuh Adnan,

      Jazak Allahu khayran for bringing up an absolutely legitimate concern. Let me clarify that when I quoted that person regarding menses, that hadith hadn’t even come into my mind and the context in which his statement was mentioned didn’t make a reference to it either. I am inshaAllah going to have the editors change that to another example just to make sure there isn’t further confusion about accepting or rejecting a sahih hadith inshaAllah. jazak Allahu khayran for pointing it out.

      Now on that note, I know that this is not the only sahih hadith that may cause some of us to question what is really meant, but then – of course- believe that whatever was meant, it was the right thing because that was the statement of the Prophet sal Allahu alayhe wa sallam and the Prophet sal Allahu alayhe wa sallam knows best!

      I believe the answer lies in what you stated you do- try to research it and consult qualified scholars in doing so. And yes, sometimes, we may not understand and at that point, we just hear and we obey.

      inshaAllah I’m going to work on translating the section explaining this hadith in
      تحرير المرأة في عصر الرسالة and I hope in doing so, inshaAllah the confusion surrounding this hadith will be clarified.

      may Allah bless you,

  • Wonderful article. But the time is overdue that something of this same standard is written about: “Tips to rethink the Men in Islam.” Men are just as special and a man’s ability to treat women correctly is determined by his moderate and humble and healthy self esteem as being very special.

    • I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH YOU! May Allah bless you for calling for this! I try to mention men’s struggles when I give lectures but the reality is that I’m a female and I cannot fully narrate a male’s experience. I certainly hope a man will take this up as it’s something our community really needs to not only hear, but also discuss and seek progress inshaAllah.

  • I can really understand and grasp this message well. Wish I can be more than a wife and a mother. Unfortunately some people think that, that is what a women should be…….

    • subhan Allah, being a wife and mother are amongst two of the greatest roles you can be! You’re inshaAllah positively impacting lives and future generations too! May Allah bless you!

      • JazakAllah….Alhamdulillah….I pray that all my children would be used by Allah as instruments to bring Allah’s glad tidings to more people than I was able to……

  • Maryam, this article is amazing! May Allah swt reward you for being so open about your personal story. It really made the topic so much more relevant and made me appreciate your journey as well.

  • Asalaam alaykum Sister Maryam. Great article and discussion. I would say I have taken a similar journey of strict practice and self doubts. And now I am back to a balanced view that in everything moderation is the best. From my own life’s experiences of living the modern woman’s life as a career woman and traveling the world by myself, I have truly learned to respect the advice that the best place for women is in the home even though I hated this idea when I was in younger. Women spend way too much time in idle talk, unnecessarily shopping and at too many parties and social gatherings that don’t bring them closer to Allah (swt). Unfortunately as humans, we fall too quickly to life’s pressures of “looking good” of “being accepted” by others. When our focus is other than raising our children and caring for our family, than we are actually doing a disservice to society. I am the first to doubt certain hadiths that berate or lower women as sinful creatures. However, I cannot doubt the Quran that tells us to cover ourselves, control our voices and our walk, and for the most part stay home and not make a wonton display of our beauties. Greeting men are fine, but any idle discussions between men and women only lead to something negative. It’s not that only women are temptations for men, but that men are also temptations for women. Hence the hadith says, when a man and woman are alone, the third person is Shaitan. Men and women have the same weaknesses. Both men and women are tested by our desires for this dunya, there is no doubt about that and hence the purpose of life is to pass the test. There is nothing wrong with being energetic and lively, but everything has a time and place. In a woman’s halaqa, this energy is something young girls need or when encouraging people to do something good like donate to a cause. However, in a regular audience of men and women, the energy can be controlled so the message can be conveyed properly. Plus we should never think that if we just use more energy, that people will listen to the message and be inspired. Prophets (pbut) spent all their lives counseling people and only those who wanted to hear the message heard it, no matter how energetic and eloquent the prophets were. In my life, it was the more humble and less energetic people that motivated me more than the popular imams and speakers.

    I really loved your story and pray that Allah continues to guide you to even more enlightenment. From my own experiences of going from light to darkness to light again, I have learned not to discount wisdom so quickly. I think there is something magical about the age of 40. Somehow, your thoughts slows down a little in order to be able to think clearer and thus naturally you become wiser.

