What does it mean to be a modern Muslim woman? Two very powerful nouns that can cause a ruckus in any part of the world – Muslim and woman. From the misconstrued interpretation of gender equality to culturally flawed teachings we were taught to readily accept, it’s understandable why many Malay Muslim women are so conflicted. To choose between satisfying yourself or those around you? That’s a question I’m constantly struggling with.
Islam can be interpreted in many different ways. Naturally, “looking Muslim” and “feeling Muslim” will vary too. Family, friends and even strangers are each entitled to their perception of what being a Malay Muslim woman entails. Regardless, we should be reminded that no matter how contrasting our personal opinions are, we shouldn’t impose our personal views on others.
Growing up Malay and Muslim
“Kalau perempuan, tak payah belajar tinggi-tinggi biasa aje dah boleh, lama-lama pun duduk rumah jaga anak.”
(If you’re a girl, there’s no need for you to get a good education, just settle for the average. In the end, you’re going to stay home and take care of your kids.)
Most Malay-Muslim women who are being brought up in such families might often be reduced to becoming homemakers. Don’t get it distorted though because even if you choose to serve your family, it is a privilege because you’re investing in your loved ones. Many women take pride in being homemakers and it’s perfectly fine.
However, the situation becomes satire when the “homemaker” title is forced upon you because you’ve been living within the narrow comfort-zones of your family. Being brought up in an environment as such can heavily influence how you perceive yourself and Islam to be. Being limited and left unable to explore your full potential will leave you bogged down for years.
Being a Muslim woman in this era isn’t easy. You automatically have restrictions placed on you. Family members may restrict your social activities and impose curfews while your male counterparts are able to come home once dawn breaks.
Friends might automatically categorise conversational topics such as salacious television shows as too haram based on personal assumptions of being a pious being. Not forgetting society at large who will assume lesser of you than your non-hijab wearing counterparts which may result in you losing out on job opportunities.
“I don’t think my hijab will affect how I carry out my role.”
Imagine living in a well-globalised country where equality is seemingly prioritised for all regardless of race, language or religion. The paradox becomes four-dimensional and hits you in the face as you become used to statements like “we’ve never hired any Muslims using the hijab before” during a regular job interview. No amount of practice interviews could’ve prepared me for this moment. What is a naive fresh graduate to say when faced with this?
For the record, my reply to that was “I don’t think my hijab will affect how I carry out my role.” It was for a laboratory-based position which naturally requires you to use a lab coat, gloves and covered shoes. Essentially the core of being a Muslim woman today, being covered.
Ironically, their lab staffs were required to use hair nets to prevent flyaways. Maybe they couldn’t fathom how an additional piece of cloth on the head wouldn’t be a concern. If you didn’t already guess, the rest of the interview went south. Too many emotions and questions clouding my mind after my fleeting graze with discrimination, first hand.
As cliche as it may sound, you just have to get up and continue the race and hope that things will get better. Don’t give up and continue on your job hunt. There are other opportunities that are more inclusive and receptive of your individual differences. One has to be able to adapt but never settle.
Stay focus on what’s important
The context varies for each individual whether it’s society at large or your social circle. However, it is important to remember that these external factors will evolve but your core principles will remain. As Muslims, our main core values should be based on two vital determinants; the Quran and Sunnah.
Staying true to your beliefs in an ever-changing world will either make everyone else run towards you or away from you. Throughout this journey, many obstacles will hinder you but you should never have to settle. Go on and continue your search to seek for something better. As long as it takes, you will be bound to find something that resonates within your soul.
To me, it is to transcend everyone’s judgment in everything that you do, even in your menial routines of opting for vegetarian food during your work-sponsored lunch and being drenched in sweat whilst being fully covered after your run. Your intentions should slowly take a shift from trying to prove them wrong to fulfilling your deen, which should be our ultimate goal in life.
At the end of the day, only you are responsible for the choices and actions you take. It is important to not allow the ever-changing societal pressures to change who you are. Let them know that not conforming to the communal barriers placed isn’t just a phase, but rather a lifelong process of self-improvement aligned with your faith.
To me, securing your relationship with your Maker is of paramount importance in every aspect of this life.