Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Challenges faced by American-Muslim Working Women

I am a Muslim woman and for a long time I choose to ignore my faith. Recently, and most probably because I am getting older, I am starting to find that my life is missing something so I have again embraced Islam. I was raised in a strict Muslim home and to my parents, everything was haraam. Of my siblings, I am the most educated and this was result of choices I made in my life that went against everything my family believed in, including a divorce and being a single mother. When I was younger, my resistance to Islam was based on the fact that my parent didn’t always do a good job of reinstating the presence of Allah in our lives and our hearts and I don’t blame them for that. Religion is a difficult subject for anyone.

As an adult, such resistance came from discrimination about my choices within the Islamic community as well discrimination and ignorance about Islam in corporate America. While those are merely excuses as many would say, but those are my justifications. I am a Muslim working mother in corporate America. My husband, though open to my career choices, is not open to the role that women and men play in marriage and family. Because he was raised in a culture where women are the primary caretakers for their homes and their families, he is yet to understand that I simply cannot manage it all – my home, my family and my career. I am the primary caregiver to my children while my husband focuses his career. Does this seem fair? Where does Islam play in a role in all this? Does it even seem to have a place?

Most importantly, there is the issue of wearing hijab. I have told my mother time and time again why I do not wear hijab – I want to be able to support my family without discrimination. Think about it this way, hijab creates a unique hurdle for women. Women who wear hijab are often taunted at work and on the street. Moreover, sometimes wearing hijab jeopardizes a women’s career because Islamic women are quite often discriminated in their jobs and not given jobs and promotions. Don’t forget that women who wear hijab in America are obvious targets and because the majority of Americans are ignorant about Islam, hijab bears a burden. This puts their safety at a vulnerable level.

I find it quite sad that Islamic women face many hurdles that may or may not be unique to Islam. As a matter of fact, many are cultural. Islam does not promote the devaluation of women, but cultural stereotypes do. Families have preference to their sons over their daughters and lay strong emphasis on the honor of their daughters, and shame of a daughter taking action that goes against family beliefs creates unspeakable burden on family honor. The end result and resolution is to marry daughters at young age and put an end to their educational opportunities. And just because Muslim women live in America does not mean that do not face discriminations and abuses from within their own Islamic communities. Some of the most serious of those issues include domestic abuse, abuse of divorce and custody laws, polygamy and isolation and exclusion from Muslim life.

Let me say that the abuses and issues based have nothing to do with Islam and more based on generations of cultural upbringing. Islam is a great religion and we need to prove with our actions. The treatment of Women is the number one reason that people leave and I fell victim to that as well. As I stated, I am just finding my way back in. Because of that, I feel that Muslims need to start offering solutions and denying that problems exist. As Muslims, we have a duty to fight against repression and we need to do everything in our power to get that understanding across. The first step, however, is acknowledgement.

For me, I learned to focus on my life, my family, and most importantly, my religion. I have learned that I need to be a voice for women who want to step up and not take discrimination and abuse. I have learned that Islam in itself takes abuse and discrimination because of its followers have refused to accept that societies modernize religion. Finding my way back to Islam took me ten years, and the only piece of advice I can offer is to be patient, Allah is listening and watching you and he knows that you will eventually make your way back, Inshallah.

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The Quran Says:

"And thus preach joy to My servants.Those who listen to the word and follow the best of it. Those are the ones whom Allah has guided and they are the wise people." (39:17-18)