    I feel that your truth will eventually fall somewhere between where you were (strict rigidness)and where you are now….but before you get there, you have to prepare yourself for you might hit a spiritual deep and dark bottom when what you think you know is truth comes crashing down. But for sure, if you seek Allah’s guidance, you will see that He is and will be your only friend in life. Then you will know what it means to be a friend of Allah. It is when you stop asking people for help and guidance (including scholars) and ask only Allah for help (like the Prophet did in the Mountain of Light). Dhikr and meditation will help you see the truth from falsehood. This doesn’t mean you stop studying and asking questions, but you shouldn’t depend on anyone else having anymore truth than you do. They don’t. Thus you take the good and leave the bad, with Allah’s guidance.

    Just some more thoughts to this discussion.

    I pray Allah helps to make your life’s journey easy and successful.

    • As Salamu Alaikum, Um Zaheen,

      Jazaki Allahu Khayran for sharing your story! Parts of your story are eerily similar to mine – I guess I am on still traveling the path…

      Just recently I was the ‘modern career woman’ traveling the world myself. It nearly ruined me in more ways than one (Akhira and Dunya wise).

      Earlier this year, I crashed and have had to give up my job and independence and move back with my parents (may Allah bless them tremendously). So, I I know what you are talking about regarding hitting a deep and dark bottom. I felt I lost everything.

      But of course, I didn’t, even during the worst, I knew I always could turn to Allah. I know what you mean when you say that Allah is the only one can help you. Truly Allah has been Most Merciful to me. I am floored by His tremendous Mercy, which I completely don’t deserve. He has been my Guide, My trustworthy Handhold, My Light during a period when people could not help me, even if they wanted to.

      I’m also learning the value of the home, as a place of security and contentedness. I think my poor parents are shocked that all I, their jet-setting daughter, seem to want to do these days is to be home and study and worship my Lord. They attribute it to exhaustion and health issues. While this undeniably is a part of it, I think its more. I no longer find ‘going out’ as fun as I used to, whether its the movies, museums, plays, restaurants, vacations, etc. Especially if it means shortchanging my Deen.

      However, while I found that international travel for work purposes nearly destroyed my life, I feel that the international travel I did for the sake of Islamic Knowledge was an incredible blessing for me. Part of what I learned (specifically, how to treat one’s parents) is helping me tremendously today. May Allah forgive all my shortcomings in this regard.

      I guess ultimately the message I have learned so far is to ensure that whatever we choose to do as women, we ensure that we do it for the sake of Allah.

      I have no desire to take up the job that I left, or even jobs similar to it. But I do ask Allah that He gives me an opportunity to make a living that is pleasing to Him so I am not a burden on others and so I can give sadaqah for His sake, something I have done throughout my working life.

      I also ask that Allah continues to give me opportunities to increase in knowledge of Him and His Deen, whether at home or elsewhere.

      I ask for everyone’s duas. Jazakum Allahu Khayran.

    • jazaki Allahu khayran for taking the time to write your reflections and advice. May Allah bless you. I just want to say that there were a number of things you mentioned that were not the conclusions of my article and I hope they were not misunderstood. I’m not calling for women to leave nurturing their homes, nor am I calling them to chill with men who aren’t mahram. I’m also not at all calling for women to not accept ahadith or ayaat that are frequently misunderstood, nor am I calling to in any way reject hijab or other Qur’anic or Prophetic injunctions, may God protect us from any of what displeases Him.

      jazaki Allahu khayran for sharing your thoughts and advice again!

      • From your article it seems like you’ve been there and can understand how the women who learn from their surroundings that they’re just a big fat fitnah feel. Interactions between the opposite gender seems like such a blurry topic. Usually these kind of khutbahs or videos etc. are geared towards men, telling them to lower their gaze and how they’ll have 72(??) wives in jennah for that Insha Allah. Personally for me, as a woman, I’m so so so friggin confused. Where is the middle path in this matter?? Where is the middle between chilling with men who aren’t mahram and avoiding them like the plague?

        I REALLY REALLY look up to you and your opinions, Maryam sis. Please shed light on opposite gender interactions.

  • May Allah give you a better reward for sharing this with us and may HE continue to keep you firm and sincere in services for HIM.

    This is a wake up call, need I say more?

  • I didn’t comment on everyone’s comments but I read each one of them and I want to thank all of you for sharing your reflections and especially your prayers here. May Allah bless each and every one of you and your loved ones!

    jazakum Allau khayran for taking the time to share your words with me and inshAllah looking forward to continuing to learn from you all.

    Please keep us in your du`a!

  • Well the only thing I have a problem with this article is Schwarzenegger part Lol.

    Really well written. Of course small nuances I disagree with. This sister is well rounded.

    Personally I would still want a wife that is a homemaker. But this article is refreshing.

  • I live in Egypt and even the super conservative sisters here don’t really seem follow this stay home part so strictly as some may teach.

    I think the issue is as I understand it that we not loiter on streets, not that we don’t leave the home for sanity and benefit.

    My own very conservative teacher is super active and out probably a chunk of her time. Her classes. Charity work. Relatives. Socializing. Halaqas. Kids’ sports classes.

    In Egypt it seems the women seem so active among practicing circles they don’t have this need to refer to and deal with men as much and even when they do it seems sensible and organic and natural. They’ve got their own hadith teachers and tafseer teachers of a very high calibre. Ofcourse you can attend classes taught by men but I’m saying there’s options here that seem to affect the dynamics.

    My teacher who does not deal with men without necessity will very confidently speak to so and so in charge about a detailed topic to start this program or whatever initiative.

    I think because the US is such an open society it can lead us to the completely opposite end. I’m a very social lively person and I wear jilbab and I am a stay at home mom by choice and wife and I’ve got tons of interests and ofcourse leave the house all the time for sanity and for beneficial and need based things. Do I deal with men? If talking to my son’s male teacher and dealing with the grocery guy counts heh. Do I feel like I’m limited or anything? Not at all. I love my life alhamdulillah.

    One thing personally I’m uncomfortable with(after some confusion) is women addressing male audiences. Yes the female scholars of the past taught men but they also from what I understood taught from behind a veil (which was not the norm in pre Islamic Arabia).

    I hope I’m not misunderstanding you in what I understood. I went through this as well but over time I realized there was a place for me to feel balanced without going to this or that end.

  • I would be comfortable with all the examples you described of talking to men except maybe asking taxi drivers their stories. I’d just feel shy which is my own personality.

    If I think back to when I first learned about “gender segregation” and all of that in my mind too it kind of translated as a very black and white thing.

    I realized I didn’t need to be stiff in my interactions. I could be dignified instead. I realized it wasn’t that I needed to go into a shell because dealing with men is a necessary part of life. But personally I do minimize contact which I don’t find necessary or beneficial. I recall speaking to a sheikh/speaker and he just stared me straight in the face the whole time. Personally I found that it made me uncomfortable. Not because oh I’m talking to a guy but because of his demeanor which I found to be inappropriate. He didn’t need to be so super friendly and give me 100% eye contact. So while I like concept of kind collaboration I think since we’re human we’re always prone to lean this or that way too much.

  • I just reread parts of your article and I feel like giving you a hug. Feeling one is a walking fitna even after submitting to hijab and apptopriate behavior must have been very stiffling. Walking around with the weight of the world on your shoulders.

  • Ah so sorry to take over the comments section..just remembered 2 very cool examples from my son’s school.

    1) It’s norm here for female principal even in a super conservative school to address everyone. In my son’s current school his principal is this niqabi very educated articulate lady who I’m very impressed with. She seems to be an excellent manager managing tons of male and female teachers. Is she high fiving and laughing and joking with her employees? I haven’t witnessed it. Are they like this big family working together? Ansolutely and they emphasize that repeatedly and i love it.

    I feel like this type of example doesn’t exist in the west. It’s either this or that and so many young girls feel you have to choose. But it doesn’t need to be like that. You be dignified and do what needs to be done.

  • MashaAllah! Only Allah can guide to a struggler in such an astounding manner! These are the signs of Allah! Awesome are His plans and ways of execution! Looots to say with the emotions of a muslim… Cutting short may Allah forgive us and grant us paradise! Ameen

  • After having similar exerperiences I felt trapped. Thinking that women dont deserve to have a personality or express it, and being a dynamic person myself it made me retreat into my own shell and made me a bickering little brat. I live ins society where people dont have a good understanding of religion, they may follow it but dont understand the wisdom in it and make religion difficult when it is not. And also their are people who don’t even care about religion. But now I realize that I can love God and not be a psycho about it. I realized that I can wear a hijab and have a face, identity and personality of my own too. I can be a better muslim by choosing the moderate path and not rigid one, because I wont be able to keep up otherwise and loose myself.

  • I totally agree with you and really appreciate your attempt to find the truth. Truth or Hagh is the most difficult thing in the world to find. We all came to this world to find it,Islam is just an address not to lose the way.Islam is not the goal of our life, The difficulties to find the goal of our life and achieving it is the fitna you mentioned in the article.

    I sometime times get totally confused, that kind of confusion you mentioned in the article but one thing really helps me in those moments of confusion and that is my belief in Allah’s kindness.

    Thank you so much for your extraordinary article and tips.

  • MashAllah you found yourself when you reading Quran with meaning may Allah Guide you and guide more women through yourself.

  • yes i agree with your second point find a mentor and you discusses about religious scholor very brief and in short,JazzakAllah.

  • I am a bit curious. Perhaps it is because the ummah is going down the “liberalized” path as anybody else.

    I agree with this article, not everything, but most. But how comes we don’t see opposite views ? How can I not see a sister with excellent educational qualifications, but who chooses to be a wife and mother ? Or point of views against homosexuality or feminism ? Just curious, why it seems more than often only “one” side seems to get represented ?

    Perhaps sister can comment ? or the staff ?

    • There are many educated moms who are choosing to stay home, especially with young children. It’s amazing to see the growth of super educated moms who are now homeschooling their children as they have so much to offer to society, but their first priority is to their own families.

      This article is more about how women see themselves and their contributions in society, whether they are at home or working outside. Many male muslims (I wouldn’t necessarily call them scholars) often refer to the hadith that the best place for women is the dark corner of their homes…not even at home are women respected and valued and must hide in its corners for prayer. This is the view that is being questioned, not trying to reform or liberalize Islam…which needs no reforms. Just trying to feel human and valued.

  • As Salamu Alaikum, Br. Hyde,

    I’m responding to your question above as to whether I skipped ayats of the Quran on the topics of gender and sexuality.

    My original answer was posted right after your question: it was initially published and then mysteriously deleted. I normally would have let it go, but this is too important not to address.

    Of course I didn’t skip ayats! Rather, I read through certain ayats quickly and did not reflect too much on them, as compared to other ayats.

    May Allah forgive me if I did something wrong. However, I felt that without proper knowledge and understanding, I would only get confused and it was a perfect opportunity for Shaitan to create doubts.

    I ask Allah to increase me in proper understanding and knowledge of all aspects of His Deen, and to have patience and acceptance of what I do not understand.

  • JazakAllah for writing this, Maryam baji. My journey resembles yours in so many ways that this served as a much needed catharsis.

  • I love this article…. thank you Sister Maryam, as always you have provided inside.

    Sisters, I am a recent revert and am looking for FEMALE Muslims to talk(ok email) with … I want to know more and desperately want to connect with Mulsim sisters.
    I live in an area with very few Muslim people.
    I love
    My email is

    • Thank you for your kind words. You can reach me via facebook [Maryam Amirebrahimi] or email me at: contactmaryama@gmail dot com

  • Asa Maryam, Beautiful piece of writing mashaAllah. I could relate to your experience almost 100%, gone through same stages alhamdullilah like you, I travelled to Cairo and discovered myself and my energy back in deen. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to actually study with a teacher but Allah knew my love of knowledge and introduce me to some great scholars. I was amazed to see them interacting with women with great respect in every walk of life. It would be lovely to meet up with you and share experiences of amazing Cairo.

  • Salam Maryam! I’m very glad I read this article, in fact, just as I finished I truly hoped there could be TED talk about this topic in the near future. Then I realized, you would definitely be interested since(as you said) you gave speeches one day and since you already have all that valuable experience.
    I hope to watch/listen to your talk one day, inshallah. God bless you.

  • Asalaamalykum w w

    Subhanallah Maryams story was an eye opener for me and in shaa Allah ALL THE TABLIGHI WOMEN AND MEN HERE IN MOMBASA KENYA.

    We are just like she was, we were FULL HIJAB bui bui( black dress), jilbab, niqab and when we go on khuruj (expeditions) we have to cover even our eyes, gloves and socks, and preferably black flate shoes that wount make a sound when we walk.

    I LOVE TABLIGH AND I SUPPORT It BUT its principles (aqeeda) and methodology (manhaj) have to be applied at an individual level.

    We are not all the same, we come from different backgrounds, ethnicity, jurisprudence (hanafi, hambali, shafii, and maliki)

    in tabligh we respect all this and thats why when groups go out for khuruj- tabligh jammats, our differences are put aside for us as MUSLIMS to work together to build our IMAN and in shaa Allah correct our deeds, advice people to follow Haqq and also Patience….forgive my poor tafsir of Surah Asr

    (am a Tablighi Woman married to a Thabit- strong Tablighi who goes 4 months khuruj every year but av noticed some mistakes that i want to clarify)

    may Allah Forgive me

    …to be continued

  • “If you have felt guilty because you had doubts, if you felt confused because you considered something in Islam (especially as related to women) oppressive, if you have chosen to distance yourself from the Muslim community ………

    “Or decided they could no longer wear hijab or other related coverings and chose to remove them because they could no longer take it……

    “If we become unrecognizable to our own selves, we need to think critically on the messages we are accepting into our lives…..”

    I am exactly in the stage of mentality that your article has mentioned. I turned to my sister in the masjid but got rejected as being regards my faith is too weak, my relationship with Allah is not well built. My family cannot recognize me as a happy care free individual after my conversion and married. My husband did not support my struggle rather than threaten me with a divorce if I take off my hijab. I do not who I can turn to. I just came across with this article this morning, inshallah, I will give Islam and the women’s issue a second attempt and I will see if Allah will guide me to His Way. Please pray for me, readers. JZK.

  • Asalamualaikum,

    I am a sister and I need to contact the author of this article. How can I do so?

    Jazak Allah khaie

  • Asalaamualaikum Wa rahmatullahi Wa barakatuh.

    I just need to say JazakAllahu khairun for this article. Words can’t explain the degree of similarity I have found in the issues mentioned in this article and my own thoughts. An enormous burden has been reduced from my conscience. In shaa Allah may Allah guide us all towards trustworthy knowledge and clear up all that is faulty.

    You should really consider writing a comprehensive book on certain misjudgments regarding such issues. Or holding a type of online seminar. I know it will help me tremendously.

    May Allah SWT guide us All. Ameen.

  • Salam, this might post twice because, it was long and I decided to clean it up a little bit.

    Firstly, I think it’s important to point out that very few people are qualified to thoroughly dealing with this matter because of the delicate nature of the subject matter. It’s great that someone is willing to share their story, but I think this is really more a reaching out to those who can relate to her struggle than it is addressing the actual problem of understanding the role of women in Islam and the world in general. Alhamdulilah, it’s still a good thing, and I’m sure it gives other women hope, but it bears little standing in an actual intellectual circle where precision and concision are most prized. I’m also sure it would be a great way for people to get to know her, and I would encourage all muslims to be able to articulate themselves in such a manner.

    That said, I think an over-simplification of this issue is that we are dealing with an identity crisis resulting from a culture clash, namely Muslim values and Western values. And, what’s most important to understand, in my opinion, is that this does not affect only women, though certainly men may not be as vocal about it. In actuality most muslim men might be more confused than muslim women, especially when it comes to “what it means to be a man”. I think it suffices, here, to say that we can’t address the role of women without addressing the role of men. I don’t want to focus on this, but I think one of the pivotal points in the culture clash is a western glorification of imperfection that is at odds with Islamic virtues of piety, humility and even wisdom.

    The only thing I really want to say about the content of the article is with regard to the notion of a woman being fitnah for a man. A man is also fitnah for a woman, though in a different way. The concept of Arabic fitnah may aid us here, for its etymology is rooted in the concept of scorching earth to purify precious minerals, separating rock from gold. Women and men function similarly with regard to each other; we can bring out the best in each other, we are willing to go through trial and tribulation for each other, we are willing to submit to the circumstances we are put in for each other. Certainly, this can be both a beautiful thing and a very dangerous thing, and more than that it is something that evolves with the times. What it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman are things I think every individual must discover for themselves.

    I’d now like to offer my own perspective on the role of men and women in society and Islam, as a muslim male living in the West in his late 20s, and also as someone passionate about the arts, who writes poetry and studies classical Arabic. Perhaps this will give some contextual insight into my world-view. It has always been my understanding that women in Islam are to be cherished and guarded, and though words will fail to describe exactly what I mean here, I mean something very distinct from how a man should love his brother in faith. I do not mean to say that women are the weaker, but rather, to me, it is as though they are a wondrous secret to be preserved and shared only with those we love most. But again, words will fail me here unless you are one who will sympathize with poets. Though I may be inclined to rely on the poetic to elaborate, instead I want to be as inclusive as possible and so will keep to the prose. And I think instead we can look to the function of art, the poetic and beauty itself to draw out my argument. The artist, in a sense, submits to his medium to channel his feelings into something more articulate: it is as though the art can see what the artist cannot yet. Such is the essence of love, in some respects; it is a give and take, a submission and domination but one where those words become meaningless and you do not know who is giving or taking, and are only grateful—may our lips be lined with thanks for the creator in such moments. We are inclined towards the beautiful because of the hope we can find ourselves in it. I do not think that it is woman who is man’s art, but rather that our souls reflect one another, that as honest individuals, as lovers, as artists as intellectuals and simply as humans we rely on each other—desperately and passionately at times—for inspiration and guidance, and what each of us can give the other is always something unique. I believe that Islam and our messenger, upon him be peace, set the precedent for how to best take advantage of the gold inside us all, in his dealings with both genders; it was he who said, upon him be peace, “people are like mines of gold and silver”. In the quran, Allah describes the believing women as “guardians of the unseen by that which Allah has guarded” (4:34). I think there is great wisdom here and to me it relates to what I have mentioned of art. I once heard a sheikh say, with regard to marriage, that if you have a strong man and a weaker woman, this will work, same if you have a weaker man and a strong woman, this will also work: the problem is when you have a strong man and a strong woman. Maybe this is not exactly true, or very precise, but I think it reflects the global problem that we have. Collectively, men and women are in their own kind of marriage in this world, and they have their own kinds of conflicts and rely on their own particular collective efforts to resolve these issues. I am speaking very broadly about a delicate matter, but just think about how society regulates spaces for men and spaces for women—sports, fashion, entertainment, fitness, even policy and education, each thing is designed to cater to each gender in a specific way—and think about how these things are treated in Islam, nearly done away with, and about how a man who was described as being “more reserved than a virgin girl” but yet could lead an army is the role model for all of humanity, upon him be peace. Honor is a concept that I think is very foreign to modernity, and I think its practice is somewhat counter-intuitive for us sometimes, the way we understand things without saying them. Critics of the quran will say that women are left unaddressed and secondary, but I think this is a superficial view; men and women stand on different stages in this world and it is in the next world where we are all brought together. Though, for some this might come off as a cop out, gender equality is often misguided and short-sighted—the best way I think I can allude to my meaning is with women’s intuition, perhaps what is aimed at by “guardians of the unseen…”—that a woman will see what a man does not won’t not surprise me nor most women, I imagine, but that a women not realize how and when well she can do this is what I myself have come to realize—like an amplifier, to finally give into metaphor. Or, more grandly, my favorite symbol to embody the man-woman dynamic: the ancient symbol of medicine, snake and staff, and though man and woman could be either, as modernity shows us all too well. I like the symbol particularly because to me it reflects the notion of freedom (the snake) and its price (the staff), that when one can stand firm he can afford for others not to (as much). (The snake is still bound, just not so much as the staff.) I think Islam encourages us not to be thrifty in this manner, even with love. That we might gain much from following someone else is certainly a central concept in Islam, but that this sort of thing be abused and the weak and under-qualified expect blind faith from their followers (and get it) is also to be expected and explains much of the trouble with today’s world.

    I’m sure I’ve said too many things with too much left unsaid, but I felt it better than nothing, and particularly when the author here was so impassioned herself. It takes a lot of energy to write honestly and probably just as much energy to read honestly, so I can understand that many will not read this or be inclined to. For those, who might prefer the more poetic attempt at articulation, (it would certainly be a quicker read) I’ve thought of this poem I wrote a while back and it seems appropriate, at least maybe as a summary of what I’ve hoped to say: Please feel free to see whether the rest of my collections give greater light to my words and ideas.

    On a completely separate note, I think that all women, muslim and non-muslim, have been gravely mistreated in our modern world and that this burden is laid greatly upon the muslims; it is our duty to spread the message of Islam and so we cannot expect anything but to see the world in the state it is in when we fail in this regard. The world is in love with reason and science and rejects the spirit and its wisdom. I think the key to solving this problem is language, as we know the quran is a miracle of language. As specifically as I can be, Pragmatics is the branch of linguistics that deals with how (and partly why) we mean more than what we might say. You may find some things related to this at the above mentioned website.

    If I’ve said anything of benefit it is from Allah and if I’ve said anything inaccurate or wrong it is from myself and I ask forgiveness from Allah for myself and us all.


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